Diplomatic Tactics

Tom Woodhouse

I have learned a great deal about Diplomacy from reading articles in this zine, especially about military tactics which is the focus of so many essays. However, there are far fewer articles dealing with general non-military tactics. There are also few articles aimed at the new player. This article will try to fill those gaps.

Though I have only been playing e-mail diplomacy for a little less than two years, my campaigns have been fairly successful. I attribute that success to my following a few simple guidelines in my diplomatic and military dealings. These guidelines are just that: guidelines. They should not be considered hard and fast rules. These suggestions should be especially useful to "newbie" players at whom this article is aimed.

First off, get your orders in on time. Itís polite and easy and keeps the game moving. Next, donít drop out if you start losing. Youíve made a commitment by signing up to play. For the sake of the other players, finish the game. If you can figure out how to cheat, please donít. Itís not fair to other players, and what satisfaction can there be in losing or winning a rigged game? Having just dealt with the only ethical commandments that I think are inherent in the game, letís turn to diplomatic matters.

In general, one should send lots of press. Players like to get messages and messages will make others engage you in dialog. Through that dialog, you will establish "connections" with other players and perhaps make "friends." On the other hand, players who send less press often find themselves the odd-man-out in alliances. In short, more press is much better than less press.

Be polite in your press and donít unduly antagonize your enemies. If you do, they may be mad enough to do anything in their power to hurt you, even if it means opening themselves up to conquest by another power while holding you off from their SC's.

In a recent game, much to my shame, I was unforgivably rude to a player. This added a sour note to an otherwise fun game. From this, I learned to never send press when I am either angry or too happy. In both cases, words are often ill-considered.

Now, let us examine the critical nature of geography. It is an important factor because, to a large extent, it determines the diplomatic direction of the game. It helps determine who gets attacked by whom, and with whom one forms an alliance.

For example, one reason France and Germany so often focus on the Atlantic is because of England. Englandís placement in Europe will mean that it will probably grow against Germany or France, or probably both. Geography is destiny. This, in turn, usually forces France and Germany to focus on the Atlantic. In another example, Turkey, at first, must grow against Austria or Russia, perhaps both. This usually forces these nations to focus on the Balkans. To sum it up, keep in mind the direction geography will push another nation to grow.

Do not get geographically between two strong countries if you can avoid it. They will find you an inviting target. In fact, do your best to get other powers to take such areas. For example, if you are Italy and you are dividing up Austrian territory with Turkey, make sure the Turk gets SC's that puts him between Italy and Russia, perhaps by giving Budapest to the Turk. With this geographic division of spoils, Russia canít easily attack Italy, and it will may also encourage a future Russo-Turkish war.

Next, keep in mind how your geographical deployment of units will be perceived. Through their deployment, you can intentionally or unintentionally threaten or reassure another country. For example, as Italy, you may need to put a unit in Piedmont if you are at war with Austria; however, that unit will make France nervous. In this case, a unit in Piedmont make good tactical sense but not is not necessarily diplomatically advisable.

Also, keep an eye on the types of units you and your neighbors possess because geography and unit type will sometimes indicate a countryís next move. For example, if Italy and Turkey have just removed Austria, and the Turk has built up a big navy, there is only one likely target for that navy: Italy.

Geography also plays a role in determining with whom you will or should make friends. If one plays Italy than Russia is a critical ally. The Bear is far enough away to pose little short-term threat but it is on the other side of two common neighbors, Austria and Turkey. Those neighbors pose a threat to both Italy and Russia; therefore, both Italy and Russia make natural allies. Geography makes Italy and Russia a hammer and anvil for Balkans conquest. Usually, your long-term friend should be a nation on the other side of your neighbors.

In making alliances there are a few simple rules. First, send lots of detailed press. This usually shows the other person that you are serious. Press filled with vague promises of alliances shows you are not serious. Also spell out carefully what you expect in an alliance and get the other person to acknowledge all aspects of whatever mutual obligation on which you both decide.

Next carefully spell out the penalties for failure to comply with the agreement. Itís at this point that I usually mention what a vindictive S.O.B. I can be when Iím stabbed by an ally. I carefully explain how I will make the other fellow pay for any transgressions. Then, to soften these words, I point out that I expect him to do the same to me if I transgress.

Some players suggest slowly looking players over before making alliances. I generally disagree. By this I don't mean that you shouldn't make a careful decision, but that you should make the decision as quickly as possible. I think one should find the power most important to your plans and make an alliance as soon as possible. An early alliance is critical. For example, with Germany, France and England, two of those powers will ally to attack the third, either immediately or later in the game. You donít want to be that lonely third. Start buttering up one of them right away or live with at least the fear that they've buttered each other up and are looking at eating you. If you make a mistake in your choice, and you get stuck with a unreliable ally, you can try to switch horses later. An early alliance is a bit of a gamble but one worth taking.

The next question is: "How do you get that alliance?"

To get an alliance, you must explain why it is good for both nations. If you convince the other player that both of your nations can gain from such an alliance, he or she will be more likely to enter into that alliance. That mutual gain will be the cement which holds your alliance together. You must point out that mutual gain to get the alliance.

For example, if I play France, I always try to get a Franco-German alliance against England. To get this alliance, I point out that England has nowhere else to grow except toward France and Germany. Next, I try to undermine the rationale for an Anglo-German alliance by pointing out that though it might kill off France, once that is done, England most likely will then turn on Germany.

Next, I laud the benefits of a Franco-German alliance by carefully pointing out that if Germany and France ally and remove England, they can both then continue the alliance by both growing in other directions, France to the Mediterranean and Germany into Russia or the Balkans. In short, I dangle the possibility of a long-term Franco-German alliance while showing that a long-term alliance with England is unlikely. Mutual gain is a good alliance cement.

If your alliance is aimed more toward non-aggression than toward active military cooperation, make sure you set-up as wide of de-militarized zones as possible. This will make both parties feel more conformable. For example, in a recent game France and Italy DMZ'ed Piedmont, Tuscany (to fleets), Gulf of Lyon, West Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Tyrrhenian Sea. This made it almost impossible for a sneak attack, especially since the DMZ borders were patrolled randomly from the spaces on either side. The very depth of the DMZ gave each player confidence in their non-aggression pact.

In general, alliances are only good so long as each player has something to gain. Usually, that is mutual cooperation against an enemy or simply just a peaceful border. This implies that if a mutual enemy is eliminated or a peaceful border is no longer desirable, the alliance often ends. At that point, the stab will come.

For example, Turkey and Italy might cooperate against Austria and destroy it, but with the demise of Austria, the glue holding the Italian-Turkish alliance together dissolves. Unless both of those nations find some new glue, like a desire for peaceful borders so that Turkey can focus on the Russia and Italy on France, that alliance is probably over. In short, always keep in mind your allianceís glue.

Another good rule to follow is to not flip-flop around in your coalitions. Try to be consistent in your policy. This may not always be possible, but try to keep to this rule. If you flip-flop too much, everyone will see that you are untrustworthy, so they will have little incentive to work with you. In fact, your frequent shifts in policy may just draw fire from all your neighbors in order that they may remove an unpredictable element from their borders.

Once an ally is made, keep in mind how that ally is doing. Help protect him by diplomatically guiding your allyís neighbors away from his or her borders. If that doesnít work, you may need to militarily aid the ally.

For example, in a game I am now playing as Italy, Russia is on the ropes due to a German and Austrian attack This means that Iím losing my anvil in the Balkans. Iíll have no ally to help me finish off Turkey and Austria. For that reason, I attacked Austria, a formerly mild friend and patched things up with Turkey, a formerly mild enemy. A bit of a flip-flop, but a needed one.

Keep in mind your allyís strength relative to your own, especially if you share a border. If one alliance partner grows much stronger than the other, it will make the weaker player suspicious, and it will tempt the stronger player to invade the weaker. Unless the stronger power is otherwise engaged in another war that keeps her occupied, the weaker ally should keep her gunpowder dry.

When you end an alliance with a stab, stab to kill because you will have made a deep enemy, and your stab has likely destroyed any hope for future trust. So, follow a stab with a kill. Donít mess around and donít let up. Bury the knife in his or her back. Then stab again, and again, and again, until there is no pulse, only a corpse. Dead countries never attack back.

Since we are on the subject of attacking, another important guideline is that unless one has an overwhelming military advantage, one should be very hesitant to attack a country without help. Without being assured of an ally in an attack, I usually will not attack unless there is some imperative which cannot be put off. With an ally, you have to split the spoils, but you also halve the risk.

Another good general rule is to have only one enemy at a time. This allows you to focus your resources. Other powers will always try to get you involved in their wars, but if you already have one enemy, you would be wise not to take on another. Make one enemy, kill him, then go onto the next and repeat the process.

Finally, I have some advice for the endgame. If you are in a tight spot and being attacked by an alliance which will beat you, drag out the process and hope someone attacks your enemies or your enemy alliance breaks up. If it looks like defeat is inevitable, a last ditch effort is to threaten to throw your SC's to one member of the enemy alliance. This may give the other member pause. If the threat doesnít work, actually start to carry it out by handing over an SC or two. This may destabilize the enemy alliance. Finally, if death is coming, play your hand to the bitter end and donít whine.

If, one the other hand, your survive to the end game, and another player is about to win a solo, say he has fifteen SC's, put aside all other fights and unite to keep him from winning. If, on the other hand, you are the one close to a solo, expect such a last ditch coalition to form against you. Hopefully, your diplomacy has produced such hostilities among your potential enemies, that they wonít unite but donít count on it.

If, you cannot get a solo yourself, try instead for a three-way tie rather than a two-way. In a two way, both sides are just one unit away from a solo. Someone will try for the single win, so there will probably be no two-way. I donít like to gamble that much; I donít like the other fellow being that close to a solo. Instead, a three-way, in which no one player is close to a solo, is much more likely to keep one player from winning a solo. Itís a safer bet.

By following the above suggestions, I believe one can be at least a moderately successful Diplomacy player. I have seen many players, even some "old hands" flounder because they didnít follow enough of these common sense rules. None of the suggestions are particularly insightful, but they are generally the right thing to do.

Tom Woodhouse
(tom.woodhouse@river.cc.mn.us)
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