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Subject: Realpolitik conquers all: (co-) winning as Germany in the Modern variant rss

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Nate Merchant
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We just finished a 10-player game of the Diplomacy "Modern" variant in RSP just now, with myself as Germany and Salo sila as Spain being the ultimate victors. I'm going to talk through the game and explain how I emerged (co-) victorious against eight other players. Hopefully, this will be of some use and interest for not only first time Diplomacy players but for veterans as well. My other reason for writing this is, for once and for all, to dispel the myth that one has to lie, cheat, blackmail, and murder babies in order to do well at Diplomacy. Arguing that Diplomacy "ruins friendships and encourages immoral behavior" is simply an excuse for poor play. Now, if those same haters want to call me Machiavellian and Bismark-ian...those are epithets that in this environment I aspire to live up to! devil

The "Modern" variant takes the normal Diplomacy map, expands it a bit, and also adds three powers to the mix: Poland, Ukraine, Egypt, and Spain, while deleting Austria. This changes the vanilla game profoundly, and takes some getting used to for veterans weaned on the original. But there's an undeniable thrill in swimmming in a shark farm with nine other determined players.

The ten players were:

Nate Merchant
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(me) as Germany

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as Spain

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as Egypt

Kelsey Rinella
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as Italy

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as Ukraine

William Boykin
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For BJ.....
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as Russia

Clay
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as Great Britain

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as France

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as Poland

I won't go into the rules at all, but I will say that we used a site called www.dipbounced.com, an online Diplomacy site, which made ordering units and using grey press very easy. Grey press, for the uninitiated, is only used in online or PBeM games of Diplomacy, and it allows a player to write to one or more players anonymously. It's a fantastic negotiation tool and I used it extensively.

THE BREWING STORM

Here is the map for the opening of the game.
Note that Germany is surrounded by France and Great Britain to the west, Poland to the east, Italy to the south (Switzerland is no longer impassable, as in vanilla Dip), and Russia lies to the north-east via Scandinavia. Thus, Germany's central position is a double-edged sword....it is great for fast expansion, but other players can attack Germany very easily. I knew that I had to proceed carefully and make friends at all costs. I was willing to trade Supply Centers for peace, if need be. Above all, I had to figure out which of my neighbors had a killer instinct, and ally with them. "Keep your friends close..."

Initially, I wrote polite, solicitous letters to every power in the game. I was fishing for news and for hints to the personalities of the players. Who would write in character? Who would not respond? Who would issue one-line replies to a detailed offer? And who among them was already plotting and planning and building an unbeatable coalition, as I hoped to do?

When I received no firm bites on the line regarding possible alliances in the west, I took the initiative. Writing to Italy, France, and Great Britain, I proposed an equitable division of nearby neutral Supply Centers in order to avoid conflict in the first two years. By offering centers that Germany could certainly have a local interest in, I at one stroke lowered Germany's threat and made friends by insisting that my neighbors take centers rightfully theirs. Now, who was going to turn and attack a ruler who had gone out of his way to build bridges and make everyone happy? kiss

Negotiations in the east were less productive. Poland agreed to a DMZ, but not much else. Russia wanted to immediately attack Poland, but I demurred, knowing that I had little to gain from that. In fact, my hope was that Poland and I could stand back-to-back and concentrate on our own spheres, me in the west and him in the east. Russia was consistently enigmatic, but at least he ceded to me the neutral Supply Center of Sweden. Ukraine, Turkey, and Egypt were all non-commital and terse in their responses.

But I feared Russia...I knew Darilian from RSP and remembered his fearsome intellect. If he brought that mind to this game, we were all in trouble. So I used grey press repeatedly to urge Ukraine, Turkey, and Poland to form a triumvirate against Russia; if they didn't take him down in the beginning of the game, there was little chance of success after that. But my anonymous pleas fell on deaf (and soon to be dead) ears.

CLOUDBURST

The first year went as expected, with all the powers racing to gobble up neutral centers. Meanwhile, I was writing feverishly to my western neighbors, seeking both an ally and a target. But their non-commital responses made me increasingly paranoid...I was SURE they were all banding together to get me! It took me another season to understand that they were still feeling their way around, and hadn't made any plans whatsoever. While I felt increasing time pressure to form some kind of coalition ASAP, it seemed that they felt no such urgency.

Ultimately, it came down to Great Britain or France: who would agree to move against the other? Using a mixture of innuendo, hints, and grey press, I poked and prodded and finally Great Britain agreed to a joint attack on France. Of course, I kept up negotiations with France, too, and at the eleventh hour he seemed to sense something in the air and offered to collude. But by then it was too late.

I am a big believer in the use of excessive force in Diplomacy. 1v1 is a non-starter, and 2v1 is weak. 3v1 is better, but 4v1 is ideal. Since I wasn't so sure how Great Britain or France would fight tactically, I sought to maximize the chances of victory in case something went wrong, and I wrote to both Spain and Italy, hinting as to what I thought might happen ("Britain seems to have a burr under his saddle about France...I guess I'll join in...what do you think?"). The problem was that I desired new allies versus France, but I also didn't want to give the game away. I really had no idea if Spain or Italy would respond or how they would respond.

FRANCE FILETED

I needn't have worried. Italy sent two units to surround Monaco, which France had just taken, and Great Britain, with my help, took Belgium.
Spain actually sought to support France against Italian attack, but quickly saw which way the wind was blowing and changed course. France, bless his heart, didn't quite see the danger, and huffed and puffed and sulked and pouted. Of course, none of that mattered: he was a walking corpse....in the next season he was eviscerated, losing four Centers at once. Italy, now grown alarmingly in size, contented himself with one Center, leaving the division of the rest of France to myself, Great Britain, and Spain.

But Britain had clammed up once the fighting started, and was out to tea regarding the dispositions of units. Spain, on the other hand, was communicative, verbally (and militarily) expansive, and extremely adept with his armies and fleets. Then and there, I determined that Spain and I would share the world between us, with the private understanding that if I could take the win by myself, I wouldn't hesitate. This meant that inept England was the next meal on menu, but I hid my intent by counter-intuitively writing him a few testy letters questioning his loyalty to the cause for which my armies were (not) bleeding. I encouraged British armies to land on the Continent even as Spain agreed to send his fleets northwards after my preliminary naval strike.

In the east, Russia, Turkey, and Poland dismembered Ukraine. A gentleman never says I told you so.

GREAT BRITAIN BEHEADED

As France writhed in his death throes, I unleashed a blitzkrieg on Great Britain, taking first Brussels, then Edinburgh, then Norway, and finally London.
Spain, who had snapped up Gibraltar in the first year of the game, took Ireland and Wales.

But just as my fleets were encircling the British Isles, Russian fleets made a belated appearance, looking for spoils. I argued to Russia that the time had passed for Centers in the west, that I had done the planning and the fighting, and that he needed to withdraw his fleets post-haste. Grudgingly, Russia did so, but it was a close run thing and, I think, a missed opportunity for him. If Russia had made common cause with the home armies in England and had brought Poland west, I would have been in huge trouble. This was the last, best chance for the eastern powers to cripple me, while I was wrong-footed and where Spain couldn't help me at all. But the threat passed, and Spanish and German armies conquered England.

Already I was looking for a next target. Poland and Italy were both squatting, fat and victorious, in the center of the map, and I knew that for me to survive, one of them would have to go. But which one? Italy was clever and communicative, certainly moreso than the humorous but easygoing Poland. Critically, however, Italy blocked Spain's only avenue of expansion east, and presented a huge maritime threat to Spain as well. Most damningly, Italy was quite content to wait and see how things developed in eastern Europe, now that he had conquered the Balkans. Thus, though I liked and admired Italy, I formed a coalition between Poland, myself, and Spain to take him down.

In the east, Russia, Poland, and Egypt devoured Turkey. I shall not print herein the invective with which the Sultan scourged his tormentors.

ITALY INVADED

In contrast to the campaign against Great Britain, this time Spain struck first against Italy while I held back.
However, Italy defended himself against Polish and Spanish encroachment with energy and verve, and, though I finally entered the fray against him, I couldn't help but appreciate his humor and tenacity. For while Spain relentlessly applied pressure from the west, Italy was forcing Poland back in some areas, and then it was that I had a change of heart. "Why are we fighting Italy," I asked Spain, "when Poland is more of a threat and barely communicative? Now that we have lopped off a few outlying Italian centers, why don't Italy and I attack Poland--what a surprise that would be!--and you sail into the Mediterranean, heading for Egypt?" Spain generously agreed to halt attacks on Italy so that I could negotiate with Italy, but there was no response to my overtures of peace. It turns out that Italy had overlooked my missive, and thus there was nothing for it but to chip away at his nest of Centers, closer and closer to Italy itself.

It was also at this point for me that German war fatigue had set in. Grand strategy and flashing, lightning attacks come easily to me, but the grinding tactical battles are more difficult, and I began to make mistakes, though nothing close to fatal. I also became aware that Spain had truly become a force to be reckoned with, and his grasp of battle tactics surpassed my own. Ironically, my new worry was that my powerful ally would see what a simpelton I was in the dense, attritional battles and as a result would get sinister ideas.

As Italy finally fell under the weight of the hordes, I knew my next target had to be Poland, but I also knew that he and Russia were close allies. I could not handle them alone, and Spain was still subduing Italy proper. I needed a united Spanish-Germanic front for when Poland inevitably attacked. So I engaged Poland diplomatically by counter-intuitively admitting that we were now entirely natural enemies and that I was bracing myself for when the blow would fall. What I needed to do was let Poland know in no uncertain terms that I knew his inevitable offensive was coming and that I was ready, with a wall of German armies willing to fight to the bitter end. I wanted Poland to think thrice before invading, and hopefully that would give Spain time to orient his troops.

In the east...nothing. Egypt expanded some, but was fenced in between its more powerful Russian and Spanish neighbors. Russia was, amazingly and amusingly, blocked behind his main ally Poland. With my fleets facing him in Scandinavia, Russia's only real egress was to the south and Asia Minor, where he and Egypt were wiping out Turkish remnants. Desperate to keep Russia busy, I did my best to convince Egypt to attack Russian holdings in the Middle East, since Egypt couldn't even consider turning west against the creeping Spanish juggernaut. Very probably having nothing to do with my calls to for an anti-Russian crusade, Egypt tore into Russian colonies in the Levant, but soon encountered fierce resistance.

POLAND PUNCTURED

Finally, Spain landed units in Venice and sailed fleets into the Adriatic, and I knew the time had come. Since Poland had been nonchalantly violating our DMZ all game, I blithely did the same, and in addition my fleets pushed into the Baltic. But Poland wasn't fooled....he knew that I had the advantage now, and if he attacked, he'd run into my wall of armies and also my mighty Spanish ally. But then where else could he go? There was only one real option: his game-long ally Russia, whose units where uncomfortably stretched to the north and south, but whose middle was comparatively bare. Facing a bristling Siegfried line in the west, Poland drove east into Russia.

Spain and I waited a year while we re-organized our armies, and then we assaulted Poland, who was already engaged in the east.
Spain had also crunched into Egypt's North African bases, and with Russian units still holding strong in Turkey, Egypt's morale collapsed and he NMRed for the rest of the game. [NMR means No Move Recorded, meaning that a player has failed to submit moves for a specific season.] It is common at the end of a Diplomacy match for powers on the losing side to simply give up and NMR repeatedly, which is now what happened in our game.

Poland gave it his last 'urrah as he repaired relations with Russia and they both fought against Spain and myself. But Spain was sweeping the Mediterranean and landing armies in Syria, Cairo, and Ankara, and Russian fleets could do little againt mine in the north. All Russia could do was grasp for undefended Egyptian centers and shore up Polish losses in central Europe, but it was a losing battle and Russia knew it. He simply could not compete with a gigantic Spain who had made the Mediterranean his private lake and who could land armies virtually anywhere. To add fuel to the fire, I used normal and grey press to suggest unconditional surrender, as the ultimate outcome was no longer in doubt.

And then POOF! Both Poland and Russia NMRed together, and Spain and I spent an exceedingly boring year mopping up the resistance. Finally, Russia and Poland surrendered and spared themselves whatever indignities Spain and I had not yet inflicted on them. I have it on good authority that Poland's last, global order to his units was the same shouted by defiant, despairing despots everywhere: "Boobies!" Since Spain and I were both exhausted by the long war, we settled for a shared draw. The world was ours!


POSTSCRIPT

It may seem unkind to say this now, but the game was Spain's if he had but wanted it. He had the breadbasket of the Middle East Centers with an exhausted German ally...Spain was all set to disembowel the Russian Bear and then he could have turned on me. That he did not is yet another reason I tip my hat to my brother-in-arms, Salo sila!

Cheers to all my opponents, thanks a whole bunch to
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our intrepid GM, and I salute our two not-so-super-secret Observers...I hope your bets paid off! cool

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Calavera Despierta
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A brilliant session report, and a refreshing reminder that good negotiation means finding common ground, not an excuse to backstab.

It's also interesting to see how metagame considerations, such as your awareness of "Darillian's fearsome intellect", or the degree to which a player responded to early emails, influenced your in-game decisions.

Thanks for the excellent report.
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Colleen
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As moderator, I read all the press. I was sitting with my jaw dropped at how excellent a job France did at negotiating to dig himself out then at the last minute when all he needed was to be resolute, he gave up. Literally as other players were discussing their options to ally. He felt that he lost that he made comments to completely backslide off all the momentum of the previous turns careful diplomacy. Such a sad moment for me.
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Nate Merchant
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colleens wrote:
As moderator, I read all the press. I was sitting with my jaw dropped at how excellent a job France did at negotiating to dig himself out then at the last minute when all he needed was to be resolute, he gave up. Literally as other players were discussing their options to ally. He felt that he lost that he made comments to completely backslide off all the momentum of the previous turns careful diplomacy. Such a sad moment for me.


Fascinating! I did not know that. I myself was looking forward to using his units against England or Italy, should it come to that. Ultimately, it became about dividing up spoils with Spain, and then it was coup de grace time...
 
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andrew
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but i got the boobies!!!

i often go foetal when my cries for help (or any attention really) go ignored. but i'm sure you all got the metaphor.

EDIT; actually i should point out that you can type in NMR and click submit to keep the game moving. I think just clicking submit automatically NMRs you. so you should not associate NMR with someone just leaving the game as they have lost.
 
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Jasper
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Nice report natus!

One question though, as one of the goals of your report is to prove that there is no need to lie in Diplomacy, I want to know if you succeeded with that?

I can see several opportunities for outright lies, such as inviting England to got on the continent when you already plot to attack him, the DMZ with Poland etc. How did you go about that?
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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Great write up, and an interesting read to see how things were from another perspective!

Regarding the win: I realised that with Russia and Poland recording no moves, and having a few more SCs anyway, I could have gone for the solo win (I think I could have got 5 SCs in the following year alone). However, this seemed such a cheap, not to say boring, road to victory that I decided not to bother. In addition, it would probably have invited an attack from you, and if you did make a move before me, I would have had difficulty defending France. Having worked so well with Germany throughout most of the game, I also felt that you were equally deserving of the victory.

My own initial plan had been to take Gibraltar and the neutrals nearby and then work with France against Italy. France was too non-committal, only signing up for such a campaign after it was clear that Britain was working with Germany against him. From then on, I just went with the flow: France was falling, so I positioned my armies to take advantage of that (while assuring him that I was moving to help him). Britain had gone AWOL, so working with Germany to crush him was a no-brainer after the fall of France.

I then needed to attack someone new, and I only had two candidates: Germany and Italy: the first didn't really come into consideration (we were working well together and I was poorly placed for a land campaign), while Italy had completely demilitarised his border with me and the Med. was my natural terrain. I felt guilty about attacking Italy, especially as he had lent me considerable support in southern France, but I had to move against someone. The stab--with Germany and Poland pulling back out of the initial strike due to some misunderstanding between them--created the most dangerous moment for me: if Egypt and Italy had worked together to repel my attack, I think I would have been thrown back. However, my "hints" to Egypt on what he should do and Egypt's avarice prevented any such cooperation. Egypt did try to go against me on his own (while also stabbing Italy!), but I correctly anticipated the move and we created an uneasy truce.

After the dismemberment of Italy, Germany wanted support against Poland; I hoped to give it to him, partially so that he wouldn't even consider moving West. However, Egypt was in the way, and as my long term goal had been to dominate the Med., I was also inclined to move against the African power. Against this, Germany argued that in a war of Ger./Sp. vs. Rus./Pol., Egypt might be the tie-breaking ally, so I first tried to gain an agreement with BJ: I was willing to go so far as to exchange Tunis for Naples (which would have allowed me to get fleets into the Adriatic and attack the Polish-occupied Balkan coast). However, BJ didn't have access to his computer, it seemed, and then he went away on holiday, so I just snapped up the Egyptian SCs, which were effectively in a state of civil disorder, and forced my way through to the Adriatic, from which I participated (in a minor way) in the attack oh Poland.

From then on, it was really a race between me and Russia for Egypt's SCs. And then Dar disappeared, and I gobbled up as many of Russia's centres as I could (although I could have probably defeated him in the Near East even if he had stayed in the game due to my control of the sea). By that stage the game had lost its shine, and I agreed with Germany and Poland that there was not much point continuing.

I enjoyed the game a lot. It was my first game of diplomacy in 15 years and my first ever online. The only dampener was that so many key moments (not just at the end, but also early on in the game) were decided by one or other power not posting moves. Still, I thank my opponents for such a great time and congratulate my fellow victor, Kaiser Natus, on a game well played.
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Nate Merchant
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Venga2 wrote:
Nice report natus!

One question though, as one of the goals of your report is to prove that there is no need to lie in Diplomacy, I want to know if you succeeded with that?

I can see several opportunities for outright lies, such as inviting England to got on the continent when you already plot to attack him, the DMZ with Poland etc. How did you go about that?


Great question, Jasper! Since I don't have access to all my transcripts, I'm going to venture a qualified "yes" that I suceeded in not lying, though that of course was not my design when I started the game.

Re France and luring his armies to the Continent, I recall I said something along the lines of, "Now, if you are going to convoy armies to France, which I suggest, you may do so, but I can't promise I will help you negotiate with Spain over Paris. You took your sweet time getting involved in the land war and, frankly, I'm not happy about it." My displeasure was the lie, not the content.

Re Poland and the DMZ, nothing was easier than to speak the truth. I ordered A Berlin-->Sax, A Swe-->Ber (convoyed), and when Poland protested, I wrote, "You've been violating the DMZ all game, on one pretext or another! Now, I finally do it and it's an international crisis?" He was right to protest, of course, as context is everything, and he was my only opponent within reach and my armies had all positioned themselves for the kill. His next letter read, 'I'm going to get kicked hard in the nuts, aren't I?"

But, overall, there simply wasn't any good reason to lie. Why do it and ruin one's sterling reputation...as a modern Genghis Khan?


Edit: spelling

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Born To Lose, Live To Win
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Natus wrote:
My displeasure was the lie, not the content.


Ahh, the shades of grey between deceit and lying. The meat and potatoes of diplomatic communications.
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Colleen
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Natus was the most successful player at manipulating the various outcomes of the game. I thought his aggressive style might get him killed, but instead he seemed to forge alliances and plant suggestions that create a bit of chaos in other parts of the map. Well done!
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Ryan Powers
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I've never played that variant. Do you have any comments regarding the variant itself?
 
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Colleen
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Takes too long.
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Nate Merchant
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colleens wrote:
Natus was the most successful player at manipulating the various outcomes of the game. I thought his aggressive style might get him killed, but instead he seemed to forge alliances and plant suggestions that create a bit of chaos in other parts of the map. Well done!


Thanks, Colleen, but there are different shades of aggression. I was one of the least aggressive players involved in the dismemberment of France. Contra Britain, I knew Spain had my back and that Britain wasn't in it to win it. Poland and Spain stabbed Italy first, not me. Yes, I advocated for the attacks, but I also managed to make a bit of space between plans and my actions so I wasn't seen as some sort of...hmmm....trying to think of a recent historical German belligerant....it'll come to me...

Also, I feel strongly that if you are not part of a coalition dividing, you will get divided. France and Italy died because they just couldn't commit to a plan of action and wanted to...I don't know what. I had to make doubly sure that their lack of commitment wasn't a brewing plot aimed at me.

Lastly, I aimed always to be just under the largest maximum army size. I tried to make sure that there was always someone bigger and more threatening, but I also didn't want to look like good eats. A real balancing act!
 
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Nate Merchant
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2097 wrote:
I don’t get it, did you backstab Britain or not?


Most certainly. If I stabbed anyone, I stabbed Great Britain. He will never be more truly stabbed than in that game.
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Natus wrote:
2097 wrote:
I don’t get it, did you backstab Britain or not?


Most certainly. If I stabbed anyone, I stabbed Great Britain. He will never be more truly stabbed than in that game.
So you backstabbed without lying eh ?? I venture we could turn that into an interesting ethical discussion in RSP
 
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Nate Merchant
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Venga2 wrote:
Natus wrote:
2097 wrote:
I don’t get it, did you backstab Britain or not?


Most certainly. If I stabbed anyone, I stabbed Great Britain. He will never be more truly stabbed than in that game.
So you backstabbed without lying eh ?? I venture we could turn that into an interesting ethical discussion in RSP


Only after we beat every sentence of mine with the semantics stick. I think it's perfectly legal to backstab an erstwhile ally yet not have lied to him.
 
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