How close should online Diplomacy be to the Face-to-Face game?

There’s an interesting momentum on Playdiplomacy at the moment for a tournament that takes tournaments back to, as they call it, the “original rules.

This got me thinking about the question above (I’m sure I don’t need to ask it again!) What are the original rules for tournaments or even online tournaments?

Webplay (playing Dip on a website) has many things in common with other types of Remote play when it comes to adapting the rules for Diplomacy. Deadline length, communication methods, how orders are submitted, etc all have to be different to adapt the game.

What the idea is for tournament play at Playdip, however, is about removing anonymity.

Anonymous tournaments

Traditionally on Playdip, and on a lot of sites, when you’re playing a tournament the games you play are anonymous. You don’t know who is in your game and you don’t know which power they are controlling. This isn’t the same for the final, of course: then you know who is in the game, although you don’t know the power they’re playing.

Actually, on Playdip, a lot of games tend to be anonymous. There are a number of reasons for this but the most important of these is that you can.

This was not always the case for a lot of members on the site. Originally, playing a variant of Dip (I’m going to discuss this in line with online play below) was restricted to Premium members. Premium members were those who paid a small (very small) fee which allowed them to play in any number of games (now with a limit of 100, which is still a huge number), access variants, play ‘Live’ games (games with deadlines in line with the published rules) and enter tournaments (the Tournaments section of the Forum was accessible only to Premium members). As anonymous games were a variant, only Premium members could play them.

This changed when the World Online Diplomacy Championship was hosted by Playdip. The games were anonymous, in line with what had been played before, and it was felt that asking players from other platforms to pay for the privilege of playing in the tournament was a bad thing. I agree. What happened after was that anonymous games remained a non-premium feature.

In general, players will often choose to play anonymous games to protect themselves from being targeted. If you’re one of the higher ranked players, for instance, other players in a game might choose to target you simply because you’re a threat. This discouraged some of the top players from playing – and I can understand why.

Everything online is a variant

I’ve said this before, but everything about the online game makes it a variant.:

  • The fact that you’re playing remotely means you’re playing a variant of Diplomacy in itself. This one is, I think, pretty self-evident.
  • The fact that you’re playing in a tournament makes it a variant. Diplomacy was designed for one-off games, not a series of games.
  • The fact that games are scored makes it a variant. There is nothing in the rules that suggest scoring a game, no matter what scoring system you use.
  • If a game is anonymous, then yes that means it varies from the design of the game, too. Given that Diplomacy was designed to be played face-to-face, when you know who you’re playing against, it can’t be anonymous, can it?

Now, not a lot of this matters, frankly, except to point out that, if you’re playing a tournament game online, you’ve already moved away from the original rules and design of Diplomacy. Whether the games are anonymous or not has no impact on this, other than to be another tier of variance.

For me, then, it isn’t about playing to the “original rules” – you’re not doing this anyway. It isn’t the rules that you’re moving away from at all, frankly, it’s the design. The rules of play remain the same; it’s how the game is being played.

Should tournaments be anonymous?

Frankly, I’m not concerned either way. I can see the arguments for and against.

Metagaming

One positive to games being anonymous is that it means there is less metagaming going on. When you’re playing a game that isn’t anonymous, because you know who you’re playing against, you change your approach. If you’re playing against someone who has done well in a tournament then it increases the probability that you’re going to target that player. It’s in your interests, in terms of where you finish in the tournament, to prevent someone who is already doing well from doing well in this game.

Of course, the fact that you’re playing a number of associated games means that there is already a degree of metagaming, however. You’re not just playing in one game; each player is playing a series of games that are linked by the fact that they are scored. Being able to target certain players means that there is just another level to this.

But this is a tournament, after all. There is an acceptable level of metagaming in this format of Dip. Certainly it’s no different to an FTF tournament where this is part of the play.

Why not be anonymous?

Frankly, it’s a matter of taste. As I’ve said before, tournaments online are traditionally anonymous simply because they can be. There’s more to it than that, of course, as I’ve mentioned above. But the option is there to make the games anonymous so why not do it?

Well, I think making them non-anonymous adds something different to the tournament. It does make them more in line with what an FTF tournament would be and it potentially makes them more interesting, with different strategy. There’s nothing definite in saying that the higher performing players in the tournament will be targeted – other players may well see working with them as a good way to progress their own chances in the game.

But there’s no real reason games should be anonymous. If you don’t like it, don’t enter. You’re not being prevented from playing, you’re making a choice. In the same way, of course, if you don’t prefer anonymity in a tournament, you have the choice not to participate. There are so many other features of a game that might affect your choice of playing in the tournament or not; this is merely another factor.

It isn’t about being closer to the design that’s important

I don’t think it’s about whether an online tournament is closer to the design of the game, or even to the way FTF tournaments are played, though. This confuses two very different aspects on the game.

An FTF tournament can’t be anonymous. Nothing about FTF play is anonymous. That’s the nature of the format.

Online tournaments are a different animal altogether. FTF and online play are not the same and, frankly, the same goes for FTF tournaments and online tournaments. If you’re looking for original rules for online tournaments, guess what? – you have to look at early online tournaments.

Online tournaments are traditionally anonymous, as I’ve said. Making a tournament not anonymous is moving away from this. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but it doesn’t follow to say that making games non-anonymous brings them closer to an original design that is for a type of play that is completely different.

Again, this doesn’t mean a tournament should be anonymous, of course. It’s about your personal preference, though, not a drive for authenticity, which is how the idea was being presented.

Other ideas mentioned

While I’m looking at this, I’ll add some comments on other ideas that have been mentioned for this tournament. These have not necessarily been adopted as part of the idea, but they’re in the thread so I’m going to stick my nose in further.

  1. Declarations of war and peace treaties. This is, frankly, ridiculous. This is not part of Diplomacy, in that there is absolutely nothing in the game about having official, contractual peace treaties and not attacking someone without a declaration of war. Silly. Even sillier was a post from the same person saying that making length of deadline as long as possible (to mimic time of communication in WWI) didn’t fit in with the game design. You either want to move away from the design or you don’t. (Actually, this member managed to ignore the fact that what was under discussion was a tournament, despite the fact that this is clearly what the discussion was about.
  2. Should tournament games be ranked? On Playdip there are four classes of games: Ranked, No Rank, Friends and Schools. Ranked games are scored using Playdip’s own, loosely Elo-based scoring system (which is a much better system than anything you’ll find elsewhere, btw). No Rank games are not scored, neither are Friends games or Schools games. Friends games allow metagaming; Schools games are designed for Dip to be used in a classroom setting (and are used for Mentor games). The problem with playing Ranked games for a tournament is that no tournament scoring system is compatible with Playdip’s system. A Draw-Based Scoring system doesn’t have as much of an impact on the site’s ratings as much, because these are based on DBS too. However, tournament games are different to one-off games on the site – the play is different, the preferred outcome may be different: playing to draw a tournament game is usually a decent result, whereas in a normal game, you’d definitely be playing to win (in theory, at least), for example.
  3. No communication in Retreats and Adjustment phases. This is a good one, IMO. There shouldn’t be any communication in these phases for any game, ideally. However, again, in online play it is often (though not always) allowed, certainly on sites. The reason for this is the time difference. In an FTF game, with everyone in one place, communication is immediate (or close to – you may need to wait until your ‘ally’ finishes talking to the player you’ve been attacking together!) In online play, you can’t guarantee that the person you’re corresponding with isn’t asleep, at work, eating, defecating, etc (don’t dwell too long on the last one – you’ll get haemorrhoids). Banning correspondence in online play is problematic. However, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be banned in a game or tournament – it might just need the players to agree to it. The problem could be that you might start communicating in a Diplomacy phase and the game ticks over to the Retreats phase while you’re writing. The record would show it had then been sent in a phase when communication was forbidden. Tricky.

Final thoughts

In my opinion it’s not about the rules for a tournament being close to FTF play or not. Remote Diplomacy isn’t FTF play. They don’t compare easily at all.

It isn’t really about being as close as possible to the design of the game, either. Certainly, the game was designed without anonymity in mind because the game was designed to be played FTF, not remotely, and certainly not online! Webplay is very different to FTF play.

From that point of view alone, the closest you can come to an “original” concept for tournaments online is what is common for tournaments online, which is that they are anonymous.

However, that doesn’t matter. When you enter a tournament, you agree to the tournament rules. We’re not taking about how the tournament is scored, which overtly affects how the tournament is played; we’re talking about whether you know who is in the game or not. This has an effect on how you might approach the game but it isn’t a defining principal on how to play the games.

I like the idea of a non-anonymous (or ‘Known Players’ as it became known in the discussion) tournament as a different kind of tournament. I’d even play in one (if I had the time). But it comes down to personal taste and personal choice, rather than being a more Calhamerian version of a tournament.

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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