Home / Robert Farley / Calhamer



A reader sent along notice that Allan Calhamer, inventor of Diplomacy, passed away early this week.

The notion that a player may tell all the lies he wants and cross people as he pleases etc., make some people almost euphoric and causes others to “shake like a leaf”, as one new player put it, came up almost incidentally, because it was the most realistic in international affairs and also far and away the most workable approach. To require players to adhere to alliances would result in a chivvying kind of negotiation followed by the incorporation of contract law – as some erstwhile variant: inventors have discovered.

I wouldn’t call myself an avid player of Diplomacy in any sense; just don’t have the time. Nevertheless, when I do play– often with a group of new students– I find it endlessly fascinating to see which become euphoric and which shake like a leaf. I doubt it will surprise anyone to find that bitterness over particularly brutal Diplomacy betrayals seeps into academic and even professional relationships. In any case, RIP.

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  • firefall

    Ah, Diplomacy, the friendship-killer. Just the thing for a congenial evening of wine, friendly chat, suspicious glances, nightmarish betrayals, lung-foaming screaming matches, and fisticuffs at dawn :)

    One of the most brilliantly executed and balanced games to have been created.

    • DocAmazing

      I played it once. Once. It didn’t seem like a good idea to do it again.

    • Greg

      That’s why you dont’ play with friends. I’ve never played a game in person, only online. I’m currently ranked 44th in Facebook Diplomacy.

      • Richard Hershberger

        In college my friends and I had a regular game. It worked because we were all gamers, and internalized the logic of the game. We would get mad at each other for back stabs. Stupid back stabs were another matter, though. The only problem was with couples. (Yes: this was a gaming group that included gurlz!) Some couples we would only allow if they played countries on opposite sides of the map, as they would otherwise always ally and never break the alliance. Others would gleefully betray each other, so we could put them next to each other.

        • njorl

          People would often be surprised at the way my wife and I tore into each other in these games. First they would mistakenly assume she was a “girlfriend gamer” who didn’t know what she was doing, then they’d assume we’d work together. The truth was we both assumed the other was the biggest threat we faced and acted accordingly.

        • redrob64

          I played Diplomacy with my wife-to-be once in college. I played Germany, she played France. Two years into the game, she took Munich from me. The following year I trusted her again and she took Berlin. I have no idea why she married a man as obviously stupid as I can be.

  • I can imagine becoming enemies with everyone I know after playing.

  • Every year in college my friends and I spent one day playing a game of Diplomacy. A game takes forever so besides a dinner break, we would usually be playing 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. When you were knocked out, you would still hang around even though I don’t think anyone bothered to follow the game after they lost. If I can be immodest, I became the master of talking the player winning into a draw so we could stop and do something else. A skill often underrated in Diplomacy.

    Many fond memories. Thank you Mr. Calhamer.

    • Richard Hershberger

      Pikers. We had a standing appointment for a game every other Saturday.

  • FMguru

    Be sure and check out the Diplomacy Archive, which has literally thousands of strategy articles, analyses, openings, and known stalemate positions, along with things like the text of Richard Sharp’s 1978 monograph The Game of Diplomacy. Because so many games have been played over the mail, through ‘zines, and (now) online, there exist huge databases of tens of thousands of complete games (with every move recorded) so some remarkably fine-grained econometric analysis of strategies and relative strengths is possible (a Russo-Turkic alliance is bad news for everyone else, Germany is screwed and there’s not much it can do about it). It is possible to be really, really, really into Diplomacy, and the people that are are frightening to behold.

    Dip converts very well to online play, especially (in the early days of the internet) email play. Send emails back and forth, send in your moves to a online judge program, and once a week (month/day/whatever), it executes the moves and send everyone the results, and another round of negotiations commences.

    A great game, and a sad loss. RIP Allan.

  • Greg

    You can play online:


  • dan

    I played Diplomacy once. On the first turn someone I had made a deal with screwed me. That wasn’t what bothered me about the game. What bothered me was that as a result I wasn’t killed off, nor did I have any ability to do anything for the rest of the game, so while the other players got to play, form strategies, make alliances, etc., I would spend 20 minutes standing off to the side watching them play the game, then make the only moves I could make to fend off annihilation, then be ignored for another 20 minutes while the other players got to make alliances, form strategies — well, you get the idea. After several hours of not doing anything and the experienced players telling me that, if only I were in the game, there would be something for me to do and it wouldn’t be so boring for me, I decided that any game that allowed a player to be essentially eliminated from competition on the first move but still required him or her to participate for several hours to keep the game fair for the other players was fundamentally flawed and not worth playing.

    I stand by that judgment.

    • mpowell

      You can always add a threat to quit if you are too badly mauled early on, I suppose. Adds another level of meta to the negotiations. I imagine some players would be quite offended by this tactic. But it seems well within the spirit of the game to me.

      • dan

        In retrospect, I should have sacrificed my position in favor of some other player. It would have been better if the game hasn’t sucked so much that after literally one turn I had to chose between that or being bored for several hours while the other people got to play a game.

    • Richard Hershberger

      The problem you ran into is inherent in any multi-player board game: a player too reduced to maintain his interest in the game, but not actually knocked out so he can go watch television. Diplomacy actually handles this problem better than most. The rules actually make provision for a player dropping out, without screwing up the game for everyone else. On the other hand, like baseball, it isn’t over until it is over. It is entirely possible, albeit unlikely, for a player to come back from the brink and go on to win the game.

      On the gripping hand, my guess is you were playing Turkey. It is prone to getting bottled up.

      • dan

        Yep, Turkey. And I wouldn’t have minded the problem arising if I had had the chance to play the game first, but the problem arose after the first turn! It seemed then, and seems now, like a structural flaw in the game.

    • Greg

      If you can stay alive until the end of the game and force a draw, it’s officially a tie, no matter whether you finish with 16 supply centers or 1. That’s what you play for when a straight victory is out of the question. Or if you play a lot with the same people, you can play kamikaze style to retaliate for the treachery, so that in future, players know that crossing you is more trouble than it’s worth.

  • wengler

    One time I almost won the entire game by myself, I had Russian armies and navies throughout the eastern hemisphere, then the rest of my opponents declared peace without me.

    I played a ton of it in high school, on multiple maps. I still have vivid memories of betrayals and even regrets on stabbing an ally in the back. Impactful game.

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