The following started on the Bay Area Diplomacy Associations (B.A.D.asses) list server and may be of interest to the general player population:

Tim Rollins starts it off with this series of questions:

OK. I have a question for some of the luminaries in the group. I can manage with pretty recent regularity to position myself well through the opening and midgame. I can get to a point where I'm one of the 3 last powers that is "deciding the fate" of the game. From this point, what skill set or plan do you use to get to a solo? I hate settling for the 3-way that inevitably gets proposed by one of the powers, but I don't know how to play the diplomacy without making it obvious that I want a solo. Arguing for a 2-way with both remaining powers is basically tantamount to saying, "I want the solo," which usually won't get you one. Do you pick one horse and try to ride it, convincing power X or Y that you want a 2-way with him (and then stab him for the solo)? Or do you find that the most important thing is to place a couple units beyond whatever critical stalemate line exists, and then it doesn't matter if both powers know you want the solo--it is merely a question of tactics? I imagine that it is a combination of the two, but I am curious to hear what the best and brightest think.

Thanks so much in advance,
Tim Rollins


>From Edi Birsan

OY... much can be said about your question/problem.

Aside from the usual questions about the dynamics of the game setting: tournament/social/structure of alliances up to then/relationships between players/ player tactical and strategic abilities/ motivation etc.... there is a fundamental conceptual point to be understood and why I always say that of the three areas of Diplomacy: tactics, strategy,negotiations strategy is the hardest to learn.

>From my point of view if your goal is a solo you have already failed strategically if you are down to just 3 people.

There is a reason that amongst top players in draw based tournaments, the three way draw is the most common result, it is exactly because it is the hardest to solo from.

When you are down to three players you are basically down to two techniques:

  1. get the other two so pissed off at each other that the game is thrown
  2. get your ally so blinded by the concept of a 2 way and yourself so guilt free so that a stab wins the game... technically you can also get to the point where the tactical skill level of the other two is so poor that they are unable to stop you, but this is not something that you count on.
If your goal really is a solo you need to plan the end game much sooner than when you are down to three. It is far easier to win a game with 6 people on board than it is with you and 2 others.

It is also easier to win a game when you are able to do it in one or two big jumps rather than grind out a win by going 13-14-15-16-17.

When playing, keep in mind what your goal is and if it is winning a rule book victory (18 centers...) which is rather rude in my book... or a concession which is the ideal diplomtaic victory, understand what each of the other players style and valuation of results are relative to that player's position. Some players with 8 centers will concede a victory to another while there are some that are die in place types...

In short manage the game and the gamers to achieve whatever you want but remember that the smaller the number of players, the less the number of techniques that you will have to play with.

David Maletsky also replied with:

The most prolific element which holds Diplomacy players back from solo victory, in my experience, is the absence of sitting down to the table thinking to themselves "what has to happen in order for me to win the game?", and having that thought then go on to dominate both their mindset, and their play, throughout the game. Note that it's hard for even the best of players to win the game with frequency, and as such your plans not only have to be far-reaching, but also subtle, and adaptable.

This lack-of-trying-to-win-from-the-onset couples with another anti-winning element in your example; the idea created by draw-based scoring that if you get yourself to the "late game" with two other significant powers on the board, you've performed admirably; wake up, you haven't... all you've done is succeed in mostly eliminating your chance to achieve the object of the game (to win, in case you haven't read the rules lately).

If you're playing under a draw-based scoring system at a tournament, you may be forced to play this way for your best tournament interest; and, there is the off-chance that you allude to, that if the person you're talking with believes a two-way draw to be a better result to a three-way draw (whether due to the scoring system telling them that it is, or their own personal biases), you might be able to win by talking someone into going for a two-way. Of course, the person you're talking to might win as well... in either case, you're likely to have to play for hours, with one player becoming increasingly bitter, just to find out who has pissed them off less in the end & as a consequence who they decide to throw the game to.

If you want to win the game with any frequency, I think it's critical to understand that you need to sit down to the table subconsciously & hence automatically looking to win. Once you have that mental state, you need to realize that while it's not impossible to win by eliminating player after player until you're down to three, it is the most difficult & most unpleasant fashion in which you can attempt to win. In other words, if you want to win, play for your own best interest... and it turns out, that eliminating another player is ALMOST NEVER in your best interest. There are only two types of players that need to be removed from the board: one, the player who has a mortal vendetta against you & will never do anything but hamper you so long as they're alive; and two, the player who has demonstrated themselves to be so capricious & unreliable of a janissary that they're not worth keeping around. If you play to eliminate -> any other player <- in -> any other position <- where you are strong & viable to win, you are screwing yourself.

So I guess my solution is, don't arrive in the situation you label "the late game" with two other strong powers to begin with; you haven't done anything right by doing so, and the lack of wins that players get in such a situation is evidence of your poor play. Get to the "late game" where there are six or seven powers left on the board, and you have 12+ centres, and you'll have a viable chance to win.

P.S. -- There isn't any "late game", by the way... it isn't chess, and I've seen games go for over 16 hours several times.

Adam Silverman: then added:

A good topic for discussion, this is probably the toughest question in the game, and what seems to separate great players, like Edi, from mere mortals like myself. Having soloed on a rare couple of occassions, and been in games that have ended in solos, I can offer a few points though...

First off, everything Edi said is critical. When you're down to 3 people, your only chances of soloing are:

  1. You really have superiour tactical position and you're not going to screw a single order up.
  2. You can convince someone to foolishly play for a 2-way and then stab them
Otherwise you've got yourself a nice 3-way draw. There's no tricking people here. If one of them says "how about we call a 3-way" and the other says "sure thing," there's no reason to play on unless you are going for a win, and then they know what you're doing.

But then again, think about the situation where you're at 12, there are two powers at around 8, a power at 5 and a power at 1. The guy with 5 centers might be fighting his ass off to stay in the draw and not be ready to call himself out. If its a tournament, that's very likely to be the case. So, then as long as he's viable, you have reason to keep playing that isnt just "me solo."

Take advantage of these smaller powers. Especially the ones that AREN'T viable. The normally want to get back at the guy who screwed him, even if the guy who screwed him is already doing poorly. I've had dying English players support my Italy across the stalemate line simply because it would help me eliminate France before him. It's Diplomacy after all.

Now you have to figure out how to win. Well, if you haven't figured out what you're 18th center is by now, you're probably not going to. There's a conflict between trying to force a strategy and playing flexibly, but if you dont know where you're going long-term by the time you stab your "early game" ally, its going to be hard for you to get there.

And lastly, play "end-game" positions as often as possible. Although its nice to call a game for social reasons after 1906 or 07, it takes away the experience of endgame positioning and trying for a win or trying to stop someone from a win. And its important that you can do both... if you dont know what positions you can use to hold a stalemate line and stop someone from getting 18, you wont know what positions to PREVENT people from getting into when you are going for it.

It's tough. It's really tough. And that's why you dont see many.


Edi Birsan

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