By Douglas Kent
It was purely by chance that I happened to stumble across the news of the As the Grand Poobah of the Diplomacy hobby, and the Lead Editor of Diplomacy World, I carry power within the gaming community undreamed of in most lands. I can crush an enemy with a wave of my hand…players line up outside my door with promises of allegiance in order to gain my favor or, if in any way possible, to ally with me in a game of Diplomacy. Of course, for someone to be my ally is akin to being a slave or servant; in Diplomacy jargon, a toady. Jack McHugh, our new DW Variant Editor, is my Chief Toady and Head Muckety Muck, and he is in charge of maintaining my stables of lesser toadies, from each smaller hobby group, all over the globe.
So, you'd think that with all this awesome power, and the legions of zombies who follow my every command, that I'd get a free copy of the new Diplomacy set, just released by Avalon Hill owned by Wizards of the Coast (who is then owned by Hasbro). Maybe even a case of sets, with which I could hatch nefarious schemes and - like a young Bobby Fischer - play fifty simultaneous games, being victorious in all of them? You think I'd have a shipment from Avalon Hill waiting at my door the same day the game hit the shelves. To quote the late great John Belushi: but nooooooooooooooooooooooo!
So screw it, I bought myself a few. And now I'll try to give you the details on what you can expect if you do the same.
The Box: Typical gaming quality, nothing special but a nice job nonetheless. Appealing design, featuring a wood-paneled room, complete with hunting trophies, cigars, brandy snifters, and three diplomats conferring in the corner. I also appreciate the prominent display of the Avalon Hill name, for us old timers who always associate Diplomacy with AH (or GDW if you go back that far). The bottom of the box features the same photo as the Diplomacy ad we ran in DW last issue, which includes the cardboard playing pieces. Overall it feels sturdy, and not especially prone to the corner-tears many boxes suffer.
Components: When you open the box you find five items. At the bottom is simply a one-piece parts tray designed simply to keep your pieces from slipping under everything into the true box bottom. The raised edge of the tray makes the other components fit snugly to the box top, which is another nice feature, as it will help avoid the top being crushed if something sits on top of it.
Next are the rulebook, and the board, both to be discussed later. You have a 20-page pad of conference maps, which are simply smaller representations of the board itself. It's always nice to have extras, and not only do you get 20, they are printed on both sides, so you have 40 in total. This way if somebody takes it upon themselves to mark one up in pen, you're not screwed when it comes time to play again. I haven't tried it, but it appears that light pencil should erase without damaging the printing.
The counters are always a source of debate. Wood or plastic, which do you prefer? Or perhaps you are a fan of the metal pieces from the 1999 set? No matter, as this set introduces a new contestant: standard cardboard. There are tree sheets of counters, and each is of a good quality. These pieces should last quite a while if treated properly, but if you prefer wooden or plastic or metal feel free to recycle them from an old set (or make your own wooden ones).
Taking a cue from the original wooden pieces, the fleets are rectangular and long. The designs are the same on all the fleets, their ownership determined simply by the color of the naval vessel depicted there. Here Avalon Hill uses the normal color scheme: Russia is white (or whitish), Turkey yellowish, England a deep blue, Germany black, Italy green, Austria-Hungary red, and France that swimming pool blue/green which a I can never find a proper name for. I am sure there is one, I just don't know what it is. The armies are square, and differ both by color and by the fact that each nation has its own cannon design. You are provided with twelve armies and twelve fleets for each nation.
There is a third set of counters, which are meant to be used to designate supply center ownership. Strangely, you get 21 of these for each nation, but I suppose a few extra counters never hurt! The designs on these round pieces are based on the flag of the nation in question.
For those of you who are historically challenged when it comes to flags, or who simply don't like the designs of any of these pieces, I have good news for you. Avalon Hill smartly printed on both sides of the entire counter set! The backs of all three sheets of pieces are marked in solid color, depicting the respective great power. This gives you a simple choice if you're having trouble with any of the designs: use the backsides, where the color is much more prominent, or simply flip a piece over to confirm its owner whenever you are unsure. It's a nice touch.
The Rulebook: I've never owned the 1999 set, but I am led to believe that this rulebook is similar, or exactly the same, as that one. It seems to be a decent job, with 24 glossy pages. The rules are described with examples and plenty of diagrams, and there is the typical two-year demonstration near the back for those who have never seen a game played. The back of the rulebook is a list of province abbreviations, using typical examples. I prefer Nwg to Nrg, Lyo to GoL, and Eme to Eas but none of that should matter too much. The abbreviations match those on the conference maps, so there is consistency which is important to groups which include any newer players who may not have been exposed to other abbreviations. I also like the use of Page 23, which is called "22 Rules to Help You Resolve Orders." My only real regret with the rulebook is the lack of any mention of a web site besides <a href="https://http://www.avalonhill.com" target="_blank">www.avalonhill.com</a>. I suppose that was to be expected, but it would have been wonderful if we could have convinced Avalon Hill to include a tiny paper flyer like the old sets had, giving some contact information or web information about the hobby-at-large. Still, with search engines and a presence on their site forums, I expect newcomers will find their way to the hobby eventually. Let's hope so; and let's all do our best to direct them to publications like this one and the Diplomatic Pouch, so they can enhance their Diplomacy experience as much as possible! Okay, off the soapbox.
The Game Board: It's a single-piece folded board, well assembled and mounted. Each segment is about 9 ¾ inches square, giving a total size of about 28 inches by 19 inches. I believe that makes it slightly larger than the 3-piece mapboard found in the old familiar Avalon Hill Bookshelf format. Aside from some questionable spelling in a few sea spaces, I didn't notice any major problems. Some of the province borders are of a different design than I am used to, but they still serve the same purpose. To a new player it won't make a difference, but I think the unusual shapes are caused by a combination of trying to be historically accurate and correcting mistakes which were made early in the design process. No matter, the board is attractive and big enough that the provinces are not all cramped (except Rome, but you can't have everything).
The Price: Awesome. To get this game in a well-designed set for $30 or less (MSRP is $30 but I've seen it for less just about everywhere) is a great deal these days. Heck, a set of Boggle runs you $15! Obviously some may quibble with the cardboard counters, but a lower price point is critical to a successful sell-through. And remember, the better it sells, the more new Diplomacy players we're going to have!
So despite my displeasure at having to lower myself to the ranks of the common folk and buy a copy (actually I bought four so far), I give this new Diplomacy set a whole-hearted thumbs-up. Good job Avalon Hill!
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Article Added on Tuesday, May 20, 2008
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