Diplomacy

Review

posted 10/5/2005 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
As an avid boardgamer, I have a great respect for the classic strategy game, Diplomacy.  Its simple and elegant rule set immediately highlights the most important aspect of the game—negotiation.  Diplomacy is all about forging alliances, soothing potential enemies and wooing potential friends, all the while waiting for the perfect time to drive the proverbial dagger into the staunchest supporter’s back.  Diplomacy is also infamous in boardgame circles, with tons of anecdotal evidence of ruined friendships and bitter rivalries flowing from the game into Real Life.  Because of this, and because of the six-to-seven-hour playing time, it’s often difficult for a gamer to find six others interested in spending a marathon boardgame session locked in grueling talks and strategies.  Thankfully, Paradox Interactive grabbed the license from Avalon Hill and brought the tabletop version to the PC in a very faithful port, so now those who find themselves a player or six short of a full game can still get in on some backstabbing action.

Game play in the PC version will be very familiar to the tabletop veterans.  Diplomacy opens on a simplified map of Europe and North Africa during the early years of the 20th century.  The various territories are divided up among seven European powers, leaving a smattering of neutral territories which quickly get gobbled up in the first few turns.  The rules themselves are quite simple.  Some of the territories hold special Supply Centers—each Supply Center controlled by a player allows them to field a military unit, either land-based or naval.  Only one unit can occupy a given territory at any time, and each unit has exactly the same military strength.  Each turn, players give an order to each of their units.  A unit may move to an adjacent territory, support an adjacent unit’s move or defense, or convoy a unit to a distant shore.  With only a handful of units for each player, it is vital to form tenuous alliances with other players to shore up weak borders or press the attack against enemies. 

Each turn, which represents a Spring or Fall campaign, allots players 15 minutes to negotiate and place unit orders.  During this time players can enter into icon-based talks with any number and combination of other players.  Unlike the tabletop version, players will have no idea who is talking to whom, as all conversations are completely hidden.  Players are free to agree to just about any deal imaginable, from lending support to for a single attack all the way to forming full alliances.  Of course, absolutely none of the agreements are binding, and it’s often advantageous to pick an opportune time to break treaties and strike an unsuspecting opponent.  After the negotiations have ended, all player orders are resolved simultaneously.   Once the dust has settled, a Retreat phase occurs for those units that find themselves on the losing side of battle.  There is no negotiation during this time, but all player orders are again resolved simultaneously.  Finally, on the Fall turns, control of Supply Centers change hands if they had been captured in the past two military phases.  Additional supply centers allow players to build more units, and those players who lose a Center must disband one of their units.  While there are a great deal more subtleties and special cases, most of the game follows in much the same manner.  Victory is awarded to a player when they either control 18 Supply Centers or, much more commonly, when they convince the other players of their obvious superiority.



The interface itself is fairly clean, but the icon-based control and negotiation takes a bit of time to understand.  For those familiar with the game, a quick walk-through of the tutorial will be all it takes to get up and running.  For those trying to learn the intricacies of the game as well as the interface, the learning curve is quite a bit higher.  The icon-based interface does allow for total language independence, meaning that diplomacy fans across the world can play online without a language barrier, which alone may make the PC version worth the price.  The graphics are clean, although it is a bit difficult to read the names on some of the darker-colored territories, which could cause some trouble for newbies.  The world-leader figures are amusing as they pop on screen and garble away, giving indication of how the various powers are doing.  Sound is not nearly as impressive and the graphical layout, but since this is an almost-straight port of a tabletop game, I really don’t require much in that department.

The AI is undoubtedly going to be the biggest point of contention among Diplomacy players.  It’s almost impossible for an AI to replicate the human element.  Single-player Diplomacy allows the player to set their opponents skill level and personality, and there is a feel of these personalities shining through, but it’s just not the same as wheedling a real person.  That being said, the AI handily wiped the floor with me during our various outings.  I’m far from a Diplomacy expert, however, and I’m sure more-seasoned veterans will find less challenge here.  But I also believe that this is a game that requires a full complement of human opponents to fully enjoy.  Multiplayer is available via LAN or internet, and it’s here that Diplomacy truly shines.  Now players from all over the world will be able to gather and partake in this classic game.

Overall, Diplomacy is a very solid port of the classic tabletop game.  Fans of the boardgame, especially those unable to easily find opponents, will have a lot to like here.  And while the single-player game lacks the punch of facing off against real people, it does allow players to hone their Diplomacy skills and take their game to the next level.






B
A solid, faithful port of the classic tabletop game of negotiation. Single-player mileage may vary, but the language-independent multiplayer opportunities will allow Diplomacy fans a much-needed chance to find opponents.