5-hour game of Diplomacy in Minneapolis, MN — view live-stream here

My Personality Weakness was Exposed by the Game of Diplomacy

And how my friend saved our relationship after my brutal stab

Erik Marty van Mechelen
6 min readNov 26, 2019


Conventional wisdom says Diplomacy ruins friendships. At best. At worst, it ends them. Here’s why that colloquial truism isn’t actually true, and what you might gain if you can remain friends with your victim after backstabbing him.

If you lose friends over a game of Diplomacy, it says more about you than the game. In Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life, game writers Joan Moriarity and Jonathan Kay explore both the dangers of breaking the magic circle and how some games create contradictions in the player contract.

Diplomacy is one of those games. It is neither solely collaborative or conflict-driven, but rather both at the same time. Because the face-to-face version of the game is driven by rounds of private negotiation away from the table, the tension between these opposing forces is amplified by the difficulties of managing in-game relationships. With six other players. Each a flawed human, equally capable of good and ill.

How Diplomacy Threatens the Player Contract

Here is a list of reactions or reflections I’ve seen on the subject of perceived betrayals in the game of Diplomacy:

I learned something about my friend I didn’t like.

He betrayed my trust.

After working so long with other players, I prefer not to stab them — but you have to in order to win.

These are only a few ways to respond to the difficulties Diplomacy presents. There are positive responses too, which we will get to.

More than most games — possibly more than any other game — Diplomacy tests the player contract and puts players through an experience they’d rather not repeat. We break out of the magic circle. We forget that what happens in the game should stay in the game.

Why? Because your closest ally could be the player who is the cause of your elimination. It is common to see two players work together for several hours before one of them turns on the other. The initial investment, conflict, and ultimate breakup are analogous to the arc of a relationship…