We had 15 minutes for planning each turn, and that never seemed like enough. You want to talk to everyone, sometimes including one person, then again after that person leaves to talk to someone else and the third person tells you 'Actually I didn't mean what I told him. Screw that guy, let's do this instead.'
And then that guy backstabs YOU instead, and you find out their quarrel was all a ruse for everyone else and they were actually just pretend trading supply centers back and forth, not actually fighting.
It was overwhelming and I never knew who I could trust, with each turn just nailbiting seeing how it actually played out. But it was also one of the most exhilarating (yet exhausting) gaming experiences in my life.
There's also websites for doing it online, and you send messages back and forth, and can set how long each turn takes (like a day or two maybe). It still works that way, but the experience isn't quite as overwhelming.
Not bad for a 62 year old game.
I found the best Diplomacy framework is a hard 15 minutes/turn limit. After 15 minutes, your moves are down on paper or they don't happen. This yields a 4-5 hour game.
By "best", I mean, "it's fun, it's intense and it's done". I see a lot of variations being described along with notes they became intolerably intense for people.
Which is to say, this isn't a framework that needs help to be made more engaging. Keeping the excess-engagement genie sometimes in the bottle is more the challenge here.
I seem to recall hearing about one tournament game where one player got locked in the restroom to prevent him from taking some action---the judges ruled it a legitimate tactic.
Really upped the intrigue as the time scales better matched real diplomacy. Plus the distinction of having to balance internal and external politics better matches real life diplomatic tradeoffs. "What you're saying makes sense, but I'm not sure I can sell that to our ruling council" was something you'd hear a lot. Teams also got really into their countries going so far as basically cosplaying at the end. There was also enough people playing that we were able to keep a regular cadence; it didn't really matter if even a whole team couldn't make it one Friday because they'd get a whole week to get their next orders in. The actual execution was more ceremony than where the main mechanics of the game occurred.
To win you basically have to lie to their faces. Still, it’s a great game.
I have a friend who is a nationally ranked player. He says that among players of his calibre people essentially never lie. That is in part because there is a repeated prisoner's dilemma, anyone who lies will get caught and it WILL come back to bite them in future games.
I worked at a place where some other people had a diplomacy club and they'd play over lunch or after hours.
I decided I didn't really want to know who at work was best at lying and backstabbing.
I later left the place because they did stack ranking and found that teams traded people from one team to another with the express purpose of "the new person gets the PIP"
Not my cuppa.
Don't play diplomacy at work and maybe don't work where they play diplomacy?
Experience has thought me that it is very difficult to wrangle a lot of people to play complicated games. Simple party games are easy, but the moment you try to explain anything complicated to a large group all their eyes glaze over.
Then there is the issue of the extreme play length. The people in my play group will complain if something takes an hour to play, I doubt they could handle 8 hours.
The closet I have come to this is Sidereal Confluence which allows for up to 9 players and can takes up to 3 hours or more to play. Explaining that to such a large group was a nightmare.
As the host of the game night it’s my responsibility to make sure people have a good time, not to have them fight with each other and break up their friendships.
Also, 4-5 people is really all you need for a fun game - or a game that spirals out of hand, with the fun level then being a matter of taste.
People would recall and retell twenty-year-old stories how the more cutthroat relatives screwed everyone in Monopoly or Risk, so quick games without elaborate mechanics prevent a lot of hurt feelings.
In regards to the Monopoly comment, to this day I still bring up the time some one screwed me in a game of Star Wars Monopoly back in 2001. So yes, these kinds of things tend to stick around in people's memories.
You're right in that there is some complexity if people are going for named hands. But it's the matter of minutes to teach someone the basics and the classic winning Mahjong hand that stops the game. You can usually get through a few games repeating the rules for scoring at the end to emphasize the basics and then let new players add complexity as they get comfortable.
I think the other reason it's popular is because although you might be the person who called out Mahjong to stop the game, someone else can easily beat your score. Plus there are no alliances to be made and broken: everyone stands on their own.
If you teach someone the game my suggestion is just hand them a copy of the scoring rules and score their hand with them a few times until they're comfortable. This is not (IMHO) a game you teach in one session.
For anyone who has played computer mahjong and is scratching their head wondering what the heck we're talking about this is not just pairs matching. The game when played with humans is very different. Same tiles, but different rules.
I ran into the classic "if you had told me this I would have played differently!!!" complaint, even though I did mention the thing they were complaining about.
We also didn't finish the game because it got too late.
I quit the game early. Not worth losing friends over.
One of the things I noticed is that the longer the turn, the most intense the resulting game, to the point you can experience real life problems.
Letting the game take more than a day seems cool but it often results in things getting out of hand.
You are well advised to watch your back in the game. Don't overextend yourself. However, you also cannot isolate yourself.
I wonder whether introducing a small amount of luck into the game would improve that. For example, in case of a standoff, if (and only if) the attacker rolls a six and the defender rolls a one, let the attacker win, or add a rule that, if two sixes are rolled, a player’s orders in a turn are ignored.
If every player were to have a tiny bit of misfortune in a game, maybe, their mind would put the blame on that and not on the backstabbing that made them lose zillions of encounters (“if only I had won that, I could have convinced X to support me, and…”). I guess players even might put the blame of not winning the game on being too lucky (“if I hadn’t had luck three times in a row, they wouldn’t have cooperated to kick me out of the game”)
It would be difficult or impossible to find just the right amount of luck to add, though.
We played in teams of two, so that at least one partner would have time to meet with the other players for negotiations. The moves took place last thing on a Friday, so you had all week to do your scheming. Then we'd all grab a beer and gather round the board to watch the skulduggery.
About two thirds of the way through it came out that one team had bribed another with actual cash money before the first turn had even been played. This news didn't go down at all well (although I was quite relieved as we were taking a pounding and had resorted to employing Nixon's "madman theory" in an attempt to buy ourselves some breathing space).
We decided we'd best abandon the game before we came to blows.
10/10 can't recommend enough.
I play table top RPGs a lot and people talk about bleed, emotions from the game spilling out into real life. You can say this is "neither bad nor good" in the sense you don't want to maximize it absolutely but rather have it there but not so much is actually impacts your outside life seriously.
There are a lot comparisons between social media and drugs floating around in HN. One might better call the phenomena "pathological engagement" Games like Diplomacy certainly show you need to be online at all, you just need the right kind of interface, generally involve selective reinforcement.
"We decided we'd best abandon the game before we came to blows. 10/10 can't recommend enough."
And thing about engagement levels, for drugs as well as all of these bleed inducing processes, seems to be that some portion of people value a greater level of this bleed and will push for it.
Data points to consider
Love how your comment ends. :)
The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18159770 - Oct 2018 (71 comments)
Backstabbr: A modern web interface for the classic board game Diplomacy - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8468378 - Oct 2014 (63 comments)
The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7913183 - June 2014 (153 comments)
For a couple of years, while we were playing a lot of Diplomacy, we played on some unusual maps. My first wife worked for the USGS Map Sales office, and she could sometimes bring home discarded maps. We tried several of them as Diplomacy boards, including world maps of both Mars and Venus.
Mars wasn't that interesting, really. If you use its actual topography to decide where bodies of water go then you pretty much get one modest-sized polar ocean and several circular lakes in impact craters.
Venus, though, has an interesting topography that worked great for Diplomacy.
I might even have a couple of the hand-colored maps lying around the house (made in the middle 1980s).
The episode, which I found fascinating, is this one: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/531/got-your-back
At the same time, I think your quip demonstrates something I'm trying to get across. I've seen some people miss an opportunity to learn from games like Diplomacy. They bring in their personal expectations of how things should work. For example, they may want friends IRL to cut them a break in the game.
I find Diplomacy interesting because you have to light up all of your brain: assessment, strategy, tactics, and communication. Playing Diplomacy is cognitively demanding. One's ability to do well is a blend of hard power (what shows on the board) and soft power (how well you can persuade).
I got to play this with 7 people exactly once. It was amazing.
It uses the more old-school webdiplomacy interface but I'm fine with the dropboxes.
Just as much, if you set a hard 15 minute time limit, you get the play down to 4-5 hours (especially if you also say victory is preponderance on the board, not total elimination of all other players).
That was a fascinating read though. It sounds like a game i'd like to try at least once...though I don't think i'd want to play it with friends or family, a group of strangers would probably be more ideal.
Also, i'm not sure which would be more appealing, in person or a mail/email game. I could see them both being entirely different experiences that probably require different kinds of persuasive skills to play and I can see why in person games probably get far more intense.
The tournament play though seems especially brutal. Honestly, the idea of a tournament for that game almost seems a bit sadistic. There's no way it's not going to end up with people snapping.
I'm honestly kind of surprised nobody's been killed or badly hurt at one of those. I've heard plenty of stories of people being killed for less.
It's almost kind of hard to see Diplomacy as a game, it sounds more like an actual Diplomacy simulation than a game. If something like that started as a video game, it'd fall pretty clearly under the simulation category.
It's hard to find, though.
But this is a game of geopolitics and power. Many people aren't comfortable with the implications.
I think people are jolting by realizing, one way or the other, how easily they are manipulated.
Can you cut a supported support?
Honestly, I cannot remember what the ruling was since it's been so long and I haven't played the game in decades. So I had to look up the rules as of now.
The support is cut.
I have spent many, many hours reading these archives. Recommended if you find the game interesting.
And Diplomacy itself certainly was one precursor to the "addictive interface".
Perhaps this isn't how it's played at the top. Like Wall Street, you see other people making money through pure genius, so you cut ethical corners trying to do as well?
One excellent rule that they had was a 'hat' rule. Everyone had a hat, and you could only talk about Diplomacy when wearing the hat. It helps prevent in-game emotions from spilling out.
Personally, I've played it on backstabbr.com with the cadence of a 1 turn a day. Usually played with colleagues, it worked very well.
Easily the best board game I have ever played.
It inspired me to actually pursue a path in diplomacy and international relations for some time.
The game was setup to be high stakes. It amounted to a month's worth of assignments. Only one team could achieve an A grade by domination. Everyone else fails the assignment.
There were 42 of us. So each nation had 6 students.
I remember almost every move we made to this day because I remember how we reached the final turn and what had to happen for those pieces to be there.
Each nation had spies. I was a spy for Germany. But I was elected as leader of Turkey. My grade depended on Germany winning, not Turkey. However, Germany does not know I am a spy for them. But I won my election by revealing to my group that I was a German spy and how I would use this information to manipulate both countries.
11 turns later. Europe is decimated. Italy has been crushed by the mighty Turkish armada. Russia is starving while fending off a relentless horde of Turkish armies. Austria-Hungary is completely occupied by Turkish forces, advancing on Germany. The British and French navies form an emergency pact to resolve their despite over the English channel to meet us in the Mediterranean, and are prepared to strike us at Greece. This last turn is my masterpiece. The Germans have rallied a massive force, intending to match my positions in the Balkans. The Turkish empire only needs one or two more tiles to claim a victory. The final moves are coordinated such that the Germans must strike at us to deter our assault. However, if I moved things around slightly, the German army would end up seizing the majority supply center limit necessary to achieve victory.
My team ousts me as leader. Right on time. They intend to decimate Germany. I have been useful up until now. I cannot issue the final commands and the German resistance will be annihilated by the sheer amount of units we possess. They issue the assault without me and I cannot do anything but reveal our hand to German intelligence. With or without me, the Turkish army will fall since we know their movements.
However, Germany fails to issue any orders before the time limit expires. They make no moves. They are crushed by the unencumbered Turkish assault.
The German leader was a Russian spy.
Turkey wins. Victory by domination.
The entire country of Turkey was composed of spies, assigned to every other Great Power. No one technically works for Turkey. None of our grades belong to Turkey. Every group receives an F. Everyone in our group fails. Nobody receives an A.
The class absolutely loses it. I have somehow managed to piss off the entire class where everyone loses.
The teacher is frustrated. Technically, this was possible, but it has never happened before. He chose Turkey to be made of spies because Turkey almost never wins, to give it some advantage. He's reticent to amend his grading policy since if any of the other spies were actually good, they would have revealed each other to the group and avoided this situation. But nobody ended up revealing themselves because they assumed that I was the only spy - because I already revealed myself.
A compromise is negotiated and settled upon.
We're going to watch Patton and write an essay on it. Everyone receives an A.
I doubt so. The game for alpha nerds is Go, in my opinion. It is an incredibly deep game that will always offer you life lessons at every stage of learning.
Now, make no mistake. Diplo is a great game, but is it for alpha nerds in its current form? Not yet.
If you play go at an amateur server, you will have to play thousands of games, read books, and put a significant amount of work... just to play at an average level. And even then, a professional will still wipe the floor with you because they started playing as kids. Professionals represent a much larger population of players from which the majority were not good enough to become professionals.
Diplo is just a casual game you play with friends. Like UNO, or whatever. Like Go used to be 3000 years ago until it started being taken seriously.