I just found the play by e-mail judges a few months ago and am still feeling my way around the PBEM format. Nevertheless, I've played a lot of Dip and like to think I'm not half bad. As I've looked around the various websites and strategy articles, I see an intense focus on game tactics and warrior thinking. A smaller subset of articles concern effective negotiating ploys from a pure human relations point of view. I would like to contribute to this last group of articles.
Almost all of the "how to be a good negotiator" articles focus on the psychology of Diplomacy and of the average Dip player (when to trust, when to stab, how to spot a lie, etc.). I would like to come at the topic from a slightly different perspective. Having gotten into a couple of PBEM games now, I'm struck by the effect that written communications has on the PBEM game There is a real and substantial difference between the bargains struck in PBEM and those struck in Face to Face Dip. It's as if each turn represents a new contract that must be negotiated with each power. You see, I am an attorney and negotiating contracts is part of what I do for a living. Further, what I've discovered is that the negotiating tactics that are common practice in real world contract bargaining are largely absent in PBEM Dip. What I've also discovered, however, is that these negotiating tactics can be just as effective in Dip games as they are in real life.
Without further ado, a few suggestions from the world of law:
In my profession, this is known as "controlling the document." It is often true that he who controls the document controls the deal. Psychologically, if the negotiation begins with with your proposals, it's likely to proceed from your perspective and not the other guy's. The end result is much more likely to be in your favor under such circumstances. Most people in the real world are too lazy to draft their own contracts and, if they do, often do a poor job. Always be the first to present the contract. By doing so, you are taking the initiative in setting the terms of the deal for the remainder of the negotiations.
In the few PBEM games I've played so far, the majority of players I've negotiated with have tended to open negotiations after every turn something like this: "Hey, that last turn went well/OK/bad for our alliance. Where do you want to go from here?" I believe most players who do this think they are trying to force the other player to "show his hand," but I don't see what that accomplishes. In my view, opening a negotiation in this fashion is a huge mistake. It concedes all of the negotiation momentum to the other party and gives him a chance to write the draft contract which will form the basis for the remainder of the negotiaion. It seems a lot of leverage to give up in order to go on a fishing expedition for information that is not likely to be terribly useful.
You don't have to take my word for it. Read the EOG's in Dan Shoam's games which are published regularly in this 'Zine. Notice how Dan tends to dominate the diplomatic front in his games almost by sheer volume alone. It is not that he merely sends lots of press. He also makes all of the proposals. The other players in his games invariably play by responding to his ideas, rather than generating plans of their own. Dan seizes the negotiating momentum early and never lets go. His is the best application of lawer-like Diplomacy that I've seen. Anyone who tries to cleverly get Dan to "show his hand" is just more grist for his mill.
Here's another way to think of it. Winning an individual military battle is a matter of getting there fastest with the mostest. Winning the negotiation battle often occurs the same way. If you are the first to put a treaty proposal or battle plan on the table, you are the odds-on favorite to get that plan accepted by your negotiating counterpart.
Another very common mistake which occurs in both real life contract drafting and Dip negotiating is a failure to provide sufficient detail about mutual goals and responsibilities. Both topics are important.
Most proposals I recieve fail to discuss goals at all. In real life, contracts are preceeded by clauses which state why each party wants to enter into the contract. It can be as simple as "Whereas ABC Corp. desires to sell widgets; and Whereas XYZ Corp. wishes to buy widgets . . ." Now everyone knows why they're reading the contract. In Dip, I get proposals that read "If you attack X, so will I" or "If you leave me alone I'll leave you alone." These proposals don't tell me why I should engage in the desired course of action or what each of us will gain from the proposal, if executed. Accepting such proposals is buying a pig in a poke. You can be sure I'll look to spend my money more wisely.
My customary response to proposals like the above is to ask, "OK, if I assist you in attacking X, what is your goal, what do you intend to gain, how do you intend to proceed and, most importantly, what do I get out of it?" I guarantee you that players who can't provide you good answers to those questions do not make good allies. Further, the response, "the goal of attacking X is to destroy X" is a lousy answer. Dip is not about attacking and destroying other players. It's about expanding your own sphere of influence until you reach 18 SC's. Anyone who can only do that from the perspective of waging personal wars is missing most of what makes the game unique and interesting, not to mention missing the essential path to victory.
Adopting the contract negotiation strategy gives you an opportunity to propose a mutual statement of goals. This, in turn, is a very effective way to determine who among your neighbors thinks like a Diplomat and who thinks like a conquerer of nations. The former makes an excellent ally. The latter is much more likely to stab you, because he is much less likely to see the value in your joint relationship.
Another common mistake in both Dip and real life is to fail to state mutual reponsibilities with sufficient certainty to make the contract enforceable. Most proposals are unacceptably vague, like the above examples. Almost all are also insufficient in scope. Take, for example, the opening negotiations between E/F over the Channel, F/I over Piedmont or R/T over the Black Sea. All too often, there is a proposal made to DMZ the key province and nothing more. What good is such a treaty if England can build F Lvp, Italy can occupy GoL, or Turkey can order A Smy-Arm and claim such actions are not a treaty violation?
One common answer is: it goes without saying. Not in my experience. Say it. Say all of it. In detail. Every turn. We Dip players are weasels by nature. If you don't agree upon a hard and fast rule for every unit and every "neutral" province, I guarantee you that your faithful "ally" will spend more of his time trying to find a way to maneuver against you under the treaty than helping you against your other enemies.
Alliances come apart for many reasons, but one of the common threads is that one side is attempting to sieze the advantage presented by some unanticipated contingency. This is poor planning. Most contingencies can at least be broadly provided for. A common example: Russo-Turkish alliances often fail because Russia grows quickly, while Turkey does not. A stab follows a power imbalance among allies like night follows day. Why not plan for this from the outset?
The R/T alliance treaty/contract should state that Russia recognizes that Turkey's faithful friendship is equally responsible for all victories, whether Turkish forces participated or not. Consequently, Russia has a responsibility to assist Tukish victories, even at his own expense, or to turn over Balkan and Austrian SC's outright, if necessary, at a rate which keeps the allies equally matched in gains. This will prevent Russia from making the bogus claim that he'll assist Turkey into Serbia, right after he takes Norway, Berlin, Budapest and Vienna, or similar nonsense. The usual (and ineffectual) response to such greed is to whine, "but we are allies and allies are supposed to help each other." Now the response is, "You are violating our treaty by doing so. Prepare to face the consequences." The latter response is a much more powerful check on the otherwise unbridled self-interest of the average Dip player.
In the real world, contracts are unenforceable if both sides do not give something of value. Do not expect your Dip bargains to work differently.
Nothing annoys me more than players "offering" SC's to me which I can take by force without weakening my position. Even worse, players will frequently "concede" SC's to you which are already in your posession (or are in the hands of other players, but soon to be yours). I have never been able to fathom what makes players think such "offers" are worth the time it took to type them. Certainly, in the real world such offers are quite worthless. In the Dip world, I've never noticed that they have any greater effect.
As long as you are alive, you have something of value to offer. Even if you are just one Italian Army in Ukr and it is the Fall phase, you can make on offer. Offer your undying servitude to anyone who will just let you live. If the zones around you are hot, chances are someone will see value in your offer; provided that you have not undercut your credibility by failing to be a reliable contract negotiator. Anyone who is doing better than that can offer even more. Just do not fail to offer it.
Ideally, you want to be in a powerful enough position to offer up something less than your entire Dip soul just to make a friend. Before Spring of 1901, however, it is always possible to bargain as equals. Just remember that all accord and satisfaction must be mutual to be successful. In other words, you must give as well as take. Negotiating strategies which revolve around hoping the other player is not smart enough to see that you are getting the better of him cannot be consistently successful because they require stupid neighbors, and even stupid neighbors are not consistently stupid. The better strategy is to presume your neighbor is intelligent and to appeal to your mutual interest in self-interest. It is not weakness to offer fair value for that which you wish to receive. Any player who mistakes fair offers for weak ones seldom lives to tell the tale.
Strangely, given the mindset I've seen in many strategy articles, Dip bargains often seem to omit the penalty for failure to keep the bargain. In my experience, players are often afraid to discuss penalties because they fear that their ally will take it as a threat. This need not be the case. Properly presented, the penalties for breach are a natural part of the contract. To make the penalties presentable, one must merely link them to the specific event.
For example: England and France are allies and have successfully eliminated Germany. This is a delicate time. The allies need new targets and each fears it will be the other. France has proposed a long term alliance with a division of SC's between the allies. He has also proposed that England must never build Fleets in Liverpool and London. Consistent with the contract philosophy, there should then follow a statement such as: "If you accept this proposal, then I expect that we will be very successful in our ventures. I regret the need to tell you, however, that if we make this agreement, any violation of the treaty terms (unless compensation for the violation is specifically negotiated and agreed to in advance) -- no matter how small -- will be a cause for total war. I will commit myself for the remainder of the game to savaging your SC's wherever they may be found and sullying your reputation all across Europe by publicizing your duplicity. No excuses will be accepted which would prevent me from pursuing this course of action. Thankfully, I am confident that we can be best of allies and I will never have to put such measures to use."
Now England knows that you are serious. If you are actually in a position to follow through on those threats, then he will be a great deal less likely to stab in the future. It is also unlikely that he will not make the deal. People who negotiate convincingly close more deals than those who do not.
Therein lies another key point. You must be able to negotiate convincingly. This means that you must have the military horses to back your diplomatically stated penalties for breach. This may seem self- evident. My experience is that it is not.
A common example: Opening negotiations between Germany and Russia inevitably center on the potential bump in Sweden. Germany wrests concessions from Russia for promising not to make the bump, then he orders F Kie-Hol and A Ber-Kie in Spring of 1901. Happens all the time. Big mistake every time. Why a mistake? Well, why should Russia hold to his concessions now? The threat to bump is gone. Further, by ordering F Kie-Hol and A Ber-Kie, Germany has signaled that he will now be utterly wrapped up in affairs to the West. Russia will get Swe uncontested and whatever other threats Germany leveled against Russia to get concessions will have zero credibility. Germany has done worse than fail to control Russian aggression, he has actually encouraged it.
Better to make no agreement than to have one which the other party knows you are powerless to enforce. In the above example, Germany is much better off conceding Sweden to Russia without seeking compensation. There will be numerous other opportunities to make a meaningful contract with Russia and, at the least, your credibility should still be intact when you attempt to do so.
This is my last principle -- and most heretical for Dip players: no deal is often the best deal. In the business of corporate mergers and aquisitions, there are probably twenty failed negotiations for every one deal that works. The big-time players know that often the best move in negotiations is to walk out of the room.
Never let yourself become so wedded to the necessity of finding an ally that you are willing to strike a bad bargain. No board position (not even Austria's) is too weak to defend against a direct assault (from one -- or even two -- neighbors) at the outset of the game. Any neighbor who threatens you with a direct attack from the outset unless you concede to his demands will seldom live to see his attack succeed. You won't do it to him either. The other five players will, though, and every time, too. You can always recover nicely from such an ill-concieved assault.
If you give in to aggressive demands, however, your recovery chances are much poorer. Your neighbor now views you as weak. He will be back next year with even more outrageous demands. Thanks to your previous cowering, you are now genuinely too weak to resist. Thus do vassal states quickly come to be created. Do not get into that cycle. Insist on a good deal or no deal. A stand up fight is always preferable to a bad bargain. Soon enough, your aggressor will be suing for peace, as his neighbors will be lunging at the backside he left unprotected to attack you. At that point you will be able to make a much better deal than you ever could have by capitulating earlier out of false necessity.
In Diplomacy, as in life, there are no guarantees. The principles outlined above make up a consistent philosophical approach to the negotiating aspect of the game. I really have no idea whether putting them into practice will improve your play. I can tell you, however, that millions of lawyers around the world bet billions of dollars every day that this is the right way to do business.
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