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Diplomacy with five

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

So, we played Diplomacy last night with five. We were shooting for seven, but we had two last-minute cancellations.

The evening started off with pizza and an explanation of the rules for the three newbies (me and two others).

We eliminated Italy and Germany as suggested by the rules and then chose our roles randomly. I ended up with England, the other two newbies were Austria and Russia, and the two old pros were France and Turkey.

From the get-go it didn’t look good for Austria. Squeezed between France and Turkey, and with little to expand into initially except Italy, he looked to be doomed. But he managed to forge at least a temporary alliance with Turkey and began to expand upward.

Russia grew rapidly to the West, extending as far as Kiel.

I expanded to the East and acquired eight supply centers. But there was an awfully lot of competition in the Munich-Kiel-Holland-Denmark area (four powers in a tight spot), so I decided to abandon Holland to Russia and exchange it for St. Petersburg. We formed a fairly simple let’s-not-attack-one-another-for-a-while alliance.

My relations with France were uneasy, but reasonable. I tried to talk Austria into joining our alliance (the newbies versus the pros), but realistically his survival depended on friendly relations with France and Turkey, so he passed.

Austria seemed very chummy with both France and Turkey (coordinating moves to an alarming extent), so Russia and I began to get nervous. It wasn’t clear whether France and Turkey were friends or not, but as the three of them often went into the other room to discuss plans, we took that as a bad sign.

Relations with France degenerated, possibly due to a miscommunication. I had moved fleets into the English Channel and the Mid-Atlantic, and France found this understandably worrying. He said he didn’t want to have to defend his base, he wanted to go after Turkey. I said I hadn’t seen much evidence of him going after Turkey. He said he would go after Turkey if I removed my fleets. I said I wouldn’t attack if he went after Turkey, but that I wanted to leave my fleets where they were. He agreed in a half-reluctant, what-the-hell kind of way.

So I didn’t attack. He moved all of his units but one back toward France and sent one of his fleets in the direction of Turkey. Then I attacked, taking Brest and gaining a ninth supply center.

It was now a fairly simple (at least on our side) Russia-England alliance versus a France-Austria-Turkey alliance. I wasn’t sure how tight their alliance was, but ours had become iron-clad.

Unfortunately, Russia was in bad shape. Kicked out of all of his original centers but Moscow, he had only five units on the board. I was beginning to feel like I had backed the wrong horse.

Russia seemed doomed, but we were doing what we could to shore up his defenses. And meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do (Ally with Austria? Try to patch things up with France?) when Russia gave up the ghost.

And there we stopped. It was getting quite late, so we all decided to give it up. I was very slightly in the lead in terms of supply centers, but I knew this wasn’t going to last. France had been considerably weakened, but he was still a force to be reckoned with. Austria was still surviving, but not thriving. And Turkey was the elephant in the room.

Second in supply centers with eight, I think Turkey would have probably taken it all if we had continued. He was virtually unopposed to the North, had little to contend with from France (now that France had pulled back to defend), and was in a great position to move on Austria once Russia was eliminated.

It’s very hard to say how it would have played out, of course, and I wish we could have seen it through, but I think it would have evolved into an England-France-Turkey showdown. And I think Turkey would have been in the best position to win the day.


We played for six hours and didn’t even come close to finishing. Partly I think we were playing a little too nicely, a little too cautiously, but it’s inherently a long game. I’m not sure how often I’ll want to play – games that take well over six hours to finish, no matter how much fun they are, are somehow hard to justify.

I love how simple the game is in terms of mechanics, yet how complex it is in terms of the player interaction. I love how there aren’t a bunch of fiddly bits – just you and the board and your order sheets, with a few army and fleet markers thrown in. It’s amazing how much gameplay you can get with so few components.

The consensus among our group, incidentally, was that we enjoyed it more than the game of Civilization we had played the month before.

The game has a huge reputation for being nasty and backstabbing, but honestly we didn’t run into that much (though France might tell a different story). I can see how the game was getting more competitive, and I can see how the alliances would have begun to shift after not too long, but it didn’t feel as brutal to me as I had imagined it would. Maybe our gaming group is more level-headed, maybe we were playing too nicely, or maybe we just hadn’t gotten there yet, but it really didn’t seem like that big of an issue.

It’s a fun game, and I wouldn’t be averse to playing it again. If nothing else we could play for a while, take a picture of the board, and come back to it again in a month or two. Come to think of it, we could have done that last night. D’oh!

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