A few days ago I briefly explained the concept of a game called Diplomacy to some people in my lab, and afterwards I thought it might make an interesting post to explain why I find it such a fascinating game. I will start with a brief overview of the game before moving into my analysis of it, so if you are familiar with the game you might want to skip this post and simply wait for Part II.
Diplomacy is set just before the outbreak of World War I. There are ideally seven players (although there are alternative rules for playing with fewer people) with each player controlling one of the great European powers of the time: Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Turkey, or Russia. The game is played on a map of Europe (with a little bit of Africa's northern bits showing up). The map is split into many smaller territories (some represent specific regions within a country, such as Burgundy and the Rhine, while others represent entire countries such as Belgium or Spain). A selection of the territories are labeled as "supply centres". Control of these important territories allows a player to construct and maintain a fleet or army. Losing control of supply centres, such that a player is left without enough to support their units on the board, forces that player to remove enough units to balance the difference. The object of the game is to gain control of the majority of the supply centres (18 of 32), at which point the player's country is deemed to be the dominating force in Europe and he wins.
The game-play is interesting in that all units are of identical strength (the difference between an army and a fleet is solely in the territories over which it can operate) and all turns happen simultaneously. Without any dice rolling or other randomness, the only way to win a battle is to overwhelm your foe with greater numbers. This is achieved by supporting troops in either attack or defense. The catch is the support does not need to come from your own troops, but could be delivered by rival nations (for example, a British fleet could support a French army attacking a German army in Belgium, allowing the French to capture Belgium as long as the German army had no defensive support). This is where diplomacy becomes necessary and the simultaneous resolution of turns makes things interesting. Each turn has a period of diplomacy lasting fifteen minutes in which all players are free to discuss their strategies with each other (usually in small, carefully monitored groups of two or three individuals). The players then write their orders on pieces of paper and deliver them to a pile, at which point all the orders are read aloud and resolved. Thus, the British player might tell the French player that he is supporting his attack on Belgium, but in actuality he has agreed to aid the Germans by instead moving his fleet into the French port of Brest and cut off that supply centre, likely causing the failure of the French assault on Belgium and forcing the French player to disband one of his armies or fleets before the next turn.
Hopefully that gives a clear overview of the game. Next post addressing this topic will delve into the aspects of the game that I find make it exceedingly interesting.