by Stephen Agar
Surprisingly Shakespeare never specifically reflected on the lot of the Diplomacy player in any of his surviving works. However, in his tragedies he did often comment on the broad spectrum of personalities to be found among Diplomacy players which help us some 300 years later cast light on why apparently sane and reasonable men, young in body and/or mind, spend a lot of money and even more time in order to move a few misshapen pieces of plastic round a bit of cardboard covered in sticky-back plastic. I say “men” for the simple reason that when you look at the sexual balance (or lack of it) in the postal Diplomacy hobby it is apparent that women can plainly see the ultimate futility of Diplomacy as a form of recreation. Lady Macbeths are few and far between in the postal Diplomacy hobby. In contrast five out of seven men appear to find the pastime fascinating (the other two drop out). Allow me to identify a few of the character types which spring to mind as the sort of people that one often finds indulging in postal Diplomacy.
There is a real pleasure in betraying other people and causing them mental pain. A Macbeth enjoys stabbing his ally in his most sensitive spot (preferably while they are asleep), although he may have to psych himself up to find the nerve to do it. Late at night he relishes rehearsing various stabs on his Diplomacy board waiting for the perfect moment. When that moment finally comes, he will write the fateful orders with a smile. For him the only thing that mars the enjoyment of a perfect stab, is the fact that he cannot actually observe the expression on the face of his ally when he reads the game report. A Macbeth will sometimes accept bad advice if it provides him with an excuse to be nasty, and the deed done you can be sure that his nefarious activities never cause him sleepless nights
A Horatio is a Very Serious Diplomacy Player. He writes to everyone and judges everything wisely. Although he is usually alive at the end of the play, he often finishes in the same position as when he started i.e. in a minor though pivotal role, though at least he retains his integrity and his home supply centres. For some reason, Horatios frequently play Italy.
A Iago is an insidious character, a cowardly Othello who tries to vent his desire for revenge as a result of some insult (real or imagined) through the agencies of another player. He is a stirrer with a banana for a backbone. Having managed to goad one of his neighbours into attacking the other, a Iago inevitably fails to profit from the situation as he lacks the killer instinct of a Macbeth. These miserable creatures are the Gollums of the Diplomacy world and should be sat upon.
A Lear, although he may not realise it, is essentially a sado-masochist. This player betrays and stabs for spurious reasons and yet often seems to take an ill-defined pleasure in his consequentially swift reduction to a lone power-crazed wandering unit. A Lear will never appreciate an ally as much as he should, though may yet end up putting his faith in a Macbeth.
Revenge is sweet. If Germany promises to let an Othello into Sweden only for a Iago, who happens to be playing England, to spread a rumour to the effect that Germany really intends to stand Othello off, then no one should be surprised to find that all Russian units will immediately make for Silesia, Prussia and the Baltic, even if it does result in Russia’s elimination in A03. An Othello judges that if he teaches Germany a lesson this time then Germany may even support Russia into Sweden next time. Such vendetta diplomacy is undoubtedly one of the easiest tactical games to play as it makes letter writing unnecessary. If an Othello is very lazy, he will start a vendetta before the game even begins in order to make all communication with the other player’s redundant.
The classically silent Diplomacy player with whom it is impossible to communicate, let alone reason, is usually a Malcolm. It is not so much that Malcolms take pride in the paucity of their missives as much as they do not see the need for communication with the outside world; to them silence is an act of faith in their ability to win the game with as little effort as possible – they believe that they can just saunter on in Act V and walk off with the crown.
Diplomacy can be loosely described as a game of strategy, however there are many players whose raison d’être is the innovative move that reveals Mr Calhammer’s black secret. A Hamlet will spend days if not weeks trying to solve the enigmatic questions that underlie the game. He will spend hundreds of pounds on telephone calls trying to arrange the ultimate convoy of A(Syr)-StP, irrespective of what the Russian F(BLA) intends to do. A Hamlet will agonise over every move (“to order F(Ank)-BLA or not to order F(Ank)-BLA, that is the question, whether ’tis nobler to allow F(Sev) into the Black Sea etc…”) as his inner need for certainty cannot accept that at the end of the day he is going to have to guess and take a risk. Guessing is not logical and Diplomacy should be a logical game.
Some people give the impression that they play Diplomacy just so they can write press or write letters to various zines. Often a Polonius will be a big hobby name – no matter where you turn you will find his letters criticising some editor’s stand on proportional representation, abortion, quantum physics, politics or even postal Diplomacy. His outpourings will inevitably be verbose with a tendency to give unwanted advice. He will play the odd game of Diplomacy, in order to justify to himself his involvement in the hobby, but for this sort of player the game is certainly not the thing. A Polonius can also be a publisher who still feels a need to play Diplomacy in order to demonstrate to themselves that they are really interested in the game, rather than in just promoting themselves – though in this they are really just deceiving themselves. A Polonius, somewhat contradictorily can also be a secret Malcolm when it actually comes to playing the game itself save that he usually exits in Act III, murdered by one of the other key players.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern
These are the inconsequential nobodies who do little to develop the game in the short time that they are playing before dropping out in mysterious circumstances. They often play in pairs and amuse themselves tossing coins.