Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

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Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby rick.leeds » 23 Mar 2011, 00:18

For a while I have been thinking of putting a series of self-written articles together on playing Dip, expressing my ideas about the game. This isn’t an attempt to say I’m an expert: far from it. At most I’m adequate (and some would argue that, probably successfully). And that’s why the series is called Playing Diplomacy Adequately. There are plenty of people who will disagree with my thoughts, which is good. Put your POV across too. Don’t expect the articles to be too highly developed. They are a series of articles aiming to improve basic play.

This is the first (not the first I wrote, but the one that seemed sensible to start with).

Starting Out.

The early game is the time when you need to set out your strategy. This may mean deciding the way you would like to go, the alliances you would prefer to develop, the general shape of the game. Alternatively it may simply focus on one aspect: the alliance structure. This latter is what I usually choose to focus on; for me, the rest is influenced by the alliance structure I believe is being built. Others may prefer the alternative, and enter a game having an idea of what the first year should bring them and work towards achieving that aim. Both have pros and cons; the one you choose depends upon how flexible you are prepared to be, or naturally can be.

For the basis of this article, though, I am going to concentrate on working out your alliances. This is partly because, as stated above, I tend to react to how negotiations go and how alliances appear to be building up, but also because nothing is possible – generally speaking – without negotiation in Diplomacy. Very early gains, yes, but short-termism never wins a game of Dip. In one game I played (surprisingly the final game of a tournament) I was France. In the game England didn’t negotiate with me at all. England was the first eliminated power.

The first thing to say about negotiating in an on-line game is that every player should be in contact with every other player. It is easy to not bother with some powers: Austria negotiating with England seems to be a waste of time, for instance. The important thing, though, is that at some point in the game you will hopefully need to negotiate fully with any of the powers. If Austria and England do well, they have common enemies in – potentially – ALL the other remaining powers. So in the first year(s) contact should be maintained with everyone. For the distant powers, this might well be seemingly meaningless chat or simply swapping (guarded) information. I say “guarded” because of what follows below. For the neighbours, the negotiations need to be detailed: DMZs, NAPs, negotiations with other powers, orders, potential moves – any or all of these may be shared. Again, though, guardedly. Don’t give anything definite away unless it is absolutely necessary. This might come across as duplicitous, of course, so you may need to set the level of disclosure based upon the level offered by your opponents.

The second thing to remember is that in this format everyone has plenty of time to receive messages and consider them. If you are messaging everyone, assume everyone else is doing the same. You, and your opponents, have the same time to consider, compare and assimilate information. The good thing about this is that you have enough time to consider what your reply to a message is to be. It can be constructed carefully. The downside is that your opponents have enough time to compare what you are saying with what others are saying... and possibly what THEY are saying YOU are saying. This is important with regard to what has been said above: if you give out specific details, or dis-information, the recipient has the time to compare what others are saying. Of course, in the early game, everyone has to reflect on the truth of what they are being told.

So how can you help decide on what is true and what isn’t? In the later stages, you will have some in-game reference. A player who has misled you in the past, may well mislead you again; someone who has withheld moves from you that have affected the outcome of a phase, may well do so again. This is also important when you consider what you are going to tell your opponents at any stage: be as honest and as clear as you can. Dip isn’t a game of lying, in general; it is a game where honesty is more useful than deceit. You have to prove yourself to be trustworthy, even when you aren’t.

Also at the beginning of the game, you should try to gather as much information about the other players as you can. Of course, each game stands alone and how someone acted in one game may not be the same in THIS game. If you have played them before, you have information on how they reacted in that game. If you look at their past games, you have information about how they reacted in each specific game. These actions may well have been motivated by particular reasons; the information isn’t complete. What this research does allow, however, is the possible building of a pattern of behaviour. Is your opponent an opportunist? Is she someone who will play for a draw? Will she seek every and any opportunity to stab you? How good are her communication skills? Is she going to try something unusual? Your negotiations should take such information on board, but not rely on it. This game could be different.

So is your opponent a novice or experienced? This is an important consideration. Of course, just because someone is new to the site doesn’t mean they are a novice. That extra information should be gained by considering his communication. Someone who proposes detailed arrangements or who recognises terms such as NAP or DMZ isn’t a novice. A novice, though, may go one of two ways: he could be someone who sees the game as acquisitive and will respond to offers of SCs and could well be opportunistic. He is also likely to believe lying and deceit is more useful. Alternatively, he could well be looking to try for a long-term alliance just to survive as long as possible. In other words, a novice could well be a loose cannon. Handle with care. An experienced player, on the other hand, is less likely to lie, so read her messages carefully for what she ISN’T saying. She isn’t likely to stab for the sake of it. That means that, as long as she can’t gain significantly, she is unlikely to stab.

Is your opponent reliable? Here, that means is he prone to NMRs as well as is he likely to be a reliable ally? Someone who NMRs is not a good ally for obvious reasons. We all NMR occasionally for one reason or another, but someone who is prone to this should be only a short term ally at best. A reliable ally, on the other hand, is useful. That means you can probably count upon him staying the course as long as you don’t prevent an easy stabbing opportunity.

For me, as indicated above, when I have collated information is when I decide on my moves. I may have agreed to something definite, but if I feel this would be a mistake afterwards, I will explain – maybe completely honestly, maybe with some details held back – why I am changing the tactics. If possible, do this in plenty of time (unless you are doing so to deliberately upset your opponent) to allow a change in tactics for the other player. Even when I have made an early decision I am prepared to be flexible. The importance of the early game can’t be ignored: first impressions count.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby slippydippy » 23 Mar 2011, 02:20

Nevermind your opinion about Rick's strategy. He is only ranked eighty on the whole website.
However, he does do a reasonably important job here on the website and that is removing cheats from amongst us.
What he is is hiding is the mostrously adequate avatar passed on to him recently and his complete lack of having used it. Either fact on it's own would be a mere curiosity. Both together, and with a suggestion on my part, all add up to an inherrent lack of ability on his part. He can soot cheaters, but he can't wear a leather thong without encouragement.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby WarSmith » 23 Mar 2011, 02:24

Sage words Rick. Rich early communication is so important to having a good game - I often gauge the success of a good round of early comms by how much it can reduce the volume of comms needed later on!
Note to all new players - dont be afraid to talk too much early on, its a very important way to get information, screen potential allies, and also build the trust-level that others will have in you.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby cs » 23 Mar 2011, 05:19

Great advice. In the early stage of the game, you don't know who your allies will end up being, so I find it best to be friendly with everyone. The player you thought was going to be your partner till death may stab you in the first move, or the one who cooperated so well in Spring 1901 suddenly starts to NMR or surrenders. I generally try to pick who I think my real ally is going to be, but I try to have five back-up options. If you can add a couple of SCs and avoid committing to a real war until after Spring 1902, you'll generally be in very good shape.

Keep the good advice coming.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby cs » 23 Mar 2011, 05:27

rick.leeds wrote:A player who has misled you in the past, may well mislead you again; someone who has withheld moves from you that have affected the outcome of a phase, may well do so again. This is also important when you consider what you are going to tell your opponents at any stage: be as honest and as clear as you can. Dip isn’t a game of lying, in general; it is a game where honesty is more useful than deceit. You have to prove yourself to be trustworthy, even when you aren’t.


There are two really, really good points in this little snippet.

First, it's refreshing to hear you advise people to pay attention to what players have done in the past. Too often, people seem to suggest that one must completely forget anything other players did in past games to avoid metagaming, and that's wrong. Attacking someone to revenge yourself or helping them as a reward is metagaming; recognizing that players have patterns and using that knowledge to your advantage is not.

Second, I particularly like your point that Dip isn't (or doesn't have to be) a game of lying. In fact, lying in the early stage of the game is almost always a bad move--you've burned a bridge before you really know how the game is shaping up.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 1. The Early Game

Postby DacoTrilar » 24 Mar 2011, 13:44

Great article, early game messaging is a tough balance sometimes because you usually have to pick sides (and figure out what side everyone else is on) before you get any real information. I especially like the advice to tell the truth, but don't tell them everything. Nice to shot for, but always a challenge.
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