On the Play of Postal Diplomacy

by Allan B Calhamer

Introduction and Comments by Larry Peery

This article first appeared in Graustark in October, 1966; and was reprinted in the Postal Diplomacy Library of 1986. This article is mostly about correspondence in postal play, using 1963B, in which Calhamer played Germany, as an example. Two hobby truths were evident, even in 1963B. First, “Winsome Losesome.” Allan went to 14 centers in 1908, but ended the game in 1918 with only 2 centers (having dropped from 10 in 1914). Second, little about the play of the game has changed. You could take a PBM Dipper today and put him back in that 1963 game and he’d have no problem. The reverse is also true. Well, there was one difference. Back then the victory criteria was a “majority of the units,” not “18 supply centers.”

In postal Diplomacy, there is no time for discussions back and forth between two parties; consequently, when an offer of alliance is sent, possible objections to it and questions about it should be anticipated and answered beforehand.

Over-the-board play shows that even alliances which are genuinely good for both parties are frequently questioned by the offeree. Frequently he 1) wants to know the exact variations visualized by the offerer and 2) wants to know what the alliance will do at very long range, that is, after they have knocked out their first Great Power target. Thus enough exact variations should be included to give the other player some feeling of security that you won’t attack him, that you have a real intention of attacking the named enemy, and that the two of you have the capability to defeat the named enemy. The long range request is probably not a reasonable request, but nevertheless it is a frequent request, so some reasonable long range plan should be included, if there is one.

The result of all this is quite a lot of work on the first move. Later, however, the simplest notes serve to hold alliances together. Only occasionally is it necessary to write something lengthy, to a single player later in the game (then you want him to make a major change of policy and have a reasonable case for it in terms of mutual interest).

In the RURITANIA game, 1963B, I wrote messages of the following lengths to different countries in the first move (I played Germany. The messages were single-spaced):

Austria-Hungary 1/2 page; Italy 1 page; Austria-Hungary & Russia 1 1/4 pages; England & Italy 1 page; Austria-Hungary, Russia, & Italy 2 pages; France 1/2 page; Turkey a few lines; Russia 1 page

The message to Russia, Italy, and Austria-Hungary asked for a four-way alliance (“RIGA”, from the initials of the countries). The message to Russia and Austria-Hungary asked for a three-way alliance, calling for the same neutralized zones as the four-way alliance, in case Italy did not join. The message to Russia called for a two-way alliance consistent with the three-way alliance, in case Austria-Hungary did not join; similarly the letter to Austria-Hungary alone.

These messages laid the basis of my intended policy: alliance with Austria or Russia, preferably both, still better the three in one alliance; still better Italy, too. The remaining letters discussed minor points, opened channels of communication, hopefully lulled suspicions, laid the basis for other alliances if the eastern alliance misfired, and so on.

Russia and Austria-Hungary accepted; Italy did not. It would have been silly to offer the four-way only, because then I would have been left with nothing. There would have been no time to come forward with a three-way after learning Italy’s intention, and he might decline by just not writing. As it was, England and Italy misplayed, and we swarmed over them. Turkey was overwhelmed, too, leaving four countries. I attempted to win by blitzkrieg against France and went up to 15 supply centers; but I miscalculated and had to cover my homeland to hold it against Austria-Hungary and Russia, so could not raise beyond 12 pieces. Eventually Austria-Hungary and Russia prevailed against Germany. It was still a pretty successful game for Germany, and the serious mistakes were not in the opening.

It is well to remember that players who live closer together can communicate back and forth faster, they can then iron out more difficulties between them. Consequently they are more likely to ally at the start, and much more likely to drift into alliance later, even if they oppose each other at the start, than players who live far apart.

In 1093B, Germany was in Boston, Austria-Hungary and Russia in Los Angeles, and the other four in New York. I felt certain that the New York four, connected by ten-cent phone calls, would drift together eventually; hence I mobilized the other three, which were well-placed for an alliance on the board anyway. As it was, I had hoped to fool England into a German-English-Italian attack on France, without telling him that the RIGA alliance was in the background. Before I sent the letters, I realized that Italy would spill the beans to England, because they both hailed from a place called East Paterson, New Jersey; they couldn’t talk about the game day after day without sooner or later telling each other all they knew. Consequently I should have rewritten the letter to Italy to remove references to formal alliances with Austria-Hungary and Russia but seven pages of letters are enough, so I let the matter ride, and Italy rejected the four-way alliance, and England and France allied instead of fighting.

The press releases can as used for propaganda value. In general, I think they should be used to attempt to justify one’s actions in terms of the realities of the situation, to assure allies that you are with them (in the language of a statement to the world, of course), and so on. For example, Boardman, as Turkey, tipped me off that Bruce Pelz was playing Russia under an assumed name and described Pelz as a “Germanophile.” Consequently, I sent in releases full of Teutonic clich├ęs about Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia building a new order in Eastern Europe, destiny, culture, etc. These releases became especially mysterious and beautiful around 1904, when it become necessary to attack Russia by surprise, in order to seal the upper reaches of the Baltic before I wheeled against France.

I do not believe that releases taunting or belittling the other players are diplomatically wise.

Where players play many games, it might be wise for them to save copies of their best first-round letters and copy or even duplicate them in other games. Amendments can be written in, stuff can be stricken out, blanks can be filled in, and so forth. In due course, one might have more than one set of letters for each country. If as Russia you want to attack Turkey first, you send out the “Russia A” letters; if you want to attack Austria-Hungary first, you send out the “Russia B” letters. If you like letters you receive, you copy them in later games. (Thus, perhaps, “I sent him my version of Calhamer’s RIGA letter. He sent me Smythe’s ITA.”) This “canned correspondence” would apply only to the first move, of course, but it is precisely there that you need long letters.

[Allan’s letter doesn’t touch on one of the most salient points in the game: that the Austrian player, Diane Pelz, was the wife of the Russian player, Bruce Pelz (who played under the name of “Adhemar Grauhugel”). In Graustark 87, John Boardman (who played Turkey and eventually became GM for the game, gives the following review:]

This second postal Diplomacy game was organized by Dave McDaniel, and included many of McDaniel’s fellow Angelenos and members of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. The Russian player entered under the name of “Adhemar Grauhugel”, but it soon became common knowledge that he was actually Bruce Pelz – husband of Austro-Hungarian player Dian Pelz. The Pelzes cooperated with Diplomacy inventor Allan Calhamer, playing Germany, in a very effective Dreikaiserbund. Weak play by Tom Bulmer as Italy, and lack of coordination among the other players generally, led to the triumph of the Dreikaiserbund. By 1905 Calhamer concluded that he would be the next victim of the Family Compact, and anticipated this development by attacking the Pelz forces. An ill-timed double-cross of his sole remaining ally, Jock Root’s France, started the German Kaiser downhill, as France promptly joined the combine against him. In 1910, McDaniel ceased publication of Ruritania, and it passed to my management. Calhamer and Root also decided to withdraw, and their countries passed to Roland Tzudiker and John McCallum respectively. These two, in alliance, fought a well-played resistance against the Pelzes until Tzudiker was called up by the Air Force in 1916. (The game year 1916, of course.) McCallum, eliminated as France, carried on as Germany for two more years. The failure of Austria-Hungary to build a unit to which it was entitled at the end of 1917 meant that at the end of 1918 only 33 units were on the board. Of these, Russia had a majority, and hence was declared the winner.

[Prior to the Revision of l971, the Rulebook’s victory criterion was “majority of units”, not “18 supply centers”. ]