The Diplomacy Academy

by Dan Shoham


This issue I present the game gnat, the very first e-mail diplomacy game I played (in 1992). I won as Russia in 1905. As usual, you can get an idea of how the game went by looking at the game summary. Gnat was played on the (late) University of Washington Judge, and since I have preserved only my own End Of Game statement, we can get right to it.

Game: GNAT, on USWA judge
Variant: Standard
Outcome: R won in 1905, FGIA Survived
Power: RUSSIA, since start.

Well, hello everybody and thanks for a fine - and fast - game. This was my very first PBeM Diplomacy game, and my first dip game in some years. I was quite gratified to win it. The experience of PBeM turned out to be quite different from FTF, I think PBeM is superior (I think I would have held that viewpoint even had I done poorly). The game proved to be a learning experience, with many PBeM-specific technique and strategies making themselves apparent only by mid-game.

Since the game was short, I might as well make the end-of-game report long. When the game began, I decided to lobby all-out for a three-way alliance with Austria-Hungary (AH) and Germany. These two oft-eliminated powers would be happy to have the Russian bear off their back and concentrate on the outside powers (where many supply centers are to be found). An ulterior motive I had was to divide the war to two fronts: Balkan (where I and AH fight the Turks, and maybe the Italians) and Atlantic (where Germany and I fight Brits and French). If supply centers are to be divided "equally" in each front, than I would grow twice as fast as my allies. I could even afford to be generous and take slightly less than half the spoils in each front. I was happy Germany and AH joined such an alliance. We called it the Central Alliance.

The alliance was to be very tight. We would keep all border provinces demilitarized. We freely make deals with the enemies "against" other alliance members, but we keep our allies fully informed of our communications with the enemies!!! The other four powers are to think that the alliance is extremely fragile, with its members constantly looking for backstab opportunities. That way, we do not deter our enemies from infighting amongst themselves, from allying with some of us against others, from revealing their plans against one alliance member to another, or from panicking when we grow too fast (since we "counter-balance" each other).

I "published" the "Central Alliance Gazettes," a newsletter summarizing events, strategies, outlook, etc. on every turn. The Gazettes even had an editorial and a humor section. I spent all my diplomatic energy maintaining the alliance.

Just to make sure my allies had no second thoughts, I encouraged their neighbors to attack them. I "signed" a non-aggression pact with Turkey that kept the Black Sea and Armenia a demilitarized zone and promised not to interfere with Turkish control of Bulgaria.

With all my fronts peaceful, and needing to find outlet for my aggressive capabilities (tendencies?) I sent England a threatening letter to stay away from Norway. England (properly) did not heed my warning and took Norway, using a second fleet (that could have harassed Germany) to support the occupation.

The first year results were quite encouraging for the Central Alliance: we all kept our word religiously, we all kept each other fully informed of our communications with the enemies, we each gained two supply centers (SC) as opposed to one each for our four enemies. The alliance was at 16 SC, the same as the other four powers. Turkey was isolated, and ripe for destruction; Italy and France where hostile to each other. The only serious resistance was offered by the Anglo-French counter-alliance.

The second-year plan was for me and AH to destroy Turkey (easy) and for me to pin down (75% of) the British war machine in a Scandinavian stalemate while the Germans, with the (welcomed, but not counted on) help of the Italians, fight the French. The Western front would more or less stay static while Turkey was destroyed -- decisively tilting the SC count in favor of the alliance.

But then I got a surprising letter from Turkey. In it he outlined a message he got from AH that -- in general terms -- described the coming attack on Turkey. As this letter used some of my lingo, it was clearly not a "lucky-guess" fabrication by Turkey, but a true AH leak. At that moment I decided that AH could never again be a trusted member of a tight alliance and should be extinguished as rapidly as possible. A quick stab with Turkish help should restore the alliance (minus AH) supply center count rapidly. The only worry I had was how to stab AH without worrying Germany out of continued cooperation. Without revealing the source of my suspicions, I asked Germany (with whom I had very frequent communications throughout the game) if AH was "still with us." He had no reason to think otherwise. Concluding that the Germans had too much resistance on the Atlantic front to co-conspire with AH against me, I told Germany of my worries. Now he would not be surprised when AH is backstabbed. The backstab went well, except that AH proved loyal to the Central Alliance after all! His message to Turkey was a true ruse that he failed to inform the alliance about (or changed his mind about -- thinking the whole thing was a harmless aside)!

On the western front, England failed to heed my continuous stream of hostile messages and did not support their Norway army -- it was destroyed. All this gave me plenty of wiggle room.

On the Atlantic front, I offered peace to England (now that I got Norway) and asked if I could join the anti-German coalition. I carefully haggled over my price, gave sound tactical advice, suggested to start the alliance with a few trust-building measures, before going gung-ho and "allowed" myself to be convinced to skip that stage. All that time, I was keeping Germany fully informed of my communications!

England was totally spoofed. The Germans knew all their moves in advance, and they believed all the moves I told them the Germans are about to make, and the support I was to give them. Results: England went from four to two SC, and isolated units (leading to an abandonment).

On the Balkan front, I apologized to AH for the backstab, explaining the way it came about (and pointing out the dangers in not keeping your allies informed of ruses you may be planting with the enemies). I told him the move that Turkey, Italy, and I were planning to do (which was accurate -- in case he got verification from someone else), and that I intend to follow it. I also gave him the only set of counter-moves that would sabotage our moves. I said that if he followed that counter-move (and hence proved to be reliable, while still having some firepower), the Central Alliance would be reestablished. I asked Germany to lobby AH on this plan's behalf. Having convinced AH to do as I suggested, I went on a total offensive against Turkey. AH could hardly complain that I did not do as I promised, since he got a SC he did not count on, and was about to get a second. (This was a rather unusual Diplomacy situation: I deliberately promised an ally less than I intended to deliver -- for fear of a leak.)

Spring of 1903 was a turn during which I dictated the moves of all seven powers! With AH's full trust regained, and with AH not having the firepower to both advance on Turkey (keeping with the "renewed" Central Alliance) and watch his back, I backstabbed him again (recall, I decided never to trust AH again) while continuing (with AH help) the anti-Turkish offensive. I also landed an army in England. Making all the guesses right, I reduced England to a single SC, and AH and Turkey to two SC's each while getting five builds! (AH abandoned, soon followed by Italy.)

The only thing that could stop me now is if all six other players allied against me very tightly (i.e., allow each other to pass through their home SC's!). To make sure that (unlikely anyhow) did not come to be, I began a systematic leaking campaign. Not so much to keep Germany (the only other Power with a sizable force) busy, as to make sure deep trust could never develop among the other powers if they become aware of each other's treachery. (I would suggest to power A a ruse against country B, and warn country B of it. Both countries now trust, but fear, me. Neither country now trusts the other.)

Well, the Germans were kept busy and could not contemplate any backstab. I was able to (using routine moves) finish off Turkey, AH, and England to get the victory condition! (Promising separately each of those mini-powers that I would spare them if they cooperated -- since all they had to lose was a turn -- I finished them off a turn early!)

On the very last turn, when a forced win (in fact, a forced win with 19 SC's, and three 50% chances for additional SC's) was available, Italy suggested that it would be funny if he ended the game with his units at their starting positions.

Building on that idea, I pointed out that if we all cooperated we could have an unusual ending for everybody. Well, everybody did cooperate except for France, who spoiled some of the fun -- shame on you France!

All in all, this was a very lively game. I tried to make it even more lively with the CNN spoofs in the first few turns (CNN style coverage of the fighting, complete with "on the scene reporting," interviews with generals and politicians, background reports, newsflashes, technical difficulties, commentary by analysts, and reactions in the U.S.). The Italian player joined in the fun by providing transcripts of the Pope's speeches as did an Observer (who is a personal friend of mine) who provided Reuters style coverage.

Well, thanks again for playing.

Dan Shoham
Rasputen for Russia.

Dan Shoham

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