The Bunny and the Pirahna

by Arthur Bismark*

Editor's Note: Last issue, we introduced the first Bismark lecture, from a series of articles written anonymously back in the late 1980's in Australia. This time, we continue the series with a look at two different playing styles…

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. By now most of you have had the opportunity to play Diplomacy through the demonstration games organised by your friend and mine, Nurse Ratchet. I must say, I was surprised and delighted at the level of deviousness and manipulation displayed in the games, particularly by the paranoid schizophrenic cartel! Believe me, you guys are naturals at the game. I should point out however, that the hospital administration has requested Nurse Ratchet be returned unharmed and immediately. It's been over a week now; and although, as some as you a have pointed out, the tactic is perfectly legal under the Diplomacy rules, Nurse Ratchet's loved one's are beginning to worry.

And now, let us proceed further with our informal dissection of the Diplomacy cadaver. As stated previously, it is not our intention to bore you with recommended opening moves and established lines of play — what we seek here is to explore the instincts of the Diplomacy player, and develop some useful mental approaches to the game.

The first approach for any novice player to consider is the Bunny Syndrome. The Bunny Syndrome postulates that the new player will be perceived as naïve, insecure, anxious to ally, and therefore easy to manipulate. In other words, a controllable ally, ripe for the stabbing at the appropriate moment. Such a beginner or Bunny can therefore find himself powerfully allied and doing extremely well, while more experienced or notorious players fall by the wayside.

Of course, developing the Bunny persona is an art that will only come with practice and experience. In the best performers of the technique one can liken it to a forty year old harlot successfully playing a reticent virgin. Typical opening gambits that will identify you as a bunny are — "What do the little black dots on the map mean?" and "Be gentle, I've never done this before".

It's important also to establish trusting eye contact with your senior ally and generally carry on like on of the more endearing characters in an animated Disney movie. What we are seeking here is a big brother type of relationship, where your ally perceives himself to be in total control. Some Diplomacy players claim that their pride and sense of dignity could never allow them to play the Bunny role. A good Diplomacy player doesn't pounce around agonising about pride, dignity, or self-respect when supply centres are up for grabs. There is only one shame in this game, and that is not winning — or even more unspeakable, being eliminated. Besides; in a game which prizes the convincing liar, the skilful thief, the great deceiver, what could be more glorious than the master of subservience? Those who consider the Bunny persona weak are missing the point. Nerves of steel are required to stand in a slaughterhouse next to an "ally" who holds a dripping meat cleaver, stare him straight in the eye, and say "Why butcher me now when you can do it later after you've used me for a few turns?"

The other crucial skill of the Bunny is timing. There comes a moment when your big brother's guard is down, and you must metamorphose from stumbling, compliant Bunny to ruthlessly efficient hit man. When the Bunny delivers the killing stroke, ideally he should be close enough to fully appreciate the look of stunned surprise in his big brother's eyes. Sometimes, of course, the professional Bunny chooses not to strike at all. Most typically this would occur at a tournament where the Bunny might be content to play for second place during the opening rounds, rather than surge into prominence with a stab.

Which brings us to the Piranha Factor. The Piranha Factor is triggered in a game by the following causes — where one of the players has:

  1. previously won a prestigious Diplomacy competition;
  2. positioned himself to win a game outright (e.g. gets more than ten centres);
  3. displayed conspicuous bad breath, rancid body odour etc; or
  4. (in PBM games) doesn't write letters.

When one of the above conditions applies, we are likely to see the Piranha Factor — several players will spontaneously unite to rip the heart out of their unfortunate victim, in a single-minded vicious attack reminiscent of a feeding frenzy. Usually no amount of tricky diplomacy will deflect the Piranhas from their goal.

The only recognised defence against the situation is to underplay your hand in all games and to hover one step behind the leader, within stabbing reach if possible. If you go on to win, the trick is to appear stunned at this apparent fluke, grin sheepishly, scratch your head in a vacant fashion, and generally behave like a post-lobotomy patient who has stepped in dog poopy and isn't sure what to do about it. The wise Diplomacy player plays like a Bunny, and stabs like a Piranha.

And now ladies and gentlemen, as the manic depressives among us are beginning to foam at the mouth, I suggest we adjourn to the recreation room for straitjackets and medication. I would also like to speak to a representative of the paranoid schizophrenic cartel regarding Nurse Ratchet's disappearance. Thank you.

*About the author: Arthur Bismark is a Fellow of the Institute of Pathological Mental Disorders, and an internationally acclaimed authority on paranoid schizophrenia. In 1969 he delivered a series of lectures designed to introduce the art of Diplomacy to hospitalised schizophrenics. These lectures were later published in the Envoy from 1988-1990 and again in FIST! from 1995-1997, and are considered a vital part of the modern day diplomatic arsenal.

Next time: Lecture 3, where Arthur Bismark examines the cadaver, probes into the deepest parts of both the upper and lower bowel, and then brings forth the guts for detailed discussion.

Arthur Bismark
c/o the Editor

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