Diplomacy Review

Diplomacy is pretty much a straight computer port of the venerable old strategy game, so if you played the board version then you pretty much know what to expect from this game. For the rest of you I’ll begin with a brief introduction to how the game is played. Diplomacy is set at the dawn of the 20th Century with the player and his/her AI opponents taking on the roles of the great powers of Europe. All powers have the same goal – to establish themselves as the dominate force on the continent – but obviously only one can achieve it.

Europe, 1901.
Diplomacy is first and foremost a game of negotiation – hence its title. Sure there are army markers moving around a map of Europe in 1901, but their actions and success will depend entirely upon your ability to negotiate treaties, trick your rivals, and avoid backstabs. In fact, warfare has been so extracted in the game that to capture a territory you simply need to have one more army unit in it than the opposition. The key is to line up “support” for your attacks by armies in neighboring territories and since you have a very limited number of armies the best way to accomplish this is through a little help from your friends (and enemies if need be). That’s Diplomacy in a nutshell – a fairly simple game really, but one that has a lot of strategic depth to it.

Many war games can make the transition to the computer pretty easily as the computer is quite efficient at rolling dice and cross-referencing tables. Diplomacy is a bit of a different animal, though, as the negotiation and deal-making is really the heart of the game. The AI in the game is pretty competent as far as following sound strategies goes, and you can even customize the play style of each AI player, but it simply is not as much fun to plot moves and negotiate attacks with the computer. Furthermore, a lot of the backstabbing and betrayal feels forced, as if the AI is compelled to do so a set percentage of the time and obediently obliges no matter what the circumstances.

The game has a pretty simple and straight-forward interface centered on the game board representation of Europe. The board is rendered in 3D so you can zoom in on the map and scroll around to your heart’s content, but it’s not really necessary to do so with a game that features a lot of open territories and single solitary army markers in the ones that are occupied. Each AI opponent is represented by an avatar who pops up when you are negotiating a deal and when he is making a move on the map. These are probably included to try and give a human element to the game, but their expressions and animations are limited and overly melodramatic. In addition, the game has an annoying habit of popping up the avatars during the movement phase, so every time an army moves the map jumps to the location a couple of avatars pop up with one always looking sneaky and the other shocked, and then on you jump to the next one. All of the pop-up heads are really a distraction and make it difficult to keep track of who is actually moving where…