Edward Hawthorne asked me to write something up for the Pouch and mentioned Chris Martin had done just that back in 1998 ("Reflections on the Merits of Becoming World Diplomacy Champion") when he won WDC VIII. To get some inspiration I thought I would read Chris' article. When I looked I found there were two articles there and it was when I was reading through the first that I realized something. Chris makes some excellent points about the styles of play we can adopt when playing the wonderful game of Diplomacy. He goes on to summarize each game in each round and how he played in conjunction with others to get to the end as the eventual winner of WDC VIII. As I read through this I thought to myself rather than telling you all how I won WDC XII (refer to Easter in Rydge's) maybe I should try and tell you how I think you can win WDCXIII. We all start out thinking we can win and let's face it if you are prepared to travel half way around the world as some of the players do you can't tell me they go thinking they will finish dead last.
To win Diplomacy you just have to turn up watch, listen and learn. It is as simple as that BUT it does take time and patience. All of us start out asking for or reading the rules to learn the mechanics of movement. All of us learn more and more complicated movement theories. It took me years to understand the fact that the country furthermost from me on the board can be my greatest ally even though our units are no where near each other. Some of us read articles on opening moves for countries and theories for alliance play and these can be great to read to give you ideas BUT they are just ideas. Some can be used but only when it is appropriate.
"Knowledge is Power (KiP)" and "Play the People not the Country (PtPntC)" are two of my favourite quotes. The first one isn't mine but I will claim the second one.
Let's consider the first, KIP. Let's assume you are Italy. If you know everyone's moves you will surely win the game. As long as you understand the way your moves and builds/disbands affect the moves of other players in the next turn and the next and so on. You must also understand how German moves for example effect Turkish moves. As Italy you have just read an article on Lepanto theory (I think it has something to do with the convoying of Italian armies into Turkey or basically attacking Turkey) and you decide you want to give it a go. The Austrian agrees and will help and the Russian agrees and says he will help. The Frenchman says he will leave you alone so off you go and launch your attack. Surely the three of you will get him but here's the rub. When the Germans and the English kick the Russian's out of Sweden in 1902 even though the Austrians and Russian's still wish to fight the Turkish more often than not you will find that the Russian's simply can't afford to leave men fighting Turkey. With this pressure in the North coming from the Germans and English he will most likely turn and fight them. As a result your 3 way just became a 2 way alliance and why? Simply because the German's and English did something. It didn't make sense for many years to me. I was at a loss to see how other moves around the board could effect me and I used to just throw my hands in the air and say "O'Well. What can you do?"
The answer of course is heaps. If the English moves effect you go and talk to him. Offer him a viable solution to his problems. Look at the board from their perspective and see what you can do for them. Just because you can't support his units doesn't mean you can't give him vital information. If you can't do anything for them or they just won't listen try to gain their trust. State the obvious moves to them. Tell them you know the German is going to do this or that this turn and the English will start wondering why you have such useful information as long as you get it right that is. He will start to wonder "Who is telling the Italian our moves?" If he is in a 2 way alliance or at least he thinks he is, he will instantly start to mistrust his ally. As you can imagine I could go on forever giving examples of ways to use your diplomatic negotiations to effect others in the game. Even though you may have all of the knowledge the thing to remember is the various effects of your negotiations and moves. Knowledge is crucial to winning. A bit of misdirection can also be handy.
Downunder we play to very strict deadlines and it never ceases to amaze me when I see one person sitting at the board with 5 minutes to go. Just because you've got your orders written and have nothing else to do doesn't mean everyone else does. People make mistakes due to the pressure the clock puts on them and this is in your interests. So put pressure on your enemy ask to talk to him. Interrupt him and waste his time. Make sure you have something viable to say or you will just make a pest of yourself. If he is smart and knows what you are up to all he has to do is ask you to go away. If he does ask you to go away, do so. It is important to be subtle here when employing these sorts of tactics and most of us don't have time to do this sort of thing but if you do try it out don't make an idiot of yourself jumping around and doing stupid things making stupid suggestions and so on. Do it with a degree of decorum. Your actions are always being recorded for later games by all of the other players. Everyone remembers the idiot from round one.
In the second instance. PtPntC is a bit more complicated. You should all have an understanding of the first thoughts about knowledge and how to use it but unless you have met me in person you may have never heard this theory. What I mean is this... Let's assume you have decided to travel to WDCXIII in Denver next year (14th-16th February 2003. Contact Manus Hand at email@example.com for details. Sorry! free plug for Manus there.) and you take my advice above. Get as much knowledge as you can about the tournament before you go. The scoring system and how to win with it is one thing to look at (I have to admit I don't normally bother as I find the bloke with the most centres usually wins so I just tend to try and get the most but if the scoring system is likely to effect results you must play to it if you want to win).
Look at the players who are likely to attend and check out some of their results. Remember results aren't everything. They give you an indication that a player may be doing well at tournaments but that is all the results do. If you are lucky enough to be sitting next to a World Champ use it to your advantage and learn as much as you can. Many people just get scared when they see results and do things in a game they would never do normally but unconsciously they play the player without thinking about it. Suddenly the game is over and they are walking off seething inside or screaming about this turn or that turn wondering how that just happened. Some sort of personal attack on one's family history tends to follow when the fact is they have brought the whole thing on themselves. Most probably they'll walk away and simply say, "I'll get him next time - he was lucky," and they won't have learned a thing. When the game is over we all tend to sit there and explain the post mortem and I guarantee that the 7 players will all have a different view on why things transpired.
So how do you "play the player?" Look at each player and think about what it is they want. Not everyone wants the same thing. If you have the World Champ next to you he probably wants to win again so how does this help you? Remember you can ask a person what it is they hope to get from a game and then work out a strategy that helps both you and this person to both achieve your goals. What must he do to win? Can you both do it in the one game? The answer is yes, you can. To win you normally need to be consistent over all of the rounds. The fact is the better players are the consistent one's. We can all have a good game but can we string 3 or 4 together in a row? World Champions don't become them by fluke. They spend years learning the skills required to win and we all know you can't go it alone on a diplomacy board. So who better to have as your ally than a World Champ. Sure you have to watch him like a hawk but if you know your stuff he will know you know it and will work with you. Everyone wants to kill him so use that to your advantage and be his friend let the others fight him for you. Use his rankings and results against him. That's how you play that player.
Then there is the "idiot player". There are plenty of them around (I used to be one and occasionally have relapses). They think they are the best and they have just been unlucky. They waste their negotiation time talking about unnecessary rubbish. You get that feeling in your gut with some people. "TRUST THAT FEELING." Someone wiser than us put that instinct there. If you think they are lying, they probably are. If you think they're an idiot and they're ideas are dumb, they probably are. If you don't understand what I am talking about......... you are the player I am talking about and you need to pay more attention. Remember if you think they are a fool it is likely there are 3 or 4 others thinking the same thing. So who better to have as your ally? That's right the fool is just as handy as the World Champ [who knows it might even be the same guy;-)]. Most people won't tolerate fools and are more than happy to work with you to get rid of them as a result you can use a persons foolishness to your advantage. So no matter whom you sit next to in a game they will have strengths and weaknesses it is up to you to use these strengths and weaknesses and it is only you who is at fault if you don't.
A quote I also came up with once was, "The tournament never ends." I said it once in the backyard of my house when there was a bunch of us around having a beer and every so often it gets used here and there. Due to the fact that we were sitting around chatting and drinking it is only a matter of time until someone mentions the games you just played or the games you will be playing the next day. People start to make deals with the hope they will be on the same board and so on. While there is a group of people down here in Australia and New Zealand who think this is cross boarding and in direct contravention of the rules it is going to occur and they only complain to make yet another excuse as to why they can't win. People tell each other who got what and how many points they are on and so on and this information can be used the next day but remember some of those people will be feeding you lines. There are a couple of them down here who tell you they got a 4 or a 5 when they really got a 9 and so on. They will continue to try and fool you even when the day is done. There is another tournament next month after all. People play to make friends for this one in the hope that the favour will be returned. Watch people and learn from them. Be a student of human nature. While you are not playing a game and you are interacting with other players you will learn them and their mannerisms. It helps to learn how they think in normal life as this stuff can be used to come back to haunt them in the game.
One of the other things Chris mentioned was, "Be the little guy." He is right. You can try and not be noticed but eventually you will be known so the key is when you are known make sure you are known for good things. Diplomacy players have very good memories and I have been killed in a game and then been reminded of something I did years ago (although I didn't do it and I certainly didn't remember it that way). Throwing tantrums and yelling abuse at people. Calling them names and telling them they are dumb and stupid sound like fun at the time. Think about it though. When you walk away from the board with no centres and they walk away with 11 who is the idiot? Who looks the fool. Maybe they did do the wrong thing and they could have got 16 with you but don't make an idiot of yourself by highlighting it for them. They will have learnt something and you will have all the eyes of the tournament on you. If there are 50 players in that round by the next round they will all know you and this won't help.
There are theories around and people will say things like "Make sure your results aren't too flash." "You don't want to stand out." "Keep a low profile until the final round and then go for it." That's all rubbish. If you get an 18 in round 1 and are the obvious leader in the tournament it is true that the next day the other 6 will want to kill you but it is also true that if given the choice of their death or yours, they will do whatever it takes to survive even if that means letting you survive. A smart player looks at the rest of the tournament and says stuff trying to catch him or risk all to kill him just for the others. Second place is not too bad. If you are thinking second is bad you are a poor diplomacy player. This whole game is about compromise and sometimes you have to settle for second best or 15th best or whatever. Again it comes back to KiP and PtPntC. At the end of the tournament though. If you have done everything possible and didn't win there is another tournament soon. It doesn't matter who you are or who you play against. If you give the same seven people the same seven countries two games in a row the result will be different ever time. People learn and adapt and try new things. At least the survivors do.
So I guess it is time for some quick quote's that may help you put things into perspective a little better or may help you in your quest for a tournament win, be it World Dip Con or a local championship:
Some thoughts to remember:
Some facts I have learned:
Again, I could go on forever and ever with theories and ideas and no matter what I say, some will argue the opposite anyway. Above are my thoughts at the moment and they are intended to help you (believe it or not). They are just my opinions. Some of them will work for you. Some of them won't. You can always blame me if they don't and you won't be the first. Fell free to drop me a line if you don't understand something. I am more than happy to answer any questions. Heck, if you think I've got it wrong, feel free to let me know. Just remember I'll be taking notes, studying all of the time and preparing for that fateful day when we meet. I can no longer help it. I am trained by the game I play to be a suspicious bastard who trusts no one. That is of course until you convince me otherwise. In the end if you think this whole article is rubbish, you are a poor diplomacy player. There are some ideas here that will help you be they in the game or in life and I am sure there are some bad points too. Just keep the good ideas and throw out the bad one's. What's the worst thing that could happen? You just wasted 5 minutes reading this article.
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