How to Be a Diplomacy Player
How to Be a Diplomacy Player
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How to Be a Diplomacy Player

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Last updated on 2019-03-27

About the Book

You've been invited to play Diplomacy. Lucky you.

Diplomacy is one of those rare games that is a perennial favorite among a certain class of gamers: social, strategic, competitive, negotiations-based. 

How you've managed to avoid an invitation for so long may or may not be your fault. The world has gone a bit soft of late.

Amazingly, 65 years after its invention by Allan B. Calhamer, it has a prominent place in the hobby gaming landscape, from recreational to competitive play. From it's face-to-face roots to postal heyday to online play and back again to face-to-face, Diplomacy has shown incredible staying power. 

Of these vibrant roots I was unaware on my first contact with the game.

I was introduced to the game at Cypress Creek High School in Houston, Texas by my history teacher, Bill Self.

Though they did not know each other, game designer Larry Harris concurs with Mr. Self's decision to bring the game into the classroom: 

I am convinced that Allan Calhamer's masterpiece should be part of every high school curriculum. Don't tell the kids, but it teaches history, geography, the art of political negotiation, and something else, some healthy critical skepticism. By the time you get into high school, you have a pretty good idea that not everyone always tells the truth. But a good game of Diplomacy helps you to understand how skillful some people can be at fooling you!

In my first game of Diplomacy, I drew England. 

It was a fall afternoon in 2003. The previous week, Mr. Self had asked for volunteers to play a game which he described favorably: "It's a beautiful game."

His intention was to teach some of us the game so that the quality of the forthcoming in-class game (for a grade!) would be of a higher standard. Smart man. (I highly valued this demo game, and describe in the chapter on Exploration how to involve new players in them.)

In this practice game as England, I quickly learned the advantages of fleets, how to prepare a successful convoy, and even took Saint Petersburg in 1902 from a distracted Russian.

That afternoon I was hooked. When I arrived home, I promptly ordered my copy, Avalon Hill's 4th edition from the year 2000, a quality board I still own and occasionally use (even though I prefer playing with wooden pieces).

Leading up to the in-class game in Houston, I invited friends over on weekends to play. Mom made us cookies as well as healthy snacks to keep our energy levels high enough to sustain long, intense afternoons of strategic negotiation. 

By the time of the in-class game, many of us were ready. 

We understood the inherent Inequality (Chapter 2) of the game, its delightful imbalances and the diplomatic nuances stemming from these dynamics and potential.

Having experienced growth, decline, victory, and defeat, we gained an understanding of Psychology (Chapter 3). Now we had psychological strategies to deploy on ourselves and tools with which to engage our opponents and predict their behavior. 

Morality (Chapter 4), too, you might be surprised to hear, had a place in the notoriously treacherous hobby.

It wasn't until recently, having read an article on non-routine problems and revisiting a book on the philosophy of poker that I began thinking about developing a Philosophy of Diplomacy (Chapter 1). My earliest musings will be shared, hopefully to be expanded in further writings.

Of course, our group of young Diplomacy players also planted seeds in the gardens of Negotiation (Chapter 5), Strategy (Chapter 6), and Exploration (Chapter 7).

I went on to win the in-class game as Germany opening with the Skagerrak Sentry, whose move order is equivalent to the Jutland Gambit, but which varies diplomatically in the sense that Germany and France are already planning to carve up England. An elaboration is given in the chapter on Strategy.

Soon after, I started a Diplomacy Club within the high school, which had twice-weekly order adjudication. I remember daydreaming about my moves and then trying to find people in the hallways between classes to squeeze in a short negotiation. One day I wrote on a scrap of paper I managed to preserve: "Diplomacy is taking over!" Recently, my wife got a kick out of that, too. (Of course, this is all part of my plan to get her and her friends to join our games at the Minnesota Diplomacy Club!)

As we reclaim useful leisure, seek meaningful social interaction, and equip ourselves to solve problems in the real world, Diplomacy will only rise in popularity. This game started in Allan B. Calhamer's dorm room, face to face with friends. It went postal. Then online to the judges. And back around again to tournament play and face to face club games.

Even though I lived in Gabon, Indonesia, and China, my home is now in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And although my immediate attention is on developing the hobby here, I see no reason why the hobby should not continue to bloom elsewhere.

May you join this latest renaissance of the perennial favorite. 

As Douglas Kent wrote in the 140th edition of Diplomacy World:

This is a hobby of people, after all. The personalities, the friendships, the laughs, the time spent together is what transforms it from a game to THE GAME.

To celebrate Diplomacy's persistence, I invite you to read and share what is useful in this book. 

But first, perhaps, you should read it. Sharing it without reading would be like persistently bouncing in the Black Sea. Mostly pointless.

About the Author

Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen

"Writing gives me the highest highs." -Stephen Fry

Table of Contents

  • Overture
  • Acknowledgments
  • The Adventure Begins
  • Chapter 1: Philosophy
    • Play the Game, Learn the Rules, Master Them
    • Diplomacy as Ritual
    • 34 Pennies: A Simple Version of the Game
    • A Relationship with the Game
    • Asking the Right Questions
    • Sympathy and Empathy
  • Chapter 2: Inequality
    • Why the Game Does Not End After 1901
    • The Map (and the Territory)
    • Players are Unequal
  • Chapter 3: Psychology
    • Game Theory
    • Personality Types
    • Our Relationship to the Truth
    • Forecasting: Neither Slave Nor Tyrant
    • Disbelief in Your Own Ability
    • Chain Sickness
  • Chapter 4: Morality
    • Morality Must Be Iterable
    • Lying
    • Deception (and Misdirection)
    • Spectrums of the Moral Compass
    • Norms in Face to Face Diplomacy
    • Assessing Your Moral Sensibilities
  • Chapter 5: Negotiation
    • Smart, Yet Dumb
    • Slowing Down to Listen
    • North Korean Weapons Technology
    • Telling a Vivid Story
    • Intuition
    • Anticipatory Regret
    • Appeals to Fairness and Center Count Parity
    • Collaborative Language
    • What You Measure Matters
    • Accommodator, Assertive, Analyst
  • Chapter 6: Strategy
    • When Do You Write Your Orders?
    • Pace
    • Shape (or Cohesiveness)
    • Influence (or Pressure)
    • Growth
    • Targets
    • Secrets
    • Theory: Opening, Mid-Game, End-Game
    • Toward a Philosophy of Stabs
    • How to Defend
    • What do Gascony and Livonia have in Common?
    • The Skagerrak Sentry
    • The Venetian Vanishing
  • Chapter 7: Exploration
    • A Discussion of Experience
    • What is Most Important to Teach?
    • Diplomacy Clubs
  • Begin Again: Becoming a Lifelong Diplomacy Player
  • Appendix: 75 Territories
    • Landlocked or Coastal Provinces
    • Bodies of Water
  • Appendix: Your First Game
  • Appendix: Terminology
  • Notes

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