by Philip Murphy


It's 1901 and you've just signed up to play Italy in an online game of Diplomacy. You think about your strategies and decide you want to discuss an alliance with Turkey to gang up on Austria. But Turkey doesn't make contact with anyone, not you, or anyone else. So you give up on your idea, reluctantly. Turkey remains uncommunicative and just makes his moves. You decide with Austria to gang up on Turkey. Turkey exits within a couple of years, having said virtually nothing, while you end up thrown together in an alliance you didn't want with Austria, who promptly stabs you, and your decline and eventual exit from the game beckons…

Sound familiar? While email Diplomacy is in rude good health, some new players fail to appreciate or understand the one cardinal rule of this game, one which is far more important than tactical analysis, or knowing all the good openings for Turkey in 1901:


Why is it that many players I come across in PBEM and online adjudicators like Stabbeurfou seem to be so shy? The whole point of Diplomacy is to engage with, and discuss tactics with, other players. The game is *designed* so that players must talk to each other in order to form alliances with others. And yet the scenario described above seems to happen with at least one power in every game I play. And this is a shame, and frankly, absurd.

Why silence is (not) golden

First and foremost, if you don't make the effort to speak with other players, you will not win. Most likely you will be the first power out of the game.

A lack of communication will make you lose out on possible opportunities to improve your position. In a game where alliances are crucial for making progress, how can you create an alliance if you don't discuss options with at least one other player? It's impossible!

But apart from this, people who play Diplomacy are by and large social and like to talk. About the game, about their strategy, whether or not The Dark Knight was as good as the hype, who they think will win the race for the White House, and so on. They expect you to say something. They see players who don't communicate as rude and hostile, and given the chance, they will be much more likely to attack someone who doesn't reply to a friendly message.

Finally, Diplomacy is meant to be fun. By keeping quiet you miss out on the most enjoyable and challenging aspect of the game. The plans, the threats, the elaborate schemes, the smack talk, the betrayals, the triumphs. The emotive aspects of this game, the factors which make this game so great, are denied to you. And this lessens the fun. And it can be very, *very* fun indeed!

Communicate? Why?

The obvious answer is — to build alliances. It is not the only reason to do so, as social interaction for its own sake is also important to keep you interested and playing the game to the end. By itself it is by no means the only requirement to engineer a victory. But it is not just important, it is essential. I can't emphasise this enough. You can't win in Diplomacy without at least *SOME* communication.

As a leader of your nation, you are the person who must ultimately deal with the outside world (the other players). It's your job to talk to the other players and divide Europe between you.


Ok… but what should I say?

In dealing with other players, bear the following in mind.

  • You are trying to find out who is willing to work with you and who wants to bring you down by aligning other powers against you. You need to know this if you are to survive in the first place

  • You are looking for opportunities to undermine both the immediate and long term threats to your success (your neighbours) without compromising your own position. Intelligence from other players can be key.

  • You need to ask what other countries are saying about you. Even if someone lies, you can usually figure it out based on what the other countries say. (Unless they're mute — or in cahoots to misinform you)

  • Often, you are trying to prevent other players from predicting your true intentions. You may be deliberately giving players the wrong idea, setting up a stab, or engineering a conflict between two other players to keep them preoccupied and distract them.

Here's an excellent example from a game I played recently. It is Spring 1901 and Joffre (France) has emailed to ask me (Italy) about the possibility of Russia and Turkey working together. This is my reply.


There has indeed been a lot of speculation on the matter, much of it
because of Russia's delay in contacting me - at this stage I am of the 
belief that nothing can be assumed until the moves are resolved for 
Spring. If Turkey and Russia are working together, however, it will 
become very clear very quickly.

Similarly, if they are going to fight, we shall see that straightaway. 
I am hedging my bets on that score and playing a cautious opening. I 
expect Austria to play a kind of hedgehog opening, to be frank.

I am convinced however that Russia has been trying to engineer a
Juggernaut, since Turkey is a novice player. Turkey's been rather
indecisive in his messages to me so truthfully I have no idea what 
will happen. That there are plans for a Juggernaut on Russia's part 
I don't doubt. Whether Turkey will play ball is another matter.

I do know that I will be pursuing Lepanto moves for 1901 - I need the
build in Winter! After that depends on how things progress for the
other powers. I am unlikely to look West however.


This message plants the seed of suspicion in France's mind that he is right… that Russia and Turkey are planning an alliance. It suggests that Austria will play defensively. It also gives the impression that I am uninterested in France as an enemy and implies that I may be willing to exchange information. It also gives France the impression that Turkey is inexperienced and may be influenced to stab Russia. Finally, by informing France of my *plans* I am creating a relationship of trust with him which I can build on and possibly use to my advantage later.

The truth may very well be different — but if everyone is saying the same thing then it must be true, right?

The Power of the Press (to deceive)

Misdirection using press can be an effective way to shift the game balance in your favour. It can also be a key factor in nabbing that win. Let's look at a simple example.

If you are Austria, and you want to prevent a Turkish attack on you, suggest to Italy, Germany, England and France that Russia and Turkey are in cahoots. Encourage them to send press to Turkey saying that Russia plans to stab Turkey and is actively seeking a partner to take his/her centres. Some or all of them will encourage Turkey to attack or stab Russia to prevent this.

Then talk to Turkey and say that Russia has proposed an alliance to wipe them off the map and offer an alliance.

This sort of communication is effective, it can inform or misinform and it can lead to great gains for your empire. Or it can misfire and send you crashing out of the game. But maybe failing is MUCH better than definitely failing!

Five Do's and Don'ts


  • DO communicate with the other players — the phrase 'Know your enemy and know yourself' is a truism and to defeat another player, you need to know who he's talking to, who will be his loyal ally and who will stab him (and for what price). Knowing his true plans for you is also nice to know.

  • DO aim for a specific result when communicating about tactics. You should only co-ordinate moves with another player if you have a clear goal in mind (e.g. to prevent two players from agreeing an alliance), and you should try and do so in ways that will not harm your own prospects.

  • DO be expansive. One or two lines isn't really enough. There's no right amount but at least a paragraph stating the message you want to get across to the other player is the bare minimum.

  • DO be manipulative, if necessary. Try and use the press to make other players do what you want so that you can achieve your goals.

  • DO communicate with everyone. *Regularly*. Even if it's just taunting your enemy, or passing on information to a power you have no direct contact with — it may influence their decision making in your favour.


  • DON'T ignore the players who contact you. They may be looking for an alliance, or seeking an exchange of intelligence, or even misleading you. But you won't know until you reply (and later check up on them by talking to the other players).

  • DON'T remain silent. Other players will automatically see you as rude and as a liability and will almost certainly target you first, if they are neighbours.

  • DON'T be afraid of making mistakes when making suggestion — it happens even to the grizzly haired veterans and often times a good ally will point them out before they can do any damage.

  • DON'T refuse to speak to a player or stop communicating with someone just because they attacked you or broke their word. That's Diplomacy. Today's enemy may well be tomorrow's ally. Keep talking even if they don't respond. It keeps your options open.

  • Finally, DON'T underestimate the ability of other players to mislead you. Before committing yourself to a move, try and check with other players as best you can to ensure that your ally isn't setting you up for a stab in the back.

One final note…

Often, Diplomacy players like to role-play in their press. This can be a fun way to keep your interest alive. I'm a firm believer in it and I think it adds a lot to Diplomacy games and it prevents players dropping out of the game even when they can't win, in my experience.

If you can create a story out of the game, with interesting characters and good plot threads to explain your actions, it makes the game more engaging and ensures that everyone cares about, and take an interest in, the game itself. Look at this for an example. (Austria has just stabbed Italy after a lengthy alliance.)


Here, let me get you another drink. No, don't worry about the 
broken glass, or the fact that you had been aiming that tumbler 
right at my head. (you see, this is why we don't allow guns in 
the war room)

Here's what happened. At the end of 1904, you built an army in 
Rome instead of a fleet. That was a bit threatening to me, but 
far more seriously it slowed your rate of advance.  You had one 
too few fleets to conquer France, and so you could neither help 
me in destroying the Western powers nor make the builds you needed 
to keep your border with me stable.

In Diplomacy, the only thing more interesting than a good ally is 
a good enemy. I expect a spectacular declaration of war from you.


Witty, entertaining, and above all, it explains his motives.

One way to role-play to the group, apart from using press to individual players is to create a newspaper or radio report and make it public to all players and observers. Online games usually have a BROADCAST or PRESS TO ALL option which enables you to send a message to all players.

Make full use of it. Role-play your character. Make press releases, denounce aggressors, praise your allies, explain your moves as 'training exercises'.

If you're not sure how to do this, look at this for an example.


In other news, a spokesperson for the EPA, Giovanni Machiavelli, 
no relation to Italian PM Niccolo Machiavelli criticised the 
Austrian government for its abysmal record in minimising the 
effect of its military forces on the environment.

"The failure of Austria to salvage the wreck of the SMS Viribus 
Unitis, for example, has led to an environmental disaster all 
along the Turkish coast, particularly in Constantinople. Thousands 
of birds, many of them protected species, breed on the beaches in 
this area and have suffered huge losses due to Austria's negligence 
in failing to clean up the oil slick.

This is a blatant breach of its obligations under international law, 
political climate notwithstanding. We expect the Austrians to 
immediately assign their naval forces to undertake a clean-up 
operation in the Aegean."

Palace sources in Vienna declined to comment.

As you can see, you can create wonderful and funny messages that entertain and keep you interested, as well as help you in engineering that win!

Why not give it a go? Get those telegraphs humming!

Philip Murphy

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