Even though I haven’t played it in well over 15 years, I still consider Diplomacy one of my all-time favorite games. It’s really unique and amazingly fun. And a bit stressful! My parents remember it as “that game where you all were running around the house having little conferences” and that really is the core of the gameplay 🙂
Diplomacy takes place on a board that represents Europe in the early part of the 20th century. Each player plays one of seven countries: France, England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Turkey, or Russia. There are 34 “supply centers” on the board, and each country starts out with control of three of them (except for Russia, which has four). The rest start out neutral and can be captured during the game. The first player/country to control 18 of them wins the game. But the trick is it’s impossible to win the game on your own. You have to work with the other players to some degree, and that’s where the name of the game comes in.
Before each turn there is a 15 minute (30 minute before the very first turn) period where you can talk to the other players about what’s happening the game and try to get them to help you…or not! Nothing you say during this period is binding, so you can say anything you want to anyone, make any promises you want. The problem of course, is that once you’ve “stabbed” someone, they’re not likely to help you out the rest of the game. So it becomes a matter of working together with people but not promising too much.
And the diplomatic possibilities go way beyond that; you can talk to other people to spread rumors, try to figure out what others are doing, sow disinformation, or anything else you can think of. If you have a full 7 player game, the 15 minute diplomatic periods go by incredibly fast. You want to talk to each of the other 6 players at least twice probably, and more than that if they’re a close neighbor or ally. So that leaves you maybe a minute for each conference! And because you want to have some privacy while you talk, everyone ends up grabbing other people and heading off to different rooms, thus the memories of my parents. It gets very stressful, as you’re trying to figure out your plans, trying to grab certain people to talk to (while another player is grabbing them and heading off for a talk), and figure out what everyone else is doing. It’s amazingly fun.
For the actual board movement, everyone turns in their “orders” and all pieces move simultaneously. If two or more pieces try to move to the same spot there is a standoff and neither of them moves, unless one piece has “support” from another. Deciding who to support or not support (or pretend you’re going to and then don’t) is a big part of the game. The moment of truth comes when all the orders are revealed and you can see who did what to whom.
Each country has its own strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out how to play each one is part of the challenge. Supposedly they’re all evenly matched, but some, like Turkey and England, are definitely easier to play than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean the game is unbalanced, it just means those particular countries have an easier strategy to figure out. Turkey and France tended to do well in the games we played, which is pretty common. Italy is known to be the most difficult country to play; I played it once but I never had a chance in that game because France had decided before the game even started his whole goal was to keep me from winning. That makes it a little difficult, especially when you’re playing Italy and he’s France 😉
I have a copy of it but it’s never been used (we used a friend’s copy all the times I played). I’ve probably played it less than 10 times in my whole life but they were some of my best game memories ever. Unfortunately a single game takes something like 5 – 7 hours, so that’s pretty much impossible to get a group of my friends together for. There are play-by-mail and online options, but I sure would love to sit a group of friends down and have a fun face-to-face game. I’m sure there are also Diplomacy gaming groups that get together and play; I’ve actually looked around a tiny bit for that but haven’t found anything local. I don’t have the time right now really but it sure would be fun to play again someday.