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Subject: Why I love this game but rarely get to play it rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

I purchased this game back in early 2000, and so as one would expect I own the 1999 Hasbro/AH edition in the somewhat overly large box. Yet if memory serves, I've only managed to play this game three times over the years-- ignoring false starts and incomplete games. On the bright side, I've won all three of those games. We used a random system for determining who played what and so I ended up once as the Ottomans and twice as England. Our rules for negotiations were that it was all done sitting at the table speaking openly, although this was mostly an outgrowth of force of circumstance. Thus I feel almost embarrassed to say that in my mind this game is one of my favorites. After al, I've not played it much at all. Yet I suppose the reality is that all three of those games were among the best gaming sessions I've ever had in my life.

Everyone has their own style of play in this game, some of which have led to the game's exaggerated reputation for hurt feelings. My own style is perhaps best described as follows. I don't lie, although I don't claim to volunteer all information either. Upfront, I tell other players when making deals that I'll keep up my side as long as it's in my best interest to do so and that I frankly expect as much of them. The trick of playing this game, as I see it, is to convince other players that they really want to do what you want them to do in reality. In my first game, every player in the game at the end owed me several favors because I had convinced them that my aid in getting them to take supply centers from another player did not directly benefit me at the time. Of course, I really did benefit every single time. When I've introduced people to this game, I tell them that the game can be a healthy outlet for the urge to back-stab. Privately, I find in playing this game I become downright evil in a fun way. The trick of avoiding hurt feelings is explaining just how much timely betrayals are part of this game.

Most people either love or hate this game. Certainly the game is aggressive and has player elimination as an integral part of the game. I would call this a wargame, but the game is unlike any other game (excluding variants of it) that I know of. Negotiations are key but calculated maneuvers are just as much. While the game may not be for everyone, I think everyone should play it at least once.

2. Components


As mentioned above, I have the 1999 edition
rather than the more recent anniversary edition. When new, the components looked like this
or this.
When readied for play, they look like this
or this.


The box is a bit overly large for the contents.
The quad-fold board
looks nice although I found the board more susceptible to tears at the center than I care for. The pieces are metals and are just like the cannon and boat from a Monopoly set,
albeit the ships (fleet pieces) have been enlarged somewhat. Another two views of the army and fleet pieces can be seen below.
The occupation markers can be seen here.
Finally the map-pad can be seen here.


The rules for this edition are no longer on-line, but the more recent edition's rules (which are identical in content but not lay-out) can be found here.

3. Rules summary

The object of the game is to control 18 of the 34 supply centers marked on the board by stars. Every nation but Russia starts the game with three home supply centers where all additional units in the game must be placed. (Russia starts with 4 home supply centers but Russia also tends to be more vulnerable to attack by other nations in my experience.) Several supply centers start the game uncontrolled.

Players do not take turns in the usual sense but rather the game is conducted in rounds, conventionally designated as Spring and Fall rounds (beginning with the year 1901). Supply centers change hands at the end of Fall rounds, thus in the second round and alternating rounds thereafter. A country gains control of a supply center by occupying it with a fleet or army at the end of the Fall round and keeps control of the supply center until another nation occupies it at the end of a Fall round.

Only one piece can occupy any area of the board at a time. Fleet pieces can occupy sea zones or coastal areas, and armies can occupy in-land or coastal regions.

In each round, players first negotiate. Nothing said is binding. The new version stipulates 15 minutes for the negotiations in each round, but I know my copy says players should agree on the amount of time. In practice, I have always suggested before playing that we confine the game to sitting at the table (usually because other things were going on elsewhere) and that time ought be when everyone agrees they're ready; although I've never forced this on anyone, so far in every game people have agreed this makes things simplest. I have never encountered a problem with AP-prone players needing more time because I just don't game with people prone to this kind of rude behavior.

After the negotiations, players write down orders. The general form species first the unit type and current location. Then a unit can hold, attack (i.e., move), support or convoy. Any units given no orders are understood simply to hold in their current locations. Attack orders are generally understood by simply writing a second location without anything else. Of course a unit can only move to an area adjacent that it could in principle occupy, unless the unit is convoyed. A support order says support and specifies which unit where, but a under can only support where in principle it could move so that for example an army cannot support a move out to sea. Hold order need not be written because they simply tell a unit to stay where it is and if need be defend, but I personally write an order for every unit to make sure I don't overlook any. Finally fleets can convoy an army from one area to other in potentially a continuous chain. Units attacks cannot either attack or convoy. Unclear or ambiguous orders are ignored.

Basically I will generally simply carry out any orders first which involve no conflict. Thus for example if a unit is ordered to move into an unoccupied area and no one else is ordered into the same area, I do that first. Then, I determine which units ordered to convoy or support cannot do so because the units are under attack themselves. Then one determines disputed areas by adding comparing totals for each attacker or defender and supporting units. (E.g., a defender supported by two units has a total of three.) If a single attacker has a larger total than the defender and any other attackers, then that attacker successfully gains the territory and the defender (if any) must retreat or if this is not possible be removed from the board. If an attacker's total of the unit itself and its support ties for the most with either the defender or another attacker, no one moves in and so the defender (if any) keeps the territory. Convoying units do not count as supporting and if a convoy chain is broken then the related move cannot happen. Finally, orders that depend on other units moving in orderto happen simply don't happen if the unit is in fact unable to move.

Finally, if each Fall turn, one first checks to see if any country controls 18 supply centers. If so, then the controlling player wins immediately. Otherwise, units are adjusted so that a player cannot have on the board more pieces than the total number of supply centers that play currently controls. Excess pieces must be removed, but the player himself chooses which pieces to remove. If a plyer can have move units on the board, any new units must be placed on his home supply centers, but of course this is only possible if those areas are unoccupied by the player himself or anyone else and the player controls the home supply center where the new unit or units is/are placed.

4. Gameplay

The first time I played this game, I was simply in awe. Admittedly, I've not played much but the impression has not faded or tarnished since. The game is absolutely unlike any other game (not inspired by it anyway) that I have seen or heard of. The no turns system is fascinating. Moreover, no genuine randomness exists in the gameplay which frankly I like, and in this game the mechanic really works well.

The only downside is that the game doesn't really work with only two players, and indeed the more players the better the game is. Yes, the game is long, but frankly I like long games.

Love it or hate it, this is a game eevry gamer ought play at least once, and frankly I'm with the "Love it" crowd.
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Jeremiah Lee
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Thanks for the review, I'm always interested in hearing people talk about Dip.

Quote:
Our rules for negotiations were that it was all done sitting at the table speaking openly, although this was mostly an outgrowth of force of circumstance.
Whoa! That's quite a variant, I can't imagine playing that way. What's the circumstance that lead to this decision?
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Jeremiah_Lee wrote:
Thanks for the review, I'm always interested in hearing people talk about Dip.

Quote:
Our rules for negotiations were that it was all done sitting at the table speaking openly, although this was mostly an outgrowth of force of circumstance.
Whoa! That's quite a variant, I can't imagine playing that way. What's the circumstance that lead to this decision?

We were playing in a public area of a beit keneset and couldn't really go anywhere else as everywhere else was occupied.
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Who Am I Now?
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You really need to try this on-line.

1. Easier to find opponents.

2. Negotiations by email. Obviously private compared to the situation you describe. It's also possible to "accidentally" send a message to the "wrong" recipient; or to forward emails - real or fake - to others not intended to see the contents.

3. Easier to avoid the metagame (game-to-game grudges).

I don't think I'll ever play Dip face-to-face again.

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Bill Eldard
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Thanks for your well written review, Moshe.

whac3 wrote:
Everyone has their own style of play in this game, some of which have led to the game's exaggerated reputation for hurt feelings. . . When I've introduced people to this game, I tell them that the game can be a healthy outlet for the urge to back-stab. Privately, I find in playing this game I become downright evil in a fun way. The trick of avoiding hurt feelings is explaining just how much timely betrayals are part of this game


That's no exaggeration. Many players get their feelings hurt and walk away from the game permanently after just one or two plays. The game rewards ruthlessness, and that turns off many gamers who enjoy games for their friendly social value. That isn't to say that Diplomacy players aren't or can't be friends; it just means that they must accept the nature of the game and not rest friendships on it.

Your advice to new gamers is good, but I've found even with that advice, many gamers don't grasp just how treacherous the game can get, and feelings get hurt anyway.

whac3 wrote:
Most people either love or hate this game. Certainly the game is aggressive and has player elimination as an integral part of the game. . . . Negotiations are key but calculated maneuvers are just as much. . .


Manuevering on the board is certainly important because winning the game requires capturing 18 supply centers.

But negotiation is the heart of gameplay, and elevates Diplomacy above other wargames (Some would argue that the game is too abstract to be a true wargame; each gamer can decide for him/herself).

whac3 wrote:
The trick of playing this game, as I see it, is to convince other players that they really want to do what you want them to do in reality.


That's true; coercing cooperation is key, and as the game plays on, you want your opponents to feel that they can generally trust you to do what you promise.

But the trick to winning the game is the timely 'stab.' If you stab your allies too frequently, no one will trust you. If you can make the 'stab' look like an honest mistake (i.e. miswritten or lost orders), you might create some doubt in the minds of other players regarding whether it was a stab or not. This game is about the art of betrayal.

whac3 wrote:
In practice, I have always suggested before playing that we confine the game to sitting at the table (usually because other things were going on elsewhere) and that time ought be when everyone agrees they're ready; although I've never forced this on anyone, so far in every game people have agreed this makes things simplest.


I have to agree with Jeremiah Lee here.

Open negotiations around the table is not Diplomacy.

Playing a couple of turns in the open may be good for teaching the game, but open negotiations in Diplomacy is akin to playing Poker with everyone's hand displayed openly on the table. You can execute the mechanics of the game, but it loses the best part of play.

An important part of negotiations is passing real or false intelligence. For example, in an open negotiation, Italy can't tell France that Britain told Italy that Germany is going to attack France at Paris --- France will already know whether that's true or not.

Or more importantly, a player can't openly commit the same unit to support both France and Russia on the same turn without France and Russia knowing that one or both of them will get stabbed.

I don't recommend this variant to anyone who wants to experience Diplomacy and discover what all the love/hate is about.

whac3 wrote:
I have never encountered a problem with AP-prone players needing more time because I just don't game with people prone to this kind of rude behavior.


Fifteen minute negotiations are good, but in an open negotiating envioronment, it will actually restrict negotiating unless everyone is shouting over each other like a game of Pit. In private negotiations, multiple negotiations are conducted simultaneously.

whac3 wrote:
The only downside is that the game doesn't really work with only two players, and indeed the more players the better the game is.


Many Diplomacy players will not play with fewer than 5 players; I know a number of them that won't play with fewer than 7. I wouldn't recommend fewer than 4.




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Branko K.
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Wow, you really ransacked the Gallery there..
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Andy Stout
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Quote:
n each round, players first negotiate. Nothing said is binding. The new version stipulates 15 minutes for the negotiations in each round, but I know my copy says players should agree on the amount of time. In practice, I have always suggested before playing that we confine the game to sitting at the table (usually because other things were going on elsewhere) and that time ought be when everyone agrees they're ready; although I've never forced this on anyone, so far in every game people have agreed this makes things simplest. I have never encountered a problem with AP-prone players needing more time because I just don't game with people prone to this kind of rude behavior.


WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

You need to play again, right now, with the true Diplomacy rules. Diplomacy is one of my favorite games, and I'm not even sure I'd enjoy the game if we were all confined to sitting at the table. Hell, that's like the biggest difference between Diplomacy and just about every other game ever made.

Also, that 15 minute rule isn't just a rule in the new version, it's a rule in all versions, and it's an excellent rule that I always sorely miss when playing online. Makes the negotiations much more frantic, and doesn't give you time to *completely* plan things out. I think stalemates would happen a lot more without this rule. (though it's 30 minutes before the first move)
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Dave Simpson
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Yes, it's very dark isn't it? Almost... black. Yes, I shall need to get the black out. Black.... BLACK!!! Like The darkness of space that leads into the chasm of clams.... My eyes!! My eyes are pies..and yours are lies...
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Wow Moshe, Definitely an interesting variant this! Could you not just take a couple of steps away from the table to talk to someone? So much more scope there, all the things that you can do when you know that people are watching you, pretending to argue, just saying to someone else "just look at the board and nod", feeding people chinese whispers, plus the double dealing, and so on. Of course, more distance than this is better, but anything is better than nothing.

You know how the game works and you know how to manipulate the other players, so you'd thrive in a "standard" game with the normal private negociations. playing "open handed" almost, as was said above, will stand you in good stead though, as if you can win like that, then you can definitely win standard games.

Great to see more people playing and enjoying "The Game", I really enjoyed reading the review.

Sure, playing by email is easier to join a game, but it's easier for people to leave and stall the game. If I had to choose to only ever play either f2f or online, then I would pick f2f, easily. Can't beat it!
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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BrightonFoxDave wrote:
Wow Moshe, Definitely an interesting variant this!
At the time, not really. I'd not intended it as a variant but no we couldn't really step away.

We did make it work though. The game had lots of negotiation.

I remember mire than once proposing to someone that we combine to attack a player who then asked why we were picking on him. so, naturally I asked if he had an alternate proposal.

Still, any game I play no is more likely to be in my home and won't be so restricted. Being married now has lots of advantages.
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Benjamin Maggi
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whac3 wrote:
BrightonFoxDave wrote:
Wow Moshe, Definitely an interesting variant this!
At the time, not really. I'd not intended it as a variant but no we couldn't really step away. :D


I believe the variant where all negotiations are made public is called "Gunboat" Diplomacy. It has existed for a while, is interesting in its own way, and in my opinion detracts a lot from the game. If we were all stuck at a table together, I would rather pass notes around the table. Of course, you have no way of preventing the reciepent from holding it up for everyone to see!
 
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Ken Watson
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
I believe the variant where all negotiations are made public is called "Gunboat" Diplomacy. It has existed for a while, is interesting in its own way, and in my opinion detracts a lot from the game. If we were all stuck at a table together, I would rather pass notes around the table. Of course, you have no way of preventing the reciepent from holding it up for everyone to see!


Technically, at least according to other online Diplomacy resources, "Gunboat" Diplomacy is NO negotiations at all, and is really only relegated to online play (after all, who would get together to play face-to-face Diplomacy and not talk to each other?). It's actually a fun way to play, but is definitely not "true" Diplomacy.
 
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