Why am I restricting this blog, in the main, to playing Diplomacy online?
Well, it’s what I know best. I’ve played face-to-face (FtF) Diplomacy and I know something about it. But my experience here is limited.
I’ve played online Dip for a number of years now and I believe I have enough experience and knowledge of this format to know what I’m talking about. Not everyone would agree!
I tend to categorise playing Diplomacy into three basic modes: Face-to-Face (FtF), Remote, and – the most recent – Virtual Face-to-Face (VFtF).
FtF Diplomacy is played around a table. It involves three formats.
Standard FtF Diplomacy is a game between friends. The game stands alone, is for fun, and is the way Diplomacy was designed to be played. Any other mode or format is a variant.
Series Play is when the game is part of, well, a series of games. These games are usually played within a set period, a ‘season’ if you like. They will be more competitive by virtue of the fact that they will be scored. How you play the game is therefore affected because you’re probably playing to maximise your score in the game.
Similar to Series Play but over a short number of game. Whereas Series Play may involve a game, say, every month, Tournament Play will feature a number of game, usually 3-5, and they’re usually played over a (occasionally ‘long’) weekend. Examples of this format are the ‘World Diplomacy Championship’. Again, they’re scored and this affects the way the games are played.
Remote Diplomacy is when the players aren’t in the same place. The biggest variance from Standard Play is often in the length of the deadlines, which need to be longer if only because you’re likely to be playing against someone in a different time zone.
Postal Play or Play-by-Mail (PBM)
Postal Diplomacy was played by mail, as you’d guess. Often the games were part of a published ‘zine’, an amateur publication which was also published by post. It involved long deadlines and, usually, orders for a single turn (a Spring turn includes two phases: Movement and Retreats; a Fall turn has three phases: Movement, Retreats and Builds) had to be sent at the same time. I’ve used the past tense for this format because, frankly, it all-but died out with the invention of email (see below). There are some examples of PBM Dip going although I’d hesitate to add ‘strongly’ to that…
PBEM Diplomacy was very similar to PBM except quicker and not always published in an e-zine. Given that deadlines could be quicker, it became possible for players to send a single set of orders at once. I’m not sure how well this format is doing, honestly.
This is Dip played on a dedicated website. There are a number of sites out there with the two biggest being Playdiplomacy and webDiplomacy. These became possible because of the invention of the ‘Diplomacy Judges,’ programmes that automated the resolution of orders: a human Game Master (GM) was no longer needed. Usually, Webplay incorporates the whole game in-game, although some combine PBEM features for communications.
PBF Diplomacy is when the game is played on a Forum, a website that may feature a number of different games. If the forum is a stand alone site, it will usually incorporate a number of different variants of Diplomacy. If it is part of a website such as Playdiplomacy then PBF games are usually variants only. These games usually involve a human GM.
Fairly recently Diplomacy apps have been created. These provide something similar to Webplay but without being a proper website. I’ve used these and found them lacking, honestly. Still, horses for courses, I guess.
Virtual Face-to-Face Diplomacy
VFtF Diplomacy is very recent. It was almost forced upon the Hobby by the global outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020. It came about as a result of FtF tournaments and gatherings being impossible to host.
VFtF Dip involves people competing at the same time, with the standard deadlines usually employed (occasionally these will be slightly changed to allow for the fact that playing virtually isn’t quite as simple as playing FtF).
These games are played via software such as Zoom. However, Discord is a popular way of playing this version of the game.
Other than the formats presented under the FtF mode, there are no real formats for VFtF, unless you want to differentiate between visual and audio-only forms.
I’ve mentioned the differences between formats above. However, it is how these differences change the game that’s important.
Of course, Diplomacy is Diplomacy, no matter what the format but these differences impact how the game is played.
Remote play involves longer deadlines. Other than PBM, you’re probably likely to see a rules change, as well: often communication is allowed in the Retreats and Adjustments phase (as a warning, I usually call the Adjustments phase the Winter phase). This is for practical reasons: when you’re playing against people in different time zones, it may be necessary to allow this kind of rule change to give players time to communicate effectively.
Any Diplomacy game played online is likely to suffer with inconsistent play. This could be players missing turns or even dropping from the game. This is simply because games last a long time and real life can get in the way. I myself dropped from my last game due to contracting Covid-19, for instance. But it also part of the nature of online play for any game because it is easy to simply leave a game that you aren’t enjoying.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Webplay and FtF play is the opportunity for communications. When you’re playing online, the length of the deadlines should provide plenty of time to communicate.
No matter what format you’re playing, the better players will be communicating with everyone else in the game regularly. In Webplay, however, you can afford to discuss things in detail with everyone else. This doesn’t mean that the best online players are better communicators than the best FtF players, it means that they should have a communication style that is better suited for online play.
Someone once said that they thought that the best FtF players were the best in the world. This could well be true but not on the basis they suggested, which was that they could quickly analyse the situation in a game and communicate their needs efficiently.
What this doesn’t take into account is that the best online players could be just as good at that. Simply because they have more time to analyse the situation doesn’t mean they don’t do so any slower than an FtF player.
There’s no doubt that in my mind that if the best online players were up against the best FtF players in an FtF game, the latter would have the advantage because the online players would be used to having the luxury of time to analyse and re-analyse the situation. If the online player didn’t adapt, they’d struggle.
It isn’t necessarily true that the reverse would be the case: that FtF players, playing in an online game, would be at a disadvantage as far as accurate analysing goes. However, I believe that the economic nature of FtF communication, if not modified for online play, would prove disadvantageous when playing the best online players.
I’ve spent time laying out my thoughts on these things because the differences between playing modes and formats are important to understand. As I said at the start, I understand enough about Webplay and online play in general to be able to write with some authority about it.
This doesn’t mean everything I write in this blog is going to be unassailable. I am still learning – and I expect to be always learning. So, if you disagree with something I write, that isn’t surprising. But I hope it will give you food for thought.