“The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?” — Dale Carnegie, on his book “How To Win Friends and Influence People”
In Planets as in life, true and enduring success cannot belong to a person who fails at diplomacy. In the Echo Cluster, there are ten others all striving for victory. Some will be more skilled at tactics, others will know the Host Order cold, and a few may even be able to dominate the logistical aspects of the game. Some races will always have an advantage when facing yours; some players may fear your reputation from the outset.
And every one of these people that enters the game with a desire to win wishes sincerely that your ships and your planets were theirs.
Only one of the eleven can win. If you would be that one, you must necessarily:
- avoid fights that you will lose
- win those fights you cannot avoid
- pursue those fights you must win
The first three are vital in the first part of the game; barring starting gambits, the last three are far more applicable in the mid- to late-game.
In the beginning of a game, conservative play will make it likely that you will survive for a time. However, unless you can maintain a prosperous economy while expanding at least as rapidly as your neighbors, all the caution in the world will be insufficient when at last you face the vast armies of those who moved faster. Alternately, moving with undue haste will both excite the envy of your neighbors and leave you vulnerable both at the periphery of your new empire and to strikes at your underdefended center.
The easiest way to expand rapidly yet in safety is to conciliate the good will of one or both of your immediate neighbors; an alternate plan is to dominate one or both through fear and intimidation. Each of these tasks requires an exercise of the art of diplomacy.
One of the most successful early maneuvers is to perform a sudden surgical strike at an enemy’s heart. If this can be accomplished successfully, you’ve eliminated a competitor, but unless your advance is preternaturally rapid, inexorably powerful and quite thorough, you will succeed largely in driving the remnants of your conquered target toward shelter with a neighbor. At best, you will open massive opportunities for this next player. This is where the other elements come into play.
The second group of three all hinge on superior intelligence combined with the wherewithal to use your knowledge in diplomacy, whether by spreading disinformation to your enemy or instead encouraging other players to aid you in the battle.
Throughout the game, full and complete knowledge of the map is invaluable. Some races are better at espionage than others, but a little harmless gossip can tell you more about starting locations than any amount of analysis. Were this not common practice, the Evil Empire with their Dark Sense would have by far the best performance numbers of any race. Since this is evidently untrue, we should examine this art of genteel interrogation more closely, both to ensure that you as a player are not thereby placed at a disadvantage and to perhaps further hone your own intelligence-gathering techniques.
The first rule here is to make friends; you need the other players to want to talk to you. To accomplish this, you must be genuinely interested in them both in-game and as people. Chat with them; send messages when appropriate and ask after their well-being from time to time. If someone fails to reply, this person is a born enemy; anyone else has a good chance of becoming your best friend.
This does sometimes create a difficulty in that, at some point, you’re probably going to have to fight against your friends. Those of you that are sociopaths will have no problem with this; for the rest of us, it will help to know that they in turn will eventually be trying to defeat you. For the more squeamish among you, my best suggestion here is to choose your friends carefully. Research the careers of your fellow players and find the ones that win frequently, those that tend to finish in the middle of the pack, those with little experience and of course the frequent droppers. Find the ones whose races can easily defeat your own and those who are your rightful prey.
By doing this properly, you can befriend those that are the most useful to you, identify common targets and then work together toward common goals. You have at once eliminated many battles that you would otherwise have been unable to win and made others far easier due to the shared effort; this doesn’t even take into account the opportunities for trade. Most importantly, by eliminating players from the competition — some by befriending them and others by defeating them — you will further isolate the others on the field, forcing them to deal with you on your own terms.
At the midpoint of the game, a nominal leader will emerge. This will be the player (or alliance) with an obvious dominance in planet count and/or military might. If this is not you, the only way you can win is to gain the eager assistance of the other players in engaging the common foe, halting his advance and recapturing planets to restore the balance of the game — in your favor, we hope. If on the other hand you are the early favorite, extreme care must be taken or you will soon become the target of the rest of the cluster; success is fickle, and diplomacy cuts both ways.
Some would aim to be in the lead but not let it appear that way; this can be accomplished by leaving planets in the heart of one’s territory unoccupied. The more ruthless among you may instead choose to leave alive an enemy that will be readily conquered at a later point. I don’t recommend these tactics for beginners or even most veterans; the level of diplomatic deception required to pull them off is extreme.
If a leader emerges later in the game, there are three general rules:
- Make sure it’s you.
- If it’s not you and there’s a chance of defeating him, rally the cosmos to bring him down. Be charismatic; wave the banner of goodness and light.
- If it’s not you and the nominal leader appears unstoppable, this is your new best friend. Do your best to ally with him in exchange for a second-place finish.
These are dictated by game theory, not the rules of diplomacy. All diplomacy can do here is aid your efforts; you must plot your course and then follow it to the end. Napoleon would say things about decisiveness and action; good diplomacy demands a flexible underlying strategy. Either method can work, but I would observe that, in the end, Napoleon lost.
Endgame diplomacy is the pinnacle of the art as well as the culmination of your efforts through the entire game. Now, for the sake of this discussion, we presume that you’re in a winning position; otherwise, there’s not much that you’ll be able to accomplish. If you have been decent, honest, upright, honorable and generous toward your allies, those that are still your friends will likely support you and the game is all but won. Of course, if you’ve been all these things, it’s somewhat less likely that you’ll be in a position to win at the end of the game.
For those of you that have been less than honest, the endgame is where your sins will return to haunt you. Everyone you’ve betrayed and left alive will thirst for your blood. Everyone that has a reasonable shot at victory will league against you. People from outside the game will occasionally take sides in any open discussion, and most will oppose you. This is a natural reaction and is not to be resented; instead, you should proceed to kill them all in a completely professional manner.
Either way, though, you’re very likely to see organized opposition if you’re about to win. The other surviving players at this point will all very likely be quite competent and every planet you capture will demand a great deal of effort. A game theorist would tell you that your best bet would be to have hidden strength at this time — a large amount of cash waiting to be turned into fighters and torpedoes, perhaps. A more classical general will instead rely on force-momentum and moral factors to carry the point; if a victory seems inevitable, after all, one’s opponents are far less likely to fight with full conviction.
Both aforementioned approaches are viable; doubtless so are several others. Still, none of this can be accomplished without relying on strategic deception followed by the application of force at the proper point to assure victory. Diplomacy (whether spoken or visual) is the best method to ensure that the enemy’s forces are where they need to be in order that your own deployment is the proper one to complete your conquest.
It is worth mentioning that here, your best ally is your opponent’s fatigue. After fifty or a hundred turns, even the most skilled commander begins hoping for an end. Appealing to this desire is a key diplomatic tool and can ensure the cooperation of bystanders.
The bottom line, though, is that diplomacy can’t win your wars for you. Just as the logical end to a defensive campaign is surrender, so also the logical end to a purely diplomatic one is peace, and not always in your favor. You must be able to fight and fight well; you must be willing to seize opportunities when they offer and create them when they don’t. Diplomacy is but one weapon in your arsenal; it is not always the most appropriate or effective choice. Nevertheless, the proper employment of diplomacy can make a solid position impregnable, a lost game winnable, an advantage sufficient to accomplish the needed goal. It is a force magnifier, and any player who cannot use it proficiently is crippled from the outset.
A Note On Vassals:
Sometimes, you can defeat a player completely and yet leave some of his infrastructure standing. Alternately, if your neighbor is being overrun, sometimes it is wise to give him shelter, protection and the tools with which he may rebuild. By doing this correctly, you can occasionally turn a competitor into a permanent asset.
You must use discretion, however. Not every rescued player will benefit you; after all, there’s probably a reason they were defeated in the first place. As well, some will pretend weakness in order to infiltrate and betray your own organization. In general, however, if the player’s race has advantages that may be useful to you, and if the player is willing to agree to use them solely on your behalf, the potential benefits of such a course frequently outweigh the danger. Still, do not neglect to consider the advantage you might gain by advancing through his rear to face his weakened invader; therein, strategy must dictate the direction of one’s diplomacy.
(The following is copied from the Index to “How To Win Friends and Influence People“, by Dale Carnegie. I personally recommend giving this book a read.)
Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
- Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
- Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
- Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
- Let the other person save face.
- Praise every improvement.
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
- Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.