How would states fare without diplomacy

Introduction

What can we do to win at Diplomacy? At first, it might seem like a daunting task. Players start off more or less equal. And you have no randomness to fall back on to tilt the game in your favor. Instead, you'll have to carry forward a plan with only you as its executor, salesman, and defendant - and no plan will go far without others to help. So, we can see right away that the most important tool for doing well at this game is going to be you.

Here, then, are 10 guidelines to help you do your best. Faithfully following the advice here will be one of the best ways to put in a good showing - I've used these techniques myself and seen them used repeatedly to great effect as well. Of course, you won't always win, but with this advice, you'll be putting a good effort forward.

1. Be neat and careful.

The most important thing to remember in Diplomacy is that you must write your orders down for others to see and read. So, you must write clearly, but above all accurately. Don't confuse armies for fleets or write down places on the board that don't exist or you can't reach. All the other hard work of the game is for nothing if your orders are reduced to holds - I have seen even very veteran players make simple mistakes in the rush to write orders. Be sure to give yourself time to write carefully.

2. Study the game and know it well.

There are spots on the board where two well coordinated forces can write a series of orders that deadlock them against each other and cause the game to stalemate. Do you know where these lines are? If you don't, you should look into it. Understand how it happens and how you can avoid it. Understand the basic rules of the game - how to resolve multiple bounces, how retreats work, how convoys work.

Also understand the basic strategies of the game - what are common openings for England, what are good alliances for Austria, what is a fair distribution of centers in Scandinavia or the Balkans. The main action of the game is deal making and negotiations, but the game has rules and strategies just like any other. Ignore them at your peril.

3. Be honest.

If you will be someone's friend in the game and would seek their cooperation and alliance, it is best to be straight with them and tell them up front your plans and aspirations. Seek their counsel on what you should do and offer yours for them if they ask. Be sure to offer fair trades and ask for as much as you give - someone who only gives is just as suspicious and perhaps as dangerous as someone who only takes.

Similarly, if someone is to be on the receiving end of your imperial maneuvers, do not try to hide that from them. People are sharp and will see through a false smile or insincere commitment. It builds trust in your friends to see you handle the opposition honestly. And it helps keep the game in a controlled state to have the cards on the table rather than everyone left guessing about everyone else's loyalties. The last player anyone will trust is the player who is everyone's friend - we need friends and enemies alike.

4. Form an alliance.

The best candidates for alliances fall along two basic lines - direct competitors calling a truce and indirect competitors acknowledging one another. By far the better candidate is the first - England should seriously consider France or Germany or Russia as a good alliance partner before they court Turkey. Your immediate neighbors represent the greatest threat to your holdings and you represent the greatest threat to theirs. Defusing these threats with honesty and directness and clearly establishing a relationship is the best practice. Be true to your alliance - make them the first and last players you talk to every round and consider carefully their advice and strategy. Listen to them. If you have good ideas to contribute, present them in such a way that the alliance feels the plans are joint plans. Do not be a leader, but rather a teammate.

5. Don't turn your back lightly or hastily.

When it is time to serve your own interests over the interests of your alliance, be firm in your convictions and decisive in your actions. Do not ruin the trust and partnership you've made lightly - everyone will see your duplicity and trust will never again come easily. Be sure the friend you mean to turn against will not survive long enough to inconvenience you, let alone actually fight back. And if you can't be sure you're able to gain sustainable, definite advantage when you go against someone unexpectedly, don't do it.

But more important than this is to try to be sure that you and your allies not leave yourselves open to this temptation. Gains made by risking everything on another player's good faith are a great way to tempt someone into betrayal. Be suspicious of anyone who proposes a plan that leaves you open and know that they will feel the same way about you if you make such a plan.

6. A deal is a deal. No more, no less.

The fundamental currency of the game is the deal. If I do this for you, you do that for me. Look to make deals, but understand that everyone is looking for profits and there aren't many open centers. When you make a deal, take it seriously. A lot of the game hinges on not only your ability to make a deal, but your ability to follow through on your end of the bargain. If you are revealed to be a deal breaker, trust will not come. And trust is essential to success.

And yet, a deal is just a deal. It is not a contract, it is not an oath. Be suspicious of the promises of others - they are in it for themselves. Make sure the deal you make is a good one for you... and a good one for the others too. People will not feel obliged to honor an unfair deal and neither should you. If someone comes to you with such a plan, explain why you cannot accept with tact and a smile and ask them if they have an alternative.

7. Everyone profits... especially you.

People are sharp. They aren't going to agree to a plan where you get all the benefits and they get nothing. Try to make deals that are modest in scope and show clear profits for all at the same rate. When you cannot all gain together, offer trading gains, but try to be the first to get paid in such a deal. When you cannot reach a fair trade, offer a truce or boundary - better that no one gain than only one player gain, after all.

It almost goes without saying that you are looking out for number one in your deals, but remember, so is everyone else and there aren't a lot of gains to be made that don't cost someone else. So, make deals that are fair, but always be sure to get paid or at worst keep the balance.

8. Be in the market to make new friends, even with old enemies.

The person who you want to make a deal with is the person who needs you. At first, when everything is more or less even, people will be less desperate and more fair – perhaps even avoiding any commitments at all. Later, if you have someone on the ropes, that person may do what you ask just to stay in the game, especially if you have treated them fairly and honestly in the past. And someone who is pushing you hard may be looking for a new partner in greater conquests. Don't be afraid to court your enemies if it will make substantial gains for you both... just do it quietly and carefully.

Remember though that someone is going to get taken out. Don't make a deal with someone just to have a deal. Don't switch sides or alliances just to have a junior partner who needs you. You aren't trading up there; you are losing the good faith you built earlier.

9. Never threaten, but instead persuade.

The time will come when either friend or foe gets the better of you. Acknowledge your losses, but do not bluster or threaten. Build in others the recognition that losses for you are gains for someone else. Alliances may shift and you may have to do the shifting. To do that, you cannot force someone to your side... but you may be able to convince them that you can help them against a rising threat. Be the helper and look to work some rewards for yourself into the plan. You can go a long way with little on the board, especially when you are the piece one power needs against another.

10. Don't take anything personally.

Remember at all times to smile, laugh, and be in a good spirit. Should you find yourself on the defensive, perhaps headed to the ash heap of history, do not spoil the game for others by moaning and complaining. No one likes to hear that. And it won't turn things around in your favor. Good sports do not sulk or give bitter speeches.

At its core, Diplomacy is a game of friendship and alliance. If you want friends, you've got to be friendly. Listen, smile, and make others feel valuable. If you are successful in this, you might do a lot more than simply win the game...

You might even have a good time.