The Art Of Coarse Diplomacy

witsdipMichael Green, the humourist, defined the coarse golfer as one who plays his golf never troubling the fairway, and the coarse actor as one who remembers the lines, but not the actual order in which they come. The coarse diplomacy player shares with these exemplars of their chosen areas of expertise, a concern with aspects of the hobby not necessarily shared by other players. The coarse golfer knows only the rough, while the coarse actor’s chief concern is with upstaging every single member of the cast, and being dead by the second act so that he can spend as much time in the bar as possible. The coarse diplomat, in similar vein, is seldom concerned with what other’s see as the main aim of the game, the seeking, or preventing a solo, and usually displays an agenda idiosyncratically his own.
Take Askew, for example, that doyen of all things coarse. A Diplomacy player of fearsome reputation, Askew has never actually won a game. He once came close, of course, with a twelve dot Austria in 1905 after Italy, Russia and Turkey NMRed in 1901, blamed each other and bounced each other out of the game. Unfortunately for Askew, France and Germany were made of sterner stuff, and Askew’s finest hour was short-lived, being eliminated by 1911. The coarse diplomat does not need to win to satisfy his ambitions. Askew is normally eliminated by 1903, or sooner if he’s up against anyone he’s played before! So where does his reputation stem from?

What one has to understand about the coarse diplomat, is that reputation is not won on the board, it is always won in the bar afterwards. Askew is nothing, if not a persuasive racconteur and he is able to put a spin on any game which makes him appear to have been the evil mastermind of every game he plays in. “I was down to my last dot,” he proudly proclaims before a brace of newbies who are hanging on his every word, keen to learn the game at the feet of the master. “But I was able to persuade Germany to stab France over St Petersburg, and prevent the solo. After that I managed to convoy to Ankara, and ended up on seven dots, and a vital draw for round three!” The reality of course was very different, and had very little to do with whatever machinations Askew himself was behind. For starters Askew was actually eliminated in that game! He was reduced to a single dot in 1902, allowed to sit in Naples for a few turns, during which he took increasingly less interest in the proceedings and sat sulking on his cell phone. By the time Germany stabbed France he was already out of the game, and was wandering around the hall telling other players he was close to a solo. Reality and reputation have very little to do with each other when Askew is around.

How does he get away with it, you may ask? Simple! No one cares to actually check a result in a game. Why would you when the man himself is on hand to tell you all about it. Diplomacy players, despite their reputation, are generally honest enough fellows, and would never dream that another would lie about what happened in a game. Lie through his teeth in the game, sure, but why lie about the result? It just doesn’t make sense! And that’s why Askew gets away with it. If confronted with any inconsistency, of course he will immediately back-track and apologise for confusing two games – “very similar games, but, of course, you are right! In THAT game I was eliminated early! Hey – it happens!”

The coarse diplomat, then, is one who essentially plays the game off the board, rather than on it. He has realised that the game itself will soon be forgotten, but the stories that you tell will be remembered for a very long time, especially if they are suitably embellished! In many ways, the bigger the whopper, the more credible it is. If a chap tells you he is the Diplomacy World Champion it is a statement that surely would never be made unless true? Surely? That is in fact precisely what Askew told a group of convention hangers-on a few years ago. One of these was a member of the press, and the fact was reported in a national newspaper. Why would you doubt something reported by a respected journalist in a prestigious journal? From that day forth it became common knowledge that Askew was a former world champion – something no one ever bothered to verify!
In many ways then, the coarse diplomat does not actually ever need to play a game, all he needs to do is talk about the games he says he has played. Now Askew does play, occasionally! And what a player he is!

Most players aim first of all for a rule-book victory, a solo! If they cannot achieve this they will certainly try to prevent anyone else winning, will try to be included in a draw, or to top the board. Some will play simply not to be eliminated! These are all pretty standard aims, but they are never the aims of the coarse diplomat!
There are those who are said to play the game in order to stab everyone, preferably alphabetically, and this qualifies as fairly coarse! But Askew takes the biscuit! He is king of coarse! I have been making a keen study of Askew’s games, the few that he does actually play, and I have come to the conclusion that his main aim is to make moves which will be talked about. Take the following moves from a recent tournament.

Spring 1901: F Edi – Yor, A Lvp – Clyde, F Lon – Wales
Fall 1901: F Yor – Lon, A Lvp – Edi, F Wales – Lvp

There is really no rhyme or reason here! My best guess is that Askew himself would have gone all mysterious when pressed on why he was making the moves he was. He would attempt to appear infinitely wise, and would probably invent a name for the opening. “I’m simply making a Side-Step Opening,” he might say, as if gracing it with a name confers a rationale that can only be guessed at.
I am convinced I am right about this. Here’s another of Askew’s Openings I found in an Internet game. Notice how the Opening serves absolutely no purpose, but follows a pattern. This one he probably named the “Irish Opening” or something similar!

Spring 1901: F Edi – Clyde, A Lvp – hold, F Lon – Wales
Fall 1901: F Clyde – Lvp, A Lvp – hold, F Wales – Lvp

Now Askew seldom reaches the End game or even the Middle game or that matter, but his moves later on in a game can be equally erratic, but equally, well, … memorable. Here’s what he did as a 3 unit Italy in Fall 1905: F Tyr – Tunis, F Tunis – Ion, F Ion – Tyr. The solitary and unsupported Turkish enemy unit in Naples survived! Not that this was followed up by any alliance with Turkey, indeed Italy was defeated in Fall 1906! The only possible explanation is that Askew wanted it known that he had foregone a sure-fire capture of a dot and wanted people to speculate on why.

The Coarse Diplomat, in other words does not make moves to win a game or forge an alliance as other players do; his moves are designed purely to be talked about! We all know that in Diplomacy the moves themselves are not nearly as important as the negotiations. In a face to face game, the ability to pull someone aside, almost unnoticed and get them to give you Tunis unopposed is what makes for a great player. In an email or Internet game, frequent and copious press is often seen as the path to success. For Askew there is not much to be said for his negotiating style because I, for one, have never ever seen him negotiate. He is very good at collaring people, at distracting them from making their own moves to be sure, but he does not actually ever discuss the game at hand after cornering his unfortunate victim and shepherding them away from the board. In the one game I played against him, after a hissed, “We must talk,” which I ignored, I found him at my shoulder while I was attempting to get my orders written quickly, while anxiously trying to see who was talking to France. “Psst!” he repeated. “We must talk!” Since he was a single dot Turkey, sitting in Armenia, and I was playing England, I could not really see why we had anything that urgent to say to each other!
“It’s parky in here!” he began.
“Yes,” I replied, somewhat unkindly – where had France gotten to!?
“Nice venue, though! Enough space, good atmosphere!” I agreed with him and made the kind of gesture that normally invites a certain coming to the point.
“Not enough public transport though,” he continued. “Ah, there’s France! I have to speak to him! Will you excuse me!”

And that, amazingly was it! When I finally did get to speak to France, seconds before orders were due, and I asked what Aksew had had to say to him, France replied that he appeared to have urgently wanted to discuss the air-conditioning! It was then that I understood that the Coarse Diplomat does not want to negotiate anything, all he wants to do is prevent others from doing so. Askew is a master at this sort of thing! I have heard that he has spilled a can of coke all over the board; knocked all the pieces off kilter after “accidentally” depositing his dolly-bag on top of most of the Mediterranean Sea; been rushed to hospital after being stung by a wasp; and most infamously of all set off the water-sprinklers in the hall after setting fire to his beanie. He gets urgent telephone calls when a negotiation phase starts, he has to rush to the loo, or pick up litter – anything to avoid negotiating!

He spends most of his time, though, studying the board with a preternatural intensity, nodding his head and making audible asides such as, “gottem!” or “like rats in a trap!” To any casual onlooker he is the very picture of composure and control – every inch the ex-World Champion, the puppet-master, plotting, scheming, about to spring his surprise. He will fix his opponents with a stare and say things like, “think before giving him Tunis!” or “it’s over for you now! Can’t you see what he’s done?” This causes maximum consternation, and turns ordinary healthy paranoia into rabid pre-emptive stabbing frenzies. And all the while Askew smiles and smiles, and in less savoury moments, laughs maniacally! Despicable, you might say, but, honestly, the game would be poorer without people like Askew, the coarse diplomacy players.

I once asked him if he’d ever stabbed everyone in alphabetical order as he is reputed to have done. “Never!” he replied emphatically. “That would be too easy!”

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Posted by on December 11, 2014 in Humour




The Delinquent Diplomat has decided to review the sites where you can play Diplomacy online, and rate them. The intention is to judge each site by its own criteria, however, and to highlight the best in each site. In choosing to look at Backstabbr first, I found this task easy and rewarding! It is a site I will undoubtedly continue to use in future!

Backstabbr is a new site, which aims, according to their Facebook page, “to make playing a game of Diplomacy online as easy, intuitive and fun as possible for Diplomacy veterans and newbies alike”. This is a laudable aim, as many a site is ruined by a difficult interface. The designers say that they have created the site because they have a passion for the game, and wanted to spread the good news! That’s the spirit, guys! The design of the site is sleek and streamlined. No unnecessary graphics to slow it down! On first impression it lacked eye-candy, but I quickly came to appreciate the easy feel, classy look, and was keen to get started. I  had never played on the site before, so this review suffers from a certain unfamiliarity, but benefits from fresh eyes!

Registering on the Site

Registration was painless, and free. I was able to use my Google ID to log on automatically, and was subsequently recognised every time I logged on. While this is handy, an issue with using Google does arise if your computer is used by other members of the family, and they forget to log out! However, this is a general Google issue rather than a weakness of the site. Perhaps there could be an option to log on with an email based login. I guess the Google login fits snugly with the aims of creating a more intuitive interface.

backstabbr2The Interface

The site has an informative and comprehensive guide on how to play, and a sandbox area where you can practise making moves or predict possible outcomes. As far as I could tell one cannot set up a situation from scratch, but the sandbox has its uses, especially, I would imagine, for newbies. The FAQ section has a sense of humour, but does appear a little perfunctory. Perhaps the interface is so intuitive that few questions are ever asked! After a quick poke around the sandbox to find out how to make moves, something I was able to do fairly easily after noticing the move, support convoy buttons at the bottom of the map, I felt confident about joining a game.

Joining or Starting a Game

Joining a game was painless and fast as both the games I joined started within 24 hours – a sign of a community that is active and strong! There were options available too, gunboat or press, and length of moves from hourly to once a week, public and private games. Starting a game was easy too. One could set grace periods, retreat and build periods and even a longer initial turn. All in all I was pleasantly surprised as I’ve had some long waits to join games on some sites.

Ease of Play

Making moves is equally easy, and it is done by clicking on the map, using hold, move, support and convoy buttons where necessary. You can tick an option to adjudicate as soon as orders are in, or leave unticked so that adjudication will wait till deadline – very useful! The map itself is pleasant enough, with units indicated by circles for armies and triangles for fleets. The writing press interface is slightly clunky, but easy enough when you get used to it. A neat feature is the ability to delay messages, which has its uses, no doubt, although to be frank, I cannot think of any off hand! When typing a reply, a full history of messages is available, which is very useful for twits like me who tend to forget what we’ve said before. I would say that the site easily meets its stated aim of an intuitive interface design.

Playing on an iPad was equally easy and felt good, not true of all sites. I did not try it on a mobile because I don’t have a suitable device, but upgrades for mobile devices were mentioned in the forums, so clearly it is suitable for mobiles.

Sense of Community

One feature of the site that I found lacking was the inability to see against whom I was playing! No name, even a handle or avatar to help picture my opponent! This spoils the game, for me. I know others may prefer anonymity in games, but it always disturbs me. To my mind that’s for gunboat games. Standard press games should reveal the face behind the board to some extent. I call into question, therefore, the extent to which a sense of community can ever truly develop on this site.

The availability of a forum, with profiles, and social media link-ups to a Twitter account and Facebook page does restore this sense of community to some extent, but I sincerely hope that the site does add the profile to the player in game. Nowhere on the site could I find a list of how players had done, a list of rankings or similar sense of whom I was playing against! The forum is well maintained and informative, people are posting all the time, and the site is clearly active and loved! But not to know whom one is playing against in a non-gunboat game is a serious flaw!

The fact that both games I joined started within 24 hours shows that the site is active, something confirmed by the activity on the forums. Indeed there were around a hundred games in progress! Very few of these seemed to be stalled for replacements. The forum had a regular posting for replacements indicating a healthy way to deal with these inevitable situations.

There do appear to be quite a few bugs on the site, and I experienced one when clicking to join as a replacement player. I entered a game and started playing, only to find out the original player had never intended to leave, and had been booted off for some reason. I stood aside, to let him back in, of course! It was all dealt with quite well by site admin.


Now to the all important Delinquent Diplomat rating. I rate the look, navigation and ease of play as being truly excellent – a whopping 5 out of 5! But would mark the site down for sense of community and activity and give a meagre 3 out of 5! Overall, then a highly commendable 8 stars! If the owners added names and faces to the players, Backstabbr would be the perfect place to play!


The Art Of Being Stabbed

BootcampI can speak with a fair amount of authority on the art of being stabbed, because it happens to me quite a lot! I think I lack the necessary sense of danger to be considered a tough nut to crack. Perhaps I come across as too honest or open? Perhaps I trust too little? Perhaps it’s because I am not verbose enough? For whatever reason, I tend to get stabbed early and often! I am England in the game depicted. I am about to get stabbed. Can you guess who? Yes, of course it was France!

While it is entirely preferable not to be stabbed in the first place, since this is clearly impossible, it is vital to minimise the effects. Some players react very badly to a stab, and instantly start hurling abuse at their opponent.This is not only immature, it ensures that your opponent now cannot wait to wipe you off the face of the earth, if for no other reason than to end the flow of invective!

Your aim should be, instead, to try to win your opponent back. Not immediately, perhaps, but in the long-term. Experienced players know that fortune wanes and waxes as the game progresses, and it’s not important where you stand now, it’s where you end up that counts! It is therefore vital to speak calmly and behave rationally. Steer the conversation away from the stab, and share some more general thoughts about the game, or about your personal lives. It is amazing how often you can organize a counter-stab almost immediately if you do this, either against that player, or persuading them to stab their new allies. This is a particularly sweet outcome.

Revenge, if you must have it, is indeed a dish best served cold, and if you bide your time, you will often find an opportunity very shortly. Renewed conversations with the new allies of the stabber can often be very rewarding. He stabbed you, so why wouldn’t he stab them? Any stab changes the dynamics and can lead to new alliances being opened up.You should never sulk, you should always launch new diplomatic offensives all around the board. Because your power is now reduced, it means people who wouldn’t speak to you before, are willing to do so now!

A stab can sometimes be the best thing to have happened to you, and the worst thing your former ally can have done! So, as soon as your disappointment fades, get speaking/writing to everyone on the board!

Ahem! That’s the theory, anyway. In practice it can be a great deal trickier to find the silver lining, and sometimes you have to content yourself with immediate and fulsome retribution. If you cannot change a stab into a positive, it is usually best to make sure people know that when you get stabbed you can be deadly! Throw everything you have at the miserable stabber, even if it harms you in other areas. This alone also changes the dynamics, and can become an opportunity later.

Keep a link to any game where you have turned a stab into frightful revenge. This link can be a very useful thing to show anyone whom you suspect may be about to stab you. “O, by the way, this is what I do to filthy stabbers!”

But always, always, remain calm and deliberate. It makes you look either totally rational or totally psychotic, and either one will do!

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Posted by on November 29, 2014 in How To


Why We Need A World Federation – Even Tiddlywinks has one!


Most Diplomacy players will agree that the Internet has enabled players to find, and play against opponents with ease, and to great satisfaction. There are numerous sites where you can pick up a game against a decent enough set of chaps, and if you are prepared to put up with the odd NMR, the occasional abandonment of a game, and a little sledging at times, you can actually have fun! Other players will band together with people they know and have come to, what for want for a better word I will call trust. They will seek out games with the same merry band of brothers because they know there will be fewer NMRs, abandonments and the like – they will form smaller web-based communities of players. Sometimes these are called clubs and sometimes there are even elections to find people willing to manage the community.

Most players feel absolutely no need to go beyond this level of play – the scratch game, sometimes with strangers, sometimes with friends, and sometimes with strangers who will soon become friends! This is all well and good, and represents perhaps the best, and sometimes the worst in the hobby. Some of these communities are quite open and accepting, others are more closed and have rules about playing. All of this is natural and unexceptional, although sometimes it sparks acrimonious debates which normally amount to a storm in a tea-cup!

Then there are the tournaments, often run by a community. These tournaments are usually open to outsiders, sometimes not, and are usually contested by regulars on any particular site. I have to say that personally I find tournaments more rewarding than stand-alone games – not that I win a lot, or indeed ever (sotto voce)! I enjoy the competitive edge, the sense that a game means more than just what it means. I especially like team tournaments where my single dot could mean the difference between my team winning and losing. To my mind Diplomacy can work well as a team game, and while I respect those who believe otherwise, I have always tried to organise team tournaments.

About a decade ago now I proposed the idea of a World Cup Of Diplomacy. At that time the World Masters was just about the biggest team tournament and I captained a team – The Diplomatic Corpse – which was mainly made up of South Africans. It got me thinking, why not have a tournament where the teams “represented” their countries – like the Soccer World Cup. I floated the idea and got roundly slapped down. I was told that the main joy of Diplomacy was that an American could play with a Brazilian or a Frenchman, and that restricting teams by nationality was a bad idea. I bit my tongue and bided my time.

A few years later, in 2005, I floated the idea again. This time I drew up a Charter and set up a yahoo group, and the response was also different – there were people who were in favour of the idea. This led to the establishment of the World Cup Council and three World Cup Tournaments, with a fourth in the planning stage:

  • Diplomacy National World Cup I (2007) played on the stabbeurfou site and won by France
  • Diplomacy World Cup II (2010) played on the Stabbeurfou site and won by Ireland
  • Diplomacy World Cup III (2013) played on AQMN – currently being played
  • Diplomacy World Cup IV is currently being planned by the World Cup Council

The major controversy in the World Cup series to date has involved the amount of metagaming, the scoring system, and weaknesses with each of the platforms used. Since its inception the one idea not challenged has been the notion of teams based on nationality!

Now we come to the nub of my argument.

DSC00929Diplomacy is organised very much as a hobby, and I know that all attempts to organize that hobby have ended in tears in the past. I am not familiar with the reasoning behind the last attempts to organise Diplomacy. In a sense I think we need to stop thinking of Diplomacy as a hobby, and start to see it as a sport. I am not saying that hobbyism cannot continue, but I am saying that a part of the larger set that is Diplomacy the hobby should become a sub-set that is Diplomacy as a sport.

OK, what do I mean by a hobby and what do I mean by a sport? I’m not going to muck around with dictionary definitions because the differences are largely dependent on how you call it in any case. A sport tends to suggest something competitive, organised and based on physical or mental activity – the Sport Accord definition specifically draws a net wide enough to include mind sports or motor racing. Hobbies by contrast can include sports, but tend to the non-competitive, more recreational end of what is after all a spectrum. You would never call knitting or railway modelling a sport, but you might begin to consider Chess a sport because it has World Champions, tournaments, rankings and the like. Indeed this debate is academic because Sport Accord, the international controlling body for sport has already accepted mind sports, such as Chess, Bridge, Checkers and Go as full sports. Chinese Chess and Poker have observer status in the International Mind Sports Association (IMSA) which runs the World Mind Sports Games.

Diplomacy is every bit as competitive and mentally challenging as Chess, Bridge, Go or Checkers, I would argue. So it meets the criteria for being considered a Mind Sport. Indeed, in that it involves playing six other players I would argue that Diplomacy is pretty unique. Many major boardgame tournaments have featured Diplomacy tournaments, and there is a long history of organised Diplomacy tournaments including face-to-face and Internet world championships. I believe that Diplomacy should be seen as one of the classic and major Mind Sports. I believe it should be played at events like the World Mind Games. This is the basic premise of my argument – if you disagree, you disagree, and we can agree to disagree and still meet over the board for jolly good games. At root I believe that Diplomacy should be played alongside Chess and Bridge and Go, with all the recognition that comes with participation in the “Olympics” of Mind Sports.

To achieve this requires the formation of an International Federation as an organisation like IMSA would only look at such a federation. IMSA is made up of affiliated federations, not of individuals. The only route then to the participation of Diplomacy in events like the World Mind Games is through the formation of a Diplomacy federation.

An International Diplomacy Federation (IDF) would consist of member communities such as Internet communities, regionally based clubs, and so on, and would represent the interests of players from these communities, and be answerable to these communities.

Before people start tearing my head off, let’s be absolutely plain that membership of federations is always entirely optional. Players who do not want to join do not need to – just as soccer players can easily play soccer without belonging to a FIFA affiliated organisation. However, federations such as FIFA do organise tournaments and these are restricted to member-only affiliates. Likewise the benefits of belonging to a federation only extends to members. This would largely consist of the ability to play in Federation organised tournaments such as might be organised through IMSA.

Let’s say for a minute that you are still with me. How could such a federation be set up? I would argue that the following would need to be done:

  • The formation of a working committee of interested parties, ie organisations interested in forming a federation. These would be individual diplomacy clubs in some instances, or Internet communities in other instances.
  • The drawing up of a constitution by such a committee.
  • A process of formal affiliation by member organisations and a formal launch.
  • Application to affiliate to IMSA.
  • The running of Diplomacy events and tournaments.

How would a federation benefit members? The major benefit would be somewhat intangible and would accrue because of increased recognition for Diplomacy as a sport, and a chance to compete, hopefully in IMSA and other tournaments. How would this differ from competing in tournaments at the moment? I would argue that there is a distinction between a tournament recognised only by Diplomacy players and one recognised by sport and the community at large. When Chess announces it has a new World Champion, the existence of FIDE and its association with IMSA and Sport Accord does affect the way the public at large sees it. When we announce a new World Champion, no-one else knows! These benefits are somewhat intangible, but they have knock-on effects which are very tangible indeed.

DSC00965Official recognition also affects funding for things such as sports bursaries at Universities. This is how. In South Africa, for example, Diplomacy is listed as a sport, and controlled by Mind Sports South Africa, which is affiliated to various international federations. This means, for example that earlier this year when Stephen Hunt, a young St John’s boy won the Gauteng Schools Diplomacy tournament, he qualified for provincial colours in Diplomacy awarded by Mind Sports South Africa. In South Africa, Mind Sports is listed as a category one sport, which means that it is at the same level as major sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket. It also means that Universities consider applications for sports bursaries from Mind Sports players, and having won colours is one of the criteria looked at. To date Mind Sports South Africa has secured a number of sports bursaries for its members and this has made considerable difference to the lives of young people.

Membership of federations linked to international federations also affects the amount of sponsorship and funding that comes into a sport. In South Africa, for example, Mind Sports South Africa is eligible for government funding, national lottery money allocations and private sponsorship that flows from being an official sporting federation. The fact that we can stage a Diplomacy tournament at provincial and national tournaments is as a direct result of this.

I can hear people saying, a well, but that’s in South Africa – it would never work here! But it does! Most countries and universities have similar rules surrounding the awarding of colours, bursaries and so on. If you look around you, you will find that most sports are constituted in similar ways, and affiliate to international federations, Olympic committees and so on which bring status, money and recognition into their sporting codes. I have just done a quick Internet search for the first sport that came into my head, clay pigeon shooting, and had this confirmed. You are thinking, yeah, OK but that is a real sport, what about something like tiddlywinks? Come on, I dare you – Google that too! And yes, they have a World Championships!

I’d say it’s about time we followed suit!

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Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Hobby Organisation