The Next Conversation

If his mouth’s open, he’s lying.

How many of you, the Diplomacy players out there, feel that about some of the people you play against? In Diplomacy, lying is part of the game. It isn’t unique in that respect; look at how many cooperative games there are that involve people lying as part of the game! For instance, take a look at “Blood on the Watchtower” from the No Rolls Barred YouTube site (be aware, it’s a long video!)

A lot of good players will tell you that Diplomacy isn’t actually about lying but about being truthful – as far as you can be. There’s no denying, though, that withholding info and out-and-out lying are part of the game (whether you like it or not).

So, what do you do after you’ve sold, or bought, a big porky pie? That’s the topic of Chris Martin’s Diplomacy Academy #3 video on YouTube.

Before we get into the review, I can’t stress how important it is to continue communicating with a player you’ve lied to or stabbed. And, if you’re the victim of this nefarious act, then it is equally important that you continue communicating with the basta-, er, perpetrator of the act. Why? Because Diplomacy is as much a cooperative game as any other, as well as being hyper-, non-Euro-board-game competitive.

But you know that already, don’t you? In which case, you know how important it is to keep those lines of communication going.

Great. So why do you clam up in these situations!?!

I’m saying nuttin’!

Well, perhaps the answer to that challenge is because it’s difficult to know what to say post betrayal. After all, that fuc-, sorry, player has just lied to you; how the hell can you trust them again? And, if you’re on the other side of the board, what do you say to the suck-, um person you lied to?

Well, Chris has the answers.

1. Address the lie

By this, Chris isn’t suggesting that you write something like, “So, Mr Liar …” (or, as Jacob Rees-Mogg would insist: “So, Liar, esq …“) He means, acknowledge the lie. If you don’t, he says, the lie will undermine all future communications between the two of you.

If you were lied to, then how can you trust that liar again? If you told the lie, you are going to be concerned that the other person is going to always be thinking you’re lying again!

Simplistic solution: don’t lie. I’m becoming convinced that players who constantly say they don’t lie, if they’re being honest about that (which, in fairness, they probably aren’t) it’s probably because they just don’t know how to deal with the consequences of lying. Well, that or they’re delusional. Let’s face it, apparently you can get elected to head of state and be delusional…

Chris says that you need to acknowledge that that just happened and look beyond it. Either: “Well, yeh, I lied to you but let’s see what we can do now,” or: “So that was a nasty thing to do. Where do we go from here?”

2. Establish a new working relationship

There’s no question in Chris’ mind that you need to establish this relationship, and you do. You don’t know what’s coming in the game (no matter how super a soothsayer you are) and you’ve been communicating, and probably working, with this player already. You may not be able to trust them implicitly again, but you need to keep something going.

If you were lied to, Chris says, and you came out of the debacle with a positive outcome, you have the “moral high ground”: you were lied to while being scrupulously honest yourself (obviously). You also have the better tactical position: the lie didn’t work.

It’s easy in this situation to take the high ground. “Idiot,” you say. “A liar and a pretty bad one at that!” Well, that’s not the best next move (although it’s tempting to savour it!) Instead, acknowledge the lie and then begin to establish how you can work with the liar going forward.

That’s so unfair!

If you were lied to and it worked out well for the liar, then the easy thing to do is take offence, clam up, threaten to become a Kingmaker or, as happens all too often in Webplay, leave the game with a sulky, abusive comment.

Instead, you need to work on moving forward by seeing if you can establish some kind of agreement with the liar. What do they want to put this unhappy event aside and look at working together again?

If you do want to prevent this player from getting any success from the game, well, fair enough; sometimes you just don’t want to find a way to work with them again. Probably a little closed-minded but, well, it is what it is. Still, you need to make sure you can establish this relationship, too.

Now, what if you’re the villain of the piece? Well, your main job is to find out what reaction the victim is likely to have, what their objectives are now, what they feel about you. Don’t expect flowers or chocolates, though!

Sometimes the lie didn’t leave anything bitter. Perhaps, Chris suggests, it was a minor offence: you might have lied about a minor change in orders that hasn’t done too much damage (apparently) at this time. Perhaps, then, the victim can be talked into just moving on because nothing significant has happened.

For you, though, the important thing is to work out what the relationship is going to be like going forward. If you’re in a better position, what terms can you set that will allow the other person to work with you. And, if things didn’t go well, what terms are you going to have to live with to work together again?

3. The next tactical moves

You then need to refocus on the board. What, practically, is going to happen now?

Chris says there are two possible things to consider:

  • What do you want to do next? What, specifically, are you going to want to happen on the board and how is the other player going to fit into this?
  • What do they want to do next? Do they have a specific ask about moves on the board? How do you react to this?
I’m bad

Is there a working relationship, still? If so, do you want to work with the other player, or do you want to take advantage of that relationship? It’s sometimes better – in your self-interest – to repair the relationship and then take advantage of it again! Oh, you devil, you!

Alternatively, do you believe you can’t trust the other person now? If so, then you need to act accordingly. In this case, you still need to consider what they tell you, and work out from what they say and how they say it, what orders you can put that work best for you. You also want to try to work out what they’re going to do next.

As Chris says, in a game you can find that you’ve lied to them, they’ve lied to you, you’ve kept communications open, and you know they’re lying to you again, and they know you’re lying… again. That’s fine, as long as you still come out of that writing the correct orders anyway.

4. Reading between the lines

Or, as Chris puts it, listening. Chris has in mind FTF play whereas in this blog I concentrate on Webplay, playing your Diplomacy on a website. Either way, this is something that you need to be doing all the time; in a situation when you’re dealing with the aftermath of a dirty, rotten liar (who could well be you) it’s crucially important.

Giving the big bird
  • What are they telling you? How are they telling it to you? How are they structuring their arguments?
  • What aren’t they telling you? What situation are they ignoring? What topics are they avoiding?
  • And, just as importantly, how do you react? Do you bring your insights to the fore, or do you pretend to have missed these subtle clues?

As part of this video, Chris presents an actual negotiation, caught on video from the 2016 World Diplomacy Championship. It’s a short clip but it shows what might happen in the apocalyptic, post-lie world. Just so you know what’s gone on: Peter Yeargin is playing Austria and he’d previously lied to David Maletsky is playing Turkey.

Interestingly, to me, Yeargin starts by implicitly acknowledging the lie. However, he tries to gloss over it by saying that he is simply going to allow Maletsky to dictate what Austria’s units do in the coming turn. He does this by saying how tired he is of “Goff and Brand and their nonsense.” As an aside, this is, of course, Andrew Goff, 3-time World Diplomacy Champion, and Chris Brand, WDC in 2016 (with Goffy in third place).

Maletsky comes back by saying he would like what they said they’d try to happen this turn. Peter agrees and they work on that basis.

Chris pulls out some great analysis of this (and one of the things he mentions I’m going to leave until the end of the post). He points out that Peter acknowledges the lie but Dave doesn’t. Dave seems to be listening, but Peter doesn’t. They both come up with a specific set of orders – and both have lied again.

Austria tried to persuade Turkey to attack Russia in Rumania. Instead the Austrian unit that was to support A Bul-Rum, A(Ser), was actually ordered A Ser-Rum. However, Turkey also changed the order for the Bulgarian army to A Bul-Ser. Because Andrew Goff ordered A Rum S Ser-Bul (and Austria ordered F Gre S Ser-Bul) Yeargin got the better of the turn and Maletsky lost Bulgaria. Still, as Chris points out, Yeargin won’t now be able to work with Maletsky again (and Brand and Goff probably took full advantage of this!)

As with all Martin’s Diplomacy Academy vids, this is great. I’ve always been a great proponent for not letting communications drop but I’ll admit that sometimes it’s difficult to know how to start the next conversation, let alone what to do with it!

There are a couple of things that I think are worth commenting on.

If you’ve been lied to, you’re going to be stupid to not expect to be lied to again by that evil son of a Bismarck. Equally, if you’re the liar, then you must expect that the other player isn’t going to believe you any time soon.

From this perspective, expecting to be able to repair the relationship is a misplaced notion. I have been in games where I’ve managed to rebuild trust with another player (from both sides of the board) but it’s taken time and other developments to force that relationship to be rebuilt.

However, Chris isn’t talking about ‘rebuilding’ the relationship but about ‘re-evaluating’ it. If you’re going to work together again (or pretend to work together again) you can continue with the relationship but it will be on different terms. It would be stupid to do anything else.

You want me to build what???

Chris doesn’t consider what to do if you’ve lied to a player and they now transform into a the Spirit of Vengeance (not so much Ghost Rider, with his burning head, but George Dubya, with his burning bush). How do you handle that?

There’s a couple of reasons Chris doesn’t mention this:

  • First, because that isn’t the topic of his post. He’s not telling you what to do when your betrayal leaves an Armoured Duck or a Kingmaker across the border. He’s considering what you should be doing in response to whatever the new dynamic is.
  • Second, frankly, what can you do about it? If the other player is simply spitting venom in your direction, or not communicating at all, then there’s nothing you can do about it – you just have to work out how to deal with that. That’s the price.

The stubbornness of some players knows no bounds.

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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