Daily Archives: August 13, 2008

Diplomacy should be a requirement

With schools cranking up again, it made me think once again of the board game Diplomacy. I think that every student should be required to learn to play the game Diplomacy as part of the required school curriculum. Not only would it be fun, but it would help prepare students to play the games of politics in life and in their chosen careers.

As I’ve stated in this space before, I enjoy playing games, particularly board games which require using the brain for strategy of some sort, usually with some historical significance and most of the time with territory to conquer. With most games there is some bit of luck or chance involved as most involve die rolls or probability charts.

Not Diplomacy.

There are no die in this game, which first saw the light of day back in 1958. The only luck and chance in this game is that which the player creates, not the roll of a die.

Diplomacy is a board game set in pre-World War I Europe. It is best played with the maximum of seven players, each controlling a European power of the time: England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Russia. Modeled after the chess board, Diplomacy’s map board is made up of 64 total spaces with 34 supply centers. Each power’s territory contains three supply centers initially (except for Russia, which has four) leaving a total of twelve “neutral” supply centers.

The object is to control 18 supply centers and declare victory. It is similar to Risk, except that players cannot mass armies, only one piece may occupy a territory at any given time, and players get only one piece per supply center they control. Thus, there can never be more than a total of 34 game pieces on the board at any one time.

The true task of the game is to convince the other European powers that you are the player with which to build an alliance. Simply, players must be “diplomatic.” Of course, those same alliances are likely to be broken over the quest of supply centers. The Balkans, for instance, contain four un-owned supply centers at the beginning of the game. Guess where much of the early conflict takes place.

The game has three phases: negotiation, order writing and order resolution. By far the most difficult is the negotiation. But it is also the most fun.

Generally, game turns begin in spring of 1901, and each player has 30 minutes to negotiate with every player (privately or publicly) before handing in written orders. In a usual game situation, the mapboard is located in a central location and very little negotiation goes on near because it could be easily overheard by the other players.

Generally each player will initially talk to every other player, listening to offers of alliances and territory, and offering the same.

The players must then decide who is “telling the truth,” and who is offering the best deal to most likely propel the player to the ultimate goal of 18 supply centers.

The orders are read and executed simultaneously—it is during this phase that you discover if your ally has stabbed you in the back and crossed into your nation’s borders or remained true to their alliance with you.

Diplomacy is often called a game of back-stabbing, and it is a well fitting description. The Russian player may promise you (assuming you are Turkey) all control of Austria if you will simply allow him to control Rumania. Once he has acquired Rumania, however, he may decide that he will ally with the Austrian to conquer your territory!

Or, that may have been the plan from the beginning and he may have misled you intentionally in an effort to catch you unprepared. The Austrian may have cut him a better deal.

Life is the same way.

Throughout life, you will have allies and you will have enemies. Like the game of Diplomacy, you must be able to use your intuitive skills to determine who is lying to you, who is telling the truth, who is out to help you, who is out to harm you or who may even be neutral to you.

To succeed, you have to be able to learn to read the other “players” to determine these things. And, like the game, you will often have to take risks on who you trust with an alliance or even with just information. In the same way, you’ll have to take chances on the moves you make.

Some might say this is a depressing or pessimistic way to look at life. Personally, I don’t see it as depressing, as I’ve said, I like playing Diplomacy.

Diplomacy is probably my all time favorite game and I feel it is likely the best game ever made. Some of my fondest memories of college are of late-night weekends playing Diplomacy with such pals as Ashley Koostra, Bill Sawyer, Mike Schexnaydre, Eric (the Kahn) Amundson, David Rogers, and a whole host of others. For years, The Avalon Hill Game Company put out Diplomacy. Recently it was purchased, though I forget by whom. Copies are still available though, and maybe we can convince the School Board to add Diplomacy to the curriculum.


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