Lecture on Drama, Human Emotions, and Diplomacy

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Spring 1903

Reacting to drama in a Diplomacy game

One of the reasons Diplomacy is a great game is because the game is played by human beings and not automatons. A Diplomacy game is designed to create human drama. A Diplomacy game is full of conflict and tension that effects human emotions. A Diplomacy game is unpredictable because the emotional range of seven human beings in conflict is heterogeneous.

A lot of people play Diplomacy because they love gaming. Most of us understand that we are just playing a game and don’t take anything other players do in it (like when you get lied to and backstabbed by a friend) too personally. Veteran Diplomacy players shrug stabs off and congratulate the stabber for pulling it off. Being philosophical doesn’t mean you won’t try to extract revenge. It means the stab is not personal. You realize it’s in the game and part of the fun.

In the face-to-face (FTF) Diplomacy world, we stab and get stabbed. After the game, we drink a beer with our game enemy and laugh about the game, vote for the “I got hammered award,” and talk about the stab–how it was executed and played out, the look on your face—happily reminiscing about the game’s twists and turns with the very person who killed or maimed us. We are friends who love Diplomacy. We understand the treacherous ways of the game. Not everyone in the FTF world (or here) is an ideal Diplomacy player able to remember it’s all just for fun. The drama makes it difficult even for the most thick-skinned among us.

Sometimes people become emotionally unhinged and let their emotions rule their play. Diplomacy is not a game for everyone. It involves scheming, lying, and backstabbing. That kind of unethical action can cause the victim to become emotional. Recognizing that you may run into an emotional person while playing Diplomacy is a reality you should anticipate. It’s going to happen.

What if you are in a game with an emotional person? What should you do? First, you need to recognize whether the person’s emotional reaction is authentic. It could be fake. Feigning madness to convince you he intends to make irrational, emotional moves might be a ploy to stab you. Discerning whether he is an authentic madman or a great actor is sometimes difficult. Let’s say you determine the madness is real; how should you use it?

Unlike most of us, an emotional player is playing for reasons other than winning, getting into a draw, survival, or points. His motives are emotional. He wants nothing but to kill the target of his emotional wrath. Satisfaction of his honor is his most important objective.

If you are in a Diplomacy game with him, you could use the player’s emotional goals to advance your strategy. Once you figure out his emotional objective you can offer strategic advances of your units that also to help him to extract his revenge. Empathize with him and agree that the target of his wrath is deserving of his madness. Sometimes you can ride an emotional player to a solo. But doing so may seem like you’re flying a glider in the eye of a hurricane. You never know when the hurricane might turn and catch you in its swirly wind.

On the other hand, what if you’re the target of an emotional player? What should you do? First, talking to an emotional person rationally probably isn’t going to work. But maybe you can use drama and emotional appeal to divert the madness toward another. Meanwhile, try and convince other players to help you. If you see someone exploiting the other person’s emotion to gain strategic advantages, show the other players in the game how that player is doing it. Or you can try meta-gaming arguments. Emotional people are not good for The Hobby. Gamers don’t appreciate madness. It causes fear. It creates an unease. It disrupts the fun of the game. Your meta-argument might work even when the other player could benefit from the madman’s moves against you. She might be more repelled by the madness and the negative energy it brings.

Running into emotional players in Diplomacy is normal. It is one of the reasons why Diplomacy is a great game. The human element and the drama, make every game refreshingly unpredictable and unique.

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Using Public Press In Diplomacy

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Fall 1902

Lecture on Deceptive Moves and Public Press

A good diplomacy player uses the entire game environment, public press, and moves on the board to her advantage. I am going to use two examples from the Fall 1902 moves and post Fall 1902 press to illustrate how a player might exploit these weapons to advance a stratgic cause.

Let me start by observing that England and Turkey are two intimately connected powers. It is counter-intuitive because they start the game on opposite corners of the board and seem to be very far and disconnected from each other. I am going to assume that the English and Turkish players here are keenly aware of this and could have executed a brilliant move to dramatically advance their partnership influence over this School of War game.

To recap. In Fall 1902, we saw Turkey take Greece with a perfectly executed support order and move, but ostensibly make a blunder in his ordering of F Con and A Smyrna. Had Turkey properly written his order, his second fleet would have entered the Med on Bulgaria(south coast). But from Bul(SC) a move into Black Sea is not possible. The misorder here keeps possible F Constantople to Black Sea in the spring.

One of the best pieces of diplomacy advice I have learned is that you look at the location of the pieces on the board. These are the best indicator of a player’s true intentions.

Using a misorder to fool another player is only effective when the player you’re trying to fool thinks you are capable of a mistake. Even the best players can misorder. However, there is a sliding scale of how believable the misorder might be depending on the experience of the player supposedly making the mistake. See diagram below:

diplomacy graph

In this case, the target of the deceptive misorder is Turkey’s ally Russia. The main objective is to stab and secure Black Sea. Even if Russia bounces the move, A Ank-Arm is assured. Meanwhile, A Greece S A Smy-Bul; F Aeg C Smy-Bul; A Smy-Bul; gives Turkey outstanding position against Austria, a potential alliance with both Italy and Austria.

The other thing to note here is an outstanding effort by the English player to facilitate his ally Turkey’s stab of Russia. He even takes his public press to this thread, a clear violation of the agreed rules, but also not unprecedented as other players have mistakenly posted here earlier.

The English public press on global and here was outstanding. In the global section he orchestrates hue and cry about a Steamroller alliance. Here, he gives the impression of a broken teacup upset by a mean professor’s stern lecture. He supports the insulted Turk who the professor said made an “abysmal” move. The English player cleverly weaves the professor into the deception, implicitly and explicitly suggesting the mistake was by a novice, beginning player and the professor is too insulting and not understanding of the level of inexperience for the players in this game. A deception of Russia could not be more brilliantly orchestrated by two potentially allied players, Turkey and England.

Should a shark, in a sea of anonymity, hide?

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The curse of a world champion Diplomacy player. I’ve seen it over and over in the face to face Hobby. A player rises to fame by playing championship caliber Diplomacy and cements his reputation by winning Worlds.

When that player next enters the tournament circuit, he is beaten time and again. Lied to by everyone and hammered. Diplomacy is a humbling game. World Champion one year. Frequently eliminated the next. Fear does that to people. Fear of a shark.

Sometimes it gets so bad that the former World Champion drops out of The Hobby in frustration. The shark gets eaten.

One of the benefits of sharks playing online at places like WebDiplomacy is that you can join anonymous games. Sharks swim with the newbies and there are usually three or four newbies in most Diplomacy games there. Its fun to solo.

As stated in this post, my strategy on WebDiplomacy evolves around identifying and limiting the more dangerous players in a game. It stands to reason that other sharks in the game are doing the same thing. The last thing you want, when you are a shark, is for another shark to spot you and organize diplomacy aimed at killing you.

Therefore, walk a fine line in communication with other players. You do not want to write too much and too deeply early or you might reveal yourself as a shark to another shark. Your prose needs to concise and direct. Avoid verbosity. I realize this is contrary to most of the advice given to new players, who are frequently told to write, write, and write some more. A shark must write. But she writes concisely.

Next, avoid Hobby terms. Butcher them on purpose. As Italy, I might write to Austria or France and say that I am thinking of making a La Panto move. Or I might tell Turkey that Austria and Italy want me to La Panto on you. Also, occasionally use weird abbreviations. Not too much to be obvious, but just enough to cause the other sharks to misidentify you as a newbie.

Last, be very careful in discussing strategic vision. This is a tricky one because you have to lay out enough vision to establish an alliance. But ideally by the time such a message is required, you have identified a reliable newbie with whom you can work. Then, open up because it doesn’t matter. A newbie doesn’t know the danger of living next to a shark. If your initial alliance is with a more experienced player, take his advice. Let him take the lead. Just make sure you get a fair balance of the centers and try to create problems for him by using diplomacy. Usually, this diplomacy involves telling other players he is a shark.

I have exploited the inexperience factor frequently on the WebDiplomacy site. My ghost rating is an unbelievable 5/3694. I am not this good at Diplomacy. I consider the GR achievement largely a product of good luck and use of the tactics described in these SoW posts.

Spotting sharks in a sea of anonymity

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This post relates to general advice about how to do well playing in anonymous games on the WebDiplomacy site. In an earlier post, I argued that one’s strategy ought to be aimed at eliminating the best player. This begs the question. How does one figure out who is the most dangerous player in an anonymous WebDip game? Read on for some insider tips.

First, use the process of elimination to figure out which players are new to the game. New players often admit to being new. That helps. Even when a player doesn’t overtly admit to his being inexperienced, his moves or his diplomacy suggest a lack of experience.

Once you’ve narrowed it down some, then you listen to the remaining players. Are they loquacious? As your professors have told you, a player seeking to bring his game to the elite level communicates with everyone. A player who regularly publishes press is a good Diplomacy player.

You also should listen with a keen ear to the message he sends. Does he use Hobby terms like LepantoSea Lion, Anschluss? More importantly, can you discern in his press a strategic vision? Does he show an understanding of how something happening on one side of the board can effect the other? The latter is most important. Such press reveals the player as one with an understanding of strategy. He has outed himself as a strategist.

Finally, watch how players move their pieces. Open the big map to see all the moves. You should sometimes even click on the “orders” section and read the orders. When you see a player make sharp tactical moves combined with an understanding of strategy and regular, inviting press, you’ve spotted a shark.

 

The pros and cons of lying in a Diplomacy game

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The Rules Overview section describe the game as follows: “Diplomacy is a game of negotiations, alliances, promises kept, and promises broken.” In the Diplomatic Phase section of the Rules, it states: “discussions and … agreements do not bind a player to anything he/she may say. Deciding whom to trust as situations arise is an important part of the game.”

Some people mistakenly think that the Diplomacy Rules encourage lying and the game of Diplomacy is all about lying all the time. However, a player that repeatedly lies, becomes a target precisely because of his lying. Think about it like this. You start the game with six potential allies. When you lie to somebody, you burn the potential alliance with that player. When you lie to everyone, you burn all potential allies and end up isolated and soon to be eliminated. Therefore, an elite player lies only when absolutely necessary. When she lies, she exploits the lie fully to eliminate the target. (If the player you lied to becomes dead, the lie is less likely to come back and haunt you.)

This does not mean that one should never lie during the Spring 1901 negotiation phase. To the contrary, when you have found an affable ally at the outset, confidence of an opening strategy, Spring 1901 is one of the best opportunities to exploit a lie against another player. All Great Powers are weakest at the beginning of the game. Therefore, Spring 1901 lies are most devastating to the target of your alliance. A well-told Spring 1901 lie can lift your game quickly. Spring 1901 negotiation is a phase well-suited to the big and blatant lie.

How to figure out your opening strategy in Diplomacy

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Imagine Diplomacy as a three legged stool. To master it, you need to master all three legs (strategy, diplomacy, and tactics). If you lack in any one leg, the stool topples. In this post, I will touch on two of those legs; strategy and diplomacy.

The first leg, strategy is of great importance. Great players strive to avoid aimless wandering and equivocation. You must determine a strategy early in a game or your overall performance will suffer. Note that it is not essential that you develop your strategy before Spring 1901. However, by the end of 1902, your early-game strategy ought to be fully threshed out.

Some great players have an opening game strategy in mind from the outset, and they then use diplomacy and tactics to make it happen. However, I think it is better to take stock of the other players before making a decision on your strategy.

My initial strategy decisions are determined by two factors (Factor 1) assessing the skills of the other players on the board and (Factor 2) determining my relative affinity with all potential alliance partners. You cannot determine these two factors until you talk to everyone else in the game. Thus, strategy follows diplomacy.

Why is it important to assess your opponent skill? Because the odds of a solo increase when you eliminate the best players. Therefore, once you determine which player is the most highly skilled, you implement a strategy designed to kill him.

This does not mean you must attack the best player at the outset. You just need to implement a strategy so that you, or better yet, your allies over whom you have diplomatic influence, kill him during the mid game. Therefore, from the point where you discover a most dangerous player, your diplomacy ought to be aimed at isolating him and creating a scenario where he is stabbed or severely wounded. Go down the line this way from best to next best. If all the best players in the game are destroyed, then you have a better chance to solo against less dangerous players.

Factor 2 (affinity) is almost equally important as Factor 1. This is because it may be that the best player in the game is the player with whom you have the greatest affinity. In that circumstance, maybe you choose the great player as your first ally. Just make sure you have a strategy to effectively stab him.

Generally, I like to find other players I trust enough to make bold moves. The probability of efficiently eliminating the first target of your alliance increases if the allies throw caution to the wind and gain tactical advantage. Look for an early ally who is excited to execute an opening strategy with you.

When the game starts, you should review the different opening strategy options for your Great Power. Go to this link page ( http://www.diplomacy-archive.com/resources/strategy.htm ), select the Great Power you are playing (at the bottom). There are always a variety of options. If you find a player with whom you have great affinity, then go for it.

In a School of War game, your assessments of these two factors are more complicated. However, the game is not anonymous so the game history of each opponent on WebDip is available. You also need to consider the potential influence and skill of each player’s TA.

Discerning the goals of your opponents and telling stories

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An elite Diplomacy player is an empathetic person. She figures out the objective of the other player by putting herself into his shoes. She is imaginative. She tells persuasive stories about how her Great Power’s success will help the other achieve his goal.

What are these goals? Start with the most basic. Not losing.

Every Diplomacy player understands that at the outset one needs allies. An elite player crafts a credible vision for the alliance. She paints a picture that is hard to resist. Thus, an elite player is rarely left isolated in the early game.

In the mid-game, players change their goals. They start thinking about the scoring system. A rule book draw does not accurately measure the relative performance of the players. Under the rule book, it doesn’t matter if you are a one-center power holding Tunis or a 17-center power at the stalemate line, everyone in a draw shares “equally.” However, because a one-center power and a 17-center power on the verge of winning are not really equal, people devised different scoring systems to measure relative performance game to game.

Most players are incentivized by the scoring system. For example, in this School of War game, draw points are allocated by draw sized scoring rules. An elite player aiming to solo might use this scoring system to her advantage. She may point out to a smaller player, that the draw sized scoring system “encourages you to ‘narrow’ a draw down by cutting small players out to get a better result.” That’s a quote from Intro to webDiplomacy Points. If the other larger powers actually start taking centers from the smaller power, then your argument becomes persuasive. The smaller power might as well ally with you to throw you a solo because at least that way he gets a survival. This is an example of one way an elite player might use the draw sized scoring system in her diplomacy.

Elite players are aware, however, that boring scoring systems are not the only factors for why people play Diplomacy. Some people enjoy working together in a good alliance. They don’t care if an alliance’s success sets up a partner for a solo. The alliance success takes priority. Some people are just learning the game, want to understand tactics, and need a mentor. Some people want to finish the game with a survival. Some people want to come in second or third place. Some people are angry because someone lied to or backstabbed them. Some people like writing back and forth, joshing and joking. Some people are annoyed by dot-grabbers. Some people metagame.

An elite Diplomacy player learns the factors that motivate the other player. She uses those factors when she tells the story of the game to that player. Her story shows how working with her helps the other person achieve what he wants. An elite Diplomacy player can spin six parallel yarns. One for each of the Great Powers.