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Backstabbr: A modern web interface for the classic board game Diplomacy (backstabbr.com)
123 points by brownbat on Oct 16, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

I first heard about Diplomacy via This American Life. The reporter talks about how he played the game and eventually went on to hire an actual diplomat to help him play at the World Championships. It's a great story in itself and I recommend it to anybody who wants to learn more about the game.


Same here, that was probably the best episode I ever listened to. I remember waiting in my car to hear the end.

In my opinion Diplomacy is a game well suited for correspondence gameplay. Not only is it difficult to get all the players to commit the necessary time on a day everyone is available, but it is also much more fun since you can plan your moves more freely. We've even gotten used to planning moves with one another using Evernote throughout the week.

Some friends and I have been playing this way for a few years now, and hands down it is a better experience than using any of the cumbersome boards and having to manually adjudicate everything.

Submit one move every Tuesday, it's now a tradition.

We used to play in 14 hour marathons on the weekend. Thirty minutes per turn. A couple things about playing Diplomacy in person (compared to online and compared to other games):

Seeing other people walk off together to talk to each other. Seeing others explode upon being backstabbed. Sometimes we played with more than seven players, putting more than one person on the same team, giving them a diplomatic manpower advantage.

The drama and tension in person just can't quite be replaced. Although the anticipation of a move when you're playing correspondence is absolutely exquisite. Burning someone in a 3 month old game is its own wonderful experience.

Well, this looks fun. I'd like to play and I like the idea of playing with turns every week or so, but nobody I know would really be bothered with this.

Where would someone find a committed group to play with?

In the ArsTechnica forums, under the gaming heading, there is a group that plays every now and then. I have gotten in on 3 of the games, and it is exquisitely diabolical.

I am curious if in person games have as much backstabbing in them as play by email sessions, as I always tend to get screwed over and over again by shady dealings of other powers.

Short answer: yes. I've never played a game without a healthy level of backstabbing. I suppose that's where the OP got the name...

I'm not sure but I'd like to join in so we've got 2 people at least.

If you need one more player email me

If you're not sure if you want to play Diplomacy, you might read this article:


We started a game of Diplomacy in the office. 7 developers, 7 players, 1 day per turn. We use Backstabbr to keep track of the game and have it drawn up on a whiteboard - it's been a lot of fun and increased moral a decent bit.

It's 1907, no one trusts each other anymore and everyone hates everyone.

How do "increased moral" and "no one trusts each other" go together? I almost always leave a game of Diplomacy feeling really upset, but maybe that's just an indication that I don't have a good ability to separate in-game relationships from reality?

We play similar games in our Scout troop. When they're done I ask the boys "We were willing to do that and it was just a game. What lengths would we go to if it was about something that really mattered? Think about it"

Maybe they are shooting for a competitive atmosphere rather than a collaborative one?

I can't help but wonder how renaming the game to "Backstabbr" will affect the way people play.

Backstabbing is a natural and expected part of the game. Anyone who's played more than once knows that you cannot expect to go through a whole game without being stabbed.

Most of the strategy revolves around predicting when, not if, your ally of convenience will backstab you, and how long you can afford to trust them before you'll need to stab first.

It's nice to see these things popping up. I've used similar web interfaces before and they're great. Diplomacy is best played with the full complement of 7 players, and 7 is an awkward number of people to get together for a game that can last up to 3 hours, but see 1-2 people eliminated in the first hour.

Oh, I know, I don't dispute that, and the name likely makes no difference at all to experienced players, but new players may be less hesitant to stab if the very name of the game seems to condone it.

I mean, if you were to take two different groups and put them both through the Prisoner's Dilemma game, presenting it as "The Cooperation Game" to one and "The Betrayal Game" to the other, wouldn't you expect to see some difference in the outcomes? I'm sure someone has done this before; perhaps someone with better google-fu can dig it up.

Well said.

"up to 3 hours", though? 6 hours is the fastest I've played (limited experience, but still...)

Be careful when backstabbing, it is not a good mid or opening tactic. It can be effectively used less than once per game since it is far more important to be honest and earn the trust of everyone. Information and trust are key, not just control of supply centers because it is very easy to lose your shit if everyone hates/distrusts you. Backstabbing is normally too short sighted, and a stigma can build and effect subsequent games.

Trust is the most important thing. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.

A good backstabbing destroys one person and builds trust in others who would be useful. It shouldn't be solely for yourself unless it is decisive.

And don't worry too much about being hated. Having people obviously out for you makes for easy recruiting of their enemies.

I recently wrote about Diplomacy but after just one game: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/09/09/geopolitics-for-individ.... I probably have more to learn when I play again.

What diplomacy teaches me is to never give up.

In a recent game [0] I played Turkey with two neighbors who conspired against me. 2vs1 is quite a certain death sentence and I was tempted to give up and just let them take me. Then I resisted that and started talking to everybody. Instead of defeat for me the game ended in a draw.

[0] http://www.vdiplomacy.com/board.php?gameID=20506

For what it's worth: The namespace for Diplomacy sites is pretty homogenous. (PlayDiplomacy, WebDiplomacy, etc.) We were originally PlayDiplomacyOnline, but that didn't solve the homogenous problem and was easy to get confused with other sites. One of the big things we were trying to do was bring some Web 2.0 sensibility to the game, so a cheeky name seemed in order.

We didn't consider the impact it would have on new or potential players but it doesn't seem to have scared many newbies away; in fact we get regular feedback that our site was easier for new folks to get into. Personally, I think knowing that backstabbing is a core part of the game going in helps soften the blow when it first happens.

Please don't read my comment as a criticism, I'm not trying suggest it's going to ruin the game or anything. It's certainly a much catchier name (and an -r ending is a nice tongue-in-cheek reference). I'm just always fascinated in the nuances of language and the subtle effect word choices can have.

What form of the convoy rules is this using? (Diplomacy's convoy rules are (or were) ambiguous in corner cases, something that multiple versions of the official natural-language rules failed to resolve fully.)

Convoy kidnapping is allowed, if that's what you're asking about. Also a fully specified convoy path is not required either.

One of the other devs suggested you might also be referring to paradox adjudication. We use the Szykman rule.

Thanks! You should spell out all the details like this in a FAQ, or ideally on a dedicated webpage. You know what Diplomacy players are like. ;)

Yeah, a FAQ has gradually been in the works and this is definitely the sort of thing we should put in there.

I've been looking for a way to learn Diplomacy for some time now - the controls feel a bit cumbersome but after just using the sandbox for an hour or so, I have a far better introduction than I've gotten from just reading primers. Nice work.

Try the DAIDE project: you can play Diplomacy against AIs. Works pretty well nowadays. Press options are still limited.

Thanks for this! I didn't know it existed. It might help me enjoy the mechanical aspects without the angst of politics. ;)


On http://www.vdiplomacy.com/ you can play 2-player variants. This turns it into a pure tactics chess-like game.

Also, gunboat style (no communication possible) is quite popular online.

I wonder about the legal aspect of this, since Diplomacy is a fairly modern game. Do they have permission from the creator of Diplomacy? Or is it fully legal to take a board game and make a web version of it?

It is our understanding that there's kind of an unspoken agreement between the game copyright owners (Hasbro, who purchased Avalon Hill) and website developers that they are unlikely to interfere so long as you're not using any of their art or instruction text directly and so long as you're clear that your version is "inspired" by the original and provide attribution. This is the reason that every site you visit has their own handwritten version of the rules, for example.

In our case, we really do encourage people to go buy a copy of the board game, preferably from your local nerd shop. There's a lot to recommend playing Diplomacy online (I believe it was the second game playable by mail published after chess), but there is something special about playing in person and having all the physical materials.

It's not really so much of an unspoken agreement as the fact that they can't do jack squat about it. Game mechanics can't be copyrighted because they're not a concrete form of expression, only the art and instructions can be.

It's legal so long as you change the name, and don't use the same graphics.

I made a website for a fork of UNO years ago called "Hot Death UNO" and was sent a cease and desist from Mattel for it. I changed the name and the look of the cards and poof, no more problem.

That's a question I'm clearly interested in! I just moved to another country and am working on a website to play my favourite board games with my family and was wondering if I could publish it on github or if I should keep this private as I don't have the rights for the board game.

If you want to play Diplomacy, but want a more balanced experience, that has all powers of the board interact, I can only recommend Baron Powell's excellent 1900 map variant.

Diplomacy, loose your friends in no more less than a few hours...

The problem with this implementation is you can sign up for a game that is every 15 minutes, or every hour. Then it doesn't start for X number of hours until it gets seven people.

So you can say at 3pm you wnat to be in a game. It can start at 3 am, and by the time you realize you are in a game you have already lost. With seven people, probably many in different time zones, I haven't yet seen a turn of my game where at least two people didn't move.

Cool site though.

I am in my first game on backstabbr and am enjoying it very much.

I love the sandboxing feature on backstabbr, but I so so wish it was faster. I would pay good money for a native Windows or iPad client that loaded the current game state and was strictly a fast sandboxing tool. Sandboxing is so heavily "what if" where you want to explore maybe a dozen paths quickly that the tool becomes frustrating when it can't keep up with your ideas.

Looks interesting, is there any possibility of a "guest" account that can see a sample in-progress game?

Or some other way to sign in that does not require Google?

Hi, I'm a dev on Backstabbr. At present the only way to access anything is to login, and the only logins we use are Google accounts. We have talked about making a demo Sandbox available to guests, but I'm not sure when we'll get around to that.

Thanks for your site, and thanks for letting me steal some karma despite having nothing to do with it. :)

Our group started on playdiplomacy a few months back, but migrated to backstabbr for our games shortly after. PD's good too, but responsiveness, clean visuals, easy sandboxes, and strong mobile support were huge draws for backstabbr.

I think we originally tried PD just because after a 20 second review of each site, it looked like you had to have a GM on backstabbr (not true at all, adjudication is easily fully automated, we realized after a longer look). Also, the google login requirement kept one friend from joining our game, but most of us saw the google login as neutral to a perk.

I've been really impressed with the site, really hope it takes off and you all find some way to get handsomely compensated.

Hey, thanks for the kind words! I'm really glad you and your friends are enjoying the site. It's been really gratifying to see so many people enjoying our work and also to watch new players discovering the game for the first time.

Gracias for the reply, of the two things I mentioned, non-google logins would the preference for me.

Sure thing. If you would like to see what a game looks like without having to login, you can go directly to this (randomly selected) game in 1905. You can wind back the game turns using the controls at the top.


So, reading up a little on the premise, has anybody ever tried running a game of Diplomacy where each territory has spectator "citizens" that the players have to answer to, ie. holding a press conference between each turn to give a "State of the Union" address, laying out what the current party line is on alliances and axes (and having to spin stabs to not come off as evil)?

Interested in a Hacker News round on vDip? I created a game:

http://www.vdiplomacy.com/board.php?gameID=20995 password: backstabbr

It is the classic map with a twist: it starts with a build phase, so you can choose between armies and fleets.

I'm curious what languages/frameworks/platforms were used to create Backstabbr

Hi, I'm a dev on Backstabbr and can help answer that question. Backstabbr was written in Python and is hosted on Google App Engine. The web interface uses Django and relies pretty heavily on Bootstrap 3. (At some point we'd like to migrate from Django to Jinja2, but that probably won't float to the top of our list anytime in the near future.)

Replying to you because you're the dev, just thought I'd let you know that your gravatar system is case sensitive, it seems to only work with all minuscules, yet google login seemed to automatically add capitals. So the combination means gravatars dont show up.

That's an interesting bug, thanks for the heads up. I'll take a look at it during our next hack night.

I just want to say I've been playing for the past week and the first actual order resolution will be happening in a few minutes. I'm very excited and the platform has been fun to play with so far. I love the sandboxes.

Does that page has a chat? I'm already playing (I've never played Diplomacy before) but I can't comunicate with other players.

I found it.. the chat is on the "Press" button.

How does this compare to, say, webDiplomacy (http://webdiplomacy.net/)?

I find the fork http://www.vdiplomacy.com/ much better, mostly because there much more variants. The classic map has various weaknesses (e.g. army instead of fleet in Rome).

vDip also has a click-on-the-map interface, although I prefer the drop-down variant.

http://www.spoilsrotten.com has variations on the maps, including some interesting geometric layouts :)

Playdiplomacy.com is the easiest and best site for sure.

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