How to Play Postal Diplomacy and Win (or at least draw)

by Rob Chapman

A game of Diplomacy is more than just an exercise in strategic planning and tactical manouvering – it is a clash between seven diverse and often discordant personalities. No two games are ever the same. There are probably as many different ways to play the game as there are players. Not everyone will find sympathy with my approach, but nevertheless I will proffer some suggestions about how you can best organise your games and conduct effective negotiations in order to achieve profitable results. 

First of all then, you need to ORGANISE ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION about your game. Some kind of filing system is required. I use a ring folder, into which I file all incoming correspondence; I keep a record sheet in the front of the folder with the GM’s and the players’ addresses and phone numbers, and I record the date each letter is received or sent. 

It is impractical, and seldom convenient, to set up the board every time you want to consider your moves, so each session I make a map of the current position which I carry in my pocket to study at leisure (a simple photocopy of the board with symbols for units and a different colour for each country). This also helps me to keep track of who owns which supply centres throughout the game. The map is filed in the game folder after each adjudication when a new one is drawn. 

It is useful to keep a copy of all your correspondence to other players and to the GM (especially if your memory is as erratic as mine). I use duplicate books and keep a mote of the page number sent to each person on the record sheet (each book contains 100 pages and I am currently on volume 28…), but many players prefer to type their letters and keep a carbon copy which cam be filed in the game folder. 

NEVER NMR. Obviously you must ensure that you always get your orders to the GM before the deadline. Make a note of the date on a calender or in your diary, or on the game map itself. It’s a good idea to submit a set of orders as soon as you receive each adjudication, you will probably want to change them again later as a result of your diplomatic efforts, but at least you will have a set of orders on file in case you forget the deadline. Always keep a copy of your orders. 

WRITE LOTS OF LETTERS. Write to everyone in the game every season if you can manage it. Write long, friendly letters (it’s a very friendly hobby, enjoy your correspondence). Analyse the game, exchange information, suggest possible moves for your allies, ask for suggestions for your own moves. When you can’t discuss the game, discuss the weather, or what you did on your holidays etc. get to know your opponents; introduce yourself at the beginning of the game by giving some personal details about yourself, the others will usually reciprocate. Stay friendly with everyone for as long as possible. 

ASK QUESTIONS. A question will provoke a response, your correspondent is obliged to reply. Ask direct questions, make your opponent commit himself. “What do you intend to do with your A(Bur) next season?” If he tells you, all well and good. If he doesn’t, or is evasive, then you have good reason to be suspicious about his intentions (so ask him again). If he tells a lie, then you can claim he has double-crossed you and you have an excuse to stab him (if you want to). 

TELL THE TRUTH. Too many players think Diplomacy is about treachery and deceit. It’s not – it’s about honesty and trust. You will have to trust people throughout the game, and you will want the other players to trust you. They won’t trust you if you demonstrate a willingness to tell lies. Tell the other players what your moves will be when you can, especially during the early stages of the game – build up a reputation for being truthful, this will prove to be very useful later on… 

DON’T STAB INDISCRIMINATELY. If you are going to stab then make it count, it’s not much good if you don’t make substantial gains. Attack the weak – persuade others to attack the strong. Be sure you have good reason for the stab; if you are the aggrieved party (“… he continually double—crossed me …“) the neutral powers will not be so concerned by your belligerence. Try to avoid being seen as the aggressor. Apologise to your victim immediately, and point out the very good reasons why you were forced to take such drastic action (blame another player if possible); remain on friendly terms (you might need his help later and you don’t want him to bear any grudges). 

Always expect to be stabbed yourself. Each season, work out what damage your neighbours can do to you and be prepared for the worst. If you are stabbed, write to your Assailant in good humour (disguising the exasperation) and discreetly point Out the dire consequences of his rash decision. Whatever happens, keep negotiating. 

EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. Promises are not binding (although you can claim they should be if it is someone else who is making them). Keep your plans flexible and your options open, don’t commit yourself or your forces to any long term strategy. Be prepared to respond to the changing fortunes of the game. 

And finally, KEEP A LOW PROFILE. You don’t want to become a target so avoid getting a reputation. If you do win a few games, don’t tell anyone. Don’t start your own zine or become involved in hobby politics. And don’t write any Diplomacy articles…