The Role of the Standby
by Jim Grose
originally printed in Diplomacy World #84
In about half of the regular Diplomacy games I'm currently playing in I joined as a standby. To my surprise others often compliment me for immediately contacting them, asking what has happened to date, proposing alliances and discussing tactics.
What else is the standby player expected to do? Play Gunboat for one tum, assuming he will not actually be taking control, while the others continue to play regular Dip? This approach could prove fatal, is entirely preventable but is all too common.
Look at it this way: either the standby will assume permanent control or he won't. Additionally, either he will conduct diplomacy during the season when control of his country is in doubt or he won't. Thus there are four combinations:
1. He assumes permanent control after conducting diplomacy for the one season that this is in doubt. Great. His country's relations with others never skip a beat.
2. He assumes permanent control but conducts no diplomacy for one season beforehand. The worst case. Joint attacks on mutual enemies maybe delayed for one critical season. Worse, former allies, willing to remain so if only they were contacted, may decide to switch sides.
3. The original player returns even though the standby conducted diplomacy. This leaves some room for confusion if the standby proposed one set of moves to others while the original player issues a different set but surely the original player would contact his allies to assure them that he is in fact still in the game. If the two players have proposed different retreats and/or builds/removals then to be safe others can make their orders conditional.
4. The original player returns while the standby contacts no one. This is the scenario that most standbys seem to assume will happen. They are gambling, however, because if the original player does not return then we're back to the fatal #2.
If the standby is 100% confident that the original will return then why bother even submitting orders? If he is less than 100% confident, why risk the consequences of not conducting diplomacy for one season?
On a related topic, replacement players hold an interesting range of views on what their "obligations" to their predecessors and previous alliances are. One told me that he felt it would be unfair to change sides and undo all the hard work of the previous player, even though he agreed that in his current alliance he stood little chance of winning.
Another agreed with me that any agreements made by the previous player were null and void. Consequently he leapt at my offer to allow him to change sides.
The first type of player seems to think that as a replacement he doesn't "deserve" to win. The second type understands that the object of the game is for a great power to win by taking 18 (are you reading this, Berry Renken?) and all strategy and tactics must flow from this. It is completely irrelevant whether that great power has one, two or ten different rulers during a game.