Wednesday, July 30, 2014


So, on Saturday I got to hear part of a segment of THIS AMERICAN LIFE on NPR that dealt with one man's efforts to succeed at DIPLOMACY.

For those of you who don't know it already, DIPLOMACY is one of the most interesting boardgames ever created. Each player takes the role of one of the 'Great Powers' in pre-World War I Europe: England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungery, Russia, or the Ottomans. Each starts with only three (or, in the case of Russia, four) pieces. The goal is to seize your opponent's territories, and force him to lose his pieces. But he'll be trying to do the same to you, resulting in a stalemate -- unless you can outmaneuver him, by tricking him into thinking you're doing one thing when in fact you do something else, forcing him into a disadvantageous position. What makes the game fiendishly complicated is that all seven players are trying to do the same thing at the same time to each other. Which means that the easiest way to defeat a foe of equal strength is to ally with another player and team up against him. But what if he and your supposed partner have secretly teamed up against you? And how to cope if your enemy in turn allies with someone in a position to do you a bit of no good? And so forth. The game is full of promises, threats, betrayals (it's the only game I know of where the players are explicitly given permission to lie: it's in the rulebook), vendettas, and the like. It's endlessly fascinating, like trying to play chess with seven players all sharing the same board but with only three chessmen apiece. And it's uniquely frustrating. Most who play it do so in play-by-mail format (it cuts down on the shouting). Most people have never heard of it, but it's been thriving for decades, having probably hit its peak in the 1960s and into the 70s.*

Here's the link, about a guy who loved DIPLOMACY but was terrible at it because he couldn't read people: cdn't tell who to trust and who was lying to him, didn't understand why some got mad at his moves and countermoves and others took them in stride. So he took the unusual step of bringing in a professional diplomat, the guy who negotiated the Oslo Accords for Clinton,** to sit in with him and give him advice on who to trust. The results can be found here:

--John R.
who's only played DIPLOMACY three times, and while I never came close to winning I only ignominiously lost once.***

 *Though not long back I found lessons on You-tube giving you advice on your opening moves, each different depending on which country you wind up playing, with all the ramifications inherent in each choice.

**which, if I remember rightly, were a disaster that led directly into the ever-worsened situation in Israel/Palestine over the past twenty years.

***so far.

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