Negotiation Games

Negotiation is part of a great number of modern games. Imagine Settlers of Catan without negotiating trades, Risk without forming alliances or Monopoly without creative solutions for your debts. Yet none of those games are considered negotiation games – negotiation is a part of the game, maybe even an essential part, but it only makes up a small part of the game mechanics. For a true negotiation game, negotiation is at the core of the game, not just auxiliary. It will typically take up the largest chunk of time of the game and players’ success depends exclusively or almost exclusively on their ability to strike deals.

The first and most well-known example of a true negotiation game is Diplomacy, invented by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and first published in 1959. Each player takes the role of one of the powers involved in World War One – at least in the classic setting, but many, many more have been created since then – and tries to emerge with control of the largest chunk of Europe. Despite the setting, Diplomacy can not be mistaken for a wargame: there is only two kinds of units – armies and navies – and all they do is move, defend or support, even attacks are simple moves that someone doesn’t survive. The key to victory is making the right alliances. And breaking them at the right time. Most negotiation games don’t actually enforce the deals you are making, you’re free to break them at any time and lose nothing but your opponents’ trust. This is why Diplomacy has acquired a reputation of ruining friendships, only surpassed by Junta in that respect.

Early negotiation games like Diplomacy or Junta came from the classic US school of boardgames, meaning they took a while to play, even with time limits on the negotiation rounds. European style boardgames discovered the mechanic a while later, with some of the most notable examples from the early 90s. Lifeboats (1993) and Intrigue (1994) are well-known and especially Intrigue has a reputation to destroy friendships just as effectively as Diplomacy, only faster. In Intrigue, you are the head of a renaissance merchant family trying to set up your family members with cushy jobs in other players’ businesses. In order to achieve that you bribe other players who are then under no obligation whatsoever to actually do what you paid them for. Vicious is the right word here. Unlike Diplomacy and its cousins, these games do not aim for long-term alliances but focus more on immediate advantages.

In the late 90s and early noughts, not much has been happening in this genre, but recently new negotiation games have started to appear. This new wave of negotiation games uses free-for-all negotiation rounds to drive the game . Some, like Guillaume Besançon’s Cité forego the time limit and let players continue their planning and plotting until they all agree to be done or run out of resources. Others, such as Masters of Commerce, set a very strict time limit on the negotiations to create a frantic atmosphere – you might also call them yelling matches: all players sit around the table and try to achieve their goal at the same time. More negotiation games are currently approaching production, and with the popularity they currently enjoy, more are probably “in the pipeline”.

And now you know about negotiation games. Is there something you’d like to see in the Meeplepedia? Drop us a line and we’ll try to look into it.

The photo of the Diplomacy board was taken by Will Merydith and shared as CC-BY-SA. Thanks Will!


  1. You’re right, The Resistance is pretty big on the negotiation. Werewolf, too. By my own definition of “negotiation is the major part of the game” they belong here.

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