I love board games and RPG’s in part because they have a social element to them that is, so far, lacking in video games. Sorry video gamers! DudeBro’s yelling fart and rape jokes over a headset is not socializing. Well, not for me anyways.
I love games so much that when I got married in February we had a game themed wedding. It was awesome! We found fun ways to be a bit different with all part of the wedding including a unique wedding registry using the Wantster site. Wantster lets you keep lists of things you want, and you can mark them off as you get them. It also doubles as a registry for friends and family who want to buy you something you’ve ‘wanted’. Using Wantster we were able to register for a mix of normal and not-so-normal wedding gifts. One of the gifts we registered for and received was the board game Diplomacy.
Registering for Diplomacy was the most commented-on item on the registry since the game has been known to end friendships and cause life-long bitterness.
Diplomacy is a game where each player represents a country in Europe circa World War I (approximately, with some variations) and then proceeds to use strategy, cunning and diplomacy to take over the most territory. For a more detailed description check out boardgamegeek.com or Wikipedia.
According to Wikipedia it was the favourite game of John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissenger and Walter Cronkite.
Unlike Risk and other strategy wargames what really caught me about Diplomacy was how it made social diplomacy a key element of the game.
Like any other strategy wargame you need to think several moves ahead and trying to anticipate what your opponent(s) are going to do. But, in Diplomacy this anticipation that in other games may simply be some trash talk at the table becomes central to the game.
Each round begins with a session of Diplomacy where players invite other players to go off with them for secret diplomatic talks. You try to guess if the person who is offering you a deal for safe passage or to support you in a military invasion of another players’ territory is on your side or lying to your face. During these diplomatic talks players write down their military commands in secret. Then there is the big reveal where orders are collected and read allowed and you find out if you put your trust in the right ally or if you were duped and find yourself betrayed.
I am lucky enough to know many other board game geeks. I was very happy when a friend who knew the game well agreed to teach it. I invited several others who I knew were into board games and who would not take it personal when betrayal inevitably happened. This is definitely not a game for people who who may be offended by in-game lying. I can definitely see how tables get flipped with this game.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I drew Austria-Hungary, which was baffling for me. Right in the middle of things I really had no idea what to do. I went in with one goal: don’t be the first one out! It helped that many of the other players decided it was best to gang up on our gracious teacher because he is tricksy and sneaky (we love you Sandy!). Russia was stymied, France gave up everything to bring down Turkey (Sandy), and Germany and England formed a very profitable alliance that saw England in the lead by the time we had to finish.
That was one of two key learning I took away from my first time playing this game.
Lesson #1: Diplomacy is a day-long game
We tried to play it in an evening. Guests arrived at 6:30 we ordered food and started playing around 7:30 and no one was close to the required 18 territories to win by 11:30 pm. Definitely a game you want to book from the early afternoon through evening and make plans for food.
Lesson #2: Time keeping is a must
Sandy, our wise and glorious teacher, suggested from the beginning that we would need to set a timer on the diplomacy session in each round otherwise they would drag on too long and the game would last forever. We tried 5 minutes, but ended up with 10 minutes for spring turns and 5 minutes for fall turns with an additional 2 minutes each turn for players to write orders. I think this can be tightened up with experienced players. For us newbies it was a good amount of timing to keep play interesting. Players felt rushed but engaged and there was a lot of anticipation about what the orders would say.
Additional Lesson #3: Chose your players
Already said, but I thought I would highlight it. This is a game where you lie to your friends. I can definitely see the potential for people getting hurt or offended while playing this game. I’d really recommend choosing who you play with carefully. Ideally you want a group that is 100% okay with losing a game, who understands in-game vs. out-of-game and who will have fun watching the drama of a good game even if they are not winning.
Overall I think Diplomacy is my new favourite board game and I can’t wait to set up another game.