by Richard Hucknall
Why should Diplomacy games never be won? Well, first of all I should mention that this statement is based on several assumptions. They are that there should be no NMRs or dropouts, thus eliminating the big advantage often given to other players as a result of these occurrences. Furthermore, every player should always play for the best possible result for himself at all times, taking into consideration the position he is in at the time. This latter statement is a little difficult to explain.
Clearly we all start a new game hoping to win – any other objective (i.e. to help or stop another playing from winning) is unfair on the remaining players. These hopes are often dashed quite early on and so a new target has to be formulated; and it is here that the divergence of opinion begins. My own view is that if it is no longer possible to win then one should play to prevent anyone else from winning and try to survive to participate in a draw. Incidentally, I don’t recognise two-way, three-way or even four-way “wins” – these are clearly drawn games although some people try to pretend otherwise. There can only be one winner and that is the player who gains 18 centres, or the player who has victory conceded to him by the other players, although often victory by concession is premature. However, I digress. There is a school of thought that if one cannot win then the next best result is 2nd place followed by 3rd place and so on. I don’t subscribe to this idea as 2nd place is defeat at the hands of the victor. However, survival (with no matter how few units) in a draw is a result sharing the spoils with the other survivors. You haven’t been beaten by anyone.
So given seven players who are all playing for the best possible result (win, followed by a draw featuring as few players as possible), and that these players do not miss a deadline, then I submit that the game will end in a 3 or 4 way draw. Normally, the first few years see a couple of countries out and two or three strong powers emerge. It is at this point that the major powers must beware. Not only must they try to extend their own empire, but they must take care that another power does not develop at a greater rate and reach a position where he can make a grab for the final centres for victory. In fact, given that all players are playing for the best possible result, the game rapidly reaches a stalemate. I’m sure that this theory is correct, but proving it conclusively is a little difficult.
I have reviewed all my completed games (fortunately I survived in all of them) and each one can be shown to prove the theory correct. In all the games hat I have won I can point to moments quite late in the game where I could have been held to a draw. Similarly, I have been involved in several draws where either my opponents have finally come together to stop me from winning, or where I have joined with former enemies to stop another from winning.
However, Diplomacy is all about personalities when all is said and done. In so many games, players refuse to forgive and forget stabs earlier in the game or even in different games. Consequently the required co-operation is not there when it is needed most and the chance for a draw is gone. The moral is, get to know your fellow players. Are they reliable? Will they hold a grudge? Are they of the 2nd place is better than a 4-way draw school of thought. Their attitude is of great importance to the way you play your game.
Reprinted from Fall of Eagles No.22 (circa. 1978)