Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Diplomacy: How to Stab Friends and Infuriate People

In all forms of art and entertainment, be it film, music, visual art or even board games, there comes along a piece of work which is set high above the rest and stands apart from the usual. Diplomacy is such a piece of work. This gaming masterpiece was released in the late fifties just after the release of the widely popular Risk, both of which focused on imperialism and war conquests. However, where Risk focused on commercial success and simplistic combats and goals, Diplomacy proved to be a much deeper, more intricate and more elegant game.
Despite the grace and elegance of the game’s design, Diplomacy is probably most famous for its viciously competitive nature. Where Risk encourages the making and breaking of player alliances to a certain extent, Diplomacy makes these interactions a crucial part of the game. Without the help of other players, you won’t make it far in the game, but without the willingness to resort to treachery you will never be able to succeed.
Diplomacy’s brilliance may come from one simple yet profound aspect of the game; that the players do not take turns making their moves, but rather make their moves concurrently. This makes it easy for players to say one thing and do another. This will lead to shocking revelations about alliances you thought you had as the plans you had so carefully laid out have gone awry. Tempers will rise, yelling will fill the room, and devious grins will being to flash. Player interaction has never been so deeply rooted in emotion as Diplomacy; a feat which only one of the great games can accomplish.


Each player is assigned a different power in Europe at the turn of the 20th century and must try to spread their empires. To do this they must moves armies and fleets or engage in battles in territories are occupied. Only one army/fleet may occupy a territory at a time, therefore players need support from other armies to conquer. This usually requires players to gain help from other players in order to spread. The rules for attacking, supporting and convoying armies (in the case of moving across water) are intricate and detailed and all work in promoting the use of player alliances (and consequently, player betrayals).
Diplomacy is a game with different phases which include negotiation, writing orders, and revealing orders. The negotiation phase is really the heart of the game as this is where uneasy alliances are formed and ingenious plans are hatched. This allows players to mingle and whisper in secret which really sets a great atmosphere for the gaming environment. And the idea that all the orders are secretly written and revealed simultaneously allows for lots of surprises and plenty of backstabbing.
The goal of Diplomacy’s designer is to sew distrust among the players and force treaties upon them, and the mechanics of the game are well tailored to that goal. The orders are intricate and usually require support from other armies in order to get anywhere, or even requires support in order to remain in a defensive stance. There is a fine balance between depending too much on people and not having enough support from them.
Diplomacy also requires a lot of strategic thinking ahead, much like Chess. You must anticipate what the others will do and plan accordingly. Its all about timing; when to stab before you find the knife in your own back. There’s a lot going on in this brilliantly designed game.


Diplomacy has been around for sixty years, and as such has seen a number of reprints. I own the current Avalon Hill edition which has cardboard cutouts of armies and fleets for each of the seven powers. There’s nothing too special about these bits, but they do their job just fine. I rather like the like flag markers which are also provided for each country.
The board is magnificent. It is just as eloquent as the game itself. This map of Europe is divided in such a way that provides many strategic positions. The dignified look and feel of the board is of the highest quality and really provides that smoking room atmosphere. You are also provided with extra map sheets which can be used by each player to map out their strategies.


Diplomacy may be a game which is too harsh and cutthroat for some people, but that is the nature of the game and as such it is a masterpiece. Diplomacy is historic and well respected and even includes among its fans former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and famed journalist Walter Cronkite. It is a game for the ages; full of international intrigue and imperial plotting.
Diplomacy is one of the most well-designed games ever made. It has gained the reputation of being the game which ‘ends friendships’ because of the suspicious, backstabbing nature. But this game isn’t about friendship, its about diplomatic relations, and diplomatic relations aren’t always friendly. The only reason people get so emotional and heated during Diplomacy is because the game is so good at puling people into their roles. Its an ingenious game which is almost flawless. Diplomacy is one of the most interactive games there has ever been while also being one of the most brilliantly designed masterpieces in the board game world.

5 Responses to “Diplomacy: How to Stab Friends and Infuriate People”

  1. Wow. By some weird coincidence, this is the game we’re going to be playing the first Friday of December. I’ve never played, but I’ve wanted to play ever since I first read about it. I’m really looking forward to it, but everything I’ve read suggests it’s brutal.

    Have you been to the Diplomatic Pouch (http://www.diplom.org/index.py)? One of our group sent me the link, and I’ve been trying to do a little research….

    Great review!

  2. I just referenced Diplomacy in my recent review of Senji. I’ve not tried Diplomacy myself and I likely never will, but I recognize it’s rightful place in the Board Gaming Hall of Fame.

    There is a BGHOF, isn’t there? (to the Googles!)

  3. […] betray their allies. Ian the cool wrote a nice review of the game a couple weeks ago called Diplomacy: How to Stab Friends and Infuriate People. As he rather eloquently put it, “Diplomacy’s brilliance may come from one simple yet […]

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