"But… it was true at the time I said it!"

by Edi Birsan

Too many people think that the game of Diplomacy, as well as the real world of diplomacy, is about lies and betrayal. In fact, the game — like reality — is mostly about a focus on truth and trust, with those cases of lies and betrayal being aberrations that punctuate the history of the times with sudden excitement and course-changing incidents. In fact, a study of epic games and the elite skills displayed in them will reveal that there are very few lies and even fewer backstabs than one might expect from the reputation of the genre.

The Nature of Lies

What makes a lie, and what is its nature?

This is not the simple case of saying something and doing another. The perception of being lied to is more important than the actual words used. For example, consider the following:

England:I want to Demilitarize the English Channel, and I won't go there.
France:OK, I understand.
Action:France goes to the Channel and England does not.

When questioned on this by England, the French respond:

I agreed that you wanted the Channel Demilitarized and I agreed that you wouldn't go there, but I said nothing about me not going there!

Now there are only a few people who can pull off such a sarcastic response, so do not try this at home!

In this case, the French will have a harder time patching things up with the English than if they simply had taken the approach of "I do not know what I am going to do but I appreciate it if you did not go there."

Avoid telling lies that are meaningless such that it really does not matter. For example, suppose Austria is down to one unit, and you can eliminate him, and intend to do so. Do not lie to him that you are going to go somewhere else. Such a thing is rude as well as pointless.

If you are going to set someone up and they cannot do anything tactically about it but could do something about it Diplomatically, then you might try telling him one thing at the beginning of the negotiation to set him up, and then just before the deadline — when there is no time to react diplomatically — tell the person that you changed your mind just before the bell goes off. This is still risky relationship-wise, but will take some of the sting out of the accusation that 'you lied'.

Do not ask to be lied to.

This is an important technique to learn to handle in your own negotiation style. Some people can be manipulated by being put in a position where a question may put them on the spot (ask any grandmother — they generally have perfected the guilt and pressure technique). However, the overwhelming majority of people will simply lie when you ask them something that you should know better than to ask. Asking if someone is going to stab you may backfire big time, in that it may not be even on their mind — but when you point out that they could take two centers from you if they stab you and ask if they will, they may suddenly think that it is not such a bad idea; and after all you were already expecting it, so how could it be a stab?

Avoid direct lies at all times as a matter of habit. For example look at the following two descriptions of an action:

" I will not bounce you in Sweden."

"England thinks I will not bounce you in Sweden."

Never describe a lie as being told to a person, always to the country:

"I had to lie to England, as it was in the interest of France."

Always remember a very subtle but important technique in Diplomacy: when saying something negative, use the country; when saying something positive use the name of the player.

How to tell a lie

It is not as simple as telling your math teacher that the dog ate your homework. If you are going to tell a flat out lie such as:

" I am not going to Sweden in Fall 1901."

The technique I find useful is to put into your head the circumstances that would make that true, and slightly modify the statement to give you a little out such as:

"I am not going to Sweden in the Fall, as that opens Denmark to an English convoy."

By placing into your mind and statement a reasonable argument that is in fact true (you are open to an attack by the English), you will find that your body language will eventually adjust to a convincing stance. Notice that the little addition in this case of the condition allows you to have a comeback when you have stabbed the fellow, in that you could argue that as you were going over it in your head, you realized that there was no chance that the English were going to go there.

Lies by omission are the classic path of Diplomats. You want to draw your allies and associates into committed actions while leaving your actions open. For example, as England you want the French to agree to not build a Fleet in Brest; but you may want to be silent about the building of a Fleet in London that is potentially very dangerous.

Lies through a third party can be risky but very effective. Typically, you tell someone else something that is untrue that you want to get to another player. For example, you want England to think that your Russia is moving south with army Moscow, so you tell Germany what you want him to pass on to the English if you feel that he is passing info to the English. The risk here is that while you are fooling the English, in this case you are also undermining your relationship with the Germans at the same time, thus creating in Germany a fertile soil for the English to try to grow an ally against you.

Lies in face-to-face games are usually told best at the beginning of a negotiation session, so that you can judge the effect on the target as well as see if there is any echo of it around the table that confirms the cabal links. It also gives you some time to reverse course,get back to your target, and change things around in a way that can lead to wonderful confusion amongst those that pass the rumors along.

Trust is the main course in Diplomacy. Most of the time the players are working on a network of trust relationships, NOT deceit relationships. There are alliances and wars going on, most of the time with a fairly straightforward fight going on here and there. The building of trust should be more than just a personal bond between leaders; it has to rest on realistic and understood mechanics of position, tactics, and strategy. The old adage of "Trust, But Verify" has some validity in Diplomacy. Somewhat more valid is the placement of the pieces so that betrayal is rendered less likely by being less effective, AND THE PLAYER KNOWS IT. One of the big problems with new players and average players is that they do not know that their position is weak, and thus they are unable to establish trust with an experienced or an elite player because they are unaware of the catastrophic consequences that a betrayal will have on their position. Then again, this aspect needs to be discussed in a different article on the Care and Feeding of Novices.

Till then…

Edi Birsan

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