Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

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Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby rick.leeds » 14 Apr 2011, 18:28

So there you, rolling along nicely and your alliance is looking good. A likely 3-way, as you and your ally are facing up to a strong opponent from the other side of the board. There are two smaller powers in the game, but really they won’t be around for much longer. In the back of your mind, you are looking to grab the solo, of course, but you need to wait just a little longer before betraying the alliance... let’s see if you can damage the enemy first. You open the game, eager to see how your alliance has made progress and...

Wait! What’s this? What does she think she’s doing? Your ally has taken on the mantle of perfidiousness and, against all reason, stabbed you! You lost two Centres to her alone and, believe it or not, she actually helped one of those minor powers grab an SC too! How DARE she!?! That deserves a rough message... doesn’t it?

Actually, no it doesn’t. Think. Deep breaths. Why did she stab you? How could it have been avoided? Really there’s no definitive way to avoid an ally stabbing you. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. The only things you can do are place your units with care, watch you don’t stretch your “supply lines” too thinly and look for the opportunities your opponent has to stab you. Did you do that? Or did you allow things to get out of hand? Whose fault is the stab, really? Usually, you are at fault for a stab. I say “usually” thinking back to what I wrote in the previous article on how to stab. I’m assuming it wasn’t simply an opportunist thing and there is no evidence, given the above situation, that it was simply maliciousness. So how could it have been avoided?

Placing your units is important. If you move them in such a way that your ally is able to slide easily in behind you, it’s asking for trouble. Keep your back door shut. This needs to be balanced, of course: if you spend all your time and resources on preventing any possible stab, you are going to lose ground to the more expansionist powers. You might be secure but your opponents will be gaining SCs and you won’t be. So the key is making sure you keep just enough units hanging around your frontier with an ally as well as making sure you make some progress each year, either in gaining SCs or making sure the tactical position is progressing, and preferably both. It also means good, clear negotiation. Who is going to gain which SC, how to support each other, discussing what builds are going to be acceptable to you and your ally.

Alongside this is the need to make sure you don’t over-stretch yourself. Occasionally having a rogue unit behind enemy lines is good. Stretching yourself thin, in order to push into enemy territory or break through a potential stalemate line, are fraught with problems should your ally decide to stab you. Those units are away from your core units: they don’t help with any potential defence. As part of a carefully thought through campaign, a quick attack is fine but it needs to be decisive. Sending three units to gain one SC, when they are separating themselves from the core, is going to offer you up for a potential stab. Ideally, you need to be able to gain almost the same number of units at home as the number of units being sent out. This also needs to be balanced with the state of your empire. In the earlier stages, builds at home will be able to shore up the defence easily. In the latter stages, though, your empire will be more far-reaching and being able to build units at home may not be as immediately useful to defend what you have.

Where your gains balanced? One of the reasons behind your ally’s thinking might well have been that she was losing ground to you, or perhaps the situation looked as if you were going to make the gains in coming years. Yes, she may well have taken the time to mention this in a message but she didn’t. But is that her fault? What impression did you give earlier in the alliance that would have encouraged her to suggest you give up a centre or two to balance out the gains you were likely to make? Of course, you were thinking about the solo and maybe giving those SCs up might have meant that wasn’t possible. The solution: look after your ally. Be prepared to put lots of time into messaging, and be prepared to recognise the danger of unbalancing the alliance. A full balance isn’t always necessary: you don’t absolutely need to have the same number of SCs; just don’t allow it to seem that you are getting too far ahead, without making positional decisions along you mutual borders that would discourage a potential stab.

Looking out for clues is also going to help. What are they? The very visible clues, of course, are what the power’s units do. If they manoeuvre to possibly threaten you, they are likely to be threatening you. Make sure you know what is happening. Don’t simply take the explanation at place value: test the validity of the reasoning. More importantly, though, is to think about the messages you have received.

There is a theory called Integrative Complexity, used to predict the outbreak of hostilities in the real world. It can also help in Dip. It concerns changes in information processing. In other words, if the complexity of the negotiation changes, the ally could well be losing interest in the alliance and preparing to stab. So if your ally was happy to swap complicated and detailed negotiations before, and this grows less detailed, watch out! But take care with this: if the ally usually responded with little detail, then the situation may not have changed. A good way to try and maintain an alliance is to try and elevate the level of detail in discussion and see how your ally responds.

So make sure you are defensively secure; make sure your units aren’t getting ahead of themselves; make sure you think about how your ally will respond to a mis-balance in SCs; make sure you watch your ally, and take notice of her messages and the detail in them. Sometimes you just fall prey to a stab; at other times, you ask for it.

Now, what are you going to do about that message?
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby cs » 14 Apr 2011, 18:53

Great guidance. If it looks like an ally is preparing to stab you, they probably are.

Rick, is there any way you can consolidate all of these pieces into a single place, whether it's a sub-form or something else? The advice is really good, but it will be more useful if people can access it easily all in one place. I'm afraid that it will eventually just get buried far enough down the forums that new players won't access it enough.

Personally, I'd vote to put it all in a single forum and add a permanent link on the home page.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby fellowes » 14 Apr 2011, 19:50

rick.leeds wrote:In other words, if the complexity of the negotiation changes, the ally could well be losing interest in the alliance and preparing to stab. So if your ally was happy to swap complicated and detailed negotiations before, and this grows less detailed, watch out! But take care with this: if the ally usually responded with little detail, then the situation may not have changed. A good way to try and maintain an alliance is to try and elevate the level of detail in discussion and see how your ally responds.


This is sometimes the case, but I know of many occasions, especially as a stalemate position is approached, that negotiations get less complex, at the same time as the likelihood of a stab plummets. Say a 3-way alliance is holding off a solo, the only meaningful messages are often along the lines of: "I'll have Ionian support Tunis to hold, so he can't get through there - you focus on maximimzing your forces around the Tyrhennian and holding Piedmont", which often covers a turn or even a year, as opposed to the sometimes several multi-paragraph detailed messages I more often tend towards earlier when dealing with complex scenarios, where there's actually a shot I might stab (as opposed to forming a stalemate line, when such a stab would be suicidal, and I would never do it).
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby Baneslayer » 14 Apr 2011, 21:11

This article comes a little bit too soon :D
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby MasterGR » 14 Apr 2011, 23:21

Nice article, it's along the lines of how I try to play diplomacy :)
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby DacoTrilar » 15 Apr 2011, 02:15

Great articles, I agree with cs that these should be collected somewhere for new players. Wisdom of Rick sub-forum?
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby rick.leeds » 15 Apr 2011, 16:08

cs wrote:Great guidance. If it looks like an ally is preparing to stab you, they probably are.

Rick, is there any way you can consolidate all of these pieces into a single place, whether it's a sub-form or something else? The advice is really good, but it will be more useful if people can access it easily all in one place. I'm afraid that it will eventually just get buried far enough down the forums that new players won't access it enough.

Personally, I'd vote to put it all in a single forum and add a permanent link on the home page.

I have a cunning plan.... ;)

fellowes wrote:
rick.leeds wrote:In other words, if the complexity of the negotiation changes, the ally could well be losing interest in the alliance and preparing to stab. So if your ally was happy to swap complicated and detailed negotiations before, and this grows less detailed, watch out! But take care with this: if the ally usually responded with little detail, then the situation may not have changed. A good way to try and maintain an alliance is to try and elevate the level of detail in discussion and see how your ally responds.

This is sometimes the case, but I know of many occasions, especially as a stalemate position is approached, that negotiations get less complex, at the same time as the likelihood of a stab plummets. Say a 3-way alliance is holding off a solo, the only meaningful messages are often along the lines of: "I'll have Ionian support Tunis to hold, so he can't get through there - you focus on maximimzing your forces around the Tyrhennian and holding Piedmont", which often covers a turn or even a year, as opposed to the sometimes several multi-paragraph detailed messages I more often tend towards earlier when dealing with complex scenarios, where there's actually a shot I might stab (as opposed to forming a stalemate line, when such a stab would be suicidal, and I would never do it).

True and the game situation needs to be considered. There ARE times when you get to the situation where neither of you are sending complex messages, but if I'm sending a complex message and I get a simple message back - and I've been receiving complex messages all along - it is going to set alarm bells ringing. In other words, if the need is there for complex negotiations, and your "ally" isn't sending them, when she once was, then you have to wonder what is happening.

Incidentally, if you are preparing to stab, and you have been swapping complex messages, don't drop that practice! Keeping them complex will let your victim bask in your continuing alliance 8-)
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby DacoTrilar » 15 Apr 2011, 22:03

rick.leeds wrote:Incidentally, if you are preparing to stab, and you have been swapping complex messages, don't drop that practice! Keeping them complex will let your victim bask in your continuing alliance 8-)


I like sending complex messages to allies I'm about to stab, although it can seem like a lot of work.
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Re: Playing Dip Adequately - 7. Avoiding a Stab

Postby lannes » 15 Apr 2011, 22:46

Have to keep sending those messages. Nothing is more frustrating then when someone talks to me all game, then mysteriously stops talking before it looks like they have a chance to stab me. Nothing telegraphs a stab more than complete lack of communication. It gives me notice every time. It just kind of upsets me that anyone makes that mistake, I mean the name of the game is diplomacy. Get me to move a certain way by talking to me, not just jump into a territory and hope someone will not be there the next turn.
That's not even really a stab. A stab is setting someone up, telling them where to move and promising support. Then going to someone else and foiling their moves, and slipping in behind them. Convoying their army to some distant useless place, malignantly supporting a bounce so you can slip in, now there is a good stab. Ohhh, I love it!
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