I think we all have played many kinds of war and strategy games. In all of them you try to position your units in a beneficial manner, to hold the high ground, so you have better odds to defeat your opponents.
By “strategic diplomacy” I mean the planned effort to position yourself in your game with communication in a manner where you gain benefits from the stance of the other players towards you while your adversaries suffer.
So the main idea is:
- Think of every player: How could you benefit from them? Try to gain those benefits.
- Think of every player: How could they benefit from you? This is important for trade and alliances. In the best of either you become too valuable to be killed.
- Think of every player: What communication moves could they do to harm you? Prevent these.
The key is to hold the high ground: the most dangerous opponents either become your friends or instead are attacked by everybody else; people trade with you as they isolate your adversaries; you get information and know what is happening as your opponent wanders in a mist of lies.
Usually I begin a game like this:
- Turn 1. On the star map I make an overall plan about which 200 planets I need to take in order to win this game.
- Turns 2-10. As fast as possible I contact and locate other players. Based on their communication and reputation, I define possible friends and foes and fine-tune my planet capturing strategy accordingly.
- Turns 11-. The races of my friends and foes define what kind of fleet I will build, best suited to the characteristics of my likely friends (for cooperation) and foes (for combat).
This is strategic thinking: you try to figure out how your opponents are going to play and how the game is going to move and develop, and you position yourself in a manner that when a new situation emerges, you have foreseen it and are already in a favorable position. The odds are then on your side.
Examples of what you can do
In Planets you start with a state of war. If you want peace, you’ll have to negotiate it. Then you can change your relationship status. But you can do more. Actually, as you can write freely to your fellow human players, the only limit with your communicative actions is your imagination.
Say hi to people. This game has 11 races and each of them is extremely important for you. They can all share small bits of information about locations, who is attacking or dealing with who and if something odd happened. And one key things: by comparing what people tell you, you might find out who is lying to you.
Start probing on turn one; put those open communication settings on and keep probing every now and then! The most fun player to probe is your main adversary. It’s exciting to have a polite conversation with him and try to find out if he slips something.
In a private game my friend launched a huge attack after I slipped that “I’m everywhere!” — he knew then that I hadn’t any sizable forces in one place to counter him.
The more race specialties you control, the better advantage you have. Ships, you can trade or steal; race abilities must be achieved through diplomacy. Using other players abilities requires good communication (see this wonderful article for an excellent model for it), trust and a good and clear contract.
In the Vehrnoch sector, which is running on turn 98 when I write this, things are building up to be quite exciting: I have glory-ships, Robotic and Imperial carriers, webs, Super Star Destroyers, hyper-jumping ships and cloaking ships at my disposal. But Azzazzello, who is playing as the Solar Federation, has acquired Fireclouds, Biocides, Cobols and cloaking ships too!
In the Achernar Sector I played poorly and quit early. However, something remarkable happened there, as Robijntje showed diplomatic prowess: In the early turns I chit-chatted with the Privateer Bands leader, who resided on the other side of the star map and later won our sector. In that chit-chat I didn’t even realize that I promised not to trade any glory-ships to any player in that game!
What if your main adversaries are beyond your reach, on the other side of the map? What if someone drops from the game right next to him?
I usually try to create agents in my games, players on the other side of the map who I try to support: I can send cloakers over vast distances or money with hyper-jumping ships and so forth.
In my game in the Another World Sector, I saw that the left side of the map had a huge open area: with those planets I could win the game. However, the Colonies was the strongest adversary around and not far from that area. The only thing between him and those unoccupied planets was the Crystalline player, who, with few planets and a small military, was suffering from heavy Colonial attack. So I made a strategic diplomatic decision: I made an agreement with the Crystalline; he would not advance northwards, and in return I would send as many megacredits to him with Falcons as I’m able to so he could web those Virgoes. I won because the colonial fleet was stuck in Crystalline webs in a relatively small area for about 30 turns.
When someone attacks you, start whining! Ask people to help. Approach the attacker’s neighbors directly and plan co-operations. Or, before you attack someone, make deals with his neighbors so they won’t interfere in the time of your victim’s distress. Never fight fair: the idea of strategic combat is to utilize the situation in a manner where you have the unbalanced upper-hand.
Control the story
Speak a lot to other players in private and in public activity feed. If a big stack of ships suddenly changes ownership to you, it might be prudent to publicly explain what happened and why. Otherwise, other players start suspect things, murmuring and spreading rumors that usually depict much worse events than what really happened.
By being open, you have the possibility to legitimize your actions and make them understandable and acceptable. And if you are confused about events, start speaking a lot. In such cases it often helps if most other players believe the same things as you do. And if one of them knows what really happened, they might tell you.
Every match is a story and diplomatic high ground is also moral high ground. Those who write diplomatic messages write the story. Write it such that your enemies are the villains and that you are the hero, and so even your thefts and backstabbings become prudent and heroic deeds. As adjectives in these stories, use facts – if you have played skillfully, your position in the game gives you the moral advantage. The classic situation is when you are the best possible option as the champion to challenge the all-mighty scoreboard leader.
Trust is a wondrous thing. If you can expose your back to another player and face another opponent with all your might, you get a huge advantage. It also means better trades, as people are not afraid they will be scammed or stabbed in the back in the process.
But no matter how good your intentions are, there can be frictions in friendship as borders and interest collide. To help build up trust, clear and thorough agreements help a lot. Here are my tips for a strong and a beneficial alliance:
- Be open, don’t keep secrets. Share intel.
- Clarity in dealings with other players: show a copy of important discussions to your ally so he knows what you are doing behind his back. Usually a short summary is enough.
- Clear borders, planet by planet, by ID.
- Clear responsibilities: who builds what, when and where with what resources, in exchange for what else? Detail which actions are taken and how; what is required and of whom. Be as thorough as possible, so it’s not about empty promises of something, somewhere and sometime. The best is to talk about ships and planets with ID’s, in megacredits, clans and kilotons; measure time in concrete turns.
- Clarity in victory conditions and different scenarios: my favorite thing is to divide the map with my ally; you take that side, I take this one. The one who gets 200 planets first, wins. And losing that way is okay to me.
Don’t be a dick. Unless you are King Richard.
Trust happens when other players are betting in favor of your promises. When your promises come true, the experience will turn into reputation. Good reputation in turn builds up trust.
We are a tightly knit community here, and we have played with many and our friends have played with even more players. We hear stories.
”Oh THAT guy is in your new game. In this game of mine, he…”
So when you stab your neighbor in the back, remember, you are paying it with your reputation. This lowers your overall odds in future games at Planets.Nu as your diplomatic positioning becomes harder. So make your calculations carefully and remember: You can’t wash away a tarnished reputation. You can only build new pretty stuff in front of it.
In the end, it’s just about better odds
In the days of yore, battling strategists could dance around for days with their troops, armies trying to hold the high ground and force the opponent to battle in unsuitable terrain. But at the end, fight they must. And while the high ground gave better odds, what made the final decision was the quality and skill of the fighting troops.
Diplomacy is like build queue controlling, not necessary for winning this game. You can play this game without using those. But that means forfeiting the advantages they provide for your adversaries and charging uphill. You give your opponent the high ground.24