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Diplomacy and Star Trek

or How I'd Kick Spock's Pointy Butt any Day

by Warren Goesle

I was reading the commentary on the Diplomacy World Demo Game written by Brian Cannon in DW #81, and noted his interesting opening remark: "As an old hero of mine once said ... 'Fascinating!'", an obvious reference to Mr. Spock of "Star Trek" in its original form. Since I'd had several beers at this point, it got me to thinking, "How would Spock actually do in a Diplomacy Game?". I don't believe this to be a trivial question. Well, ok, maybe it is, but it was cheaper than writing to allies that weren't writing back (and we're not naming names here but you DO know who you are) and much cheaper than dialing 1-900 numbers, which were the only other options after 8 beers on a Saturday night.

But I don't believe that it's a trivial question to Diplomacy players. Check out "Maniac's Paradise", Doug Kent's fine monthly, and you'll find several pages of subzine dedicated to Trekmania. I suppose it started as filler material, but it has certainly taken on a life of its own. More than once Dip players have sent me messages with "live long and prosper" or "make it so" written in the margins. I actually find it a little strange that this marriage hasn't yet been taken to this logical conclusion before. So let's speculate...

How would Spock approach a Diplomacy game? Logically I suppose, he'd approach it logically...I suppose. But do logic and Diplomacy mix? Well...

So Spock goes on liberty and can either sign autographs at the Star Trek convention, or head down the block and check out DipCon. Looking for something new, and noting that the Diplomacy crowd appears a little saner, or at least doesn't dress alike, he wanders in and looks for a game. He's read up on the rules, checked a few strategy articles on the net, and feels ready to go. He draws the country card and gets...Austria. A tough draw for a first-timer. But the strategy articles say it is doable, so Spock doesn't get discouraged. Well, it's not like it's in his nature to...

He looks at the board. Italy is the first concern of course. Trieste and Venice must get along if either is to survive. Russia and Turkey are already talking, and England, France and Germany are in their own world for now. Let's get an alliance with Mr. Italy, as it is only logical. Talks go well, no hostility is detected, phasers are holstered. Italy is worried about Turkey, and is very concerned that Turkey and Russia are chatting. Lepanto is suggested, and planned for. Mr. Italy heads for Mr. Turkey, while our resident Vulcan decides that a talk with Mr. Russia is in order. Must break up the R/T.

Mr. Russia, of course, vehemently denies the R/T exists, and says that he was only trying to delay the invasion he expects from the South. He'd like help slowing down the Sultan. Logically, of course, this is in Spock's plans anyway. Russia will take Rumania from Sevastopol in the Fall, opening it up for a build to force the Black Sea, and take out his southern neighbor. So far, Spock is definitely in control. Italy and Turkey are still in conversation, so Spock heads for a chat with Mr. Germany.

A DMZ in Tyrolia and Bohemia is quickly agreed to, and a non-aggression treaty is mutually accepted. Spock looks forward to a good mid-game ally. Let's see, do we need to talk with Turkey now?

The Sultan appears a little down. This seems logical, as he has three neighbors coming for him. But no, he says it's because Russia and Italy have apparently decided to squeeze out both Austria and Turkey, with German help, and France and England aren't going to interfere. Austria and Turkey's only chance is to ally quickly and break up Russia and Italy. Spock's eyebrow raises. Could all that conversation actually have taken place already? Turkey says that Russia has vetoed the R/T for now, but might do it later...if Turkey is still around. Turkey says he wants none of that, and wants to hit Russia now. Can he at least get Austria to lay off while he tries talking England and Germany into helping again? Maybe Austria can even get in on it, and get a couple of SC's out of it?

So our hero goes back to the table to write his moves. What to do? Someone has obviously lied to him. That's part of the game, and is logical. Turkey's story is the least believable, but how much can Russia actually be trusted? A quick move to Galicia would be bad. Does that have to be defended? And what of Italy? Even if Turkey falls quickly, will Austria be next, squeezed between the Pope and the Tsar? And Germany, France and England all do seem to be getting along, could all three be heading this way? Paranoia doesn't translate well into Vulcan, but it's starting to.

Spock's Austria falls quickly of course. Russia stabs Austria immediately, and the Juggernaut forms. Italy, lured by the possibility of a stab of Turkey by Russia, gets his share of Spock rather than launch a Lepanto he really didn't care to do anyway, with an ally that was completely unsure of his footing. Spock's only sympathy comes from England, who was getting pummeled as Spock left the board.

Spock thinks. It wasn't logical for Russia and Turkey to ally. All the others would ally against them. It wasn't logical, once the Juggernaut formed, for Italy to attack him. This game isn't logical. Game theory doesn't work. There is no way to maximize the minimum gains, and get a plus out of it. One has to hope that someone has a common interest, and there is no guarantee of that. This isn't like 3-D chess, where a logical Vulcan mind could go up against a mere human like Kirk, and make game theory work. Of course, every now and then Kirk's illogical moves worked too...

Spock enters another game. His France doesn't last long either, as Germany doesn't care that it is illogical for him to invade France with Italy and England, as he'll just get squeezed between them. Spock watches the game progress from the sidelines, and sees that he is correct on this point. So the game does have logic to it. Spock leaves the board as England, Italy and Russia are deciding the game among the three of them.

Spock draws Russia in his final attempt. Six potential allies. Four potential first victims. 108 possible first moves. Which is the best? And Spock's brain latches on to the answer: it depends. Specifically, it depends on what the other six are going to do. It depends on what six illogical humans decide to do. Six illogical humans with their quirks, their foibles, their fallibility. Six illogical humans who might tell you nice things and then invade you because they don't like the shape of your ears.

Spock's Russia falls to a very illogical Austrian-Turkish alliance. Spock watches for awhile afterwards, and watches the A/T sweep most of the board. Fascinating. Illogical, as Austria must wonder when Turkey will attack from behind. Illogical, as England should not have let Turkey out of the Med in the first place, even though it got him a short-term build. Illogical, as France should have seen that taking out Italy with Austria would only lead to England invading from behind. Illogical...

Spock heads back to the Enterprise. Kirk notices that Spock spends a lot of time playing 3-D Chess with the Ship's computer.

I fear that Spock would not do well in Diplomacy. It has nothing to do with his diplomatic skills. It has nothing to do with his grasp of game theory. It has everything to do with the fact that our beloved game really isn't logical. Seven Vulcans in a Diplomacy game would probably be pretty tedious to watch. No one would get eliminated, as that would be illogical.

Diplomacy and Star Trek. There are lessons to be learned here. I suspect that Kirk or Picard would have different approaches to the game. After all, they're human. Let's put them in a game with six Vulcans and see how they do. Fascinating.