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February 28, 2013 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Allan B. Calhamer, creator of the board game Diplomacy, passed away on February 25th. Despite the game's success he never made a living off it, and worked for many years as a mail carrier in La Grange Park, Illinois. Chicago Magazine published a profile of him in 2009.
posted by 23 (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 

posted by oulipian at 4:46 PM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Despite the game's success he never made a living off it,

Given the assholery of the game, this seems somehow fitting.

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posted by KokuRyu at 4:49 PM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I remember the one time I played Diplomacy, many years ago.

I was playing Germany, and had established non-agression pacts with my brother and my best friend. Worked pretty well for the first few turns - they engaged in some minor skirmishes; I worked on board position. Then it turned out that they had established a secret alliance and agreed to throw everything they had at me on the third-to-last turn.

I gotta say, as much as I felt like a strategic boss for managing to fight them off simultaneously on the ensuing Greek and French fronts, I hated both of them for a good week after that.
posted by fifthrider at 4:58 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've had some of the most intense gaming experiences of my life with Diplomacy. Gut-wrenching, sweaty-palmed, bloody-tongue experiences.

God rest ye, Allan Calhamer, and God forgive you for the friendships you've destroyed and the myocardial infarctions you've caused.
posted by Shepherd at 5:01 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


A ROCKSTEADY supports A CALHAMER to ETERNAL PEACE
posted by Rock Steady at 5:12 PM on February 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh my God this game. I've only played a couple of times, but I still remember you Jeremiah and I still remember the promises you poured like sweet honey, and the terrible depths of your deception. God damn you.

Bye Allan Calhamer. Thanks for the awesome game.
posted by kbanas at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2013


Diplomacy isn't just a great game, it's also a really interesting game. See, there's this concept in game studies, the Magic Circle. "All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course.... temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart." That's Huizinga, who described the idea in 1938.

The thing about magic circles is that what happens inside them is safe. The rules of the normal world cease to apply. You can compete blatantly and aggressively against people who are normally your friends. You can be nasty to them. You can defy and betray and defeat them, and the moment the game is over it all ceases to matter. Like a bubble popping or a dream ending, everything goes back to normal.

Diplomacy shatters the magic circle. You screw someone over in Dip, they feel it as a personal affront, something that potentially alters your relationship in the real world as well as within the game. I have never read any convincing explanation of why this should be, but it is.

My wife's parents were diplomats in the Middle East in the 90s, and one of the things they did to while away the evenings was play games against other diplomats, and one of the games they occasionally played was Diplomacy. One night they're round at the residence of the Russian ambassador and his wife, and Diplomacy is on the table. About half-way through a screaming argument starts between the ambassador and his wife over something that one of them has done in the game, she storms out, and a couple of months later they're divorced. The magic was certainly off the circle there.
posted by Hogshead at 5:18 PM on February 28, 2013 [34 favorites]


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posted by saslett at 5:19 PM on February 28, 2013


One of my favorite gaming moments of all time occurred while introducing a couple of friends to Diplomacy. A couple of us had a secret alliance against a player, all the while convincing him we were allies against the other players. I still remember that shocked look, the scream of "But.... but.... BUT YOU SAID YOU WOULD HELP ME!"

Good times.

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posted by grimjeer at 5:28 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seems better than the Jump to Conclusions mat.
posted by yoga at 5:34 PM on February 28, 2013


Diplomacy shatters the magic circle. You screw someone over in Dip, they feel it as a personal affront, something that potentially alters your relationship in the real world as well as within the game.

I think it's because so much of the game has to do with outright lying and betrayal, and how good you are at those two activities. A soccer game depends on the most part on one's lungs and legs.

Monopoly is kind of like a dumber version of the game, since it depends on luck to a certain degree (rolls of the dice, and various cards), but it still can be an unpleasant game to play.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2013


Diplomacy is the crack cocaine of gaming. It is highly addictive and totally destructive to gaming clubs. Sure you feel awesome playing it, a high like no other. Soon though you are destroying every freindship you've got for another score, recruiting frienda to play just because you know they will be too loyal and easy to betray. You win the game and then for weeks afterwards every one is out for you. The paranoia and anxiety sets in. Do not play this game.
posted by humanfont at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never played the game, but it's interesting how many of the stories here and on other Diplomacy threads revolve around new players learning the hard way not to trust promises founded on long-term friendships, relationships, or anything else. But what is the game like when everyone has already learned this lesson? Why, even by game two, is anyone surprised or hurt by anything? It's not like you would have had any reason to believe your wife when she said your relationship is more important than this dumb game and then betrays you at the very end. It seems like it should all just dissolve into pure Nash equilibrium game theory in the end. Yet clearly that doesn't seem to happen.

I actually used to have a related boundary-crossing problem as a kid -- off and on for a number of years I would beat adults at various games in part because I would pretend to not entirely understand the rules or strategies. I wouldn't cheat or even claim confusion, but I would ask earnest questions that would reveal slight misunderstandings of various things. It was amazing how pissed off 7 adults would get when it turned out I was the Murder Mystery murderer and they realized my various confusions had all been feigned. Of course, eventually they caught on and all the meta-strategy had to stop -- but that's what I would think would happen in Diplomacy as well.
posted by chortly at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


My parents had both Diplomacy, and Bureaucracy. We've played Diplomacy.

Though we're a fairly reserved bunch, there was a visible seethe in the room the one time we got any distance into it.

This inspired me to try and decode the rules to bureaucracy. I decided that the risk of a diplomacy-caused family-wide divorce was, perhaps, better for all involved.
posted by LD Feral at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2013


I've only ever played Dip via email or via the online judge, where the lying happens over email and time-shifted somewhat (which helps secret co-conspirators perfect the lie), and have had some success. But I could never play it face to face over the board. I'm just not a confident enough liar.

But what is the game like when everyone has already learned this lesson? Why, even by game two, is anyone surprised or hurt by anything?

Yeah, you're right. It hurts in a personal way the first time you get stabbed. Later it hurts because your pride is wounded ("I shoulda seen that coming!"). The dynamic gets really wild after one has played four-five-six games against the same group of players ("So THIS time you're telling the truth, but now you admit you weren't in Games Two and Three?").

I've read that one or two of the habitual winners at Diplomacy conventions can somehow overcome the powerful headwind generated by their reputations and playing histories ("That guy always wins this game with a focus on betrayal of partners; watch out!"). They must be in sales.

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posted by notyou at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


But what is the game like when everyone has already learned this lesson? Why, even by game two, is anyone surprised or hurt by anything? It's not like you would have had any reason to believe your wife when she said your relationship is more important than this dumb game and then betrays you at the very end. It seems like it should all just dissolve into pure Nash equilibrium game theory in the end. Yet clearly that doesn't seem to happen.

The evil genius of Diplomacy is that you literally can't get anything accomplished without multiple, often conflicting, alliances. You have to trust people at almost all phases of the game, and for me at least, I always assume that I am being more devious than my "teammates" and I am shocked and appalled when they manage to out-backstab me.

Anybody up for another MeFiplomacy game?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by paulg at 7:19 PM on February 28, 2013


Why is there no IOS diplomacy yet? This is something that must be remedied.
posted by empath at 7:38 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


But I could never play it face to face over the board. I'm just not a confident enough liar.

You'd be surprised at how good you can be at it when it "doesn't matter".
posted by empath at 7:40 PM on February 28, 2013


Playing this online, one turn a week is a wonderful experience. As the weeks and months pass it starts to creep into everything. Your work, your relationships, your other pastimes. I'm sure it's inspired madness in those unfamiliar with its "charms".
posted by edeezy at 7:56 PM on February 28, 2013


Anybody up for another MeFiplomacy game?

Do we have to let cortex play?

not that I'm bitter, or anything.
posted by octothorpe at 7:57 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is there no IOS diplomacy yet?

Because smashing your iPhone against another persons head is very uncool.

As to the real point of the post, how many of us have made anywhere near the impact that Mr. Calhamer has?

You, sir, have created a game that everyone who played remembers. Always. That, sir, is greatness.
posted by eriko at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm currently six months into a once-a-week Youngstown game. Play is recorded on a public Tumblr.

This is the first game where I've lasted beyond the initial few years, and I think I've done very well, but most everyone except the obvious lead has run out of steam at this point. There have been some wonderful betrayals along the way, and some collaborations that work since most of the players are physically close together, though being an ocean away hasn't been to my disadvantage. It may just be the extra-large board, but the glacial pace becomes more frustrating in the late game as foregone conclusions take a month to play out. We're working around that by have a speed round tomorrow to wrap things up, and I'm looking forward to it even though I doubt I'll survive.

Anyway, thanks, Mr. Calhamer, for giving us all a few more worlds to conquer.

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posted by 23 at 8:30 PM on February 28, 2013


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posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2013


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posted by misterbee at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2013


The evil genius of Diplomacy is that you literally can't get anything accomplished without multiple, often conflicting, alliances.

This is the thing. The way I see it, if no one trusts anyone else then Diplomacy plays very slowly. You must work with other players, and that's what gives betrayals weight. If no one trades in Monopoly, then the players continue until someone gets a random color group and he wins (or the game continues until someone does trade, or they get sick of it and stop the game). Diplomacy's rules make cooperation a much larger part of the game, and even gives players ways to accidentally cooperate, or fail to, and in the process, "accidentally" cooperate, or fail to.

I don't know if there's an iOS version of Diplomacy, but there is an Android version called Droidippy.
posted by JHarris at 10:34 PM on February 28, 2013


People who lie can win one game of Diplomacy. People who don't lie can win the most games over 30 years, and it has that kind of replay-ability and longevity, so it's worth establishing a good reputation even if it means losing the first few (and putting on a show about feeling betrayed, of course.)

I've said too much.
posted by michaelh at 12:13 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recognize Diplomacy's place as one of the giants of the boardgame world, and admire its scope and design.

That said, I would happily prefer to take six shovel hits to the head than actually play it.
posted by Legomancer at 5:10 AM on March 1, 2013


Legomancer: That said, I would happily prefer to take six shovel hits to the head...

I believe that is called "Speed Diplomacy".
posted by Rock Steady at 5:37 AM on March 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why is there no IOS diplomacy yet?

I haven't tried it on my phone yet, but this site seems like a workable iOS option.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:56 AM on March 1, 2013


When I was a kid my older brothers and their friends played a lot of tabletop games, plus a little Diplomacy, I think. It's the one game I never played with them, though: they preferred to share with their youngest sibling the wholesome fun of Car Wars and Risk -- but never Diplomacy.

Now my boys are 10 and 8, and while they have dipped their toes into Risk -- and discovered that yes, there is a game more anger-inducing than Sorry! as played by their tough-but-fair grandpa -- I have warned them about not carrying in-game anger into the rest of their lives. If they ever discover Diplomacy, there'll be bloodshed. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 7:52 AM on March 1, 2013


Diplomacy shatters the magic circle. You screw someone over in Dip, they feel it as a personal affront, something that potentially alters your relationship in the real world as well as within the game.

I've always thought of Illuminati this way.

Although Diplomacy, I play entirely differently. Illuminati I'm fine with conspiring, etc.
Perhaps I'm playing for the long game, but Diplomacy I play to bolster trust. I played with some friends from school a while back and I needed a key alliance so I made a deal to share victory.
Well, by the end of the game my ally had taken all the hits, my opponents were worn out, so I rolled over them and my ally was left with one country. "We win" I said. "No, only one person can win." "Ok, it's a draw." At this point they got pissed. "No, you can't have a draw."
"Then I surrender to him and cede the game."
Strangely, I stopped being invited to play Diplomacy.
I think people like being pissed off.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:01 AM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


My big problem with Diplomacy (other than the fact that I suck at it) is that the game rapidly becomes pointless for a couple of the players. I usually get steamrolled by about the fourth or fifth turn and end up performing a meaningless shuffle of my two remaining pieces, while the real players go out and take over Europe. Makes it rather boring. Oh, sometimes someone will take pity on me and let me help out, but then I'm pretty much doing what they ask me to do, so it's not like I'm actually playing.

I always preferred Civilization and Age of Renaissance, even though they are, in some ways, inferior games, because even if you are in dead last place you can still do stuff and have fun and even have some impact on the game instead of just being a meaningless blob somewhere in the Balkans.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:11 AM on March 1, 2013


Anybody up for another MeFiplomacy game?

Gah, the last time I played, there was too much emphasis on roleplaying. People would craft their emails as though they were writing from the desk of the German Kaiser or whatever, twiddling their mustache. Totally ridiculous.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on March 1, 2013


It's Never Lurgi: For some people, that's when the real fun of the game begins. The "Winning isn't a realistic option so I can dedicate myself wholeheartedly to petty acts of revenge" phase. Two units that aren't doing anything but making a nuisance of themselves can still have a drastic effect on the outcome of the game.
posted by baf at 10:37 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:48 AM on March 1, 2013


Well, by the end of the game my ally had taken all the hits, my opponents were worn out, so I rolled over them and my ally was left with one country. "We win" I said. "No, only one person can win." "Ok, it's a draw." At this point they got pissed. "No, you can't have a draw."

I like your style, but if you had the majority of the territories you won the game automatically.

Gah, the last time I played, there was too much emphasis on roleplaying. People would craft their emails as though they were writing from the desk of the German Kaiser or whatever, twiddling their mustache. Totally ridiculous.

The best way is to write a more florid first email, then sign the rest with a national byline like "The Kaiser" or "The Queen." Anything else is tiring or becomes inconsistent.
posted by michaelh at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2013


the game rapidly becomes pointless for a couple of the players. I usually get steamrolled by about the fourth or fifth turn and end up performing a meaningless shuffle of my two remaining pieces, while the real players go out and take over Europe.

Learn the joys of being small. Make your last unit an indispensable part of someone else's plan. Then, once you've betrayed them, make your three units an indispensable part of someone else's plan.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:45 PM on March 1, 2013


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posted by bentley at 6:11 PM on March 4, 2013


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