Is Diplomacy in the UK Unbalanced?

by Richard Gee

In 1979 The Game of Diplomacy the first hardback book on the game of Diplomacy, was published.  Written by a person singularly qualified to write: Richard Sharp, not only a writer by profession, but also a major league player.  The Game of Diplomacy is an excellent book.  After a brief review of the game it tells how to negotiate before moving onto the tactical aspects. 

It continues with seven chapters, one on each country.  It is my suggestion that Sharp’s exposition is biased towards some countries and unnaturally indifferent to others with the result that those two countries have received undeserved attention to the detriment of the remainder.  In short TGoD’s chapters on Germany and Austria is a lopsided approach so that the question is asked: Could it be said some five years later, the effect is that Diplomacy in the United Kingdom has become unbalanced, as more and more people play the Sharp way? 

Let me say at the outset that the foregoing is not a criticism but simply an observation. It may be that the “free-for-all” style advocated shuts out any other form of serious analysis. Nevertheless there are it would seem weaknesses and omissions in certain evaluations of the countries.  The chapter on England for example, states “ENG at all cost!” and a close reading reveals that England and France must always be at war. In truth any serious opening against Ger. is omitted.  It would also appear that no mention is made of how England can arrange matters so that France / Germany end up in a fight over Belgium.  Furthermore there is no discussion on the concept of The Western Alliance. The only conclusion is that the author has seen to it that England has pulled her punches as far as Germany is concerned. 

In the chapter on Germany, Sharp is quite open about his preferences, “playing Germany in good class postal diplomacy is the most enjoyable experience Diplomacy has to offer”.  Earlier in the book his anathema for two-country alliances is expressed, “Fundamentally, I do not believe in alliances”, yet with Germany the idea of Anschluss is advocated.  The Germany /Austria Anschluss is far more than a two-player alliance.  It means Austria will become Germany’s puppet right from the start.  I think it is vital to appreciate the chasm of incongruity here. With Germany, a two-player alliance for broadly the duration of the game is proposed in direct contrast to the free-for-all style suggested elsewhere for the other countries.  As regards enemies, Germany is assured that conflict between England / France will be easy to arrange and is further informed that a France / Germany alliance or England /Germany alliance is of no help to Germany in the long run. It would seem that some of the ideas omitted that would weaken the strategic concept of the Anschluss are that F(Kie) can move to places other than Den and that Bel does not have to be abandoned.  The chapter on Germany is of great importance for Germany is singled out as warranting the status of a “special country” (which I suspect may be true).  And is not the result that UK players seek out and play Germany as a special country, which with Austria aboard effectively increases her centres to six? 

Thus it is seen that the tilt has been towards Germany. With Russia the imbalance continues.  The chapter on Russia is hostile towards any form of a Russia / Turkey alliance. As this R/T alliance is capable of explosive growth at the expense of Austria (and by corollary Germany) it is not surprising The Game of Diplomacy is disinterested.  With Turkey the one-sidedness is open.  “I dislike playing Turkey. Turkey bores me to death”. 

Now in this short summary I think that it will be agreed that one thing is clear; THE GAME OF DIPLOMACYis as Richard Sharp feels the game should be planned, negotiated and played out. And why not? My theme is not that The Game of Diplomacy is badly written but simply that it is heavily biased towards Germany and Austria.  Evidence has already been presented, but consider now the statistics. 

Diplomacy World Winter 76 set out the results of 721 games.  Out of the 516 wins the statistics were: Aus-70, Eng-71; Fra-71; Ger-73; Ita-48; Rus-112 and Tur-71.  The contributor’s statement sums it up: “Note the virtual tie between A, E, F, G & T.  An eloquent statement on the balance of the game”.  But now consult The Finishing Touch No 43 (July/Aug 83).  The UK Table is: Russia first, with Germany second, being ten wins ahead of France.  The only conclusion must be that as the Anschluss Theory spreads and is taken up by devotees so Germany moves upward to the top of the league.  Could it be that one day Germany will replace Russia as the country with the most wins thus affording the final proof that Diplomacy in the United Kingdom has become unbalanced? 

[First published in Richard’s Bull Run No.3 (Feb 1984)]

Further Comment

by Steve Jones

Regarding the article “Is Diplomacy in the UK Unbalanced?” I would like to say two things first. First I agree with the substance of the article, particularly about Sharp’s book; more on this anon. Second, an important point should be recognised, namely that the game was unbalanced to start with, in that Russia was until recently, the most successful country. 

Concerning The Game of Diplomacy, I agree totally with your suggestion that Sharp is biased towards some countries and indifferent to others. In particular the chapters on Italy and Turkey are far too negative, for a number of reasons. Primarily, I felt that the reason for this is that neither country is suited to Sharp’s professed style of play. The plain fact is that the countries which Sharp tended to prefer, namely Germany, Austria, France and Russia, are, in a crude generalising sense, fast growth countries who tend in the main to win quickly. Consequently they are favoured by players who like to make things happen in the early stages – namely, the John Norriss’ and Richard Sharps’ of this world. 

On the other hand the countries Sharp was negative to, namely Italy, Turkey and England, are slow-growth countries, which, when they do win, tend to win long games. Consequently, these countries must be played to a completely different tempo; in the early stages they tend to react to events rather than make them. To do well, they must bide their time and wait for the middle game when their real strength can come to the fore. You need patience to play them well. 

I think that you have hit on another reason for some of the negative attitudes to these countries in The Game of Diplomacy. The strategies which might do them some good – the Juggernaut for Turkey, the “Superpower” Opening for Italy etc., are not seriously considered because they tend to be anti-German/anti-Austrian. This is particularly true regarding the book’s “advice” to go for ENG (both for England and France) which is blatantly pro-German. The plain fact is that England’s best plan is to concentrate on the North, going either for Russia or Germany, with Germany being the better bet. Conflict with France should not be considered until any potential threat from Russia or Germany is removed, in one way or another. 

First published in Richard’s Bull Run No.6 (May 1984)