by Heath Gardner

Hello and welcome back for yet another one of these silly strings of consonants and vowels we're calling a “column”.

So far, so good, but I have to admit I overlooked the deadline. And when I couldn't think of a subject… man was I frustrated.

So, this time, the name of the game is frustration. We all get frustrated to some degree by one thing or another over the course of our day. The same is true a thousand-fold in a Diplomacy session, unless you're Doc Binder and you always draw France.

But I want to talk about how it affects our game. And why you shouldn't fear it.

If you haven't been to a Diplomacy FTF tournament event and you're reading this, you should go, really. It's an experience like none other in the game…[see my other piece in this issue about Dixiecon!] especially to be standing in the middle of all those boards going at once. It's like Nerd Vegas. A guy will hit the jackpot, you'll hear his nerdly cry, and you'll know someone is on his way to the solo. But once you're in the middle of the room with all those games going on, you also hear a lot of frustration.

One guy is pleading, following his as of last turn ex-ally around like a puppy. Another is blowing his top, screaming at the top of his lungs at the guy who just stabbed him. Another just shuffled out of the main room, his head hung low, and is now standing thousand-yard-staring vacantly at beverage choices from a soft-drink machine. Others are locked in varying degrees of heated arguments over positions. And everyone seems so upset. But we're having a great time, right?

People will scream in each other's faces during the day and buy one another beers that night.

How is that possible? I'll let you in on a little secret.

It's (almost, but not always) all a tactic!

That's right… often these guys are legitimately irritated with you. But they are using that irritation to throw you off your game. This is true in email play or Face-to-Face, and I have a tip for you in handling both:

Don't take ANYTHING too seriously when you're playing this game. Personally, Buddhism and meditation work for me, but find a higher power, so to speak. Don't let your ego be too exposed as you play the game or you will not survive in the hobby.

And as a sub-suggestion:

In email play, reply to heated appraisals of your lack of skill as a Diplomacy player, etc, with kind, firm, measured words. Why? Well, one because its good to be nice to people. The other is because, if you get eliminated 3 or 4 turns after the exchange, you won't look like a dick.

But sometimes people just succeed in getting under your skin. And when that happens, you're losing. While this is a game filled with emotion, and highs and lows, and friendships, at the end of the day each turn requires a calm, rational assessment of your position and your next move.

If someone is getting under your skin, they are beating you. Plain and simple.

The tactic works in poker too. It's called putting someone “on tilt”. They WANT to frustrate you, to get under your skin. The idea is to cause anger to override their normal gameplan and to play suboptimally.

So how can you use this tactic for yourself? Here are a few thoughts from the grab bag…

  • Vote down a (secret) draw that works to your benefit, then join the board in the witch hunt fueled by extreme frustration on everyone else's part. Why are they frustrated? A lot of times people want the game to end in a draw because they're worried about their position, and every turn is another little bit of acid flowing over their ulcers.

  • Become a professor. Criticize a player's every choice. There's nothing a Diplomacy player hates to hear more than solid arguments about how he's playing the game badly.

  • Just Keep Saying Yes. Most players worth their salt will keep talking to you even if you aren't getting along in the early phases on the board. One way to drive people bonkers is to keep agreeing to stalemate proposals, agreeing not to bounce Sweden, etc etc – and doing the opposite. Then when they get upset with you the next diplomacy phase, say “sorry, sorry, I had to work x, y and z out, I'll do it this turn.” Rinse and repeat. In no time, you have a tilty opponent and probably a good position against him!

  • I can't do this, but I've seen people (naming no names!) use yelling to great effect in games. It is very uncomfortable to be yelled at, and most people will make at least some accommodation just to “make it stop!” But as long as you remember they're using a tactic from a position of relative weakness, you should be fine.

If you're like me, conditioned to be “The nice guy”, it can be hard to be an utter S.O.B. to someone's face. And to be honest? It's actually much healthier for you to learn how to do just that without leaving too much damage behind while playing a game than it is while you're telling someone off after they dinged your car. Around here, we're all friends (sort of).

And if you have trouble relaxing... well, let me offer you this.

Each moment is a perfect moment.

breathe in
Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.

breathe out
Breathing out, I smile.

breathe in
Dwelling in the present moment,

breathe out
I know this is a perfect moment.

Rinse and repeat 2x per day and you should be good.

Namaste, y'all!

Heath Gardner

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