THE DIPLOMACY TOURNAMENT:
A SHOCKING PROPOSAL
I am going to advocate a new Diplomacy tournament scoring system. If you play in tournaments, this proposal is going to piss you off no end. If adopted, my system will make it impossible for players in tournaments to engage in their favorite tactic of winning the war without ever winning a battle.
DISCLAIMER #1: I play Diplomacy for fun. This is why I never play in any sort of tournament (to date). Tournament play is for blood and I can�t be bothered. But, if you play Diplomacy tournament-style, then don't you want every player to do the best he can? I believe we can do more to ensure good play.
Okay, what is good play? That's been variously defined by all kinds of people, some of whom may know what they're talking about. However, once our personal predelictions are all hanging out, we have to get back to the basic source: The game's inventor, Allan B. Calhamer.
I refer you now to Allan's classic article, "Objectives Other Than Winning In Diplomacy," which originally appeared in the 1974 IDA Handbook, and since reprinted at least once. This article ought to be required reading for every player in a Diplomacy tournament (and every director of one, too). In it, Allan blows away all the irrelevant stuff laid out in the past interminable arguments about
"goals" and "good allies" and "what the victory criterion means," and concentrates on the only relevant issue: Diplomacy is a game.
Diplomacy is basically a game of "King of the Mountain" or, more appropriately,
"Stop the Leader." In serious competition, failure to play that game is failure to play Diplomacy. Allan, and the Rulebook, make abundantly clear that you have three choices, or possible results, in a game:
1. You win.
2. You draw, and share the draw equally with all other survivors.
3. You lose.
These choices make it incumbent on every player to try to avoid losing. That means he must try to win, or, at the very least, to deny victory to any other player.
Even so, many players (most, I'll warrant) will traipse along through the game for some lesser, and meaningless, result. The so-called
"strong second" players do this. They will opt for what they consider to be a
"good showing" and accept second place guaranteed in return for helping another player win. (We will also get high-falutin' prose from some of them about the
"good ally", "honor among thieves"??...and such.) This, says Allen,
short-circuits the very basis of the game.
It is easy to believe
that a strong second with ten units is preferable to being knocked out
early, or succumbing with the rest while holding just one unit. However,
in the final battle to prevent the leader from winning, one would
normally expect the second-place player to be the leader of the
opposition. Consequently, something must be detracted from his
achievement because he must bear some of the responsibility for the
failure of the final battle.
DISCLAIMER #2: I don�t usually play Diplomacy the way Allan feels it should be played. However, we're not talking about your usual casual game, but about a tournament game.
There is all the difference between these as between party bridge and duplicate.
There is no question that if players go into the game with a determination to win or draw, only, the result can be exciting. Eventually one of them will be far enough ahead that the others will have to combine to stop him. Allan's
description conveys better than any words of mine the high battle that
This final attempt to contain the leader is
sometimes one of the most dramatic and exciting parts of the game.
Cooperation must be created among the players who have been fighting one
another, and who have set their hearts on other objectives; they must
admit that goals they have pursued all game long, which are now within
their grasp, have just lost their value, and may even be destructive.
Frequently they are out of position for the new encounter, better
positioned to fight each other. They must form a line together, exposing
their territories to each other. This is not the cooperation of being
merely assigned to the same team. This is Verdun.
But if somebody
wins, then somebody comes in second, and he ought to get credit for
that, right? Wrong. Allan addresses himself to that question, and his
comment gave me the idea for the tournament rating plan which follows.
Some players have argued that giving credit for a
"strong second" is realistic. The result is hard to determine, for when
a player has won, he has presumably gained control of Europe, something
which one country has never done. The strong second, then is the last or
the largest to fall to the conqueror. Whether this situation is a good
one to be in or not is hard to say. The Mongols used to give the worst
treatment to those of their enemies that held out the longest.
So be it. The Mongols will run our tournament.
The basic terms of scoring in a Diplomacy tournament should be as follows:
1. The winner receives 34 points.
2. If there is a draw, all survivors receive equal shares of the 34 points. The number of points received would be:
7-way: 4.9 points each (34.3 total)
6-way: 5.7 points each (34.2 total)
5-way: 6.8 points each (34.0 total)
4-way: 8.5 points each (34.0 total)
3-way: 11.4 points each (34.2 total)
2-way: 17.0 points each (34.0 total)
3. Any player eliminated receives zero.
4. If there is a win, every survivor loses 2 points for each center he owns at the end of the game. Negative scores are of course possible. The larger players are in this way more heavily penalized for their failure to stop the leader. Behold the death of
It should be noted that it is virtually impossible to win a tournament without winning at least one game unless nobody wins one. Agreements between players who are friends and in the same game now become deadly traps, as do trade-off agreements between players who happen to be in more than one game together. Few will find advantage in these heretofore common tournament practices.
Ideally, a Diplomacy tournament run using this scoring system should have three unseeded preliminary rounds, followed by seeded semi-final and final rounds. However, the system should work almost as well if the tournament proceeds entirely on the basis of 3 (or even 2) unseeded rounds, with a final score determined at the end. No player would receive an aware if he did not have a final score above zero. (Where there are seeded final rounds, the top two boards would constitute the actual semi-final and the top board the actual final. Only players at these boards would be eligible for the awards for 1st, 2nd,
Tournaments have to deal with two problems: Deadlines and concessions.
DEADLINES: At least 12 hours should be provided for any one game. Hopefully the director(s) of the tournament would also make arrangements whereby a game could continue after hours if it were not finished. Ultimately, however, some games will have to be ended before they reach definite results. The players should not have less than 2 hours notice that their games will be ended at a given time. The season under way when time is called should be completed if it is Fall; otherwise, forget it. When time is called, per the Rulebook, if one player is ahead he is the winner.
"Ahead" is defined as follows: A player wins if (a) he has at least 13 units, (b) he is at least 3 units larger than any player, and (c) there is no stalemate established by any player or alliance.
STALEMATES: A stalemate occurs if the supply center counts for all players do not change for three consecutive game years. A stalemate also occurs if a player establishes a demonstrable line and holds it for three consecutive game years. If a demonstrable stalemate line is being held by any player or alliance at the end of the game's time limit, the game is also stalemated. A stalemated game is a draw.
CONCESSIONS: Concessions in tournaments run under other scoring systems have been common. Even under this system, some players may be inclined to concede victory or draw by vote. There should be no objection to this, so long as the vote is unanimous in either case. Under no circumstances should a less-than-unanimous vote be considered. If a vote is taken, and is unanimous for a conceded victory or draw, the players should be required to sign a statement to that effect. This will prevent everyone concerned from future retractions.
It seems to me that the days in which a Diplomacy tournament can be set up ad hoc and allowed to run itself are about over. A professional approach must be adopted. Specifically:
1. Each game should have an assigned timekeeper who will rigorously enforce the time limits.
2. The timekeeper will also record supply center totals at the end of each game year, oversee any votes for concession, and generally manage the game to ensure that it runs smoothly.
3. All players in the tournament should be assembled at a given advance time for instruction on how the games will be run. The tournament director(s) should make clear in advance that any beginning after a set deadline time will not count in the tournament. (One exception should be made in the case of a board that is filling at deadline time but does not have 7 players until later.)
4. All rules interpretations and tournament rules must be made available, in writing, to the players in advance.
At a major wargaming convention, there is no excuse for a sloppy Diplomacy tournament. The suggestions just given make for a more professionally-run affair.