Diplomacy - The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds

Guys, follow the link below to read an interesting article about the board game Diplomacy. It’s long, but if you are interested in games design and the origins of NP you should give this a read. I’ve always wanted NP to be “Diplomacy in Space”

Below are some of the best bits for those of you with short attention spans.

Players would get so angry because other players wouldn’t cooperate with them that they would take to shouting, browbeating, cursing, making insults. Often the anger was directed at players known as “alliance players,” or, more pejoratively, “care bears”: players who refuse to break alliances and will play only for draws.

“People laugh at me, they call me a care bear,” said Thomas Haver, a scientist from Columbus, Ohio. “If you’re a strong alliance player and it’s hard to break your alliances up, they say you’re a care bear.” The game is designed for cooperation, he argues. Every power starts out completely equal; every piece moves exactly the same. “By its very nature you need to cooperate, coordinate with someone else.”

Players like Brian Ecton disagree. “If you don’t play for the solo every time you sit down to play, you ain’t playing the game right.” The vast majority of the players I met at Dixiecon, American and European alike, agreed with Ecton. Alliances are meant to be broken. Draws are shameful. The only glory is in a solo victory, no matter how difficult it is or seldom it happens

“The nature of the game is not for everyone,” said Maletsky. “It’s emotionally brutal at times. In order to succeed you have to work with someone all game, then trick them and lie to them and send their score spiraling down from where they thought it was going to be. And all of those negative consequences come from working with you, and that’s not pleasant.”

On this point, there is little disagreement. “Diplomacy is an incredibly uncomfortable game. Diplomacy is intense and uncomfortable and unsettling. There’s no two ways about it,” said Siobhan Nolen. “The game allows for absurdities in social interaction. You can do whatever you want and there are no consequences.”

Thomas Haver agreed. “If it’s just, ‘Hey, it’s just a game, no hard feelings,’ then it allows them to get away with things that are considered taboo. When people play the game, you get to see their real personality. That’s when they take off the mask.”

And the best bit at the end.

He had never had a solo victory in a game before. He’d had opportunities, sure, but he turned them down in favor of keeping his word to his allies. I don’t want to hurt the other players just to get that win, he had always thought. Additionally, by always being a trustworthy ally who plays honorably, Haver had built up a reputation as someone who was good to work with in tournaments. “That’s why it was easy for people on my board to say, ‘He’s not going to stab his ally.’

“And that’s what allowed me to do it when I did.”

 When the moves were read, Brand was crestfallen. Haver stabbed his partner and took enough supply centers from him and the other players to secure 18 units and the elusive solo victory. It was worth 270 points, enough to win him the tournament and the world championship.

Oh, this article is brilliant. As a Diplomacy player from my college days, I can identify. Exactly why I enjoy NP.

That being said, keeping alliances fluid can be very hard emotionally for many players. Not everyone is wired that way. Team games provide an outlet for the cooperative gamers, which is why that effort is so important.

So funny, I read that and said to myself “this sounds like NP2”

Best memory of Diplomacy I have is one time I managed to be allied with every player for three consecutive turns. I’d guard one person’s centers while telling another I was threatening them while telling a third which centers were open while actually still guarding the original guy’s centers.

Italy #1.

This is so much like NP. In 64p games, the best strategy in my opinion is to pick one ally and stick with him. Betray the rest of your allies. This has won me a 64p game and put me in the lead of another.

That was a pretty funny read … and yea, a lot of parallels with NP.

Growing up we played a little bit of Diplomacy (I had a big family) … but it really is socially unhealthy to play with your family unless you can really, really, really leave the games issues at the game … and (as they say in the article) go out for a beer afterwards.

wfmcgillicuddy is right that NP can be “very hard emotionally” for some and I read/hear about players getting “acrimonious” and carrying grudges in NP2. At the end of the day, it’s just a game … and I always try to remember there is a human person on the other end of the keyboard. Maybe I’ve been lucky and/or oblivious, but the worse (by far) I’ve been called was a recent “lying sack of $&#%” … for (I guess) having to bail in the team game even though I said before the game started that I’d be offline in early June.

The worst I’ve been called is “WAY selfish” when I betrayed my ally at the very end to take the win. I won by one hour, barely beating another ally who should definitely have attacked me. Had he attacked me, he surely would have won.

Well, I’ll admit I’m not hard core enough to enjoy a game where I stab my (long-term) allies at the end. It’s a simple

[joy of victory] + [fun of stabbing a good ally] < 0

However, I have more than once cut down a bunch of enemies with an ally and then left myself a little too vulnerable. My ally couldn’t resist the temptation of solo victory and backstabbed. I then had the glorious job of surviving the backstab, marshalling the surviving former enemies (who are often happy to have a chance to avenge their near destruction, even if they won’t win) and seeing if I can win with righteousness on my side :-). (And I get a lot of good press-releases out of it.)

It’s a lot of fun, and my preferred method of playing. I win a few, I usually manage in the top few placings, and I don’t feel bad for stabbing long time allies. (And no, I don’t mind being backstabbed by an ally, it’s part of the game.)

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Great article, I wanna play it and yeah, it also reminded me of NPII :slight_smile:

If I needed my ally’s stars I would ask them.
I admit that I have difficulties accepting backstabs, but my reaction is backstab from backstab better.
Though, I know it is a part of the game.

This is my most favourite part

When people play the game, you get to see their real personality. That’s when they take off the mask.

That’s why I usually roleplay when I play diplomacy or np. I take off the mask to reveal another one.

I’m quite into diplo games, but I don’t much like Diplomacy because it’s too pure diplo for me.
The diplo games I like - like Empires in Arms, Junta, NP and I’m forgetting some - all have in common that the mechanics of the game form an infrastructure for your diplomacy.

My usual strategy, especially early in a game, is to offer deals that taken individually are a better deal for my allies than for me, but that put together give me an advantage. A classic example in the original Civilization board game is to systematically downtrade resource cards to quickly close deals so I can make more trades and so get larger series.

That kind of strategy is very hard to implement in a game of Diplomacy.

I also try to lie as little as possible, and usually strive for not at all. This doesn’t mean I’m always honest, far from it. The catch is usually in the mid-to-long term consequences of the interaction between the deals I offer.

I have no qualms about backstabbing however, providing it either gives me the game, gives me a decisive advantage, or some player is acting stupid - like playing really badly in which case I won’t want an enemy player to be the one inheriting his territory, or if I have enough signals that a player is going to betray me in which case it’s often better to shoot first.

My rule of thumb for stabbing is, will the other players accept it as logical even if quite ruthless, or consider it stupid or unnecessary? If the latter then it’s usually better to abstain.

Building trust in a diplomatic game setting is more about appearing to be consistent and rational than keeping your word 100.00% of the time. All players know that not everybody will keep their word and it is thus not usually expected.

Of course, if it’s Junta you’re playing then stabbing is going to happen a LOT anyway, often several times per turn, but this is special to this particular game.

Getting stabbed doesn’t faze me. It’s part of the game. It’s the stupid stab that annoys me, the scorpion stab as in the tale with the frog.

What really, really annoys me is people who don’t play to win, quitters, and players with a vassal mentality (In the latter case I make an exception for newbie players who attach themselves to an experienced one so they can better learn the subtleties of a game).

Cool article, thanks for sharing.

Of course like any article it has to oversimplify somewhat; I think dividing the world into “care bears” and “stabbers” is a bit too binary.

Just as in real-world situations, agreements that work between parties should benefit everyone. Ideally people would always make agreements that benefit everyone, but power imbalances create the temptation to use and abuse the power imbalance to make agreements that benefit the more powerful: the weaker have to accept, because the alternative is extermination.

I see people complaining about ‘leavers’ and ‘vassals’ in the same breath but these are really two subspecies of the same breed: the player who got off to a bad start for whatever reason (poor play, poor starting position, poor diplomacy, or a combination of all three) and now has no hope at all of winning the game. What is such a player to do? Grind it out in a merciless multi-day futile effort? Quit and let the AI deal with their situation? Become a vassal and get some satisfaction? As we design the experience of the game, it’s important to remember that there are new players, there are busy players, there are players who have a death in the family unexpectedly; reality doesn’t make way for games that require weeks or months to play and continuous attention.

This is one of the things that makes NP great and terrible at once: the need to be constantly obsessed with the slow real-time nature of the game and to return to it to give it constant attention. The time commitment is too large for most would-be players, but when they’re doing well they put the time in and when they’re doing badly they have few good options. Solving that would be a huge step forward for any similar game … I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and it is very hard to solve indeed.

As for the false dichotomy between care bears and stabbers, I think there is at least a third way: to make win-win agreements. If every party to an alliance has a true shot at #1 as a result of being in the alliance then why would they stab anyone? To maintain that, the leaders in an alliance have to (gasp) give up their stars willingly to the weaker members; make way for the weaker members to expand, and move together as a block. What if the weaker member just sucks at the game? Agreements need to include expiry times, escape clauses, and requirements that hold people to a standard that is acceptable to all the allies. Not paying debts, not logging in, not executing the plan … these are all reasons for alliance agreements to turn into ‘everyone in the alliance will kill you if you violate X/Y/Z’. No need to betray anyone: let their own incompetence do them in, or let them be competent and have a shot at #1. That is win-win in action.