New Player Guide
What follows is adapted from “A New Player’s Guide to the Game of Diplomacy for Internet and Play by e-Mail,” by Edi Birsan & Lee Vining, 2009. Aside from the rules themselves, if you read only one thing before starting to play, let this article be it!
BEFORE YOU START: Your Approach to the Game
Why Do We Play Diplomacy?
As with most games, we play the game primarily to have fun and compete in an environment that is fun for you and fun for others. Diplomacy is a great game, with lots of history and a large fan base, but at the end of the day, it is after all a game. As with any contest, you may find that tensions rise and tempers flare, but you need to remember to keep everything in proper perspective. If you are not having fun, taking things that happen in the course of the game personally, or you are the one making things personal, then what are you doing playing the game? When in doubt, read the first line and remember why you are playing this game.
GETTING READY TO PLAY: Starting Your First Game
Types of Games
There are a variety of ways to play Diplomacy. The game is played in person, by phone, by mail, by email, on judges, on the Internet with human judges, and on the internet with games judged by computer programs. This guide is primarily intended to address games you will encounter while playing by email or playing on one of the several internet Diplomacy sites.
What You Don’t Want To Do
The goal, as mentioned above, is to have fun with other players who are also having fun. With that in mind, there are a number of things you want to avoid doing:
1. Don’t Be a Quitter. When you start a new game, you are playing with 6 other players who are all investing time and energy into the game the 7 of you are playing. When you put your name down to play the game, you are entering in a sort of social contract with the other players to play that game. If you end up doing poorly you may be tempted to drop out. Don’t do it! Dropping out in anger or frustration may mean that another player’s position in the game is affected by your decision not to play any longer. Remember that this is a game with 7 players, only one of whom can win, which means that 6 players do not win.
2. Don’t Play Just for Points. Winning can mean different things to different people. Some players play just to have fun, other players may play for rank, or prestige, or to interact with and make friends. If you are playing a game which awards points, regardless of what the scoring or ranking system is for the site you are playing on (including this one), you should realize that playing for points is less common than you might think. One of the wonders of the Diplomacy game and gaming hobby is that there is no consensus on the ultimate scale of achievement. How many draws equal a win? What is the value of having more centers than another player at the end of the game? What is the difference between being eliminated 6 times and winning once, versus having 7 games ending in 7-way draws? All ranking systems are arbitrary, and systems that measure success have been subject to debate for over 50 years. And yes, the hobby is over 50 years old, and was played by post (snail mail if you wish) before the Internet was even conceived.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Communicate Your Situation to Other Players. Despite everything you can do, you might have a personal disaster that interferes with your ability to finish the game you started. Clearly this should be a rare occurrence; but if this happens, and you simply cannot continue, communicate that fact to the other players in your game and on your site. Consider posting a notice in the site’s forums looking for a replacement player, apologize to the other players in the game, and remove yourself gracefully from the game. You don’t need to tell anyone the gory details of your story if you don’t want to, but remember that nobody likes to be walked out on without any explanation at all. Remember, we are Diplomacy players — do you really want to turn your back on us?
4. Don't Cheat. This is simply a matter of fair play. While in a game of Diplomacy the players will deceive and lie to each other to gain advantage, no one should deceive or lie to the Gamemaster if your game is has a human judge or the site moderators or administrators. While there are different ways to cheat, for online games one of the most important rules is: YOU MAY NEVER PLAY IN A GAME AS MULTIPLE POWERS. If the site allows multiple accounts then YOU MAY ONLY HAVE ONE ACCOUNT IN ANY SPECIFIC GAME. Failure to abide by these rules means you are cheating and you will be expelled. Though it is less likely to happen, YOU MAY NOT HACK INTO THE SITE’S SYSTEM FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER, NOR MAY YOU PHISH/HACK/STEAL SOMEONE ELSES PASSWORD TO MESS WITH HIS OR HER ACCOUNT, ORDERS OR IN GAME CORRESPONDANCE. This is also cheating and will result in your being banned from the site.
About Your First Game and What to Do
You’re starting a new game and don’t know what to expect, right? Diplomacy is a game of negotiation, player interaction, and strategy focused more on the 7 players around the game board (real or virtual) than the 22 game pieces that start on it. Keep this in mind, since if you don’t interact with the other players, your chances of success are slim indeed. Here are some activities and actions you might consider to improve your chances of having a successful game.
When a game starts, you and the other players should get an announcement that the game has begun.
A. You should write to every single player on the board. Communication is often the difference between having good opportunities and bad ones. What should you talk about? Whatever you want! You can ask about neighboring provinces, attacks, defenses, plans, rumors, secret or open agreements, style choices, or even what their favorite color is. The most important thing is that you have written to everyone, starting the communication, and this tells them that you are in the game, on board, and you are willing to talk. Note there are some variations where player communication is either limited or removed, so be sure you are not in one of those Gunboat (no talking) games.
B. You may wish to write a note in Public Press which then goes to everyone. Introduce yourself, wish everyone good luck, tell a joke or whatever you want to do. Now, you should be aware that experienced players may attempt to hide their involvement in the game for strategic reasons. They may not communicate with a neighbor because they don’t want to reveal their intentions, or they may want to be able help another player in bluffing you that they are non-responsive and perhaps might not order moves or something. Generally I find that I prefer to communicate as opposed to that kind of subterfuge, but know that you will encounter both kinds of behavior and it is up to you to figure out what it means.
Myself, I prefer to write an introduction of myself typically, something along the lines of “Hi there, I am Edi Birsan, age 59, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been playing for a while and I like to play in game conventions Face-to-Face. If you are interested you can write to me at EdiBirsan AT astound DOT net.” Note: There are many younger players who may feel uncomfortable with providing such details, and that is fine. I would simply suggest that you say something less personal. Anything from “Hi there, I am a student and I like sports. I found out about this game from my History Teacher who is giving me extra credit if I do well here so please give me all your centers since I have no clue about history and need all the help I can get.” to a simple “Welcome Everyone” would suffice. The important thing is to break the ice and let everyone know you are alive.
What Should You Expect When Replacing an Abandoned Power in an On-Going Game?
Taking over another player’s position brings with it all the challenges of a new game plus some extra problems. All of the things mentioned above under new games apply to existing games, but usually your need to get communication going is even more urgent. Taking over an abandoned position can help new players learn the game faster, since they get to see and experience an established position’s moves, orders, correspondence, and strategy. However, most abandoned powers have poor positions, so these new players often sign up for a replacement position and wind up taking over a declining or almost-eliminated power. Often they are surrounded, being attacked by one or more players who plan to wipe the country out. Players in existing games may actually be annoyed that you have taken over this declining country because they were counting on walking into your last remaining centers without opposition. You’re in a tough spot, so what do you do? Consider the following:
A. Take the public position that you have entered the game and look forward to meeting all the players and having some fun. You know you’re in a poor spot, but you’re just hoping to help everyone finish the game without further delays due to lack of submitted orders and communication. This explains that you are not a suicidal masochist who has no clue what you are doing, and/or accidentally hit the wrong key and walked into a buzz saw of pre-existing alliances.
B. Review the correspondence sent to your country, and the former player’s replies if you have them. Respond to the last few messages with the idea of at least communicating with the players, whether friends or enemies, who are now confronted with a whole new player. This tells them that you are not ignorant of the past history of the game, and that you bothered to pay attention and follow up on your broadcast that you want to know the people you’re playing with and have fun.
C. Communication is a key component of eventual success, as most players will agree. Players/powers are more inclined to respond favorably to you if they have built up a rapport with you through ongoing communication with them. Use that as a survival skill, since it often is! It may not be fair, but the cute puppy is usually adopted before the ugly one right? When playing online, your communication becomes your persona; it becomes you, at least to the other players. Be personable, even if it might be a stretch for you.
D. Ignore the size relationship between your countries and try to talk to everyone as an equal. Intelligently going over the tactical, strategic and diplomatic situations that you see with the other players, and asking for their help in understanding it, might gain you new opportunities the player before you did not take the time to discover or develop. Again, if you act like a victim you will be one. Communicating can’t always save the power you take over, but it sure can’t hurt.
What About When the Game Is About to End?
In Face-to-Face games (FtF or F2F) there is a long-standing tradition of shaking everyone’s hand when you are eliminated and you leave the game and the table. This is good gamesmanship and a reminder that it is a game after all. When you are killed off (and it happens to all of us who stick around no matter how good you become) thank the other players for their time and participation, even in-game enemies. Giving other players compliments for good play can’t hurt, and comments on what you might look to do better show the other players you are committed to improving yourself for the next game. Likewise if you are playing and someone is eliminated, thank them for their time and efforts and wish them better results next time, don’t gloat or exult in their elimination, since this will only cause hard feelings. You will learn to appreciate your opponents in the game, even if that person was a “double dealing backstabbing Boston Red Sox fan”, or whatever your poison of choice might be. The fact is, without all 7 players the game is very different both in playability and level of enjoyment. Above all, remember that it could have been you walking away first from the table.
Though not expected when playing in person, on-line players will occasionally consider writing an EoG or AAR (End of Game, After Action Report) detailing their game experience, strategies, and the results from their point of view. It is common and even expected in some occasions, and it is an opportunity for each player to talk about what they did, why they did it, assuage their own egos, or even offer excuses or make amends. Explaining why you did what you did helps show the other players you just stabbed for your solo win that you are not really the lowest kind of pond scum in the game. Remember that blaming the system for your loss or situation, launching personal attacks, or continuing in-game conflicts generally does not go over well. Instead it may make you appear to be a rotten loser. Sincerity, honesty and an effort to help the other players understand your actions are key, while poor grammar and spelling on the other hand is often overlooked.
GAME MECHANICS AND HOW THEY AFFECT THE GAME
For most veteran and elite players, all the countries are a balance of opportunities and challenges, with all powers being roughly the same. New players often find it hardest to play Austria, Italy or Germany. One of the reasons for this is that both Austria and Germany are often under a lot of pressure to communicate with the other powers on the board. Further, if your communications go poorly those countries are “center” powers and can be more easily attacked by the edge countries. New players tend to go into a tailspin when things start to go wrong, because they don’t understand what it might take to recover their position. They have not experienced the joy of a comeback from the cliff of elimination, or the sheer enjoyment of playing a really good game in an eventually losing position. If you talk to elite players about their favorite games you will find that nearly everyone has a story about a game they did not win but was a ton of fun anyway. Italy is also often a hard country to play for new players because it can be hard to see your best set of options and how to commit to that strategy without causing a self-destructive sequence of events. New players will dither about in Italy, unable to see a path to follow for a chance at victory. Whatever the country assignments happen to be in your game, remember why we play. In this guide are some things to help you get through the game in the best possible shape.
There are 12 neutral supply centers at the start. They are placed about the board in historically significant areas in Europe. They are like minor powers waiting to be absorbed by the major powers in the game. They will typically go to nearby powers in the early game, as noted in the list below, but remember that some openings will target the typical disposition of these centers. The list shows you what you might see from a group of Veteran players (Elite Players expect that everything is theirs).
Greece: Typically Austrian in 01, since he can force it unless Italy and Turkey combine
Portugal and Spain: French
Denmark and Holland: German
Belgium: up for grabs between France/Germany/England
Sweden: a Russian target that can be bounced by Germany going to Denmark in Spring 01.
There are a finite number of moves and, over time, typical openings for each country have emerged. These openings are what you might see, but certainly there is nothing that says you will see all or most of these in any specific game. Strategy and diplomacy will determine what you actually see from each other player, and what you do yourself with your own moves. The most common (and sometimes boring) openings for each country are listed below in the following list.
Austria: F Tri-Alb, A Bud-Ser, A Vie-Gal
England: F Lon-Nth, F Edi-Nwg, A Lvp-Yor
France: F Bre-Mid, A Par-Bur, A Mar-Spa
Germany: F Kie-Den, A Ber-Kie, A Mun-Ruh
Italy: F Nap-Ion, A Rom-Apu, A Ven holds
Russia: F StP/sc-Bot, F Sev-Bla, A War-Gal, A Mos-Ukr
Turkey: F Ank-Bla, A Con-Bul, A Smy-Con
Note that these openings have been given names by various people, and if you read strategy articles for opening moves you will see these names, but for a new player it is simply best to know what they are.
Uncommon and Named Openings
There are literally over 100+ openings between the 7 powers that have been named and are recognized as openings that are realistic in giving a power a chance to succeed in the game. The mathematicians amongst us will tell you that there are a million possibilities, but some openings are so poor that no one would realistically try them in any game they hoped to win. Fortunately for us, this game is not about numbers — so you can ignore the math at this point. You will find that experienced players may toss around some named openings such as: Lepanto, Sealion, Koningratz Freak Out, Two North Two South, Ionian Gambit, and others. We will not go over these here, but it is not that tough to educate yourself. Just put the names into a Google search with the addition of Diplomacy Game, i.e. “Lepanto Diplomacy Game” and you should be able to find them. There are a large number of excellent resources for the new player, and you might consider going to the Diplomacy Archives at www.diplom.org. The resource section there has many hours of educational reading for anyone that is interested. Still, if you can’t find the information you need, or you’re desperate, you can ask me or any other experienced player. Most should be willing to help you out.
Questions You Should Ask the Other Players in Spring 1901
I will list some questions each specific country should ask at the start of the game (below). However, there are several basic questions every player in any position should want to know:
A. Have you played with any of these players before, and how did it go?
B. How long have you been playing?
C. What is happening in: (pick one) Galicia, Black Sea, and Belgium?
The first thing to consider is that this is Diplomacy, and the responses you get could very well be lies told to you to try to influence the decisions you make in the game. Even if they lie to you though, all is not lost right? If they lie to you that tells you something too, doesn’t it? However, assuming you decide you can trust the answers, they will give you some good information. The answers to A and B will give you an idea what you might expect from other players in your game that you yourself have not played with. The kind of response you get and the style of the writing that the player uses to answer B tells you a lot about the player himself. The Answers to C are universal to all games and they help you understand the strategic situation of the board even if you don’t learn anything through your diplomatic efforts. Now, it is again important to note that experienced players may use feints and misdirection, especially in the early game, in order to hide their true intentions while trying to see what you and the other players will do. However, elite players will rarely lie for foolish reasons. Remember that when considering the following situations.
What is happening in Galicia? If there is a bounce in Galicia then the Austrians are probably not going to cover Trieste, so Italy has an opportunity to go there. If Italy knows there is a bounce and does not go to attack Austria, it may mean they are more inclined to work together, right? Does it mean that Italy has another target in mind, and are you that target?
What is happening in the Black Sea? If there is a bounce in the Black Sea, figuring out what it means makes you ask some additional questions. Is there a move by Turkey to Armenia too? If not, it tells you that Turkey is much less likely to open up with an attack on the Russians, since most of the time the Turks like to stab the Russians right off the bat with a move to Armenia and the Black Sea both. Sometimes a mutual bounce is arranged between powers as the first step to further cooperation, which could pose a real problem for other nearby powers. It also may mean that there is probably going to be a Russian army heading for Rumania through the Ukraine rather than a Russian fleet. This poses a significantly greater danger to Austria.
What is happening in Belgium? If there is a Spring 1901 decision on who is getting Belgium between France, Germany, and England, and you are not in that group, then you may not know the results until the Fall turn when someone takes it. However, if there is clear agreement on who gets Belgium, then it is a sign that the West is organizing together, perhaps for a triple alliance that will move east quickly. If the decision is that England is going to get Belgium, and this is not disputed by a move from France or Germany, then the follow-up question is whether it is with a fleet or an army. A fleet is generally less dangerous to either France or Germany and may be a symbol of an unsettled situation in the west, but one that is not yet openly hostile. If it is an army, it is a much greater danger to both countries, and is usually a sign that there will be fighting in the west very soon. Remember it is important to consider both the moves that work, and the ones that don’t, in thinking about what your opponents might be doing. An English convoy of an army to Belgium, which is supported by a French unit and which bounces a German army that tried to go there too is probably a bad sign for Germany, right?
Specific Questions Each Country Will Want to Ask and Consider When Looking at the Board
Austria: Is Germany going to open with Fleet Kiel to Denmark? This tells you immediately whether there is even a possibility of Germany keeping the Russians out of Sweden in 1901. Are the Turks going to Armenia? Are the Italians interested in going West? Are the Italians interested in going to Tyrolia to threaten the Germans while having Rome go to Apulia? As Austria you do not want the Italians in Tyrolia AND Venice, as that is asking for an attack and is the opening move of a powerful Italian gambit to take advantage of Austria’s going into the Balkans.
England: What is going on in the English Channel? Does France want a DMZ and will the French agree not to build fleets in Brest? Does France ask that you not build fleets in Liverpool? Where is the German Fleet Kiel going? A move to Holland could mean that he is on board for an attack on France, and it also means that Russia will get Sweden for sure in 1901 which is a sign of friendship between them in the North. What does Austria say about Italy? Italy may lie to you about going against France to suck you into moving to the Channel while he goes East. This leaves you with a France that is upset at you and may attack you and leave Italy alone. You might get a clue here from your Diplomatic efforts if the Austrians or the Turks tell you that Italy is interested in the East not the west. Where is Russia going with Army Moscow? North to St Petersburg is potentially a problem for you and may indicate a 1902 attack in Scandinavia.
France: Is England willing to DMZ the Channel and give up building Fleets in Liverpool? Is Germany looking to build three, and if so, what are the units they say they want? As France you probably want Germany to be interested in building one fleet to keep England from completely controlling the seas. Is Russia going Two North (Army Moscow to St. Petersburg, Fleet St. Petersburg to Bothnia)? As this threatens the English in Norway it may give you an option. Is Italy interested in going for Munich and will he build an ARMY from that build? If Italy is totally focused on being a fleet power then there will probably be an early conflict with France or Turkey, usually no later than the start of the Mid game period (after someone has been destroyed).
Germany: Will France stay out of Burgundy? Will France build fleets and go after England? France with a balance of fleets and armies will be a midgame threat to Germany. The role of the Italians is important to see whether the French will be occupied in the south. What is Russia saying about the south? Will they be targeting the Austrians with both Italy and Turkey and, if so, what do you think will happen next? This is important to consider as it may help you decide if you want to keep the Russians out of Sweden to slow them down, or maybe shift units in the west with the English to clean the Russians out of the North entirely.
Italy: What is going on in the Channel? Does it look like the English and the Germans are interested in a long term alliance, and what does that mean to you? Are the Russians talking about killing the Austrians but silent about what happens after that? That could mean they are hoping to get your help now but help Turkey against you later. Are the Russians talking about working with the Turks and then going north? That means that you are going to be faced by a strong Turkey in a head-to-head battle with no help from behind, even if Russia and Turkey don’t gang up on you. What does the Austrian tell you of the English and German relations? This gives you an indication as to what to expect in the north and that may make the Russian question easier especially if you know England and Germany are going south to fight France and won’t put any pressure on Russia.
Russia: What is going on in the Channel, and are the French interested in a dynamic, out-of-the-gate attack on someone? Is it England or Germany they want to attack? Try to find out what the Germans are doing with their fleet. If they are going to Denmark then you should talk straight up about Sweden in the Fall so there are no misunderstandings as to what a bounce in Sweden means. Do not be afraid to ask straight up if he is going to bounce you, and try to find out what his thinking is. This way you can have a little reaction time to deal with it and consider maybe working with the English to have the English go to Denmark as you go to the Baltic to punish the Germans for being so aggressive. What is going to happen in the East after the first attacks? By this I mean you should LISTEN to what other people are saying about what happens after the fall or either Turkey or Austria. Where will they go next? Do you have an option there yourself?
Turkey: Are the Russians going north with Army Moscow? Are the Italians interested in going all out against the Austrians and then turning west while you go North? Will the French and English be working long term together? This would mean whatever you do in the east needs to happen on a very short schedule as you have to have it sorted out in time to shift fleets into the Mediterranean to stop the French or roll them back. Are the Germans going to Denmark and what does it take for the Germans to bounce the Russians out in Sweden? You want this info whether you are working with or against the Russians by the way.
This is already a lot longer than I would like it to be, but Diplomacy is both a simple game to play and complex game to truly understand, as you will find out. It at least gets you started though and should help you through your first games. There are plenty of resources out there for you on how to play specific countries and different alliances, problems of negotiations including things like self-fulfilling prophesies, and the normal issues of lies and trust. I hope you will find, as I do, that the game is really more about trust than it is lies, but that is different subject… trust me.
Good luck to you in your games. Go out there,
Have Fun and Make it Fun for Others!