by Adam Silverman

You sit down at a board with 6 other players and stare at the starting position that you know so well. Everyone playing has the same motivation from Spring 1901 till the game ends: get to 18 centers. Right?

Well… maybe. But then again, maybe not.

But what else could possibly be on a player's mind, aside from how to get to 18? Might some players have different goals? Of course the answer is yes! As much as it pains players from the "solo-or-bust" school of thought, many players (even experienced ones) go into some games with no expectation of getting to 18. Furthermore, the context of the game is very important; in some tournament or even social gaming settings a solo may be undesirable for various reasons. In other cases, by the midgame a player may reach a position where it is apparent to him that a solo is impossible or nearly impossible. By extension, many games will eventually come to a point where it becomes apparent that a solo by any player will be extremely unlikely. At this point, either some other motivating factor takes over for a portion of the surviving players, or the game is called a draw and everyone goes to the bar.

While it is possible that everyone is playing with the same overall objective (18 dots), what motivates the seven players on a board may be very different. And it surely can and will change as the game goes on. Understanding what motivates the other players can be a huge asset in projecting how they will behave, deciding how to negotiate with them, and determining what your own best course of action is. Of course the motivations of player A are sure to influence the motivations of player B which affect the motivations of player C and so on, but by looking out carefully for what each player wants, it may be not be quite so difficult to deconstruct the situation.

This article seeks to evaluate and analyze many of the factors that may motivate players over the course of a Diplomacy game. With an understanding of these factors in mind, a player should have an expanded toolbox of factors to look for when negotiating.

Context Matters

The first issue to think about is the context of the game. Most games fall into one of three contexts: tournament diplomacy, social diplomacy where many or most of the players know one another (typically face-to-face club games), and social diplomacy where most of the players do not know one another (typically email games).

In tournament diplomacy, it probably goes without saying that the tournament scoring system plays a huge part in determining what will motivate players. But to consider it as the only or even primary factor during a game is foolhardy. Different types of players participate in tournaments. At one extreme are the tournament gamers, who travel to many tournaments each year and go in with the intention of trying to win or place. At the other extreme are players who are just there for the thrill of playing in a tournament and have no real expectations or designs on the big trophies. And of course, many if not most players fall somewhere in between. But clearly, the "tournament gamers" are going to be much more attuned to and motivated by the scoring system than are those in the other groups. Likewise, earlier rounds affect later rounds; a tournament gamer who has been eliminated in the first 3 rounds of a 4 round tournament is unlikely to care much whether he finishes with 14 versus 10 centers or in a 3-way versus a 6-way (but in round 1 it probably makes a huge difference!).

Social diplomacy is often a different ballgame. I've divided this category of game into two subgroups, one where the players know one another, the other where they don't. Obviously it's a fine line, but there may be differences in how some players look at these games. When no one knows anyone else, there are no prior relationships and often the presumption that there will be no or few future relationships; that is, no expectation of playing with the same people any time soon. If this is the case, there is less of a sense of having a reputation for a specific play style to uphold, as may be the case in games where the players know one another or may play together again. Thus, in the former case there may be a greater likelihood for unconventional or irrational play, while in the latter case many players will worry about developing a reputation as a loose cannon.


I have divided the rest of this discussion into the phases of the game: opening, midgame, and endgame. These designations are totally arbitrary, but necessary since player motivations change over the course of the game. So we start by asking ourselves, what motivates people during the opening turns of the game. A player might be looking for one or more of the following:

  1. Survival
  2. Establish a long-term alliance
  3. Eliminate another power
  4. Maximize growth
  5. Maximize position
  6. Maintain balance
  7. Be "creative"

Simply hoping for survival through the opening may be the goal of a new player, an intermediate player on a board full of sharks, or a player who gets attacked out of the gate by multiple powers. The promise of survival in a puppet state, or even better, with the prospect of later becoming a stronger power, can be a very powerful carrot to such a player.

Many players look for long-term alliances early in the opening. Such a player is hoping find someone with whom they can build trust, negotiate well with, and pursue longer-term objectives with. Often such players can be very put off by early obfuscations or lies by omission, which are repaid in kind. On the other hand, fostering a mutual agreement with someone who is looking for it may pay big dividends later.

On the flip side is the player looking to eliminate a specific power. This motivation may be because of strategic concerns ("we don't want to let Turkey out of the box"), a propensity to play in a certain way (i.e., when Italy, always attack Austria), or a simple inability to work with a specific player. Be happy should you be fortunate enough to neighbor with someone who has such a mentality. They are limiting their own options and increasing yours, for you may have greater flexibility in deciding whether to help them with their goal or to side with their enemy.

Then there are those motivated to maximize growth (a subset of which we call "dot-grabbing bastards"). Growing big fast sounds good, though some players try to avoid doing it so they aren't the focus of a stop-the-leader alliance or "early-leader-syndrome." Some players might be looking for a more balance-of-power approach, especially under C-diplo systems. Balancing size while maximizing position is certainly another approach many players take during the opening, in the hopes that it will position them to break out during the midgame.

Lastly are those players who simply want to do something unconventional. This sort of play is not limited to loose cannons or inexperienced players who don't know any better; even experienced players want to try something unusual sometimes. When approached with an unconventional opening (let Italy into Trieste or Munich in 01, send an English fleet toward Italy, etc.) it's critical to figure out what the person has in mind. Is their real motivation to setup a stab or get into an unconventional but overly strong position, or are they actually just hoping to pull off something weird? Proper responses to these overtures may depend on determining this!


As the game transitions out of the opening, motivations begin to change. The big want to be bigger, the small want to improve their position, and those in the middle want to catch a break. Most of the motivating factors in the midgame fall into one or more of the following categories.

  1. Balance of power
  2. Weaken/eliminate another power
  3. Maintain an alliance
  4. Break up an alliance on the other side of the board
  5. Do something "creative"
  6. Survival

It's very important to think about game flow when thinking about player motivations. Is it a fluid game? Are alliances shifting every turn, or have a couple of strong alliances been forged by midgame? Is the game developing quickly (units charging the stalemate line) or slowly (still trying to take down that first 2 center power)? Game flow will often dictate what will drive a player, especially during the midgame phases.

A player looking for balance of power is typically in one of two positions: strong or weak. Players in mediocre positions are typically too engrossed in figuring out how to go up instead of down to be truly concerned about game balance (despite what they may say). A player in strong position may look for balance of power amongst the remaining players, with himself remaining in the dominant position. Conversely, the player in weak position can use balance of power as leverage with players in better shape to help him improve to their level while hopefully slowing the bigger powers.

Less esoteric is the simple motivation to weaken or eliminate a given power. Maybe digging Turkey out of the corner took longer than expected, but now AI are really focused on it. Maybe England just stabbed Germany and wants to make sure he's finished off. Whatever the case, gauging just how committed power A is to seeing power B weak or dead can be a huge advantage in determining how they will move. If England is totally committed to finishing off Germany, he's probably not going to swing against France, no matter how often he promises it. But if he's just going through the motions, negotiation might convince him to take a different course. Also important to consider: If the player trying to eliminate the weak power is your enemy, go ahead and see what's motivating the guy who's getting thumped. Plain old survival? An offer of survival in a "puppet" state has its benefits. Get back into the action? Sure, if they'll work with you for a couple of turns. And so forth.

Next, there are players who are looking to either maintain or destroy an alliance structure. If you're part of an alliance that is rolling and you have no immediate opportunity to stab, you're probably going to work hard to make sure the alliance keeps rolling. On the other hand, if you're facing a juggernaut, you're probably going to work hard to bust it up. Whichever side of the equation you are on, knowing what the other players want can make a huge difference, and offering them hope, real or false, can earn friends, dots, and position. Many an extra center was earned with "I'm going to stab next year provided you help me get some builds now so that I can do it!"

Don't underestimate the power of someone who wants to do something creative. It's not just for players who are about to die and want to go out with a bang. On the top board at WAC last year, Italy forced the MAO and had a free convoy to Spain and could decimate France. Instead he agreed to an offer by the French, who were in the Irish Sea, for a convoy into Liverpool. Playing England, I was naturally surprised, because I underestimated the Italian's desire to do something novel over his desire to do something that seemed much more logical at the time. That being said, there's a big difference between the player who jokes about setting up a convoy from Syria to StPete with the player who would pull the sort of thing the Italian pulled in my game. Also it's important not to forget that it's not just the chronic loose cannons that are going to try for something "fun"; preparing for these situations is really a matter of gauging each player's mindset.

Finally there is the dying player who simply hopes to survive as long as possible, perhaps in hopes of eventually rekindling some of his former glory or being a 1- or 2-center draw participant. There are entire articles written on how to deal with such powers, so I won't further address it here.


Finally we come to the endgame, where the remaining powers work toward some sort of resolution. Here some of the motivations from the midgame still play a part, but some new immediate ones also take over. Obvious is the immediate threat to try to get or to stop a solo. But when a solo is unlikely or impossible, as it will be in many if not most games, the game will only continue only so long as at least one player has some motivation to continue. These motivating factors come in a number of flavors.

  1. Become as large as possible
  2. Make the draw as small as possible
  3. Keep other powers as small as possible
  4. Eliminate another power
  5. Survive

The endgame is often much more attuned to the goals of the big powers, as they will often work together (intentionally or not) toward a resolution. Motivations at this point will stem from a scoring system, real or perceived, or from a personal or "cultural" bias toward believing certain outcomes are better than others (by "cultural" I mean the prevailing opinion of the hobby subgroup in which the game takes place). The most important distinctions are gauging the relative importance of draw size and dot count for each player surviving toward a non-solo resolution. A very small power in the endgame will obviously have more bargaining power with a player who doesn't care about draw size than one who does. On the other hand, as a big power in such an endgame it's important to know what the little powers want so that they can be best used to help you achieve your own goals.

Interestingly, as games near their conclusion, most players will become more and more candid about how they would like to see the game end or under what conditions they would agree to call a draw. So when unsure, it's a good idea to ask!


Throughout the game it is important to remember that there is a fine line between letting other players know what you really want and telling them what they really want to hear. While this balancing act can be tough, a careful analysis of what players say through their moves, conversations with you, and interactions with other players, can help in determining the most successful approach. Remember: knowing what motivates the other players is half the battle in successful negotiations.

Adam Silverman

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