Sunday, August 16, 2015


I was at a chess camp with my company Chess Kids and one evening we were playing a load of strategy games with the kids. I was talking to the other coaches about various games when the classic strategy game, Diplomacy came up. One of the coaches had never heard of it before, so we decided we would arrange a game of Diplomacy and after some negotiations, today is the day when it is happening. We have a group of players ranging in experience from raw beginner, to played once or twice, with one very experienced player, Frank Meerbach, who is hopefully going to be a referee (we're hoping all players show up, or Frank will play).

Diplomacy is an amazing game with no dice but lots of strategic play. The idea is to take control of the board and to this you have to move your armies around the board taking over control centres. To win you have to get control of over half the centres on the board, and to do this, most usually you have to create alliances with other players. The big problem is that when you try to move your armies, if another army moves to the same place, there is a stand-off. You need a superior force to move somewhere if you are opposed. This is why you need alliances.

So the first part of the game involves deciding who will be who.....
Frank Meerbach, ex Victorian Diplomacy champion with grey hair, teaching a bunch of noobs the rules

All the above was written before the game. Now for what happened! Well first off, I loved it. I really enjoyed the game which lasted from about midday to about 11 pm at night. The first half hour was spent teaching all us noobs the game. I found that even with a couple of games the best part of 30 years ago under my belt, I was by no means the least knowledgeable about the game. We had a random draw out of a hat and I picked Turkey which I'd never played before. And we also had to pick a name for the game. We chose "Dips Unlimited", as the game was played in the Kids Unlimited building (an excellent venue for a Diplomacy game with many nooks to go discuss things).

Frank was a referee and a stickler for the rules. he had us writing our orders out correctly, and playing to a set time. The first hour saw a big dust up in the Northern part of the board, and I think a couple of players who were trying out for the first time, realised that this wasn't really the game for them. So after about 2 hours, 2-3 countries were all but eliminated, and at least one of the players seemed pretty happy with that. I used a very defensive strategy which saw me survive but left me with a difficult job of growing my empire. As such, by the time I eventually made my move, a huge backstab against my boss David, it was already too late for me to win the game. Frank said that I'd played well, but was a bit timid. I think I can cope with that.

After 11 hours of play, we finally had to call it a draw, but the pyrrhic victor was definitely Smari. This is totally fitting for this game, as it was Smari who had been the coach on the chess camp who I'd been talking about Diplomacy to. Smari used the right combination of expansion, and consolidation and at the end he sat on 16 centres, just 2 from victory. Unfortunately for him, the rest of us stonewalled across the board denying him an outright victory.

The final scorecard showing Smari leading on 16

So would I play again? Absolutely. I loved it, and would like to play it more. I'm not sure I'm ready to play regular players at a diplomacy club, but a few more friendly games would be good. I'm also looking into playing the game online. The problem with getting 7 players together for a full 11 hours to play a game of Diplomacy means that friendly games are going to be few and far between. But I'm hooked, and though I might not be the greatest player ever, it doesn't prevent me from enjoying the game!

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