• This American Life tackles the wonderful stabbiness of board game Diplomacy
07.28.14

This American Life tackles the wonderful stabbiness of board game Diplomacy

Often described as one of the most cutthroat games on the planet, Diplomacy holds a special place amongst boardgame aficionados for its arch-strategy, meta-gaming, lying, and downright selfishness during play. You are a country in Europe and your goal, quite simply, is to take over the world.

For Grantland writer David Hill, however, Diplomacy is a constant source of tension for him as he consistently ends games with his opponents unreasonably upset with his actions. He did threaten to photoshop one of his friend's faces on a pornographic picture with his/her Social Security number, place of employment, and telephone number. But hey, all's fair in love in war.

All's fair in love in war.

Hill already chronicled his journey to the Diplomacy world championships for Grantland last month. (“Are you going to be paid for writing this story?” a Scottish player asked me. “Because I am losing three days’ wages to be here so that I can get screwed by you.”) It's a brilliant piece, but for the follow-up on This American Life, Hill conscripts the help of someone very special to help him make his way through the treacherous negotiations of Diplomacy: a real-life diplomat and advisor to four presidents. Hilarity and tet-a-tets ensue.

While I take umbrage at Hill's consistent labeling Diplomacy diehards as "nerds," which feels a bit of sour grapes to me, the whole piece is marvelous and a great example of how play mirrors life, and vice versa.