How to handle orders with missing elements

In the rules of Diplomacy it states that orders should be written down. What happens if the written order isn’t exactly correct in format?

The rules of Diplomacy have three different versions of inexact orders:

  • Illegal orders – orders which aren’t possible, eg A Lpl-Bel;
  • Ambiguous orders – orders which could have more than one meaning, eg F MAO-Spa;
  • Orders which might not be written correctly but which can have only one possible meaning, eg F Nwy-StP.

The problem for online Diplomacy, especially websites, is that they often require orders to match exactly and to be precisely and correctly ‘written’. This is because the adjudication programme is automated so there is no human judgement involved. In other words there is no room for interpretation of orders.

Illegal Orders

Illegal orders are those that are impossible to follow. They just can’t be done.

For instance, trying to move a unit to a space that is not a neighbouring space is impossible. Moving an army to a sea space is impossible; likewise moving a fleet to an inland space. Ordering a fleet on a coastal space to convoy is illegal.

More complex illegal orders are based around support. A unit that cannot reach a space if it were moving cannot offer support for an action in that space. An army being convoyed can’t offer support (as it has already been ordered to move).

Illegal orders are comparatively easy to deal with – they are simply converted to hold orders. No problem.

Ambiguous Orders

These are orders that could have more than one meaning. So a fleet in the Mid-atlantic Ocean might receive an order to move to Spain, for example. Because Spain has two coasts, and a fleet in MAO could move to either coast, it isn’t clear to which coast the fleet should move.

In this situation, the answer is clear: the order isn’t followed and is, again, converted to a hold order.

When a move involves support, the same principle occurs. If a support order could have two possible meanings, then it can’t be followed. So if an army in Moscow ordered support for a fleet to move from Norway to St Petersburg, without specifying the coast, it should not be followed.

This may seem to be wrong. If the fleet in Norway has been correctly ordered – F Nwy-StP(nc) – then surely the support order can have only one meaning. The order presented as A Mos S Nwy-StP should have specified the target coast but it didn’t; surely it’s clear what was meant?

Well, perhaps… but not necessarily. It could be that the player ordering the support intended the order to fail. You can’t ask them for clarification! So there is some ambiguity here.

Poorly written orders with only one possible meaning

This is where things get messy online. The rules state that a poorly written order that can have only one meaning must be accepted.

As an example: England’s fleet in Norway is ordered to move to St Petersburg. Absolutely correctly the order should include the coast it is moving to, the north coast. So: F Nwy-StP(nc).

What if England omits the coast: F Nwy-StP? Well in this case the order should probably be allowed as there is only one coast that the fleet could move to from Norway.

This is a different situation to F MAO-Spa. Spain also has two coasts and, from the Mid-Atlantic, the fleet could move to either coast so the order is ambiguous.

You’ll have noticed I said above that the order F Nwy-StP should probably be allowed. It may be, for instance, that the “House Rules” state that orders must be written absolutely correctly.

Originally “House Rules” was a term which meant that, when playing in a game run by a zine – postal Diplomacy – the zine would have a set of rules for different situations. This was mainly because a postal game was very different from an FTF game: the format meant that the rules needed adapting.

‘House Rules’ can just as readily be the term used for any game where the format requires some modification of the standard rules. Rules for a tournament could be called House Rules, as could rules for playing on a website.

Given that website adjudications are often automated then it is usual that all rules must be absolutely correct. It is likely, then, that F Nwy-StP would be judged illegal on a website. This is certainly the case on Playdiplomacy; on webDiplomacy incorrect rules simply can’t be entered.

Personally I think that it is a shame that a person rushing to enter their orders, who might miss designating the correct coast, can be penalised. However it would mean a lot of programming to have poorly written, but unambiguous, rules accepted by an automated adjudication system. Frankly, Playdip’s insistence on completely accurate orders makes sense.

So, if you’re playing on a website you must make sure your orders are precise. There is really no excuse for not checking out the House Rules for that site.

Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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