The Closet Report: Diplomacy

Diplomacy

"World War I was not inevitable, as many historians say. It could have been avoided, and it was a diplomatically botched negotiation"  — Richard Holbrooke.

I am Jonathan Albin, the Game Market Guru, and this, the fifth of my entries as "The Closet Report," is a part of my in-depth and detailed analysis of tabletop games of every stripe. The Closet Report captures and outlines the merits, values, and details about these games in terms that a casual player or a die-hard veteran will appreciate, providing not only the "straight skinny" on the product in terms of the big 3 (Class, Character, and Creativity) but also in terms of Materials, Marketing, and Mechanics, as well as identifying areas of imagination, innovation, and ingenuity.

Our attention this time turns on a revolutionary conversationally-based conflict simulation game from Avalon Hill called Diplomacy. This IS NOT a game that would be considered casual, but is included in the Closet Report line of analysis and review as a matter of completeness, and to act as a baseline for comparison with other games that may share qualities with it.

Overview

Diplomacy simulates the difficulties and the diplomatic challenges that developed into World War I. The game optimally requires seven players, which lifts it beyond casual play, and can take as many as SIX HOURS to play.

Players choose among the nationalities that were in power at the opening of World War I, and each player takes on the combined role of Executive Officer, Diplomat, and Supreme Military Commander for one of those nations: Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Turkey. As few as two players may play Diplomacy, though fewer than the full seven requires players to actually play as two (or more) countries, and defeat the real purpose for which the game was created.

Each turn represents one of two seasons (Fall and Spring) and begins in the year 1901. Turns consist of a Diplomatic phase, Order-writing Phase, Resolution Phase, and Retreat and Disband phase. When after a Fall Phase any nation controls 18 or more Supply Centers, they win the game.

Though a game master is not necessary, it does facilitate turn sequencing to assign one if enough participants are available to do so.

The Diplomatic phase allows the heads of state to discuss possible alliance, agreements, and support for specific actions. The conversations are free-form and role-playing is allowed. Once the Diplomatic phase ends, each player writes out orders for whichever units it has available on the board, and for any units that will be entering the map in the subsequent season and turns them in for resolution. When all orders have been issued, the resolution occurs without dice, simultaneously, and completely.

The game is readily available through many mass market stores, as it is a Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast title. It is priced at $70, well worth every penny, but far above any casual game title, even those with strong license fee issues.

Below are the somewhat wonky, somewhat useful characteristics the Closet Report reveals about the product, and of its game play.

Statistics

  • Total Time to Play – TTP: 375:00 (6.25 hours)
    Total time including OBT, PT, and BIB.
  • Out of the Box Time – OBT: 10:00
    Time to open the box and set up pieces for the game.
  • Play Time – PT: 360:00 (could be longer, with players who go overtime on Negotiations Phases).
    Time from beginning of game to resolution, i.e., winner, draw, or quit.
  • Back in Box Time – BIB: 5:00
    Time required to put game back in the box configuration and return to the closet.
  • Time Per Turn – T/T: 20 minutes to a half hour. May be longer as noted.
  • Turns per Game – TPG: 12-13 or more
    Number of turns in an average game.
  • Turns to Engagement – TTE: Immediate
    Number of turns before players must interact. Though action is slow for the first few turns, there is still much immediate interactions.
  • Fun Per Turn – FPT: 25%
    Indicates how much enjoyment is to be derived from any given Turn of the game. The requirement to determine trustworthiness of allies and the turning point of enemies causes much of the enjoyment of the negotiation phase to be considerably difficult.
  • Work per Turn – WPT: 75%
    Represents the rough percentage of the turn that feels like "work." With players than understand nuance, the game might be more enjoyable, but many do not have the skills to be other than bulls in China closets.
  • Turns Before Fun – TBF: 0
    The number of turns that must elapse before engagement with the other players occurs. Despite the intensity, the game does engender drama and excitement early and often.
  • Self-teaching time – STT: 1:00 (1 hour)
    The time it takes to learn the game by only reading the rules with no demonstration. As a veteran of the game, I was able to shorten, but honestly one of the most difficult games to teach, despite the lack of random factors, and the need for precision in orders.
  • Closet Time – CT: 10-12 Months (or until the next major snow storm locks us in the house)
    Average length of time between plays. Though I love the game, It is a miracle to get players and the long time frame ever to match up. Maybe I can schedule now for Christmas 2016...

Play Ratings

Numerical ratings from 1 to 10 on various aspects of the game. See each for a scalar definition.

  • Aggression (categorizes the rules by oppositional dynamics)
    Scale from cooperative (1) to stridently adversarial (10) – Score: 8
  • Beauty (categorizes the rules by sheer aesthetics; is it “pretty”?)
    Scale from functional (1) to art gallery quality (10) – Score: 6
  • Complexity (categorizes the rules by how easy or difficult to comprehend)
    Scale from expected (1) to intricate beyond comprehension (10) Score: 8
  • Depth (categorizes the rules in terms of subtlety)
    Scale from shallow (1) to unbelievably nuanced (10) – Score: 10
  • Engagement (categorizes the rules in terms of player interaction)
    Scale from parallel play (1) to strong need for teamwork (10) Score: 9
  • Fun (categorizes the rules in terms sheer derived pleasure)
    Scale from mildly amusing (1) to fall on the floor laughing (10) – Score: 3
  • Innovations Quotient (IQ) (identifies any characteristics that make the game unique)
    Numeric rating, and each “point” is defined that make this product memorable – Score: 8
    A game system that simulates diplomatic negotiation in the backdrop of a global war to end all wars...all without random factors, and depending on truthfulness, tact, and tenacity...innovation identified.

Miscellaneous

Breakout Events are the times and circumstances where this game may shorten its Closet Time, or otherwise help it "break out" of the closet.

  • Strident diplomatic talks on TV always drive me to think about the game, but it takes a rare set of circumstances to bring the game out at all.

Shelf Rating is the overall game shelf rating, when compared with every other game in the closet. Scores will vary as new games come into being, and based on other characteristics such as marketing and promotions of similar games.

  • Diplomacy is one that sits, not quite gathering dust on the top shelf, relegated there as much for the daunting game experience as for the immense size of the packaging. Then again, how else would you package the Great War?