VGA Planets Super Site

The Art of Diplomacy
by Emperor Bondservant

VGA-Planets comes the closest I know to simulating what it would be like to be a commander in a full-scale war -- especially considering the impact of having ten other commanders out there battling for the same things you are. The only simulation I have experienced that does as well a job as VGAP was a simulation in an international relations game-theory course I took in college.

Why is VGAP so great? VGA-Planets combines the three aspects of war that are so critical for victory:

  1. Military strategy.
  2. Economic supply.
  3. Diplomacy.

What has surprised me over the last couple of years is that all the articles that I have read on how to do well in VGAP have focused mostly on military strategy. There have also been some very good articles on economics -- another vital aspect of VGA-Planets. Yet, even the VGAP docs miss this vital element of diplomacy; they state that VGAP "emphasizes mining, colonization and the construction of starships. The players compete against each other economically and militarily on a galactic scale." No mention of the need for diplomatic skills.

I have yet to find ONE article on diplomacy -- the subject that can make or break any and every commander. Interestingly, in the course that I took in college, we spent the MOST time talking about how diplomacy can and will ultimately determine your fate in war.

What I will attempt to do in this article is lay out some of the diplomacy fundamentals I use as I approach and play in a VGA-Planets galaxy. I do not claim to be one of the best in diplomacy -- yet I attribute some of my success so far to what I have been able to achieve diplomatically. And, importantly, just like military strategy, I observe others' diplomatic activity to learn from them as well.

Diplomatic Strategy
First of all, make no mistake that non-aggression (NAG) pacts and alliances are critical to succeed. This is my first rule of diplomacy that guides my actions. There is no chance -- in a competitive galaxy -- that I will be able to avoid communication with others and win. Even if I excel in military strategy and economics, I will end up near the rankings bottom without NAGs or alliances.

Question: How many NAGs should I have? Answer: Three.
Actually, how many NAGs I have depends on my situation. In general, I want enough NAGs to secure most -- but not all -- of my borders and to make ship trades to gain others' ship advantages. I have found that I usually border three commanders after I expand. In general, having NAGs with two of those three commanders serves me well. Why? Fighting a two-front war is usually disastrous -- I optimally want to focus most of my battle efforts on one border. In addition to having NAGs with two neighboring commanders, having another strategic NAG with one commander not very close to me is also useful -- for ship trading purposes and more importantly for information exchange. Any more than three NAGs is burdensome -- since you need to communicate with each of them very often -- plus it severely limits who you can attack to grow your own empire.

Question: How long should I make a NAG? Answer: 40 (of 100) Turns.
Of course, it depends on my situation. But I like to avoid making a NAG for all game -- at least until the game is half over. Instead, I like to make a NAG for the first 40 turns in a 100-turn game. Then, by turn 35, it can either be extended for 10-20 turns or agreed to end it. Generally, I extend. However, if the person I have a NAG with is far ahead in first place then I want a way to at least get out of the obligation of helping him or her. After all, my primary objective is first place. For those players that like to battle, battle, and then battle some more, let me say that I agree with you wholeheartedly. And this strategy allows for you to see plenty of VCRs during the game. Except for one VGAP game (where I was forced into too many NAGs because I was a mentor), I have had the most or nearly the most VCRs in my games. Even better, with diplomatic strategies, after the VCRs were over, I was very likely to be the commander to still be able to see my ship on the screen - BG. It works!

Question: Should I set up an alliance? Answer: Yes, usually one.
Having an alliance takes much more trust than a NAG. I am willing to give an ally all information about my current status (including rst) and my future plans. I prefer to ally with someone that I know I will be able to trust, although that is not always possible. If I do set up an alliance, then I would only make two NAGs instead of three. And the length of any alliance that I set up is for all game.

The advantages of an alliance over a NAG is that my plans can interweave at a much higher level than with a NAG partner -- creating bigger and better win-win trades and situations. I am more likely to battle side by side with an ally rather than a NAG partner. Also, the depth and breadth of information shared is much greater -- helping plan for the future. And it is nice to have one player I know I will not have to worry about fighting for the whole game. A final advantage is that I can see, hear, and rejoice about someone elses victories -- increasing the pleasure of playing in the game.

The disadvantages of an alliance is that the trust is so great that I can be burned badly, seriously jeapordizing my situation if I am backstabbed (but see below on why I think that is unlikely). Also, with an alliance partner I have to be willing to take second place if it is my ally who is going to take first place (although taking both first and second as an alliance is also very satisfying).

Question: Who should I set up a NAG with? Answer: Anyone.
I have found that honor -- both in Rebel Space and now VGA-Planets -- is highly revered by players. Once someone gives their word, it is extremely rare they will go back on it (one aspect to VGAP that is not as realistic as real war). I will trust about anyone with a NAG or even an alliance, given it works out well from a military and geographic standpoint. Yes, there could be "misunderstandings" that could cause a NAG to break down. But out-and-out backstabbings are very rare. To be safe, I do insist on written communications stating the NAG conditions to make the NAG official and to help avoid any future misunderstandings.

Final Question: Should I follow your formulas exactly? Answer: No.
I know I don't - (Grin). They are merely guidelines. I have shown a formula-like approach to diplomacy, but bear in mind that each game situation I vary the formula to fit conditions, and so should you.

*** Have Fun and God Speed ***

File originally hosted at Spacenet, posted at Donovan's with permission.

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