No Holds Barred

Amos Anon

It all started about a year ago, when I and six friends from work decided to play the Diplomacy game to beat all Diplomacy games. We set the game up on an Internet judge and called it "noholds," because we'd agreed to play by virtually no rules at all. Anything that you could get away with was fair game (short of actually breaking into the judge and changing another player's orders, of course -- that would be dishonest). We wanted a true "trust no one" atmosphere, and we did all we could to make sure the atmosphere was thick.

I drew Germany, and the game started off well enough. I was careful not to annoy any of my neighbors -- I'd played with them all before, of course, and so I knew what they were capable of. Denmark and Holland for me, Sweden for Russia, and a non-agression pact with Austria. I made it through 1901 without an enemy.

I was starting to worry about England, though. He'd wanted Belgium and asked me to keep Russia out of Sweden. I helped him with neither count, and so I built a fleet in Kiel and went into 1902 a little leery of the Englishman.

The new German fleet didn't help matters any. Neither Russia nor England liked the build, and England saw it as proof of a German alliance with France. Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth, for France was tight-lipped with me about everything except my new build in Munich, which he didn't appreciate. In fact, I soon learned that England and France found common ground in my builds and had decided to come after me.

I spent Spring of 1902 defending myself. An Anglo-Russian assault on Denmark bounced, and Warsaw's move to Silesia failed thanks to my Berlin army. Luckily for me, Austria and Turkey were taking some pokes at Russia from underneath.

I kept Holland only because France and England had their wires crossed on who was going to take it from me, and this had the happy result of reconfirming in England that France was actually against him. England made his displeasure known by delivering the head of a Holstein cow to the French player's door. Actually, I never saw it -- that's just what France said. Other reports ranged from a horse's head to a rabbit's head (this was England's own claim); you know how things tend to get exaggerated in partial press. Austria even said he had learned that it was just an eighty-five pound block of head cheese. In any case, the message was clear.

But France either didn't get the message or chose to ignore it, and so the campaign of intimidation against him continued. Soon enough, the Englishman was telephoning the Frenchman late at night and hanging up, tossing rocks through the Frenchman's windows, and even bad-mouthing him in his broadcast press. I was dreadfully concerned that this would have its intended effect -- forcing France into becoming an English puppet, but at that point, there was no way to tell if it would. The extended antics of the English player on that turn convinced us all of one thing: sure enough, we had set the deadlines too far apart, but there was nothing we could do about it now.

France, then, smartened up, and stopped showing up at work. We all knew he was at home during the day, but in the evening, after work hours, no one knew where he went. This frustrated England no end. France was living in terror, but the good thing is that he was finally keeping up on his press to me.

In the meantime, Russia was trying to get satisfaction from Turkey. When Turkey made clear that he wasn't about to stop his assault, his car lost all four tires to a knife attack. As soon as he'd replaced them, the new set was slashed to ribbons as well. Those were vicious acts of vandalism by Russia, but after all, the Turk was in Sevastopol.

England decided what he couldn't get from France, he'd get from me, and he started his antics in my neighborhood. I replaced three windows in my house before I decided to go into hiding. The other players soon made the same decision. Me, I quit work and chose to hole up in a little sewer access tunnel on the University grounds -- it sounds smelly, but it wasn't too bad once I got used to it. It did get a little cramped, though, especially once there were two of us, and the rain that fell through the grate was a frequent annoyance (I had to shut the laptop off until it stopped), but it was for a good cause, and my underground hide-out gave me ample access to telephone wires, so I was never far from the game.

I would venture out at night and purchase food at 24-hour convenience stores, dashing back to my alcove as quickly as I could so as not to miss the latest press.

The first couple weeks were happy ones. My fortunes improved a bit. Russia pulled out of the Scandinavian battles to fight Austria and Turkey, and I got into Sweden without losing Holland. But France was apparently convinced by England's arguments (or, more likely, he still disliked my Munich army) and it became obvious to me that they were once again a pair to be dealt with.

I read in the paper that the Austrian player's garage had been burned to the ground. Everyone was blaming Russia in the broadcast press, but the fire seemed to me to be more like our Turkish player, and I began to wonder if he wasn't trying to signal me and Italy that there might be some free SC's available. I decided it would be to my advantage to pay even more attention to the police reports than I had been -- who knows what important signals I had been missing?

I toyed with the idea of setting fire to some Austrian property as well, in order to let Turkey know I got his message, but I couldn't think of anything I could burn that would subtly point to me. I considered just asking the Turk if he was about to stab Austria, but -- knowing him -- he might have lied to me, so I thought the arson plan was better.

Italy, in the meantime, was annoying us all. Alone among us, he had kept his job and refused to get involved in the regional squabbles. France urged him to go north, and both Austria and I wanted him to go west. He, however, seemed content to just sit on his hands.

At this time, I took a big risk and went into the office in broad daylight. Luckily, none of the other players had chosen that day to be brave, and so I was able to get into the Frenchman's office and get a copy of his handwriting. Donning a false beard, a quick trip downtown had me in the office of one John Smith, a document preparer of some small talent. It cost me a pretty penny, but I soon enough had an authentic French declaration of war on Italy in retaliation for having not received help against the dread German. Back in my bunker, I faxed it to Italy's computer and awaited the moves.

Italy bought the French war declaration I had sent him, and he moved his units westward all at once. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to make France aware that he was at war with Italy, and the French moves (which were against me) were clearly not anti-Italian. Italy, being the wimp he is, decided against all logic that his garage was worth more than Marseilles, so he sued France in the broadcast press for peace, promising to move back to Venice and go back to holding there. Sadly for me, that's exactly what he did.

These were tough times for me. England followed through on his threat to get my bank account closed and my credit cards disabled, a fact I found out when making one of my nightly visits to the quickie mart. And to make matters worse, I lost Holland. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Not only did I need food, but I needed help against France. So one evening during the Fall 1905 season, I found myself dressed in black and outside the home of the Italian player's mother. Soon enough, I had extracted her from the house and, bound and gagged, deposited her into my bunker. With her checkbook I was able to keep us both fed, and she proved herself to be of very good propaganda value.

It was hard, sometimes, to keep from feeling a little bad about the whole thing, but such are the fates of war. She was just in the wrong place (her kitchen) at the wrong time -- or, more accurately, her son wasn't in the right place (Piedmont) at the right time -- and I just couldn't let the opportunity pass me by.

Emily -- I asked if I could call her Emily, and she didn't consider it wise to deny me that -- had no flair for Diplomacy at all. She would yell and scream all the time about it just being a game or something like that. I don't know -- I learned to just tune her out. She didn't even know what Diplomacy was. It made me understand a little better how our Italian player became so bad at the game, having had such a poor role model at home. But she could cook pretty darn well, so -- just for the irony -- I had her make us Italian food every night. Mighty good.

Italy, meanwhile, was none too happy about me holding his mother hostage, and it looked like I'd finally get a rise out of him. The big risk, of course, was that he would declare war against me instead of against France, but I thought that my little threats against his mother would keep him from doing that. It's a fine line and you have to be a tactful diplomat, you know. I've always been proud of my skills with the press, and I think that once I got Italy talking, he and I established a good, pleasant rapport. My threats against his mother were bluffs, of course. I'd have never hurt her (except if her son entered Tyrolia or something really stupid like that, of course).

My plan was working perfectly. Italy headed west and France got into trouble. France couldn't understand Italy's sudden change of heart, and photographs of the Italian player in compromising positions started appearing on the Internet. The police were soon after him, but luckily for our alliance, he had apparently hidden himself well. Thankfully for all of us, the police never found him, because the guy we had lined up as an alternate was a real cut-throat player. And -- even worse -- he was known as a big fan of the Lepanto who thought Italy couldn't win by going west.

One evening, while Emily boiled spaghetti on the hibachi, I decided to open up a bit. It was clear she couldn't communicate my plans outside the bunker (and her mouth was usually taped because of all that infernal screaming and complaining she did), and I just needed to think out loud. She sat, stirring the pot, while I got to talking about the tactical situation. By this time, her son and I had completely reversed my fortunes. I had taken Holland back and was poised to attack Belgium. Italy was in the Western Med, and I was considering France's different support options. Her son was proving to be a perfect puppet.

It was right after I thanked her for providing me with the means to repel the French infidel that she looked at me and gestured for the tape to be removed from her mouth. Something in her eyes told me that she wasn't going to scream this time, so I did it. Next thing I know, she was bent over a map, helping me plan the attack. The spaghetti got overcooked as together we plotted her son's moves. After two long weeks of captivity, she finally got it. Some people just are slower than others, I guess.

When I showed her a history of the game, she was apalled by her son's inept behavior, and she immediately understood and forgave me her abduction. She fell all over herself for the next couple hours apologizing for having raised such a wimp, but I got the feeling she wouldn't do it again, so I forgave her. And her plan to convoy Tuscany to Spain was a beaut!

We took a risk and actually went out to dinner that night. On the way back to the bunker, we both thought we were being followed by the Austrian, but we lost him in traffic. She drove while I sent press using her cellular modem. We both decided not to let Italy know that she was okay with the whole kidnapping thing -- because his value as an ally would then have been completely shot.

The war went pretty well, then. Italy got into Marseilles and I got into Belgium. I think France realized what had happened, because I read in the paper that Emily's house had been broken into. I sure was happy I'd thought of kidnapping her first!

After Marseilles and Spain, we decided to send Italy into Paris while we hit London. So Marseilles went to Burgundy and I broke into the Channel. Things were looking great. Right then, though, Italy decided not to follow my strongly worded advice, and his army took Munich from us! The moves arrived with a real insipid goodbye note for his mother, promising to visit her grave after the game was over and all sorts of stuff -- we almost got the feeling he was teary-eyed while writing it. We'd gotten London, but we didn't get a build! Emily was livid. Absolutely livid. She just couldn't believe that her son -- her own flesh and blood -- would perform a one-center stab. She said numerous times that she could have understood if it was for three centers or something (and I'd have to agree with her -- now that I was familiar with her tactical skill, I'd say she shouldn't have been given up for anything less than two centers for sure, and probably three). Even Emily said his little goodbye note to her was a bit overdone. Her exact words were, "how can he expect us to believe anything he says after he's entered Munich like that?"

She was so aggravated and excited by the loss of Munich that she basically took over the press duties from me from that point forward. A couple weeks later, I realized she didn't really need me anymore. I left the bunker, went back to work, and got myself involved in some gunboat games. After a few months, I found out that Emily had gotten a solo with Germany. I visited her in the bunker to congratulate her, and I intend to write Nick Fitzpatrick to make sure that she gets half of the Hall of Fame points for the victory. We Diplomacy players are bound to a certain code of honor, you know.

Amos Anon
(Mail for Mr. Anon is being channeled through Manus Hand)

If you wish to E-Mail feedback on this article to the author, click on the letter above. If that does not work, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.