by Edwin Lopez

My name is Edwin Lopez, and I am addicted to Diplomacy.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll tell you the story of how my addiction was fed through USAK’s private gaming ability — and how that’s not a bad thing (or so I’d like to think). If you want to skip the story, look for the bullets and you’ll get to meat of this article.

When I received my long-anticipated board, I immediately took shelter in the library and read the entire rulebook without truly understanding it. I had already been talking to my friends on the idea behind the game so I immediately set up a game at my house for that weekend, not knowing what to expect really or how long the game should be. (Actually, I had expectations but chose not to pass those along to certain people, to ensure that they would not get discouraged by how long the game might last — I said we would play Diplomacy amongst other things; little did they know Diplomacy was the entire plan!).

My first game of Diplomacy was horribly played — not by any players in particular, but rather by my misreading of the rules and allowing players to build in any supply center, not just home supply centers. Needless to say, Turkey was soon building fleets in Italy and armies in Marseilles, while France (having been immediately faced with its three neighbors) was exiled to the Iberian Peninsula, and soon the alliance structure became bipolar between E-G-I and F-T-A-R. With Turkey able to continue to expand without having to face its immediate neighbors and France never being expelled, Italy was helpless and soon the world was overrun (even with France changing sides mid-game).

Immediately after this game, nobody wanted to play again — but within a week that stage was over and I was in the process of organizing a new game, and another, and another. Eventually, we came to realize the qualities we would want in a person with whom we’d play Diplomacy — Rational and Logical. Rational being a person who places rationality over passions, and logical as a person with a minimal ability to understand the importance of tactics and thus provide for a more competitive game. The major factor was that we didn’t want the games we played to affect how we treated each other in other settings.

Aside from the face-to-face games we would organize, I also looked for sites where I could play online. The first site I found was the Diplomatic Pouch, and from there I was placed into a newbie game with several others. This game was very entertaining for the most part, but the eternal problem with online games (as I’ve found) is inattention and lack of interest — nothing like being forced to interact with others in face to face. While USAK functioned greatly with strangers, allowing you to be whoever you wanted to be and play without concerns of reputation — it was very slow.

There was a period in the online game I was in through which there were abandonments in and out, leading to my suffering from severe withdrawal. Face to face games were not as successful as we were all too busy for the next few weekends, so I found USAK on Facebook and emailed Chris to see if he could start a private game for my group of friends to play through the judge — and it was done. I soon gathered what I believed to be a suitable group of people, who would be both committed and interested, and the game was started. Soon enough, this took over our conversations and part of our lives to the point that it might have been (actually, definitely was) annoying to those who were not a part of it, but also intriguing to any of those same people who enjoyed strategy and negotiations.

Soon enough, I began to understand the advantages of playing online (in my experience with USAK — I have not tried any other sites) with friends. All of these are specific to my experience with USAK, though the last two can also be applied to face-to-face experiences:

  • Commitment

    • While all of these are important, this is the most immediately noticeable. When you play with strangers, people are often late and there is no solution but waiting. If you put a group of friends together, you can make sure they are committed players who check their emails and if they are late, ask them to place their orders in respectfully.

    • There are no replacements really, but there always can be. As a group of friends being arbiters, everyone understands when someone is dragging the entire game down by refusing to turn in orders, so you can ask the master to kick them from the game — if it goes that far.

    • My usual way of tackling problems is simply not inviting them to the next game — at discourse with the other players of course. Hopefully, aside from lateness, your friends won’t cause problems though.

  • Rule Enforcement

    • Simple, you don’t have to worry about adjudicating; the Judge does it for you.

  • Personal Negotiation

    • This is my favorite part, by far. While pressing in USAK is fabulous, and really entertaining — it can also be very time consuming. People don’t check their emails as often but they always have their phones. You can talk to them through text, a call, Facebook, let them know they have a press (if you have ten minutes to type but not to wait for a response, I resort to this every once in a while), even set up a Skype session (or Google+/conference call for multi-power negotiations) or go buy them coffee (questionable, but I choose to accept it — if you’re willing to spend the money on them, why not, as long as it’s a tool of disposition not bribery).

    • You also get an excuse to speak to your friends in the busy lives we all live. Start off with negotiations then ask them about the weather, or vice-versa. See Further Note by Julian at the end of this article.

    • Downside #1: You tend to negotiate more with those who you’re closer and more comfortable around, while the others must rely on presses. I have all the phone numbers — and I freely give them out, but if they don’t ask me for them I can’t give them. I try to combat this by having a Facebook message so that everyone can at least find each other on Facebook if necessary.

    • Downside #2 or Advantage (you choose): It’s a lot harder to lie in direct methods of conversation as opposed to indirect methods of conversation.

  • Development

    • Depending on how often deadlines are (adjustable with the judge), you can have ample time to think on the moves you will execute. This leads to very well coordinated attacks, many last minute changes, and much more fun in my opinion.

    • In my first game, those who hadn’t played before were coincidentally placed in the east, while those that had more experience ended up in the west (Italy didn’t really matter) and the wars were fought respectively allowing for the easterners to learn from the more complex moves of the west, and the west to give (somewhat) unbiased advice to the less experienced.

    • By the end of the game, the east had become equally fearsome tactics-wise — an admirable accomplishment which I came to believe inherent to playing on the Judge. Test this theory yourself.

  • Personal Situations

    • Being friends, everyone understands if a situation arises to where you can no longer participate for a time, or for the duration of the game. You can then ask the player (if the situation allows) to name an heir to their throne or simply delay the entire game until they can return.

    • I have stressed that the game should not influence how you see others outside of the game, and knowing the people makes it easier to sympathize with their situations leading to less discontent and withdrawal among ardent players.

  • Reputation

    • It is difficult, if playing with the same group of people, to not allow how they acted in previous games to affect the trust level. I personally try my best not to allow this, but it’s tied in with understanding the person so I would go so far as to say it’s inevitable.

    • Reputation matters, and you use "how they are" in favor of your agenda in negotiations with the person in question as well as outside it — that’s fair game in my opinion, and a tool for persuasion. I try to get people who I know will not hold grudges from previous games, but holding a grudge is different from holding caution based on how they’ve previously acted.

    • On the plus side, this shadow of the future prevents eternal stabbing and coordinated action.

I must state the one downside of private diplomacy which is a major concern to me in ensuring the development of these private games remains "true" to the game itself. As I have made evident, I in a sense am a second Game Master when dealing with private games in ensuring communication can be achieved and enforcing deadlines — while during the game this is not a problem, this can have slight implications when creating a game. I create games with people who I want to play with, because I believe they play well — this tends to exclude certain types of players who some may argue form part of the game as well. I would caution against this, because variety makes everyone better — otherwise it will be a similar story each time. I try to get in as many opinions as possible on whom to bring in to counter this tendency.

In other words, make sure the institution is defined as anything but a dictatorship, for the sake of everyone involved. In the end, these are only suggestions and an explanation of how and why I like to use USAK when I play with friends — take it as you will.

Further Note: (By my not so usually modest friend, and winner of our first friend game as Germany)

My name is Julian, and I was asked by Edwin to add a bit to his article. I’m not as active in searching for games as he is, but I enjoy the game, so I join the game whenever he asks. I don’t play online against strangers, but friend games are much easier to join.

Edwin and I go to different universities (some 1000 miles away) and frankly, I have only gotten to talk to him because I had diplomacy to get the conversation going ("get on Skype, we need to talk"). It’s a great way to stay in contact with friends you don’t see often.

Also, while certain matchups happen over and over, the result is not always the same. Repeated play between the same set of players is probably possible, and quite possibly fun (though we haven't done that with an entire board yet).

To ask about setting up a private game on USAK, contact the judge keeper at

Edwin Lopez

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