Diplomacy and the Mafia Connection

by Arthur Bismark*

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles written anonymously back in the late 1980's in Australia. We introduced the first Bismark lecture at the beginning of this year, and presented the second last issue. This time, the professor makes a few observations about the mindset of the successful Diplomacy player…

Ladies, gentlemen and the gender bewildered. Today I would like to explore the mobster approach to the game: i.e. how to "heavy" six people and not go to jail for it. To prepare for this role one must first grasp the essential contradiction of the game — and that is that Diplomacy is not about diplomacy at all, as practiced between nations in international affairs. Stripped of the atmospherics, the game is about one predator feeding off and striving to destroy six other predators. In the final analysis there is nothing diplomatic, subtle, or dignified about this.

The more useful parallel for the aspiring "heavy" would be Chicago in the 1930s. Enter the mind set of this style of play by imagining yourself as a gang leader intent on expanding your blackmail and corruption rackets into an adjoining territory. Anyone who stands in your way has just bought himself a ticket to Morguesville; alliances are affectionate and brotherly until the sucker has outlived his usefulness, betrayal is met with total war and the realisation that your timing is off — somebody has shafted you before you did the job on him.

This is Diplomacy played today. The successful player is street wise and stab smart. He earns the respect of fellow diplomats by spotting the stab and deflecting it before the opposition even decided to go through with it. Respect is the key here, with reputation translating into a decided edge in the opening negotiations (but see Lecture Two, "The Bunny and the Pirahna" for what can sometimes occur if your reputation is too awesome).

Patients and friends, I know what you're thinking — how can an average, everyday, institutionalised mental patient like yourself become what the Sicilians term a "man of respect"? The answer to this, I believe, is to think like a thug.

Whereas many players would maintain that it is not too wise to be too aggressive or threatening in the opening moves, I would recommend that the aspiring Godfather go for the jugular. Whose jugular? The most exposed one of course. Every country is vulnerable and/or insecure in the opening couple of moves before alliances have been set. By burying the boot early into an unsuspecting groin the Godfather hopes this will pin a bullseye onto the victim, thus hopefully delineating the target for other vacillating players. The hit must be executed professionally, with the target cut badly enough to make retaliation unlikely. Nothing erodes the reputation of a diplomat more than a tentative stab. The essential element of respect — as every good Mafia boss knows — is fear. The other players must be wary of attacking you. The best way to achieve this is by disruption of the Rhythm. The attacker must find himself outguessed tactically, unnerved psychologically, and off balance emotionally.

When it comes to tactics I lean toward the maxim: "plan complex moves against simple players and simple moves against complex players". Like all maxims it is a little too glib but there is a truth in it. The less subtle players will be dazzled by the unexpected and the advanced players, who routinely expect the unexpected, are incapable of opting for the obvious moves due to their pre-occupation with prestige. There is a great deal of pressure at the top to try the flash moves that will vindicate reputations. If, however, you are taking on a really advanced player who suspects you will presume he will make a complex move and thus turns the tables by moving like a moron, you will obviously have to double bluff him. It is this convoluted logic like the latter that makes Diplomacy such a meaningless intellectual pastime. In any event one of you is bound to look like a tactically limited idiot by the end of this move.

To psychologically unnerve the opposition requires a chilling reputation. Remember, you are the Godfather, the Boss of Bosses. Any reckless fool that even contemplates glancing at one of your centres must learn the hard way that you are infamous for your single minded counter-attacks which drag on for game years and spill over into vindictive Dip zine articles and letters of abuse, finally culminating in assault and kidnapping at a convention where such things are permitted and even encouraged.

As an integral member of the mob you will have connections — friends who will avenge you. The attacking player must fear that you are on better, more intimate terms with the other players than he is. Your confident and energetic diplomacy style should reinforce this. If you look like a winner and talk like a winner it is surprising how often an opponent can be manipulated into the role you have designed for him — the victim. The psychological aspects of Diplomacy strategy tend to be underrated by most players.

The third aspect of disruption of rhythm is the most controversial and recommended for only the committed Mafiosi style player. The theory is that the Godfather verbally "heavies" the opponent to the point where the latter loses his cool and reacts negatively under stress e.g. misorders, neglects to diplome, opens himself to attack in his haste to attack you. Such verbal taunting could range from the undermining, "My God, only a congenital idiot could make a move like that", to the possibly truthful but nonetheless distressing, "I hear your mother gives a great blow job".

Insulting (or "ranking" as it is known in the States) is already prevalent in high pressure tournaments. However, the Godfather takes it out of the realms of the merely petulant and transforms the taunts into a consciously applied propaganda tool guaranteed to get right up the nose of the opposition player. Indecently, this sort of psychological warfare is common in most hobbies and sports, and one only has to look at the World Chess Championships to see where top level Diplomacy competitions are heading.

The true gangster style employs a range of dirty tricks. In PBM games he would kick off in Spring 1901 by writing a series of forged letters purporting to be from two or three other players just to confuse matters and assassinate the characters of potential targets. Following this he could send a forgery on behalf of his targeted enemy to the GM informing him of a change of address. If this works the fake address would consequently appear in the games Dipzine and result in no communication getting through to the targeted enemy for a move or two.

In face to face the Godfather has a wide selection of low blows at his disposal: submission of fake orders is currently proving very popular, shadowing your opponent so that he simply cannot talk to any other player alone is a nasty but legal tactic; and let's not forget the humble eavesdrop, which really comes into its own at tournaments where space tends to be confined.

But now ladies and gentlemen and the gender bewildered, I see by the clock that it now time for the Happy Hour at the pill dispensing counter. Good night.

*About the author: Arthur Bismark is a Fellow of the Institute of Pathological Mental Disorders, and an internationally acclaimed authority on paranoid schizophrenia. In 1969 he delivered a series of lectures designed to introduce the art of Diplomacy to hospitalised schizophrenics. These lectures were later published in the Envoy from 1988-1990 and again in FIST! from 1995-1997, and are considered a vital part of the modern day diplomatic arsenal.

Next time: Lecture 4, in which Arthur Bismark examines the cadaver to reveal the cause of death, and makes some profound statements on this and other related issues.

Arthur Bismark
c/o the Editor

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