Friday, April 4, 2014

Classics Lecture Series: Conclusion - Diplomacy

We have discovered, as I argued in the first lecture, that even as Alpha gamers, we can look back at “old standards” and discover they do not have inferior mechanics.  Instead, they contain the mechanics that we rely upon today for the great games in our board game Renaissance.

What you may not realize is that I was not teaching you about great old mechanics just so we can play one of the games from the Board Game Renaissance.  Instead, I have quietly been subverting your defenses to draw you to a game that was around when Avalon Hill was still in business.

From the get go, I have been listing all the mechanics that drive the game Diplomacy.  That’s right, I used Candy Land to trick you to play Diplomacy with me.  Without practicing good play etiquette prior to playing Diplomacy, there was no guarantee you would still talk to me after we play Diplomacy.

Diplomacy is not a bland game where we just roll a bunch of dice.  Diplomacy is a game, like Life, where we collectively tell a story about our rise and fall as great leaders. Where brilliant negotiators actively mess with other players heads before crushing their armies on the board.

Each turn is tense.  Tense because each player has secrete information.  Tense because you only have so much time to negotiate with all the other players what you are going to do.  Tense because you have a hand of units to manage, each must move at the same time, and often in precise coordination with other units outside of your control, or your plans will fail.

You must look at the board before you submit your final orders and decide if you need to keep building trust or if the time has come to mess with your opponents.  You will be eyeing the board, thinking ahead of your next move, and eyeing to see what other players are communicating to you with their own game moves. What one says and what one does can be very different, and you have to decide at that moment who you trust.

And after all of that tension.  All of that thought.  After committing to paper your irreversible decisions, you become a pawn to fate as each player reveals their orders.

Why do I want you to play Diplomacy?

I want you to play diplomacy because I want you to acquire the skill to emulate the mechanics that make Diplomacy a great game and for you to learn from it how to engage me on how I can design a great game.

Diplomacy is an example of great game design. I want to make great games; and through Diplomacy I understand that great games are based on tension, strategy, interaction, and thinking in new ways.  In Diplomacy players achieve complicated outcomes with simple mechanics.  The game comes from people playing each other, not the game playing people.    Good mechanics are used in Diplomacy to reinforce other good mechanics.

Diplomacy is not the last great game.  Nor is this discussion about Diplomacy the last word on how to make a great game.  Quite the contrary, this discussion on what makes Diplomacy great invites a longer conversation about what can still be done to create a great game.

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