Diplomacy

Calhamer

Diplomacy is a strategic board game created by American mail carrier Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and released commercially in 1959. Its main distinctions from most board wargames are its negotiation phases (players spend much of their time forming and betraying alliances with other players and forming beneficial strategies) and the absence of dice or other game elements that produce random effects.

Set in Europe just before the beginning of World War I, Diplomacy is played by two to seven players, each controlling the armed forces of a major European Power (or, with few players, multiple powers). Each player aims to move his or her few starting units—and defeat those of others—to win possession of a majority of strategic cities and provinces marked as ‘supply centers’ on the map; these supply centers allow players who control them to produce more units.

Diplomacy was the first commercially published game to be played by mail (PBM); only chess, which is in the public domain, saw significant postal (long distance) play earlier. Diplomacy was also the first commercially published game to generate an active hobby with amateur fanzines; only science-fiction/fantasy and comics fandom saw fanzines earlier. Competitive face-to-face (FtF) Diplomacy tournaments have been held since the 1970s. Play of Diplomacy by e-mail (PBEM) has been widespread since the late 1980s. In its catalog, Avalon Hill advertised Diplomacy as John F. Kennedy’s and Henry Kissinger’s favorite game.

The idea for Diplomacy arose from Calhamer’s study at Harvard of nineteenth-century European history under Sidney B. Fay, and from his study of political geography. The rough form of Diplomacy was created in 1954, and its details were developed through playtesting until the 1958 map and rules revisions. Calhamer paid for a 500-game print run of that version in 1959 after rejection by major companies. The board is a map of Europe plus portions of the Middle East and North Africa. It is divided into fifty-six land regions and nineteen sea regions. Forty-two of the land regions are divided among the seven Great Powers of the game: Austria-Hungary, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Turkey. The remaining fourteen land regions are neutral at the start of the game.

Thirty-four of the land regions contain supply centers, corresponding to major centers of government, industry or commerce (e.g. Vienna, Rome); twenty-two of these are located within the Great Powers, and are referred to as home supply centers. The remaining twelve are located in provinces which are neutral at the start of the game. The number of supply centers (SCs) a player controls determines the total number of armies and fleets a player may have on the board, and as players gain and lose control of different centers, they may build (raise), or must remove (disband) units accordingly.

The land provinces within the Great Powers which contain supply centers are generally named after a major city in the province (e.g. London, Moscow) while the other land provinces within the Great Powers are generally named after a region (e.g. Bohemia, Apulia). Neutral land provinces are generally named after countries (e.g. Serbia, Belgium). Finland and Syria are both parts of Great Powers as Finland was part of the Russian empire in 1914 and Syria was part of the Turkish empire in 1914. Tunis is used rather than Tunisia on most boards and North Africa is a single province covering parts of Algeria and Morocco. Although for game purposes, the game starts in 1901, the map generally reflects the political boundaries of Europe in 1914 just before the outbreak of WWI, with Bosnia already annexed to the Austrian empire, and the Balkans reflecting the results of the wars of 1912 and 1913 in that region. On the other hand, North Africa and Tunis start the game as neutral, despite these regions being part of the French colonial empire in 1914.

All players other than England and Russia begin the game with two armies and one naval fleet; England starts with two fleets and one army, and Russia starts with two armies and two fleets (making it the only player to start the game with more than three units). Only one unit at a time may occupy a given map region. Balancing units to supply center counts is done after each game-year (two seasons of play: Spring and Autumn). At the beginning of the game, the twelve neutral SCs are all typically captured within the first few moves. Further acquisition of supply centers becomes a zero sum dynamic with any gains in a player’s resources coming at the expense of a rival. Players do not take one turn each, instead all players secretly write down their moves after a negotiation period, and then all moves are revealed and put into effect simultaneously. Social interaction and interpersonal skills make up an essential part of the game’s play.

The rules that simulate combat are strategic, abstract, and simple—not tactical, realistic, or complex—as this is a diplomatic simulation game, not a military one. The game is especially well suited to postal play, which led to an active hobby of amateur publishing. Internet Diplomacy is one of the few early board games that is now played on the web. Diplomacy proceeds by seasons, beginning in the year 1901, with each year divided into two main seasons: the ‘Spring’ and ‘Autumn/Fall’ moves. Each season is further divided into negotiation and movement phases, followed by ‘retreat’ or ‘disband’ adjustments and an end-of-the-year Winter phase of new builds or removals following the Autumn adjustments.

In the negotiation phase, players use any verbal means necessary to form alliances, or some other form of arrangement, with one another. Such arrangements may be made public knowledge or kept secret. Since players are not bound to anything they say during this period, and thus no agreements of any sort are enforceable, communication and trust are unusually important for a strategy game; players must forge alliances with opponents and observe them to ensure their trustworthiness; at the same time, they must convince others of their own trustworthiness while making plans to turn on their allies when others least expect it. A well-timed stab can be just as profitable as a long and trustworthy alliance.

After the negotiation period, players write secret orders for each unit; these orders are revealed and executed simultaneously. Units can move from their location to an adjacent space, support adjacent units in holding an area in the event of an attack, do nothing or assist in attacking an occupied area. In addition, fleets may transport armies from one coast space to another when in a chain called a ‘convoy.’ Armies may only occupy land regions, and fleets occupy sea regions and the land regions that border named seas. Only one unit may occupy a region; if multiple units are ordered to move to the same region, only the unit with the most support moves there (if two or more units have the same highest support, no units ordered to that region move). A unit giving support that is attacked has its support broken, except in the case the support is being given to an invasion of the region from which the attack it suffered comes.

After each Autumn move, newly-acquired supply centers become owned by the occupying player, and each power’s supply center total is recalculated; players with fewer supply centers than units on the board must disband units, while players with more supply centers than units on the board are entitled to build units in their Home centers (supply centers controlled at the start of the game). Players controlling no supply centers are eliminated from the game, and if a player controls 18 or more (that is, more than half) of the 34 SCs, that person is declared the winner. Players may also agree to a draw; this also happens when (infrequent) stalemates occur.

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