Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 38 perhaps most notable in the case of the widely acclaimed game, Diplomacy – an alleged favorite of Henry Kissinger. For the unfamiliar, Diplomacy is a tabletop game created by Allan B. Calhamer, a Harvard alumnus whose inspiration was drawn from study of the Congress of Vienna system, the First World War, and the card game Hearts.[vii] The game is set in the years preceding the First World War with players taking the role of one of seven great powers (i.e., AustriaHungary, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Turkey).[viii] Unlike the Great War, however, there are no preexisting alliances. The object of the game is to achieve dominance by controlling 18 of 34 “supply centers,” after which a player is presumed tohave gained control of Europe. [ix] This is achieved bymaneuvering one’s armies and navies around the board to outflank and eliminate your rivals by conquering their territory. However, the driver of the game, as its namesake suggests, is negotiating and aligning oneself with other players in achieving your objectives. A coalition of one or more players may collectively negotiate to end the game in place of an individual victory. The beauty of Diplomacy is in its abstractness. Its rules are simple and limited. Additionally, there are no chance elements, aside from starting faction, and no rules variation between players. As such, the primary driver of play is social interaction and, in turn, negotiation. By approximating the anarchic world made famous by Kenneth Waltz, it encourages the kind of self-help security-oriented foreign policy and deception the realist school asserts are characteristic of historical international orders.[x] The benefits of Diplomacy’s limited variation and simple mechanics are that it emphasizes considerations of player psychology, decision making, and objective-driven negotiation. These phenomena are certainly studied in any international relations curriculum worth its salt, but students seldom have the opportunity to engage in their active practice. Doing so helps hone one’s “mental muscles” in the context of strategic logic. Its efficacy as a learning tool, albeit with some modifications for teaching purposes, has been noted in several recent articles and studies.[xi] Furthermore, on a less theoretical note, Diplomacy is an easily accessible game. It can be played online for free or purchased in tabletop format for generally around $29.99 at retail stores. In a single session, players can finish a game in around four hours, depending how disciplined they are in their correspondence with one another. Likewise, Diplomacy’s simple ruleset of only 24 pages presents a low barrier of entry for new players, making it an ideal introduction to strategy board games. While Diplomacy simulates many of international relations theory’s most well-known concepts (e.g., deterrence, security dilemmas, zero-sum negotiation, an anarchic international system), it has significant shortcomings as well. It operatesmore on the level of operations than strategy and, as such, does not teach its players to utilize a variety of resources in pursuit of state-specific objectives (i.e., ends, ways, and means) – the essence of strategy. Nor does Diplomacy exemplify one of the most fundamental aspects of warfare, the unknowns and characteristic variability of warfighting. Perhaps most importantly, however, it suffers from a common ailment of similar abstract strategy games, the prominence of dominant strategies. What this means for an observer attempting to derive meaning from the play of Diplomacy, is that as a player becomes more experienced and familiar with the game, the novelty of negotiation and maneuver diminishes. Of course, one could argue that players’ realization of dominant strategies is demonstrative of their learning and the cultivation of the strategic thinking skills. A Higher Strategic Standard? A tabletop game which serves to simulate an international system more comprehensively, demonstrates variability in strategic cultures and military capabilities, and encourages players to pursue widely varying objectives would be of much use in supplementing international relations and security studies education. One such tabletop game that fulfills many of these lofty goals is Twilight Imperium (4th Ed.). In contrast to an operational or tactical level wargame or an abstract strategy game like Diplomacy, Twilight Imperium is a rather holistic simulation of statecraft. It operates on the plane of grand strategy in which players seek to utilize a number of differing state resources and capabilities in pursuit of a variety of objectives, most being available to all players, but player-specific objectives are likewise integral to success in the game. This is distinctly a simulation of ends, ways, and means in the context varying strategic priorities. Whereas Diplomacy abstractly attempts to present a uniformly balanced world, Twilight Imperium deliberately presents awidely asymmetric environment inwhich players take on the role of factions that vary significantly from one another in playstyle. Thus, it intrinsically simulates the essence of differing strategic cultures and encourages playstyles which abstract concepts of asymmetric warfare and soft power generally not found within the same kind of game. Most importantly, however, the course of play in Twilight Imperium is a simulation of the five fundamental elements of strategic logic and decision making – analysis of a strategic situation, defining ends, developing means, designing and executing ways, and assessing the costs and risks of the chosen strategy.[xii] Players win in Twilight Imperium by completing a series of objectives (ends) that have well-outlined requirements (means) and are achieved through varying actions (ways). The competitive environment created by the presence of other human players enhances risk analysis by introducing noncontrolled potential costs dependent on how players act and react. In these ways, Twilight Imperium achieves what Diplomacy does not, a game forcing players to use strategic Towards Better Civilian Strategic Education: A Case for Tabletop Wargames Benjamin E. Mainardi