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Diplomiscellany: A Compendium of Diplomacy Related Material

Soloism
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The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;  but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. 
 
-Theodore Roosevelt
(italics mine)
 

 
 
The World War I Victory Medal

 
This article previously appeared, in a slightly
different form, in the Diplomatic Pouch.

A translation of this Article into French(!) may be found here.

THE SOLOIST MANIFESTO
(On the Philosophy of Victory in Diplomacy)

          So you want to do well, or even better, to win with some regularity in Diplomacy?  Be respected by your opponents?  Be asked to join teams in Tournaments, to play test new variants, to become a member of elite, invitation-only groups?  Study, and application through play of strategy, tactics and negotiation techniques are of course very important, but if many players are studying the same material, how will you be able to gain an edge over them?
 
          To answer these questions, you need to move beyond strategy, tactics and negotiation.  You must start within yourself, and adopt a game philosophy that will foster a state of mind and a style of play that will lead you to success.  This philosophy is called Soloism, and a follower of the philosophy is a Soloist.  Practicing Soloism will lead to better results for the Soloist, as well as a more enjoyable game experience.
 
          Put simply, Soloism is the dogged pursuit of victory in each and every game until victory is achieved, which is success, or until victory is impossible to achieve, which is failure.  At the point of failure, the outcome of the specific game being played becomes irrelevant from the point of view of Soloism.  Two-way draws, three-way draws, n-way draws, survivals and eliminations are all failures.  This does not mean that a Soloist who accepts a draw, or who survives or is eliminated when someone else wins did not accomplish anything, nor does it mean that he or she did not play well.  What it means is what was stated, that the Soloist has failed to achieve his or her goal, which is to win.  The object of the game of Diplomacy, after all, is to win, not to have been in at least a three-way draw.  The Soloist accepts the fact that he or she did the best that they could do, and failed, and will accept failure with grace, knowing that each failure is a learning experience that will aid in achieving success in the future.  But the Soloist never thinks of anything less than a solo as a success.  A draw may be an acceptable outcome for a nation, since war no longer ravages the land and the citizenry.  When playing a game, however, where such concerns do not exist, there is no reason to be satisfied with a lesser result.
 
          So is a draw better than either survival or an elimination when someone else wins, and is survival better than elimination?  The answer, in the context of Soloism: not in any meaningful way.  Those considerations are irrelevant to Soloism, and are only something which concerns a Soloist after the solo becomes impossible to achieve.  Even then, those considerations are subservient to the overall meta-goal of the Soloist, which is to maximize the possibility of victory in future games.  As secondary goals, preventing a certain player from achieving victory, ensuring that a certain player does win, participation in a draw, survival or revenge may be pursued, but those secondary goals will never distract the Soloist from striving singlemindedly  for victory in the game being played, or the meta-goal of maximizing the likelihood of future victories.  It is therefore a  misinterpretation of Soloism to say that a true Soloist will never accept a draw.  By refusing to consider a draw, a player abandons an option, and therefore weakens his or her bargaining position.  Because players who are not Soloists feel that such lesser goals are important, they can be manipulated more easily than a Soloist, since even when one power grows large, goals that are important to such players, such as survival, or inclusion in a draw, are still seen as attainable.  Since Soloists place minimal value on these goals, they are basically immune from manipulation by other players in this way, while Soloists have a powerful tool in their array of negotiation ploys when dealing with other players, and a way to create or mask reputation and style.
 
          There are those who think that the philosophy of Soloism would encourage players to abandon positions when there is no longer a perception that winning is possible.  This is a misinterpretation of the philosophy.  Remember that Soloists must perfect the use of the tools of strategy, tactics and negotiation.  They must necessarily do so by turning in the best possible order sets, negotiating with creativity and enthusiasm, and playing on after others would give up.  Even when all hope of victory is gone, Soloists do not slacken their efforts, since play is never meaningless.  There are always opportunities to learn something, if not in the realm of strategy, tactics and negotiation, then at least about the other players, and this might prove useful if those players are encountered in a future game.
 
          An important part of Soloism, then, is not accepting a draw as long as there is any reasonable hope of achieving victory.  But Diplomacy is an art, not a science, so there really is no way to pinpoint the exact time in a game when there is no longer a reasonable chance of winning.  A Soloist will decide based upon the specific circumstances of each game, but will always lean strongly towards caution, and play on long after those who value draws would have given up on a position.  This facet of Soloism has an additional benefit, when practiced over time, of enabling the Soloist to get a feel for possible paths to victory in difficult situations not commonly faced by players who accept draws gladly.  The Soloist should win more in difficult positions, since the Soloist will have more experience working in such positions.
 
          Those who do not share the devotion of the Soloist to victory may claim that a Soloist would rather get cheap wins against inept newbies, or against lackadaisical players who do not communicate, and who turn in poor order sets, or no orders at all.  A Soloist, however, will want just the opposite; fellow Soloists who are skillful, involved and dedicated opponents, who fight to the end, so that victories, when they come, are worthy of celebration.  But finding such opponents may be difficult.  This is partly because many players who place value on draws use and encourage others to use rating systems.  While marginally useful as a means to get a rough idea of the ability of otherwise unknown opponents, rating systems have terrible inherent problems.  By placing significant value on outcomes other than victory, they encourage players to accept draws, and discourage them from pursuing victory.  The only numbers a Soloist cares about are one and eighteen.  One winner having eighteen Supply Centers.
 
          Rating systems inject an element of mathematical calculation neither necessary nor desirable into the game, an economics of failure, with players falsely encouraged to believe there are significant objective values associated with unsuccessful outcomes.  Economics is often called the dismal science, and fittingly enough, rating systems encourage a dismal outlook on the game, with drawmongers working to convince players that a four-way draw is somehow better than a five-way draw or exclusion from a draw, when all these results are nothing more than failures of rough equivalence.  The Soloist has moved beyond this small, joyless, mechanistic philosophy, and does not practice drawmongery in order to increase a meaningless rating by some small fraction.
 
          The drawmonger plays the meta-game of Diplomacy Ratings, a strange, never ending variant in which individual games of Diplomacy are each only a small, ever more insignificant part, rather than each individual game being a complete, whole and satisfying experience in and of itself.  Such a variant holds no allure for a Soloist, who does view each game as an independent experience, and would therefore, presuming equally good play on the part of the Soloist, view a solo and nine eliminations (one success and nine failures) as being superior to ten games consisting entirely of two-way and three-way draws (ten failures).  A Diplomacy tournament is another meta-game variant.  Here though, the difference is put forth in an obvious and honest manner.  The object of a Diplomacy tournament is not necessarily to win any individual game, but rather to win the tournament.  Soloists do play in tournaments, for social reasons, to help promote a Diplomacy forum which may be sponsoring the tournament, and if the tournament is open to all, to play against opponents they might never otherwise encounter.
 
          Both Soloists and others play for the love of the game, since no one is able to make a living by playing Diplomacy.  Given that this is the case, rating systems and game philosophies which place value on outcomes other than a solo encourage people to play not for the pure thrill of victory, but rather for the small pleasures of draws, ratings and points.  If someone needs a rating system to maintain their interest in the best game ever invented, they should not be playing the game at all.  Soloists realize that Soloism is not only a game philosophy that will improve the play of  those who follow it, but also that it is a game philosophy that will lead to a greater enjoyment of both each game and of the game of Diplomacy as a whole.  It is infinitely more enjoyable to be eliminated, fighting with spirit and gusto, than to cower behind a stalemate line and meekly accept a share in a draw in order to gain a better rating.  Just as in life, striving for the loftiest goal and failing is mentally and spiritually far more fulfilling than timidly crawling for smaller goals, whether successful or not. 
 
          One consequence of the adoption of rating systems has been that a portion of the players in the forum in which a rating system is employed will play to maximize their rating, rather than keeping their focus on the true object of the game.  Because rating systems may be a part of the landscape of the forum in which they play, many people, especially newbies who do not know any better, think that such practices are normal.  To make matters worse, the whole process is self reinforcing, in a subtle and insidious way, since given the biases of those who design rating systems, drawmongery usually improves ratings, and this encourages yet more drawmongery.  It is, unfortunately, very unlikely that rating systems will ever disappear from use.  It may be the best that can be hoped for is that a rating system that reflects the values of Soloism would become available and widely used.  Such a rating system could perhaps be expressed as a decimal approaching 1.0, meaning that a player who had no results other than wins would have a 1.0 rating.  Any other outcome for a player would be rated 0.0, so a player who had five wins in twenty games would have a rating of 0.25.  Some additional fine tuning might also be possible.  Abandonments and failures to turn in orders could be assigned some negative value, perhaps -1.0, and -0.01 respectively.  A weighting system to give more of an impact to more recent games, or to wins over other players who possess high ratings might also be implemented.  The important distinguishing feature between this hypothetical system and all the existing systems is that there would be no incentive to try for a draw, or indeed to do anything else other than win.
 
          Soloism, whether practiced consciously or instinctively, tends to be the attitude of more mature, confident and experienced players.  This is perhaps because Soloists tend to be more successful, and therefore will tend to play the game over a longer period, while players inclined to accept draws, perhaps because of their lack of confidence in their abilities (whether such a lack of confidence is warranted or not) will be more likely to drift away from the game or to not put in as much effort at improvement, due to their lesser satisfaction.  There is, however, no reason a newbie can't follow the philosophy of Soloism from the first time he or she plays.  As a final note, just as the outlook and behavior of the drawmongers and point counters can spread to impressionable newbies, so can the philosophy of Soloism.  A Soloist or two in a game, by their involved, determined and tenacious play, will make a game more exciting and enjoyable for everyone involved, and other players may well choose to become Soloists themselves, when encouraged by a good example.
 
          Spread the word.