Your First Game of Postal Diplomacy
by Stephen Agar
The First Letter
Having got your first gamestart, the question arises what you should do with it. Some players have a tendency to do nothing and just sit back and wait for other players to write to them, though if all seven players display that sort of attitude the game may take a long time to liven up. Whenever you receive a gamestart you should write to all the other players as soon as possible, even if there is no possibility of any initial contact. Yes, Germany should write to Turkey in Spring 1901.
There are one or two things that it is best to avoid in a Diplomacy letter. First, it is common for people new to the hobby to start their letters something like "Dear Monsieur Le President etc." - there is nothing wrong with that, but to many players that sort of style will seem too fanciful and even childish. It is better not to pretend that you are a grand head of state but to treat your opponents as players in a board game.
Second, avoid writing very short letters, especially at the beginning of a game. Such a letter will seem cold and impersonal. A good rule is never to send off a letter which you would not like to receive yourself. Diplomacy is very much a game concerning the inter-relationships between individuals and you will find that the other players will relate to you better if they see you as a person. I always include a potted biography in a first letter in the hope that it will encourage the other players to do likewise. Try and keep lines of communication open to all the other players, even if they have stabbed you. There is no point bearing grudges if you want to do well. It should be noted that there are some players who try and play Diplomacy without contacting anyone unless they are forced to. These people are normally quickly eliminated, but they can cause real consternation among their neighbours.
Given that a postal game will have 3/4 week deadlines that is ample time for a bit of skulduggery. If you are playing Germany there is nothing to stop England photocopying one of your letters and passing a copy on to France as evidence of your evil intent. This should be borne in mind at all times. It is possible to prepare the ground for this by casually mentioning in your letter to France that you will of course be writing to England proposing an alliance in order to lull England into a false sense of security. Even so, it is a good idea not to go over the top in Diplomacy letters - never be insulting about the other players, as you cannot guarantee that they won't get to see your letter in the end.
There is a habit by which Diplomacy letters are headed by the Game Number or Name, which country is writing to which (Eg. Germany-Italy), the game season and year and the real date. This enables the recipient of the letter to fix his mind on the game that you are talking about before he/she starts reading the letter. It also helps you when it comes to keeping a record of your correspondence. Remember that your memory may not be as good as you think it is. Whenever possible try to keep copies of the letters you send out (you could even use archaic carbon paper). Imagine the confusion if you wrote to your ally suggesting an ingenious yet complex set of moves, only to find that he/she replied "OK, I agree". Would you be able to remember exactly what you had proposed? In any event, if you are going to lie to people, it is helpful to have a record of the lies you have written and to whom.
The telephone is of course a quick and efficient method of communication. However, it does have some drawbacks (quite apart from the obvious one of cost). You may give too much away on the telephone, it is easy to get carried away and it is not always easy to remember exactly what was said. Certainly it is better to make complex proposals, backed up by logical argument, by letter, as this allows the other players to re-read your suggestions while looking at the Diplomacy board and make a considered judgment. It is easy to agree to something on the telephone, only to appreciate the drawbacks on reflection. On the other hand, the telephone is instantaneous and there is nothing for the other player to photocopy and pass on (assuming that you call is not being recorded!).
A few words about zines and editors. Do not expect too much. An average Diplomacy zine will take 30-40 hours of effort to put together, much of it over a single weekend. It is not just a matter of adjudicating games and typing game reports. There is filing, subscription management, stuffing envelopes, typing and/or writing any additional material plus the knowledge that you will lose money on every issue. Editors publish zines partly as an ego-trip, but mainly as a service. This is a good natured amateur affair, not a commercial enterprise. If it is your first game, a delay of even a week in receiving your game report may seem serious. It is not. Stay calm. That is not to say that you should put up with constantly shoddy service - if you have serious objections to the way a zine is being run then you could ask another editor to take on your game provided all other players agree. Do not expect to enjoy 100% of what is printed in a zine. Some people are only interested in their game reports. Others like articles, hobby news or just a lively letters page discussing issues of the day. Live and let live and I guarantee you will get more out of the hobby in the end.
If you dropout you will lose your deposit, outstanding credit and be blacklisted from this and many other zines. Do not do it.
First published in Spring Offensive No.1 (May 1992)