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January CGM and failed Diplomacy

December 7th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

This month’s Computer Games Magazine announces “37 PAGES OF REVIEWS.” That’s twenty games, in case you were wondering. Some big reviews in there too. Quake IV. Age of Empires III. Civilization IV. The Movies.

And a few of mine. I review Down in Flames, Diplomacy and Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion.

There’s so much in this month’s magazine to respond to that I don’t want to deal with the entire issue right here in a single post. All of the columns are strong, there is a flight sim reviewed (!!!) and this month’s Revisionist History on Seven Cities of Gold hits a nail on the head that’s been aching to be hit.

So, now that my review has been published, I’ll talk a bit about Diplomacy. The relatively warm reception it’s been getting has been bugging me for a while. And not just me. But this is something different.

In my review, I make the point that Diplomacy is not really about the rules of the game. It’s about the people you are playing with and interacting with them. And I doubt you can do that against a computer opponent.

I can already hear some of you thinking about how diplomatic relations work so well in other strategy games. But Diplomacy is different because the negotiations aren’t just part of the game; they are the game. There’s nothing but deals, and qualified pacts, and feigned allegiance and the inevitable knife in the back – the knife you know is coming, if not when. Without a convincing human-like opponent, the single-player game never rises to the level where it feels like Diplomacy.

And if you are going to do a straight port of a classic board game, you have to get the feel right. Paradox doesn’t, and there simply isn’t enough in the board game design to make an interesting single player experience. (Oddly, PCGamer‘s Dan Morris endorses Diplomacy specifically for its single player mode.) The game turns into the mathematical movement of armies and navies against a clump of enemies that are usually out of position anyway. If you can survive to the mid-game, you will win.

In fact, without opponents, Diplomacy begins to look a little like its arch-enemy Risk. You just accumulate army after army until you have enough in the right places to push to victory. Yawn.

I will still look forward to the next Paradox production, but I am getting increasingly frustrated with the apparent “shove it out the door” approach that has seemed to afflict recent releases. And they self-publish now, so they can’t blame “the suits”.

Maybe Diplomacy is simply untranslatable beyond building a competent multiplayer setup – which can be done for a lot less money than Paradox spent on grunting avatars for this dog.


One Comment so far ↓

  • roboczar

    I’m starting to feel the first pangs of rubbernecking syndrome creep into my brain.

    You know it’s a train wreck, and it’s a horrible waste of life, but you want to see just HOW bad it is.

    Of course, afterwards, you feel really guilty for being such a naughty voyeur and tell yourself that you won’t ever do it again. Until the next time.

    Diplomacy, you are my train wreck!