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Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 17 Mar 2019, 15:05
by Mr.E
When you're playing Diplomacy, there is one huge factor that only the foolish ignore. It's there, sitting on the board, or squatting in your mind waiting to rest it's serious weight against your paranoia button. It is that well-known elephant with sharpened tusks called "Betrayal".

With seven players in a game, you can't win on your own. You need allies. But those allies are all trying to win, too, so why the Hell should they help you?

Well, because you and they have similar objectives, probably. There are other reasons for building an alliance: maybe they're friendly, chatty peeps that you simply get on with; or perhaps they actually communicate while the others just nod your way with one-liners... if they acknowledge you at all. But, in terms of the game, they are your allies because you're useful to them and they're useful to you.

At some point, though - leaving aside the fallacy of the drawmongers' philosophy - your ally is going to become your enemy. Perhaps she's done better than you from your cooperation, or you've done better than her; perhaps you just realise that you need to go your own way. But it will reach the point where one of you will look at the board, weigh your options and decide that the alliance is past its use by date.

And there she is, the trumpeter. That strong, comforting trunk that carried the alliance has suddenly contracted and someone finds themselves on the point of those tusks. Nelly hasn't just packed her bags and gone away, she's trampled someone underfoot and rumbled off to join another herd.

For now, though, that threat is someway off. But it's there, a great grey giant looming in the distance, ears waving their warning of the impending charge. So, what do you do about it?

Elephants are pretty damn difficult to ignore. When one comes trundling in your direction, you better have your bucket and spade ready. Not for the elephant's mess, but your own. So don't try and ignore it. Acknowledge it.

Betrayal is - or should be - part of Diplomacy. Every player should be playing to win, and a win means establishing your dominance over the board. But to do that, you're going to have to secure allies who help you along the way. Often, your earliest ally will be an immediate neighbour. But, as the game progresses, this initial ally becomes the power with the nearest SCs to capture. At this point is he a help or a hindrance to you?

Of course, at the same time, the other players are looking at you in a similar way.

So you and your ally have eliminated the unlucky third part in the equation. You now have a different reality to face... well, you've probably been considering it for a while: What happens next? And there, away among the trees in the Forest of Uncertainty, is the sound of someone blowing their nose - if their nose was over a metre long - and Dumbo tromps into sight, felling trees as he comes. The scary thing? That you lost sight of it a while ago.

The elephant is always there, it's just that we're good at screening out the uncomfortable truth of that. We refuse to see the gargantuan threat that we are, at some point, going to be betrayed, or that we will need to betray someone else. And suddenly it's here. It isn't Babar after all, it's frigging Jumbo!

Embrace the elephant. Betrayal is a part of the game.

When the elephant comes charging towards you, get as far away from it's route as possible. There'll be damage... but if you've been vigilant, even the one that jumps out at you from behind the acacia tree won't be completely unexpected. You can't stop it, but you can be prepared for it. Let it pass and deal with what is left.

Less metaphorically, when you've been betrayed, start again. Don't sit there nursing your wounds, sending vicious looks and vindictive messages the way of your betrayer, but rather congratulate her. It doesn't matter if you think the stab was ill-timed, or unnecessary, acknowledge her choice and find out why she sent Tantor your way, if you can. You may still be able to fix the damage. And, if you can't, or if the trampling was fatal, acknowledge the success of the stab.

Of course, you should also be looking at where you might find someone else with a giant or two ready to be unleashed. It mightn't be possible or necessary to pay her back straight away, but having it waiting in the wings can be good (if only for your battered sense of vengeance).

If you can, keep your allies sweet until you don't need them any more. Ideally, it's you who should be Hannibal, after all.

Most of all, though, you need to recognise that you are going to betray others, and that others are going to betray you. There's no doubt that Diplomacy is a game where you need allies to progress, but it is also a game where you need to betray your allies to win... and where your allies will betray you. Betraying and being betrayed doesn't have to be about worrying where and when Stampy will strike. It can be about playing with Shep.

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 17 Mar 2019, 19:07
by David E. Cohen
Here is a man with the proper attitude toward the Game.

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 17 Mar 2019, 19:23
by Shyvve
Excellent post, Mr. E,

I've taken the liberty of directing this post to the players in a game I'm currently mentoring. Thanks!

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 17 Mar 2019, 21:37
by AKFD
What a great post!

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 18 Mar 2019, 01:16
by MrMeme
There's no doubt that Diplomacy is a game where you need allies to progress, but it is also a game where you need to betray your allies to win... and where your allies will betray you.


A well written and important reminder for players of this game:
"A friend is just an enemy who hasn't attacked you yet"
-Skipper the Penguin

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 18 Mar 2019, 14:13
by dib
if ONLy there was a like button oh yeah there is a heart

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 18 Mar 2019, 20:45
by OldBaldGuy
Good post.

Another thing to remind your mentors - "It's business, not personal" I see to many who get angry and then make irrational moves 'to get even'

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 19 Mar 2019, 10:17
by Mr.E
OldBaldGuy wrote:Another thing to remind your mentors - "It's business, not personal" I see to many who get angry and then make irrational moves 'to get even'

You know, there will always be people who make vengeance the thrust to their game. But that's good for those of you who don't.

For most of these Revengers, that means you can pretty much successfully predict what they are going to do: come after you. Which is good.

They'll spit fire and brimstone at you, threaten you, sulk, etc and you know what to expect. So let them. If you like - and you're not opposed to this type of play - nudge them along.

But OBG's right, it isn't the best thing to do. Well, half right... it isn't the best thing to show you're going to do.

It might be that vengeance is the right thing to do. I've got to say, not very often, but on the occasion when it is, don't show it. At least appear to be accepting.

But try to stay rational. If the action you want to take is potentially going to end your game, then take another couple of looks at it.

Vengeance is best served cold. Work out the best way to do it, and be unpredictable in how and when you carry it out.

Again, though, vengeance isn't the best way forward in a lot of situations, or deferring that ice cream is better.

Re: Embracing the Elephant

PostPosted: 28 Jul 2019, 20:28
by Philistine
I don't think suicidal vengeance would ever help you win a game, but there is something to be said for the threat of suicidal vengeance. In a tight position, the best deterrant for the betrayal elephant might be to convince other players that you're seriously loco - if you are stabbed, you won't hesitate to make irrational moves for the sole purpose of taking them down with you. The more credibility you have built during the game (and outside it), the more likely a stabber will think twice before drawing their dagger. Of course, if that fails - do you follow up the threat or not?

I wonder how much consideration I should give this when deciding to stab. Paradoxically, should I be more wary of making a (non-fatal) stab on a newbie, carebearish player than a jaded, experienced one who is less likely to throw self-interest to the winds to pay me back ?