I recently met up with several local Diplomacy players from throughout the Lower Mainland at New Westminster’s fantastic Board Game Warriors, an independent gaming store with terrific prices and a truly wonderful staff. Our group decided to take advantage of the last Saturday of every at Board Gamer Warriors month featuring twelve hours of open gaming by squeezing in a round of Diplomacy, Alan Calhamer’s classic game of international intrigue. What followed was a fast-paced contest in which we managed to conclude the round within the brief span of a few hours, even while teaching the rules to an entirely new player, proving that Diplomacy remains an easy to learn yet challenging masterpiece of geopolitical strategy and negotiation.
After finding space in the back room we prepared the board and randomly selected our great powers. Regrettably only six of us showed up, so we decided to remove the Ottoman Empire as a playable power and simply turn Turkey into a single neutral supply centre. I drew Russia, which put me at a distinct advantage from the outset, given that I no longer had to worry about Turkey challenging me for dominance of the Black Sea. I reached an agreement with Austria to peacefully divide the Balkans between us so that we could both move west as quickly as possible. By the end of 1901, I moved my fleet from Sevastopol to Turkey and shifted an army from Moscow into Romania. German fears over English intentions in Scandinavia even allowed me to slip into Sweden, which netted me an impressive three builds during Winter 1901.
In the West, Italy tried in vain to invade France, while England launched a daring amphibious incursion into Norway. Despite their best efforts, Germany and Italy were soon crushed in devastating two-front wars with their east and west neighbours, as the board was mercilessly carved up between competing alliances. Austria and I steadily moved westward, and appeared to be growing at about an equal pace. We even discussed the possibility of ending the game in a two-way draw. In a bizarre twist of fate, just when the alliances on either side of the board seemed strongest, both the English-French and Austria-Russian partnerships suddenly broke down, which brought our round of Diplomacy to an exciting conclusion.
Although Austria and I were working exceptionally well together, I made the mistake of trusting my partner just a tad too much. Rather than expect Austria to opportunistically probe my borders for weakness, I got careless and devoted far too many of my units to fighting a costly war in the north against England for control of Scandinavia. I missed my only chance of anticipating my former ally’s duplicity, which in all likelihood would’ve convinced Austria to bury his thoughts of betrayal and keep working with me on a permanent basis. Instead I left myself vulnerable and would spend the rest of the game trying to avert disaster. England, meanwhile, now scrambled to ward off France, who was rapidly convoying armies directly into the British Isles. Austria capitalized on the chaos engulfing the rest of Europe and pushed north, seizing a significant portion of my former empire. The race to the endgame was on. The remaining European powers were fighting for sheer survival against the Austrian menace.
France immediately recognized the Austrian threat and began approaching me with advice on how we could collaborate to stop Austria from controlling eighteen supply centres and earning a solo victory. Since Diplomacy features a stalemate line running from east to west across the map that allows competing factions to strategically lock up the board and prevent a single power from winning, we sped towards the supply centres separating Austria from certain glory. In the meantime, France and I decided to eliminate England once and for all, just to ensure that we wouldn’t have to worry about him foiling our efforts and contributing to an Austrian win. As fate would have it, France and I just barely managed to reach the stalemate line in time and keep Austria in check. Realizing his hope of soloing was lost, the able Austrian player easily agreed to a three-way draw between Austria, France, and Russia.
With the game wrapped up by Fall 1906, we managed to witness both the fascinating endgame of a typical Diplomacy round and emerge at a decent hour, leaving plenty of time for us to enjoy the rest of Saturday night. As a new player, England could also rest easy knowing he’d demonstrated a capable understanding of the rules and enjoyed a solid showing. Our relatively quick game demonstrated not only just how easy it is to learn and play Diplomacy effectively, but also how incredibly fast a round can finish when the right circumstances fall into place. The games rolled on at Board Game Warriors until midnight, but I soon caught the SkyTrain back to Vancouver, though I’m sure we’ll be back again next month for another awesome Saturday of open gaming. As always, anybody interested in trying Diplomacy should either get in touch or join our Facebook group. Thanks for hosting us, Board Game Warriors!