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"On Conducting Diplomacy The Art Of The Possible"

Stalking The Perfect Alliance

by Brian Cannon

If you're like me, you enter a new game of Diplomacy eagerly anticipating and hoping for a thrilling victory, but still dreading the prospects of the enemy alliance or the treacherous stab that will reduce all your glorious plans to ignominious dust. In some games you never seem able to find an ally and get crushed be your neighbors like a pile of old and moldy potato chips. In other games, you are sure you've found and made an ally who will help you further your plans (and his own), only to find him changing sides and turning on you just when you were starting to roll - or, in some ways worse, proving just plain unreliable causing you to waste moves with NSO" (no such order) supports and the like and allowing your enemies to advance while you futilely spend your time and energy trying to breath life back into your supposed ally. Since it is virtually impossible to be successful in Diplomacy without gaining allies at some point (barring variants like no-press Gunboat & Fog of War & the like), it follows that one of the most important skills of a successful Diplomacy player is the ability to build and maintain (and direct) an alliance. In this article I'll discuss several aspects of alliance building and maintenance ( ABM", yet another TLA <g>). This is by no means an exhaustive list; and, as is common in Diplomacy, there will always be exceptions that call for violating otherwise valid rules of thumb. Nevertheless, it can serve as a good starting point for those seeking improved success in their Diplomatic endeavors.

The first principle of effective alliance building is mutual respect. This includes mutual understanding of and concern for the legitimate needs and goals of each ally s country and also, I believe, respect for each ally as a person and a player. This later is important because, ultimately, it is the player (person) who decides what alliances their country will join, what moves they will make, what Diplomacy they will conduct, who they will stab (and when) and who they will favor when the going gets tough. And since, so far at least, all Diplomacy players are flawed, FEELING, humans" (no Vulcans involved yet, to my knowledge), it must be expected that most players will be influenced in their strategic decisions by how they FEEL about you and the other players. Dale Carnegie could tell you more (and better) than I about how to build an attitude of respect into how other players view you. For now I'll just mention a few thoughts.

1. Respect begets respect, and vice versa. If you think (and convey) that another player is a jerk, it s likely they'll return the favor. If you think (and convey) that your potential ally is a good player with good ideas and a sound grasp of tactics, it is far more likely that they will be disposed to think the same of you (if you give them reason to, at least) or at least that they will be willing to give you the benefit of any doubt.

2. Interest and concern for ones welfare can be catching. If you take the time to see the world (or at least Europe) from the viewpoint of your prospective ally; and if you put in the energy to consider how you can help them reach goals that benefit their country (at least to the point of not damaging your own country); and if you genuinely listen to the concerns they express and put in the time and thought necessary to factor those concerns into any proposed plan for alliance; then you build a foundation from which a strong and long lasting alliance can be formed. One capable of weathering the stresses imposed by those scheming, untrustworthy and nasty yokels on the other end of your cannon barrels.

3. With the strength and resiliency of your prospective alliance at stake, seek to devise a Balanced plan. An unbalanced plan (one which favors one ally significantly more than another) can" be the death of your alliance hopes - and can kill your alliance later even if you succeed in forming it now. The best plan, generally, is one in which each ally has minimal (and roughly equal) opportunities for stabbing another ally; in which each has reasonably equivalent opportunities for growth; and in which no ally becomes (or is likely to become) THE obvious target once the alliance has been successful (e.g.: a Western Triple E/G/F in which England rules the North, France the Med, and Germany a thin band thru the middle - just begging to be crushed by E/F on the theory that a 2-way beats a 3-way any day). The challenge here is to devise a plan for the proposed alliance that considers and seeks to prevent such imbalances from developing. David Partridge's article in DW #75 about The Little Guy" is a good illustration of how an otherwise stable G/F alliance became unbalanced (due to unexpected and unplanned for mechanizations by Italy) and disintegrated forcing inclusion of Italy in the Draw.

4. Open and active communication lines are, in practically every case, essential to the health of a long term alliance. Silence presents a vacuum to your current ally in which fancy can construct all sorts of demons and fears about WHY you stopped writing. And when other players ARE writing and following sound principles in their attempts to build a new alliance structure (one which excludes you) with your current ally, you are just begging for trouble if you give them an open field to play in. Certainly there are times when you can't keep up the writing as much as you would like (you're on vacation or ill or your work load is taking all your free time, for example). In these cases, be candid and let your ally know what is going on so he will understand why your communication has diminished. Invite him to take an increased roll in your alliance s plans and to keep communicating with you. Do everything you can to ensure he understands your continuing interest in maintaining an alliance which will benefit both of you and your continuing commitment to that alliance - even in spite of your reduced letter writing.

In addition to the above, here are several techniques that may be employed to shore up or strengthen (or encourage the building of) an alliance you desire. Not every technique will be applicable all the time, and there are many others, but these can be a few more arrows to add to your quiver.

1. Paint the picture (to your prospective allies) of an enemy alliance which will destroy all of you if you don't band together. It may even be necessary to attempt to encourage the formation of such an alliance. True, this can be dangerous - but if you are having difficulty convincing your prospective allies to join you (instead of attacking you) it may be necessary. Ideally, the nature of such an enemy alliance should be that your alliance (if formed) will be able to emerge victorious from the conflict, but which will be able to eat your prospective allies (and you) piece by piece if they don't join with you.

2. While you will be planning your alliance s operations so that each ally has minimal opportunity to stab another, there will always be slight discrepancies (someone will have a slight advantage). If possible seek to keep that slight advantage on your side.

3. Of course, along with this goes the added responsibility of reassuring your allies that even tho you may have a slight advantage, they can trust you not to exploit it. Giving preference to their desires about your builds; maintaining a buffer between your forces and their dots; selflessly assisting them in other areas of the board to their benefit (or potential future benefit); and discussing & highlighting their importance to the alliance are all steps you can take to balance your allies perceptions of your slight stab-potential advantage.

4. Anticipate ways in which a current ally could turn on you if they decided to join a new alliance - and plan how you could deal with each possibility. If you can arrange your moves to be in position to deal with such treachery while continuing to help the alliance move forward you will have.gone a long way to preventing such tricky stabs (at least by others). This is a rather complicated area so aside from mentioning it I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader (or to a later article) to discuss in detail.

5. If you can't guard yourself against likely stab opportunities by your current allies, seek to plan moves that will make YOUR units essential to the alliance. The most common example of this is, of course, maneuvering yourself into a crucial position in a stalemate line. A position in which you possess the absolute ability to allow the enemy alliance thru any possible stalemate lines no matter what your current allies do about it. A position in which you can retaliate to a stab by forcing the stabbers onto the losing side. Another example is one in which your alliance is advancing but has yet to cross the enemy s stalemate line. If you can so arrange it that your units are essential to crossing the line (for example, pushing a western alliance past the key positions of Venice and the Italian boot). If you are France in such a position with the ability to cross the line, but also with the ability to help the eastern powers bottle up the line if you are stabbed, you possess tremendous leverage - even if your home dots are surrounded and unprotected.

Of course, there is much more to alliance building and managing than I've discussed here. Not least of which is the question of what to do when your alliance has defeated all opposition and entered the end game. Do you accept the draw? Will your allies accept the draw? Will you (or they) seek to reduce the size of the draw? Or lunge for a solo? Do you have the ability to even consider the option? Fertile field here for future articles (including by other budding authors lurking out there <hint, hint>. For now, aside from encouraging more of you who are reading this to consider submitting articles (especially Strategy & Tactics articles), I will close with this quote by Benjamin Franklin, July 4, 1776 We must all hang together else we shall all hang separately." How will YOU hang?

Brian Cannon is a regular contributor of Strategy & Tactics articles to Diplomacy World.