It’s that time of year when the fall workload is starting to kick in and the memories of frosh week are fading. But when the clock hits ten o’clock on Thursday night, I abandon all the papers on my desk, grab my phone, prox and a bottle of water (in case things get a little too crazy) and dash out the door before you can say “means of egress.” While a lot of students are faced with the question of where to head on Thursday night, I already know exactly where I’m going: the Forbes Multipurpose Room to play board games.
Well, one board game in particular: Diplomacy. This is probably a good time to mention that I’ve never played this game before, nor do I normally spend my Thursday nights like this at the Forbes MPR. In fact, I ended up here on a personal mission: to solve the mystery of my disappearing friends.
Rewind to seven days ago. I gave my friend a call, hoping we could head to the Street together, to no avail. For the next few days he neglected to answer my calls and generally seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth, and to make matters worse, a few of my other friends had disappeared in an equally mysterious fashion. I was beginning to get worried when he resurfaced the next day with a sheepish grin and a “Sorry I never answered your calls.”
“And texts,” I added with as injured a tone as I could muster. Eventually I weaseled the reason for his disappearance out of him — a phenomenon he described as “Diplomacy.”
“It’s really intense,” he said, slightly defensively. “We played for three days straight, and I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I woke up really early thinking about where to move my armies.”
I have to admit that I’m slightly skeptical of his claims of sleeplessness as I stand in the brightly lit Forbes MPR, a fairly nice room where my friends have gathered to set up the game. At this point it’s still “Thursday night” to me, and it’s shaping up to be much less exciting than a room with a black light and a crowd of way too many people in glow-in-the-dark frat tanks. I’m beginning to think that the game my friends are playing may be sleep-inducing more than anything else.
There are seven of us, and we’re all randomly assigned a country. I’m told not to get too attached to my country because this game is known to break friendships. “You have to be able to separate your friends from their countries. If I couldn’t separate Greg from Austria-Hungary I’d probably hate him right now,” says my friend, who I will now refer to as England. I get Germany, which I’m told shouldn’t make me worry about losing because they completely deviate from history in this game. “One time I was playing as France, which has an advantage early in the game because of its convenient position, but I was betrayed so thoroughly that by the end of the game I had lost all of France but survived as a government in exile in Spain,” says Turkey (formerly France).
I’m beginning to understand why this game can keep a group of Princetonians hooked for three days — it’s a game of strategy, but more than that it’s a game of trust and inevitable betrayal. The aim of the game is to gain 18 supply centers that are scattered across Europe — which basically means you have to snatch them away from all the other countries in as nasty and conniving a way as possible.
The game starts in spring of 1901. Russia says that he’ll agree to have a neutral border with my Germany, but that he’s eyeing Sweden and Denmark. Immediately, Sweden and Denmark appear irresistible to me, and I strike a deal with him that I’ll take Denmark and he can have Sweden. While I’m fighting with England over Denmark, I notice Italy eyeing me suspiciously. He takes me to the side and warns me that Austria-Hungary is — to put it nicely — planning to screw me over.
The power-hungry green-eyed monster that lies within each of us (or is it just me?) suddenly begins to wake up. As I begin to understand that Austria-Hungary isn’t as nice as I initially thought he was, I sit down in a little corner of the room and begin scribbling out the commands I’m to give to my armies and fleet. I realize that I can’t trust anyone, that everyone is really out to get me and that they can’t be relied on to stick to their alliances because they’re all just a bunch of betraying, selfish cowards on whom you can’t even depend to give you Denmark. It’s time for a new plan of attack. Destroy everyone. I’m not sure what my expression is right now, but from the way the others keep glancing at me I’m guessing I look pretty damn terrifying.
When the new positions of the armies are revealed, I realize that Germany has fended off an attack from Warsaw by Russia — that liar! — and prevented an attack from Austria-Hungary, who’s looking pretty shamefaced right now. And I got Denmark. The green-eyed monster goes back to bed.
Before I know it, Thursday night is almost over and I’ve been shut up in the Forbes MPR all night without even realizing it. I wondered why my friends would want to totally cut themselves off from the social interactions that come with college for several days on end, and the answer is pretty simple. Playing Diplomacy is a chance to let your green-eyed monster go a little crazy. The fact is that academic competition is nowhere near as exciting as fighting with France over a country in the Balkans just to screw with him. More than that, Diplomacy is a way to interact with your peers in a completely different way than I’m used to — it’s pretty far removed from how you would interact with someone in a room full of glow-in-the-dark tanks. I am, however, a little concerned about the over-excitability of my green-eyed monster. Maybe I should give it a few years before I go into real politics.