The Art of Diplomacy

by Richard Sharp

I’m going to try to summarize in a few paragraphs the qualities that make up a good player. Please note that I am not claiming omniscience – just trying to formulate myown ideas that other people can use for comparison. So here are my ‘golden rules’, in gradually diminishing order of importance.

1. Always stay on good terms with everyone for as long as possible, or longer. The player who commits himself to one ally, and hence against the rest, is unlikely to win many games. It is fascinating to discover how the same set of moves can be presented in two different lights to two opposed parties so that both find then acceptable. The most flagrant stab may be a phoney…and then again, it may not be, after all. A good player who decides to go in for an unambiguous stab should still mend his fences by apologising, pointing out that it was essential for his survival, and trying to negotiate a new deal. Nothing annoys me more than the lunatic who attacks me and then refuses to answer any further letters, convinced that my only aim is revenge. He may be right, at that, but what a boring, cowardly way to play.

2. Try to arrange accidents for neighbours, rather than attacking them. This is not easy to do, but very satisfying when it’s done well. A typical sequence would be: tell A to move in a certain way which is “almost 100% safe”, except in the remote event that B does so-and-so; then make sure B does do so-and-so; then commiserate with A (who’d have thought B was such an imaginative player?). A may be as suspicious as hell, but he can’t prove anything. By getting your neighbours to do your dirty work for you, you commit them to your side while retaining your own friendly relations with the victim, as prescribed in rule 1.

3. Concentrate on home centres. By this I mean that you should play to get your neighbours so entangled with one another that their building potential is zero: as I’ve said before, the ideal situation for Germany in about A04 is to have English in StP, French in Lon and Lpl, and Italians in Mar! If you can achieve this very desirable state of affairs, you can stop worrying about your “allies” becoming too strong, always a problem otherwise. While they are trying to sort themselves out, you can go on growing, and even if they notice they can’t do a thing about it.

4. Use the deadline. Provided GMs are on the phone, considerable success can be achieved by last-minute changes to plan; they give you some security against the danger that your earlier plans may have been leaked, One favourite device is to write to another player saying you have changed your mind and your orders – making sure he gets the letter just too late to act on it (sending it to the house next door is one cunning way of doing this). This will give you chance for a genuine stab that might otherwise cause relations to deteriorate sharply. Butyou must be able to rely on your GM not to accept late order changes: in at least one zine some players used regularly to phone allies after the deadline to find out how they had moved, then ring the GM and change their orders, which was always allowed!

5. Always tell the truth. Well, nearly always. I rather enjoy the challenge of finding a set of orders which I can confidently tell everyone in advance without damage to my own position. The advantage is obvious: people will tend to get into the habit of believing you, and when you finally hang one on them it’ll come as a shock. I can see no virtue in the ‘trust no one, lie to everyone’ approach, which simply ensures that no one believes a word you say after Autumn 1901.

6. Stab in the Spring. This is the direct reverse of the advice usually given but it works better, beyond any doubt. Spring stabs are much more likely to catch people with their knickers down, and provided you follow sound tactical principles (play to annihilate, aim for home centres) you should be able to consolidate in the Autumn. Many players regard Spring as a time for marking time and. picking daisies; by taking advantage of this you can stab at longer range, and bring more units into the struggle.