WHAT DO I SAY?
By Edi E. Birsan
I come from a family of very aggressive New York City talkers. They will interrupt you, finish your sentences and once started will run about the mouth nonstop if you let them. So when it comes to Diplomacy negotiations, shy and silence is not something I am associated with. Many new players have a great difficulty at discussions especially when they are most in dire need of them, though they may not know it. Take a situation where Italy is fighting France as part of an alliance structure conflict of the East vs. the west. They need to always talk to a keep the lines open and to explore the strategic possibilities if not the techniques for disengagement even if they are still going to fight because when the time is needed it may not be so easy. Time at the tabletop can be short and unforgiving. Often in these cases after coming up against a brick wall again and again I will ask the player after the orders are read if they want to talk. Then when I get them alone will ask them simply ‘Yes?’ Players will invariably stumble at that point and you know that the player has had no conception of altering his current course of action and that you have to prepare the other side for him and then set the stage with the first player to be able to discuss things.
There is a great danger in silence in that it is often associated with the ‘Deer in the Headlights’ victim. If you project that you are a helpless victim then you will be treated that way. Instead as long as you have a center on the board you can interact and make an initiative.
Here are things that you can always talk about with someone about the game:
a. What do you think is going to happen next?
Next can mean after your demise, the next turn, after the next builds, whatever.
Let the other player define what the ‘next’ is and you can get some insight into
their thinking. It might also spark a line of thought that you can coax whose
conclusion would be simply that it is better that we not fight since bad things
are coming next.
b. What just happened on the board?
A simple question that again allows the other player to expound on what his
focus is. It allows you again, to direct the conversation to where you want to
go to put another country in a bad light or to raise the potential of problems on
c. What is going to happen in Galicia. (Or any province on the opposite side of
the board from you where there are two different pieces bordering).
This I often use as a last resort as it often scares people that you in your position
are more concerned with what is going on the other side than in your immediate
area, so you must have some confidence in your own area. However, it is also
a good spot to start far away to work things over to your side of the board.
d. What can happen that would be funny? Remember the real object of a game:
to have fun and make if fun for others.(Our motto) sometimes in the midst of
an intense situation the very idea of something funny can break a log jam and
get people to laugh together. Even if you do not act on it, sometimes the idea
may tickle someone’s fancy. If you are fun to have around, you might find that
someone may take the position of ‘let’s not eliminate him because it’s fun
playing with him.
e. Have we seen this situation before? Again you do not have to define what
the situation is, simply leave it out there and see what the other player thinks
it is. Then take the answer and work it towards your objective.
Diplomacy is a social interaction game. The most important pieces in the game are the 7 sitting around the board. Find out something about the people.
a. What do you do for fun other than Diplomacy?
Are they gamers and what type of gamer? A hardcore wargamer might have
a very different tactical approach to the game than someone who is a fantasy
role player. A bridge player has a very different set of mini-max ideas and
risk assessment than someone who is really a golfer just filling in to make a
b. What do you do?
Are they in sales, or negotiation positions? Are they analytical such as
maybe a scientist.
c. How did you first get started playing Diplomacy? This will also give you a
handle on their experience level if they are unknown, since players will
often bring in their age or school period when they talk about the start.
d. How did you hear of this gathering? If it is a social game, it is good to know
the social networking, if it is a tournament game setting it is good to know
what communication channels they are using and with whom. This latter
point may not be so relevant in your current game, but could come in as a
wedge or an explanation at a future game in the same tournament.
Topics to Avoid
Generally, politics and religion are most often out of the range of discussion since invariably you can have zero effect on either and all it does is to provide a wall of distance between yourself and the other player. Of course as you get to know each other well and this is not your first or early encounters, then normal insanity and rudeness can apply. However even with long time gamer partners sometimes it is best avoid. During the Vietnam War days, there had to be an understanding that it was not to be discussed because the divisions and tempers were just too disruptive.
Family is another area that is full of land mines and may be best left for the period where you have had more history behind your relation with the other player. Bitter divorces, sickly kids, chronic conditions and the like can all be major downers.
Learn to Listen
One of the hardest things to do is to really listen to a player once you have them talking.
Too often once we get a grip on how to start a conversation we forget to turn it over to the other party and step back and listen. It is a bad habit to think of your response while the other player is talking because by doing so you forget all the clues of what he is saying with other than his words. Telling gestures, pauses at certain words and other clues are important. If you do not worry about what you are going to say, then your response will be more natural, will flow easier and be more sincere, regardless of your true intentions. Worry, is often seen as deviousness and paranoia breads paranoia or negative responses.
It happens to all of us that we have to leave because circumstances, which may have been in our control at one point got out of control and now we are dead. Always shake hands with everyone at the table when you leave and thank them…especially those that wiped you out to show no hard feelings and that you can take it like a champ.
The After Action Interaction
When a player’s game is over, always thank them for their participation. Even the most incompetent aggravating player has at least one virtue: without them you would not have had 7 players to play a game.
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