Let's Get Personal!
by Pat Conlon
Opening strategy articles must make fine reading for novices (I wouldn't know, having had my baptism in Voice of Doom). But I sometimes wonder if there are other players out there, experienced or not, who find most such writings a restatement of the obvious. There is the occasional exception. Dick Fischbach's advice to would-be sultans reads like an Islamic Machiavelli. There may be little new here aside from his emphasis on long range planning over short term gains. Kirk has given it enough color to make it a delight to read. But are there all that many players out there who still need to be told that if you have the English position, it is imperative that you not allow F/G to ally?
<duhhh. .helloo-oo...regular...or decaf...helloo-oo...>
Having read through the seven articles in the latest DipWorld, I now feel a strange compulsion to submit my own two cents' worth. My subscription is up and my checkbook is low, which is a more believable raison d'etre for this article to many of you. Cynics! So I asked myself: what would be more useful to novice or pro than a rehashing of the Lepanto? What advice seems needed most to all our diplomats, based on my recent games? So I made a list, and gave it a catchy name: The Seven Deadly Sins of Diplomacy. If you practice the Seven Deadly Sins, your opponents will die. Well, anyway, it's still a better name than the seven principles for effective diplomacy. And here they are:
1. Write everyone.
2. Evaluate your six opponents.
3. Choose a strategy based on that evaluation.
4. Map out your 18 center win.
5. Keep writing nearly everyone.
6. Look for Murphy.
7. Trenches and horizons.
WRITE EVERYONE. This is simple; it's basic; it should be old news to everyone. But it isn't. Or at least, a great many of you aren't doing it. I suppose the world would be a much better place if so many of you weren't "doing it", less taxing on the environment and all that. But in Diplomacy, if you aren't "doing it", you will be left out in the cold. So write everyone. You have important goals you need to accomplish with each and every letter. For the remainder of this article, assume that you have drawn England. It should be obvious to you why it's important to write to France and Germany. But just in case you run into one of those screwy Germans who doesn't see the need to write to England (and yes, Virginia, they are out there), attack him. But why should you have to write Austria? Chances are he'll be gone by W'02 and you want to finish writing letters so you can play Doom. Answer: You want to establish rapport with the Austrian. Make him your friend. Swap stories about your dog and his broken foot. If he gets past 1902, a friend is much easier to negotiate with. A friend is more likely to believe any lie you might have to tell him. A friend is more willing to help you deceive another player. But if you write him off in S'01 and he survives, he will take a very callussed view of your wants and desires when you finally admit that you need his help. There are many more reasons to write everyone, as you shall soon see.
EVALUATE YOUR SIX OPPONENTS. Can't do this unless you have written all of them and have gotten one or two letters from each in return. Who likes your ideas? Who doesn't? Who sounds like a moron? an obstinate pig? fresh meat? The country you draw does not determine the most successful strategy you should play. Who's playing each of the other six positions determines the path to success. You need an ally whom you can trust to write regularly in order to coordinate moves, someone who won't mis-order or nmr, someone you think you can trust, to get you out of the starting gate and into someone else's supply centers. You need to begin cultivating an alternative or secondary ally, someone who can help once you have eliminated your first target or in the event you are stabbed. You need to know what's happening on the other side of the board; what trends will help you and which ones will haunt you. You need to know who has the ability to rally the beleaguered troops and keep you out of your 18th s/c. Once you have made same judgments about your six opponents, then it is time to...
CHOOSE A STRATEGY BASED ON THAT EVALUATION. There's plenty of them out there, in zines such as Dip World, the several Novice packets, Peery's Dip World anthologies, and the letters you have received from your opponents. Now, you say that the German is being very obstinate about Belgium and that the Frenchman sent you really nice pictures of his trip to Africa. So let's pick an anti-German opening. It's personal, get it? They are not computers computing the optimum set of moves. They may not even be very smart. They may haunt you from their grave (with a $20 bribe to one of your remaining opponents) or they may fold their tents so fast you won't have enough home s/c's for all your new builds. It's important to always remember and never forget, your six opponents are people, not countries. But before you begin to believe your own press clippings about world domination...
MAP OUT YOUR 18 CENTER WIN. Okay, Mr. Queen of England, school's in session. Sit down there at that desk. Here's a blank map. Grab a royal blue pencil. Yes, the one that is the same color as the uniforms worn by your soldiers. We need to find 18 centers. Start by coloring your own three s/c's. Color in NWY and BEL next. France will consider supporting your army into BEL as part of an EF alliance and attack against Germany. Next, color in DEN, HOL, KIE, and BER. You are planning to attack Germany first, right? Next, color in SWE and STP. If you can get these, you can secure your northern flank and never again have to worry about an attack from that part of the board. How many s/c's do you have colored in blue so far? That's right, eleven. Kinda looks like we might have to consider attacking France at some point, if you want to rule the world. Ease your conscience with this thought. When you are guiding the destiny of so many millions of people, you have to make some tough decisions. So let's color in PAR, BRE, MAR, SPA, POR, and MUN. Count up all those blue s/c's now: 17. Where can you pick up an 18th center? This world domination thing is tougher than you thought, isn't it? Let's say you catch a break along the way and pick up TUN. Go ahead, color it in. Now you have 18 s/c's, but only in your dreams. Keep this map in the front of your file for this game. Use another blank map to show the results of each season's moves. Put both maps side by side as you make and adjust your plans, and as you...
KEEP WRITING NEARLY EVERYONE. Those 18 blue-colored s/c's are going to be hard to achieve. Russia isn't likely to hand you STP just because you sent him pictures of your kid sister in the shower. But the Russian armies might all march south if you can convince the Austrian and the Turks to attack SEV. Those French s/c's are even harder to reach. But if you tip the Italians about the upcoming French move into the Med (I don't know if it's true, make it up, the end result may be the same), the Italians just might send their fleets west. Of course then the French may have to send their fleets east. Refore you know it, you could be popping Champagne corks in Brest. "But Master, why did you say to keep writing nearly everyone?" Come closer. I don't want to say this too loudly. See, some people will crucify you for saying the truth, even a truth they believe in, if that truth is not politically correct. If the German has never responded to any of your letters and you are midway through your campaign to eliminate him, it may not hurt your chances if you choose not to write him. If the Austrian is down to two units and they both appear to be in imminent danger, the most you need to do is send him a sympathy card with wishes to meet again under more favorable circumstances. Yes, sometimes it's okay not to "do it". And in time, when you and your royal consort have been together for many years, you will come to understand that even two people who are in bed together don't always "do it" every night of the week, and yet they manage to survive and grow together. But whether you "do it" or not, and especially if you don't, always...
LOOK FOR MURPHY. He is an evil warlock constantly on the lookout for a means to thwart your ambitions. He has a million disguises and supernatural powers. He can turn your RegDip game into a Blackhole variant, or a gunboat game, without anyone's consent. He can twist the words of your own letters to insult your allies and reveal your true plans to your enemies. He is the Begetter of nmr's, postal snafus, and mis-orders. He is the older brother of Satan, and inexplicable. But there are three rules whereby you might know of him. He tends to appear wherever you are least vigilant. This is his most uncanny and baffling trait. He tends to appear wherever there is an absence of written communication. If the Germans don't write you in S'01, attack. And he tends to appear whenever you think you have the same won, whispering unimaginable lies into the ears of your opponents, making concert where stood centuries of Slavic discord. To account for Murphy, you must be flexible. If the Italians move the Sistine Chapel to Tunis and vow never to surrender, you may need to alter your pretty little map with the 18 royal blue s/c's, with the captions and arrows and a paragraph on the back describing each one...oh, excuse me.
Finally, when you are in the trenches, never forget to look up at the horizon. Remember, you are Queen of England, not Captain of Infantry. Keep these Seven Deadly Sins before your eyes. Ponder on each of them before you open the diplomatic pouches or make responses. Study your map with the 18 royal blue supply centers. Consider how each move (yes! of all 34 armies and fleets on the board) helps or hinders your plan. Never neglect the Austrian just because you are stuck in Flanders and know that he will not help you cross the Rhine.
If you follow the Seven Deadly Sins, you will rule the world. True, if the other six opponents followed the Sins as well, you will be thwarted. But take heart, experience has shown that far fewer than one in seven randomly chosen diplomats practices all seven Sins faithfully. I myself have rarely been entirely faithful to all seven Sins. But then I am not born to rule as are you. If you are not "doing it", then you will be left out in the cold. If you are not vigilant, Murphy will be "doing it" with your consort. And if the planets align and conspire to derail your ambitions despite a faithful observance of the Seven Deadly Sins, sit back, relax, thank the stars that it is just a game, and indulge in the Eighth Deadly sin: Pizza!
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 79