The game of Diplomacy is one of cunning and intrigue, where seven players fight for control of Europe at the turn of the century. Learning to play is relatively easy, winning is extremely easy if you are skilled at manipulating people to do exactly what you tell them to.
The Original Game (1958)
Diplomacy was invented by Allan B. Calhamer, which he finished except for a few minor details in 1954, and published in 1958. In it, seven players would get control of a Great Power of Europe each, and the aim was to expand to the point where you ended up with 18 units (armies or fleets) on the board. Each power started with two armies in their country's capital, and a fleet in its naval base with the exceptions of England (with one army and two fleets) and Russia (two armies, and one fleet in each of two naval bases).
Movement was turn-based, with all players writing a set of orders for their units, and all orders being considered simultaneously (as opposed to, say, chess, where one player moves, then the other, in Diplomacy all the pieces move at once). The turns rotated between Spring, Fall and Winter of each year from 1901, with Spring and Fall being "movement" phases, and Winter being the "adjustments" phase. Units could move to adjacent provinces on the board (which looked like a map of Europe, circa 1901), support units moving, or stay still. In addition, an army and a fleet owned by the same player could move into the same province, with the army being given the order to "Board" the fleet. The fleet could then sail around Europe, and drop the army off at a convenient harbour.
By taking control of various "Supply Centres" (by having a unit occupy them during a Fall phase), the powers could build new units in their capitals and naval bases. As mentioned above, having 18 units would win a player the game.
Because it seemed like such a different game to standard board games of the time (and even of other wargames), the big game companies were reluctant to produce Calhamer's game. So in 1959, he made 500 copies at his own expense, and sold all of them. Production was then transferred to Games Research People Incorporated, and the popularity increased exponentially.
Although originally intended as a face-to-face game, lasting several hours, the very nature of it was such that in 1963 Dr John Boardman invented the concept of Postal Diplomacy - where players would send their orders, as well as press for the other powers, to a single Games Master who would then forward the press and adjudicate the orders. Games played in this manner would last for months and even years1
The "Modern" Version (1976)
Then, in 1976 (by which point the game was being produced by Avalon Hill), Allan revised the rules and the map significantly. Units could no longer be in the same space, even in capitals and naval bases, and in the case of an army boarding a fleet. In fact, he did away with the idea of capitals and naval bases, instead giving each power three2 "Home Supply Centres", in which could be built any type of unit. Also, fleets that were located in bodies of water could "Convoy" armies from one land province to another.
The 1976 rules of Diplomacy are, but for a few exceptions, almost identical to those found in the most recent rule books.
The major changes made in later revisions (at the rate of roughly one per decade) clarified certain aspects of the rules. For example, later versions allowed an army to be convoyed by whatever route was made available to it3. Also, several illogical orders and parodoxes were resolved.
The latest version of the Diplomacy rules, the 4th Edition, is current to 2000 and is available now on the Avalon Hill and Hasbro web sites.
Already mentioned above are two of the ways to play Diplomacy, face-to-face (FTF) and play by mail (PBM). In the electronic age, a third method has inevitably sprung up - play by e-mail (PBEM). As well as having a real person to whom players can send orders for adjudication, there are several online "judges", programming scripts that manage huge databases of players and games.
There are also many web sites devoted to Diplomacy in all its forms, a newsgroup and quite a few e-zines. The most popular of these is the Diplomatic Pouch, whose web site also houses many Diplomacy resources, including the subject of the next section - variants. Links to many of these sites are at the bottom of the entry.
One of the great advantages of the Diplomacy format is the ease with which it can be translated into different forms. All it takes are a little skill at drawing maps, and some imagination. Diplomacy variants have been made that simulate the Hundred Years War, the various wars on Middle Earth, and even the ways in which the introduction of money influence the politics of the situation. There are ways to play with more or fewer than the required seven players4, variants where you can only see units adjacent to your units or territory, and even Diplomacy Royale, involving royal families, champions, treaties and so many rules that very few people have ever bothered to play it.
If Diplomacy sounds like the game for you, you might want to check out some of these sites:
Avalon Hill, producers of Diplomacy (now owned by Hasbro).
The Diplomatic Pouch, choc-a-block with Diplomacy resources, including variants.
diplomacy-archive.com, with lots more resources and strategy articles.
rec.games.diplomacy, the Diplomacy newsgroup.
A937659 - Playing Board Games Online (Diplomacy isn't mentioned yet, but I'm sure it will be!)