As a matter of principle, Diplomacy aficionado Bob Sacco is adamantly opposed to manipulating people in the course of everyday life. Still, the Buffalo, N.Y., resident thinks he's pretty darn good at it, and the game of Diplomacy has given him an outlet for proving that. "Using that skill as a part of a game where it is expected could be quite a release," he says.
Deploying his powers of persuasion to get other nations to do his bidding has been a central part of Sacco's strategy for winning games of Diplomacy. "My favorite stratagem used to be to form an alliance that surrounds the most initially powerful players or people who are the best players and take them apart," he says. In other words, Sacco would team up with other players to first attack the most powerful empires on the board. Then, with them out of the way, he would turn on his former allies.
The thing about Diplomacy is that it progresses differently depending on who is playing; there are those who prefer to go it alone, while others would rather form and hold alliances as long as possible. Some players, as is the case with some nations, are more comfortable forming bonds with other nations as a way to augment their power, even though doing so carries with it the risk of being betrayed. Those who stay solitary are less willing to be dependent on the actions of others. In their case, it's more comfortable to simply consider everyone an adversary, because there's no guesswork involved. Ultimately, though, there can be only one winner, and those who do form bonds with other players will have to break them.
Eventually, you have to betray [your allies]," says Julia Widdop, a once-avid player who first learned to play the game in 1997. "At that time, you try your best to make it look like someone else's fault. It gets very touchy toward the end, because you know your ally is doing the same thing, and you just try to time your betrayal to come before his."
With so many possible paths and outcomes in an average round of Diplomacy, perhaps it's no wonder that many aficionados have gone beyond the traditional setup, with different takes and variations on the game.