My sick friends,
A few weeks ago we examined the role of Mafioso tactics in the Great Game and it was quite evident that, by and large, most active Diplomacy players would be welcomed into their local chapter of La Cosa Nostra with open arms and a Godfather's kiss. It is comforting to note that we are all one big happy backstabbing family. Like all families, our fraternity seethes with gossip, feuds and juicy chunks of inside information. In short, a paranoid schizophrenic's paradise. To thrive in such and environment, the competent Diplomacy player must be an expert intelligence gatherer. He must sift the data and pluck out the nuggets of information that will play a central role in his diplomatic strategy.
This particularly applies, I feel, at conventions — where the players have ten or fifteen minutes per move to reach important conclusions regarding their opponents. In this high-pressure situation, the player with advance knowledge commands a major advantage. The type of intelligence which could clearly be useful is as follows:
As in the real world of intelligence and espionage, it is not just a case of "know thy enemy," but also "know thy ally". A player has to be able to gauge the depth and sincerity of an apparent alliance, and background briefing can be essential here — for example, is your ally silly enough to abide by notions of a game length alliance or would he shaft his own silver haired granny if there was t centre to be gained. A treacherous ally is a far more dangerous proposition than a declared enemy.
The role of intelligence gathering has been downplayed or ignored by many players who feel there is a moral obligation to treat each game in isolation. Every game must be treated as a new start, so this theory goes, and it is considered unprofessional and even unsporting to base decisions on information outside the confines of the game. Therefore one should not remember old slights, plan petty revenges, and ally with your best friends purely on the basis of friendship rather than diplomatic and strategic considerations. This line of argument then merges into a general moral condemnation of cartels, where players are reputed to reach alliance agreements prior to gamestarts. Cartels are generally considered disreputable and demeaning.
By and large the above attitudes are sanctimonious drivel. There is something quaintly absurd about the moralists who take such a hypocritical stand. Surely in Diplomacy, the only form criticism can take is whether the strategy under question is sound or unsound. The game takes place in a moral vaccuum where the only objective "good" or "right" can be said to be victory, or objective "bad" or "wrong" is defeat or elimination.
Players are deceiving themselves and others if they think that it is possible to play their games without influence from outside factors. In the Machiavellian amorality of the Diplomacy board, intelligence is at a premium. For, of course, no game is an island, outside forces always impinge. Everything must be taken into account and carefully weighed. If a player was recently on the receiving end of a stab by another player in your tournament game it might be reasonable to assume that some lingering distrust could be exploited. Likewise, two players who have successfully allied in the past might be expected to lean towards such an arrangement again in the swift assessments necessary under tournament conditions. In reality, every player must approach the game with preconceptions and only the naive bunny believes otherwise.
Thus the player who adopts some lofty ethical stand about what is fair and unfair is deluding himself. He is trying to fight under Marquis of Queensberry rules, and will probably receive a boot to the balls for his troubles. As for the question of cartels — they should be disapproved only because they are diplomatically unsound. They tend to narrow the cartel members' range of options, rendering them predictable and inflexible. In a sense a cartel is easier to deal with because the pattern of alliance soon becomes common knowledge and players will quickly act to neutralise a known cartel group.
Another reason intelligence-gathering receives little attention lies in the hobby's ongoing fascination with the opening move and grand strategies. The average player spends an enormous amount of time analysing which line of play he will open with should he be one country or another. While there is an undeniable tactical element to the game, I am convinced that players should spend more time learning background detail on as many players as possible. Like a U.S. or Soviet leader prior to a summit, you should be briefed on every snippet, every nuance which might secure the critical breakthrough. Get to know names, write letters to zines, develop a profile in the hobby. The primary skills of Diplomacy are those of a politician, not of a general.
Of course there will always be anomalies and exceptions to the rule — the strong silent player labouring under some Rambo fetish, who somehow still seems to win games despite the seemingly considerable handicap of monosyllabic diplomatic style. But these closet stormtroopers, I submit, are a dying breed — one day they will be buried under a forest of knives wielded in all probability by female players who may well be predominant in the hobby. For women seem instinctively to grasp the art of intelligence gathering; they thrive on such subtleties, where men flounder around looking for something concrete like an opening move to memorise.
This would seem an appropriate moment, ladies and gentlemen, to announce that during the course of these lectures, I have completed my sex change operation and would now like to be known as "Athena" Bismark…
Could someone fetch a glass of water for Nurse Ratchet? She seems to have fainted.
*About the author: Athena Bismark is a Fellow of the Institute of Pathological Mental Disorders, and an internationally acclaimed authority on paranoid schizophrenia. In 1969 she 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.
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