THE DROP OF A PIN

by Rick Leeds


Kai, my young Springer spaniel, was sulking with me.

We were walking in the field near our house. I usually take a frisbee, a ball and long-throw device (a plastic thing with a cup at the end of a longish handle that lets you throw a ball about twice as far as normal) or a tennis ball. Today, however, Iíd forgotten. Well, you know, it was raining and that makes my hair go all frizzy.

"Whatís up with you?" I asked.

No answer.

"Come on, Kai. Whatís up?"

No answer.

I looked down at her, trotting along slightly behind me. "Summatís up."

You forgot my toys, she told me with a glance.

My first reaction was to think I hoped she wasnít carrying a dagger.

It made me think, you see, about Diplomacy and those times when communications slump into the Stabberís Silence. When you and your ally have been rabidly typing away for turns, bouncing ideas off each other and discussing how to break through the defensive wall of broomsticks Turkey has built then, well, nothing.

Gulp!

Web Chat

There is one major difference between web play and FTF play in Diplomacy. On the web, whether itís an email or website game, the opportunities to utilise communication are significantly more important. Thereís no disappearing into dark corners with one neighbour for a hurried discussion then slipping away (unobtrusively? Hardly!) to the kitchen to chat to another. Instead, thereís time, opportunity and necessity to communicate as much as you want with other players. Whatís more, no one else can see you when you type in capitals.

So, in the internet game, not using the chance to communicate as widely and as effectively as possible is a mistake. The better players will find reasons to chat with as many opponents as possible.

When youíre working in an alliance, too, maintaining effective communication is important. Of course, this is also the case in FTF games but, importantly, in internet play, thereís usually plenty of time to share information and strategy, to build that crucial relationship.

The Silence of the Lions

Brahm O Dorst warned about this in his article Psychology and Diplomacy: Using Integrative Complexity to Predict Stabs. To summarise: when a player stops discussing complex matters, assuming she was doing so previously, then you need to keep a wary eye over your shoulder. In other words, if the exciting and detailed negotiations of previous turns is absent in messages then you should feel the odd shiver travel up and down your spine and feel the itch just slightly left-of-centre on your back.

Itís coming. The stab.

OK, it could be. On the net, it could simply be that she hasnít the time right now to discuss things in as much detail as she has been. On the other hand, ignoring that sign is foolhardy.

So get back to the board. Where is the stab likely to be coming from? Where can she do you most damage? Where is your erstwhile common enemy likely to do you most damage? Where can they work together?

More importantly, what can you do about it?

Iíd also say (Brahm doesnít go this far) that even if your communications have been mainly chatty or mainly general, if that pattern stops, then something you arenít supposed to know about is on the opponentís mind. It may be that itís all an absence of hot air, that your opponent has bought some dodgy info and believed it. But, again, does the board tell you anything to back-up this clue?

Shhhhhh!

OK. Thatís the side of the coin that shows the scared, defaced head. Flip it over to the side which depicts Aaron Eckhart in all his unblemished, square-jawed manliness. Whatís the other side of this?

Well, there are two factors to consider. First, avoid the silence when youíre planning to sink the blade in. After all, thereís nothing worse than creeping up on your enemy, dagger in hand, achieving a ninja-like creepiness, only to give yourself away when you swish the blade at the target. Your enemy hears it, he twists and — in the best of a bad job — you sink the knife into the meat of his back and it glances, fairly harmlessly, off his shoulder blade. Painful, but hardly fatal.

And, worst case, you miss completely.

Donít give your opponent the chance to predict the stab coming. Keep the complexity up. Keep talking. Force yourself. Find something to discuss about the possibilities, even when you have no intention to do anything youíre discussing.

Second, use the silence. An effective ploy — if it can be carried off effectively — is to make an opponent believe you may be stabbing. Oh yes, itís dangerous! If she thinks itís coming, sheíll probably do what she can to prevent fatal damage… and that could be that she gets her retaliation in first. So make sure you canít be hurt by her defensive parry.

Then again, assuming you cover the possibilities, and assuming she acts to either damage you before you damage her or, at least, acts to prevent any real damage to her position, and you donít stab her, then youíve given her that "Oh crap" feeling of potentially breaking an alliance without needing to do so.

Use it. Stretch that embarrassment out. Lay the guilt on thick. It will be a good cloak for when the dagger does slip between her ribs.




Kaiís a forgiving sort. We stayed out longer than normal. I had to use the straighteners when I got home and empty the puddles from my boots. But she was satisfied and I made sure we took one of her toys when we went out next.

Of course, that might have been her plan all along…



Rick Leeds
(playdip.com.notice@gmail.com)

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