Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from Owls Diplomacy News. We reproduce it here with the kind permission of both the author and the publisher.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." This Biblical passage was taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1. Pete Seeger wrote a song, based on this verse, called "Turn, Turn, Turn!" in 1962, which The Byrds popularized in 1964 as a war protest. In this article, I will be focusing on communication, in which Ecclesiastes 3:7 states: "a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak". Regardless of your view of the Bible, some Truths cannot be denied, and the ability of a player to choose the proper method of communication is a Truth that cannot be ignored!
Some people communicate through diplomatic press; some people communicate through raging, heated press; some people communicate by not speaking at all. Each of these forms of communication are valid tools within the game of Diplomacy, but each should be used wisely and in the proper context.
The most popular form of communication is the standard, friendly press. This form of communication will serve you best throughout most of your games. It's important not to take the game personally, and to remember that lies and stabs are all a part of the game. If you are stabbed, take it all in stride and talk to your opponent peacefully at first, in an attempt to dissuade him from further incursions into your territory. It is said that 'a soft answer turns away wrath' and that 'it's easier to catch a fly with honey, rather than vinegar'. These truths are self-evident and no less true in Diplomacy.
In Owlsopen06_2C, Germany sent such vile, hate-filled press, that Italy chose to throw the game to me rather than allow him a decent score. Never allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. Before you write a heated press, consider the long-term effects that press will have on your game.
In some cases, however, heated press is necessary to turn aside an attack. This form of communication is known as "Chainsaw Diplomacy" and is such a powerful tool; it should be used only in greatest need and with the utmost care. Mastering the art of Chainsaw Diplomacy can take a long time, so don't be surprised if it backfires on you at first. The Pouch archives contain an entire article dedicated to this form of communication, so I won't go into too much depth on the subject, but I will explain the basics of this tool.
Let's say you've been stabbed repeatedly and your opponent shows no signs of backing down. You've tried being nice; you've tried being diplomatic; but your opponent is bent on eliminating you. It's time to break out the chainsaw. Chainsaw Diplomacy is not an explosion of hate and vile threats, but rather a press showing controlled fury. You want your opponent to be so frightened by you, that he reconsiders continuing to attack you. Sometimes, threatening to throw the game to another person or threatening to blockade your opponent, regardless of the outcome are effective methods. Other times, you have to become heated, but you should never allow your emotion to spill into your press, although you can make it seem like it has.
In Owlsopen06_3A, I drew Germany and began the game with Thorin's previous ODN suggestion of an Axis [AGI] alliance. Russia tipped me off that Austria planned to stab me in 1902, so I brought this up prior to the moves and Austria swore vehemently that he did not intend to stab me. When he proved to be lying, I jumped right into chainsaw diplomacy, making sure he would be caught off-guard by my reaction. After a few angry presses, I then backed down and apologized profusely; giving him the impression, I would work with him. This allowed me to work against him without causing undo suspicion until it was too late. In this case, a mix of honey and vinegar worked very well, but I had to be sure not to push him so far that he rallied the other countries against me.
Not communicating is also an effective method of communication, but again, it must be used in the proper context. When you cut off communication with another player, make sure it is strategic, and not simply because you're angry with the player for some reason. Some people stop communicating because they know their press is being shared across the board; but in a case like this, you can use this to your advantage. In television and movies, if a person knows that a neighbor is a gossip, they will tell that neighbor something to make sure it spreads all over town. The same can be true in Diplomacy. If you want people to think you are moving a certain direction, then be sure to tell the game gossip and it will eventually fall into the right ears.
Another poor reason to cut off communication is after a stab. As mentioned earlier, sometimes elimination can be turned around with the proper amount of diplomacy. Now, sometimes there is no hope, but it's still common courtesy to keep talking to the other players, if for no other reason than to pass along information and try to trip up your opponent or rally the other nations to your cause.
For example, I played England in Owls_Goethe, and pulled every diplomatic trick I could think of to get France to stop his assault on me, but to no avail. Finally, I was reduced to two centers and I knew my doom was near; however, I had a fleet and army already deep within Germany which could be useful to France if he wanted a solo. I decided to help France take a solo, since the other players either slit my throat or refused to stop France. I successfully convinced France to push me forward towards Russia, trading me center for center until his solo was near. This bought be two more years in the game and France didn't get a solo, so even in elimination, I received more points than if I had simply stopped talking to France.
In a more recent game, Owls_Euripides, I played France and England took advantage of my unprotected rear when I advanced on Italy. I broke out my chainsaw immediately and verbally tore him to shreds. Although it shook him, he was resilient and continued his advances on me, so I changed tactics, using logic and game theory instead. I sent a 3-page press detailing his options and showing how attacking Germany would offer him more long-term gains. In this case, England ceased his attacks and we were able to hammer out an alliance. Diplomacy with my enemy turned my game around and saved me from elimination. Another factor in England's decision was the lack of communication from the other players. Some ignored him, while others only sent short messages. No one actually communicated with him, except for me.
However, I have seen times when NOT communicating is the best method of communicating. Here we get into the psychology of your opponents. Jonty Klassnik mentions in his article on the Belgian Gambit that if France moves to BUR in the spring and offers silence in the fall, Germany will worry about the loss of MUN and allow you to take Belgium uncontested. In another article, entitled the Alpine Chicken, Klassnik mentions a spring move of VEN - PIE when playing Italy, followed by silence in the fall. In this scenario, France worries about the loss of MAR and moves to cover that territory. This not only limits France's initial builds, but also ensures that no fleet can be raised in MAR that year.
Whatever method of communication you employ within a game, always consider the future ramifications of your actions, and weigh them against the potential gains. Communicate in a manner best befitting your long-term strategy. Remember, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.
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