Duh! Diplomacy

by David Partridge

Seems my life is often made up of adjusting to a series of mistakes. For example, I recently rashly read an email without first checking to see who it was from. It was a very nice missive from our esteemed editor requesting that I provide him with an article for Diplomacy World. There was a touching little story about how disappointed the Sicilian backers of Whining Pig Enterprises would be if there weren’t enough articles for the next issue, but even before I read that I found myself cancelling my plans for the weekend and sitting down to crank out something. All because I didn’t take the time to check the sender’s address and file the note away in the “What note? I never got a note” file.

That mistake being on my mind as I searched for a topic, started me thinking about how often mistakes have played a part in my gaming. I used to groan and moan when I made a silly mistake, gnash my teeth a bit and go on to lose the game. Then came my conversion as I began to master the techniques of Duh! Diplomacy. The defining moment was when I made a silly mistake on the Spring 1901 moves. It was a face to face game, and it was obvious from my ally’s expression that he had already pegged me in the “too stupid to be anything but cannon fodder” category. Spending the whole game trying to convince him otherwise didn’t sound like fun, but I certainly wasn’t ready to write the game off either. Then came the epiphany, maybe stupid moves could work to my advantage! I quickly made a firm secret alliance with our original target, including setting the date of the stab two years down the road. Then I bungled along for the next 5 moves, letting my ally make all the decisions, making a few suggestions that wouldn’t quite work out, and blowing one more move in the backfield that kept one of my armies lagging behind where I needed it. He was happy to use me to further his own ends, secure in the knowledge that he’d take me out with virtually no effort when the time came. Then came the coordinated stab. There were no mutual supports but my secret ally knew my armies would be turning around and used that knowledge to the fullest. The stupification on our victim’s face was wonderful to see, after all, he knew I was dumber than a stick, and I hadn’t even talked to the other player in over 2 game years! (I had carefully stayed at the table in plain view during all the negotiating sessions.) Unfortunately, I didn’t go on to win the game, but I certainly had fun, and a new respect for the power of Duh! Diplomacy.

While it’s rare that you get a chance to convince someone to view you as completely harmless until you have a chance to stick the knife in, there are still many uses for an apparently dumb move in most Diplomacy games. Take, for example, the use of a “mistake” to pre-position for a stab. A classic example occurred as an I/F alliance was pushing against Russia. In an apparent miscommunication, France’s army Berlin and Italy’s army Silesia each supported the other to Prussia. With Prussian support uncut, the Russian army in Warsaw marched into Silesia forcing Italy to retreat. Nothing much else moved on the board and it seemed a setback, but hardly a disaster as Silesia fell back to Munich. The next turn however, Munich was in Burgundy, Bohemia was in Munich, Tyrolia was in Piedmont and Italian fleets were heading West. Berlin, expecting support from Munich, fell to the Russians and the French position imploded. A massive stab that could have occurred anyway, but here it got a big leg up as the most damaging offensive move was masked as a defensive retreat. The well defined DMZ, designed to give each power that vital turn of warning was breached without a flicker of concern.

The use of Duh! Diplomacy need not to be limited to setting up stabs. Often it is a good way to provide a little bit of protection against an ally that you are not one hundred percent sure of. For example, as an A/F alliance moved towards the end game, the Austrian began to have some doubts about the committment of the French player to their alliance. Their forces in the Med were balanced, but France had fleets in the north that could be quickly swung south while Austria had no such reserves. Austria also recognized that his doubts could well just be the paranoid ravings of someone who played Diplomacy too much. He knew that France was just as paranoid as he was, and if he did anything overt, France might well take it as a prelude to a stab, triggering the confrontation he was trying to avoid. His solution was to “accidentally” leave only one center open for the two builds he had coming. A non-offensive, mildly silly mistake, one that hardly drew a comment, yet one that greatly strengthened his position. He could hold any French stab for a year, and now there was the option of a lfeet build if it came. Perhaps there never was a threat, or perhaps it was the extra deterrent, but the alliance moved held and moved forward. The same result could have been achieved by simply waiving one of the builds, but look at the difference in the two approaches from the French point of build. Why hold a build? Only because Austria was contemplating a fleet build obviously. Why? Either because he did not trust France, or because he was planning a stab of his own. Either way, a strain would have been placed on the alliance. Much better to just appear a little bit absent minded!

Duh! Diplomacy is not for everyone. You need to find yourself in situations where an apparently dumb move is both available and beneficial. And you need to be able to convince the other players that you really are dumb enough to have made the move by accident. You’ll find though, that the more often you achieve the first goal, the easier the second becomes. Of course, now that I’ve bared my soul, I’ll not be able to use my strategy of calculated stupidity any more. I’ll get some compensation though from watching my opponents scrambling to figure out what devious plot I have up my sleeve as I bumble along. For you however, the possibilities are endless, so get out there and do something dumb!

Reprinted from Diplomacy World 80