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Diplomacy
January 30, 2012 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Diplomacy isn't everyone's idea of fun. Time is one obstacle; a quick game can take six hours, and others can go on for 16 hours. More important, most of the action unfolds away from the table, in tense, furtive conversations among the seven players representing the once-great powers of Europe as they trade intelligence and plan joint maneuvers. The back-and-forth sounds like a David Mamet screenplay about the Triple Entente, especially because no promise is binding, no piece of information reliable. According to the rules (3 MB PDF), "players may say anything they wish." Eavesdropping, slander and betrayal -- back-stabbing, in Diplomacy parlance -- become arrows in your quiver, not the concealed weaponry of cheats and spoilsports.
posted by Trurl (111 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a great game, though people should keep in mind the golden rule: Don't Play Diplomacy with Anyone You Can't Afford to Hate Forever.

I've really been wanting to play the Pure Diplomacy variant. I can't imagine anything better/worse.
posted by gerryblog at 8:11 PM on January 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


I learned a great deal about my closest friends' true personalities playing Keg Diplomacy.
posted by Kakkerlak at 8:17 PM on January 30, 2012


I've played once, by email. On an Aberation Map. The first thing I did was trade territorties to ply as Ireland, and than I screwed over everyone I could talk to until I almost won (got beaten by Israel, barely, who was playing the same strategy.)

Good game.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:23 PM on January 30, 2012


We should start another game
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2012


There was a MetaFilter Diplomacy league (online) a few years ago, which was okay, except that everyone I played with wanted to role-play for some strange reason, which was highly irritating.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:26 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I played quite a few games of Diplomacy at Uni. One of my proudest moments, winning as Italy.

But I couldn't imagine organising six other people for a whole day to play this game again.

Maybe I'd be up for play by email?
posted by wilful at 8:29 PM on January 30, 2012


The most fun thing you can do in diplomacy is stuff up your orders. Then, when they're getting read out, not have a pedantic enough ref. Hard to play-act your disappointment when you have to encourage them to be sticklers for what was written down.
posted by wilful at 8:32 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Crazy game. Still harbour resentment towards my best friend for the brutal (and unnecessary!) backstabbing some 17 years ago.
posted by bumpkin at 8:40 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Every high school history student should be required to play at least one game of Diplomacy. There is absolutely no better way to demonstrate why nations hate each other and how arbitrary that hatred can be.

Of course, considering the game can cause close friends to hate each other, I'd imagine a game between a hodge podge of high schoolers would probably result in broken bones.
posted by bittermensch at 8:50 PM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


This game is evil. I will not play that game with friends or family. Even though I enjoy it. People get too obsessed with it.
posted by humanfont at 8:52 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it's like Risk then?
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2012


I own a copy of the game; have had it for over a year now. But I haven't been able to get the gang together. Work, family and other life commitments make getting 7 people around a table for the better part of the day a difficulty. But man, I ever so want to play it. Sounds like mad fun.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:55 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it's like Risk then?

No.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:57 PM on January 30, 2012 [26 favorites]


sebastienbailard It's like risk except that instead of dice leading to your downfall, it's someone you thought was your friend.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [33 favorites]


Looks like this site isn't linked, surprisingly.

I played one game with most of my closer friends and pulled a complete victory by backstabbing one of them. He was completely caught of guard and seemed to take it somewhat personally. We haven't all played since then.

It's a fun game, but not everyone is able to keep the real world out of it (or maybe none of us really are).
posted by Defenestrator at 9:00 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it's like Risk then?

Not even close. Those comments about friendships being irrevocably damaged by playing it? That's not hyperbole. This game is what the Devil uses to corrupt nerds. It is to Risk games what The Lord of the Flies is to Gilligan's Island. And it's completely awesome.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:01 PM on January 30, 2012 [33 favorites]


After playing a game online with turns that lasted 12-24 hours, I can't imagine playing it on a board with everybody gathered around. You can't say this about too many things, but I can't imagine it being as fun as the virtual version. The long turns gave you time to plot and communicate with all of the other players. The instruction booklet tells you to go to different areas of the room to do this, which sounds a bit transparent.
posted by Defenestrator at 9:07 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite bit of rules lawyering - The Coast of Moscow, by Allen B. Calhammer.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:07 PM on January 30, 2012


I feel like I've been reading about Diplomacy for a long, long time, though I've never played. I'm very surprised there's not been a FPP about it before. I'm sure there are lots and lots of really interesting links out there about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:11 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that in high school we used to play almost weekly. That was a product of us all having the same schedule (before jobs and spouses and relocation scuppered things) and being more emotionally resilient, I suppose. Now I haven't played it in seventeen years, but I still remember it with something like fondness. It brought out the deviousness in people. I recall playing at the home of one player who had bugged his own house to get some intel about others' negotiations.

People do not conduct electronic surveillance during Risk games.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


The last time I played Diplomacy, the term "ratfucking" was used between two of my friends of different friend groups. To the scandal of all, and to the very heated displeasure of the insult target's husband.

Demonstrating once again that friendship is not transitive.

We still refer to severely backstabbing/screwing over someone as "R-F-ing", only nowadays we explain it euphemistically as "Rodent Fornicating".

An evil game, yes.
posted by darkstar at 9:16 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I insisted on playing this game with several friends even when they kept telling me that I wouldn't enjoy it and I should take a pass. They were right. The out right lying was just too much coming from people that I really care about even if it was just a game. I was as angry as I can ever remember being. It was kinda awesome.

I won't do that again though, as I am pretty lucky to have finished that game still friends with all of them.
posted by MsLgean at 9:17 PM on January 30, 2012


The instruction booklet tells you to go to different areas of the room to do this, which sounds a bit transparent.

You usually go to different rooms to have discussions. I remember it being great fun in high school on a long summer Saturday evening. That was before girls, of course.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 PM on January 30, 2012


It was an Avalon Hill title for a long time, AH was based in Baltimore so that's why the WaPo article is set there, Baltimore for a long time was a sort of mecca for gaming since AH would sponsor or help organize events, I went to few Avaloncon's in the 80s and early 90s. Now AH is gone, 1990s computers killed them, but board games are making a comeback, more new games coming out than ever before, it's really amazing what's available in the board game market. I think we're getting tired of doing everything on a screen and want the tactile feel of real objects with no machine intermediary, the software is your brain running the rules. Change of pace anyway.
posted by stbalbach at 9:20 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


darkstar, you're a friend of Kevin Rudd???
posted by wilful at 9:26 PM on January 30, 2012


So my high school nerd group played Diplomacy every chance we got. With regard to this:
The long turns gave you time to plot and communicate with all of the other players. The instruction booklet tells you to go to different areas of the room to do this, which sounds a bit transparent.
I'd have to say that the "go to different rooms" thing adds quite a bit to the game. On the one hand, observation of who is off in what corner with whom can reveal information, but
  1. Everyone knows that, and develops ways to be sneaky
  2. Most of the time, everyone wanted to get at least a word in or two with everyone else, to keep up relations for the future and also to keep people from telling what your plans were based on who you were speaking with.
Well, also, on the rare occasions when we were strict about ending diplomacy rounds after 15 minutes, it was great fun to subtly waste your allies' time, to keep them from hatching plans against you. And engineering situations where someone only talked to someone else while you were also involved was also great fun.

So, yeah. face-to-face diplomacy. incredible. I mean, right now, fifteen years later, I've got this big goofy grin on my face, just from remembering the times I bullied friend x into not being on speaking terms with friend y because I was planning on later using y against x, and didn't want x to get any ideas of his own. good times, man. good times.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:29 PM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


.... I was friend x, wasn't I?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 9:31 PM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess we were just a devious bunch. It got heated at times but no friendships were ever threatened by it. And we played pretty ruthlessly, with things like false sets of orders & orders secretly hidden under the board. Diplomacy is the ultimate game of will vs will. No luck, nothing left to chance. I learned a lot about reading people from playing that game with my friends.
posted by scalefree at 9:32 PM on January 30, 2012


... *whistles innocently*...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:32 PM on January 30, 2012


I feel like I've been reading about Diplomacy for a long, long time, though I've never played. I'm very surprised there's not been a FPP about it before. I'm sure there are lots and lots of really interesting links out there about it.

I've read about summoning trandimensional alien entities from beyond time and space for a llong time, too. Don't speak ye up that which ye cannot speak back down. Once this game puts its bee in your bonnet, it's hard not to get sucked in.

Now I want to play again for the first time in 20 years. I just need six people that I'm rather ambivalent about or six people who have wills of iron.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:38 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


EdRa: I doubt I'm the only person who read your comment and then immediately clicked your name to check where you lived.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:41 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


So it's like Risk then?

The best Risk can hope for is players bored to tears.

Diplomacy is the only board game that has reduced some of my friends to actual tears. A nice group weekend at a cabin, and to some extent a serious romantic relationship, were at one point a few years back completely ruined by a nice game of Diplo.

It's terrible and wonderful.

The thing is, reduced to a simple tactical exercise—which you can do, by eschewing all player communications and just submitting orders based on personal speculation—Diplomacy is a dry game that is in fact a bit like Risk, except that deadlocks are decided at a more stark level as a guessing game. Instead of a long series of dice rolls to see how the luck plays out in an exchange, you either have the overwhelming force to invade a territory or you don't.

But Diplo is the game it is because the tactical stuff is just a substrate. It's the excuse for all the stuff that's the real game. The wheeling and dealing. The agreements. The secret agreements. The secret actual agreements that the secret agreements are just a smokescreen for. The lies you tell three different people because you haven't decided who to betray yet. The internal coinflips that decide the undecidable, the sudden betrayals, the realization that you've committed yourself to a line of attack that you will not be forgiven for even if it doesn't work.

Diplomacy is a knife, twisted.

And it's wonderful fun if everyone is on board with that. The hurt feelings and emotional trauma isn't a result of people playing the game with their eyes wide open; it's the result of people playing a different game than they think they're playing, and only finding out in the worst possible way: by finding out their friend lied to them, that their friends in fact worked together in concert to lie to them. Diplomacy is bad for people who aren't trying to be bad themselves.

Because being good at Diplo means being a good liar, or at the very least a good bullshitter. It means having the willingness and ability to tell someone what they want to hear convincingly enough that they fall for it while you sell them out. It means letting winning be more important than integrity, within the confines of the game. It means learning to look at everyone playing with a jaundiced eye and a black heart and knowing that the only people less trustworthy, more despicable in intent than you is everyone else you're playing this game with.

If you win a game of Diplo by acting like a decent human being, you're playing against the rankest of amateurs, because it only takes one genuine son of a bitch to mop the floor with folks with good intentions, and in any rational group of players the market force is toward reactive sumbitchness; honesty and goodwill toward men naturally, collectively and aggressively plummets. And the folks who don't see that coming will probably never, ever play Diplomacy, with you or with anyone, again. And they probably won't entirely forgive you.

Diplo with Diplo enthusiasts is a very good time. Just don't try and talk anybody into playing who isn't already aware that it's a game of potentially full-throated assholery. It's not for everyone; arguably, it's not for most people. I love it and I'm not sure it's even for me.

We should start another game

I've enjoyed the games I've played with mefites, yeah. Aside from a potential "hey let's have a game" Metatalk angle, folks inclined to play with others should also join up over at Mefightclub; there's always folks interested in all sorts of gaming, and we've gotten a few fun diplo games going over there in the past as well.
posted by cortex at 9:51 PM on January 30, 2012 [50 favorites]


Diplomacy makes Kissinger's actions look like a My Little Ponies ribbon tying party.
posted by edgeways at 9:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've spent the last couple of years of evening pubhacking with some friends working on a nicely-UI'd Diplomacy implementation for the web built on Google AppEngine. The nuances of the rule resolution are pretty hard to figure out until you start working with something like Lucas Kruijswijk's Adjudicator Test Cases. Our implementation ended up with 318 unit tests, and oftentimes we consider turn results and have to trust the adjudication engine more than our own intuition.

It's a great game, and a great learning experience from a development perspective - we spent a bunch of time working on the map UI and the flow of testing potential moves, but the first real release completely dropped the ball on the press page, which is something you spend the first two weeks obsessing over before you even see the map. We've kind of petered out on actively developing it just because of the success of a few (relatively) new contenders to the venerable DPjudge; both PlayDiplomacy and webDiplomacy seem to have developed playerbases much more quickly than we were willing or able to, especially given the fact that ultimately we're leveraging someone else's IP.

The history of Diplomacy online adjudicators and Avalon Hill (now Hasbro)'s intellectual property is actually pretty interesting. In late 1987 Ken Lowe at the University of Washington (my alma mater) set up an adjudicator as an experiment in coding for Unix on a microvax they had lying around. He ran it until he burned out in 1992, getting up to as many at 150 simultaneous games at one point. He was in direct contact with Avalon Hill, and got permission to run the judge code and to distribute an image of the map file in PostScript format. Apparently the terms of this were, according to Manus Hand, contingent on the fact that the rules of Diplomacy are not distributed.

When Ken quit Diplomacy, he transferred his code to David Kovar at the EFF. David did not inherit an explicit license agreement, and in 1994 he claimed that the sum total was this:

* Ken Lowe has a written agreement from AH to run the judge on one machine and to redistribute Diplomacy maps with the AH copyright on it.
* I have a letter in to AH updating the situation and asking for more general permission.

David eventually took a collection and provided a machine to run diplom.org. He handled code maintenance as patches were submitted. The codebase got crusty, and a full refactoring resulted in njudge. Manus Hand worked on njudge but eventually decided to write DPJudge from scratch. It doesn't appear that Manus or any other developer has laid any claim to the Ken Lowe or David Kovar agreements. Neither of the agreements appear to be available in the Google Groups archive. In 1995, AH shut down the distribution of MacDip, and the AH position as of 1997 was that the map was the secret sauce.

Meanwhile, in the modern era, Wizards themselves now make the PDF, map, quick-learn guide, and a couple variants available from their site. This is good, because it means they aren't as paranoid about these things being available as AH was. PlayDiplomacy.com paid reportedly €5000 to develop their site, based on the phpDiplomacy (now webDiplomacy) codebase. The phpDiplomacy codebase is BSD-licensed, webDiplomacy is licensed AGPL. webDiplomacy has even gone so far as to create a Facebook app version.

StabbeurFou is unapologetic with the keywords, but it's French so presumably more ballsy. They have the 2008 Wizards-edition rulebook available for download as a PDF directly from their site, copied from the Wizards site.

Conquest of Nations (nee World Leaders The Game) is probably the closest to a "safe" approach. They've gone and scraped the Diplomacy-specific terms out of their text, and offer a version of the Dip map only as a variation along with multiple others. They mention Diplomacy as an influence, but otherwise refer to their love of "strategic board games".

Anyhow, if anybody would like to host a game using our stuff, feel free to PM me.
posted by lantius at 10:02 PM on January 30, 2012 [34 favorites]


To make what I referred to at the top of the thread as "strategy" clearer, and to give newcomers an idea of what this game was like, let me elaborate:

On the map we were playing on, Ireland started off from the most purely defensive position. Basically, you'd be insane to try to take my supply centers. Secure in my own safety I made deals with everyone who would talk to me, figured out who would most likely be destroyed, and took my share in killing them off. Over and over again. My own trustworthiness didn't matter because people needed to talk to me or get taken by default.

As I said, Israel was working a similar strategy in the game, and ended up better situated at the very end, but I still feel proud of it.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2012


I'm favoriting cortex's comment so hard right now, trying to envision what it would be like to play this game with my family. I'm guessing their would be blood on the walls by the end. I've never played it before, but we do play games that have some element of wheeling and dealing (like Settlers of Catan, Acquire) and even those tame little diversions end in tears for some of my in-laws. Not me: Diplomacy sounds right up my alley...in real life I'm a pretty straightforward guy, and getting the chance to be a devious SOB within the confines of a game* sounds really, really fun. But then again, I do this in any game that involves negotiation and I barely get invited to play because of it. So yeah, I'm guessing I'll never get to play this game in real life.

*Why is it that some folks can make this distinction between games and real life but others can't? I don't get it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:07 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


All of these comments really make me want to play Diplomacy. But, at the same time, they make me never want to ever play it.
posted by asnider at 10:23 PM on January 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


We played this game in psychology class in high school. Like, our class for two full weeks was devoted to playing a class-wide game of Diplomacy.

Best. Fortnight. Ever.

My team was England. We made a treaty with France; they broke it almost immediately. I convinced the French team that we wanted to stay in as long as possible to get the extra credit, so if they'd just keep us alive I'd do exactly what they wanted (did this at a meeting at a donut shop in the middle of the night; like the Yalta Conference, but with more frosting).

The next day in class, we had three moves. I did exactly as France ordered in the first move. For the second move, I did almost exactly what was ordered, but moved one piece differently "to get across faster", but actually to set up for the attack.

Before the third move, I met with France in their corner. They told me the moves to make. I wrote them down. I handed the moves to another of my team members, and said "Go up to Mr. McCready, but do not give him this piece of paper." I went back to my desk and wrote out the real moves.

That turn, we took over three French ports and defended Germany from attack, all but wiping France out. We went on to win the game.

It only led to one death threat. And it taught me more about psychology than the rest of the coursework combined.
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:25 PM on January 30, 2012 [25 favorites]


"(like Settlers of Catan, Acquire)"

Holy shit...I had no idea that Acquire was still out there or, frankly, that anyone else in the whole world knew about it. Wow.

Huh. Wow. No, really, this is a big deal to me. My parents inherited the 3M "bookshelf" version from my maternal grandparents (along with "Stocks & Bonds" and something else, I can't recall) and for some weird reason, starting when I was about eight years old, this became my favorite game.

My mom's family is a card and boardgame playing family (seriously...my mom's younger sister, an aunt who's more like a sister to me because she's only seven years older, actually has a walk-in closet in her house devoted to storage of board games) but it was always an ordeal to get people to play Acquire with me because everyone else thought it was too dry. (I always sort of wanted to play Stocks & Bonds more, but knew that was out of the question.)

I've got the game now, that 60s 3M bookshelf version, in a box about four feet from me as I type this. Over the years as I got into computers, I worked on a couple of different software versions of it, though never completed one.

Huh.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:28 PM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


EdRa: I doubt I'm the only person who read your comment and then immediately clicked your name to check where you lived.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 PM on January 30 [1 favorite +] [!]

Not me. I'm clicking on other people to see if they're the ones who screwed me.


And, Iantius: wow.
posted by bumpkin at 10:44 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is the thing about Diplomacy. If you want to win, at some point you are going to have to look at someone eye-to-eye and lie directly to their face. You don't always want to know that your friends and loved ones are capable of that kind of deceit, and you will never fully trust each other again.

One should only play Diplomacy with friends you can afford to lose.

That said, I am totally down for another MeFi game. Hit me up with a memail if anyone gets one going.
posted by empath at 10:45 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


My husband's group of friends always used to spend several days together over New Year's Eve playing diplomacy. The amusing thing was that the in-game backstabbing, secrecy and role playing was all exacerbated by the fact that each year random people in the party were secretly sleeping with other people, sometimes behind the backs of partners or family members, and often tried extra hard to hide those real-life alliances by in-game treacherousness.
posted by lollusc at 10:49 PM on January 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


*Treachery*. I knew there was a word for it that I didn't have to make up out of remnants of other words. Damnit.
posted by lollusc at 10:49 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ha ha, Diplomacy! I have been waiting to see this on the blue!

Awesome game... although IMO the face-to-face version holds NOTHING to play-by-email. The level of intricacy and intrigue that a good play-by-email game can develop (with one-week-per-turn moves, by the way) is something that you will NEVER find ANY other game, board, card, or computer! Nothing matches it, and for good reason - no other game challenges you match wits with six other players. No computer can scheme, no bot can make you laugh, and no other piece of wood and blocks can inspire so many complications, confusions, and overall depth-of-gameplay as Diplomacy can. For this very reason, I don't see Diplomacy ever dying out - it's a game in a class of its own, and nothing else offers anything even remotely similar.

And not to mention the thrill of setting up a good move, and then the tense anticipation while waiting for the adjudication to come out... I swear, it used to be that the hour before the adjudication I would be as if I had drank five cups of coffee; shaking, jittering, reacting to slight noises... it can be a huge head rush.

As to the whole evil thing - as someone who has played far too much Diplomacy, I can attest that only NEW players are really evil (and/or randomly malicious). Once you've played the game a few times, you 1) get more removed, and so aren't as hurt by the stabs when they come, and 2) you learn that lying to everyone all of the time is actually really counter-productive. You just end up getting branded a liar within a turn or two, and usually stomped. Furthermore, you learn to realize that if the other player stabbed you well, and you had really left yourself open, well -- it's really your own fault, the other player was just being a good Diplomacy player (bad stabs, on the other hand, can bring much cursing and general malingering that many of the above have mentioned repeatedly). In short, Diplomacy is an EVIL, HORRIBLE game when you are playing with BAD players; playing with good, involved, and experienced players can be a laugh, a tonne of fun, a great thrill and a fantastic meeting of wits. I cannot recommend it more.

Now, of course, a well-timed stab directed towards a sucker erstwhile ally is undeniably a part of the game. However, this usually happens far less with experienced players than with new ones too, for the reason that experienced players are usually not... oblivious and can see the stab coming long before it's a threat.

==============================================================

I'm actually currently running a play-by-email game myself, as it happens - well, a bit of a variant of the original game (don't get me started the differences from this game and standard -- you'll be here all week). Anyone interested can find the adjudications here:
Spring 1900
Fall 1900
Winter 1901

And you can find the graphical move history here.

I can't reveal too many details as the game is still on-going (and the curse of GM knowledge and secrecy can be hard to bear at times). I'll stick to the obvious; as you can see from the maps, France made some SERIOUS diplomatic mis-steps in Spring (Britain and Italy both invading, and Germany lending Italy a helping-hand). Since then, he has managed a modest diplomatic save, in persuading Britain that his demise would probably not be in the Prime Minister's best interests. However, Germany recently built a tonne of armies and no fleets, which seems to indicate that the Kaiser fancies the city of light somewhat himself. Matthias is still in a rather hard place - but, of course, that's the beauty of the game; you can always talk yourself out of (almost) any situation, if you are persuasive enough (and from personal past experience, Mattias can be very persuasive if he needs to be).

================================================================

For those of you interested in finding out more about this game, here are a few links for getting involved that the OP missed:
DiplomaticCorp is a great place to find new play-by-email games.
Web Diplomacy.net is (in my experience) a less-good-place to play: the games here tend to happen more frequently; with a faster pace; and a lower standard-of-play.
And, of course, the esteemed Diplomacy World, the 'flagship' of the Diplomacy hobby, sadly SORELY needing a website update. This is only a magazine ('zine) containing various discussions on Diplomacy openings, theoretical unit positions, and other discussions about all things Diplomacy -- no games on offer. This was originally a printed (as in paper paper) 'zine, living on on the web in 2012 in a still-very-near-to-paper format. However, the depth and quality of the articles is (IMO) second to none.

And, of course, you can also play by email (email!), in its pure, unadulterated form (no website, no nothing, just SMTP). That's how my game is currently being run; of course, you generally have to know the right people to even here about these things in the first place (the drawback of email). If enough are interested (and work allows), I may even try and organize a 'newbie' game - contact me for details.

===============================================================

Finally, regarding the post up-thread about having high-school history students play Diplomacy as part of their class -- I cannot agree with this more. Playing Diplomacy has brought me an entirely different way of thinking about world politics that I definitely would have missed out on otherwise. Back when Wikileaks released its shit-load last year, I went around for DAYS just thinking:

Oh man oh man oh man, this is BRILLIANT! Someone just broke into America's email account, copied everything, and sent the entire archive to the WHOLE DAMN GAME!

Ha ha, China is going to be PISSED! North Korea was DEFINITELY not supposed to hear what they have been saying to Uncle Sam.... and by the way, did you hear the stories that Saudi Arabia has been spreading?? He is really being a two-faced gossip; no-one's going to be telling him ANYTHING after all that business over encouraging the US to attack Iran...


Oh, and as a bonus, Diplomacy has improved my writing immeasurably. In high-school I hated English and History; now I research old battles on Wikipedia for fun, and write mammoth diatribes to Russia to explaining exactly why trusting Germany is bad for him in the long run, and really how Austria-Hungary forms a more natural and stable alliance for the Czar.
posted by Arandia at 10:50 PM on January 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


And when you lie, you won't just lie. You will say, "Bob, we've known each other all our lives. Your mother practically raised me as her second son. I was the best man at your wedding. You donated the kidney that saved my child's life. What kind of man would I be if I would be willing to throw all of that history, to betray the person closer to me than anyone else on the planet, just to win a board game?"

And then you will tell him what he wants to hear. And he will be so happy that he's going to win the game, even though he isn't very good -- because even if he isn't great at board games, he has real and true friends who will stick by him, no matter what.

And then the turns will be revealed, while he is blissfully counting up all the territory he's going to take this turn. And he'll find out that not only will he not win, he'll be eliminated in a few turns, and that you were the one that drove the knife in his bank.

You'll know that you're a real Diplomacy player when you can look him in the eye when it happens. In fact, you're only a real Diplomacy player if seeing the look on his face in that moment is more important to you than winning.
posted by empath at 10:52 PM on January 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Why is there no Diplomacy iphone app? It seems like it would be perfect for the platform?
posted by empath at 10:56 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I recall playing at the home of one player who had bugged his own house to get some intel about others' negotiations.
You played with an amateur.

In one of my first (very few, although I think I'd enjoy playing again) games of Diplomacy, the real negotiations had all been conducted days in advance, between two players who then disguised this mind-bending level of cooperation with a brilliantly acted facade of unbroken competition during the game itself. The negotiations that the rest of us thought we were undertaking were merely our assigned parts in their scripted play, designed to draw us into shifting alliances with one or the other of them, pull our puppet strings for our amusement, gradually sap our strengths, and finally lure us into tempting traps to enable their later inevitable betrayals.

On the other hand, while their master plan had the rest of our demises predestined from the start, it was the many minor unexpected twists over the course of hours that determined which of the two of them would become the victor. So that intense competition was masking a second level of play with this unbelievable alliance... which itself was masking a third-level game that was a zero-sum competition!?

Or at least, I think that was what was going on. My roommate was a fellow puppet who impressed me with his honesty during the game, but who then vanished with some of my valuables a year or two later - was that a fourth-level game; was he planning that effect in advance? Conversely the ultra-devious mastermind who won that game turned out to be one of my most honest, trustworthy friends... as far as I know. Years later I was a character reference when he started working on nuclear reactors for the military... has his ostensibly impeccable real-life sense of honor been real, or has he just been playing a decades-long fifth-level game and maneuvering into another winning position?
posted by roystgnr at 10:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [33 favorites]


*Treachery*. I knew there was a word for it that I didn't have to make up out of remnants of other words. Damnit.

The word you're looking for is perfidy.

I found that manipulative, near-evil, look-them-in-the-eye and swear like a sociopath came out in me in a rousing game of Werewolf, with strangers whom I had never met. I navigated a 13 person game with my fellow werewolf picked off in literally the first round. It came down to me, a feeble girl, and a quiet man.

I stared at her, stared at him, explained to her how we had come to this point ("he's cold, calculating, quiet; that's why he sits there. he knows he can win this if you'll let him") and that she needed to help me lynch him. Now. For the village. (What was left of it.)

The look of betrayal and sheer flabbergasting chagrin was priceless. I immediately turned back to her after we lynched her and announced that it was going to be a rough night for her.

Needless to say, this bit of navigation made me public enemy the next round which was no good, no good at all, as I had been granted the power of the Seer. So I called out (somewhat against decorum) during the "night" process that the Healer should heal me because I'm the seer (also against decorum, announcing that). Sure enough, light came, and no one was dead. For my werewolf compatriot from the last round had been granted Healer.

Suffice to say, I think I could handle this game. I'm not sure if my friends would like that side of me, however.
posted by disillusioned at 11:02 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


lolusc: "My husband's group of friends always used to spend several days together over New Year's Eve playing diplomacy. The amusing thing was that the in-game backstabbing, secrecy and role playing was all exacerbated by the fact that each year random people in the party were secretly sleeping with other people, sometimes behind the backs of partners or family members, and often tried extra hard to hide those real-life alliances by in-game treacherousness."

Man, this sounds like a recipe for DISASTER. And/or a brief bout of awesome, followed by DISASTER.

One rule I developed early about Diplomacy -- keep real life and Diplomacy seperate. You have to be very careful, and very strict, about drawing that line. It's only a game -- otherwise you have the ruined friendships/lives others have mentioned up-thread.

I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson merely after getting stabbed hard on the back of my open hand by a sharpened pencil. Mind you, I was being a real dick about things -- I wouldn't say I deserved it, but it probably was close.

With that view, Diplomacy and the internet/email are a match made in heaven. You don't have to know the other players that well, if a serious flame-out happens you never have to meet them again, and best of all you can't stab the other player with a pencil.
posted by Arandia at 11:04 PM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


We used to play Diplomacy as a family game.

A defining moment of my childhood, and even more so of my sister's: my very competitive mother stabbed my then about 12-year-old sister in the back at the critical moment to end an alliance and win the game. Three of the most painful words of growing-up-to-soon, and in a real sense childhood's end in my family to this day are: "You took Sevastapol..."

I actually think this was a defining experience of my life — the moment that I understood, forever, there are so very many things more important than winning. I never quite thought of my mother with the same complete respect again.

The moment in which she made that move would probably make the short list of reasons I ended up working for non-profit community organizations for most of my working life, instead of becoming a politician or a lawyer...
posted by namasaya at 11:07 PM on January 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


empath: The implementation we built runs well in mobile Safari, but the screen real estate is pretty cozy for a full Diplomacy map. The iPad seems to be about the perfect size. There is an iOS app The Game of Diplomacy, but other than a very nicely detailed map the UI looks quite terrible.
posted by lantius at 11:09 PM on January 30, 2012


Second fave Diplomacy moment: watching a noob play an Orbital Mind Control Laser card from Illuminati.

Fave Diplomacy moment: everybody else looking at me.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


We played this in history class. I was England; France was sitting on his last remaining supply center in Portugal, pretty much out for the rest of the game until I had the brilliant-for-a-fourteen-year-old idea of talking him into supporting me just for sheer spite. I promised him absolutely nothing except that if he did as I said, he wouldn't spend the rest of the game sitting on his one lonely little supply center in Portugal, and apparently that was enough. I remember to this day the flabbergasted looks as France supported me into Brest. Good times.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:15 PM on January 30, 2012


So it's like Risk then?

More like Illumanti with less orbital mind control lasers being controlled by the Boy Sprouts with a transfer of power from the FBI.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:27 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread really makes me want to play Diplomacy. Two years ago I played a single game of Solium Infernum with complete strangers and it is to date my favorite gaming experience. Two months of my life were devoted to that game. There was one turn a day and it is not an exaggeration to say my grades suffered because of the brain power spent on keeping the 2-3 concurrent alliance narratives I was involved in straight.

I was actually the first person eliminated from that game, but before I was defeated the other 5 players had to band together to destroy me. The backroom dealings and multiple backstabs are still fresh in my mind despite never communicating with any of the players since then.
posted by edeezy at 11:27 PM on January 30, 2012


We played this in history class. I was England; France was sitting on his last remaining supply center in Portugal, pretty much out for the rest of the game until I had the brilliant-for-a-fourteen-year-old idea of talking him into supporting me just for sheer spite. I promised him absolutely nothing except that if he did as I said, he wouldn't spend the rest of the game sitting on his one lonely little supply center in Portugal, and apparently that was enough. I remember to this day the flabbergasted looks as France supported me into Brest. Good times.

Yeah, I recall a game where Britain just fucked with different countries for the sheer hell of it.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:51 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: "Yeah, I recall a game where Britain just fucked with different countries for the sheer hell of it."

That wasn't a game; that was the 19th century.
posted by Arandia at 11:55 PM on January 30, 2012 [44 favorites]


The last time I played Diplomacy, the term "ratfucking" was used between two of my friends of different friend groups.

Well Nixon used it too, in exactly the same way. So they were in good ratfucking company.
posted by clarknova at 11:59 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: like the Yalta Conference, but with more frosting.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:02 AM on January 31, 2012


This sounds awesome, but I fear it would consume me. Maybe another thing to save until retirement.
posted by bystander at 2:14 AM on January 31, 2012


Diplo with Diplo enthusiasts is a very good time. Just don't try and talk anybody into playing who isn't already aware that it's a game of potentially full-throated assholery. It's not for everyone; arguably, it's not for most people. I love it and I'm not sure it's even for me.

It's worth noting about your comments above that there is a danger with Diplomacy, and it's a similar danger as with Monopoly, Paranoia, and even Nethack. That is, the game has a kind of reputation, and people who have never played it before hear about it as being this great thing but harsh, and to excess it can make people standoffish a bit, afraid of jumping in.

If you expect EVERYONE to lie in Diplomacy then you end up forming alliances with no-one, and if everyone is like that, no alliances get formed, and everyone ends up playing the boring semi-Risk guessing game described some way above. Just like with Monopoly if no one unbends enough to trade, or Paranoia if everyone shoots each other right out the gate, or Nethack if people take those tales of its legendary (and in my estimation a little overblown) difficulty to heart and don't get invested in their character enough to have much fun.
posted by JHarris at 2:37 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I come from a family where Monopoly was played as a cut-throat, take-no-prisoners campaign. Three-handed Pinochle was a complex strategic minefield of temporary alliances and vicious subterfuge. Chinese Checkers was conducted with a level of seriousness roughly equivalent to fighting the Napoleonic Wars. Throwing a chess game because you happened to be playing a five year old was looked on with the same horror that other families might reserve for burning down the house and then pissing on the ashes.

Diplomacy? Was neither particularly surprising nor particularly unusual. It caused neither tears nor rage nor shock at betrayal.

We played PARCHEESI that way.
posted by kyrademon at 3:25 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I dont know, I think people are overblowing this a bit because its fun to overblow things.

Diplomacy is interesting because it is messy, like humans are messy. I used to play Diplomacy regularly with a group of friends. We'd play one game over a span of days.

It wasn't the lying asshole who always won. Sometimes the lying asshole would discover to their grand surprise that a collective of other players had formed a brief alliance with the sole intention of seeing the lying asshole go down in flames. Sometimes the winner of the game was just the guy who managed to avoid being the subject of anybody's ire long enough to gain a strategic advantage.

No friendships were lost. Just the opposite. Everyone knew that some backstabbing had to occur. Diplomacy meant, like the old adage, the art of saying "nice doggie" while you fumble around for a big stick. Or hope a bigger dog attacks it from behind.

Now the friends are scattered across the globe but we still talk about those old Diplomacy marathons. I still remember, even fondly, how I was scheming with Marc in the backyard beside the swimming pool, feeding him lies he realized were lies. That was right before he said "You cynical bastard!" and pushed me in.
posted by vacapinta at 3:37 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm shocked by all this lying. I would never do that to someone.

When's the MeFi game starting?
posted by michaelh at 4:20 AM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


This sounds like something I'd like to try, if a mefi game were started up.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:38 AM on January 31, 2012


Are there any decent, browser-based cooperative turn based games? A group of friends, now spread across time and space due to babies and the job market, used to play Blight Of The Immortals, but got tired of it after beating a huge map on Hard (plus our spouses were not fans of us getting up at 2am to "tend to our orcs").

We want something we can play and not develop blood feuds over. Diplomacy is out for obvious reasons.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:42 AM on January 31, 2012


So it's like Risk then?

Not at all. The two keys to the gameplay, which is why it turns into such a Rat....rodent fornication encouragement system.

1) There is no chance. If armies attacking + supporting > armies defending + supporting, then the attacking army takes the space. Otherwise, it does not.

2) All moves in a turn are written down and then are resolved *at the same time*.

This last one is evil, because you cannot be sure that any agreements you have made are going to be upheld until the board resolves.
posted by eriko at 5:15 AM on January 31, 2012


It seriously sounds like Diplomacy fans would enjoy Solium Infernum (as mentioned by edeezy above. It's all about backroom maneuvering and finding ways to subtly influence the game without other people realizing it.

If you want a fun narrative playthrough done by Rock, Paper, Shotgun I can't recommend it enough.

Plus it's an independent game, developed by one guy with a love for this type of gaming. Plays well over time and over distance, too.
posted by This Guy at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have only played Diplomacy a handful of times and I am staying the hell away from it until I retire. Not only do you have to sit there and watch your best friend stabbing you in the back, knowing full well that the second set of orders, the one you didn't submit, would have blown his plan to shit and made you end up with 7 territories. But no, you stuck with the first set, figuring that this two-player alliance would fight it out only at the end when the rest of the field at been eliminated. That is bad enough; what is worse, far worse, is that you spent the last week agonizing over every move, figuring out every possible combination of moves and counter-moves. You got no sleep, skipped out on two assignments and a lab report, drank too much coffee and ended up wit over 17 sheets of notes and diagrams from all the late night negoiation sessions with all the other players. Then, just as you realize you lost a week of your life for a single diplomacy move it all comes clear, the path lies before you, take it and you will crush your enemies, muahahah!

And then it comes... snikt... the knife in the back, the second move reveals your worst fears: that the brilliant contingency plan you spent a week devising and agonizing over, the one that you knew would stop the betrayal but then discarded thinking that it would come next season, was the one you should have gone with. But no, you trusted your friend and chose him over the other weasels... and now you have to sit back with 2 armies for the rest of the game seething while the eventual victor slowly but surely wins the game, all on the back of that move that you did not submit. You enabled him to win, but he is the master...

Oh, Diplomacy, how I hate you.

Truly, a great game.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:21 AM on January 31, 2012


The different between Risk and Diplomacy:

People who get real life angry about Risk backstabbing are just assholes. People who don't get real life angry playing Diplomacy are robots.
posted by kmz at 5:48 AM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


It is a game curiously well-suited to online play: unlike 99.98% of games, there is no luck and no hidden information. The rules are about as simple as can be -- armies go on land, fleets on sea areas and coasts; a unit can enter an unoccupied area; instead of entering an adjacent area a unit can support the unit in that area; and if an area is contested, the larger force wins (i.e. I am going here with one army and you are going to the same spot with one army supported by a second army, so you win); there are about three dozen supply centers (cities) on the board, each of which allows you to maintain one army or fleet; and to win you need the majority of supply centers on the board. Those are essentially all the rules of Diplomacy.

What makes it work is that diplomacy is quite literally the name of the game: if you can convince others to do your bidding, you will win. What makes it unappealing for some (as the comments above show) is that to win, you more or less have to lie. No player is strong enough at the beginning to win, so you need others' help. But to win, you need to have a majority of the supply centers, so anyone you help will eventually be gunning for you if you stick around long enough.

But a Diplomacy stab, well-executed, can be a thing of cruel beauty... Twenty years ago in an online game I had the unenviable situation of playing Italy. Turkey and I formed a secret pact while making it look to the other players as if we were at odds. After an exploratory prod or two, our northern neighbours all ignored us to fight among themselves, confident that the south could be dealt with later.

Turkey and I spent about eight turns apparently clashing over and over in the Mediterranean, until the whole Med was full of Turkish and Italian fleets. And then in a masterstroke, we suddenly began convoying Turkish armies into Marseilles.

I didn't know the French player all that well, but his wife was a friend of mine. She called me up and said, "Paul is walking around the house clutching his head and muttering your name. Is this that stupid game?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:09 AM on January 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


My introduction to Diplomacy was early freshman year in college; several of my upperclassmen friends were regular players. One game, there was me, five of those friends of mine, and one of their acquaintances who I only knew a little. At one point during a private conversation with the acquaintance, he warned me that if I betrayed him, not only would he not forgive me in this game, he would carry that lack of forgiveness over to all future games, and in fact he would never, ever become my friend.

I didn't really like him anyway.
posted by Flunkie at 6:12 AM on January 31, 2012


For a while I was trying to get people interested in a TV show called D-List Diplomacy. We would arrive in town, teach the TV weatherman, the ex-football star still in town, the shock-jock, and 4 more, how to play. Then we would shoot the event with 8 cameras, have cortex, or someone like, be the host. I thought it would be a fun 2 hour show each week.

Didn't find much interest, but I don't know the right people
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 6:27 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


As to the whole evil thing - as someone who has played far too much Diplomacy, I can attest that only NEW players are really evil (and/or randomly malicious). Once you've played the game a few times, you 1) get more removed, and so aren't as hurt by the stabs when they come, and 2) you learn that lying to everyone all of the time is actually really counter-productive

I think the truth is most people don't play enough games of Diplomacy to get to this level. Whether playing in-person or by email, the constant psychological warfare from your friends completely fatigues you (more so in the case of email games, which are definitely better/more dangerous and can easily last two or three months). You don't want to play again for a while and some of the players, discovering how ruthless their friends can be, probably never want to play again. The devastating, reptile-brain response to getting betrayed and reduced to a single supply center is utterly uncanny.
posted by bittermensch at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2012


I hate diplomacy. I played a version in which you make a move once a week. I would waste so much time reviewing my moves during the week. It's not that I didn't get into the game; it's that I got too into it.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2012


I actually prefer Machiavelli, which adds a few wrinkles (mercenaries, plagues, etc.) to the simplicity of Diplomacy. And though I've never gotten a chance to play it, Supremacy looks great, too (Diplomacy in the nuclear age, basically).
posted by jiawen at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tried playing this once with some more experienced friends, and as soon as the first communications came in, I knew I was in over my head. I now wonder if that was just a ploy to get me to quit and cede my territory.
posted by gjc at 6:32 AM on January 31, 2012


Now that I think about it, this sounds exactly like how some of my friends treat fantasy football.
posted by gjc at 6:34 AM on January 31, 2012


I'd love to play this - is it hard to get the hang of it if I've never played? I will read all the rules etc. posted upthread.

I'm a little scared.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:37 AM on January 31, 2012


I'd love to play this - is it hard to get the hang of it if I've never played? I will read all the rules etc. posted upthread.
The rules per se are essentially trivial.
posted by Flunkie at 6:41 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The rules are fairly simple (except for some weird edge cases), and also, it's in the best interests of all of the other players to make sure that you understand them, because they're going to need you to help them.

Honestly, the first time you play, don't try to win. Announce that it's your first time playing and that you don't intend to win. Then just pick the player you get along with best and do whatever he tells you. You might be able to get a draw (ie a win) your first time out if your partner is any good. In any case, you'll learn something.
posted by empath at 6:46 AM on January 31, 2012


the only people less trustworthy, more despicable in intent than you is everyone else you're playing this game with.

I think this is backwards. Diplomacy = the only person less trustworthy, more despicable in intent than everyone else you're playing this game with is you.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:55 AM on January 31, 2012


And though I've never gotten a chance to play it, Supremacy looks great, too (Diplomacy in the nuclear age, basically).

Supremacy may have been a bit of pedagogical performance art rather than an actual game. I played it at least a half-dozen times back when it was relatively new, and every game ended with the little mushroom clouds sprouting all over the board. Of course, as I say, maybe that was the point.

I recall it as being better in the conception than in the execution: there are resources you need and a stock market counter that determines the price for those resources. It was trivially easy to drive the prices way down at the beginning of one's turn, buy the needed resources, and then drive the prices way back up again. Perhaps there was something about that practice that our scouring of the rules did not turn up.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2012


Have been wanting to try this game for a while. If any fellow noobs (and generous experts) want to game then count me in.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 7:26 AM on January 31, 2012


Why is there no Diplomacy iphone app? It seems like it would be perfect for the platform?

empath, because the sheer number of people smashing their phones in impotent rage would cause Apple to summarily void the warranty of anyone who installed the app.
posted by phong3d at 7:39 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


My 10th grade math teacher used to run a game for our school club. Every Friday afternoon we'd meet, and the rule was that your orders had to be in a manilla folder he kept before the meeting started. Any time in the week you could go hand him some orders and he'd put them on the bottom of the pile in the folder. Friday afternoon we'd all group together and he'd marshal through them in order and we'd see how it played out.

Looking at orders already submitted to the folder the folder was not allowed.
Removing prior orders was not allowed.
Submitting multiple sets of orders was allowed, so if you made a mistake, there was some hope of correcting it if you realized quickly, or of mitigating the damage of intervening actions from other countries if you didn't.

Things got weird when we started submitting orders for other countries' armies. People started making up authentication mechanisms. Tension ran high.
posted by atbash at 8:07 AM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


1) There is no chance. If armies attacking + supporting > armies defending + supporting, then the attacking army takes the space. Otherwise, it does not.

It's a minor point, but one of the things that adds a little bit of extra drama to the tactical side of Diplo is that "there is no chance" isn't entirely true. I mean, the above is right on: there's no lucky double-sixes that will let you win an exchange with inferior forces. If you don't have the numbers, you don't have the numbers.

But! There can certainly be chance in the question of whether you will in fact have the numbers. Because nobody knows until the orders get revealed simultaneously where anybody is actually moving their units. Sometimes whether a clash comes down to a successful invasion or an uneventful bounce of one unit off the other comes down to a coinflip: did you guess right? Did They second-guess right?

To take a very simple example, imagine that one of your armies and one of Their armies are sitting in non-adjacent territories that are connected by a pair of additional territories—a four-cell diamond of honeycomb, essentially, with the two armies on the East and West pointy bits of the diamond, the connecting cells the North and South ones. You want, for whatever reason, to get your army onto either of those middle connecting cells. There's nobody around in range to affect the resolution of this directly; it's effectively just you and Them and those four territories, and you don't care for the purpose of this discussion where Their army ends up. (Maybe both the North and South cells are supply centers that They control already, and capturing one will help you and hurt Them.)

If you order your army toward North and They order Their army North, it's a 1 vs. 1 battle, your units bounce, and you both finish the turn with your armies where they started. Ditto if you both order South.

But if you order North while They order South, you move into North and They move into South and you've accomplished your goal. Likewise if you order South and They order North.

So do you order North, or do you order South? In isolation, there's no correct answer. It's a coinflip, a literal fifty/fifty chance. Luck, it turns out, is part of the game at the tactical level.

Of course, the likelihood that there's literally no capacity for other players to at least indirectly affect a given tactical situation is usually pretty low. Armies and fleets are rarely in a position where they have only one thing to do, and a turn spent on an attack that has a coinflip chance of accomplishing nothing is a turn not spent moving that army into more reliably useful defensive position for the next turn, etc.

So the raw probabilities of an isolated exchange tend to be tempered somewhat by the practical realities on the larger board. But they're there, and you can find some genuinely tense moments of finger-crossing even in otherwise apolitical tactical exchanges because everybody knows there's a 50% or 33% or 25% chance of an attack succeeding or failing even when everybody knows exactly how it is going to go down in terms of committed forces. Which among a symmetrical set of orders each of a pair (or trio, or quartet...) of players ultimately chooses can have a profound effect on the state of the game in these situations.

But as referenced above, there's also the wonderful reality that experienced players may be secretly in an alliance to game up a tense-looking but in fact totally pre-determined standoff just for show. Chance goes out the window when Austria and Germany, sworn enemies who hunger for each other's blood, manage to perfectly neutralize their contested front over a series of turns by guessing just right what the other is going to guess, thus keeping the situation totally stable while they set up their secret joint offense on Russia.
posted by cortex at 8:44 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like Diplomacy because backstabbing and dishonesty is part of the game. It's expected. To complain about it is silly. I don't understand people who get all bent out of shape about it. Did they not understand that being shafted by other players and not being able to trust anyone is what's supposed to happen?
posted by Decani at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2012


Ah, Diplomacy. Yes, this game was the source of much animosity amongst my friends and I. Still, nothing quite like nuking your buddies and placing a mushroom cloud marker on their property to really incite nerd rage.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2012


My high school gaming buddies and I played Diplomacy once.

ONCE
posted by briank at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2012


and then did your mother hang you on a hook?
posted by COBRA! at 9:46 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I’ve never heard of this game, but just from the descriptions I’m completely amazed that this would be fun for some people. Not "your game sucks", I’m just always surprised at just how different people’s personalities are, I can’t imagine anyone I know playing this game.

From reading the comments I’m suspecting that a competitive personality is a requirement.
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Its kinda the same people that like the rough-and-tumble in Metatalk.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:14 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


My ex, who's still a friend of mine (we're roomies, in fact) and I are *very* competitive and I could see this getting heated. It certainly piques my curiosity. Our other friend is very quiet and non-aggressive, and I don't know if she's capable of doing such a thing. She also lives w/me. They're part of our main gaming crew.

While I'm fascinated by the idea, and I think my ex and I would have a blast (well - mostly), I don't want to "risk" it.
posted by symbioid at 10:38 AM on January 31, 2012


That's why I'm always torn on the game, really. I really enjoy games in general, and I enjoy tactics, and I particularly enjoy complicated inter-player dynamics, and so the prospect of Diplo as a seven-player experience with no fixed alliances but fundamentally a need for temporary alliances really pushes my buttons.

And I enjoy competition on some level, and I enjoy bullshitting for the joy of bullshitting. But I'm not starkly competitive and I don't really like having to press a lie, I don't like getting into the weeds and manipulating people hard. But sometimes to really make a situation in Diplo work, that's kind of how you have to go with it.

And it can be kind of exhausting. Especially in web- or email-based games where a turn takes a couple of days or a week instead of fifteen minutes, because that stuff is just hanging there. Like folks have said, it's easy to obsess, it's easy to spend that whole couple of days or week digesting your own stomach while you mull your orders, your lies, your pending betrayals. Even though it's all at a board game level, it's the social component that makes Diplo interesting and you can't really get away from the fact that even when you lie to someone about a game, you're lying to them.

I like Diplomacy because backstabbing and dishonesty is part of the game. It's expected. To complain about it is silly. I don't understand people who get all bent out of shape about it. Did they not understand that being shafted by other players and not being able to trust anyone is what's supposed to happen?

Sometimes they indeed don't. Sometimes they maybe think they know because they were warned, but they're thinking "oh devious like when my sister would try and sneak an extra hundred dollar bill out of the bank in Monopoly, okay, I can deal with that".

Because the thing is, Diplo has an enthusiastic but really very small active playerbase and fanbase. And it takes seven people to play. So getting a game together means finding six other people to play, and when you're playing it in person that means finding six other people you have an in-person relationship with of some sort and who are willing and available to spend at least four or five hours straight playing a board game.

Most folks don't know six other Diplo players in easy board-gaming reach. Which means getting a game together means getting new players involved. Which means getting folks involved who don't really know what they're getting into, even if they're warned up front.

Complicating it is that not everybody knows what they're getting other people into. My friends with the cabin weekend Diplo in-tears disaster? They knew and liked Diplo but they'd never run a game in person and didn't really know how the temperaments of everybody would stack up to the game. And they had the best of intentions and warned everybody that it was a bit cut-throat, and the folks who knew Diplo already from internet play were just genuinely excited to have this fun gaming experience in person.

I think that sort of dynamic is why a lot of people's first game of Diplo is their last as well. The backstabbery and lying that can happen in a game is something you can warn folks about but you can't really prepare them for it, and to a large extent I think people organizing a mixed-group game for the first time with new players don't themselves realize what a powerkeg the game can be emotionally.

So it's not just brand new players who can be surprised. Probably the most important lesson a Diplo fan can learn is to really think through who they're introducing the game, and why they're doing that. If it's because you're desperate for a seventh player and you found someone who will say yes, that's not necessarily a good idea. What you need to find is a seventh Diplo player. And you need to know your group well enough to know if the diplomatic negotiations are going to function at the level of brief, business-like chatter, or extended appeals to game strategy, or threats to end actual serious friendships over a betrayal.

Because the hurt feelings only really show up when the game escalates past the level everyone is expecting it to reach. It's really possible for seven people to be playing seven somewhat different games, and that can lead to the sorts of nasty surprises people are talking about here. Know your players, and know what you're getting them into, basically, and you won't have a problem. And that goes for all sorts of games, but Diplo is an unusually challenging case.
posted by cortex at 10:40 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I heard the Lego people were working on a version of the game for really little kids as part of their board gaming line. It's called... Duplomacy. You're so, so welcome.

More seriously, I've been working on another board game rules article, and trying to summarize the essence of the rules of Diplomacy without bothering to explicate the edge cases. It might help discussion a little if I posted it here, I'm thinking?
posted by JHarris at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do it!
posted by cortex at 12:40 PM on January 31, 2012


And it takes seven people to play.

In the strictest sense, this is not true, and the rules contain the setups for games of fewer than seven. I will happily agree that games of fewer than seven are much inferior... Even numbers of players tend to pair off, so fours and sixes are pretty stagnant. Five-player games are okay, but nowhere near as good as a full roster of seven.

Of course others may differ. A friend of mine who had found Diplomacy at a yard sale or something had played it many times against his roommate as a two-player game something like checkers with simultaneous movement. It seemed weird to me, but those guys found the notion of seven people trying to play the game all at once unwieldy and confusing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:54 PM on January 31, 2012


So it sounds like there were a lot of people itching to get a game going here. I have had four me-mail requests so far - do we have any other takers? It's first-come, first-serve, so let me know ASAP or risk losing out.

I've cross-posted this to mefightclub, for those of you who are mefighters as well as being mefites. Of course, you don't have to be a member of mefightclub to join - everyone welcome.
posted by Arandia at 10:50 PM on January 31, 2012


A friend of mine said that he was going to open an account today to plug this, but as it didn't happen: Chicago is hosting the World Diplomacy Championship this year if anyone is interested. Sounds absolutely horrifying based on the above discussion of the ins and outs of the game. Enjoy!
posted by macrowave at 12:21 AM on February 1, 2012


Here is my summary of the rules so far. Any corrections are welcome:

Diplomacy is played on a map of the world divided into regions, like Risk, here called provinces. There are seven players in a full game, and each player gets a random side to play, with certain pre-defined territories. Of these locations, there are land, sea and costal provinces. Some of these provinces are starred, meaning they contain supply centers. Importantly, and unlike Risk, each region can contain at most one unit, all units are intrinsically the same strength, that is one point, and beyond the opening setup there are no die rolls. Land provinces can only contain armies, sea provinces can only contain fleets, and coasts can contain either.

Turns take place over game years, with two turns per year, Spring and Fall. The number of starred territories a side owns at the end of the Fall turn is the most units he may have. If he lost some starred territories, he must at that time disband any units he has in excess of the number he had. If he gained new stars, he may form new units. At the start of the game, all sides have three supply centers, except Russia which has 4. The game is won once a player has gained his 18th supply center, but surviving players may choose to agree to a winner before that point. A supply center is owned by the side that last entered its province. If that side removes the unit from the province, it still owns the supply center until another side moves a unit there.

Units all have the same strength, and there can never be more than one in a province, and there is no luck in the game, so how does one effectively attack, or defend for that matter? Each unit, on each turn, may choose to support a unit in a neighboring region. Support can be made to any unit, regardless of whether it's the player's, an "ally's" or an "opponent's."

Each turn consists of four phases:
1. Diplomatic phase.
The players may leave the table and meet however they like and talk with each other. The rules give a precise maximum period of time for this phase. Notably, the game's rules verge into metagaming territory here -- while players may choose to form alliances with each other, or alternatively declare "war," there is no legal acknowledgement of these states. Players may choose to form deals however they wish, but nothing in the rules forces anyone to hold to them. Players may also eavesdrop or resort to other out-of-game means to figure out what opponents are planning -- even what would be considered cheating in other games is not in Diplomacy.

2. Order writing phase.
Each player, on a sheet of paper, writes down an order for each of his units on the board. There is a specific format for this, like "A London Holds", which means the Army in London Holds its position. Abbreviations are allowed for this, but it is important to be precise -- unclear orders are assumed to automatically hold. This is actually an important aspect of the game; one tactic is to purposely write one's orders vaguely so they cannot be adjudicated, while maintaining plausible deniability to your "comrades."
These sheets of paper are collected and held secret until the next phase begins.

3. Order resolution phase.
Here all the orders made by all the players are revealed and expressed onto the board. They are considered to happen simultaneously. There are four kinds of orders that could have been made in the declaration phase:
Hold means to stay put and do nothing.
Move must specify a destination. The unit travels one space, to the destination. If it cannot move to the destination because it's not adjacent, if an army tries to move into the sea or a fleet tries to move onto land, or any other illegal move is attempted, then the unit instead holds.
A special class of move action is when units interfere with each other in movement. If two units of equal strength try to enter the same territory on a turn, it's called a standoff and neither unit moves. (A stronger unit will succeed in moving.) If a unit tries to move out of a province while a single unit tries to enter, both moves occur. This can happen in chains of moves (A moves into B moves into C moves into D), but even one unit failing to move causes all the moves behind it in the chain to fail. Ordinary moves cannot cause two units to "move through" each other, trading places in a single turn; they simply fail to move. (A strict reading of the rules entirely disregards the strengths of the two units.)
It is possible, using support, to make a unit stronger than 1 unit of power. In these cases, if a moving unit is stronger than a unit in the province into which it is trying to move, the other unit is dislodged and must either retreat or disband in the next phase.
Support is the key to the game. An order to support is like an order to move in that (to be successful) it specifies an adjacent territory. Support allows a unit to temporarily donate its strength to the benefit of another unit. A unit has a strength of one plus all the units that support it. You can choose to support any adjacent unit, whether it's yours, a friend's, or an enemy's, and support cannot be refused. You can only support units if your unit could ordinarily move into that province were it unoccupied, that is to say, armies cannot support units in the sea, and fleets cannot support armies inland; either may support either type of unit in a costal province. If the supported unit is Holding then the support order need only mention its province, but if the unit is moving the support order must also correctly state the destination of the movement. If the move then fails for some reason, the support order fails too. The supporting unit ends up holding; a failed support move order cannot become a support hold order.
If a unit giving support is attacked (by another unit trying to move into its province), whether the unit is dislodged or not, the support action fails. Support only lasts for the current turn; it must be reestablished each turn to continue to be effective.
Convoy actions can only be done with fleets (F). Fleets can be ordered to Convoy to move an army multiple provinces by water in one turn. To be successful, each fleet's convoy order must specify two other adjacent provinces. All convoying fleets must be on sea provinces; they cannot convoy on the coast. If a chain of convoying fleets is established on a turn, an army entering the chain from one end travels completely through the chain and comes out the other end on that turn.
The army must successfully move onto the first fleet that turn, which is not interpreted as an attack. (Were it not for the convoy the move would be illegal, since Convoying fleets must be in sea provinces.) The destination at the other end of the chain must be a legal move, and be a costal province. Other players can convoy fleets for movement purposes that can be used by your army, so long as their orders continue the chain. In other respects the move is considered to be a normal move, and the moving army can dislodge another player's unit at the destination of the chain. If the chain is broken or the move turns out to be illegal or impossible, then the army remains holding at its initial position.
A given fleet in a convoy can ordinarily only transport a single unit in a turn. An exception is made, however, if two units are using the convoy in opposite ends of a chain. In this case, the units exchange places. This is the only way two units can exchange places in a single turn.
Overriding consideration: A unit cannot legally attack another unit owned by the same player. Being an illegal move, the unit in question holds. This means that the unit that would have been attacked does not cut support to another unit.
If any fleet in a convoy is dislodged on that turn, the entire convoy operation fails, and any armies that try to use the convoy must hold instead.

4. Retreat and disbanding phase.
Units that are dislodged must now be moved. Again, players write down where each dislodged unit will move to, then reveal then simultaneously. Unlike before, the consequences of failing to move, writing vague orders, or making a move that is interfered with by other players is harsher here -- units that fail to move are immediately disbanded and leave play. (Assuming the player still controls enough support centers, he can form new units to replace them at the end of Fall at any unoccupied support centers in his home country.) No attacks are made during this phase; even a well-supported unit, if dislodged, must move to an empty space or disband. Units also cannot move to the province from which the unit tht dislodged it came, or a province that was the site of a standoff in the previous phase. Note that there is no diplomacy phase at the start of this phase; players cannot talk about their orders beforehand here.

After dislodges are handled, if the turn is a Fall turn, then the player's unit count must be reconciled with his number of support centers. Units removed or gained in this way must also be done by writing down provinces then resolving them all simultaneously.

Afterwards, or after Dislodging and Disbanding on Spring turns, the next turn begins.

Points of note:
Successful attacks are only ever made due to support. The granting and withholding of support is at the core of the game, and the player agreements to provide it, and the timely failure to provide it,
It is possible for an army to be "kidnapped," if it moves through a convoy through which another player has a fleet, diverted through to another fleet in an alternate chain and abandoned on a distant shore. It can be difficult to retrieve such a lost army.
posted by JHarris at 2:57 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


So it sounds like there were a lot of people itching to get a game going here. I have had four me-mail requests so far - do we have any other takers?

*raises hand* Meeeeee!
posted by triggerfinger at 6:18 AM on February 1, 2012


So it sounds like there were a lot of people itching to get a game going here. I have had four me-mail requests so far - do we have any other takers?

Yes please.
posted by ElliotH at 2:02 PM on February 1, 2012


Oddly enough, this reminds me of that one time I went to a live-action Vampire: The Masquerade game.

As a total outsider, everyone seemed to be playing 3 levels of games as once. People were crushed/seething when their characters were killed. Every word and motive was suspect.
posted by Theta States at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2012


If there's still a spot,or if there are enough for two games, I would be interested.

Though I wouldn't want one day turnaround, that doesn't suit someone who's twelve hours or more ahead of the rest of you.
posted by wilful at 3:58 PM on February 1, 2012


Well, I think I will be asking for this for my birthday next month. Wilful, maybe we can organise and antipodean league?
posted by bystander at 12:15 AM on February 2, 2012


Archive.org Internet Fun Facts for Ferbruary 2nd, 2022:
METAFILTER: Once-popular community website "Metafilter" thrived at the start of the 21st century, but was abruptly destroyed in mid-2012. Our logs have traced the source of disaster to a thread simply titled "Diplomacy", but the scorched-earth carnage that followed shortly after its appearance has corrupted much of the historical data. Anecdotal evidence is also thin, as it has been difficult to find anyone willing to talk about what exactly happened. Those who do speak of it offer wildly different interpretations of what the situation was, what alliances existed, and are unable to speak of that time without flying off in to a rage.
posted by Theta States at 6:12 AM on February 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Crazy, that's how the convoy rules work now? The way it worked in avalon hill was that the moving army specified the final space it was moving to, and so long as any valid convoy chain existed between it and that space it would be treated as moving to that space. And IIRC the way it worked on the old internet Judges was that you had to specify the entire convoy route with the move of the army, so if I were going from london to spain via the english channel and the mid-atlantic ocean, I'd write A LON-ENG-MAO-SPA. This "kidnapping armies" business seems strange...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:33 PM on February 7, 2012


Buick, that is a unique interpretation of the rules presented - the way you describe is the way I and everyone I have ever played with understood the rules. It was not possible to 'kidnap' an army - the move would simply fail.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:28 PM on February 7, 2012


Yeah I've never heard of this kidnap thing & I've been playing since Avalon Hill days. It's an interesting variant I guess, but it's not canonical Diplomacy.
posted by scalefree at 8:55 PM on February 7, 2012


I thought I replied to this....

I admit this may be a flaw in my reading of the rules. I'll have another look over and make sure.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 PM on February 8, 2012


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