Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why I Hate Diplomacy

Don't get me wrong - it's an excellent game. It really is. It would have to be - it's been in print since 1959, and, until very recently, survived in the hobby gaming market.

And, in theory, I love the game.

In practice, however ...

Kenneth Hite wrote an article for a recent issue of Games Quarterly entitled "Not Miserable Yet? Play Diplomacy!" For those of you who don't know, Kenneth Hite is one of those Crazy Uncle characters for the Gaming Industry. He's quite mad, and very very funny. He's also very sharp and often on-target.

For those two or three of you who are unfamiliar with the game, here are the basics of Diplomacy:

Players play one of seven powers in pre-WWI Europe who are competing for control over Supply Centers. The first player to 18 Supply Centers wins the game. Units consist of Armies and Fleets. The only significant differences between the two are where they can move - fleets can only move to sea spaces and coastal spaces. Armies can't move onto the sea (but they can be convoyed across the sea by Fleets).

The basic options units have in the game are Move, Hold and Support. Assume each unit has a power of 1 + Support. When two people try to move into the same space, compare power. Winner moves in. Loser stays put. If there's a tie, no-one moves.

If it sounds too simple to be believed, it is.

The difficulty in the game comes from negotiation and give-and-take.

The game is played in turns - each turn is 15 minutes of negotiation, after which everyone writes down their orders, and the orders are processed. Then there are fifteen minutes of negotiation ...

Yes. Until someone wins.

"I can support your troops and you can support mine. You and I? We can work together to push that guy away and take his supply centers, which, of course, we will divide equally."

See, after the first two or three turns, every supply center in the game is held by someone. So, in order to grow, you need help to beat someone else up.

As Ken Hite said, "Speaking of names, however, Diplomacy should perhaps be more accuratey called Backstabbery ... "

Now, I play a number of games at which I am ... less-than-skilled. And I enjoy most of them. But Diplomacy brings out the worst in me. The absolute worst. Because I take every knife in my back personally. It's to the point where I won't even play the game face-to-face, anymore - I'll only play online. Ideally with strangers. Failing that, in a double-blind format where I don't know who I'm negotiating with. Because I don't want to believe my friends are capable of that level of backstabbery. Especially against me.

I like my friends. I like to think highly of them. I don't want to see the knives come out. And they always do. Usually my friends stab me before I stab them. And, because they are my friends and I trusted them, it hurts. Deeply and personally.

Maybe I'm just too trusting.