DIP 101: Introduction to Diplomacy

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Lecture #7: Strategy: Geography is Destiny? 1 of 2

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:24

Lecture #7: Strategy: Geography is Destiny? 1 of 2

Back in lecture #1, I wrote, "The key relationships at the start are dictated by geography; the powers nearest to you will be most critical in the opening." The next strategy lectures (this one and another later on) revisit the concept of the effect of geography on the game in more detail.

The powers are often analyzed based where they sit among two "triangles",
the western triangle: England-France-Germany, and
the eastern triangle: Austria-Russia-Turkey.

Italy, and to a lesser extent Russia, are swing powers that have a foot in both spheres. Italy, outside of either triangle, can choose which to address first. Russia, while firmly in the east, starts with fleet StP, a unit that that can only be used in the west.

Most games evolve with each of the two triangles breaking into 2 v 1 conflicts in the opening. Why does this happen? The answer lies in the interplay of geography and diplomacy.

First, the central powers of Germany & Austria, usually decide that war in the opening between them is suicidal, making all too possible a devastating 2-front war should the powers on the edge of the board choose to take advantage. Instead, they "put their backs to each other" and face the edge. By doing so, they create a wall in the middle of the board that separates the east and west.

Second, the corner powers of England and Turkey are much more prone to grow through one of the powers in their triangle, and this in turn focuses the attention of ALL three powers in each triangle on one another. It doesn't necessarily make E & T targets in their triangles, but it makes resolving relationships within the triangles a priority for the participants.

Finally, as I mentioned in that first lecture, 2-way alliances are the most common because they are the simplest form of cooperation. It is natural for a 2-way alliance to gang up on the third member of their triangle, the odd power out.

Of course there can be exceptions; France can pursue a Mediterranean strategy, Russia or England can pursue a northern strategy, and Austria can look west just as Germany can look east. Such strategies however are not usually successful without a diplomatic framework that resolves the applicable triangle, so that the power does not become the target of the other two. In addition, some triple alliances may upset the resolution of the triangles, but the fact that they are harder to create and sustain diplomatically, makes them less common.

What do you do with this insight? Ask yourself, how has your triangle evolved? Are you on the larger or smaller side of a 2 v 1 conflict? If you are on the smaller/losing side, what are you going to do diplomatically to change that? If you are on the winning side, is your triangle resolving faster than the other? If not, what are you going to do to address a potential threat from the other side of the board? If so, how are you going to take advantage of it? These are some of the principle effects geography should have on your strategic thinking.

AN ASIDE IN CLOSING.

Some players feel that geography favors certain alliances or creates certain enemies. You definitely get that impression from a great number of the country-specific strategy articles that are out there.

Personally, I am in the camp that any combination of powers can work together with good diplomacy. In short, relationships can trump geography. However, when you are in a game, the biases that players bring to the power they are playing is part of the diplomatic framework that you need to figure out as you develop your strategy. You will not be successful in forming an alliance with a player that is convinced that geography dictates your two powers must fight.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

The creator of Diplomacy, Allan Calhamer wrote an article describing the effect geography on the game including diagram that came to be known as a "Calhamer network."

www.diplomacy-archive.com/resources/calhamer/across_board.htm

Figure 2 shows the two triangles I have described above. Figure 6 adds an additional connection (Italy-Turkey) which most players today acknowledge as important (it wasn't always so in the beginning of the hobby.)

Richard Sharp literally wrote the book on the game, The Game of Diplomacy. Sharp was a big player and publisher in the early days of the postal hobby. I do not agree with everything he writes (and it is said that Sharp himself changed his mind about some of the opinions expressed in the book), however, he is widely read so you should be aware of him. His views on the German-Austrian relationship, and his strategy for them which he dubbed "Anschluss", have been very influential.

www.diplomacy-archive.com/god.htm
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Lecture #8: The Odd Power Out

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:25

Lecture #8: The Odd Power Out

Let's review: Diplomacy is a numbers game where greater numbers win, and it is a game of cooperation where it is common to see an alliance of two powers form against one. So, what do you do if you find yourself the one against two in the opening, the odd power out?

In most cases, you have only one principle tool: diplomacy. An OPO must try to split up the attacking alliance or else get help from other powers on the board.

There are many techniques to try to split an alliance, just remember, you are usually going to be negotiating from a position of weakness if you are the OPO. Still, you can:
* offer to be the junior partner in an alliance with one or even both of the attackers;
* offer to support one attacker into the SCs of the other;
* threaten to give your SCs to one and not the other attacker;
* point out that after you are gone, the other guy is next.

As for getting an ally from somewhere else, that last argument - they will be next - is applicable. A similar but more sophisticated argument relies on the concept of balance of power. If one alliance starts to get a big, early lead compared to the others, they can sweep the board. For that reason, powers that are far from a conflict might be convinced to take an interest and help the underdog.

All these generic diplomatic approaches aren't necessarily appropriate in every situation, and with creativity others can work too. You need to read the board and the players and figure out what is most likely to have an impact.

The nature of the Diplomacy board is such that one can often hold off two attackers for at least a while (though some powers are more defensible than others). Buying time with strong defensive tactics is often the difference between survival and elimination.

Still, eventually greater numbers will prevail so an outnumbered power has to work their diplomacy and not stop. Even if someone ignores you now, keep refining and making your case. As the board evolves, so might the other players' decisions. Those who persevere in Diplomacy do the best.
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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Lecture #9: Tell Me About It

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:29

Lecture #9: Tell Me About It

Communicating and negotiating, the core of Diplomacy, is hard to teach or learn from a book. Some players are naturals, some make big improvement with practice, and some never seem to try or learn. Players that have certain educational and professional backgrounds may have a leg-up in Diplomacy, but interestingly, different backgrounds tend to bring very different approaches.

A few thoughts on diplomacy I would offer up for new players.

1) Be diplomatic. People can be real jerks on the internet. You see it all the time. But this is a game that requires persuasion and cooperation. Do you think it is a good idea to flame someone if you might need their help down the line? Been stabbed? It happens, don't let it phase you. Feel insulted, cheated? Stop and think before you fire back and then stop and think again. Diplomacy is a long game. Communicate and play for the long haul. (Not to mention, caustic press makes for unpleasant games.)

2) Engage with the other players. There is an art to controlling information flow. Say too much and you may make yourself vulnerable to betrayal. Say too little or play too cute and coy, and risk being hard to work with. Finding that sweet spot takes judgment, but in a game of cooperation, you need to be able to authentically engage with the other players to find solutions that work for all sides and persuade others to follow the vision. If you don't open up, that is impossible to do.

3) Everything is negotiable. Don't be afraid to be creative in what you offer or ask for when negotiating. If there is one mistake that players make, is they tend to limit themselves to negotiating over orders and dividing captured SCs. You could instead be negotiating over:
exchanging SCs and positions,
giving away SCs to change the balance of power,
waiving or restricting builds,
changing and restricting unit mix,
offering to let the other power write orders for some of your units,
Whatever else you can think up to help your alliance or even your adversary along.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

I have gathered together a number of links to articles on negotiations that I think are some of the better ones. While there are many common points between the articles, they also represent very different perspectives which will give you a taste of the diversity of approaches.

The Gamer's Guide that I linked to in Lecture #1 has a good discussion of negotiation.

"'Trust Me' (And Other Tall Tales)", by Brian Cannon
www.diplomacyworld.net/old/trustme.htm

"Lawyer/Diplomat", by Paul D. Windsor, Esq.
www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F1997R/Windsor/lawdip.html

"Lies/Truth/Trust/Betrayal", by Edi Birsan
www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F2008R/Birsan/lies.htm
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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Lecture #10: Strategy: Stabbing Season

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:42

Lecture #10: Stabbing Season

This is about the time of the game where you see the most alliance shifts. Obviously, powers can switch sides at any time and not every alliance will break, but it seems the highest occurrence of stabs is the F02-1903 time frame.

There are a few reasons for this. Around this time, the winners and losers from the alliances formed in 1901 have started to shake out. The losers are desperate to break existing alliances and may make compelling offers. The winners may begin to reevaluate their prospects in the existing partnership.

On the flip side, if early conflicts didn't start because powers took a wait-and-see approach, it is about this time that they run out of room to stall; generally all of the neutrals are taken and there is little room to maneuver. Powers find they must turn and attack somebody to grow.

And finally, because forces have moved, powers may find that they have new neighbors and face different threats from what they had at the beginning. This can disrupt existing alliance relationships.

All these forces work to start to shift alliances and this is where the diplomatic groundwork you have been laying all pays off. The broader and stronger your relationships are with the powers of Europe, the more options you have now when you might well need them.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

"Read the Pieces, Read the Position, Read the Players," by Edi Birsan, is another look at all the aspects of Diplomacy. The focus is on reading the board for vulnerabilities & opportunities tactically, strategically, and then diplomatically. I hope it is thought provoking, especially in this volatile point in the game.

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F2008M/Birsan/basics.htm
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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RESERVED

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:44

RESERVED FOR FUTURE
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Lecture #11: Tactics Time 1 of 2

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:47

Lecture #11: Tactics Time 1 of 2

The learning curve for tactics in Diplomacy is steep, but (thankfully) short. New players make mistakes when ordering their units. One thing that many people aren't used to is all of the pieces moving at once. Thinking about how to adjudicate simultaneous moves takes a different intuition, but you will all get it with a little practice. In the meantime, I encourage you to ask me or use the Orders Solver if you have any questions about tricky adjudications.

One bit of advice: if you feel you could use some practice with tactics, find a friend to play some 2-player games. They aren't the most interesting version of Dip, but they can be played very quickly. Use 1 day turns and finalize and you can get several moves done in a day. Another is to play some "gunboat" games, a variant of Diplomacy where there is no messaging between powers. A few of these kinds of games will get you thinking clearly about tactics.

Beyond the basics of avoiding errors, there are a few tactical tricks to learn. Fortunately, I don't have to write a lecture on tactics because it has been done for me in the articles in optional reading below.

I will be honest, I think these articles can be both boring and hard to grasp when you are just starting out. Once the mechanics of ordering units and simultaneous adjudication is natural, then they become more accessible. I hope if you take a look at these now, they will start to be of some value, but do bookmark and come back to them again until all the content becomes second nature to you. Every intermediate player should have mastered all of the concepts listed.

(Exception: convoy paradox articles are of near-zero practical value. Read them only if you find it interesting. The PlayDip adjudicator orders the convoying army to hold in event of a paradox - that is all you need to know.)

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

In addition to the discussion on tactics in the Gamers' Guide, here are two more good articles that review the classic tactical techniques of the game.

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/W1995A/Tactics/

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S2008M/Birsan/mentor.htm

Read these and learn the:

* Self-bounce
* Scissors cut
* Self-attack for self-defense
* Forward retreat
* Intentional retreat
* Fast retreat home
* Convoyed leapfrog attack

and then some.
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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Lecture #12: Tactics Time: Tempi 2 of 2

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 22:52

Lecture #12: Tactics Time: Tempi 2 of 2

Do you play chess? Have you heard of the concept of tempi? It is the plural of tempo, and refers to the speed and efficiency of movement of your pieces.

Diplomacy players should think in terms of tempi as well. We often refer to winning a game of Diplomacy as the "race to 18 SCs." Keeping tempi in mind with your orders can help you win that race.

Consider:

* Holds, supports, and standoffs cost tempi as your pieces are not advancing;
* Shuffling back and forth (usually from strategic indecision) wastes tempi;
* Moving in a column, where one unit follows the next, risks lots of tempi because one standoff stops multiple units;
* Moving in a row, where one unit moves beside another, may minimize risk to tempi.

Sometimes spending tempi is OK. You can exchange tempi for other objectives (like safety) and sometimes it is unavoidable. In general, however, you want to avoid squandering turns with orders that aren't advancing units.

A typical Diplomacy game has only 20 to 30 moves before it is over, so use each one wisely. You are in a race to capture 18 SCs, and rarely can you win by just methodically collecting dots. There are several "pinch points" on the Diplomacy board where just a few units can block a more powerful attacker: at Gibraltar, the Ionian/Tyrrhenian Seas, around Switzerland, St. Petersburg. Advancing units quickly and efficiently to get to and through key positions should be just as important to your tactical thinking.

Where will you need to attack next? What will be the next threat you face? Order your units thoughtfully and with urgency, as if you are in a race, if you want to win.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

A couple of good articles that address tempi and other chess concepts in the context of Diplomacy are

Caissa at the Dip table
www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S1998R/Windsor/caissa.html

Caissa annotates a no-press game
www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S1999R/Windsor/caissa.html

While he doesn't employ the concept of "tempi", Pulsipher's discussion in "The Art of Tactics" section of his article in the Gamers' Guide does reference the value of advanced units as well. It is worth a read if you haven't already.
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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Lecture #13: Strategy: Geography is Destiny? 2 of 2

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:00

Lecture #13: Strategy: Geography is Destiny? 2 of 2

Today we return to the topic of the effect of geography on strategy, introducing what is the single most important strategic element of the game: the stalemate line.

What is a stalemate line? In the hobby literature it is defined as any position controlling 17 or fewer SCs that can hold indefinitely against any attack.

An example will help. One such position (and the strategically most significant) is called the “Main Stalemate Line”. It roughly bisects the board, running from the southwest corner to the northeast corner nearly perfectly splitting the western from the eastern triangle (save for StP), leaving 17 SCs on each side. Here is a listing of the position as held from the southeast side:

F NAf S WMd
F WMd hold
F GoL hold
F Pie S GoL
A Trl hold
A Boh s Sil
A Sil hold
A Gal s Sil
A War hold
A Ukr s War
A Mos hold
A Sev s Mos

You can inspect that line and see no matter how an attacker on the northwest side of the line orders, they cannot dislodge any unit. That makes this an impregnable defense, a stalemate line. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for you to find the mirror of that line that stalemates an attacker on the southeast side.)

The presence of stalemate lines introduces another powerful effect of geography on strategy. The existence of a line in the expansion path of power may stop a march to victory. This makes crossing these lines (at least those that have 17SCs behind them) of paramount importance if you want to solo. For smaller powers, they provide a potential escape from the basic rule of Diplomacy that greater numbers always win. If you can obtain a stalemate line, smaller numbers can hold out indefinitely.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

For a comprehensive discussion of stalemate lines, their uses and limitations, The Diplomatic Pouch’s “Stalemates A to Y” has a large collection of articles on the subject. Among them, is the indispensable “Visual Index to Stalemate Positions” by Matthew Self. Simply by clicking on a map that approximates your position, you are directed to an article with the stalemate lines obtainable in that vicinity of the map. There are a huge number of stalemate lines possible on a Diplomacy board, many of them minor variations of another. Self's tool saves players from needing to memorize them all

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Online/StalematesAtoY/visual.htm
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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Lecture #14: Mid-game Management: The Leaders 1 of 3

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:04

Lecture #14: Mid-game Management: The Leaders 1 of 3

The next lectures look at the effect on strategy of transitioning from the opening to the mid-game, first from the perspective of the leaders – the 3 or 4 largest powers.

Before going too far, we need to answer: what is the mid-game? Hobby authors have offered many alternatives, but I am going to use my favorite (albeit imperfect) definition; when the first power on the board has been reduced beyond material offensive action (to 2 SCs or less) and the aggressors in that war begin to address their second target, the opening is over and the mid-game has begun.

This moment in the game often marks a significant strategic transition for every surviving power. Unless the first marginalized power was Italy (a rare occurrence), by definition at least one of the two triangles has been resolved, which brings to the fore key strategic questions. Consider:

Will the victors in the settled triangle now attack each other, one looking to become the dominant power on half the board? Or will they cross the main stalemate line, either as allies or independently, and threaten the powers of the other triangle?

Shall the opposite triangle redouble efforts to resolve by neutralizing a power, or will they cooperate instead to face the threat from the other side of the board? Or in yet another alternative, will powers across triangles cooperate?

Optimal mid-game strategy is highly situational and there is no one right answer to the questions posed. Factors such as the relative strength and position of powers as well as the style and motivation of players make a big difference. As a result, it is difficult to give generic mid-game advice. However, there are a number of concepts to keep in mind:

* The basic strategic insight – larger numbers win – now applies on a continental scale. Does any coalition control 18 or more SCs? If so, they have the potential to sweep the board and the opposing powers may need to address the alliance structure. If the board consists of 3 coalitions rather than 2, then no alliance may yet have the numbers to sweep.

* Position increases in importance. While complete stalemate lines are unlikely to form at this stage of the game, both crossing the positions required for your opponents to form them and retaining the ability to form them yourself are of enormous strategic value as they can make up for differences in force.

* Balance of power engenders stability. Rarely are alliances of materially unequal size and growth prospects stable in this stage. They tend to invite stabs by either power, the dominant (a crime of opportunity) or dominated (to upend the existing balance). Allies may address this or live with the consequences of the unstable structure.

Similarly, a powerful alliance might be destabilized rather than defeated outright. By throwing up unequal resistance, concentrating defenses against only one enemy or with strategic retreats, balance of power can be affected to the greater detriment of the opponents’ alliance.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

Games are not won in the mid-game, however opportunities to win can slip away from poor mid-game strategy. In order to solo, this is the stage of the game where you must be looking to create and maintain opportunities to win. Here are a couple of articles that may inspire you.

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S2006M/Birsan/A%20Discussion%20on%20the%20Achievement%20of%20Solos.htm

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F2001M/Brennan/HowToSolo.html
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Lecture #15: Mid-game Management: The Laggards 2 of 3

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:05

Lecture #15: Mid-game Management: The Laggards 2 of 3

Today we continue with mid-game strategy, now from the perspective of the laggards – the 2 to 4 smallest powers coming out of the opening.

Since in Diplomacy all surviving powers share equally in a draw, smaller powers are always still fully in the game. Further, in a dynamic game, large swings in fortunes of powers are possible, which makes crawling up from the bottom in the opening to the top by the end-game very feasible.

In short: great players never stop competing whatever their position. They make the most of every situation, getting the best possible outcome.

Key strategic considerations for smaller powers in the mid-game:

* Use leverage if you have it. The smaller powers in the mid-game still face the same fundamental strategic constraint that greater numbers win, but by virtue of having less force themselves, they tend to have to react to the leading powers rather than getting to cut their own path. However, a small power can still have significant diplomatic leverage if his units can provide tactical advantage in a battle between two leaders. Use that leverage to find a path to the end-game.

* Obtain strategically significant position. Just as for the leaders, position increases in importance in the mid-game for the laggards. If you are not one of the top 3 powers on the board in the end-game, you are not likely to be included in a draw UNLESS you hold a position on a stalemate line that is necessary to stop a solo threat.

* End-game timing. Players must decide whether to play to win or to draw. While smaller powers can come from behind to win, it is not realistic in all circumstances. Which objective you take may impact whether you want to try to delay or accelerate the end-game.

If you are playing to win and are behind, you typically want to delay the end-game to have time to grow and get back into contention. That implies a strategy of playing against the largest power and shifting allegiances in a balance-of-power game, attempting to prevent solo threats from emerging. By contrast, if you are playing for a draw, you may need to accelerate the end-game provided you can obtain either the force or position needed to have a spot in a draw.

* Play as a vassal state. If all else fails – you are very small or nowhere near a relevant stalemate line – you can still extend your chances by choosing to play as a vassal for a larger power. Do whatever it takes to be useful. In the most extreme cases, you can exit your home SCs and serve as mercenary units to a larger power. You need time to work your way toward a strategically important position and so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance for an equal spot in the draw.

***** OPTIONAL READING *****

Many Diplomacy players, even at the intermediate level, do not know how to play from behind. The strategy to play for a draw is different than playing for a win and in some ways counter-intuitive. In the article linked below, Woo’s analysis of the strategic thinking required to get into a draw – if drawing is your objective – is dead on. (I am less a fan of his analysis of what it takes to win, so I attach it here rather than in the first mid-game lecture.)

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F2002R/Woo/Mid-Endgame.html
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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