The term meta-gaming refers to a contest where players do not actually participate in a game, but rather try to guess who among the participants will win. Fantasy football leagues are a common instance of meta-gaming. However, meta-gaming takes on a whole new scope when applied to Diplomacy. Observers, even though they have no ability to submit orders, still have influence over the game in their ability to send press. I first thought of this idea after reading Simon Szykman's "Backseat Driver" variant in the Spring 1995 Retreat issue of the pouch. This variant consists of a set of players and a set of observers. The players each control (submit orders for) a country, but cannot send press. The observers submit no orders, but can send press. The players are not required to do what the observers tell them. I agree with Simon that this is the best organization. If the players could send press they would ignore the observers, and if the players were bound to obey the observers they would be no more than puppets.
In the original backseat driver variant, each observer was tied to one country, and everyone knew which country each observer represented. The goal of the observer was the same as the goal of the player, to have their country win. This is where meta-diplomacy is different. In meta-diplomacy, the observers' goals are secret, and may be in conflict with the goals of the players. Each observer chooses a goal, for example, one might choose EFT 3-way draw as a goal. The observers negotiate with each other and with the players trying to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, the players submit orders trying to achieve a win for their country, but are unable to send any press, and are unsure about the motivations of the observers who can send press. At this point your mind should be swimming with variations. What sort of goals are allowed? How is an outcome scored for these meta-dippers? How many observers should there be? Could you play Payola where observers have a small budget!? Or even team meta-diplomacy!?! Below, I describe just one possibility.
Before the game, each observer chooses a subset of the seven countries. That observer's goal is to achieve a result where only those countries are surviving. Thus an observer can select anything from a 7 way draw to a particular country's solo. If an observer chooses a draw it is necessary to choose the exact countries in the draw, not just the number of survivors. The game is played with the standard rules except for press. Observers may send partial white press. Players may send no press. When the game is finished, any conventional scoring system can be used for the players. Observers are scored by comparing their guesses to the actual survivors. There are three factors which influence a meta-dipper's score, the number of surviving countries, S, the number of guesses made, G, and the number of guesses that were correct, C. The score is the correct guesses cubed divided by the number of guesses squared times the surviving countries.
The score is always between zero and one inclusive. Zero correct guesses always yields a zero. An exact guess always yields a one. This method works fine for ranking observers within a single game. If the result is an RET draw one should get less points for guessing a Russian solo than exactly guessing an RET draw. However, one could argue that guessing and getting a solo is harder than guessing and getting a three way draw. To compare different games with different results multiply this factor by the tournament score given to the winners of that game.
I think the ideal number of observers would be seven. I would hate to be a player having to listen to twenty observers without even being able to respond. Soon after DipCon XXXIV I hope to try out Meta-Diplomacy over the DPJudge. If this article has piqued your interest, keep your eyes open for forming games.
SOME OTHER VARIANTS
At the beginning of the game observers have no knowledge on which to base their choice of a goal. As an alternative, let the players send press until the end of fall 1901. Then the observers choose their goals and take over the press lanes. Of course, this might have every observer backing whoever's in the lead. To promote fairness for the players, each country could be required to have at least one observer in its corner.
Guessing that England will survive and Italy will die may not require a genius. A Payola variant would have observers bidding for the rights to back various countries. The observers could bid just once at the beginning of the game, or backing rights could be bought and sold on a market with prices determined by current supply center counts. Of course, all of this bidding would be in secret.
If you can't scrape together fourteen players try this variant where the seven players and the seven observers are the same people, but no one knows which observer controls which country. All the rules are the same as meta-diplomacy. In this game, the goal should be to win the meta-game. For example, you could bet on a solo by one of your neighbors and try to give him your supply centers. Of course, there's no guarantee that he bet on himself either.
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