Parting Thoughts: Why we Love the Game


I hope you all are enjoying the mentor game. Unless someone has a topic they would like me to address, I am finished with my broadcast messages. I thought I would leave you with a few excerpts from an essay by Manus Hand, the creator of the Diplomatic Pouch web site, “The Greatness of Diplomacy.”


Who knows why Diplomacy is such a great game? We all have our favorite aspects of it, so I am certainly unqualified to speak for all my fellow players. However, I wish to expound on some of the things that I feel make Diplomacy different from other games.

* Skill. First of all, because Diplomacy lacks any random element, it is separated from a whole class of games in which one or more rolls of a die can determine a player’s fate.

Simply by virtue of being chanceless, I believe that Diplomacy leaves backgammon, Scrabble (where the element of chance is minimized somewhat by the ability to re-use played letters), and other games with ingredients of chance behind.

* Simultaneity. Diplomacy stands above most other chanceless games because of the simultaneous movement aspect of the game.

Although chess is undeniably a great game of pure skill, a chess game between two players of equal caliber is white’s game to lose. There is not quite as much fun in a game if you know that the person you are playing against has either a built-in advantage or disadvantage.

Simultaneous movement is an absolutely perfect gaming concept. There is no waiting around for your turn to move, no forced decisions (“will I be allowed to attack or forced to defend?”), and no uncertainty about what the board will look like when you next are asked to make moves.

* Strategy. What is the basic difference between tic-tac-toe and chess? Both are two-player games, with no element of chance, played on an unchanging board, in which play alternates from one player to the other. So why is chess a better game than tic-tac-toe?

To become proficient at either of these games requires the ability to “look-ahead.” Chess not only requires the ability to look ahead as far as or further than your opponent (whereas tic-tac-toe requires only the ability to look-ahead one single move, regardless of the skill level of the opposition), but the board and pieces offer a depth of complexity to the look-ahead process that tic-tac-toe does not provide. To become proficient at tic-tac-toe requires little brainpower; to become a master at chess requires a trained and analytical mind immersed almost completely and obsessively in chess knowledge.

Diplomacy has achieved the proper equilibrium between these two extremes. Even the best Diplomacy player cannot reliably look ahead more than two turns and even then only regionally. The game itself enforces this. First of all, since every one of the pieces could move on every turn, the ability to reliably look ahead becomes impossible very quickly. Secondly, the game is divided into game-years, and the adjustment phase acts as a sort of “reset”. It is quite extraordinary when a player has looked ahead beyond the next adjustment phase of a game of Diplomacy, other than, perhaps, to make his own initial, but far from confirmed plans.

* Simplicity. Diplomacy is a simple game to learn. Its mechanics are even simpler than chess.

Because Diplomacy is more than a contest in tactics, but a contest in wills and influence, the fact that the game is so simple to learn, tactically, is a great plus. A new player is quickly up to speed and testing his or her other abilities — those that truly determine victory — with the rest of us. The simplicity of the rules of Diplomacy is a great equalizer.

* Subtlety. The rules of Diplomacy are simple, and the board is also simple enough. But put them together and the beauty of the game immediately comes out.

How many times have you played Turkey, and wished for England to assist in an attack on Russia? All of a sudden, you could find yourself trying to ensure peace between France and England. To do so, you forment war between Italy and France, but to make this happen, you must stop Austria from attacking Italy. But Austria doesn’t have anything else to do, so you encourage Germany to head south and make Austria busy. Germany can’t do so, because he’s too busy fighting Russia. So Russia will have to make peace with Germany before you feel like you can take on the bear.

That may be a bit exaggerated, but we all know it’s not far from the truth. Sitting in Portugal with a single unit, the most important thing to you might truly be what the Moscow army does.


A player can be very good in the tactical and strategic skills of the game, but can be lacking in diplomatic skills. Another player might be strategically weak but be an excellent diplomat. Still another player might have passable but unremarkable skills in all three areas. Even though one of these players might lose miserably to another of them in a game of Go, that same player might beat the others handily in a game of poker. One can argue, however, that these three players, with their different talents so varied, are still somehow evenly matched when they face each other over a Diplomacy board. And that’s just another miracle of The Game.


You can read the whole essay here:

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