Oh, The Horror!!! Game results that just shouldn’t happen

There are two outcomes to a Diplomacy game that really shouldn’t happen, both for a similar reason: they show a complete, I mean total, absolute, IMMENSE lack of understanding of the game.

In my opinion.

Gotta add that because, you know, people get pissed when they think you’re telling them how to play and what they’re allowed to do.

The 7-way Draw

Now, OK, I know: theoretically, suppositionally… somewhat pathetically… the 7-way draw has been hypothesised as the result of a perfectly played game by seven equally strong players. No player is prepared to do something that will result in losing the game, therefore no player is going to be eliminated and so all the players are going to survive to the, deplorably pathetic, end.

Thankfully, this is all BFM (bovine faecal matter – look it up, correctly spelt in UK English, drop the silent A if you like). Show me a game of Diplomacy played this way and I’ll show you seven players who gave up. On everything: on the game, on Diplomacy, on ambition, on playing and, most importantly, on self-respect.

Horrifically, on Playdip, there was a tournament in which the final game, the game featuring the top seven qualifiers, ended in a 7-way draw. Terrifyingly, some of the players then tried to defend this result. What excuses they brought really doesn’t matter… it was pathetic.

I can see some occasions where a 7-way draw is marginally acceptable. Something has happened during a game which has resulted in players agreeing to end it. That was a possibility in one of my games when my dad died. I requested a pause and a couple of the players suggested that the game simply be ended.

In that, or similar situations, fair enough. It’s not something you have any control over and it’s possibly a big enough event to warrant it.

In any other way, though, no game of Diplomacy should ever end in a 7-way draw.

Is there ever a situation where this may happen naturally? I guess, theoretically, it’s possible. In a game which is set to end at a certain time or stage, it is possible – although highly unlikely if the players are actually playing Diplomacy – that is could happen. It would need a lot of players to be very fixated on maintaining alliances, or some atrociously poor play, for this to happen, though.

So I think I can almost certainly suggest, with a probability of 99%, that if you’ve ever played in a game that ended in a 7-way draw, you and everyone else simply gave up. In making this decision, you simply saw a situation where playing the game wasn’t viable any more, most likely, rather than simply agreeing to give up on the game.

A 7-way draw is not, perhaps, the worst outcome (see below) as there are reasons for it but, come on: REALLY!?!

***sigh***

The 2-way Draw

Oooh, now we’re into it!

I guess almost everyone (unless you once participated in a 7-way draw tournament final and devalued the tournament, Diplomacy and yourself beyond measure) went along with the horror of 7-way draws. But 2-way draws? Really?

Oh, yeh.

The worst version of this is in a DIAS game. DIAS is the acronym for ‘Draws Include All Survivors’. This is the idea that, to have a game end in a draw, every surviving power has to share the draw. I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether this is the only way for games to end in a draw or not here, I’m just explaining the concept (just in case you weren’t aware).

DIAS means that, for the game to end in a 2-way draw, the two players have to agree to end the game in a 17-17 supply centre split. Sounds reasonable, I guess, put that way.

Now let’s put it another way. A 17-17 SC split doesn’t happen naturally. It needs both players to work towards that goal. At some point in the game they’ve messaged (said, written, however the communication in the game works) each other and agreed that neither of them will try to win the game and that they’ll both work to this outcome.

Here are some links to the rules of the game. Here is the link to each version of the rules up to and including 2000 from the Diplomacy Archive. Take a look at the “Object of the Game” in each version. Here’s a link to the current rules; again, look at the “Object of the Game”. (Don’t worry if you can’t be bothered, though, I cover them below.)

In the different versions the wording changes slightly (and, in fact, the way the game is considered to have been won changes slightly in 1971). However, the key aspect is that to win the game a player needs to have 18 Supply Centres. If that can’t be reached – for whatever reason, including players simply deciding that it isn’t a tenable goal – then the game can be ended in a draw in which: “All players that still have pieces on the game board share equally in a draw,” [from the current version of the rules, p4 (PDF version)].

In a DIAS game, then, for the two players to work towards the 2-way draw, they have to agree to eliminate every other player in the game and agree to not play towards the game’s objective.

Now, I’ve heard this type of play excused. There are a number of different versions of this and here are a few of the most common, in no particular order:

  1. “I didn’t want to stab my ally because we both worked together so well for so long.”
  2. “I didn’t play to win because she’s a good player and it seemed wrong after we agreed to draw.”
  3. “We had to work hard to get the draw!”
  4. “A 2-way draw is the next best thing to a win.”
  5. (In a tournament) “I didn’t need to win.”
  6. “You can’t tell me how to play!”
  7. “The objective isn’t just to win.”

Really?

Working together for a long time is one way to play the game. Find an ally and stick with them for as long as you can. Great if you can make it work out. The idea behind the game, though, is that you then use that alliance to move on and win. It’s right there in the rules. Simply agreeing to the 2-way draw because the alliance worked well from the start, because your ally seemed like a nice person, or because it took a lot of hard work to make the alliance successful, is simply a cop out. You’ve decided to ignore the rules.

A 2-way draw may seem like the next best thing to a win… but it’s a draw. I’ve seen comments along these lines for any kind of draw: “I had to work hard to survive and be in the draw – that’s a win for me!”

A draw can sometimes bring a lot of satisfaction if you’ve genuinely had to work your ass off to get there, I get that. But it’s a draw, regardless of how many people are involved (well, leaving aside the other horror result mentioned above and, because I’m harsh about these things, 6-player draws). It’s not a win because, well, you didn’t meet the objective of winning.

The argument here [4] is that, if you have to draw the game, the fewer players involved the better the result. This is reflected by a lot of DBS (Draw Based Scoring) systems in which, the fewer the number of players involved in a draw, the higher the points scored. On that basis, if you’ve eliminated and beaten 5 of the 7, players you’ve done well, obviously.

Except, it’s a draw. It’s still a draw if it’s a 6-player draw, or a 4-player draw. A 2-player draw just means you’ve agreed to play to that end and deliberately decided not to play to the rules.

I kind of understand that, in tournaments, because the games are so clearly linked together, entrants might change their objective for their games. It is certainly possible to do well in a tournament if each game you play gives a mediocre result. Get a draw in each game, with 4 or less players, and the chances are you’ll do enough to get through to the final (if the tournament is organised that way, as they often are online). In fact, as a lot of online tournaments feature a Game End Date (GED – when games end at a certain stage, in place to ensure that games, and the tournament, don’t go on for too long) a draw is often the most likely result.

What I don’t understand is playing for a 2-way draw deliberately because, frankly, if you can play towards that outcome, then you’re going to have the opportunity in the latter stages of the game to try for the win. In other words, you’ve given up on the chance of a much better result and chosen to draw simply for the sake of drawing.

The last two excuses are, for me, more than a little pathetic. “You can’t tell me how to play!” [6] is the cry of the 5 year old, along the lines of: “You’re not my mum!” and “I want it!” When I see that excuse, I imagine the writer stamping their foot and grabbing for their blanky.

I’m not telling you how to play, I’m pointing out that you’re not playing the game. It’s your choice how you play it, no matter what you do. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re not playing the game, or to the objective of the game.

It goes alongside the excuse that winning isn’t the only objective in the rules [7]. This is somewhat accurate but shows a lack of understanding of the rules and a lack of comprehension of the wording in the rules.

  • In 1959 (the first version of Diplomacy’s rules published) the rules around drawing the game were: “If no player [can win] during the time set aside for play …” the game ends in a draw.
  • In 1971 this version of the draw was worded: “Players may terminate the game by mutual agreement before a winner is determined.”
  • In 1992 (the pomposity version): “Players may terminate the game by consensus agreement before a winner is determined.”
  • In 2000: “However, players can end the game by agreement before a winner is determined.”

In 2008, the most recent rules, the 2000 wording was retained. The wording used in the 1976 and 1982 versions were the same as in 1971. In 1961, this way of ending the game was lost; more on that in another post.

In each of these versions, the draw was an acceptable way to end the game if a win wasn’t possible. Not an alternative objective – just a way to end the game. It isn’t something to be played towards… unless you know you’re no longer going to win the game.

Calhamer, in his article “Objectives Other Than Winning”, does call the draw a “secondary objective” (emphasis mine). This doesn’t make it an alternative objective when entering a game, though, and to understand it as such is to take the wording out of the context of the article. The clue is in the first sentence of the article:

“… what the player’s objectives should be in cases in which he has little or no hope of winning, or in which he is playing to win but wishes to keep a second objective in reserve.”

“Objectives Other Than Winning.” IDA Diplomacy Handbook, 1974. Accessed from The Diplomacy Archive on 29 Dec 2021.

Again, the emphasis is mine, because the phrases need to be emphasised.

Playing to draw may become your objective when winning has gone out the window. At this point, you’re aiming to survive to the end of the game and be included in the draw by stopping someone else from winning. Perhaps, in a tournament, you may not need to win, but your objective should still be to win if possible – the draw is something you’ll accept if that is all you need.

To me, this is pretty clear. In terms of playing towards a 2-way draw, because the draw is an ‘objective’, is a clear lack of comprehension or, in a lot of cases, a deliberate ignorance of meaning. The objective of the game is to win; drawing the game is an secondary objective if the win seems to no longer be possible.

What about in a DINS game? DINS (Draws Include Nominated Survivors) is when a game is ended and the draw doesn’t include all survivors. In this process, while all players must agree to end the game in a draw, some survivors must agree to not be included in the draw.

Why would anyone agree to that? I’m already aware I’m going on too long here, so I’m not getting into that; suffice to say I would find it difficult to accept this result for no reward of some kind from a scoring system!

In a DINS game, then, it’s possible for more than two players to survive the game but for the game to be a 2-way draw. In other words, to not end in a 17-17 split. It could be that two players have agreed to end the game in a 2-way but that one has reached 17 SCs while the other is still one or more SCs away from this. If the player on fewer SCs thinks the other may renege on the agreement, they might propose a 2-way draw (and the other players agree to it, obviously). This challenges the player who is on the cusp of winning to either accept the draw or show their true intentions!

Is this acceptable? Marginally – again, though, why would the player on 17 SCs agree to this? It’s possible that they could be forced back from the win and, if the scoring system rewards draws with more players less than draws with fewer players, thereby lose precious points. But, frankly, in this situation if the second-placed player is worried you’re going to solo then why not find the chance to solo?

The 2-way draw is a cop out. Either you’re saying “F*** the rules!” and or you should really be playing a different game.

I was going to end this piece with an honorary mention for the deadlocked game, but as that should probably consider stalemate lines, and because I’ve spent longer than I expected giving the 2-way draw criticism a lot of context, I’m going to save that for another post.

So, 7-way draws and 2-way draws: awful, horrific, and anathema to Diplomacy… or acceptable? What’s your take?

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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