Tabletop games Wargaming

Diplomacy - game

Publication date 1959
Players 2-7
Age range 12+
Playing time 4-12 hours
Random chance None
Skill(s) required Tactics

Diplomacy is a strategic board game created by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and released commercially in 1959. Its main distinctions from most board wargames are its negotiation phases (players spend much of their time forming and betraying alliances with other players and forming beneficial strategies) and the absence of dice and other game elements that produce random effects. Set in Europe before the beginning of World War I, Diplomacy is played by two to seven players, each controlling the armed forces of a major European power (or, with fewer players, multiple powers). Each player aims to move his or her few starting units and defeat those of others to win possession of a majority of strategic cities and provinces marked as "supply centers" on the map; these supply centers allow players who control them to produce more units.

Diplomacy was the first commercially published game to be played by mail (PBM); only chess, which is in the public domain, saw significant postal (long distance) play earlier. Diplomacy was also the first commercially published game to generate an active hobby with amateur fanzines; only science-fiction, fantasy and comics fandom saw fanzines earlier. Competitive face-to-face Diplomacy tournaments have been held since the 1970s. Play of Diplomacy by e-mail (PBEM) has been widespread since the late 1980s.

Diplomacy has been published in the United States by Games Research, Avalon Hill, and Hasbro; the name is currently a registered trademark of Hasbro's Avalon Hill division. Diplomacy has also been licensed to various companies for publication in other countries. Diplomacy is also played on the Internet, adjudicated by a computer or a human gamemaster.

In its catalog, Avalon Hill advertised Diplomacy as John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger's favorite game. Kissinger described it as his favorite in an interview published in a games magazine. American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite was also reported to be a fan of the game.


The idea for Diplomacy arose from Allan B. Calhamer's study at Harvard of nineteenth-century European history under Sidney B. Fay inter alia, and from his study of political geography. The rough form of Diplomacy was created in 1954, and its details were developed through playtesting until the 1958 map and rules revisions. Calhamer paid for a 500-game print run of that version in 1959 after rejection by major companies. It has been published since then by Games Research (in 1961, then a 1971 edition with a revised rulebook), Avalon Hill (in 1976), by Hasbro's Avalon Hill division (in 1999), and now by Wizards of the Coast (in 2008) in the USA, and licensed to other boardgame publishers for versions sold in other countries. Among these are Parker Brothers, Waddingtons Games, Gibsons Games, Asmodée Editions.

Basic setting and overview

The board is a map of 1914 Europe plus portions of the Middle East and North Africa. It is divided into fifty-six land regions and nineteen sea regions. Forty-two of the land regions are divided among the seven Great Powers of the game: Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom (called "England"), France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire (called "Turkey"). The remaining fourteen land regions are neutral at the start of the game.

Thirty-four of the land regions contain "supply centers", corresponding to major centers of government, industry or commerce (e.g. Vienna and Rome); twenty-two of these are located within the Great Powers and are referred to as "home" supply centers. The remaining twelve are located in provinces which are neutral at the start of the game. The number of supply centers a player controls determines the total number of armies and fleets a player may have on the board, and as players gain and lose control of different centers, they may build (raise) or must remove (disband) units accordingly.

A Diplomacy board, showing the different land and sea territories, starting borders and the location of supply centers

The land provinces within the Great Powers which contain supply centers are generally named after a major city in the province (e.g. London, Moscow) while the other land provinces within the Great Powers are generally named after a region (e.g. Bohemia, Apulia). Neutral land provinces are generally named after countries (e.g. Serbia, Belgium). Finland and Syria are both parts of Great Powers as Finland was part of the Russian Empire in 1914 and Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire in 1914. Tunis is used rather than Tunisia on most boards and North Africa is a single province covering parts of Algeria and Morocco. Although for game purposes the game starts in 1901, the map generally reflects the political boundaries of Europe in 1914 just before the outbreak of WWI, with Bosnia already annexed to the Austrian empire, and the Balkans reflecting the results of the wars of 1912 and 1913 in that region (except that Montenegro is shown as part of Austria-Hungary). On the other hand, North Africa and Tunis start the game as neutral, despite these regions being part of the French colonial empire in 1914.

All players other than England and Russia begin the game with two armies and one naval fleet; England starts with two fleets and one army, and Russia starts with two armies and two fleets (making it the only player to start the game with more than three units). Only one unit at a time may occupy a given map region. Balancing units to supply center counts is done after each game-year (two seasons of play: Spring and Autumn). At the beginning of the game, the twelve neutral SCs are all typically captured within the first few moves. Further acquisition of supply centers becomes a zero sum dynamic with any gains in a player's resources coming at the expense of a rival.

Comparison with other war games

Diplomacy differs from the majority of war games in several ways:


Diplomacy proceeds by seasons, beginning in the year 1901, with each year divided into two main seasons: the "Spring" and "Autumn/Fall" moves. Each season is further divided into negotiation and movement phases, followed by 'retreat' or 'disband' adjustments and an end-of-the-year Winter phase of new builds or removals following the Autumn adjustments.

Negotiation phase

In the negotiation phase, players communicate with each other to discuss tactics and strategy, form alliances, and share intelligence or spread disinformation about mutual adversaries. Negotiations may be made public or kept private. Players are not bound to anything they say or promise during this period, and no agreements of any sort are enforceable.

Communication and trust are highly important for this strategy game. Players must forge alliances with others and observe their actions to evaluate their trustworthiness. At the same time, they must convince others of their own trustworthiness while making plans to turn against their allies when least expected. A well-timed betrayal, commonly called a backstab or stab, can be just as profitable as an enduring, reliable alliance.

Movement phase

After the negotiation period, players write secret orders for each unit; these orders are revealed and executed simultaneously. A unit can move from its location to an adjacent space, support an adjacent unit to hold an area in the event of an attack, support another unit to attack a space into which it could move itself, or hold defensively. In addition, fleets may transport armies from one coast space to another when in a chain called a "convoy". Armies may only occupy land regions, and fleets occupy sea regions and the land regions that border named seas. Only one unit may occupy each region. If multiple units are ordered to move to the same region, only the unit with the most support moves there. If two or more units have the same highest support, a standoff occurs and no units ordered to that region move. A unit ordered to give support that is attacked has those orders canceled and is forced to hold, except in the case that support is being given to a unit invading the region from which the attack originated.

End-of-year and supply centers

After each Autumn move, newly acquired supply centers become owned by the occupying player, and each power's supply center total is recalculated; players with fewer supply centers than units on the board must disband units, while players with more supply centers than units on the board are entitled to build units in their Home centers (supply centers controlled at the start of the game). Players controlling no supply centers are eliminated from the game, and if a player controls 18 or more (that is, more than half) of the 34 SCs, that person is declared the winner. Players may also agree to a draw; this also happens when (infrequent) stalemates occur.


Several boardgames based on Diplomacy have been commercially published. Additionally, many fans of the game have created hundreds of variants of their own, using altered rules on the standard map, standard rules on a different map, or both. An index of over a thousand variants is available at the Diplomacy Variant Bank web site. Another notable source of variant maps and Realpolitik files is located at DipWiki (see External links, below).

Rulebook provision for fewer than seven players

The rules allow for games with two to seven players, closing parts of the standard board, but these are used only in casual play, and are not considered standard Diplomacy in tournament, postal, or most forms of online play. For example, if there are six players, everyone plays one country and Italy is not used; for five players, Italy and Germany are not used. The original rules did not include additional guidelines, but the Avalon Hill set included suggestions, such as individual players using multiple countries, and additions.

Another approach to solving the problem of fewer than seven players is the use of the Escalation Variant Rules by Edi Birsan:

  1. Players start with no pieces on the board
  2. Players put one piece down on the board in any province one at a time (starting with the youngest player)
  3. After reaching the maximum number of pieces the players start the game with ownership of their starting provinces.
  4. At the end of Autumn 1901 with their adjustments players write down their three HOME centers for the rest of the game.

This is done without negotiations and may result in two players declaring the same province. However, in order to build there they still must own it and the province must be open. Players may choose any supply center as a HOME for example: EDI, DEN, ROM

It is suggested that for the number players the following starting pieces are used:

It is also suggested that for games with 2-3-4 players that the 'Gunboat' rule applies which means that there are no discussions.

For 4 or 5 players the 'Wilson' Rule applies which means that all discussions must take place in the open at the table with no whispers or secret signals.

For 5 or 6 players regular negotiation rules apply.

The following are the current official suggestions:

Alternative way to play

The following is an alternative way to play the game of Diplomacy when fewer than seven players are present.

Six Players: Eliminate Italy. Italian units hold in position and defend themselves, but don’t support each other. Units belonging to any of the players can support them in their holding position. If Italian units are forced to retreat, they’re disbanded.

Five Players: Eliminate Italy and Germany (as described for Italy above).

Four Players: One player plays England, and the other three play the following pairs: Austria/France, Germany/Turkey, and Italy/Russia.

Three Players: One player controls England/Germany/Austria; the second, Russia/Italy; and the third, France/Turkey. Or one player plays England/Austria; one plays France/Russia; one plays Germany/Turkey. In this version Italy is not played.

Three Players (alternative): One person plays Russia while the other two control England/France/Germany and Austria/Italy/Turkey.

Two Players: This version can be played as a World War I simulation. One player controls England/France/Russia while the other plays Austria/Germany/Turkey. Italy is neutral and Italian territory can’t be entered. The game begins in 1914. Before the Autumn 1914 adjustments, flip a coin. Italy joins the winner of the toss in Spring 1915. The first player to control 24 supply centers wins. This is also a way for two new players to learn the rules.

In games for 2, 3, or 4 players, supply-center ownership is computed for each individual country, even though the same person plays more than one country. As with the regular rules, adjustments must be made by each country in accordance with its supply-center holdings.

Commercially published Diplomacy variants

There have been six commercially released variants of Diplomacy - Machiavelli, Kamakura, Colonial Diplomacy, Hundred, Ard-Rí and Classical. Imperial is a boardgame with enough similarities to be described as a Diplomacy variant by some.


Machiavelli was published by Battleline Publications, later taken over by Avalon Hill. Set in Renaissance Italy, the board is controlled by the Republic of Florence, the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Milan, the Kingdom of Naples, the Papacy, Valois France, Habsburg Austria, and the Ottoman Turks. The game introduces many rules changes such as money, bribery, three seasons per year, garrisons, and random events such as plague and famine. It features scenarios tailored for as few as four and as many as eight players.


Kamakura was published by West End Games in the early 1980s. Its setting is feudal Japan.

Colonial Diplomacy

Set in Asia in the late 19th century, much of the board is controlled by various colonial powers: the United Kingdom, the Russian Empire, the Empire of Japan, Holland, Ottoman Empire, China, and France. The game introduces three special features:

This map was used as the basis of the Imperial Asia expansion map.


Hundred is a map for three players by Andy D. Schwarz based on the Hundred Years' War created in 1996 and published by Stupendous Games in 2000.


Ard-Rí is a map by Stuart John Bernard based on pre-Christian Ireland (though it anachronistically includes Vikings), created in 1998, and published by Stupendous Games in 2000.


Classical is a map by Andy D. Schwarz and Vincent Mous based on the ancient world after the death of Alexander the Great, created in 1998, and published by Stupendous Games in 2000.

Diplomacy variants not commercially published

A wide range of other variants of Diplomacy have been created and played without being commercially published. These include settings such as the ancient and renaissance world. Some variants use new maps and rules, whilst others simply vary the original game, such as the Fleet Rome variant which replaces the starting Italian army in Rome with a fleet. One of the most notable non-commercially published is the Youngstown variant which is an extension of the normal map, including Asia and colonies there. For example, in addition to the usual home centers, France starts with a fleet in Saigon (in Cochinchina). Three new Powers were added - India, China, and Japan - with powers without historical Asian colonies being given more home centres. The variant was named after the city of Youngstown, Ohio where the variant was invented.


Diplomacy is played at a number of formal tournaments in many nations. Most face-to-face Diplomacy tournaments longer than one day are associated with either a Diplomacy-centered convention (such as DipCon or Dixiecon) or a large multi-game convention (such as the Origins Game Fair or the World Boardgaming Championships). Some conventions are centered on the games and have a highly competitive atmosphere; others have more focus on meeting and socializing with other players from the postal or e-mail parts of the hobby.

Tournament play

In some tournaments, each game ends after a specified number of game-years, to ensure that all players can play in all rounds without limiting the tournament structure to one round per day. At other events, a game continues until a winner is determined or a draw is voted. Tournaments in Europe are generally played with a specific end year whereas tournaments in North America more often are played until someone wins or a draw is agreed.

Major championship tournaments

The World Diplomacy Convention (WDC or World DipCon) is held annually in different places in the world. The winner of WDC is considered to be the World Champion of Diplomacy. WDC was first held in 1988 in Birmingham, England, and was held at two-year intervals before becoming an annual event. WDC's site moves among four regions: North America, Europe, Australasia, and the rest of the world, with a requirement that successive WDC's are always held in different regions.

The North American Diplomacy Convention (DipCon) is held annually in different places in North America, to determine the North American Champion of Diplomacy. DipCon was first held in 1966 in Youngstown, Ohio. DipCon's site rotates among West, Central, and East regions.

The European Diplomacy Convention (Euro DipCon) is held annually in different places in Europe, to determine the European Champion of Diplomacy.

Over a dozen other countries hold face-to-face national championship tournaments.

Other major face-to-face tournaments

Many of the larger multi-game conventions, such as the World Boardgaming Championships, Gen Con, Origins, ManorCon, TempleCon, and Dragonflight also host Diplomacy tournaments. On occasion, WDC or DipCon will be held in conjunction with one of these conventions.

In addition, many of the larger local and regional clubs host tournaments on an annual basis and always encourage visitors from the local area as well as any travelers from around the globe. For example, the Chicago area Diplomacy club, the Windy City Weasels, hosts two tournaments annually: one at the CODCon gaming convention at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, and also, their annual club tournament called Weasel Moot, hosted in August/September of each year. To date they've had many visitors from both coasts and Europe in attendance.

The Potomac Tea & Knife Society, home of Diplomacy in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, hosts their annual Tempest in a Teapot tournament in October each year.

Major play-by-email tournaments

The play-by-email field is constantly changing. There are numerous tournaments generally associated with different websites. As of 2008 there were no official events sanctioned by the manufacturer (Wizards/Avalon Hill). There have been and continue to be events with various sizes and self designated titles such as:

Other ways to play

Despite the length of face-to-face Diplomacy games, there are people who organize ad-hoc games, and there are also various clubs that have annual tournaments and monthly club games.

To overcome the difficulty of assembling enough players for a sufficiently large block of time together, a play-by-mail game community has developed, either via Postal or Internet Diplomacy, using either humans to adjudicate the turns or automatic adjudicators.

Postal play and postal hobby

Since the 1960s, Diplomacy has been played by mail through fanzines. The play-by-mail hobby was created in 1963 in carbon-copied typed flyers by John Boardman in New York, recruiting players through his science fiction fanzine Knowable. His flyers became an ongoing publication under the Graustark title, and led directly to the formation of other zines. By May 1965 there were eight Diplomacy zines. By the end of 1967 there were dozens of zines in the USA, and by 1970 their editors were holding gatherings. In 1969, Don Turnbull started the first UK-based Diplomacy zine, Albion. By 1972, both the USA and UK hobbies were forming organizations. In the 1980s, there were over sixty zines in the main list of the North American Zine Poll, peaking at 72 zines in 1989; and there were nearly as many in the major Zine Poll of the British part of the hobby. In the 1990s and 2000s, the number of postal Diplomacy zines has reduced as new players instead joined the part of the hobby that plays over the internet via e-mail or on websites. In April 2010, Graustark itself ceased publication. As of 2011, there are only a few active postal zines published in the USA, one each in Canada and Australia, and several in the UK and elsewhere. In order to reduce postage and printing costs, as well as for environmental reasons, several zines (e.g. 'Western Front', 'Maniacs Paradise' ) are distributed to subscribers via emailed links to the zine's web page when a new issue appears, or are emailed out as pdf files, for subscribers to read on screen, or print out as they choose. Some zines maintain a dual existence as paper and digital publications.


Diplomacy has been played through e-mail on the Internet since the 1983 debut of The Armchair Diplomat on Compuserve. From 1986-1990, Peter Szymonik started and moderated dozens of simultaneously running Online Diplomacy games on the GEnie Network with hundreds of players worldwide. This later included the first online Colonia variant games and later branched into and gave birth to Jim Dunngan's related Hundred Years War Online multiplayer wargame. Adjudication by computer started in 1988. A multitude of play-by-email (PBEM) communities and online tournaments were developed over the coming years, and recent online Diplomacy sites also allow entirely web-based games of Diplomacy.

In addition to e-mail and web-adjudicated games, numerous variations - ranging from player numbers and slight differences (such as placing an extra Italian fleet in Rome) to entirely fictitious maps set in worlds from pop-culture exist, played with either messaging servers or forums, often hosted by the diplomacy sites themselves.

Diplomacy computer games

Screenshot from the Paradox computer game

Avalon Hill released a computer game version of Diplomacy in 1984 for the IBM PC. In 1990 Computer Gaming World gave the game four out of five stars, stating that despite the weak computer opponents the presence of the board game's mechanics was sufficient for a favorable recommendation. In 1993 the magazine gave it three stars.

Hasbro released a computer game version of Diplomacy in 1999. A major fault, like with the Avalon Hill version, was that the computer AI was considered poor, one reviewer remarking "Gamers of any skill level will have no trouble whatsoever whaling on the computer at even the highest difficulty setting.".

Paradox Interactive released a new computer version in 2005, which was given negative reviews, partly due to the odd grunts the game used to express the reactions of the AI players during the Movement phase. None of the computer games supported voice chat, which limited the possibilities for complicated alliances.

On August 2001, Lucas B. Kruijswijk released the Diplomacy Adjudicator Test Cases, which outline specific test cases to make sure an adjudicator program handles all sets of orders correctly.

The Diplomacy Artificial Intelligence Development Environment (DAIDE) project is a hobby project to produce computer AIs capable of playing Diplomacy, and allows to perform a real-time play against each AI and/or against humans. The AIs being produced by this project are mostly only capable of playing games partly with negotiation, and are somewhat weaker than most human players, although several of the AIs (e.g. Albert AI) are significantly stronger than the AIs in any of the commercially released Diplomacy games.

The website DAIDE QuickStart Diplomacy provides a windows installer providing all required parts to easily run a DAIDE server playing against AI bots:

A web-based frontend to a DAIDE server for realtime single player games is provided by a research project:


Larry Harris commented: "I am convinced that Allan Calhamer's masterpiece should be part of every high school curriculum. Don't tell the kids, but it teaches history, geography, the art of political negotiation, and something else - some healthy critical skepticism. By the time you get into high school, you have a pretty good idea that not everyone always tells the truth. But a good game of Diplomacy helps you to understand how skillful some people can be at fooling you!"

Diplomacy was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Adventure Hall of Fame in 1994.

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