Dear fellow leaders of Europe:
…and so it began.
Press silence. It's... well, it's a pet peeve of mine. I consider it one of the worst problems afflicting the online hobby. Yet it doesn't seem to get discussed a whole lot.
Of course, that's partly due to the problem of abandonments, which tend to eclipse everything else. Press silence often means that the player is about to abandon the game (or go into civil disorder for at least a turn) anyway; so it tends to be viewed as part and parcel of that issue. So when a player does still submit moves, it seems relatively positive: he's less of a quitter than one who just stops playing altogether.
And let me say, I realize that silence can be understandable. In a game with brief deadlines, players will naturally tend to focus on exchanging press with their neighbors first. Even when there's more time between moves, some players don't bother writing to players far away from their own borders. There are also those who stop writing to anyone who stabs them. It's almost always a mistake not to write — a good Diplomacy player should always be talking to everyone! — but in these cases, it's a lot easier to excuse.
No, what bothers me is when a player just… doesn't write at all.
I have a hard time understanding it. Writing to other players is the game's main source of fun! How can you hope to influence others if you won't write to them? How can you coordinate with an ally if you won't discuss tactics and strategy? How can you take a target unawares when your silence makes them worry about you? How can you avoid becoming their target yourself? I assume silent players aren't silent out of malice, but I still find them frustrating and puzzling. Working with others (at least until you no longer need them) is the whole idea of this game, after all: it's called "Diplomacy", not "Isolation". So why bother signing up for a press game if you aren't going to write press? It makes no sense to me!
And yet, I see it happen again and again. I join a game, and one player lets my messages go unanswered. Or I write to my neighbor's neighbor about coordinating our strategy, and I'm completely ignored. And this frustrates me: I find it degrading to keep writing someone year after year without any reply, when any sensible player would be eager to write back!
I still write everyone, even though it's discouraging not to receive a reply. I find it does pay off; more than once I've managed to get a silent one- or two- center Power to do as I asked, simply because I kept writing to them. But it's a matter of diminishing returns, and often hardly worth the effort.
So, after a game where I as Russia spent the first two game years begging France to talk to me — finally receiving a one-line response of "sorry i just dont think we have anything to takl about" — I decided to try a little experiment.
All Zombies Must Die
I decided that instead of wasting time by writing long messages to other players who wouldn't answer, I'd put the onus on THEM to write to ME. And I would be very open about it! If a player wrote, I would respond; but I wouldn't waste my time on those who didn't.
In one of the games I'd run a while before, I'd already seen the word "zombies" used to describe silent players. I thought it fit very well. It seemed descriptive of the problem, and would let me talk about it with a little humor while still getting the point across (or so I hoped!). So in my next game, when I was assigned the role of England, I began by broadcasting the very message you see at the top of this article. I adopted the persona of the mad Lord Salisbury, and said straight out that if they wanted my help it was up to them to write me, and that I would ally with the player who wrote the longest, clearest, and most credible press (not necessarily in that order). I also made it clear that anyone who didn't write me would be my enemy — because obviously, such silence could only indicate A ZOMBIE.
My hope was that this would encourage everyone else to write me, or at least to identify the silent players right away. Anybody who didn't send me a message would obviously be a waste of time!
Unfortunately, even though I'd been very blunt, messages were slow to come in. The first nation to respond to my call was Turkey. The Sultan's message was friendly; he seemed to appreciate the humor, and assured me that he was NOT A ZOMBIE even if he didn't write me as much as some others. His message was welcome, of course; but I'd been hoping to hear from somebody closer to me first.
But I didn't. For the next while, there was only silence.
I was really disappointed. Had I frightened off all my neighbors? I'd realized that some of them might think I was just a loose cannon, but I'd believed the basic idea would get through, and they'd write me as much as possible. I was already used to having one or two players ignore me; but all three of my nearest neighbors, when I'd explicitly said that I'd side with whoever wrote me the most?
I decided to turn up the pressure with another broadcast:
I hoped that France, Russia, and Germany would assume that one of them was the one Power who had contacted me, and quickly write to prevent me from becoming that Power's puppet. And it worked, sort of: I soon received a message from a second player…
Like the Sultan, the Archduke was friendly; but of course we weren't really in a position to discuss much of substance. Again, his message was welcome; but what I really needed was to hear from those nearer to me. Even Italy would be able to help against France and/or Germany; but I didn't hear from anyone else for the next few days.
I began to resign myself to a quick exit; but then, I finally heard from a neighbor.
The Grand Anti-Zombie Alliance
Three days after the game had started, the German player broadcast his first message to the game at large. He soon followed up with a private message to me, and I was finally, FINALLY able to start negotiating in earnest.
Launching World War Z
True to my word, I became the Kaiser's faithful ally.
We immediately set about planning to deal with the obvious ZOMBIE POWERS of Russia and France. Although I tried not to be a pushover, I did try to go along with Germany's suggestions. After assurances that he'd help me take Belgium if Russia moved to threaten Norway in Spring 1901, I agreed to open to the English Channel. Right up to the Spring 1901 moves, I heard nothing from either France or Russia, although I did occasionally hear from Austria and Turkey. In time I heard from Italy as well.
However, Germany was the one who kept writing me consistently. He apparently had heard from France, but as far I can remember it was (he said) a very brief message abruptly demanding a DMZ in Burgundy. Germany was clearly the only neighbor who was prepared to take me seriously: so I sided with him. (When I say 'seriously', though, I should mention that he was a great sport about writing back in character, humoring my insane ramblings about ZOMBIES as though he actually agreed with them.)
It worked out very well.
In 1901, we managed to keep Russia out of Scandinavia completely (the Tsar had opened A MOS-STP to threaten Norway, just as I'd feared) while a German army marched into Paris. In 1902 France took his capital back, but was unable to build because all his home centers were occupied by existing units. Meanwhile, we advanced into Norway and Sweden. And so it went.
I continued to issue mad broadcasts, talking about the need to equip the Royal Forces with TIN-FOIL HATS designed to stop ZOMBIE RAYS, and other such craziness. I hoped that I would get *some* sort of response from the silent Russia or France:
This FINALLY provoked a response from France, in the form of a public broadcast:
Leaders of Europe,
At last! I immediately responded with another broadcast of my own, ending with a subtle hint that I might (might!) be persuaded to change sides:
Sadly, I heard nothing further from the French player after that. That was the only communication I received from either France or Russia during the entire game. There were no pleas to change sides, no offers of alliance or promises of support, nothing. And so I continued on in my alliance with the German.
By the end of 1903, we had eliminated Russia completely (with a little help from Turkey). In 1904 the German armies started rolling into Austria while we finished off France, who had stopped playing. We eliminated France — the ZOMBIE POWERS had been defeated! — and forced Italy out of Spain, Tunis, and Venice. At the beginning of 1906, Germany was poised to sweep into Austria while I pressed on in the Mediterranean.
Of course, it was at this point that I stabbed him. (What: you thought I was going to stick with the alliance? I may hate zombies, but this was still Diplomacy!) After that, the game wrapped up within a few years. I don't want to go into detail about what happened, as that's irrelevant to the exercise: but I will say that each of the four countries that had bothered to write me did survive to the very end.
So, what does it all mean?
I can't speak for the other players. Maybe my approach amused or intrigued them; maybe it put them off. At the very least it probably made their game more surreal, but I can't really say.
For myself, I can say that actually... it didn't make that much difference. I'm pretty convinced that the German player would have written me the most frequently even if I'd taken a less lunatic approach. Similarly, I'm pretty sure that Austria, Turkey, and Italy would still have written about as much as they did. And sadly, I don't think it would have made a difference to France or Russia either (except maybe for that French broadcast, which I'm guessing wouldn't have happened at all). And I'm pretty sure that I would have chosen to ally with Germany on that basis, even if he hadn't been so good about writing back in character.
Because that's generally how it works out in most games of Diplomacy. The players who write often and well are a lot better at convincing others to do what they want. Silence indicates a dangerous neighbor. Of course, lots of press may not indicate a trustworthy neighbor, but it generally means that you're dealing with someone you can work with, at least to some extent. In my experience, the best alliances involve frequent exchange of messages. It should be obvious... but apparently it isn't, not to some people.
So in your next game, remember: there's no place for a silent player in Diplomacy. Write often, and write well. Don't be a zombie!
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