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The Rules of Diplomacy: How to Play the Classic Diplomacy Boardgame

The Rules of Diplomacy: How to Play the Classic Diplomacy Boardgame

Board games are currently all the rage. One of the most popular is Diplomacy. Allan B. Calhamer created this game in 1954 before its commercial release in 1959. It is a strategy-based war game for 2-7 players who should be above twelve years old because it is a somewhat complex game that will prove challenging for kids to grasp. Diplomacy is set at the start of the 20th century in Europe, a time of great peril brought about by the world’s powerful nations engaged in World War I. The objective of the game is to control Europe at this time.

Though Diplomacy is a fairly simple game, its execution is quite complex. It entails alliances, keeping promises, and negotiations that will help players controlling the armed forces of major countries to win or sometimes just survive the war. 

To win the game, you should be careful about who you trust and when to do so. The board game requires commitment since it can take as long as six hours to set up correctly, but it is educational because of the history on which it molds itself.

Before starting your game, here is a guide that will ease your understanding of Diplomacy and what to expect.

Overview of the Game

The objective of Diplomacy is to gain control of most areas on the map. A player will move his/her units to defeat other armies and take control of strategic towns. When you gain control of a strategic province like a supply center, you produce units. Each unit allows you to move one space in each round. The game board includes 34 supply centers like Vienna, Berlin and Moscow among other areas that were important in commerce, transportation, or industry in the 20th century.

The game has three province types, including sea, coast and land. Land provinces only have armies, sea provinces have fleets while coast provinces have both.  There are seven major powers of the 20th century represented by each player in the game. These include England, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.  A Diplomacy game will take 4-5 years (about 8-10 rounds) to complete. This takes beginners about 4-5 hours. The winner is the first player to get 18 supply centers.

Components of the Game

Below are the things you will need to engage in a round of Diplomacy:

  • A game board (There are also online versions of the game that do not need the board)
  • 315 national control, army, and navy markers.
  • A rulebook.
  • A 20-count strategy map pad

Game Play for Diplomacy

The game starts in the spring of 1901. Diplomacy comprises two turns separated into fall and spring. Each of these turns is further divided into different phases. The phases for spring include:

  • The diplomatic phase
  • The order writing phase
  • The order resolution phase
  • The retreat and disbanding phase

The phases for fall include:

  • The diplomatic phase
  • The order writing phase
  • The order resolution phase
  • The retreat and disbanding phase
  • The gaining and losing units phase

The following is a breakdown of what each of the above phases entails:

  1. The diplomatic phase

At this point, players will meet to discuss alliances and strategies for gaining supply centers. In the diplomatic phase, players can have a private discussion on how to defeat the other players. They will often say anything to get an opponent on their side, sign secret treaties, spread rumors, make public proclamations, and publish written agreements. 

However, nothing a player says in the diplomatic phase is binding in the game. As such, be wary of trusting someone’s word at this point. Negotiations in the diplomatic phase will last for 30 minutes before the first turn and 15 minutes in subsequent turns.

  1. The order writing phase

Here, each player will write the orders for their units on paper. If the paper is not dated or the orders are miswritten, ambiguous or illegal, these orders are dismissed, and your unit will hold its position. All players reveal their orders simultaneously so that no one will change their position after seeing an opponent’s orders. The orders should be written in five minutes after the end of the diplomatic phase.

The format for writing your order starts with an A {army} or F {fleet} representing the unit type you are giving the order to followed by the location of the unit then the order being given. Armies and fleets have the same strengths, but armies can only move into a coastal or inland province while fleets only move into coastal provinces or water. The orders you can give your unit include:

  • Move: This order is written with a dash indicating where your unit is moving from to where it is going. If two units of equal strength are ordered to move into one province at the same time, this leads to a standoff that sees both remain in their original location.
  • Hold: With this order, your unit remains in the same position.
  • Support: This is help given when two units of equal strength are ordered to advance into the same location. With support from another unit, you can dislodge the opponent unit from your destination. You cannot refuse support from another player. Support increases your strength.
  • Convoy: You can convoy an attack with another army unit. Here, your unit uses a fleet from another player to move across a coastal province or water. A convoy will help your unit move multiple spaces in one round.


  1. The order resolution phase

After reading all orders, players should resolve their conflicts. The resolution will lead to failed moves, retreats, disbandments, and standoffs.

  1. Retreat and disbanding phase

Defeated or dislodged units should retreat after order resolution. A retreat can neither be supported nor conveyed, and the unit should retreat to a nearby province. Even so, the unit cannot move to an occupied province, an attacker’s province, or a province left vacant because of a standoff in the same turn. Units are removed from the map if they cannot retreat for any reason.

  1. Gaining and losing units phase

After each fall turn, a player checks the number of supply centers under his/her control and adjusts his/her units to match them. If you have lost supply centers, you can decide to lose some units. On the other hand, if you have gained new supply centers, you can build extra units to manage them.

Strategies for Winning Diplomacy

Manipulating other players is the key principle in Diplomacy. You can choose to form alliances with the best players early on so that you can defeat some of your strongest opponents. Even so, remember that there can only be one winner. So, at some point, your allies will betray you if you do not betray them first. For this reason, some players choose not to form alliances so that they are less dependent on others and have no risk of betrayal.


If you have been wondering what all the fuss on Diplomacy is about, the information above has hopefully answered your question. If you are enthusiastic about board games that challenge you, this is a perfect choice for you. While it takes some time to understand the game and start winning, do not give up because the satisfaction that comes with winning is worth it.

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