I. Getting Started
Everything may look confusing to you, a mass of numbers and long lists of statistics you don't really understand. What on Earth is going on? Don't worry about it, it's all incredibly simple.
First things first, find the forums of the game you wish to play. Most are divided into two sections; a News area, where the Game Master (or GM) posts updates, and a forum for discussion between players. It's the first one you want. You'll want to find out the basic information about this game. Any topics labelled "Backstory" or something similar will be of use, as will the News thread, where you can find the starting date of the game.
- A. Picking a Nation
Once you know a bit about this game, particularly when it's set, you can go about picking a nation to play as. You can't play a Balance of Power game without a nation. In other games, nations may be replaced by people, groups, noble houses, and so on.
Although it seems obvious, make sure you pick a country that actually exists during the time period. If it's the Cold War and you want to play as the Ukraine, you're out of luck, as it's part of the Soviet Union. Similarly, in early time periods where colonialism exists, some countries such as India or Algeria might still be colonies, meaning you can't play as them.
If this is your first game, you should avoid powerful nations such as the United States of America, the Soviet Union, and other major world powers. The GM should be able to help you pick a nation, based on your abilities and balance needs. Smaller countries such as the Poland, Romania, Italy, Turkey, and so on, are better suited for you. It should also be noted that Caribbean and Scandinavian nations, as well as Canada and Australia, do relatively little between the Second World War and the modern day, and should be largely avoided.
An invaluable source of information is Wikipedia. There is nothing more frustrating than a player who doesn't know anything about their country. If you pick a country then it is expected that you do at least some research on their history and the events they are involved in during the game's time period. This means if you're France you should not send troops to Vietnam because they hate you. Cuba will never lead an alliance of Caribbean and Latin American states to invade the US. And Franco's Spain will never ally with the Soviets. If you play as Iran and act surprised that you were overthrown by radical Islamists then you probably didn't research enough.
- B. Statistics
So you've picked out a nation and you're looking at the stats. What do they mean? You can find the statistics for the game you're playing in where the Game Master (GM) posts the turn reports. Usually it is named something like "News", "World News" or after a news agency, such as "Reuters" or the "BBC". The lists are usually quite long, but if you use CTRL+F and search for your nation's name, you should be able to find it quickly. Below is an example nation to explain how things work.
-Republic of Molotov-
Prime Minister: (Player Name)
Domestic Popularity: Somewhat High
Foreign Popularity: Moderate
Military Units: 5/6 [-10, 1 in France, -60 maintenance]
Economy: +80 credits
Credit Income: +45 [+10 international trade, +30 allied trade, -5 deficit]
Conflicts: Invasion of France, Fighting Rebels
The Boring Club
This is our fictional country, the Republic of Molotov. It might look complicated, but it's actually very simple. You have your Nation's Name, as well as Your Username, telling you who is playing as this country. Further down, we have Domestic Popularity, which tells you how popular your government is. This government is doing well, but if your popularity dropped to "Low" or "Very Low", rebels may appear, and your country will be more susceptible to outside influence. Then we have Foreign Popularity, which tells you what the world thinks of you. Here, whilst Molotov is generally popular with most nations, so the rating is "Moderate". If your nation commits an attrocity or controversial action, you can expect nations to turn against you.
Below this, we come to the military section. Military Units helps you to keep track of your military strength and deployments. A unit is not a set number of men, but is a simple method to represent your country's military capabilities. Here we can see you have 6 units total, but 1 is deployed abroad to fight a neighbouring nation. Because you have 6 units, you pay -60 in maintenance. However as also have a unit deployed, you must pay an additional -10 credits, to ensure that unit is supplied with rations, supplies, ammunition, and so on.
Now with military out of the way, we can focus on probably the most important part of your statistics, the economic section. It starts off with your Economy, which is your base income per turn. Right now, your nation is making +80 credits per turn. With the credits you may have saved up, each turn you can invest in various industries in help improve your economy and how much money you make per turn. Below though, is your nation's Deficit, which, the higher it is, the higher the toll it can take on your nation's income. But don't worry, you have the ability to pay it back, which may be easy to finish within a few turns.
After deficit is your Credit Income, which is how much you make per turn, taking into account your income (economy and trade) and your losses (to unit maintenance, etc.). The number next to your credit income is how much you are going to make per turn, which is +45 credits per turn. That's not very much, but it could be higher if your economy didn't have to support so many units. But how did we find that number? Well here is the equation...
Economy + Trade - Unit Maintenance - Deficit = Credit Income
All you have to do to find your credit income is to take your economy, which is 80, and add that which how much you are making from both allied and international trade, which is 40, and you have 120. Then you subtract how many credits it costs to maintain your units, which is -70, and then subtract how much your deficit is costing you, which is -5. So 80 + 40 - 70 - 5 = 45, your credit income.
Finally, we come to Conflicts. More often than not, nations in Balance of Power are involved in conflicts of some sort. Here, "Molotov" is both invading France, and is fighting a rebel group, "The Boring Club". You have the name of the rebels, then their sphere. These rebels are "Soviet", meaning they are aligned with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union might be funding these rebels and supporting them. Finally, we have their unit number, which is 2. You have the ability to deploy your units throughout your country to fight these rebels, but it will cost just as much to deploy them in another nation as it does to deploy them in your nation.
II. Events and News
Now that you understand what the statistics in the "News" topics mean, you can read what has transpired so far. If you are joining a game at its start, most GMs will include a small bit of news that details what has happened in the last half of the year historically. Sometimes there may be hints and indications of events that will happen in the future. If the game has been running for a few turns, you should read the new "News" posts that the GM has made. One turn is equivalent to 6 months, with each year divided into two turns. In 1950, for example, there would be "Early 1950", from January to June, then "Late 1950", from July to December.
You should make sure you are familiar with what has happened up to the "present day" in the game. As we players have certain advantages over the historical people we are roleplaying as, history is unlikely to follow the same path. Some events that happened historically may not happen, whilst others that did not happen, may have.
If you have trouble understanding any of the events, or why certain things have happened, you can always ask other players or the GM, who should be able to help you out.
Now you understand what is happening in the world, you are ready to conduct some diplomacy. The first thing you should look at is where the players are discussing what has happened in the world. Usually this is called something like "United Nations", "League of Nations", or "Diplomacy". Here you may find a number of topics where players are discussing particular events. If an invasion has taken place, or rebels have broken out in a country, people may be discussing it and what actions should be taken.
You should read the most recent topics and, using the title and the first post, decide whether your nation has any interest in what is being discussed. For example, if a discussion is taking place to form a Caribbean Trade Bloc, and you're playing as Turkey, chances are you're not particularly interested in it. However if there's a topic discussing increasing conflict on Cyprus, an island country near Turkey, you would likely be interested in what people are discussing.
Diplomacy takes place In Character. This means that players roleplay to represent the realistic views and attitudes of their nation. Continuing the example of Turkey, if there were civil strife on Cyprus, Turkey would not support allowing Greece to annex Cyprus, or the eviction of all Turkish Cypriots from the island. It's about using a combination of common sense and the research you have previously done.
If there are events that have happened in recent "News" updates that you feel ought to be addressed, but aren't being talked about, feel free to look at how other players have presented issues in the forum for diplomacy and raise the issue yourself.
Interactions with other nations also take place outside of the forum for diplomacy. If you use IRC, detailed in this guide, you may encounter other players in our IRC channel who are also playing the same game as you. You can talk to them in IRC to negotiate various matters in private. Similarly, the forum PM system is often used for players to contact each other. These two methods are usually used Out Of Character, but some players prefer to communicate In Character.
Finally, we come to Alliances. Not all nations are in alliances, but some nations are members of pacts such as NATO or the Warsaw Pact. If so, they will usually have a secret forum only members of that alliance can see, where they can gather to plan and discuss.
IV. Sending A Turn PM
This is the final stage to playing Balance of Power, and most other games. When you sign up, the GM will send you a Turn PM. This contains the number of credits your nation has saved up. It is added to every turn by your Credit Income, as covered in "Statistics" above.
Based on the events that have occurred in previous turns (if there are any), historical events that have occurred or are occuring, and diplomatic discussions you have had with allies and enemies alike, you should now be in a position to decide what you would like to do this turn.
This is a copy of the standard Balance of Power Rules, but the GM of the game you are playing should have their own copy posted within the "News" forum for easy reference. If you are not playing a Balance of Power game, the rules may be very different, but should still be in the "News" forum.
To send a turn PM, simply reply to the PM the GM has sent you, select the actions you wish to do, note the credit amount, and at the end of your turn PM, note how many credits you have left over. This is an example turn PM:
Game GM wrote:You are the Republic of Molotov. You have 400 credits.
-100: Invest in our economy. Improve the road and transport infrastructure.
-10: 1 unit in France will continue the attack towards Paris.
-50: Send aid to the Viet Minh in Vietnam.
-30: Frame France as having attempted to send weapons to The Boring Club.
190/400 = 210
As you can see here, the player for the Republic of Molotov has done 4 actions, with a total cost of 190 credits. As they started with 400 credits, they have 210 credits left over. If their attempt to invest in the economy fails to improve their Credit Income and they maintain an income of "45 credits", then their next turn PM sent by the GM will likely say they have "255 credits".
This more or less concludes the guide to Balance of Power and other related games. If you have any further questions, feel free to PM any member of the Administration Team or the GM of the game you are playing/wish to play in, or just ask in IRC.