Games in Development/Liberal Diplomacy/Idea

The idea for this concept was originally floated by me after a particularly rousing game of Diplomacy at the conclusion of a graduate level Strategic Studies course. The basic concept is that Armies and Navies in Diplomacy should not be thought to represent concrete military forces, but instead, the capacity of a nation to undertake national policy. They could be thought of as a fundamental representation of GNP. While this can express itself as military force, it does not have to do so. Certainly, during the late nineteenth centry, the bulk of a nation's money was spent on the military, and this is in part due to the necessity for militaries, the fact that the social safety net (and other major areas of modern national expenditure) was as of yet not fully developed, and that the revenue base of most economies depended on strong economic chokepoints (tariffs and the like) rather than the difficult to administer income tax we have today. Additionally, while the nations of Europe had very strong regular military forces, a large bulk of their force was formed up of conscripts. This meant that the standing army was but a partial expression of their full military force, and the active military could be expanded and contracted as needed (though WWI proved that contraction is sometimes harder than expansion). This is all a gross simplification, but one can see where this idea is going (and games of this nature are gross simplifications in any case). Those little stars on the Diplomacy board are no longer fighting men per se, but an expression of the nation's power to put people in uniforms on the march. Soldiers can even be trained and ready for battle, and the nation not have enough financial, fuel, material, etc. resources to put them into action. The little stars on the board are therefore also expressions of the nation's ability to invest in infrastructure, foster industrial growth, and prime the proverbial Keynesian Pump. How, then, do we represent economies in a parsimonious way on the board such that gameplay is not negatively impacted and we achieve our ends of Liberal Diplomacy? Well, that's what this Spiral Model experience is all about, but I am going to start out with some unpolished ideas:

  • Pieces as an expression of capacity to make policy - I think we discussed this enough above
  • Trade - Both international and intranational trade should be part of this game. Trade creates a win-win situation that makes it useful to cooperate. I intend for trade to only occur between production centres, which means that a major rule of diplomacy will be broken: one centre, one unit. I want trade to be delicate, something that requires continued dedication to cooperation. I want it to walk the fine balance of being annoying to create and maintain, but with just an adequate payoff to compensate. If possible, I want to refine a way to make trade possibly more beneficial to one player than another. Trade also gives us the grand opportunity of outside interference in perfectly peaceful trade. Shipping lines can be raided, rail lines cut. You know, the general havoc that ensues when armies are set to marching.
  • Hinterland - It makes sense that, since one centre may have the ability to produce and support more than one unit, there should be a limitation to expansion. It may also be useful if this limit to expansion also put a check on cooperation, making this still a competitive variant. I think that the use of hinterland (you know, those empty spaces on your Diplomacy board - the ones you thought were only good for moving through?) would do both. Only playtesting will tell, but the concept of needing one "territory" of hinterland for every unit over one you produce in a single centre does a couple things. Not only does it put a check on maximum expansion of individual centres, but it gives particularly strong centres Achilles' Heels: enemy occupation of a hinterland hinders that centre's production.

So, we have a general concept, an idea that creates an advantage to cooperation, and something that makes cooperation at the same time more troublesome and potentially dangerous. We should move on to the next phase of development before the idea has time to cool down!