The Editor and the Readership
This time around, I'm going to spare you the topic stuff and instead present up here at the top of the column a very entertaining story pulled from that afore-mentioned mailbag. Here you go. It speaks for itself....
As a newspaper editor, I briefly considered sending this nugget off to Readers Digest or somewhere, but it's nearly impossible to explain play-by-email Diplomacy, and then tell a story that makes sense to a general audience. Anyway, I hated to let the story go to waste. So if you can use it, be my guest. And, yes, it really did happen.
Here's the story for what it's worth:
During a break at a recent professional conference at a hotel complex in Virginia, I was surprised to find a participant feverishly scribbling notes on the edge of a Realpolitik map. Before I could introduce myself as a fellow e-mail diplomat, he began explaining Diplomacy and the PBEM game so enthusiastically I didn't have the heart or the chance to stop him. He was Russia, he said, and he was hurriedly drawing up orders to launch a major stab against his ally, France. Noting my interest, he handed me a copy of the map detailing his intended treachery, promised to continue my introduction to the game later, then excused himself to find a phone. Before rushing away, however, he added a final thought: in Diplomacy, he advised, you should never, ever trust anyone.
At a reception a few hours later I felt a tap on my shoulder. His face was slightly ashen, and I couldn't tell if he had been laughing or crying. He was holding the map I had earlier arranged to have placed in his mail slot. It was the same map he'd given me that afternoon, only I'd taken the liberty of making one small hand-written addition:
It took three beers and a whiskey chaser to return him to normal. Is this a great game or what?press to R Good advice. Never trust anyone. I'm France. endpress signoff
I read the article on your site about your going to the previous DipCon in Sweden. Well, I live quite near Chapel Hill ,where the next one is going to be, so I hear, and many of my friends and I are quite interested in attending.
Do you have any details you could give me on this subject? I'd be much obliged...
[Editor's response: I am glad to be hearing from people all over the world who are planning to be in attendance at Chapel Hill. David Hood is the organizer of the tournament and can answer all questions. For all the simple ones (and for David's contact information), make sure to check out the WDC8 Webpage here at The Pouch. See you all there!]
Well, I want to speak up for decision squares. It seems that more than one writer (I am not naming names, no one named mine, although I am the one with two conspicious articles chock full of decision squares...actually, they're more accurately labled matrices) has taken cracks at their use in analyzing our grand game. Shortly put, I agree with them in their general gist -- that Diplomacy defies rational analysis as a "solvable" game. But such critics would see this if they read my second article more carefully. Modelling here is not meant to "rationalize" Diplomacy, only to describe scenarios in a simpler fashion. I for one believe that game theory can never be more than a set of tools to describe, and that is what my use of "decision squares" attempted, admittedly inadequately, to do. But saying, "uh, when I get that itching feeling, it's time to stab," is no better.
[Editor's response: Knowing Tim, we can all rest assured that any criticism he was leveling at decision squares was purely tongue-in-cheek.]
I'll see if I can't throw together something along similar lines -- concentrating on the diplomatic rather than pure tactical aspects of the game -- for an upcoming issue. I don't know how much the experts will get out of it, but it might help out newbies at least. My main fear is that it might actually be good advice, in which case I'll get a reputation for being a newbie prodigy, and I'll be resigned to gunboat games for the rest of my life.
But I think Paul misses one point, when he emphasizes the need to start, and thereby dominate, the discussion. He mentions Dan's articles on his games. When reading them, I've always thought, "Where can I find chumps like that to play with?" Maybe Dan and Paul are right, that this will usually work. But I always fear that players will resent me for trying to lead them around by the nose. I know from EOGs that even in trying to hold back a little, some players have not liked me for this exact reason. So, I think starting the discussion is sometimes important, but you need to be careful with whom you adopt this strategy.
[Author's response: Thanks, David, for the kind words. Your example helps to illustrate an important point. The more precise you are, the more likely you are to get a constructive response. This is true even for a minor power negotiating with a great one. The lawyer/diplomat model is one route to such precison, though there are many others.
Addressing your criticism, I share your fear regarding backlash. In the games I've played so far, there has always been someone who either resented or feared (or both) the strong voice I projected into the game. So far, however, there has been only one instance where that resentment has been my downfall. As I said in my article, I haven't played that many PBEM games yet, but it seems to me my style has helped me more than hindered me so far.
I don't think that those who are swayed by "firstest and mostest" negotiating styles are "chumps." My experience is that no one is too smart, educated, rich or powerful to fall into the trap of letting other people set the agenda. The first speaker in any debate always has the opportunity to define the framework for the entire remaining discussion. Those speakers who follow him feel they must address his issues before moving on to their own. Often times, the following speakers spend all of thier time reponding, rather than presenting their own agenda. That's not smart (nor is it "being led around by the nose"), but it's very human.]
I've started using your theory of contracts negotiation already in the game I'm currently in. At least insofar as I've tried to keep the negotiation open and to communicate first with everyone after results are posted.
I'm curious as to what you'd think about the following, though: What if you know that you'll never follow through with any contract that you might propose, at least not right away? Should you then still propose something specific? It seems that one of the drawbacks of such a modus operandi would be that due to the necessity of deceit in Diplomacy you'll be quickly branded a contract-breaker (because the nature of your communications are so specific). Or have I misread your advice?
[Author's response: Hmmmmm. Interesting observation. You're right, of course. You can't make contracts with everyone or you'll quickly paint yourself into a corner.
My article was aimed more at those negotiations you are having with persons you intend as your true allies. On the other hand, I don't see why you couldn't use the strategy as the basis for deceit as well. The best deceit is that which seems most sincere, after all.
Personally, I don't worry much about being branded a "contract breaker" or a "stabber." It's all part of the game. In the real world, people break contracts all of the time. Mostly, they don't have a problem finding new partners to contract with. Usually, they have the new partner lined up before they break the old relationship. That's sound advice in Diplomacy, as well.
In first year law school Contracts class, one of the subjects you discuss is when to decide to engage in breach of contract. The answer is that you should willingly breach a contract if (i) the benefits of breach outwiegh the penalties for breach or (ii) the party with whom you contracted doesn't have the means (for whatever reason) of enforcing the contract terms or it's penalties.
That's a decent rule of thumb in Dip, too.]
[Author's response: I appreciate your compliments and your feedback. Since Manus is soliciting a follow-up article from me, I am finding these kinds of replies very helpful.
I agree that there is also a useful place for deferring to your ally. I probably overstated the proposition a bit to make my point. I stick by my observation, though, that as a general rule, players overuse this device and gain little by it.
I have experienced the reaction of a neighbor viewing my style as bullying or overbearing. You have to measure your neighbors and go with the flow sometimes. I tend to view such reactions, however, as a red flag. Anyone who regards evenhanded deal-making as bullying is not an ideal choice for an ally.]
I've been out of game circles for a few years (I think '93-'94 was the last time I played face to face), but used to be quite active on the Australian Tournament Circuit. In '92 or '93 (it's embarrassing not to remember exactly when), I won the Australian National Championship in Canberra.
I used to contribute quite a bit to 'zines at the time, on overall game and tactical strategy (I was remembered as one of the most difficult players to eliminate -- eliminated only twice in ninety-five games). If there's room in The Diplomatic Pouch, I'd like to contribute....
[Editor's response: As the reader can see, I took Tony up on his offer, and his first contribution, on the Key Lepanto, graces the pages of this very issue. Thanks, Tony!]
I have tried to do so, and only hope that my registration and confirmation numbers are not hopelessly screwed up, but it was fairly confusing to me what the sequence of steps was supposed to be.
I consider myself to be well-educated, and although new to the Internet scene, usually manage to navigate my way around. Yet, your registration procedures are still confusing.
[Editor's response: Thank you both for your comments. These are just the kind of things we are always looking to find out. Regarding registering on judges, does anyone out there want to take a shot at providing a quick-start guide to registering with a judge and signing on to a game through The Pouch registration and game queue pages? (If not, we'll try to get to it.)
As far as providing seven separate links somewhere inside The Pouch (one for each power) to allow quick access to articles that provide strategy information for each power, watch for an upcoming development that is kind of along those lines, and in the meantime, check out Brahm Dorst's Strategy Page, linked to (as everything is) from the Online Resources section of The Pouch.]