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The Etiquette of Playing Diplomacy on PlayDiplomacy.com

A personal view from Rick Leeds

 

‘Etiquette?’ you say. ‘Etiquette? This is Diplomacy!’

Indeed it is. The game where deception is built in. The game where players manipulate each other. Where backstabbing is a part of play, where betrayal is rife and where alliances are things of the moment. In Diplomacy (almost) anything goes.

Etiquette?

Well, yes, there IS a degree of etiquette in playing Diplomacy. It’s based on the contract you form when you join a game and on having respect for the people with whom you’re playing the game.

When you sign-up to a game, you’re contracting to play it. It’s not binding, of course: Beelzebub isn’t going to come looking for the underside of your feet if you pull out. But you’re declaring your intention to play the game with your opponents,

And your opponents, at the start at least, deserve some respect; at the end... well, we’ll see! They’re people looking to enjoy the game, just like you.

 

With all this in mind, then, I have put some advice together on how to make the experience of playing on Playdip a good one for you and your opponents. And it is just that – advice. None of what follows are rules, as such.

And it is ‘a personal view’. You may not agree with some of it (or, indeed, any of it!). But it is based on things that often come up on the site’s Forum when members are having a grumble about some of the practices of players on the site.

Playing games is supposed to be fun. The objective here is to find ways for everyone to have fun and enjoy playing on PlayDiplomacy.com.

 

The Etiquette Eleven

Know the rules of the game

Those of us who have played Dip for years, in different forms, get that sinking feeling when, in Spring 1901, the fleet in London tries to move to Belgium or Russia tries to invade Sweden from St Petersburg. It’s that ‘Oh no…’ moment. And that moment is especially poignant when you’ve chosen to work with the player controlling that power.

A lot of people will come to Playdip not having played Diplomacy before. They don’t know the rules. That’s fair enough. Everyone starts somewhere. If you’re going to start playing Dip, you may as well start on the biggest Dip site!

What I think should be expected, however, is that, before you get into a game – and before you join a Ranked game especially – you know the fundamentals of the rules of Dip. Diplomacy doesn’t have the simplest of rules at times. But neither does it have the most complicated rules I’ve come across. It makes sense to know the basics at least before playing.

There are places on the site designed to give you some help on this:

·       The ‘Guides’ tab contains lots of info on helping with this, including some instructional videos from Edi Birsan, a legend in the Dip hobby.

·       If you have questions you can visit the Rules Questions section on the site’s Forum; members are always happy to help. You could also post your question in the Chatbox.

·       If you’re not sure if your orders will get the result you need, you can use the Orders Solver to enter sets of orders and see the outcome.

·       You can download a copy of the game rules. (Playdip uses the 2000 edition of the rules. There is a later, prettier edition here if you prefer; it takes longer to download and doesn’t offer anything new).

·       You can even join a Mentor game, run by an experienced member of the site, where you’ll be given guidance; find a game here.

Control your frustration.

There is another side to this, though, which is important to the more experienced players: be patient. Accept that new players may make mistakes and, instead of throwing up your hands and walking away, give them some advice. It may even make them ally with you, after all.

Variants.

If you’re a Premium member and you want to play a variant, in exactly the same way as above, find out about the rules.

Know the site’s rules

‘Ignorance is bliss,’ apparently. Perhaps so but I’m struggling to find bliss if you’re account is removed from the site because you didn’t know the rules.

As you’re in the Site Rules tab I assume you’ve looked at the Site Rules summary. Good job! If you haven’t, go and do it! This is a summary, however, and the rules are given in full on the Forum – Rules for Fair Use and Rules for Fair Play.

They aren’t the Bible so you’re not expected to know the rules chapter and verse but it makes sense to know the important aspects. After all, you won’t want to be removed from a game or be banned from the site because you didn’t know that always allying with your mate isn’t allowed.

We put a lot of effort into trying to make PlayDiplomacy.com a site where games are fair. I think it isn’t too much to expect players to spend some time learning what is and what isn’t allowed.

Choose the right game

‘Oops! I didn’t mean to join this game!’ is something which fairly regularly echoes around a stunned Public Press box. Unfortunately, there’s not much more we can do to prevent someone entering a game they didn’t mean to join. As someone who’s done this, I know it’s a result of laziness.

If you’re setting-up a game or signing-up to a game from the start, however, you really do want to make sure you want to play in that game. There are a fair number of unloved games on the Join Game list, games which have been abandoned by their owners.

The right game class.

There are four classes of games:

·       Ranked games score points. They tend to be played more ‘seriously’. They affect your site Rating. Probably not a good option for a new player’s first game. Rabid veterans can be quite unforgiving.

·       No Rank games don’t score points (surprising, I know). They may also be taken seriously, however: just because the game doesn’t affect Ratings doesn’t mean the players are less intense! However, the chances are that it won’t be as serious a game as a Ranked game. A good option for a new site member who has some idea about the rules but wants to learn the interface and ease herself into the site.

·       Friends games were designed for, yep, friends. A good option for site members who want to play with friends, colleagues, family, etc. Just don’t take the stab in your back Thelma gave you in the game into the workplace. Planning meetings will never be the same.

·       Schools games were designed for use by teachers who want to use Diplomacy in their teaching programmes. They are unique in that the game creator doesn’t play in the game but acts as the game’s moderator in many respects. Great if you’re a teacher or acting as a mentor; a terrible idea for a new player simply looking to create a game to play in! Finding you set-up a game that you wanted to play and then finding you can’t could be a trifle frustrating. However, Schools games are also used for the site’s mentor games - if you want to learn the game, look for a mentor game to join.

These game classes are explained in full here.

The right type and variant.

If you haven’t gone Premium yet, the choice is simple: you can play in either the classic game or a Short-handed variant. Short-handed games are games where there are less than the full complement of players. They are always Friends games.

If you’re a Premium member, there are different types of games, different variants and even different maps to play on. You’ll find these explained here.

The right features.

Take a look at the Create Game page. Lots of options, eh? Well, you may find that the game you’re thinking of joining isn’t quite right for what you want. Look here for the different features explained.

The right deadlines.

One of the most important features is the game’s deadlines. This is where many people make a bad decision when choosing the game they want to play. A lot of people may be impatient to get on with it – great enthusiasm but not necessarily the best deadline choice if you go for 12 hour deadlines. There will be at least one deadline that passes while you’re asleep and dreaming of your victory. On the other hand, longer deadlines may be too long! Choose the game which balances your excitement and anticipation with practicality.

Missing a deadline will affect your game and is likely to frustrate other players.

Know your limits.

Finally, think about how many games you can cope with at one go. Premium members can play, effectively, as many games as they want (up to 100 simultaneous games). We’ve had some people play up to that limit. See? Males can multi-task (or they say they can, at least). All these games need time and consideration; even Gunboat games – where there is no communication between the players – need some time to be invested into working out strategy.

Don’t find yourself in more games than you can handle. You may think you can handle it. Pulling hair out stings, though.

Get your orders in

One thing you’ll notice when you join the Playdip community proper on the Forum is that failing to enter orders before a deadline is a BIG bugbear. There are a small, well-trained group of commandos waiting to be released to hunt down rogue NMRers. They’re armed with long posts.

Some very good advice is to put some provisional orders in as soon as possible when the new phase starts. Any orders you enter can be changed later in the phase but, if something comes along and prevents you getting onto the site by the deadline, you’ll have some orders to be processed at least.

Missing orders is known as an NMR (No Moves Received or, more accurately on a website, No Moves Recorded). NMRs are the bane of Diplomacy; not a poorly thought out character that we don’t know what to do with after he’s fulfilled a ‘shocking’ storyline and wanders around being less than formidable afterwards… this bane stays with us. NMRs can mean the game becomes unbalanced. Do it too often and the chances are a frustrated ‘ally’ may well decide you’re harming his plans more than helping them.

In fact, NMR on two consecutive movement phases and you’ll be kicked out of the game.

Don’t surrender

‘Surrendering’ is the generic term for anyone leaving a game, whether they’ve surrendered voluntarily, been auto_surrendered for consecutive NMRs or been admin_surrendered (removed from the game by a site moderator for cheating or breaking the site’s rules).

There’s an argument that NMRing (see above) is worse for a game than surrendering. The odd NMR is frustrating but isn’t terrible; NMRing a lot is grounds for releasing the commandos.

If you surrender from a game, or are surrendered from it, the game immediately becomes unbalanced. There are supposed to be seven players in a (regular) game of Diplomacy. When someone quits it immediately presents one or more players with an advantage. You may be surprised, but even those players who gain an advantage from it are often annoyed by it! Not that they won’t use that advantage, of course… This is Diplomacy, not MSF.

Of course, there are times when leaving a game is genuinely unavoidable. Real life is a pain, sometimes. Fair enough… although there may be options rather than leaving a game unbalanced to consider:

·       Find a substitute.

If you know you’re going to be away from the game beforehand, try and find someone from the community to stand in for you. This can also work if you need to leave the game quickly, if you’re lucky. It means someone else can play for you for a period. The process is explained here.

Quitting

It is never going to be popular if you simply quit the game when you don’t have to. You may not like the French catapulting les vaches at your k’nigits, but don’t run away.

OK, perhaps the game isn’t going well; you’ve come up against an alliance that is hellbent on beating you into the ground and planting roses in you. Perhaps you’re simply having a bad game and your mates have set up a game you really want to join. Perhaps there’s a player in the game that’s even more obnoxious than normal and you remember those helpful teachers who told you to walk away. These, and other reasons, may seem good to you… but where does that leave the other players in the game? After all, ‘When the fun stops, STOP.’ But this isn’t gambling (though it may become an addiction).

Remember, you joined the game; you ‘contracted’ to play the game. Now you’re making the decision to walk away from that commitment. Can you hear that? It’s the rattle of commando keyboards.

It’s a decision you’ve got to make and live with on the site. Surrenders are stored in your statistics, surrenders will prevent you from accessing the better quality games and surrenders may well stop people from playing with you.

At the very least, you should consider the decision carefully.

Don’t capitulate

‘Capitulating’ is staying in a game but not playing it. It is giving up on the game but not surrendering. It may be a better decision or a different option to surrendering in some circumstances but it will still unbalance a game.

Capitulation may take different forms: entering all hold orders so that the power is effectively in civil disorder; it may be moving out of supply centres so that they can be taken by anyone; it may be giving your supply centres away to a single power (similar to ‘Kingmaking’ below).

As with surrendering, respect for the other players and the commitment you made when you joined the game should mean you consider this decision carefully.

Kingmaking.

This can sometimes be similar to capitulating but it is usually aimed at giving a single player (or, more widely, an alliance of players) a chance at winning the game. It is accepted by (almost) everyone as a valid strategy in certain circumstances. Frustrating? Oh yes. But it’s been around in Dip for ages and Dippyists pretty much accept it. Kingmaking is usually accepted when the player who is taking the role has effectively lost the game, either as a result of a devastating stab or when a player is facing an opponent who is deaf to all those reasons she shouldn’t continue attacking you. Some people just don’t see or hear the big, bright, noisy, lumbering Juggernaut rolling down the road towards them, even when it’s blaring its horn and blasting ‘Limestone Cowboy’ out from its radio, and are prepared to keep chasing you towards it.

A Kingmaker will often make an effort to continue communication and to play, although her play will target one or more players, and favour one or more other players, at the Kingmaker’s expense. In other words, Kingmaking involves being active in the game whilst throwing it away.

When Kingmaking becomes problematic for most people is when it is the first response to a stab or when it is too early in the game to bring the game to a close. This is much more like capitulation. Kingmaking is supposed to give an opportunity to end the game. Jumping into the role when this isn’t likely to be the result is often seem as poor practice.

Communicate

Diplomacy is called ‘Diplomacy’ for a reason. It isn’t a war game as such; it’s a game where the communication between players is the main aspect of the game. You’re a diplomat first and foremost, not a general. Communication, negotiations, discussion, relationship-building – this is the essence of Diplomacy. Slap ‘Diplomacy player’ on your resumé; no-one will have a clue what you’re talking about, of course, but they’ll ask you about it.

What sometimes happens, however, is that players don’t recognise the place communication has in the game. I dunno what’s going through their heads: ‘Risk’ on a different board? At the very least, if you choose to not communicate with others, you are likely to be a target. Nobody trusts a silent player and nobody can work with a silent player. It’s like reaching around behind your back and slapping a sticky note their saying ‘Kick me’.

Good games involve communication. You don’t have to like the sound of your own typing and you don’t have to write a detailed analysis and critique on Turkey’s determined surge into Syria but saying something is always nice.

Forwarding messages

Playdip’s in-game messaging system allows messages to be forwarded. It was introduced to allow players to forward a previous message to the same recipient and allow the sender to add extra thoughts. Inevitably it has also been used by players to forward messages they’ve received from one power to another. To some, this is anathema. But, after all, diplomats throughout history have passed on ‘secret’ information from one state to another. And Dip players have always been able to communicate information from one player to another in some form or another. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, what you write to Germany is meant for Germany’s eyes only. When you tell him that England is a female sanitary product (and the bag it came in) you don’t necessarily want England to know this. When you tell England that reading Germany’s musings is like wandering through a field occupied by male bovines who have recently voided themselves, you’d hope England wouldn’t pass this on to the subject of your criticism. Of course, maybe it would have been better to say things slightly differently…

Now, Germany is a serial forwarder. She uses the ‘forward’ facility regularly to pass on the messages from the players who write to her, using this to build trust with other powers. England notices this. Whilst he’s bristling from inside his bag at the knowledge of France’s opinion of him, he also wonders at Germany’s tactics: ‘What did she do with my telling her that France should learn to play snakes and ladders before trying Diplomacy?’

Nobody could seriously disagree that forwarding messages has a place in Dip, in one way or another. However, use it sparingly. You don’t want players not telling you anything useful because they know you’ll forward it.

Be polite

You’re a diplomat – be diplomatic!

There are times when being impolite may be a valid tactic. Goading players, using mind games, etc may be part of your strategy at some points in the game. That’s fine and acknowledged as a valid aspect of the game. However, throwing insults or abuse about for the sake of it, in response to what you consider stupid play, when you’ve been stabbed or simply because you’re angry isn’t going to make the best of impressions. Responding to your anger or frustration by being insulting or abusive tells another player a lot about you and about your game. So, yes, occasionally and under considered circumstances, being impolite might be a reasonable strategy but it’s best used sparingly.

Oh, and being generally obnoxious is going to see players target you in a game and probably avoid you in future games.

The Finalize facility

As someone who finalizes when I am sure of what I’m going to do, I often sit back and grin at Public Press messages that start with ‘Is everyone ready to finalize?’ then move on through ‘Come on, guys, this game is going too slow – finalize’ to ‘FINALIZE YOUR £@€%*&^ ORDERS!!!’ It’s one of those little pointers that someone may be frustrated enough to make mistakes; maybe I’ll just not finalize at all?

There are two points to remember:

1.     Finalizing is the default setting in games. This means that players may enter a game without considering whether the game includes the facility. You should expect a phase to last the length of the deadline, rather than expecting that players should finalize at the earliest opportunity.

2.     Finalizing is ALWAYS an option within a game. Just because a player can finalize, a player doesn’t have to finalize.

Finalize when you can.

One way in which the facility is abused is when a player deliberately chooses not to finalize his orders simply because it frustrates others in the game. If you’re ready, good practice is to finalize. Of course, when someone does start screaming in Public Press about people not finalizing, the gloves are off.

Don’t hassle players to finalize.

Another way the facility is abused is when players consistently demand that others finalize. There is a difference between reminding players that they can finalize, and giving an encouraging comment to do so, and consistently demanding that players should/must finalize. Yep, players not finalizing deliberately is annoying but so is braying about it.

I think it is pretty simple to see that refusing to finalize will lead to demands to finalize and vice versa.

Remember what the game’s about

Diplomacy is a game where deceit, lies, betrayal and stabs are part of the game, although it is also true that honesty, being truthful and trustworthy, and maintaining the integrity of an alliance are as much a part of the game. Dip is also a game where players should expect to be stabbed at some point. It ain’t always pretty.

With this in mind, some final thoughts…

Grow a thick skin.

If you don’t like being lied to, if you don’t like the odd disparaging, abusive or derogatory comment, you’re going to find the game a chore. People react emotionally at times, they can be insulting about you and your strategies, they may even be obnoxious. If you have a problem with this, this is your problem, no matter how vicious the comments or actions seem. We do have some rules in place to deal with extreme abuse but we won’t act simply because you’re offended.

Don’t expect an alliance to last forever.

Whilst some players will seek to maintain alliances until the end of the game, and while others claim they don’t break alliances, if you expect your alliance to last then you’re likely to be upset! Alliances in Diplomacy may be intended for the moment or to last while they are useful – no longer. Some players have become upset when they’ve been betrayed by an ‘ally’. Remember: allies are also opponents.

Players are free to make their own decisions when playing.

As much as we might try to discourage some poor practices, players will use them and are free to use them. As much as we may get frustrated at what we think is stupid play – or even cheating – the player controlling the power is free to act as he wants with his units. As long as the rules aren’t being broken, there’s nothing to be done but bite the bullet and get on with it.

Be realistic when a game is coming to an end.

There are times when a player might refuse to agree to end a game. This might be because she refuses to share a draw with another player (for whatever reason) or because she is extending the game in the hope that one or more of the other players will become so dispirited that someone leaves the game.

This is only possible because of the nature of internet play. In a face-to-face game, realistic time considerations would end the game. You might feel that it’s fine to act this way – we’re playing on the web, it’s a variant of Dip anyway, it’s part of it. However, it spoils the experience for other players and it relies on an unnatural end to the game, so we have a procedure – the Deadlocked Game Procedure – in place to prevent it. If a game seems to have reached a realistic end, by all means explore all options before accepting this but be realistic and allow everyone to move on to the next game.

Don’t involve moderators unless it’s necessary.

The site moderators are there to help ensure the smooth, enjoyable running of the site. They act when it is necessary to act and they will happily respond to enquiries and needs. However, before drawing the moderators into a situation, consider why you need to do this.

On the Forum there are guidelines about different situations, and when and how to involve a Mod. They should be the last resort, especially when dealing with problems in games. This means you should be asking for moderator involvement only when it is needed.

All the mods and admin on the site are volunteers. They give up their time – which should be spent playing the game – to work for the site. They’re happy to do so… but not when the situation doesn’t require it.