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Diplomacy vs. Survivor

Is the classic negotiation game better than the reality television show?




Image courtesy of Avalon Hill

The CBS reality show Survivor has been pulling in great ratings since it debuted in June 2000 -- but, really, isn't Survivor just a large-scale negotiation game?

I would argue that it is, though some of the Survivor players don't seem much interested in negotiating. (Not coincidentally, many of those players have been eliminated well before the show comes to an end.) And what better negotiating game could there possibly be than the venerable Diplomacy?

Survivor certainly isn't a rip-off of Diplomacy, but it's not a large jump to speculate that someone involved in creating Survivor may have been very familiar with Avalon Hill's classic game. Consider the Suvivor motto: Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. What better summary could there be for the goal of Diplomacy?

Other similarities between the two games:

  • Players spend a great deal of time negotiating alliances.
  • Careful planning is required, with both short-term tactics and long-term strategy playing a major role in determining the eventual winner.
  • In Diplomacy, you're always trying to control additional supply centers -- similar to the reward challenges in Survivor, in which supplies are the prizes.
  • Your overall success depends in large part on the actions of other players.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between Survivor and Diplomacy as well, and you could argue that one is better than the other. I've developed a list of five reasons Diplomacy is better than Survivor, and a list of five reasons Survivor is better than Diplomacy.

Why Diplomacy is Better than Suvivor

Diplomacy: Everything you need has already been made -- no sweat equity involved. Survivor: You have to build many things (fishing poles, rat traps, etc.) before being able to proceed in the way you want to.

Diplomacy: Once you eliminate someone from the game, that player does not affect the outcome. Survivor: Eliminated players -- perhaps players you personally ticked off -- could cost you $1 million at the final vote.

Diplomacy: One day. Survivor: Thirty-nine days.

Diplomacy: You can get -- or at least seek -- revenge in the next game. Survivor: There is no next game.

Diplomacy: Only six other people see you lose. Survivor: The entire world sees you lose -- not to mention your disgusting eating habits and other things better kept private.

Why Survivor is Better Than Diplomacy

Survivor: You could win $1 million. Diplomacy: When was the last time someone offered you $1 million for winning Diplomacy?

Survivor: Players get a free stay in a posh resort after being knocked out of the game. Diplomacy: Players get mocked by their friends after being knocked out of the game.

Survivor: Your votes remain secret, at least until the show airs. Diplomacy: All your moves are revealed each turn, so backstabbing quickly becomes known to those you backstabbed.

Survivor: Sure, you may eat rats for a while, but you also have a chance to dine on fresh seafood, and perhaps chicken and fruit. Diplomacy: You're likely to feast on junk food all day, none of which has as much nutrition as a rat.

Survivor: There's always a chance for a romantic relationship to develop with a fellow contestant. Diplomacy: You probably don't want to get romantic with anyone else playing -- at least not anyone I've ever played Diplomacy with.

This article was originally posted in July 2000.

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