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Post 07 Jan 2011, 12:20 pm

To me, Standard Diplomacy is a harsh mistress: in the beginning, one is brimming with excitement enchantment with what one has been bequeathed: Sovereign of a country, an array of armies & navies awaiting one's bidding, and an opportunity to rise from lowly ambiguity to march triumphantly up the gilded steps of prestige and glory.

Such is the opening phase. Players enthusiastically role-play in their newfound quasi-historical personas and draft their longest letters, amicably hail their fellow opponents and deliberate night after night on their best course of inaugural action. This is usually the highest watermark of the game for all players.

The middle game tells a different story. Some players have either been mercilessly crushed and eliminated or find themselves subservient in a hopeless power-struggle for their last center(s). Pleasantries at this time will have waned, along with enthusiasm, and many players are probably already seeking out a new game. Worse for those in their death throes is the stigma that there is to be no concession of any kind: that their participation in the game should require even more commitment (in emails, strategy, time), when there may be nothing left to do (or care to do) than act as "kingmaker" or submit consecutive "Hold" orders week after week.

My question is this: what can be done to promote an enjoyable game for all players for the duration of the game? I've played lots of boardgames lately that have NO elimination factor, games such as "Last Night on Earth", "El Grande", "Railroad Tycoon" (to name a few) and invariably I find that these face-to-face games are always well-received by all. Even when you're certain you can't win, there's always SOMETHING you can do to make your final result better. All the games listed above keep all players engaged encourage trailing players to try something new next turn or avoid an early mishap, etc. This is not to say that the "one chip and a chair" maxim of Poker isn't applicable to Diplomacy: it IS possible for a one center Austria to defy the odds and win the game (who was that on Redscape anyways?) :devil:

So, with the new automated system coming online soon, there will be a change to develop original variants for it. Let me state unequivocally that there will be games of Standard Diplomacy supported for as long as I'm legally allowed to do so. However, I'd love to branch out and embrace more variants - particularly Tom's brilliant Explore!, WWIV, and NWO - variants at first, as these offer much more leeway for players in the mid-game and "small frys" to impact the game disproportionately related to their size. My ultimate goal though is to host a game type (of Diplomacy) that keeps ALL players equally engaged and dangerous until the curtain falls.

Let me know your thoughts on this matter. If you have any variant suggestions, please post them in the "Variant Lab" forum (we can start a new topic) instead of posting them here; I'd prefer to keep this discussion focused on what longtime Diplomacy players think of my interpretation of Standard Diplomacy and why I think it has serious drawbacks as an "enjoyable" game for all. :bomb:
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Post 07 Jan 2011, 12:57 pm

Personally, one way is to have a ratings/ranking system that gives more of a reward to people who stay in even though they lose than to those who drop out. One-game people who lose and drop out will always be there, but people who are serials who do the game no favours. It is, however, a universal problem for the online hobby.

By the way, on the old site, I was running a trial of ranking systems that tried to do just that. The problem I had was that it became increasingly onerous as a manual task and I didn't have the time to increase the automation. And things like Gunboat games meant it would be inaccurate and out of date.

I believe you said that when the site gets automated adjudication there will be an accompanying scoring system. Is that the case, and how would it work?
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Post 07 Jan 2011, 2:55 pm

I couldn't agree more. We are in a golden age of game design. If you haven't played any new games since Settlers of Catan game out in 1995 then you haven't played a good, modern game. There are themes to these great new modern games:

* No elimination: everyone who starts plays to the end.
* Multiple paths to victory: Sure you may measure victory by the number of Victory Points, or whatever, but how you get your points can vary greatly from one player to another
* Short. Designed to be played in two hours or less. Yes you do have other responsibilities.
* Simple rules, complex strategy. This allows for you to play with your kids, but not be completely bored out of your mind.

Diplomacy does have something that remains unique and I believe that is the reason why we continue to play it. It also benefits from being one of the only board games designed for FTF play that actually plays better via the internet. But it is too long, it eliminates its players, you have essentially one path to victory and while the rules are simple, they are often misunderstood.

The modern games are fun, like candy: enjoyable, light, sweet, but it's hard to remember most of them after a month or two. I can still vividly remember a dip game I played 25 years ago (!) that went to 1939 (!!!). I remember Christine taking that one center Austria to 14 centers and topping the board (I didn't even play in the game, but watched from the sidelines) and, of course Uhtar's record of 6 solos out of 8 games and then retiring is a part of Redscape legend. There is always the potential for something amazing to happen in a diplomacy game simply because it requires so much from its players. It's why I keep playing, but it's also the reason I would only play in one or two games a year.
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Post 10 Jan 2011, 7:32 am

I agree with Chad about Diplomacy being enjoyable for all. Don't get me wrong, I think the game is awesome and is why most of us have found this website. It seems to be the best balance of strategy, simplicity and personal interaction available. That said, there are some serious drawbacks to a casual/social gamer. The biggest drawbacks include:

* Time commitment, how many are willing to play a game that takes a week per turn and up to a year to complete?

* Writing to complete strangers, while most of us reading this have no problem with this aspect and maybe even LIKE it (we get to "meet" so many new people around the world) others are a bit turned off by having to converse with strangers, I tried to get some friends to play and they just couldn't get used to writing like this.

* Board games are not as popular among the younger generations, with shoot em up video games and live action games and all that, a simple, slow moving, graphically limited board game just doesn't grab their attention.

* the "Stab factor", I have to admit that even I have fallen to this problem. I get to know these people I am dealing with and stabs are hard to make and they are hard to accept. I used to play very well, at one point I won almost every game I played (almost there with Uhtar) but I lost that edge, most never have it to start with! This is more than a bit distasteful to many and quite a turnoff. And what of those who do get stabbed and they lose all interest in the game? Either you have a player who simply "phones in" his orders as he stops any and all plotting and planning and he (in his small part) ruins part of the game for those who could use his limited help.

* NMR's are a huge problem on internet play. It's hard to NMR in a FTF game but here it is so much easier, players lose interest, lose internet connection, forget the due date, and so on, NMR's can kill a game and delays to help avoid an NMR can be just as bad, sometimes worse!

We have an awesome game but it certainly has it's drawbacks to be sure!

Chad mentions some other variants (many of them mine!) and they can help the site, As I lost interest with the standard game, I attempted to design something that would help battle at least some of the problems stated. I tried to get games that would keep ones interest longer and games that would fire ones imagination, games that would allow even those in a bad way an avenue to still be active in the game dynamics. More such variants offered along with the classic standard game are critical to keeping things thriving in this community.
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Post 11 Jan 2011, 12:02 pm

You guys might find this interesting, and highly relevent to this debate. A few years ago I wrote something of a treatise on Diplomacy for my own benefit. It grew out of a desire to improve my game by thinking it through carefully, meditating on it and its various aspects. Here is a paraphrased excert from that treatise, from the "Game Objectives" page:

...It is precisely this fact of general and changing objectives that makes the game so exciting - like life. You can only play with the hand you have been dealt, and given the difficulty of anyone actually winning the game there are many other successes to be rated. Survival is often a great victory if you are unlucky enough to be facing a powerful enemy coalition determined to crush you, and a test of character as well. Do you quit the game and move on to greener pastures when the going gets tough or do you stay and fight? Is a solo victory taken against morons in a game with many NMRs and abandonments a better result than a hard fought place in a DIAS against top players?

In the end, Diplomacy is a balance between strategy, tactics, communication, psychology, judgement, ruthlessness and agility of mind. Playing Diplomacy will teach you how to tell a lie and spot one; how to deal with emotional blows calmly and philosopically (getting stabbed); how to make long term plans yet know when to adjust them to suit your changing circumstances. I have never known a game to reflect the challenges of life as well as Diplomacy. Poker, Chess and Go all teach you a great deal, but Diplomacy teachs you how to deal with people - and that's what it is all about...
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Post 11 Jan 2011, 2:12 pm

All strategy games have a dynamic which invariably leads towards domination by the stronger performers to the extent that the losers are either eliminated or reach a position that's completely untenable so they may as well be eliminated. I'd argue that Dip is actually much less harsh than many games of its type in that even a losing position can be fun to play and can have a role in a grander strategy. I'd be wary of playing a variant that's just designed to keep people alive, that doesn't strike me as any fun at all and it could take away a lot of the edge from the game.
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Post 11 Jan 2011, 2:59 pm

Sassenach wrote:All strategy games have a dynamic which invariably leads towards domination by the stronger performers to the extent that the losers are either eliminated or reach a position that's completely untenable so they may as well be eliminated.


By my experience, this is not true. Virtually all strategy games developed over the past 10 years or so use a mechanic that keeps all players in the game, playing meaningfully to the end. Such a mechanic has become the hallmark of a good game. In many of them you don't even know who's winning until the game is over and you add up your victory points. Even Struggle of Empires, which is a conquer and conquest game, everyone plays until the end in a meaningful way.
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Post 11 Jan 2011, 3:13 pm

Again, I don't want to change the Standard game of Diplomacy (or other standard variants such as Colonial). There will always be players preferring to play a pure game of Diplomacy over a variant.

However, I am eager to introduce games where all players - especially the losing players - have a game they can remain excited about. I know some players revere those games they were able to stick it out in a losing/"lost" position and turn it around into a victory: actual or personal. I'm not worried about those players, as those are the "core" players that are the veteran Redscapers. It's the players who don't thrive in those grueling circumstances and drop out of the game or the website and don't return. There should be some sort of "lighter"-hearted variant available for those who prefer a gentler game of Diplomacy, where a backstab doesn't (have the potential to) ruin a friendship and a crumbling position doesn't leave certain/newbie players feeling obligated to play for others' bemusement.
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Post 12 Jan 2011, 8:44 am

Here is an idea, and I would express it with an example.

lets say, Germany takes Warsaw. Russia has to disband one unit. Instead of disbanding it, the Russian player picks a unit and changes its allegiance. That unit would have two flags, one russian and one german. That means, that Russia retains ownership of that unit, but that specific unit cannot attack German centers and units since it gave its allegiance to Germany.
thus that would keep the players in the game, and force players to co-operate even more.
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Post 12 Jan 2011, 11:31 am

For those unfamiliar with two games mentioned by Chad earlier, NWO and WW4
Both games attempt to keep losing players interest in mind by way of unique ways to win. WW4 is decided by vote, losing players can vote for (they are part of the UN and larger players have more votes through puppet states they conquered) a player not in the lead. They can have a say in who wins the game even though they are in a losing position. This gives them an incentive to screw over the guy that attacked or stabbed him and also attempts to have a mechanism that eliminates players asap after a stab so dragging them on and on as say a single center worthless power is less likely.

In NWO we have a formula for a coalition win based on how large that coalition is, we have had single power players actually take part in the WIN. But overall, losing powers get disinterested and hurt those still doing well in a very bad way through dropping out and/or NMR's and silence.

Then again, we could be playing checkers or chess online and face a similar situation, I guess the dropout issue is the same, maybe it's the nature of Diplomacy and the requirement to write and negotiate with others, when they simply "phone in" their orders, it negatively affects the game for all.
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Post 12 Jan 2011, 8:45 pm

GMChad wrote: There should be some sort of "lighter"-hearted variant available for those who prefer a gentler game of Diplomacy, where a backstab doesn't (have the potential to) ruin a friendship and a crumbling position doesn't leave certain/newbie players feeling obligated to play for others' bemusement.



Player engaement across the whole game is hard to maintain. Is it fair to the players who play on regardless? A baby variant might assist but who wants to play poker for matches?
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Post 13 Jan 2011, 8:50 am

stratos27 wrote:Player engaement across the whole game is hard to maintain. Is it fair to the players who play on regardless? A baby variant might assist but who wants to play poker for matches?


Hahaha! That fact, however, does not change my desire for a "baby" variant. I've hosted several co-ed poker parties and they are always more of a party when: A) they're co-ed and B) the buy-in is around $10. At this stage 10 people playing for $70, $20, $10 (1st, 2nd, 3rd place) are more concerned with having fun above all else. Once I increased the buy-in to $20 (or allowed people to multiple buy-ins), the party-talk waned and the game became much more serious; to the point it was no longer a "party".

This isn't to say there isn't a place for $20+ buy-in poker parties. That to me is Standard Diplomacy. I still advocate though for a Diplomacy-"lite" version for those who prefer to laugh more than cry.
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Post 13 Jan 2011, 12:38 pm

I think I'm on Chad's side here. Myself, I would not care to play in a Dip game like this but I can see SOME who might, especially newbies. Sort of a way to test the waters? And as far as the poker analogy, Chad's way is exactly as I would want to play, notice he didn't say it was a game for matches or chips that meant nothing, there is money involved still. Not much, nothing these people can not afford to lose but the pot is enough to make it JUST interesting enough ...not too expensive where fun is lost in favor of having to win, but not free where we just don't care in the least either. That is what think he is searching for, "Lite Enough" not too "lite" but not "heavy" either, a nice way for a newbie to enjoy and be sucked in.
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Post 13 Jan 2011, 12:40 pm

Chad, if the poker party is co-ed and you are looking at reducing costs, strip poker costs nothing and creates that urge to win!!!
....and videotape that event of course! (a whole new Redscape audience!?)
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Post 13 Jan 2011, 12:46 pm

The poker analogy falls down a little bit IMO. I also prefer to play poker for smaller stakes because it's generally a better atmosphere and more fun, but a poker game lasts for an evening. It's a great way to kill a few hours and a few more beers. A game of Diplomacy can last for months, and all the proposals I've seen so far for these 'lite' variants strike me as being likely to stretch out the duration of a game. I'm noit convinced that it'll work. None of us here who are discussing it actually want to play any of these variants, we're just speculating about what other people might enjoy. But ultimately if you're setting up a game that's likely to last for months then you're most likely going to need committed Dip players, who have a track record of staying the course, and most of them would rather just play standard anyway.