I have taught people to play the game over the last 4 decades and on every continent. In the course of that I have developed a single page outline of the rules as well as a script that I use to cover all the major points, both of which are in the article archives on The Pouch and other sites. The reasoning behind the pattern and the way I teach is as follows:
Basic pre teach talk:
- Tell the potential player it takes 5 minutes to learn for a lifetime of fun and deception.
It actually takes 5 minutes to read the single page, and the actual verbal teaching takes about 7-9 minutes depending on the speed of talking, but 5 minutes sounds so much better. And after all, as a Diplomacy player you are allowed to understate a situation!
- The game takes 4 or so hours to play. This is the response if the question is asked, but you avoid the subject.
This is actually true if you use a clock and 10- minute deadlines as played in the West Coast. If you tell people that the game can go on all day, you will lose people before you even get to teach them.
- The game is best played with 7 players, but there are variants with less than 7.
Again, the main issue is to avoid negatives: and the matter of collecting 7 players is a BIG negative. If people ask about the variants, you delay them to after the game is taught. Then you can go into Escalation or other same-map variants.
- Announce the countries as printed, but say that the United Kingdom or Great Britain is represented by England and the Ottoman Empire is represented by Turkey. You do NOT want to try to explain to a Scotsman that EDInburgh is in England. This also is a little cover-up of two of our designer's (Allan Calhamer) biggest map errors in making the game.
- Explain that the object of winning is to get 18 centers. Do NOT get into tournament rules of scaling achievement other than a win, or things like Draws Include All Survivors or anything like that. Such issues are too complex for a teaching session, where your sole objective is to get the game basics across and to get people to start to play. If the subject comes up do not take the bait, simply redirect the teaching session back to the mechanics of the game.
- In the introduction you cover the basic map parameters, supply centers, and the phases of the game: negotiation /order writing/adjustments. Do NOT get into the issues of Drop Dead Time limits and other anal-retentive approaches to tournament play. The object is to get them to play, not discipline them with whips and chains.
- Do not get into the order writing styles — simply say that you are writing orders as you will be teaching them in the Basic Mechanics. The order writing abbreviations and the use of S for support and C for Convoy is something that they can get into once they start to play. Remember, we want them to get to play! Techniques can be refined later.
The Basic Mechanics
- When explaining movements state that you move to an adjacent place. Bring up convoys separately. Do not teach at first that you move to an adjacent place EXCEPT when convoying. When teaching, do not introduce exceptions, as when people hear the word ‘except’ they think COMPLICATED, which is contrary to our basic thrust that this is a simple game. When covering convoys, try to teach it as a single convoy move from one coastal province to another coastal province. Explain convoys as the last element of the basic mechanics, after going through supports and conflicts. This way the exceptional nature of convoys is not highlighted. Do not get into the paradox or ugliness of convoy attacks cutting or not cutting supports on convoying units. Remember that teaching has as its object getting people to play.
- When doing movements and working out adjudications, use the French-German area. Most people’s grasp of history is enough to make you gasp. However, somewhere in their subconscious lurks the idea that World War One was between France and Germany.
- To explain that you have be sitting in a province at the end of the Fall move to own it, use as an example Army Marseilles to Spain in the Spring and then Spain to Portugal for the Fall. This is the most common place where new people will over look what we call the Spring Raid and screw themselves out of a build. So putting it in the teaching script gives them a chance to avoid it.
- When talking about cutting supports, state that you if you are attacked from a province other than the province that you are supporting an action into, your support is cut. Do not get into any complications. Remember, complications are bad.
The Map’s Oddities
There is a specific order to cover the map oddities: first Split Coasts/Inland Waterways, and then pesky Denmark. Aside from the fact that we are dealing with 3-2-1 provinces, circling around the map allows us to cover newbie mistakes without saying that they are newbie mistakes.
- Start with the split coast highlights at Saint Petersburg, where you state that it is the only home center that is split and that Russian fleets built here have to be designated as south coast or north coast. Use Spain as the focus of the issue, since this is where most of the actual split coast problems happen. In the course of showing which coasts connect to where, explain that North Africa does NOT connect to Spain, as this is again a common newbie map error. Then point out that Bulgaria is the third province with a split coast, as that brings you into the next subject: the inland waterways.
- In going over the inland waterways, explain that a fleet from Constantinople can go to either coast of Bulgaria, and thus must designate the coast specifically. This is a repeat of what you said about Spain from the Mid Atlantic and Portugal, and it pounds the point home. Then you go to Kiel, where you explain Fleet Kiel can go to Holland, Helgoland, Baltic, or Berlin. You should then explain that there is a connection between Kiel and Baltic, as this is often over looked by new players, and that Berlin does NOT border on Denmark. Finally, you point out that Kiel also connects to Denmark. That leads you to the last of the oddities.
- When talking about Denmark, explain again that a fleet on a coastal province cannot convoy a unit, as that again repeats the point and is a fine way to end the session.
Through all teaching there will be times when players will interrupt you with something off script or more specifically out of order. The teacher needs to redirect things to stay on message as well as to cut down on outside interruptions that may cause a jumble of the lesson.
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