Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Diplomacy

Go To

"I got my buddy. I'll trust him with my car, my computer and my rent. I will not trust that son of a bitch with Belgium, though."

A Turn-Based Strategy board game, and one of the all-time classics, created by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954. First published in 1959, it has been published by Avalon Hill since 1976. While playing the game, a practice of dealing honestly and fairly with your opponents (inside the rules of the game) can be described much more succinctly as "losing". Possibly the most intense board game experience ever created, it has incredibly simple rules, is still popular fifty years after its publication, and will break your tiny little mind. As an added bonus, there is a complete absence of any influence of random chance over the game: whatever happens, happens as a direct result of player decisions. Including stabbing you in the back, taking over your entire empire, and driving you out of the game, all because you believed the guy playing Turkey when he said he was going to invade Tunis this turn.

Originally designed as a game aid to teach people about diplomacy and the world situation before World War I, the game has been destroying friendships, making people pass out from stress, and ruining lives ever since.

The basic form of the game (there are many variants) is a Take Over Europe scenario set in The Edwardian Era. Each of seven players, playing one of the key powers of Europe, has to gain control of 18 of the 34 available supply centres (named after cities or provinces) in order to win. All players move simultaneously (submitting their orders in written form to the adjudicator/judge or bringing them with oneself at a designated time) and each unit has equal strength. In order to take a territory from someone else, you have to have other units supporting your attack.

The two types of units are armies and fleets, with fleets being able to convoy armies across seas and travel along coasts, while armies can go into landlocked territories, where many supply centers are.

The game operates in a five-phase turn representing a year, starting from 1901 (games generally last between 5 and 20 years):

  • Spring Movement phase
  • Spring Retreat/Disband phase (ejected units move elsewhere, entrapped units are destroyed)
  • Autumn Movement
  • Autumn Retreat/Disband
  • Winter Build/Disband
    • You can have as many units as supply centres you control. To make new builds, you must have one of your "home supply centres". England starts with two fleets and an army, Russia with two fleets and two armies (although both its fleets have a hard time getting anywhere and its border is huge), everyone else two armies and a fleet. Lose all your supply centres, you have until winter to get one back or you're out.

Has been often done by post. It's a popular email/forum game too, with some good banter known to occur.

Between these moves there is much negotiation. Back-stabbing, lying, alliances etc. is positively encouraged and widespread. There are some actions though (i.e. altering your opponent's orders, deceiving the GM) that are widely considered ungentlemanly. It is impossible to win the game without making alliances, and even more impossible to win without subsequently breaking them.

To bring an example of the convoluted nature of negotiations, it is not unusual for, say, France to engage in coordinated standoffs with Italy in order to fake a war with him, in order to satisfy Turkey, who demanded that France attack Italy in order to prevent Italy from attacking Austria while Turkey and Austria invade Russia together; the only reason France cares about what Turkey wants from him is that he and England are attempting to invade Russia's allies in Germany, and the Turkish invasion will distract Russia's attention and prevent him from opening up another flank with England. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to France or Turkey, Italy has already made a deal with England to hold off his attack on Austria until the conquest of Germany is completed, at which point he and England will turn on France. It Makes Sense in Context.

It is also possible for some bizarre game positions to occur. In one forum game, Russia found itself in Spring 1905 with German armies occupying Moscow and St. Petersburg, Warsaw under German control, the only Russian-controlled home territory being Sevastopol and his Baltic Fleet parked in Berlin. In another face-to-face game, an Italian fleet somehow ended up invading Edinburgh.

Diplomacy is an example of the simultaneous-resolution campaign-level type of TBS game, and shows both its benefits (very pure strategy, as each player has the same positional information available to him - diplomatic information is another matter, making persuasion all-important) and its drawbacks (the chance for endless negotiations).

Also known simply as The Hobby. Not to be confused with the Warcraft fanfic.

This game contains examples of:

  • Alternate History: The game map is based off of the geo-political situation in Europe on the eve of World War I in 1914 (though game-play wise it starts in 1901 for ease of counting).
  • Apple of Discord: Belgium is a practically memetic example. Its position makes it about equally easy for England, France and Germany to contest, and its role in shaping alliances and strategy in the Western triangle is entirely disproportionate to its direct mechanical importance. Many a player has been undone by being too aggressive in their demands for the tiny country.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Many custom names have been created for openings, strategies and alliances, often derived from the late Richard Sharp's book, The Game of Diplomacy, for example the Lepanto, an Austrian-Italian alliance to quickly eliminate Turkey, named after a 1571 battle. Many of these names are so ubiquitous that it becomes a case of Calling Your Attacks. The "Juggernaut" in particular is thrown around in every game, regardless of the actual alliance situation. note 
  • Balance of Power: The Game. Alliances form and break to tip them in each player's favor and/or to prevent one of them from running away and overpowering everyone else en route to a solo victory.
  • Betrayal Tropes: (Have fun. And we hope to ...Stab You Soon!.)
  • Celebrity Endorsement: a 1962 release noted it was played in the John F. Kennedy White House, while a mid-1970s release pointed out this was Henry Kissinger's favorite game.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: All agreements made in game can only be enforced by honor and trust and the game is infamous for how much backstabbing occurs between players from game to game, although doing it too much just means buying distrust from everybody.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Although it may vary, each country has usually these following colors: England is blue/pink, France is turquoise, Russia is white/purple, Turkey is yellow, Germany is black, Austria-Hungary is red, Italy is green, and neutral territories are beige/white.
  • The Dragon: A winning player often has another player working for him, popularly called a "janissary." Be careful because he will likely be The Starscream. Often the Dragon has already been rendered incapable of winning, and their agenda is simply to make sure that whoever did it doesn't win either. Because revenge is a dish that is Best Served Cold.
  • The Edwardian Era: The game officially begins in Spring 1901, but the map is closer to 1914. The primary difference is that the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars wouldn't have happened yet, so Turkey would still have a land connection to the Adriatic Sea. Sweden and Norway would also be a single country until 1905.
  • Enemy Mine: We call this an "alliance". All players are ultimately responsible for their own country, so this turn's ally can very well become the next turn's enemy (or vice versa).
  • Espionage Tropes: Any you can fit in the context of seven players. As exchanging information picked up from conversations with other players is perfectly legal, so is all the trickery associated with such.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The one universal rule against deception in postal games is "don't deceive the GM."
  • Gambit Pileup: With each nation having its own secret agenda, the negotiation table can get rather messy.
  • Government in Exile: If a player's home Supply Centers are captured, the player can still survive as long as he has at least one SC left; a home SC is necessary to raise more forces, though. The "chaos" variant eliminates this rule.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy:
    • The name of a variant in which players cannot communicate with each other. Talking through Technique via moves would be the only way to convey your intentions to others.
    • In-universe, it provides an alternative interpretation as to why (for example) Norway would align with England after a fleet pulls into port.
  • Honor Before Reason: Someone who practices this is referred to as an "armoured duck" in the lingo. It is not a compliment; a good player is flexible enough to backstab someone if it'll get him the win, and to break off a war in progress (or even forgive a stab) if the board position demands it. Then again, a very good player might conceivably intentionally make themselves be seen as an armored duck to avoid attacks being launched against them, and then strike at the opportune moment to eliminate multiple opponents.
  • Inevitable Mutual Betrayal: It is essential to team up with one or more of your opponents just to survive vs. other alliances. However, only one player can win, so in almost every game there will be multiple occasions where one member of an alliance will backstab the other(s) for an advantage or total victory. Ethical players will put limits on their alliance (such as it only lasting for a specific period of time) so that when they do attack their allies they won't be making a surprise attack.
  • Kingmaker Scenario: A player in a weak position may still be able to tip the balance between two more powerful rivals. Possibly subverted if the player is able to take advantage of the situation and extract concessions that enable him to get back into contention or even win the game himself.
  • Love Dodecahedron: With wars and alliances instead of hate or love relationships. It's worse because instead of A < B > C > D < E <> F < G, everybody has some kind of relationship with almost everybody else. And Heaven help you when there really are sexually compatible people at the table who are willing to flirt to win.
  • Mle Trois: And how. For a game with seven powers and no default alliances, anything goes.
  • Metagame: The Diplomacy meta has been developing for over sixty years now, with rapid mutation in the Internet era as the hobby shifted to the Internet. The metagame is most developed when it comes to opening and ending strategy; who you ally with first, and how you plan for a stop-the-leader stalemate.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The "World Diplomacy" variant has Antarctica as one of the factions. Exactly who they are is not elaborated on. Maybe they're penguins.
  • The Neutral Zone:
    • Can be agreed upon by neighboring powers in negotiations (e.g., England and France agree to keep the English Channel a neutral zone as a fleet in there by one is almost certainly a danger for the other while also freeing up their fleets in London and Brest to move elsewhere). Like all other agreements, it's only as good as the nonexistent paper it's written on.
    • Switzerland is always impassable, enforced by rule. Islands other than Great Britain (e.g., Ireland, Sicily, etc.) are also impassable by virtue of not being labelled on the board.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: The term "Flying Dutchman" was appropriated for the tactic of sneaking a counter onto the board when nobody's looking. It's generally considered legal so long as it's taken off when called on it (however, turns are not replayed if it's been making stuff happen).
  • Playing Both Sides: Pretty much the best situation one can be in. Cue everyone trying to achieve it...
  • Pragmatic Villainy: It is the general consensus that players should keep their treachery level to a minimum. Both so that other players will continue to trust them (nobody trusts the guy with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder), and also that, when they really do need to backstab someone, it will come as a huge surprise, and they'll be unable to react.
  • Put on a Bus: Montenegro and a few other tiny states too small to bother with on a board of Europe.
  • Rage Quit: A problem for the judges. Several systems have been put in to account for this when selecting players.
  • Real-Time with Pause: Specifically the simultaneous-execution style. This is part of the reason that the potential for gambits and backstabbing, for which the game is famous, exists in the first place.
  • "Risk"-Style Map: Just look at it. It's the predecessor to the original Risk map.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Because Russia begins the game with the most forces and, in terms of actual tournament statistics, it is frequently ganged up on (it is statistically the second-most likely country to be eliminated after Austria).
  • Sliding Scale of Turn Realism: Round by Round.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: A desperate player may claim that he will move all his forces to face the one he is threatening, so that someone else will have a power vacuum to take advantage of, while the one threatened will get very little.
  • Take Over the World: Sort of. You win by having more then half the supply centers on the board in your control which means you can claim to be the most powerful Evil Overlord in the world — the assumption is that once you own more than half the board, you can crush the opposition by yourself on the board (and thus there's no further use for negotiation, which is the point of this game).
  • There Can Be Only One: Depends on the game. Sure, it's played straight in some games, but other players in stalemates are more content to announce two-way, thee-way, and even up to seven-way ties as long as no power has been completely eliminated.
  • True Companions: A "carebear" is a player who acts like this; they consider a two-way draw to be their objective from the game start and will not stab their ally. It's not really a compliment (you're supposed to be trying to win if you can), but feigning being a carebear is quite common.
  • Variant Chess: Not chess, but Diplomacy is known for having many variants, including a briefly commercially-released Youngstown Variant that extended the map to Japan and India.