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Diplomacy: Getting Started
First Games/Teaching/Learning
by Edi Birsan

So you have your new game and the time comes to get some friends together so that you can lie to them, stab them in the back and take their centers. Or in Diplomacy speak: “Correct the misunderstanding of the agreed relationships between the countries and establish defendable and stable borders."

There are a few basic things that you may need to consider:

  1. How to set up the game structure to meet some simple social requirements
  2. How to learn the game quickly yourself
  3. How to be able to teach the game to your friends simply

SET UP: Timing
Diplomacy games have been known to take a long time from a board gamer’s perspective. The way to avoid the problem is to set a short time limit for your first games. I have found that ten minutes to negotiate and two minutes to write orders is the best to start with. You'll find new players cannot talk about their positions for ten minutes while experienced players can talk forever. Invest in a timer if you don't already have one in the kitchen. You can get these for about ten dollars at any electronic retail store.

SET UP: Less than seven
The true beauty of Diplomacy is experienced with seven players. However, that's not always possible. Fortunately, there's a simple game variant called Escalation, which will allow you to play the game in a balanced manner with less than seven. It's also the best way for two players to practice their fundamental tactical skills with a strong emphasis on strategic thinking.
The Chaos Italy Variant is also a lot of fun when you only have six players.

SET UP: Read the newbie first
Establish a pattern that when you have new players that you always read their orders first so that you can correct their orders in a positive social setting without having a lot of information out there from prior orders read that could affect their memory of the ‘intention’ of their poor orders.

This is also one of the reasons that, when there are two new players, I recommend they be placed in France and Turkey so as to have as little cross affect as possible. Also, both countries are more forgiving of poor tactical choices than any of the inner three powers (Austria-Italy-Germany).

I've written a five minute teaching guide that covers all the rules you need to get started. It's also a good guide to hand out to new players when you teach them the game.

The most common errors people make are:

  1. Writing a support for a unit that's moving and failing to write WHERE it's going

  2. Example:
    Army Mareilles Support Paris
    Army Paris -- Burgundy

    You need to write where the unit is going because it could go to different places as well as to make sure that you are not trying to support the unit to defend (Not moving).

  3. Forgetting that you cannot cut support for an attack on yourself.

  4. Example:
    Army Spain -- Marseilles against Army Gascony -- Spain
    Army Marseilles Support Gascony -- Spain

    This rule applies even when there are extra supports on both sides so if you add "Army Piedmont Supports Spain -- Marseilles" on one side and "Army Burgundy Support Marseilles" on the other, the situation is still the same, Marseilles is not dislodged and Spain is.

  5. Forgetting to write the convoy order correctly. They'll order Fleet North Sea to convoy Army Edi to Norway but forget to write the order for the Army. Or, they'll write "Army Edi to Norway" and forget to write the order for the Fleet or write something like "Fleet North Sea convoys" but not saying what unit it convoys.

  6. Geography/province connections: you can go from Norway to St. Petersburg, you cannot go from Spain to North Africa, you have to designate the coasts when moving Fleets to Spain from Mid or Portugal as well as Bulgaria from Constantinople.

All these points are covered in the teaching script and video downloads described in the next section.

The time will come when you'll have to teach someone the rules to the game. This can be quite a problem and a boring exercise for many people on both sides. It also can be rather embarrassing at times when new people ask questions out of the blue in the middle of your thinking and you are stunned a little. The most important thing about teaching is to get the basics through their mind and let the more subtle issues come later. People have to start to play quickly or they lose interest or feel the game is too complicated. The worst case is that you have the person thinking that this is a game for rule lawyers. This game is really VERY SIMPLE. In line with that, three approaches have been developed over the decades ((really over 45 years of teaching Diplomacy, isn’t that scary!)):

  1. The single sheet summary of the rules, Diplomacy_FiveMinGuide.pdf: You should have this printed out and in your set so that you can hand it to someone new as a reminder. If you are really clever go to the copy machine and copy a conference map on the other side.

  2. The teaching script, Diplomacy_TeachingScript.pdf: This is presented as a word for word script for you to use exactly as a 7-9 minute speech to teach! It covers all the most classic errors in the course of a normal discussion of examples and has some humor tossed in to keep people awake.

So there you have it, the five minute guide for your home entertainment social group. As for getting started into the hobby mainstream of Email games, Face-to-Face tournaments and world class play, well, that's for another time and another article. Any questions…there will be a test at your next house game.

Feel free to write to me at

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Edi Birsan is considered the first Diplomacy world champion for his win in 1971BC, the first championship invitational game. He has won numerous championship games since then in North America and worldwide and is universally considered one of the game's top players. More importantly, he has striven tirelessly for over three decades to promote Diplomacy play in all its forms, at all levels, all around the world.

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