by Alex Hartl

I have recently returned to the Diplomacy hobby in its modern on-line format and, while having fun and doing well, have been constantly making moves based not on the position of the pieces on the board nor the structure of my alliances, but rather in response to players unexpectedly leaving the game or failing to turn in orders. The NMR/CD (no moves received/civil disorder) is not a new phenomenon, as it has been with us since the days of postal Diplomacy, but it never has received its due in the Diplomacy literature despite the fact that few other occurrences can upset the balance of power as much as a country going into CD.

In the 10 on-line games that I have played EVERY game has been affected by a player leaving the game and each game has had several turns in which a player has failed to submit orders. To make matters worse, these NMRs frequently become multi-turn affairs as on-line players appear reluctant to take over for the departed. Unfortunately, this state of affairs is likely to continue because, unlike old play by mail games that were played by veterans of the hobby, modern on-line games frequently attract younger less experienced players with an attention span worthy of the digital age. If players are to succeed in playing on-line Diplomacy they will need to know how to play with the prospect of players dropping out of the game for a turn or permanently.

The first thing to know is when NMR’s are most likely to occur. The most likely time is when a player has decided that they cannot win, will probably be destroyed, and figures it is not worth the bother of continuing. While annoying to Diplomacy purists, this state of events actually mirrors the real world as governments do tend to collapse under the weight of a losing war. In World War 1 Russia went into Civil Disorder in 1917 to be followed by most of the Central Powers in 1918. As a practical matter when attacking a dying nation it is wise to incorporate the probability of a rapid collapse into ones military and diplomatic planning, and more importantly, when relying on another player fighting to the end it is wise to account for the fact that the player might just drop out of the game.

Before pursuing contingency planning, it is important to note that it is possible for players to affect whether or not a player will give up on a game. While there are just people that are sore losers that will ditch a game when the chips are down, most Diplomacy players realize that playing out a bad, if not hopeless, position is part of the game and are willing to do so. Nevertheless, life’s many events may intrude on this desire and cause a player to abandon a game even though they know they are letting the other player’s down. It is important therefore for a player to channel their inner therapist and do what they can to keep marginal players in the game, especially when it is in their interest to do so. The first step is to talk to players that are down on their luck. Players in desperate straits will often write to everybody and be disappointed when nobody bothers to write them back. Take the time to respond, even if it is only a sympathetic platitude or to offer some strategic advice. The effect of even a meaningless communication may well be to give the marginal player a reason to continue playing, because it will make them feel like they are still “one of the guys” and may not want to let down their comrades.

While moral support can keep a marginal player in the game material support will be more effective. Whether or not to prop up another power is a decision that all Diplomacy players must make at some point, but when playing on line the added probability of a rapid collapse due to civil disorder must be considered. If one believes that the survival of a power is essential for one’s own success then the decision to prop up that power must be slanted toward assistance. Otherwise a quicker than expected collapse may well be in the cards. This is especially true if the player in question is holding up a piece of a stalemate line or engaging in active defending like self standoffs or scissors.

Once a collapse does occur players must respond accordingly. The first thing that a player must be certain of is their own knowledge of the rules regarding NMR / Civil Disorder. Most players know these but there are always surprises particularly with disbands, because players sometimes are careless and presume that a nation civil disorder will disband units in a manner that is rational but in fact the formula is rigid with no regards to position. For example, in the game I am currently playing, England went into CD with a unit in St.P and a unit in Yorkshire after Fall 1906. The Russian player also had to disband and mistakenly assumed that Yorkshire rather than St.P would be removed and disbanded his unit in Livonia which could easily have captured St.P. the next season. His position could have been much improved but, alas, he is now easy pickings.

The second thing a player must do is make an enlightened decision on how to proceed given an unforeseen collapse of a country. Most players just try to take the biggest bite possible out of the recently departed (which is often a very good plan) but neglect so see how their political fortunes may be affected by such a course of action. For example if England and France are allied and growing in proportion to one another the balance within that alliance would be upset in the English favor if Russia suddenly went away. While this state of affairs would normally be viewed favorably by the English player, he must be careful because a sudden shift in the balance of power may cause his ally to be more receptive to, say, German diplomatic attempts to break the alliance.

Because the NMR / CD can occur at any time in any country, it is impossible to give specific advice on how to react. I am therefore going to recount a game that I won in which the NMR / CD figured prominently, in the hopes that the reader can gain some insight from the chaos. I was playing Germany (9 centers) in the midgame of what was becoming a 4 way contest between me, my ally France and an alliance of Italy and Austria. A single center England had just quit the turn before when quite unexpectedly France just disappeared. At first I was pleased as I could literally walk into France and England and grab about 6 centers. However I quickly realized that after my initial blitzkrieg I would be outnumbered by Italy and Austria and, more importantly, the Italian navy would be able to sortie unopposed into the Atlantic. So rather than invade France for centers, I invaded France in order to support her now immobile units and managed in a few turns to establish a stalemate line.

Fortunately the Italians and the Austrians were too intent on picking up free French centers that they did not see my intent until the stalemate lines were established. After establishing the stalemate line I was able to slowly devour France from the inside and after Austria stabbed Italy I managed to grab the 18th supply center.

Ironically, once I pursued this course of action I desperately needed for the French and English positions to remain vacant and the units in CD because my units were spread out over the northwestern half of the board. It worked out for me but to the detriment of the game itself. Unfortunately ugly wins like what I described are probably the norm in digital age Diplomacy rather than the exception, and there is little purists can do other than adjust or find a new hobby. But take heart, baseball survived the designated hitter, soccer thrives amidst rampant injury faking and Diplomacy will survive the NMR.

Alex Hartl

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