by Charles Roburn

Dear fellow leaders of Europe:

The twentieth century is upon us. With it have come new dangers and threats to the general peace.

Under normal circumstances, I would open diplomatic correspondence with each of you separately, broaching subjects of mutual interest to our two nations alone. Border changes, spheres of interest, alliances for mutual defense against an agressor, that sort of thing.

But it has come to my attention that Europe faces an even greater danger than the normal cut-and-thrust of international politics. A menace so great that it dwarfs all others, even the danger of conquest by another nation. A terrible threat to the very existence of humanity itself.

I speak, of course, of… ZOMBIES.

You know who I mean. They lurch among us, pretending to be responsible national leaders like ourselves — but don't be fooled. THEY ARE NOT!

They may at first appear normal. Initially they may even send you press — I guess they still have some vesitgial capacity for speech left before their brains rot completely. But as time goes on, even this stops or falls to nothing. They do not send or reply to long, detailed messages. Soon, they answer pleas and threats alike with mindless silence, as though the soul has left the body.


They shamble onward, seemingly without direction, dripping guck ALL OVER THE LANDSCAPE as they go. They have no strategic plan or tactical sense; all they know is that THEY MUST CONSUME. They use brute force to seize our cities, and the poor victims within soon swell their undead host with NEW ZOMBIE ARMIES. In time, they extend their evil reach to the upper levels of new governments (particularly when that country has just been stabbed, for some reason).

Their aim is to put all Europe — indeed, the ENTIRE WORLD — under the dominion of EVIL ZOMBIE HORDES.


…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

Dear Diary:

I believe I have made a good start. I exposed the ZOMBIE MENACE today to the Cabinet, and they clearly were horrified. I believe I have convinced them of the seriousness of the situation. The more I spoke, the more horrified they became. The Deputy Prime Minister was shaking by the time I finished. He kindly expressed concern, and said that perhaps the pressure was getting to me and I should take a holiday. However, I remained firm. I stated clearly that there must be a steady hand guiding the war against zombiedom, and that hand must be mine. They were all very still after that. I think I impressed them with my resolve. They were awestruck into silence!

— Lord Salisbury

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:

Dear Diary:

Alas. Over twenty-four hours have passed since I issued my general statement to the other Great Powers of Europe. So far, there has been almost universal silence. My God, we are alone. Only one Power so far has responded to the call. Can all the rest of them have succumbed to the UNDEAD HORDES so QUICKLY? Surely not! And yet, with only one response, it seems so. I will have no choice but to commit my forces as this one leader wishes, unless I hear from other leaders soon. I have no wish to commit myself to only one Power, but how can it be otherwise when they refuse to respond to me? I hope they will contact me, but that will depend on them. Their continued silence will speak volumes about their level of ZOMBIFICATION.

The continued silence of other powers is a clear indication that they have been SWAMPED WITH UNDEAD. I made it VERY CLEAR that I WILL SIDE with whoever proves themselves NOT A ZOMBIE by sending the MOST AND BEST PRESS. When they do not even try, the real state of affairs is obvious; I have no choice but to side with a human nation over the ARMIES OF EVIL.

— Lord Salisbury

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

Dear Diary:

Calloo, callay! It appears that another Great Power is ready to join the quest against the EVIL ZOMBIES! I am overjoyed -- the forces of HUMANITY AND GOODNESS now outnumber those of SLIMY UNDEAD EVIL by 4 to 3! So long as they are all sincere, that is, and do not foolishly ignore the GREATER THREAT to fight amongst themselves.

I would be more comfortable still were there evidence that more of the remaining three were NOT A ZOMBIE; but so far, nothing. There is time yet, but this CONSTANT SILENCE can only be taken as a sign that they are all three of them ZOMBIE KINGDOMS. Alas; I feel badly for any poor humans remaining in them, suffering under the TERRIBLE YOKE of ZOMBIE OPPRESSION as they are FARMED FOR THEIR BRAINS. I hope my expectations will be happily proven wrong once again as they were today; but time is growing short. Will the remaining three contact me? We shall see.

Sadly, it seems clear from the MENACING SILENCE in some quarters that there is a sinister UNDEAD COALITION OF KINGDOMS (UCK) bent on DESTROYING HUMANITY and EATING ALL OUR BRAINS. My patient waiting has been unfruitful; there appear to be only four human Great Powers left on the map of Europe. Will there yet be an addition to our ranks? I pray so; but realistically I dare not hope for it.

No, it seems clear that the UCK nations have been unfortunately OVERRUN BY ZOMBIES. What other explanation could there be for this UNHOLY QUIET? That their leaders are human but too busy, and/or too shortsighted, to make even the most PERFUNCTORY OVERTURES to me? No, no; I must be realistic. It can only be ZOMBIES RETURNED FROM THE GRAVE.

— Lord Salisbury

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:

Dear Diary,

Another successful year!

Although our side's brave human soldiers were eventually forced out of Paris, our operation to EVACUATE CIVILIANS was a success. The ZOMBIE ARMIES were left without any source for REPLENISHING THEIR UNHOLY RANKS WITH FRESH UNDEAD.

I must admit to a minor crisis of conscience. It occurred to me the other day that I have failed to take one of the cultural peculiarities of France into account. Maybe French silence is not due to a SURFEIT of ZOMBIES. Maybe we have been inflicting a terrible war on them under a misapprehension that they have been SWAMPED BY THE WALKING DEAD, when really they haven't. Maybe they have instead been TAKEN OVER BY **MIMES**.

And then I thought: is that really any better?

The war continues.

— Lord Salisbury

This FINALLY provoked a response from France, in the form of a public broadcast:

Leaders of Europe,

I'd like to state on this record that the country of France is ruled by French human beings. I'd like to also state that the president of England, Lord Salisbury, is absolutely insane and should be stopped. What kind of man claims countries are ruled by ZOMBIES? This man rages war against me and my people for such an insane proposition. BAH! Also I scorn Germany, my supposed allied, for aiding them.

— France

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:

Dear Diary:

I am perturbed at recent developments. At long last, there has been a public message from France -- a possible indication of ACTUAL LIFE! And yet, other than this brief outburst, that unhappy nation continues as SILENT AS EVER. What does this mean?

The claim that France is ruled "by French human beings" gives me pause. Is it possible that my earlier conjecture is true? After all, MIMES count as human beings. Sort of.

On the other hand, this could be a ruse to conceal whatever is really going on across the Channel. Maybe this announcement comes from a human prisoner who has been ENSLAVED BY THE ZOMBIES. Or maybe EVIL MIMES have forced this response from AN IMPRISONED VOICE-OVER ACTOR. Maybe they are ZOMBIE MIMES! There is no way to tell.

Consequently, I am putting together a special investigative team to be landed on the French shore. They will of course be equipped with top-of-the-line TINFOIL HATS and ZOMBIE-DETECTION GOGGLES. If they do not detect ZOMBIE ACTIVITY, they will attempt to make friendly contact with the MIMES. The members of this crack team are currently being trained in such vital skills as WALKING AGAINST AN IMAGINARY WIND, BEING TRAPPED inside AN INVISIBLE BOX, and of course DEMONSTRATING INORDINATE JOY AT SNIFFING A FLOWER.

It is my hope that if we are in fact facing HUMAN MIMES, then these efforts at communication, plus offerings of WHITE GREASEPAINT, STRIPED JUMPSUITS, and PANTS WITH SUSPENDERS will lead to a normalizing of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Perhaps even at this late hour, peace can be established.

— Lord Salisbury

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.

The Aftermath

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!

Charles Roburn

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