We Don't Need No Steenkin' Rules!
by Jim Grose
When I first learned Diplomacy in the 60's with some friends, we skimmed
through the rulebook once and only referred back to it to resolve disputes. This
led to three fundamental misinterpretations of the rules. As a result the fleets
had an inordinate amount of firepower, could move very slowly in one fashion but
very quickly in another.
First, we somehow concluded that a fleet in port not only occupied the land
area but also the sea area adjacent to it. This meant, for example, that a fleet
in Rome prevented fleets from occupying Tyn, Tus(Tyn), Nap(Tyn) and Tun(Tyn).
"Tus(Tyn)? What on Earth is he talking about?" you ask. Somehow we concluded
that since Bulgaria, Spain and St. Petersburg each had two unique coasts, this
meant that any land area which bordered more than one body of water had more
than one coast, even if they were adjacent. Thus Nap had two, Tun had three and
The above led to the second misunderstanding: a fleet could only occupy one
coast at a time. Under the real rules a fleet can make it from StP(n.c.) to Swe
in two moves (F StP(n.c.) - Nwy, F Nwy - Swe) but under our rules it took five
(F StP(n.c.) - Nwy(Bar), F Nwy(Bar) - Nwy(Nwg), F Nwy(Nwg) - Nwy(Nth), F Nwy(Nth)
- Nwy(Ska), F Nwy(Ska) - Swe(Ska))!
The third misunderstanding, which was actually consistent with the first, was
that a fleet in port could, in one turn, move to an adjacent body of water. This
allowed, for example, France to move F Bre(MAO) - WMe in the spring and F WMe -
Nap(Tyn) in the fall!
These misunderstandings led to some bizarre situations, heated arguments and
repeated referrals to the rulebook until we realized the mistakes we were
making. For starters, which bodies of waters did F Nap, F Bre, F Lon and F Edi
occupy in Winter 1900? We reached the consensus that they started as F Nap(Ion),
F Bre(MAO), F Lon(Eng) and F Edi(Nth). More difficult to resolve were F Sev(Bla)
and F Ank(Bla) since by our interpretation of the rules two fleets could not so
"occupy" one body of water. Our solution was to completely ignore the rulebook
and start Turkish F Smy(Aeg)!
Armies could be used to help clear out bodies of water: for example, Italy
with F MAO supported by F NAf(WMe) would be forced to retreat (but not to Eng)
as a result of France ordering F Bre(Eng) - F Bre(MAO), A Par S F Bre(Eng) -
Bre(MAO), A Pic S F Bre(Eng) - Bre(MAO)!
If, say, Germany occupied Nth then England could not build F Lon(Nth) or F
Edi(Nth)! Similarly, standoffs were possible on Winter moves if, for example,
France built F Bre(Eng) and England built F Lon(Eng)!
The height of absurdity must have been our misunderstanding of the Kie/Den/Swe
region. We naturally assumed Swe had two coasts. We argued at length as to just
what Den was, since part of it is a collection of islands which, by definition,
are surrounded by water, suggesting a fleet could pass through, yet part of it
is an extension of the European mainland. Because the rulebook mentioned that
both armies and fleets could move through Con and Kie, but said nothing about
Den, we reached the consensus that it was a land mass with four coasts, similar
to Spain and its four (by our interpretation) coasts. Armies could move from Swe
to Den to Kie and vice versa but more importantly fleets could not move through
Den when moving from Bal to Hel, Nth or Ska or vice versa. Neither could fleets
move through Den when travelling from Swe(Bal) to Swe(Ska) or vice versa. Thus
the only way to get in or out of Bal was via Kie. Imagine how this influenced
Moral of the story: read the rules carefully.
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 80