It was nice to see the recent article from Alan Mennel advertising his two high-on-time-ratio hobby groups. I am a member of Dipsters and love the way that games proceed — at present I am playing eight or nine partial press games, two of them in the Dipsters group. My non-Dipster games are characterised by an average of more than one late submission every two turns and quite a few drop outs, whereas the only late in either of my Dipster games was me (oops) having a brain frazz on a recent move. Alan is not a totalitarian, obsessive, on-time freak: he is very forgiving (and basically a nice guy) as long as the brain frazzes are very occasional.
I do still enjoy playing other judge based games — and part of my enjoyment has been the mental separation of our hobby into two very different games (although each played with the same rules): Diplomacy and what I will label Revolutionary Diplomacy. Diplomacy is the game that Allan Calhamer envisaged — seven players who communicate regularly, lead their nation to either death or glory and play for the solo until there is no reasonable alternative to a draw. Revolutionary Diplomacy is characterised by two or three drop outs in a game, one or two nations who barely communicate and frequent late orders.
What makes the two games different is the psychology behind Diplomacy. I suspect at the top level of our hobby, this has a far smaller effect than my current level of medium experience, handful of solos, playing with similar (or better) players. However, enough pouch deposits have discussed the psychology of diplomacy to ensure that most of us take note of it in our play.
Stabbing another country can frequently make you an enemy for life — and being the first to stab can often make you the stabber who is remembered. It is an acknowledged part of diplomacy that there are many players out there who will never trust you again — to the extent of spending the rest of their game time ensuring you, as the first person to drive a nail into their plans for continental success, are not going to expand at all. I am not saying this is good or bad, simply that it is a factor we have to take into account when we consider our early stabs. We have all seen leaders that will throw all their toys out of their cot and gift their supply centres to another nation.
Having read pouch deposits on top level games, I think this is less of an issue as one moves up the hobby. Alliances do seem more fluid and the more experienced players seem more willing to forgive (although not necessarily forget) when the layout of the board demands a different focus.
Most judge games, however, introduce a counter-balancing factor — the player who drops out. I can understand why so many players find this frustrating — especially when it is your good ally who drops out. The drop outs, however, give rise to Revolutionary Diplomacy. If your diplomatic skills are sufficiently sharpened, new players mean a new start to the game.
To give a recent personal example (game not finished so it will remain nameless). I drew France and wanted to see what would happen if I went for a totally aggressive approach (my conclusion is that in Diplomacy, it would almost certainly not have worked, but in Revolutionary Diplomacy it is proving fairly successful). I did the standard friendly-to-everyone start, and while the early game diplomatic dithering was taking place I quickly stabbed Germany. I managed to convince Russia and England to join me. Before Germany was finished I then lightly stabbed Russia for two SCs (the Tsar went a little ballistic) and almost simultaneously took some SCs off England. Realistically, I should have been facing ERG, but at this stage Germany dropped out and a new German took over. I was able to convince the new German that despite my early stab, my main interest were Russia and England and I now have a 2 SC ally who is helping me wipe out England and hold Russia at bay (we have just started taking out some Russian SCs in Scandinavia). This would have been impossible with the previous German leader.
No, this is not Diplomacy as it was originally envisaged, which is why I choose to label it as a different game.
As a player who frequently fills in as a replacement, I have noticed the same effects from the point of view of the smaller nation coming in. On a number of occasions I have managed to act as a catalyst for the stop-the-solo alliance which was foundering before my arrival, or managed to convince one of the two powers that are attacking my small nation that now that a new leader in place, it is time for them to stab their erstwhile ally. Of course, on many occasions I have also been swiftly squashed, but that is the nature of mercy positions.
Revolutionary Diplomacy plays into the hands of those who communicate often and with everyone. New leaders in some sense mean a new game — and an appreciation of the psychology of our hobby allows a good diplomat to work the new situation to their advantage, either as a replacement or when communicating with the replacement.
Even the ever-annoying late moves play into the hands of the frequent pressers. As a point of honour, I will not respond to any communication from nations who are late. However, if you can pick up an ally who is equally keen on communication and submits moves on time, then an extra few days a week are typically available for press. Playing from South Africa where only the Europeans (and a few African based players) are in the same time zone as myself, this is often the difference between success and failure. In another current game, I am fighting a rear-guard action with an Australian-based player against a dominant, expanding England. Neither of us has yet been late, but our ability to plan has been hugely enhanced by the frequent late orders in the game.
So, next time you are involved in a ‘typical’ judge game, embrace the revolution. At least in the early stages seek out the communicators — although maybe the good communicators should be the first to be stabbed in the middle game: leave them with a poor presser as they try to stop your solo march. With replacement players you have a lot of scope for historical revisionism: the moves are fairly common knowledge, but you can certainly colour your reasons as to why you issued your previous moves. And as with all press based forms of diplomacy: talk, talk, talk.
“Hasta la victoria siempre”
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