Nasty Tactics in Diplomacy

by John Piggott

A few misguided souls still believe that Diplomacy is an honourable and genteel game. Oh, they may recognise that the only way to play is to stab, cheat and lie, but they will do this according to the diplomatic equivalent of the Marquis of Queensbury's rules.

We know that the basic purpose of participating in a game of postal Diplomacy is to gain pleasure from actually playing - the act of winning and the ego-boo gained thereby is merely a secondary consideration (players who believe otherwise should see a psychiatrist). However, once in a while it's a good thing to really beat the hell out of the other guys by any way possible, and it is to cater for this eventuality that this handy guide to tactics is compiled. Here will be found no lengthy treatises on tactics, no lists of reasons why Austro-Turkish alliances are not viable - just a catalogue of basic nasty tactics for the nasty player to familiarise himself with. Some of them - perhaps even a majority - have actually been used or attempted at one time or another; all, given the correct conditions, are theoretically feasible.

1. How To Interfere With The Post

On the surface, writing a diplomatic letter is a simple affair. You shove down on a scrap of paper what you wish the addressee to read, stick a stamp on and hope the GPO will deliver it in time. We all have our stories of postal mess-ups; but it can sometimes be convenient to aid the process with a few subtle tactics of one's own.

Do you remember Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders? In it, the murderer sent Hercule Poirot a letter giving details of the latest murder he was about to commit, but wrongly addressed the letter deliberately. Thus, the missive was delayed and Poirot did not receive it till the crime had been done. How simple to apply the tactic to postal Diplomacy! Imagine you are about to double-cross an erstwhile ally, but wish to remain in his good books for one more turn. You have received details of his enemy's plans, and the day before the deadline you send these to your "ally", just in time for him to amend his orders to take account of this new information. But suppose, in your haste to address the envelope and get it posted in time, you put "Monument Rd' for "Monmouth Rd". Quite a natural slip, one would think. But the delay this mistake causes is enough to ensure that the information does not reach its destination until its usefulness is ended, and you have at once fulfilled your obligations to both your allies - or appeared to And that's all that matters to you.

Another way of achieving the same effect is to "forget" to stick a stamp on your envelope. The Post Office invariably give unstamped letters second-class treatment; often, indeed, they will take three or four days to arrive. Of course, once the recipient complains, you can be profuse in your apologies, even to the extent of refunding his.5p if you think it's worth it... but the damage is done by that stage.

Another valuable tactic is what Arthur Clarke has termed the "random noise" letter. This is simply a hand-written epistle in which certain key words are written so badly as to be unintelligible. Again, this tactic is best used close to a deadline date, so that the addressee has no time to query the doubtful words. When, in due course, he rounds on you and demands to know what you mean by moving to X instead of Y, you can plead that you did tell him you would do it....

Writing one of these letters takes some practise, and its organisation demands at least a rudimentary filing system, to keep track of what was said and how. Quite the opposite circumstance can be simulated by the simple stratagem of placing one player's letter in another's envelope. We have all done this (or nearly done it) at some time or another, I'm sure; and it would be quite useful sometimes to be able to do this deliberately. Care is necessary to ensure that the fake letter seems genuine. It should not be overwritten (a tendency fatally easy to fall into) nor should it appear too loyal to its real or fake recipients to ring true.

Anonymous letters are fairly "old hat" in postal Diplomacy now. I suspect that generally they are regarded in the same way as press releases; that is, they can be a bit of a laugh on occasions, but they must be taken with a big pinch of salt. More effective, if done well, might be forgeries of other players' letters, but a lot of care is needed. Forgery of hand-writing is not the easiest of tasks. The commonest error committed by amateur forgers is to take too much time in the formation of each character. This results in a jerky appearance to the work, and it's a dead give-away. If the player you're trying to forge normally types his letters, access to his machine is an essential before you can even consider taking the plan further. Once mastery of the physical side is achieved, consideration must be given to writing the letter in the correct style: does the person you're trying to forge know a lot about English grammar? If he does, a clutch of split infinitives would again give the game away. Lastly, the correct stationary must be used, and the letter must be posted in the right place. Wouldn't you feel suspicious if you got a letter postmarked "Sale, Cheshire" which appeared to come from me?

I could ramble on for longer, but I think my point has been made: namely, that decent forgery of another player's letters is too complex a task to be really feasible. For this reason, I am sometimes surprised to find some players taking the idea of forgery fairly seriously, devising separate forms of address for each player they write to and letting the secrets out to nobody. I consider this a waste of time, since, as I've just outlined, only a real madman would even attempt a successful forgery. Though I should note that perpetrating an unsuccessful forgery could sometimes lead to entertaining consequences, which I think I'll leave to your imaginations.

I'll just lightly, and facetiously, mention one other way one can interfere with the mails. It's only applicable in towns with quite a few Dippy players present, but application for a job as a post office sorter in such a centre would lead to possibilities which are at once interesting, limitless... and illegal.

2. How To Hoodwink The GM And Use His Zine To Further Your Own Ends

Many GMs view the possibility of being deceived by one of the players with a sort of dull horror. To minimise the risk of such a thing happening, many sets of house rules impose the Dippy equivalent of a death sentence as a punishment for this offence. Deception of the GM is not tolerated under any circumstances," they cry. "Discovery will lead to instant removal of the offender from all games."

I don't like people who try to deceive me very much, either, though I wouldn't go so far as some in my attempts to eradicate the canker from the entire universe. The main objection to a player's submitting false orders for another country, as far as I can see, is that it causes a monstrous fuss and delay to the game. As soon as the game report is issued, the player whose orders have been forged is sure to raise an outcry and the GM will have no choice but to suspend operations till the fuss is cleared up, and then to order a replay of the previous move. Viewed from this point, at least, the act of forging someone else's orders is indefensible.

Yet I don't crack down on offenders as hard as most. Why not? Because in my opinion, if the deception is successful the player who brings it off must have worked bloody hard at it. You see, I flatter myself that I'm fairly wide-awake, and that if anyone wants to deceive me they'll have to get up jolly early if they want to succeed.

So I keep the ultimate penalty in reserve, as a last resort to use on persistent offenders. So far I haven't received any forged orders (touch wood), but then it isn't a very common occurrence in any case. To minimise the risk, I advise players to sign their orders (though I don't insist on the precaution; I can't be bothered with bureaucracy over and above that which is barely necessary), and in cases where a forged order is submitted for the same deadline as a genuine set, I like to think I 'd be able to tell them apart.

An interesting problem, however, arises for cases where the genuine player for some reason has sent in no orders, whilst a forged set has appeared. This dilemma is, to say the least, unlikely to occur, but unless I had definite proof (not mere suspicion) that the forged set was forged, I think I'd be forced to accept the forged set as genuine. That sounds a weird admission to make, I confess; but I see no other way out of it.

We have come to the surprising conclusion, therefore, that forging orders is perhaps too nasty a tactic, more dastardly than even Liesnard or myself dare contemplate. Needless to say, there exist less nasty manoeuvres involving the GM and his magazine. Indeed, the first of these I will mention could scarcely be termed nasty at all - the use of press releases.

As has been said above, press releases, whilst adding flavour and humour to the game (at least, they do this if well done), are not taken seriously as regards policy statements. It is possible they can be used, however, to further one's plans in the game, provided one has some notion of the particular psychology of the other players. For instance, if you received details of another player's plans, you could publish them either in an effort to thwart them or to assist their furtherance This happened to me a couple of times recently, as readers of the "Ravioli Rave-Up" in the propaganda columns of Der Krieg will know. The effect it had on the success of my plans will probably remain unknown, but it is certain that it made me tend to clan up a bit in my communications to the offending player…

That's a fairly innocuous use of the magazine, of course. I'll skip over the notion of forging an issue of the magazine; though it would be a fantastic scheme to pull off, the technical problems involved are immense. Easier to organise is engineering oneself two countries in the same game, under different names. This has been successfully managed at least once, by John Boardman who took a second country in a Brobdingnag game under the pseudonym of "Eric Blake". The hoax was revealed when the game had ended, but regrettably I don't know what positions Boardman and Blake finished in.

Clearly, this tactic must be brought about without the GM's knowledge, but it wouldn't be too difficult to manage if you were dedicated. The address problem could be sold by renting a box number for ten pounds a year, I believe, and letters could be made to appear different for the two different players by using separate typewriters and stationary.

The last nasty tactic I want to mention in this section involves the GM's mistakes. Oh, I know there shouldn't be any, but there often are. And it’s a fact that mistakes are often discovered by only one or two of the seven players. I don't know why this is so - I should have thought that all players would set up the pieces in their games to see what the position is, and to check that the moves have been adjudicated correctly - but no. Often I have found that if I find a mistake in the adjudication but neglect to tell anyone about it for some reason, then I don't receive a postcard from the GM correcting the error, although I (and, I guess, all the other players) do receive confirmation of the error when I do send notification to the GM...

This sounds, unlikely, I admit. Nevertheless in my experience this is true. And from this stems an, obvious nasty tactic. If you discover an error, which affects your enemy, why bother to tell the GM about it until the last possible opportunity? In other words, why not send notification of the error just before the deadline, leaving your enemy to make moves according to the published adjudication and maybe make a mess of them?

Most GMs in this situation would unhesitatingly call a replay of the move, I suspect. But I think the logic behind this decision is questionable, for it is, after all, up to the individual, players to check the position. The GM does his best, obviously, but it is hardly realistic to expect him to spot mistakes that he has already let through once. And if he can't find them, it is surely up to the players...

3. Foul Words, Menaces And Downright Threats

And now we travel from the sublime straight down to the ridiculous, I fear, entering, as a sort of extra, grounds of very shaky legality in some parts. Undeterred, we press on, leaving the chicken-livered by the way.

But we can start with the most common, and, in some ways, one of the most innocuous of nasty tactics - carrying alliances and grudges from .one game to another. Many players feel this is a bad idea, preferring to keep all their games separate. There's a lot' to be said for this notion, I think; but unfortunately it isn't always possible. One's reputation will sometimes find one out, even when an effort is made to alter the character of one's play in different games. For instance, I have achieved the rather unenviable reputation of being an untrustworthy player, who would stab his own grandmother for an extra build. In most of the games I'm playing in, this is a perfectly true description, but it's annoying to an extreme when my reputation prevents the alliances I want to keep from working as well as I'd like. The trouble is that a reputation is damned difficult to get rid of once you’re saddled with it, and there's no immediate cure.

This hardly qualifies at all as a truly nasty tactic; however, it is sometimes useful to play upon the reputations of one's opponents, in an effort to turn their allies against them. But the suitability of this tactic depends on what sort of reputations your opponents have got. It is unlikely to be successful if wielded by a player who himself has a bad record...

Instead of merely criticising the past Diplomacy record of your enemies, however, you might consider extending the criticism to wider areas, aiming at either turning his would-be allies against him or else demoralising him. Coincidentally, Graeme Levin and myself are playing in the same game in Courier (game l97lEA) and a couple of people have asked me whether my attack on the BDC in recent Ethils stemmed from. the fact that Levin, playing Germany, stabbed me (England) in this game. In fact, this is not the case; I'm happy to say that the Anglo-French alliance seems to be taking care of Germany quite well at the moment, without any need to resort to mundane influences; but the thought is there, nonetheless. A player with access to independent publishing sources might achieve a good deal by passing scurrilous attacks about his opponents around. The likeliest method of success would be to anger one's opponents so much that they attempt to take revenge on you in the game and launch an ill- conceived and suicidal attack. Care would be necessary in the selection of one's subjects for this tactic; many players, probably a majority, would simply shrug off such attacks and ignore them; a few would merely invoke the libel laws if the criticism were too extreme. All considered, I think this tactic would best be left in the theory books, and not brought into practise.

An. Interesting possibility for defeated players to consider is to sign up as a standby player for the game one has been eliminated from. Then, later, one could enter the game for a second time and get revenge on the cur who caused your defeat the first time round. This idea has so much scope for nasty and treacherous tactics that I suspect many GMs will forbid this in their house rules - but I think it may be worth a try anyway. In a way, it's a rather ghoulish trick: "If you kill me, I’ll come back and haunt you."

4. How To Mess About With Other Peoples’ Moves

Do you like to make your opponents' moves fail? Of course you do. And there are more ways of bringing this happy circumstance about than merely force of arms and luck.

The main method of influencing the other players’ orders and affecting their outcome is a judicious use of the support order. As we all know, any player may support the moves of another player, provided that the positions of the units in question are such that support is legal. In addition to giving us the obvious possibilities for two countries to constructively co-operate, also opens the road to some rather nastier tactics.

You do not require the other player's permission in order to support one of his moves or pieces. This is especially useful in cases where you want to thwart self stand-offs.

For instance, suppose France has A Spa, A Bur, and Italy has A Pie. It is Autumn 1901 and Italy wishes to prevent France from building a fleet in Marseilles next Winter. France will protect Marseilles by ordering A Spa-Mar, A Bur-Mar; if Italy orders A Pie-Mar or A Pie stands, Marseilles remains open and France builds his fleet. If Italy orders A Pie S A Spa-Mar, France loses not only the chance to build his fleet where he wants it, but also loses Spain into the bargain.

This is a reasonably obvious stratagem. Less obvious, but still fairly useful in certain circumstances, is the tactic of telling your "allies" you will support their moves, or perform certain manoeuvres, and then either "forgetting" to send in orders or else writing the relevant parts of your orders in a format which will not be accepted by the GM. For instance, an order which reads "F Bar-Nor" is illegal, since it could refer either to Norway or to the Norwegian Sea. Confronted with irate allies, demanding to know what went wrong, you could simply plead that it was a mistake, even feigning annoyance that the GM didn't allow your moves, or that they didn’t arrive in time. Who is to prove you wrong?

The third tactic regarding the support order I'll just mention briefly. In cases where one is confronted by two allied powers, but has not yet been attacked (this situation will often arise in a three-power alliance, just as the power under attack by all three is eliminated), to give support to a (non-existent) move of one ally against the other may sometimes be an aid to establishing dissent between them. By itself, of course, this tactic is insufficient.

Busy players like Davidson, who play in many games at once, are also open to trickery a little. People who play in lots of magazines may find it difficult to remember whose house rules apply to which games offhand, especially if they lack decent filing systems, and then in certain cases it would probably be a simple matter to play upon their confusion to cause them to make moves illegal under the house-rules for that game, though perfectly legal under other GMs. This used to have far more application than it has now; the advent of the new Rulebook has smoothed out a good many of the individual differences between house rules. However, in this country at least, the new Rulebook has brought another factor into play. Despite its availability, many players, I am sure, have not yet got a copy, and plays on the ignorance of some people of some of the new rules are possible. It's risky, though - if you try it on a novice he may ask the GM to tell him what the real rule is...

So there you have it. An ample justification, I think, for those words in the old Rulebook: "During the Diplomacy period, nothing is sacred." There is, I think, only one thing left to say: if any of these tactics are tried on you, I ain't to blame.

Published in Ethil the Frog No.14 – September 1972



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