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The standard Diplomacy game can often end up locked in a stalemate, with one player pushing for 18 territories, and two or more defenders trying to stop them. There are already many articles about this, including a useful visual index to stalemate positions. However, I have so far failed to find a Diplomacy map that was designed to prevent stalemates.

Firstly is it even possible to have such a map using the standard rules? Maybe there is logical reasoning that proves that a stalemateless board does not exist?

If it is possible, has it already been done? Does the lack of stalemate lines make the game more dynamic, or does it mean players have to be more edgy about attacking?

If it is not possible to create such a map, is there a variant that avoids stalemates with some other change to the rules? In one of the articles I saw it mentioned that "it is difficult to see" how certain variants could allow stalemates, but have any variants been designed with this goal in mind?

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6 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Erlend Janbu's variant South America v. 3.2 for four players was designed with the explicit aim "to create a variant where there are no stalemate lines." In a 2001 article on the variant he admits that he does not know for sure whether there is a stalemate line in his variant, but "I and others have searched, and after 100 games, no game has ended in a stalemate." He claims in that article that only "[f]ew variants are stalemate-free," but unfortunately he does not name any. Until one could prove that there is indeed a stalemate line in the South America variant, the answers to your main questions should be positive: yes, it is possible to design a stalemate-free board and yes, it has been done before.

As to how the lack of stalemates would affect the game, it might be worth reading what Andy Schwarz has written on his variant Hundred (based on the Hundred Year's War). As he wrote in an article from 1996, "eliminating draws was a big part of the design of Hundred." This has encouraged solo wins and alliances-shifts, making the game very dynamic. This should also apply to any variant which reduces or eliminates stalemates.

As to variants which avoid stalemates by means of changes to the rules, Stephen Agar wrote about this specifically in his article from 1992, "Designing Maps for Diplomacy Variants," where he notes that "[s]ome variants avoid stalemate lines through the rule mechanics." The only example which he gives is the Multiplicity variant, where multiple units can occupy a single space.

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Thank you for this. I think it's the closest to a complete answer that can be hoped for-it certainly contains a lot of information I didn't find out when I investigated this myself! –  tttppp Sep 28 '13 at 17:23
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Somewhat trivially, the Pure variant has no stalemate lines.

This is a simple traditional variant of diplomacy. There are the usual seven countries. There are seven spaces on the board - one corresponding to each country - its home supply center. These spaces are all connected by land one with another. Initially, each player begins with one army in his home supply center.

The objective of the game is to accumulate four supply centers.

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Thanks, this proves such variants exist! I hadn't thought of this answer before. –  tttppp Mar 24 at 6:31
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I've considered playing diplomacy with the 35th supply center to make an odd number. But haven't been able to persuade others to play with this variation.

That would be Egypt. It's not on the "official" map but it can be "inferred" (or extrapolated) as being in the southeast corner of the board, between Syria and Libya (with the latter being next to Tunis), and bounded by sea by the Eastern Mediterranean.

IMHO, it would open up the game by creating another route to and from the eastern Mediterranean. It would give life to the so-called Lepanto opening (Italy and Austria-Hungary vs. Turkey), making the game more fun for the Italy and Austria-Hungary players, otherwise the two most difficult and least fun countries to play.

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Interesting thought; never saw this before. –  Pieter Geerkens May 22 '13 at 1:56
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Does this help to prevent stalemate situations? I would have thought that having a map that is more dense in supply centres would increase the number of stalemate positions. –  tttppp May 22 '13 at 7:57
    
@tttppp: All OTHER things being equal, what you said is true. But one more supply center makes it easier to get "18 out of 35" than "18 out of 34" because 35 is an odd number. –  Tom Au May 22 '13 at 12:59
    
@TomAu Ah, ok. I missed that you're adding Libya as an extra empty region too. This is an interesting answer, but I'd still be interested in whether a stalemateless board exists. –  tttppp May 22 '13 at 16:19
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Roland Röllig created the epic Gilgamesch variant -- a highly fantasy-enriched Diplomacy game: With buildings, Magic Spells, Army fusion, Heros and so on. It is not proven, but because of the complexity I am very sure that there are no stalemate lines. The existence of Heros alone probably prevents that.

Oh by the way: The rule book I have has 180 pgs... But its great!

On the standard map you should play it remotely, it just takes too long. But we played it on a Standard Dippy map once and had quite a "quick" game.

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Thanks for sharing this - I had no idea that some Diplomacy variants were that complex! –  tttppp Sep 11 '13 at 16:51
    
Well, from the basic rules Std Dippy is one of the simplest "complex games" there is, maybe only beaten by Bridge -- the rules are general, apply to everything and there is only a handful of special cases. The trick is, what these "simple rules" can do and interact. And Gilgamesch is taking it to the limit: Lots of detail-rules -- and the rule-book tried to cover all interaction contingencies. And that makes 180 pages. Good game, though. Really. –  towi Sep 12 '13 at 7:21
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One variant that I've seen used was to allow real-world bribery. That is, the lone player offering real cash money to one or two players to let them win. (This bought me dinner more than once.)

Another is to set a time limit; at the time limit, the player closest to victory is declared the winner.

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Here is a rule variant that I believe would prevent long-term stalemates:

After two full years (Spring-Fall-Build; Spring-Fall-Build)) of stalemate, the weakest country on the board collapses into civil disorder and the controlling player receives that finishing position. Repeat as often as necessary.

Essentially that is what happened to the Russian and Ottoman empires in WWI.

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