The Seven Personality Traits That Help You Win in Diplomacy Openings
When I was a new player of Diplomacy, one thing completely baffled me. How do people choose the first power they are allied with? There haven’t been any moves. What do you have to go on? What’s the secret sauce? The more I’ve played the game, the more important, and more random, the decision about openings has seemed.
If you can get other players to make opening moves that favour you during the first year of the game, you are halfway to victory. If you can keep that going into the second year, you’re well on your way. Generally speaking your first goal is to get somebody, anybody, working with you in some way. Sometimes that may be in the form of a strong alliance, other times it may just be a loose arrangement of convenience. For stronger, more confident players, there may be secondary goals - getting other players to make specific moves, or setting third parties in conflict with each other. But the first goal is the most important. If other players do not make moves which favour you over their other neighbours, you are going to lose, whatever your tactical ability.
So how to do this? Well, obviously you must make good moves, and there are plenty of strategy guides advising what moves you should make, and what tactical advantages they might bring. But Diplomacy is really a game about people, not moves. It is about getting people to do what you want. And there is perhaps more good advice on strategy than on diplomacy - how to actually persuade your fellow players to work with you, and not with other players.
My belief is that most Diplomacy players, whether they know it or not, have a subconscious checklist of behaviours they want other players to display. If you display those behaviours, most players will choose to work with you, rather than someone else, most of the time. This article is about displaying personality traits which make sure you are left to last. By which time, of course, it will be too late, and you will be the one doing the eating. I’ll talk in more detail about each, but the traits I’m thinking of are:
Some of these I think you actually should display. Others I think you should only appear to display. (There are also some traits that you should have and not display, like ruthlessness, but in this piece we'll stick to the ones you should display.)
Let’s look at each of the traits I’ve mentioned, in turn.
You’re not going to get someone to work with you if you’re not open to working with them. That means you need to go into the game willing to listen to what everyone else has to say. Other players obviously value someone who wants to work with them, and is going to take what they say on board. Most players go into a game with some idea of what they want to do, and which country they would prefer to work with. This is a good idea. As England, for example, I usually go into a game thinking I would usually prefer to ally with Germany to attack France.
I previously wrote a long article about the data of Diplomacy and what it shows about who you should and should not ally with. I think it’s very important stuff and should inform your preferences about what happens next, all things being equal.
But all things are not equal. So it is important not to come in with those ideas completely fixed in your mind. The single most important factor in Diplomacy is the relationships you build with the other players - far more important than the tactical and strategic decisions. So you must make a judgement about the relationships you can build with the other players. You must also make an estimate of the skill of the other players. Crucially, you cannot decide which country you want to ally with or which moves you want to make, before you get a grip on who is playing the other country. Some players do not make good allies. If another player seems like a loose cannon, or an extremely strong opponent who cannot be allowed time to build a power base, you may decide you need to take them out immediately. So just because you start off thinking one way, it doesn’t mean you need to carry on.
Open mindedness is not an unmixed blessing, however. Other players want to know that you are willing to work with them, but they also want to feel confident that you aren’t working with someone else. So at some stage, you’ll have to move to showing some commitment.