Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Until recently, I have never played Diplomacy. It just was never on my radar as a game to play, and I was only vaguely aware of it existing. It wasn't until I started reading through the book 100 Best Hobby Games that I really had any real opinion of the game.

Image stolen from Mental Floss
In Diplomacy, players take on the role of different European countries fighting for control of supply depots throughout starting in the spring of 1901. Each player has 3-4 starting army units (depending on the country) and is given one action for each unit in their control. For each new supply depot you control at the end of the fall, you gain one additional unit. During this turn, there are two phases - negotiations and executing orders.  During negotiations, you talk to your fellow players as to who is doing what, both in the open and in secret. You will work to gain their trust to support you in your efforts to achieve victory and vice versa. During the execution phase, you follow out your orders that you wrote down on paper in between the two phases. These orders may be to move units from one area to another, hold your position, go to war with other countries, or give support to those that are. And that's it.

But its not.

Somewhere, something happens where you share your plans for victory with your neighboring countries to gain their support, be it right at the table or behind closed doors. Then, when its time to act, you find out if all your hard work was worth it. Those other countries may help you, or they may meet with your enemies and stab you in the back. Friends one minute, enemies the next, and then...it repeats.

You really don't know what this game will bring out in people because in the end there is some strategic play going on the board, but really this game is played out of eyesight and earshot of the board. How well can you read your opponents? Can you factor where they are going next? Can you do this from two sides? What about three?

The game is brilliant, but I don't know if I like it. It is a game that can really turn a person ruthless, and for some they love it. For me, it really takes 3/4ths of the first game for me to really understand how to play the game, and the last quarter to see how I should have been playing the game.

My first play of the game I played as Turkey, who is in the corner of the board and has to fight its way out either through Austria-Hungary or Russia in order to expand. I proceeded to make an alliance with Austria on my first move, only to do something slightly different than what we talked about but with the same end results. Unfortunately this was seen as an aggressive move with them and severed that alliance.

Turning to Russia during the second turn to now attack Austria, that failed as well due to a misunderstanding on their part regarding the rules (also a new player) which resulted in my hand being shown too early and exposing my plans. This left me with no other choice but to invade Russia, thus beginning the next four hours or so of me defending my borders and the black sea from two different directions and gaining little to no ground throughout.

Unfortunately for me, I had no chance of winning and felt the twisted knot of stress in my belly the entire time. And yet, here I am trying to sort out how to win the next time.

Gaming is an intimate experience best shared with friends. Playing Diplomacy with friends can be both a great idea and a terrible one at the same time, as in order to properly play, you need to be able to read your opponents and work their will. Knowing them well will certainly add quite a bit to this experience, but at the same time, it may leave you out for blood.

1 comment:

  1. We had a copy of this on our shelf, unplayed for a year or more until we gave it away to goodwill, but before we really got into gaming.

    I kind of wish I'd tried it one time, but the fact a game lasts for so long just made it a thing we would never touch.