DIP 101: Introduction to Diplomacy

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Lecture #16: Mid-game Management: Mistakes to Avoid 3 of 3

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:10

Lecture #16: Mid-game Management: Mistakes to Avoid 3 of 3

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.”
– Charles Darwin

A common mistake, applicable throughout the game, is worth emphasizing in the mid-game:

* Don’t be inflexible. Too often players get to the mid-game with one ally (or less!) and one plan. The lack of strategic flexibility gets exposed when they don’t handle adversity well, either from a stab or if stuck on the losing side against a larger coalition. Inflexibility (and perhaps lack of foresight) is also indicated when you see leaders run up to a stalemate line only to be halted. Achieving consistent success in Diplomacy requires being willing to play dynamically when the situation calls for it. If what you are doing isn’t going to work, you need to shake things up.

Before moving on to the last two common mistakes to avoid, we need to look forward and introduce a concept from the end-game. If we are thinking ahead to the end-game, we can avoid mistakes in the mid-game.

THREE POWER STABILITY. 3-way draws are the most common result in a game with experienced players. To see why that is, realize that in a 2 v 1 situation when they are the last 3 powers on the map, the 2-power alliance would be under great strain and will usually break down once there is an advantage to one of those powers (and given the nature of the Diplomacy map, it is VERY difficult to keep 2 powers in perfect balance). What is more, the third power can threaten to kingmake and throw the game to the less aggressive of the other two allies, so each of the major powers has a strong incentive to be less aggressive than the other, and ultimately to leave the 3rd party alone. For these reasons, 3 powers are typically in a strategic (if not tactical) stalemate and a draw is called.

With that in mind, it follows that:

* If you are playing to win, don’t whittle the field. Rarely is it a good idea to march through the game eliminating smaller powers. That likely moves the game closer to the strategic stability of a 3-way draw. If you want to win against competent opposition, you need to keep the game complex and competitive to create an opportunity to capture 18 SCs. Otherwise you are counting on either bad play from your opposition or a 3rd power throwing you the game to win.

* Don’t be blinded by a 2-way. True 2-way draws are rare. They can happen if the losing powers have surrendered or vote themselves out of a draw, but without those outside factors, they are extremely hard to pull off. Much more common is to see a dominating 2-power alliance eventually break down. If you are part of the winning alliance but haven’t recognized that risk, your ally may stab for a solo at your expense. If you want to go for a 2-way, don’t forget to protect yourself while you are at it. It requires careful tactical planning to pull it off.

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

Continuing on the challenges of 2-way draws, this article by Ledder and Provislis reviews in detail the stable positions and alliances for such an outcome. I actually think with creativity, more 2-way alliances can draw than they allow. Nonetheless, their article highlights the challenges involved and is a good starting point for study.

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S2001M/Ledder/TwoWayDraws.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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Lecture #17: Life Online: In Case you Missed It 1 of 4

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:12

Lecture #17: Life Online: In Case you Missed It 1 of 4

These next few lectures are about PlayDip a bit more than Diplomacy. Today I will start by pointing out a few features of the game interface.

1) PlayDip has a house rule that there cannot be draws in the first four years of a game. However, recently the site has begun a trial allowing draws at any time. In any event, as it is now Spring 1905, the “Status” tab would always have a "Propose Draw" button.

Games at PlayDip have two possible draw proposal settings - "Choose countries in draw", also known as "non-DIAS", is the default, while "All survivors in draw", or DIAS, is an option. (DIAS stands for “Draws Include All Survivors”.) In addition there are two draw voting settings: open and secret ballots.

The rulebook, interpreted strictly, calls for DIAS, but a lot of players are willing to concede a game and vote themselves out of a draw (just to end the game) so non-DIAS can be convenient. Regardless of settings, all draw votes must be unanimous to pass, so a power can never be voted out of a draw without agreeing to it.

Secret ballots is a great feature for either DIAS setting, but it is particularly useful in a non-DIAS game. With open ballots, anti-competitive, strategic draw proposals can be used to force games to end early and stop solo attempts. Secret ballots and the fact that the proposer of a draw in a secret ballot game does not have to vote for the draw he proposes, makes anti-competitive draw proposals ineffective. You might not care in a casual, friendly game, but if you are going to play a competitive match, secret ballots always make for a better (and potentially nerve-wracking!) end-game.

Our game is using using non-DIAS and secret ballots. If you want to offer a draw, simply put a check next to each power you are willing to include in the draw and then click "propose draw." Every power, including the proposer, must then vote for the draw for it too pass. If any power rejects the draw, the proposal will disappear for all players. If any power doesn't vote before the deadline, the draw fails. Be careful when you vote: you can't change it!

Some players get real passionate about DIAS settings – both for and against them. I have to say, I personally think it is much ado about little and I happily play both types of games. Of the all the draw settings, playing with secret ballots is the most important for competitive game play.

(There is also one last draw setting: "no draws allowed". I don't recommend playing in such a game. If you don't want a draw, don't vote for it, but you should always retain the option because you might change your mind.)

2) Just below the lower right hand corner of the map is a link to “Your game notes.” This is nothing more than a private scratch pad for your convenience. I use the notepad for a number of purposes:

* I like to keep a game “diary” of what I was thinking at various points during a game to refer back to it later when I am evaluating a game after it is over.
* If I am writing a long mail to a player, I might draft it in the notepad first so that I can save it and come back to it later.
* If I am working out stalemate positions that I might want to form in the future, I often write them down in the notepad to refer back to so I don’t have to keep figuring them out.
"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 #18: Life Online: Technical Difficulties 2 of 4

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:14

Lecture #18: Life Online: Technical Difficulties 2 of 4

PlayDip is the largest Diplomacy site in the world with (IMHO) the best interface and by far the best forum, but we have limited resources. This is a hobby site. Nearly all of the effort to run the site is from volunteers. Things can go wrong. Here is what you need to know to deal with it.

First, be prepared. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to enter your orders at the beginning of the phase and revise them as you go. That way, in the event the site is down when a deadline comes (or far more likely, YOU lose internet access) you will at least have something in for orders which will usually be better than an NMR even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Second, be patient. When an individual game has a problem, an Admin will usually take a look at it in the evening (North America time) the same day if you post a problem in the forum. Entire site outages are rare but even the worst usually only take a few days to sort out.

Third, recognize the signs. Periodically, the web site will slow down and pages will take a while to refresh. This will pass in a few minutes, so again, just be patient and don’t worry about it.

When the deadline expires, there can be a few minutes of lag before the adjudicator starts processing. During this time, the game clock stays at zero. This is normal. If the game is “stuck” it will never advance. Wait for a while (say 30 minutes) and see if it resolves itself.

Once the game begins to adjudicate, it will disappear from your active games for a bit and when it returns the turn will have advanced. Rarely the game clock will reset instead. The PlayDip server can recognize certain types of errors and has a “self-healing” mechanism where the game timer will reset if it recognizes a problem. That just means you have extra time for a step and will avoid a stoppage to your game. Just keep playing.

If something does go wrong and a game disappears or is stuck for an extended period, take a look at the Announcements forum (also on the home page). The team is good at keeping everyone up to date and giving instructions if there is a site-wide issue. If there is nothing going on site-wide and just your game has a problem, post it in the bugs forum here:

www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=2

If you do feel a rank game is spoiled by a game error and all of the players agree, one thing you can do is contact a Global Moderator (“Mod”) by PM and ask them to unrank the game for you. You can find the current list of Mods here:

www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/memberlist.php?mode=leaders

Don’t let this lecture scare you. Few games have any of these problems, but if you do run into issues, it is nice to have an idea what to do.
"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 #19: Life Online: Cheaters 3 of 4

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:16

Lecture #19: Life Online: Cheaters 3 of 4

Let’s not mince words: cheaters are idiots. What exactly is the point? And what could possibly be more boring than pushing pieces around in a game that you have fixed to win?

Cheaters at PlayDip get caught. There are A LOT of volunteer resources and IT tools that go into making sure of that. Cheating also is uncommon. Only about 1% of games involve any kind of cheating (and not all cheating impacts the game; some just impacts the site, like multiple accounts used in different games.) As a result, it is not that big of a problem here, so I don’t want to overblow the issue, but questions about it do come up from new players. Plus, people can run afoul of the rules by accident because they don’t understand the hobby standards.

The house rules on cheating all come down to this:

* Don’t multi-account: one player, one account. That is simple enough.

* Don’t collude (nor hold grudges) based on anything outside of the game you are playing. Personal friendship, concurrent or past games, bribes or threats, all have no place in influencing your actions. In short, team-play, cross-game play, and out-of-game play are cheating. All of these are collectively called meta-gaming.

Sometimes new players worry too much about meta-gaming. Diplomacy is a 7 person game where all of the powers should be independent of one another and start each game with a clean slate. Anything else unbalances the game. But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore what you know about the other players. It only means what I wrote above: don’t collude & don’t hold grudges across games.

If you do suspect you have run into cheating, don’t make an accusation directly or in public press. The later is itself a violation of house rules, and the former serves no purpose and will only antagonize others if you are wrong. Instead, report your suspicions to the moderators. Here are the steps:

1) Gather your evidence. Guidance and the information you need to provide the Mods is listed in this post:

www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=54352

2) Post in the Cheaters forum or send a PM to the Cheater-hunters group to request an investigation. Do not put player names or game numbers/names in a forum post title to avoid unnecessarily raising attention until a Mod acts on the investigation.

A last word of warning: do not purposely post false cheating reports or try in any way to use the forum to influence a game. The mods do not take kindly to having time wasted and the there is a strict separation between games and the forum. You will be sanctioned if you violate these rules.
"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 #20: Life Online: Your Next Game 4 of 4

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:17

Lecture #20: Life Online: Your Next Game 4 of 4

Looking to join another game? Consider checking the game status box: “Active” and taking over for a surrendered power. This is a nice thing to do for your fellow gamers. If just a third of our players picked up 1 surrendered position for every game they started, surrenders wouldn’t be an issue. We all just need to do our part for the community.

Most players will agree that the best games are those where all of the players are engaged, and there are no surrenders and few (or no) NMRs. How do you find such a game?

The best path is to play reliably and qualify for Ambassador Class. Ambassador-only games average less than 1 surrender and 2 NMRs per game. That is far higher reliability than a typical, open pick-up game that average about 3 surrenders and 7 NMRs per game.

In the meantime, there are other ways to find better games. After you finish this mentor game or one rank or norank game (game-start or replacement position) you can apply as aspiring member of the Classicists. The Classicists is a club of players at PlayDip dedicated to reliable, respectful play. In addition, look for games advertised on the forum. These tend to have more serious, reliable players.

If you are creating or joining a new game, use the “NMR Protect” feature. With this option, if a player does not turn in moves for the first turn, the game stops, the offending player is removed, and a new player can be sought. Players that can’t get through the first turn without an NMR aren’t likely to be reliable. By removing them and restarting the game, you avoid unbalanced games.

Think about your deadline options. 12 & 24hr deadlines are the most popular. These fast-paced games attract both casual gamers as well serious players with near-constant access to the web. They provide “instant gratification” though they can be grueling and make communicating across distant time-zones tricky.

2-3 day games provide adequate time for negotiating in a competitive game. Most “serious” players around PlayDip will agree that these tend to be the minimum deadlines for a high quality game. 5-7 day games are my favorite. You don’t usually end up playing these games every day, instead you find a few days to play over the course of the turn. This makes for a nice balance of allowing for intense participation in the hobby with breaks to accommodate the demands of real life.

New players are often interested in playing with other beginners. A few players have chosen to play in another mentor game, though to be honest, I suspect most didn't need more than one. (If you do, I’d suggest you join a game with a different mentor and get their perspective.) I would encourage any of you to put your name down on the Veteran Standby list and pick up surrendered positions in mentor games. You would be playing with beginners and doing a service at the same time. Finally, you could create your own game, password protect it, and advertise it on the Games forum as just for beginners. An explicit game name and description also help get the game noticed by new players.

Still I would encourage everyone to jump into games with more experienced players after not too long. You may take some lumps, but there is really no substitute for playing against a better players to see how they operate, what works and what doesn’t. That experience is going to be your best teacher.

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

Poke around the Classicist forum if you are at all interested in joining the group. I would highly recommend it after you finished your first game (and finishing this mentor game counts for admission).

www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=118
"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 #21: The End-game: Solo or Stalemate

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:20

Lecture #21: The End-game: Solo or Stalemate

In Chess and games like it, the end-game is when there are few pieces left on the board. In Diplomacy, pieces aren’t removed so that is not an applicable definition. I call the end-game the period of the game when one power is near 18 SCs or one interest group (either a single power or alliance) is near a stalemate. This definition is useful enough, but has some quirks.

Tactics dominate end-games. When victory or defeat is near, there is little room for negotiation or strategy that deviates from the issue at hand. A stalemate line shall be formed, the 18th SC captured – or not. These immediate tactical realities dominate all other concerns. If they don’t, players are making a terrible error.

The best tactics tend to come in end-games too. With alliances set, the tactician has complete information needed for the fight. This stage of the game can also be complex and require deep, close study of the board, as now battle lines can cross the continent with approaching 34 units engaged. Trying to look ahead a move or two can be extremely difficult with so many units involved, but it can be the difference between winning and losing.

If there is any general end-game advice to be given, it is to the powers trying to stop a soloist. They have the harder job, as coordinating a coalition adds a layer of complexity that the leader does not face. To tackle it, communicate early and explicitly to avoid errors. It helps for one player to serve as the “general” for the alliance - if one can emerge from the ranks of the players. End-games tend to be lost by failed defenses much more than they are won by great attacks.

ALL GAMES DON’T END WITH END-GAMES

I mentioned our end-game definition has some quirks. For one, games may enter an end-game period (e.g. an alliance approaches a stalemate line) yet not end and instead return to a mid-game (e.g. the stalemate line is breached and the alliance advances or the dominant alliance breaks and play continues). On the flip side, games can also end without having much of an end-game and sometimes they end without either a solo or a tactical stalemate.

* Perpetual Mid-game: Strategic Stalemates. I wrote in Lecture #16 that a game with just three powers remaining engenders strategic stability, and as a result 3-way draws are common. Larger strategic stalemates are less common but happen. If a strategic stalemate occurs without a tactical stalemate due to evenly matched alliances unable to make material progress against the other, yet no power willing to stab lest they be at a disadvantage against the other alliance, then a draw may be called without an end-game.

* Truncated Mid-game: Conceded Draws and Stab-for-Solo. In a non-DIAS game, the losing powers may vote themselves out of a draw to the dominant powers to end a game early. Surrenders and the willingness of players to do this are the most common source of 2-way draws that would otherwise be quite difficult to obtain. Wins that come from a power in a dominating alliance stabbing his partner may also have little or no end-game (though the stabber may have been preparing for some time.)

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

To give you a sense of what end-game tactics can look like when a solo is threatened, here are a couple articles on end-game puzzles. Test your tactical mettle and see if you can solve them.

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F2004M/Birsan/Imperial.html

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/F1995M/Dreier/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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Re: DIP 101: Introduction to Diplomacy

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:21

RESERVED FOR FUTURE
"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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Re: DIP 101: Introduction to Diplomacy

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:22

RESERVED FOR FUTURE
"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 #22: After the Action

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:23

Lecture #22: After the Action

So… when the game is over… is that it?

In a face-to-face game, calling the game is hardly the end. That marks the time to head out to the pub for a pitcher and kibitz over what just happened. Frankly, that is my favorite part of playing in-person! Do we lose that when we play online?

Certainly not! (Well, we do lose the beers together.) The remote Diplomacy hobby has had a long history of players continuing to issue press after the game ended. In the internet era, these became End of Game Statements, or as we call them here are PlayDip, After Action Reports (“AAR”). These post-game communiques give us a chance to get to tell game stories and commiserate.

Why write an AAR?
* they are fun to write for the creative types;
* to reflect on your own play in a structured way and learn from it;
* to give feedback to and ask questions of the other players;
* to patch up any hard feelings from the game, or vent your spleen if you need to;
* to ask advice of the PlayDip community since there are a handful of players that will post in AARs of games they did not play in.

Diplomacy games last weeks, even months. They are worth investing a little time with your fellow gamers when the pressure of competition is lifted. It’s part of what makes the Diplomacy community a community and not just a bunch of anonymous gamers.

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

You should all consider participating in an AAR for our game after it ends. I will be happy to give a few of my own observations, but they will not be nearly as valuable as what comes from each of you. This would be a good time to ask final questions and evaluate play together as a group. I hope to see all of you in the forum after the game.

AARs at PlayDip are all posted here:

www.playdiplomacy.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=51
"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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Parting Thoughts: Why We Love The Game

Postby WHSeward » 22 May 2014, 23:26

Parting Thoughts: Why we Love the Game

I hope you all are enjoying the mentor game. Unless someone has a topic they would like me to address, I am finished with my broadcast messages. I thought I would leave you with a few excerpts from an essay by Manus Hand, the creator of the Diplomatic Pouch web site, “The Greatness of Diplomacy.”

*****

Who knows why Diplomacy is such a great game? We all have our favorite aspects of it, so I am certainly unqualified to speak for all my fellow players. However, I wish to expound on some of the things that I feel make Diplomacy different from other games.

* Skill. First of all, because Diplomacy lacks any random element, it is separated from a whole class of games in which one or more rolls of a die can determine a player's fate.

Simply by virtue of being chanceless, I believe that Diplomacy leaves backgammon, Scrabble (where the element of chance is minimized somewhat by the ability to re-use played letters), and other games with ingredients of chance behind.

* Simultaneity. Diplomacy stands above most other chanceless games because of the simultaneous movement aspect of the game.

Although chess is undeniably a great game of pure skill, a chess game between two players of equal caliber is white's game to lose. There is not quite as much fun in a game if you know that the person you are playing against has either a built-in advantage or disadvantage.

Simultaneous movement is an absolutely perfect gaming concept. There is no waiting around for your turn to move, no forced decisions ("will I be allowed to attack or forced to defend?"), and no uncertainty about what the board will look like when you next are asked to make moves.

* Strategy. What is the basic difference between tic-tac-toe and chess? Both are two-player games, with no element of chance, played on an unchanging board, in which play alternates from one player to the other. So why is chess a better game than tic-tac-toe?

To become proficient at either of these games requires the ability to "look-ahead." Chess not only requires the ability to look ahead as far as or further than your opponent (whereas tic-tac-toe requires only the ability to look-ahead one single move, regardless of the skill level of the opposition), but the board and pieces offer a depth of complexity to the look-ahead process that tic-tac-toe does not provide. To become proficient at tic-tac-toe requires little brainpower; to become a master at chess requires a trained and analytical mind immersed almost completely and obsessively in chess knowledge.

Diplomacy has achieved the proper equilibrium between these two extremes. Even the best Diplomacy player cannot reliably look ahead more than two turns and even then only regionally. The game itself enforces this. First of all, since every one of the pieces could move on every turn, the ability to reliably look ahead becomes impossible very quickly. Secondly, the game is divided into game-years, and the adjustment phase acts as a sort of "reset". It is quite extraordinary when a player has looked ahead beyond the next adjustment phase of a game of Diplomacy, other than, perhaps, to make his own initial, but far from confirmed plans.

* Simplicity. Diplomacy is a simple game to learn. Its mechanics are even simpler than chess.

Because Diplomacy is more than a contest in tactics, but a contest in wills and influence, the fact that the game is so simple to learn, tactically, is a great plus. A new player is quickly up to speed and testing his or her other abilities -- those that truly determine victory -- with the rest of us. The simplicity of the rules of Diplomacy is a great equalizer.

* Subtlety. The rules of Diplomacy are simple, and the board is also simple enough. But put them together and the beauty of the game immediately comes out.

How many times have you played Turkey, and wished for England to assist in an attack on Russia? All of a sudden, you could find yourself trying to ensure peace between France and England. To do so, you forment war between Italy and France, but to make this happen, you must stop Austria from attacking Italy. But Austria doesn't have anything else to do, so you encourage Germany to head south and make Austria busy. Germany can't do so, because he's too busy fighting Russia. So Russia will have to make peace with Germany before you feel like you can take on the bear.

That may be a bit exaggerated, but we all know it's not far from the truth. Sitting in Portugal with a single unit, the most important thing to you might truly be what the Moscow army does.

....

A player can be very good in the tactical and strategic skills of the game, but can be lacking in diplomatic skills. Another player might be strategically weak but be an excellent diplomat. Still another player might have passable but unremarkable skills in all three areas. Even though one of these players might lose miserably to another of them in a game of Go, that same player might beat the others handily in a game of poker. One can argue, however, that these three players, with their different talents so varied, are still somehow evenly matched when they face each other over a Diplomacy board. And that's just another miracle of The Game.

*****

You can read the whole essay here:

www.diplomatic-pouch.org/Zine/S1996M/Hand/Essay.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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