Opening Strategy Part II - Regarding Fellow Players

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by Jake Orion

This is part two of my three-part series on opening strategy. The articles are intended to be general guidelines which apply to every country you may play. In part one, we learned ways to present oneself in opening diplomacy, in order to optimize one's chances for future success. Part two, below, looks at the other side -- namely, the competing players, and how one can best assess their characteristics.

This is a exceptionally difficult topic, upon which there exist a lot of subjective opinions. There are no hard rules here. Like Philosophy, however, Diplomacy is a science; it is well that we study it.

The bad news is, messages written in Diplomacy bear no firm relation to orders submitted. Technically, a player can say anything he wishes, yet the rules make no binding obligation that players act as indicated in their letters. This attribute of the game does two important things:

•It makes the game exponentially more difficult; and •It allows for lawless anarchy (which is the sheer joy of the game).

The good news is, maximum entropy invariably yields little success; and therefore it behooves us players to embrace some civil correlation between our words and our actions (at least some of the time). What all the above really means is, you never really know what the other players will do. However, optimizing your chances of properly filtering the information you receive is critical. Although this is extremely difficult to do, I have developed some general guidelines as to how best to judge your competition.

In my Diplomacy study-data-book, I have tediously logged over two hundred Diplomacy letters written during year one, evaluating and categorizing each entry as best possible. I have relatively equal data sources from every power in the game. More than seventy percent of the data sources are from intermediate or advanced level players. Being an engineer myself, I am well aware that the number of uncontrollable variables in my data-pool is unthinkably large. I have however found a few behaviors in year-one diplomacy that correlate well with future actions.

Here are some behavior patterns that I have noticed in year-one Diplomacy, and what they likely mean:

1 Short, aggressive letters are likely to be lies or just useless chatter. 2 An offer to be a third party in a blitz-attack is usually a scam. 3 Multi-letter explanations or detailed-logic letters are excellent signs of desire for a close alliance. 4 Alliances contingent on or starting out with aggressive openings are extremely unstable ones. 5 Accusations and rash talk are made by less reliable (more capricious) players. 6 Silence implies a dangerous neighbor. 7 Fellow players write their most sought-after allies first.

Generalities are really unsettling propositions to technical people like myself, but the way I see it, if an indicator presents itself, there is no sense in ignoring its potential implications. At the very least, it's best to utilize the above information (and perhaps to construct ways to clarify better a letter's possible true message) than callously to overlook it.

I have a few more pieces of information that I have theories on, but have little or no data to back them up:

8 Capricious players, overly-opinionated players, and warlike-military players are poor allies. 9 Players who make alliances based only on very favorable divisions are poor allies. 10 Key phrases about fellow players' philosophy are often insightful.

Comments, Clarifications (referring to above numbering)

1 Letters like, "Hey let's attack England," or, "I'll go to Trieste if you move to Galicia," rarely bear any meaningful intent by the sender. I have even found that even when I respond with, "Sure, let's attack," the sender rarely takes me seriously.

2 The classic here is G-E offering Italy a piece of France or E-T offering Germany a piece of Russia. Regardless of the case, the last to get the offer is usually the last for a reason. Namely, two scared players are trying to embroil you in conflict against their neighbor.

3 - 6. No further comment...

7 This is a critical detail which appears to be of great value. Everyone likes to write their anticipated future ally first and not their planned enemy. If you find out that one country has been having detailed conversation with another only to write you days later, time to be concerned.

8 If they sound like Norman Schwarzkopf, it's a bad sign. (Still love ya Norm.)

9 If they seem to be spending their time pushing everyone for an obvious territorial advantage early on, they often are too single-minded to be trustworthy. For example, Turkey pushing to trade Greece for Rumania (a classic offer) or Germany demanding Belgium in exchange for an F-G assault of England. Are these reasonable offers? Yes, but to push hard for them in the spring of 1901 is a bit much, especially if the initial response is not met favorably.

10 Don't forget to read into the other player's feeling by their words. I'll just give an example here... If Russia says "everyone knows Russia and Austria must battle at some time, but let's not let that happen." This is a useful piece of data which may very well be foreshadowing, so keep it in mind.

Of course, I realize, there is a lot more to handling and assessing fellow players than what I have written. Most of it is far too intangible to categorize or stereotype. Subjects like decoy information and persuasion techniques are just too involved for this introductory article. I will go into much further detail when I discuss the individual countries and what I see as their options. All I hope to leave you with in this portion of literature are some simple thoughts, based on experience, which may tip you off as to a player's possible characteristics or plans.

The third article in this sequence will get involved with more peripheral points regarding general opening strategy. I plan to make it a short topic and then tie in all three parts of the sequence. Always feel free to write me and express your comments or ask questions. It has been a pleasure and an inspiration, reading some of the comments that I have received on part one.