How to start negotiating

Negotiating is an art, not a science. It involves logos, ethos and pathos. Please note this is a direct copy of Aristotle’s modes for persuasion. However, just because it is well over 2000 years old, it does not mean it is less relevant.

Any type of communication should include a plan (logic). Ethos means to convince somebody based on the credibility someone has, and pathos is based on the emotional appeal.

Aristotle’s three modes:
Let’s say you propose as France to attack Germany together with England. You propose England gets Holland, Kiel and Denmark, and you as France receive Belgium, Munich and Berlin. This is logical, as the split is that both will end up with +3 supply centers.

Let’s say France and Italy have a well running alliance fighting against Austria, England and Germany. However, France is struggling and needs temporary an extra unit in Brest to fight against the English forces. Although logically the Italian player would never give a supply center for free to anyone, he will hand this to France based on the fact that France is in need and is a credible partner. Hence, the credibility is crucial in this case.

If you are completely new to diplomacy, you might not believe this. However, I have seen quite often that players do irrational things. For instance, Germany moving all of his units east when under attack from two sides (for instance: Russia and England). Why would a German player still be tempted to “help” England conquer a bigger part of the German cake? The answer is emotion. In this case the German player probably had a deal with Russia and Russia decided to betray him. Once this betrayal was done, England stepped in and started an attack from the West. However, the English player never promised anything to Germany, whereas the Russian player broke his word.

If you recognize this type of emotion, you could persuade players to do very illogical moves. Even moves that will get them eliminated earlier than needed.

A diplomacy context

To make Artistotle’s philosophy a bit more clearly in a diplomacy context, here is what I would focus on in the first year of the game:

  1. Create a bond with one or two direct neighbors, meaning you have agreed on a DMZ, a support order, or a coordinated bounce, and you have both lived up to your promise. Promises made and held from both sides create trust. And trust is very closely related to ethos.
  2. Make no outright enemies (yet). There are so much neutral supply centers to focus on in 1901, that I try not to make enemies in 1901, this will have to happen later, but try and avoid it too early. The method in doing this is by making no outright attacks.
  3. Create credibility. Although you might think it is not wise to tell your moves to everyone, it could help you a lot to let some players know your moves, or at least the ‘general direction’ of your moves before the deadline. If you do as you say, people will trust you later in the game.
  4. Communicate with everybody. Even if you are Turkey and England seems far away. It never hurts to contact England, after all, you still have a common neighbor in Russia. Also, if you establish contact early, you can build on this contact later, once your units come closer together.

Reading these four points, you see I try to focus mostly on the negotiating part of the game, even more than on the direct gain of supply centers or strategic positions. This is because I believe nobody can win a game of diplomacy without negotiating. And I believe one cannot negotiate if at least some players trust what you tell them.

Face-to-face versus online games

I have to admit there is a rather great difference between face-to-face and online games. In face-to-face games, there is usually time pressure to hand in orders. This means players could make tactical mistakes, or miss the time to communicate properly with all their neighbors (you can even influence this by talking unnecessarily long to one of your own neighbors…). Online, people have time to think through their moves, or even simulate the potential consequences. Although the same ethos/pathos/logos concept will still hold, I believe that pathos and ethos are much more important in the face-to-face games.