Recently, as I was leafing through the pages of Diplomacy World #102, I read the comments by Jim Burgess about NMRs [No Movement Received] in the discussion of the ongoing DW Demonstration Game. Jim mentioned in passing that there are some serious debates about allowing NMRs in PBEM games because some have been known to play the NMR. "…if the NMR is part of the game, then it IS part of the game to be manipulated, and has to be a level of the game to be evaluated." I was struck by his statement, because I saw some of my own play history appropriately described as playing the NMR. I know our fearless editor, Charles Roburn, is always looking for new and interesting articles for the Pouch, so I put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard as the case may be).
To begin, not every game of Diplomacy will allow to for NMRs (no moves recorded). Many GMs will specify in their house rules that they will instead extend a deadline or recruit a replacement player instead of issuing an adjudication with an NMR. There can be a long, spirited debate over whether or not GMs should or should not allow for NMRs in their house rules — that is not the purpose of this article.
What I want to ask is — is it appropriate to play the NMR in a game that allows for them? My answer is sure, why the heck not!
Let me relate some anecdotal experiences from my own gaming history. I had the fortune of falling pretty quickly into a solid gaming community around 2000 and 2001. In those games, I crossed paths with the some of same players in multiple games. I was an early convert to the philosophy of playing the other players as much as playing the position on the board. Part of playing the other players was knowing how players react to certain situations… Is someone aggressive or cautious? What is someoneís history as an ally? How does someone view a drawn outcome? Successful play includes quickly recognizing and using the attitudes and prejudices of other players for your own benefit
In those halcyon days of my hobby youth, I even came across some players who not only pulled such information from their own memories, but with the proliferation of information on the internet, actively performed opposition research on his competitors. I remember one player successfully out dipping a second player by relentlessly and effectively arguing how dangerous the second player was based on his proven ability evidenced by his prior history to solo multiple times in a variant, and then providing links to the archived results as evidence of his assertion.
During that period of time, I crossed swords with a certain player, who Iíll refer to as Mister X to maintain his anonymity. Mister X and I played in three games together over the course of three calendar years. I found it nearly impossible to develop any desire to work with him. All I could see were the same faults as a player: his unreliability, his stubbornness, his frequency to lose interest and commitment to the game. I saw the same patterns of poor play. In every game Mister X went through a period where his mind was clearly elsewhere. Absent-mindedness, poor communications to the point of gunboating, and NMRs. All of these factors were a source of frustration, but also an opportunity for me to exploit.
In the third game in which we were both in along with others from this circle of players, I did not allow myself to get frustrated with his weaknesses as a player. Instead, I simply kept looking for a way to position myself to best exploit the next period of poor quality play from Mister X, and specifically his next NMR.
I do not see any reason why the knowledge of a playerís predilections towards an NMR should be known and exploited any less than a player's propensity to support or oppose drawn outcomes, or a playerís communication style when conducting diplomacy. If someone does see a differentiation, Iím willing to hear you out.
How can you effectively "play the NMR?" Jim Burgess in his fore mentioned comments in Diplomacy World #102, identified two different ways of "playing the NMR." One could either predict an NMR or, even more boldly, try to induce an NMR.
First, concerning the prediction of an NMR. This can be done from watching player history and trends in the current game play. Has a normally talkative player gone silent? Has the tactical quality of a playerís orders deteriorated over the past couple of seasons? Is a player commenting about stresses with work, school, personal life or computer and internet access? These are signs that suggest to me that an NMR could be in the cards.
When you see these signs, position yourself to best take advantage of that upcoming NMR. First, do not make any tactical plans that rely upon that playerís supports or cooperation. Those orders you are expecting may not be submitted to the GM… no orders may be submitted at all! If you are going to victimize that player you expect an NMR from, this is the chance to make aggressive moves against that power. If he does NMR, his units will all simply hold, and there will not be defensive supports, allowing you to crack otherwise formidable defenses.
Second, concerning the active inducement of an NMR. This is a more destructive approach, and not one I can fully advocate. It is bad for games to actively encourage players to not fulfill their commitments. Not only do NMRs give advantages to some players over others, but they can also lead down the road to player drops and deadline postponements as a replacement player is found. No player can honestly encourage those kind of outcomes, which undermine their own gaming experience.
Even so, I want to conclude by saying it is fair play for us all to try to predict and anticipate the NMRs of weaker players in our games, and to take advantage of them. This is no different from exploiting the diplomatic style, the tactical preferences, or the draw/survive proclivities of other players. There is no good reason to victimize a player by using one factor, but not another.
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