Don’t bounce Burgundy

Photo by Nacho Facello/Flickr.
Burgundy. This word could refer to a few different things: a dark red that is one of my favourite colours; a fictional news anchor by the name of Ron who is kind of a big deal; or a region in France, known for its wine and mustard. The latter Burgundy was also the place Nazi Germany dreamed of using as their base for western expansion. Those dreams are the reason many a Diplomacy player has ordered a bounce by sending two units to Burgundy with the sole purpose of keeping Germany out.

Diplomacy is a game that has been around for years, existing on the fringes of board gaming culture since 1959. It differentiates itself from other war-based games with its intense periods of negotiation and an absence of dice. To win a game of Diplomacy, a player has to control eighteen of the thirty-four supply centres. Working together with other players is necessary in order to expand. Negotiation and trust are critical to success.

People might break that trust, but the alternative is far more terrifying.

The thing is: trusting someone in Diplomacy can be very hard to do. If you ever leave yourself vulnerable, you’re suddenly open to an unexpected attack from someone you thought was an ally. And that’s why, when playing France, no matter what Germany says, the possibility of Munich-Burgundy is a very real threat to start the game. So then, the question remains: given that threat, what should France do? And many players default to the defensive option: self-bounce to keep Burgundy open.

But playing on the defensive means you don’t move anywhere and your progress is delayed. If you ask me, in order to get anywhere in Diplomacy, you have to trust someone and as an extension of that trust you have to first be willing to be vulnerable. If that vulnerability means you get attacked, that just gives you more reason to fight back with everything you’ve got. But maybe that’s my philosophy in Diplomacy because that’s also my philosophy in life.

It’s true that trusting people invites others to take advantage of me. Far too often, I refuse to let myself be vulnerable because I perceive a possible threat. Just like France at the beginning of a game of Diplomacy, I have a tendency to turtle, protecting what little I have at the expense of making progress. But without progress, there won’t be any growth. And without growth, there is no chance to win. In fact, if I don’t grow, I’ll eventually become more of target for those who do.

Negotiation and trust are critical to success.

Many people have written about this dichotomy: There is a generally accepted maxim that without pain, there is no gain. M. Scott Peck said “There can be no vulnerability without risk. There can be no community without vulnerability. There can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to ”give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you“ and to love your enemies. Jesus gives us an ideal toward which we can strive. The unfortunate thing is that very few of us actually strive for these.

People might take advantage of me. I might lose something for a while—perhaps my dignity, or my willingness to trust, or my faith in a friend. But what would the alternative be? To live my life never trusting anyone? To never let anyone get close? To build up walls while the world goes on without me? That certainly doesn’t work in Diplomacy and it just cannot work in life. Yes, people might break that trust, but the alternative is far more terrifying. I, for one, think that reward is far more valuable than anything I might have defended in the first place.

Michael Penner

Michael Penner

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Mike is an equal opportunity geek, with interests ranging from math and board games to sports and music. He finds joy in helping people grow and succeed through shared experience.
Michael Penner

Latest posts by Michael Penner (see all)