Strategic Maxims: The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting

Today I’m bringing you a Strategic Maxims post based on the Sun Tzu expression, “The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.”

There are many ways to subdue the enemies that surround you in Diplomacy without fighting them. By subduing them, I mean bending them to your will without having to directly conquer them or necessarily commit forces to fighting them. That’s good, since you can’t fight everyone at once with any hope of success until you’re near the end of a game. You need some people to help you win without becoming a direct part of your forces. So I’m going to briefly go over a number of ways you can bend enemies to your will rather than fighting them directly.

Position—There’s nothing better for controlling someone than being in a position to crush them. That’s how most Janissaries are created, after all. In the game Perigord, I attempted to control Germany by being in a position to crush him, but he rebelled against me, and I had to participate in his destruction. If I had played the situation a little better, however, I believe he would have remained under my control.

Charm—There’s a saying that there is no sweeter sound to any man than the sound of his own name. Remember it, and they’ll want to please you. That principle is generalizable to more than just a person’s name. The correct sweet words, delivered in the correct tone, at the right moment can be more powerful than a thousand guns. If you have the gift of gab, you can turn your enemies into weapons. In every game I’ve played with Conq or Pootleflump, people follow those two players almost as if they’ve been zombified.

Threats—It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. In more games than I can count, I’ve used threats to push people into doing what I wanted. The key is to make threats that are plausible and maintain your ability to follow through as much as you can until you’re sure they’re doing what you want. The hazard is that threats can make people want revenge, since they feel they’re being coerced. Ideally, the solution to that is to be as charming as possible about it and try to make the relationship feel more mutually beneficial as soon as you can, by not abusing this technique too much. It’s a fine line between being seen as a reasonable authority figure and becoming a tyrant. The only way players usually win at Diplomacy is by seeming like a benevolent dictator, rather than an authoritarian leader.

Peer pressure—Everyone is susceptible to the opinions of others. In the game called #3, England was eventually peer pressured into attacking France, because almost literally everyone who wasn’t France was pressuring her to do so. Although it took an annoyingly long time to succeed, and it did not save my country from destruction at French hands, it did succeed in dooming France.

Personal weaknesses—Find each man’s thumbscrew, and use it to your advantage. I’m not going to give any personal examples, but some common weaknesses people have are their honor and desire to be honest, their sensitivity to criticism or desire for praise, and their willingness to believe pleasant-sounding lies.

The foot in the door technique—Start with small demands, and accustom them to doing what you want, to being under your thumb, like the frog in the pot of slowly boiling water. It’s even better if they feel as if you’re doing them a favor and they’re executing your demands in return, because that can create a sense of loyalty.

The door in the face technique—Make big, outrageous demands and then back down and settle for something a bit more reasonable. The only problems with this tactic are that it tends to alienate some people and that it requires more time investment in communication by both you and the other player.

The norm of reciprocity—When you’ve done someone a good turn, they’ll want to do the same for you. The same applies for when someone does someone a bad turn.

Scarcity—People want things that are scarce. In Diplomacy, there are things that are actually scarce: powers that can ally with you, armies, fleets, supply centers, and other desirable spaces. You can use these things are currency. There are also things that you can make people want by creating a false impression of scarcity. You can make yourself feel scarce to other players by being unavailable to them or by seeming to give more attention to other people or to be in demand by other people. You have to be careful with that, though, because it will often be interpreted as showing a lack of interest in working together, and at the wrong moment, showing that lack of interest in working together could be fatal.

Authority—The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. It’s also very persuasive. Saying that some strategy is endorsed by experts can be a way of making your case for a certain course of action stronger. In online Diplomacy, it’s very easy to send people links to strategy articles and videos to try and win their approval of your suggestions.

Related to this is the human instinct toward consensus; people tend to make choices that seem popular among others. If the move set you’re thinking of using is a common move set that other people have found works often, that’s often going to be a point in its favor.

Consistency–People strive to be consistent in their beliefs and behaviors. If someone’s behavior toward you and feelings toward you have been positive in the past, psychological consistency will make them want to maintain that pattern. The reverse of this is also true. You can strengthen the effects of that psychological phenomenon by emphasizing the strength of your bond with your ally and saying you’ll conquer the world together. In the game Open Game, the English player had a rough relationship with Germany, but the German nevertheless temporarily became his ally in stopping my quest for solo. However, it took very little for their trust to break down, and their alliance to collapse, because they were so used to seeing each other as enemies that they preferred to go back to fighting rather than continue working together.

Likability—People are influenced by those who are similar, complimentary, and cooperative. Every time Big Gun and I play together, the fact that we like each other exerts an influence on both of us. We tend to be able to work together a little better than a pair of people who are strangers to each other. And in the Johnnie Walker Black Label game we played in, that helped us to achieve a rare two power draw.

I would love to see people propose other ways to subdue the enemy without fighting in the comments below, because I know that there are many I haven’t covered here. I will probably update this post with more ideas about subduing the enemy without fighting.

Until next time, FloridaMan out!

2 thoughts on “Strategic Maxims: The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting

  1. Some very interesting points to take into my next game.

    A concrete way I try and subdue my opponents in my games is via builds. There are different methods to persuading another power to make the builds you want, but once they’ve built the unit you want it can permanently reduce their capacity to fight you, and tilt their choices in a direction favourable to you. I recall in your interview with Conq he gave knowing as when he had the leverage to ask for a certain build as being important, and I’ve certainly found this true.

    Another method is an appeal to greed. Offer somebody something very appealing but credible, and it can change their whole strategy. In a recent league game I played as Austria I was stuck between 3 super powers who were about to crush me (along with what was left of the others). I was completely surrounded. They needed a 3rd partner to make the draw stable, but the other power was more or less an equal. I went to 2 of the powers and demonstrated how switching Germany for me as a junior partner would allow them to get more points because I would finish with fewer centers (it was a scoring system that gave bonus points for each supply center). It worked and I got into the draw at Germany’s expense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like this stuff. Thank you for the additions to the list of methods!

      Limiting what people can build without causing a war between themselves and you is a good way to preemptively shut them down. I have found that, for instance, Russia building an army in St. Pete instead of a fleet can be quite helpful in preventing Russian expansion in the West. And, it so happens, if Russia doesn’t have a significant navy already in the North, any threat toward them from a Western power in that region can be quite potent.

      Appeal to greed, or as I prefer to think of it, self-interest, is probably the core of how most people are manipulated most of the time in Diplomacy. Good thinking there.

      Like

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