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A Newbie's Guide to Play By E-Mail Diplomacy

By Joe Brennan
(with generous help from Brandon Clarke)


PBEM (Play By E-Mail) Diplomacy is a great game of intrigue, strategy, and tactics. The rules are simple; the complexity comes from how you relate to the other 6 players. This guide will be made up of two parts: Part A will give you the basic knowledge you need to play and understand your first game. If you are unfamiliar with the game, read it entirely before starting a game. Part B will deepen your understanding - you can work through this at your leisure. I wrote this guide before I finished my first PBEM game, to help other newbies get underway. It is not exhaustive (on purpose). If you want something exhaustive, try one of the other newbie guides. This guide has the essentials.

Note that this guide is for the use of the "Ken Lowe" Diplomacy judge.
It does
not tutor you in using The Pouch's own DPjudge system.
For that, simply visit the DPjudge and click on "Common Questions."
Much of the Ken Lowe-specific details below
do apply to using the DPjudge,
but some (including how to register, how to join a game, etc.) do not.


Part A
Getting Started
Sending Press
Moving Units
Tutorial (an example of press, moves, strategy and stabbing)

Part B
Player Rankings
A list of abbreviations and jargon used in games and articles
More press options
Articles On Opening Plays, How To Be A Good Diplomat, etc.
Game Variants
How to be a good GM
Got a complaint?

Part A

Getting Started

Diplomacy starts in 1901: pre-World War One Europe with seven players negotiating with each other so that they can dominate the gameboard. Orders for fleets and armies are secretly sent to the Judge (a computer), which then calculates the results and forwards what has happened to the players. Then the players go back to organising things for the next turn. Simple, right? The system is, but the game is not. Will the Austrian help my French army to conquer Munich? Will the German army in Kiel assist the Munich army? Can I get Russia to attack Berlin from the east? Can I convince the German that I am planning peaceful moves (preparing to attack Italy) and thus have the element of surprise?

Entering a game.

The first thing you need to do is enter a game. It might take a few days for the game to begin, as you may have to wait for some other people to enter. The game is likely to continue for months (or even longer); that's because it takes a while for people to write the notes to each other, and respond. You can put a lot of time into being a Diplomat, or a little; it's up to you.

To get into a game, click on the link below, and follow the instructions, then use the BACK button on the top left of the screen to come back here.

The link to the Pouch queue is:

A Game Master will soon send you an e-mail, telling you that a game has been set up, the codename of the game, and which judge (computer) will run it. The GM is a wonderful person (of course) who is willing to give you help and advice about how to get started and deal with the Judge. Don't expect advice on strategy though; the GM generally won't give it. Now you need to register with the judge.

Your Options:

There are plenty of games that use e-mail but not computer Judges. There are numerous Human Moderation groups on the web - one, CAT23 (see has thousands of active players and Game Masters. There's also an ICQ Diplomacy Guild who play Diplomacy using ICQ and without a Judge involved. There's also lots of web sites where you can input the orders directly into the web site and play that way. But here, I'll show you how to use a Judge.

Registering with a Judge.

Click on the site below, and you will be sent to a registration form. Fill in the info, and click on the judge your game will be on. Among other things, you will need to list your e-mail address, world time zone (you may live on the other side of the world from where the game is being processed), your phone number (again, if you're not in the US, you will need to provide the judge with the full international number - mine was 14 digits long). None of this is difficult, but it is necessary. List your site as an address - don't put 'home', else you won't be able to play with anyone else who has listed 'home' as their site!

The judge will e-mail you right back, so give it a minute and then check your mail. You'll be given a confirmation so that the judge knows you've given it the right info. Don't forget to come back here afterwards!

The link to the registration form is:

Okay, you now need to tell the Judge which countries you would prefer to play.

Setting Country Preferences

If the GM told you the name of the Judge, but not its e-mail address, you can find it at the registration form link:

Let's imagine the game's codename is blimp. Let's also decide on a password for ourselves: croak. This is what we might send:

signon ?blimp croak
set preference AIFGERT
Every time you send an e-mail to the judge, you need to start with the 'signon' command, and finish with the 'signoff' command.

The question mark means you haven't been given a country yet, and the preference letters refer to the countries we want to play, so we have just asked the Judge to give us A (Austria), or if that's given to someone else, I (Italy) etc. Chances are mighty slim that we'll be assigned Russia or Turkey.

You don't need to set preferences; if you don't, you will be given whichever country nobody else wants.

For more advanced options on setting preferences, click here.

Newbie Press

Press is easy to send, if you follow a simple format. Here are some examples:
signon gspeed bloc3
I will destroy you all!
signon gspeed bloc3
press to F
You will be first to be eliminated!
signon gspeed bloc3
press to FRI
Let's all be friends. Is there really any reason why you should all want to hurt my country?

Movement Options

There are four options: move (attacking), support, hold and convoy.
  The easiest way to learn how to use your units is to see it done in practice e.g. You're playing England, and want to move towards Norway.
Signon Espeed blob
You don't have to write A or F, but it helps to remind you which units are fleets, and which are armies. In the next turn, you want your army carried across the sea to Norway (a convoy):
signon espeed blob
That was a fall move, so now you have four Supply Centres but only three units, so you decide to build a new fleet in Edinburgh:
signon espeed blob
build F EDI
Heaven forbid that your country not grow, but if you have less SCs than units, you must remove units of your choice. In the below example, Austria chooses to remove its army in Budapest after a devastating Italian attack.
signon Aspeed freddo
remove A BUD
In the next turn, you want to attack St Petersburg with your army, but because Russia has a unit in there, you need your Barents Sea fleet to support in the attack. You don't want to move your fleet in the North Sea, but you want to move your new fleet into the Norwegian Sea:
signon espeed blob
In that turn, France invades England. You want your army back in a hurry. You write:
signon espeed blob
If you ever have to retreat a unit, you write it the same way you would write a normal move.

Note that St. Petersburg, Spain, and Bulgaria require special orders if you wish to move a fleet into them. You need to write which coast the fleet is moving into. For example:

F Mid-Spa(SC)
F Con-Bul(EC)
The first order puts a fleet on the south coast of Spain. A fleet there cannot move to Gascony or affect any battle there. The second order puts a fleet on the east coast of Bulgaria. A fleet there cannot move to Greece or the Aegean Sea, nor affect any battles there.

Supports are important to learn:

Tutorial - Negotiating, Moving & Stabbing

You are offered a spot in a game called blimp. You decide to make your password croak.

You want to play as Austria, then Italy, then France, Germany, England, Russia and Turkey, in that order. So you write an e-mail to the Judge:

signon ?blimp croak
set preference AIFGERT
A few days later, everyone else has sent in their preferences, and you are informed that you have been given Italy, your second preference.

Now is a good time to look at the map. If you haven't got one, get one. Here's a site:

You decide to immediately send press out to Austria, Germany and France. You e-mail the judge:

signon Iblimp croak (we write Iblimp now because we control I = Italy)
press to AGF
Hi, this is my first game. Anyone got advice for me?
Sometimes its not smart to let everyone know you haven't got a clue! The letters refer to the countries which will receive the mail, so Russia, England and Turkey will not get this message unless someone else sends it on to them.

You also send the following press:

signon Iblimp croak (remember, it's not a lowercase L, it's capital i for Italy)
press to F
Interested in attacking Germany? I am prepared to send an army into Tyrolia to attack Munich the following turn, but I will need you to support me. After taking Munich, I will support you in taking over Kiel and Berlin.

signon Iblimp croak
press to G
Let's be friends.

signon Iblimp croak (blimp is the name of the game, croak is my password)
press to A
If you promise not to attack Venice, I will stay out of Trieste. I intend to hit Germany with France. Perhaps you would like to join in?

signon Iblimp croak (always remember to endpress and signoff when finished)
press to T
I will do whatever it takes to avoid Austrian domination of the Balkans. Together we could find a better way of governing the area, don't you think?

After a while, you get e-mail from each of these countries, all in agreement. (That doesn't always happen.) You decide to enter moves. You send an e-mail to the Judge:
signon Iblimp croak
A Ven-Tyr
A Rom-Ven
F Nap-Ion

(you don't write endpress because you haven't written any press - just orders)

A=army, F=fleet (You don't have to write A or F at the start of each order, but it will help you to be organised.) The army in Venice moves to Tyrolia, the army in Rome moves to Venice, the fleet in Naples moves into Ionian Sea.

This is a little dangerous. If the army in Vienna or Munich also attempts to move into Tyrolia, nobody gets it, and your army would have to return to Venice. Also, your army in Rome would then be unable to enter Venice, and thus return to Rome. Two of our moves would not work. The fleet is moving towards Tunis, as this is a supply centre, and controlling it in a fall move would mean you can build another fleet or army in Italy at the end of the Fall move.

The Judge sends you an e-mail detailing how everyone has moved. The German army in Munich attempted to enter Burgundy at the same time as the French army at Paris, so neither of them got it. Austria, however, has sent all its units south. The time for a stab into Austrian supply centres (SCs) has come!

You send press to Austria detailing how you are going to send your forces north against Germany, affirm your alliance with France, but send a message to Turkey asking for an invasion of Greece - this will stop the Austrian fleet from getting that SC.

You then e-mail the judge:

signon Iblimp croak
A Tyr-Vie
A Ven-Tri
F Ion-Tun
The next day the judge informs you that your dreams have become reality! All your plans have come to fruition, and you now have six supply centres. A dream start for Italy, a nightmare for Austria.

You now have a basic understanding of the game, and could begin one with some confidence. Feel free to copy any of this onto your word processor for future reference. Come back when you're ready to read Part B for more information about PBEM Diplomacy, which will give you a deeper understanding of the game.

Part B

Player Rankings

If you would like to find out if any of your opponents have finished games in the past, check out this site:

But the easiest way to find out how much a person has played is to send a mail to the Judge, and ask it to LIST the game. Next to each player will be a number - his/her dedication rating. Now you can see if some grizzled veteran is in your game, and you can join together with the other players and squish him. (He shouldn't be playing in a newbie game, after all.) Remember that a player could have a lot of experience but a small dedication if they have quit games in the past. If you don't check both, you can't be sure. There's no need to check this, but you may want to.

Abbreviations and Jargon

I won't claim this is everything, but it will get you started:

DMZ = de-militarized zone (no one moves a unit into a DMZ by agreement)
BTW = by the way
FTR =for the record
:-) =a smile
;-) =a wink and a smile
:-( =a frown
DIAS = Draw Includes All Survivors - all the surviving players have to agree to a draw, and all the survivors participate in the draw. (You cannot vote a surviving player out of the draw.)
NoDIAS= If all of the surviving players agree to resolve the game the same way, the game ends with the agreed result. Players could agree to let any combination of survivors (even just one) win the game.
SCs = Supply Centres
stab = attacking someone who didn't expect it, you told them you wouldn't...
Judge = a computer which organises the game you're playing
JK = Judge Keeper: the person who looks after the Judge
GM = Game Master, the person who oversees the game, can fix any mistakes
Gunboat = a game in which you may not communicate with each other
Gulf of Bothnia = gob or bot
Gulf of Lyon = gol ot lyo
Liverpool = lvp
Livonia = lvn
North Africa = naf
North Atlantic Ocean = nat or nao
North Sea = nth or nts
Norwegian Sea = nrg or nwg
Norway = nwy
Tyrolia = tyr, tyl or tyo
Tyrrhenian Sea = tys or tyn

More Press Options

There are all sorts of press options not used in newbie games. My favourite is called grey press, whereby you send press which does not identify the sender. Fake press (also called black press) is when you are allowed to send press as though you are another player (this is so chaotic few people play such games).
To find out more about these, look at Tim Miller's Guide:


If you want to check things up in an index, here it is:

Articles On Opening Plays, How To Be A Good Diplomat, Etc.

Find hundreds of articles at this site:

Game Variants

Feel like a different:
starting position?
game board?
rule structure?
Check out the variants at this site:

How to be a good GM

Want to try being the Game Master? Check out this site for all the how tos....

Got a complaint?

Want to know the best way of going about seeking justice? Check out the advice here:
If you're having trouble with other players, e-mail the GM.
If you're having trouble with the Judge, e-mail the Judge Keeper
If you're having trouble with the GM, you're being unreasonable. But send an e-mail to the DipPouch authorities anyway, as you may actually have come across a deviant GM...
That's it! My guide is finished. Hope it's helpful.

Appendix A: Set Preference (Advanced Option)

Say you really want to play England, but just hate playing France. Then you would do:
signon ?blimp croak
set preference E[GIART]F
The square brackets tell the judge that all the countries in the brackets are equal; they're not in any special order. So if you really wanted to play an Eastern European country, but don't care which, you could write:
signon ?blimp croak
set preference [IATR]FGE

Joe Brennan
(c/o [email protected])

Haven't found what you were looking for? Write to the DipPouch! If he likes your request, it will be added to the Guide.

The author wishes to extend special thanks to Manus Hand for doing the work it took to get this guide published here -- it only took him five months.

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Last updated Tue 12 Sep 2006