For a moment there, game number three looked like another draw. Our alliance had just turned the corner on the opposition. France (in England) was doomed, Turkey was one turn away from elimination, Germany was folding in the center, and France could make no more significant gains in the Meditteranean. A few more months and it would all be over.
Suddenly, disaster struck our alliance. The original Italy quit playing Diplomacy. We had a new player on the scene. The new Italy and I (Russia) soon had a falling out. Things got abusive and personal. I got hot and stabbed. I believed that the new Italy would not include me in a draw and I didn't think I could take him out later in the game. There was also the personal element to the conflict -- "Better get him now before his hands are on my throat and there's nothing I can do." At least, that was my thinking at the moment of the stab. It was an emotional decision.
The blame in this breakup is shared. Our alliance didn't fall apart because we weren't coordinated, or because our moves were bad, or even because we didn't have good board position. No sweet talking enemy lured an ally away. This was a clear cut case of poor (little-d) diplomacy. It was a winning alliance that self-destructed.
I had believed that the only danger in a replacement player was that the new guy might go to the other side. A personal squabble that leads to a stab was not something I considered. Well, now that it happened to me, I understand it.
The stab itself went okay. Italy was down by three SC's after the first year of the stab. I got none of them, but I had helped two of them disappear by passing along information. The next turn should see the loss of one to three more. I should be up two SC's in two years thanks to former allies and I would be larger than my former big brother, Italy.
Lessons learned? One lesson must be that I can be as big a problem to an alliance as a new player. Next time go slower, feel the guy out, get a sense of what kind of a person he is. Try to see the problems coming and defuse them in advance.
The reaction of the other players was revealing. There were several emotional outbursts centering around that stab. It is clear that regardless of the age of our little Diplomacy group, most of us become emotionally involved in our game. Even though it is Diplomacy and lies are legal, trust can be built and cruelly broken. Disappointment brought out some strong, emotionally charged press in this game.
I think the greatest thing I've learned over the last few months of Diplomacy has to do with human nature. We say it is "only a game" but it is clearly more than that. It is the planning, plotting, socializing, and dreaming of seven individuals over a period of months or even a year. When the dreaded stab occurs, dreams go down in flames and the emotions flare up. It is a human reaction and will always be a part of this game. Perhaps an emotional outburst when things fall apart is more of a normal, healthy thing rather than a sign of a player who is overly involved.
There may be some "iron men" of Diplomacy to whom all this is nothing more than the movement of little pieces on a chess board. Those to whom the manipulation of the game and its players causes no great emotional response. The kind of guy that put it all into mathematical percentages and only spends a few minutes on any turn. I say most of us aren't put together that way. When five months of labor, hours of press, and even more hours of planning and thinking go down the drain, most of us "mere mortals" have an emotional reaction.
Saying "it is only a game" doesn't really help because we know (deep down) we are trying to delude ourselves. Perhaps we should acknowledge the disappointment and tell ourselves to meet defeat and deception with all the grace and maturity that we can muster. I admire the players I have met who have shown such grace. That is something worth striving for. It's called "character." All in all, though, it would be easier on everyone if the game were over in a few hours some evening, instead of taking 6 months on the Internet.
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