I thought I’d be able to find it in “The Game of Diplomacy”, Richard Sharp’s book. You know, I often just look at the chapters on each power when I’m reading this but, having skimmed through it, I’m going to sit back one day and read it all. Pearls of wisdom doesn’t do it justice, as out-dated as it might be.
It wasn’t there, so I had to look elsewhere. But I got lazy so I have to rely not on a quote but on hearsay. Still, I’ve seen it… somewhere… so I know it’s true.
Richard believed that postal play produced more accurate play. This isn’t to say that postal play was better than FTF play, but that it produced fewer mistakes. And, if you think about it, you can understand why.
In the postal game, deadlines where exteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeended. If you call online play XD (Extended Deadline), well, yes, in comparison to FTF and vFTF it is; in comparison to postal play: “You’re having a laaaarf, ain’tcha?”
Postal games were published in zines. Although zine deadlines varied, in the UK they were often published four or five times a year. Now, imagine that: having to wait two or three months for an adjudication!
What this meant is that PBM players had time: time to consider their moves, time to consider their diplomacy. With that much time, you could plan things to the nth degree. If you made a mistake, there was no real excuse.
Compare that to the FTF game. Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! To communicate, persuade, cajole, threaten, etc other players and get your orders right. Richard held that this meant FTF play naturally incorporated more errors.
The inheritors of postal Diplomacy
We don’t have PBM Diplomacy any more, except for the odd game played for nostalgia’s sake. PBM was replaced initially by PBEM – Play-By-Email – and, with the adaptation of automated Judges, by Diplomacy sites and apps. If you, like me, play online, then you’re playing the evolved descendent of Postal Dip.
What does that mean? Well, if Richard Sharp was right, and PBM Dip was more accurate because of the time players have to make decisions and communicate effectively, then the same can be said for XD Dip.
It doesn’t matter whether you play on a Dip site or an app: you have longer to make decisions and communicate with other players. You should be able to make fewer mistakes… shouldn’t you?
If only this were true…
On the Playdip forum I can remember one member stating that they felt FTF players were better players than online. Why? Because they had to make decisions quickly; assess the board quickly; influence opponents quickly. For this person, this equated to better play.
Well, I don’t know. I’ve seen FTF and vFTF play and, well, it’s littered with what I’d consider errors. Like Richard Sharp, though, I put this down to the pace of the game.
In fairness, I’ve seen this type of play online, too. If everyone was brilliant, how boring would the game be? Celebrate the stupidity of Dip!
There’s another comparison between PBM and Online Diplomacy, and this I did find in “The Game of Diplomacy”: Missed turns and drop-outs. We tend to see this as a product of online play because it’s an absolute pain. Even when pointing out that this isn’t reserved for Diplomacy, but any and all online games, the focus is on it being online. It isn’t; it’s a factor of remote games, and it was a pain for the Postal Hobby, too.
What is indisputable is that modern remote play, which is primarily played over the internet, is the inheritor of PBM Diplomacy. The deadlines aren’t as long, and the play is usually automated, but it can feature the same advantages when playing Diplomacy that Sharp identifies in Postal play in comparison to FTF play.
Don’t forget, it’s Diplomacy
Regardless of the way in which we play, Diplomacy is about… well, diplomacy. Communication. Negotiation. Persuasion. And other concepts that relate to talking or writing to each other. It isn’t called Diplomacy for the sake of it.
As I mentioned above, Richard Sharp identified an advantage that PBM Dip had over FTF Dip in the time players had to communicate. Again, online play provides the same advantage… if we use it.
One thing that makes me wonder what some people think Diplomacy’s about is the length of deadline used in online games. If you’ve been thinking about it, you’ll have worked that out from the title of this post.
What would you say is the most common deadline? Well, I’d guess, at its longest, the most common deadline for an online Diplomacy game would be 1 day. 24 hours in which to communicate with other players and consider your moves.
So here’s my question: What can you do in a 24 hour deadline?
Well, you might be able to exchange 3 or 4 messages between you and another player, perhaps your ally. What about the other players? How much communication can you have between you and them? A message each way?
Is this enough time to play Diplomacy?
I guess the simple answer for some people is: “Yes.” It must be. Which is puzzling.
You might say that compared to FTF Diplomacy, when most turns feature 15 minutes to do the same things, then 24 hours is plenty of time. If you did say that, I’d ask you whether you’d actually thought about this.
In an in-person game – FTF or vFTF – you’re playing against people who are there, either in the same place as you or online at the same time as you. In S01, you have 30 minutes; with six opponents, that’s 5 mins to communicate to everyone else. Not a lot. After S01, just 15 minutes… that’s 2.5 minutes a person but, more likely, 5 minutes with the people you particularly want to talk with.
Now, consider just how much can be communicated in 5 minutes. It’s actually a pretty decent time to have a conversation. Not a comfortable amount of time, to be sure; but enough. If you’re an efficient communicator, which the best players are.
Online, the situation is very different. You’re typing your messages. It could well be that it takes five minutes to write the message you want to send; longer if you’re invested in the tactical and strategic aspects of the phase. Then you have to wait until the recipient is online before you can anticipate an answer.
Now let’s say you live in the UK, and the person you’re communicating with is in Australia. Or it could be the US, perhaps even the west coast. You’re writing in the morning… they’re in bed, dreaming of stabbing you, or about to go to bed. They may even be in school, college, work; walking the goldfish, on the lavatory, on a date… you know, living.
So, it might take them six hours or more to get back to you. You then have to be online to get that message; if it happens that you’re not, then you only get their reply perhaps half the deadline later. Which is fine if you’re both on the same page; what if you need to put more effort in?
Do you see what I’m saying? Of course, you can.
The skill in Diplomacy is in the communication, at least as much as it is in the tactics of moving icons around a map. For me, it’s much more important to be able to communicate effectively. Any old AI can pick the best orders.
There is a phenomenon in online play which I call “Pussycat Diplomacy”. Not that it’s cool and calculated, or sweet and cuddly. No, Pussycat Diplomacy is the idea that the game should be played as quickly as possible. Shorter and shorter deadlines and, even within a deadline, Pussycat diplomats can be heard screaming; “FInalise! Finalise!!!”
“Faster, Pusscat! Faster!”
These are the players who don’t know how to communicate. They are the ones who couldn’t persuade someone dying of dehydration to sip some water. They think a long message is: “I’m moving to Ruhr; support me?”
These are the players of Risk who think Diplomacy is a clone, and are happiest when playing Gunboat, even when they don’t know they would be.
If they knew who Cyndi Lauper was, they’d be singing: “I want everything, and I want it NOW!”
What? Hold a conversation? Bugger that – FINALISE!!!!!!!!!!
I may be exaggerating.
The point is, the faster you play the game, the less you actually play the game.
Now, I can understand it for a relaxed, friendly, stab-my-mate game. OK. But I know tournaments and leagues where players have deadlines of 24 hours. If you win a tournament like that you’re probably a great tactician and a good communicator who’s been able to take advantage of those who just want the adjudication so they can do something. It’s not surprising that a lot of players online don’t last for very long.
Look, any Dipmeister will tell you that, as much as you need to have a good understanding of on-the-board tactics, to play Diplomacy well you need to be able to communicate. That is the same regardless of the format in which the game is being played. Why – why – are we moving the game away from this online?
If you’re organising a tournament or league, consider what type of play you want to encourage. I considered playing in the Nexus Press League but noticed that the deadlines were 1 day. I asked if the deadlines would be extended to 2 days and got a partially encouraging reply. To paraphrase: “I wondered if the shorter deadlines were discouraging some people. We usually just let the players choose the deadline.” I’m not knocking the NPL, by the way, I think it’s a great initiative and I hope it continues to be as strong as it is. This is an example.
OK, I understand that. You’re not going to please everyone all of the time. Honestly, I’d prefer 3 days because I tend to go on a bit (I know, who’d’a thought, eh?). I’m not going to get someone else to agree to that length of deadline in a competition. The problem is that, given the growing preponderance of Pussycat Diplomacy, deadlines of 1 day are the slowest they’re going to get as long as majority rule governs.
Online Diplomacy is rewarding in its own right. I don’t subscribe to the view that it is a stepping stone to the FTF Hobby. If we do want wider cross-format play, then 1 day deadlines (or less) don’t prepare people for FTF play, where communication skills are so important. 1 day deadlines simply don’t allow for the development of real communication skills in Diplomacy.
And, seeing online Diplomacy in its own right, 1 day deadlines don’t develop skills in the online game, either. How can they? There isn’t the opportunity to communicate… and Diplomacy is communication.