Martin On Diplomacy

II. Five Highpoints of Diplomacy

By Chris Martin

Welcome to the second in my series of columns on Diplomacy, the greatest game ever. It is my intent to take a closer look at diverse and various aspects of the game - e-mail vs. face-to-face, tactics vs. strategy, alliance theory, what constitutes good press, why bad things happen to good players, tournament play vs. playing for fun, and so on.

I thought I'd dedicate this article to five "highpoints" of Diplomacy. A short list of items, with a few short thoughts on each one. Let me officially state that I am soliciting commentary in advance -- if you have thoughts on any of these things, then bring them on! I will attempt to incorporate them into future articles. C'mon, don't miss your chance for a credit in The Pouch!

Today's topics for discussion:

  1. Diplomacy is the art of the plausible.
  2. A great tactician/diplomat is hard to find.
  3. If you play like a chump, they are gonna play you like a chump.
  4. They don't see the board the same way you do.
  5. Your enemies are talking to your allies. And vice-versa.

1. Diplomacy is the Art of the Plausible

I have mentioned this idea to a few people from time to time ever since the notion attached itself to my head, and they invariably say, "Yeah, sure, I'll buy that." When you are conducting diplomacy with another power, they are going to look first at the content of your proposal -- does it make any kind of logical sense at all? Does what you say benefit both parties (at least!) marginally, and can they see themselves profiting as well as you? Or is this a lot of smoke and mirrors, wasting their time? If you can look at the board from their point of view, and see what they are looking to achieve, and factor that into your communications, then your words are much more likely to be heard. "Get them by the ear, and the rest will follow." (I borrowed that nice little saying from Manus, with whom it or some permuation of it is original.)

2. A Great Tactician/Diplomat is Hard to Find

I know one truly great tactician, and one really great Diplomat. They are both paying me good money not to name names here. Most successful dip players are good at one or the other, rarely both. Indeed, many good players think the game is only about the diplomatic, (deception and stabbing), and that tactics (the moving of pieces around) are "simple." These players are your rightful prey. ;)

A solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the "piece moving" will give you what you need to take down Turkey's defenses, jump across the moat around England, and claw your way to a corner when you're a central power. It will break the stalemate line, overwhelm the overburdened defender, and allow you to fend of five units attacking with only two on defense. Never, never underestimate the power of a strong tactician.

Strong diplomats are also rare -- few seem to be able to win the hearts and minds of the other players, no matter how often or how hard they stab. Someone who foils your plans by getting someone else to take the fall, or who can clearly explain why it's in your best interests to continue to fight someone else while he takes your centers, well, they are not to be underestimated either.

Remember that most people are vulnerable in one of these two areas -- find out which, and hit 'em there!

3. If You Play Like a Chump, They're Gonna Play You Like a Chump

Brian Ecton gets the nod for this quote, and its one that you always want to keep in mind when you sit down across from six people who want to take over the world. Everyone knows that someone is going down, and they are all looking to see who that someone is going to be. Don't stand up and say "Me! Take me down!" What does that mean? At the very least, it means not sounding foolish in opening negotiations - stridently paranoid or slavishly docile are both categories you want to avoid being lumped into. Tactically incompetent is up there too -- Mis-ordered or simply badly ordered units are like chum in the water to the sharks you are swimming with. Sometimes you will be the fall guy even if you are reasonable, tactically capable, and not playing Austria, but it will happen a lot less often!

4. They Don't See the Board the Same Way You Do

This is a tough one, and it's a failure that applies to both beginners and advanced players. Sometimes when you look over the board, something appears totally clear -- R/T aren't really fighting, and the juggernaut will be rolling next year, or that the F/G/E opening moves are a Sealion that is going to take England down, or that three moves from now, the stalemate line will be lost, and we have to stop fighting right now, or he solos!

The problem, natch, is that the other guy is convinced that R/T are mortal enemies, and that England and France are going after Germany together, and that there is still time to eliminate you before the solo is lost!

Without a common vision, you can't effectively affect the other person's decisions. When you both see the board the same way, co-ordination is easy and natural... and best of all, you can often set the other guy up for a stab! ;)

5. Your Enemies are Talking to Your Allies - and Vice-Versa

This one seems self evident, but I have seen it come around and bite more people's buns that you would think. Of course everyone is talking to everyone. Aren't you? Well, then you had better be darn careful about what you say and to whom, hadn't you?

This is true whether you are playing F2F or Email or Postal, with friends or strangers. Nobody likes hearing that you are setting them up for a stab -- and you're going to like it less when that stab fails because your target was notified of your moves! Keep your plans to yourself, and no one can predict your moves. A practice that some players have, and that I take advantage of (so you shouldn't really do it), is getting together with your allies and coordinating your moves -- all your moves. This lets a skillful diplomat affect the outcome of conflicts that should be beyond his ability to change -- by giving "helpful advice" to you, or to your foes, so that you don't do as well as he does!

By all means, co-ordinate moves which require each other's supports, and any large scale strategical considerations should be discussed -- but if you, as England, are taking down France with your Italian ally, don't tell Italy how you are going to take Sweden, or Denmark, or St. Pete! Why does he need to know? Always remember: "what your friends do know can hurt you." (Another quote from Manus.)

Okay, so there you have it! Let's hear what you think, and remember -- play big or go home! It's only a game!
Chris Martin

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