In Chess and games like it, the end-game is when there are few pieces left on the board. In Diplomacy, pieces aren’t removed so that is not an applicable definition. I call the end-game the period of the game when one power is near 18 SCs or one interest group (either a single power or alliance) is near a stalemate. This definition is useful enough, but has some quirks.
Tactics dominate end-games. When victory or defeat is near, there is little room for negotiation or strategy that deviates from the issue at hand. A stalemate line shall be formed, the 18th SC captured – or not. These immediate tactical realities dominate all other concerns. If they don’t, players are making a terrible error.
The best tactics tend to come in end-games too. With alliances set, the tactician has complete information needed for the fight. This stage of the game can also be complex and require deep, close study of the board, as now battle lines can cross the continent with approaching 34 units engaged. Trying to look ahead a move or two can be extremely difficult with so many units involved, but it can be the difference between winning and losing.
If there is any general end-game advice to be given, it is to the powers trying to stop a soloist. They have the harder job, as coordinating a coalition adds a layer of complexity that the leader does not face. To tackle it, communicate early and explicitly to avoid errors. It helps for one player to serve as the “general” for the alliance – if one can emerge from the ranks of the players. End-games tend to be lost by failed defenses much more than they are won by great attacks.
ALL GAMES DON’T END WITH END-GAMES
I mentioned our end-game definition has some quirks. For one, games may enter an end-game period (e.g. an alliance approaches a stalemate line) yet not end and instead return to a mid-game (e.g. the stalemate line is breached and the alliance advances or the dominant alliance breaks and play continues). On the flip side, games can also end without having much of an end-game and sometimes they end without either a solo or a tactical stalemate.
* Perpetual Mid-game: Strategic Stalemates. I wrote in Lecture #16 that a game with just three powers remaining engenders strategic stability, and as a result 3-way draws are common. Larger strategic stalemates are less common but happen. If a strategic stalemate occurs without a tactical stalemate due to evenly matched alliances unable to make material progress against the other, yet no power willing to stab lest they be at a disadvantage against the other alliance, then a draw may be called without an end-game.
* Truncated Mid-game: Conceded Draws and Stab-for-Solo. In a non-DIAS game, the losing powers may vote themselves out of a draw to the dominant powers to end a game early. Surrenders and the willingness of players to do this are the most common source of 2-way draws that would otherwise be quite difficult to obtain. Wins that come from a power in a dominating alliance stabbing his partner may also have little or no end-game (though the stabber may have been preparing for some time.)
***** OPTIONAL READING *****
To give you a sense of what end-game tactics can look like when a solo is threatened, here are a couple articles on end-game puzzles. Test your tactical mettle and see if you can solve them.