by Doug Beyerlin
The stab is an integral part of the game of Diplomacy. Used properly, it can make a good player into a great player. Used improperly, it will doom a player to indecision and botched win opportunities. Therefore, every Diplomacy player needs to know when and how to properly make use of the stab.
Before I get into the intricacies of the stab there are a few things that need to be said. My definition of a stab is when one partner of an alliance attacks another player of that alliance in such an overwhelming manner so as to either win the game outright or remove the stabbed player from presenting any serious opposition in the future. Thus, the stab is a very powerful weapon open to much potential abuse.
To properly use the stab a player must know when and how to use it. As pointed out in the definition, there are two situations where the stab can be best utilised. The situation where the stab will produce a guaranteed win (assuming that the other player does not have the foresight to block the attempted stab) is the most obvious case. Once the stab is successfully pulled off it is too late for the victim or the other players to retaliate. The game is over and the desired result accomplished.
A definite side effect of such a tactic must be considered. The stab will produce enemies if anything will and this must be taken into consideration for future games. Once the stab concludes the game every effort should be made by the stabber to console the victim and explain the reason for the stab in a logical way. This may not make up for the stab in the eye of the victim, but it may help dull the pain.
The second situation where a stab can be useful is in the opening stages of the game. Here a stab can quickly cripple a neighbouring power. If done correctly this allows the stabbing player an avenue of quick expansion while the other players are locked in slow battles of attrition. This special use of the stab is known as the blitz.
Now to discuss when not to use a stab. A stab should not be attempted on an ally in the mid-game stage. Progress towards the win will not be aided if only two or three centres will be gained and the ally’s position against opposing powers will be lost. In the long run this will usually decrease the stabber’s chances of winning — which, of course, is just the opposite of the desired results.
Also, it is not wise to spread the news of the impending stab to the other players in the game. Someone is always more than happy to pass this information on to the intended victim. At the same time it is a bad idea to telegraph the stab by moving units to strange positions just prior to the stab. This has got to make the ally nervous and probably will tip off the player to the coming attack.
There is one more thing that must be said on stabs. Every player when in the position to make a successful stab must individually weigh the consequences of this action against the potential gains. There are times and places where it may be better to go with an alliance to the end. Excess stabbing can lead to a bad reputation and this factor must be placed in the analysis before the decision is made to stab or not. Only then can a player have the best of both worlds.