Diplomacy is the game of negotiating your way to an advantage over another. There is no hope acting alone successfully unless the game is sufficiently far along that it is you attempting a solo and the rest of the board is aligned against you. Most of the game is spent talking to other players, coordinating actions, and negotiating outcomes. Although an entire book could be written about this, my aim in this article is to discuss the broad brush approaches to negotiating with other players. Each point I make could have its own article written about it, so hopefully what follows will be a general outline of future content to come. Continue Reading »
In my previous two installments, I’ve discussed what Gal means for Austria and Russia, the two powers who will engage in a knife fight over Gal. However, the winner of this wrestling match also has further repercussions across the board. However, for the finale of this series, we will focus on the other power in the Eastern Triangle: Turkey. Who occupies Gal, and how they do so, can have a strong influence over decisions the Sultan might make regarding alliances, and avenues of expansion.
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Diplomacy is a game of negotiation and tactics leading to some grand strategy. Periodically this will lead to one player reneging on an agreement with another, in favor of greater tactical advantage. A direct assault on a former ally that leaves his rear open, or the total reversal of an alliance, is referred to as the stab.
Here’s something I’ve observed enough to think it’s a trend: at least among the players in my server’s pool, there is a lot of weak stabbing, almost seemingly for the sake of stabbing, as if pulling off the most obnoxious betrayal were the method of winning the game. Shae and I both agree on this, and I’m paraphrasing the single best advice he’s given me as a player:
Under no circumstances should you stab another player unless it will lead to the solo, or it will remove that player from the game in short order.
I have italicized and boldfaced the above quote because it should be the mantra of any player about to attempt a stab. After a protracted, careful consideration of the dynamics of the board, if you decide to stab a player, one of those two outcomes should be the result. Much, much more will be written about the art of the stab later on, but this one rule should be taken as absolute gospel by every single player who is serious about being good at Diplomacy.
In Japanese martial arts, and other disciplines, there is a concept called Shuhari, which translates roughly as “obey, digress, separate” or, more loosely and in context, “learn the rules, question the rules, transcend the rules”. It is a continuous cycle that is the basis for expanding from the fundamentals to a higher level of ability, and usually returning to fundamentals again.
As applied to Diplomacy, I believe it applies just as well to players of varying skill levels. The serious player, the one who really wants to do well, will spend hours reading strategy and tactics articles, telling you specific details and rules of thumb, proverbs of a sort, that the diligent student will apply religiously. These are, of course, learned in a rather academic context, and while they prove effective, after some experience, the astute player will begin to wonder why certain openings work, and why others won’t. They try other openings themselves, they try radical tactics and diplomatic strategies, they create alliances that shouldn’t really work.
In doing so, the budding expert begins to see why certain rules are, and what they are good for, and when they are really applicable. Eventually, the player begins to flow freely, playing a game that is independent of any discernible tactics or strategy that were taken from a book or internet article. Perhaps they develop a few moves of their own that nobody else had really employed, or they begin startling other players with their adept play.
The curious thing about this last stage, Ri, is that it eventually cycles back to studying Shu again, but with new eyes. There are deeper and deeper meanings to the rules. Germany and Austria don’t go to war, and not just because it causes problems for them in 1902. English fleets in the English Channel aren’t just a problem because of France’s need to cover Bre. There are layers that are very situational, and which can only be appreciated with a high level of analyzed experience.
I think that’s the key point here, is that the experiences of each player must be analyzed. Many players pick up the game, play through, do poorly, pick up another game, play through, do poorly again, and never ask why they aren’t progressing. Some are too arrogant to even admit failure, blaming the poor play of the opposition when it is that player’s own poor positioning that led to their early demise. Once the individual tactics and strategies of the game are memorized, the real learning requires that the question “Why?” be asked ad nauseam, either from more experienced players, or by self-reflection and studying why the game went a certain way, where the turning point was, and how to sway it the next time. Only by assimilating this and then making such judgement calls in the live game rather than after the fact, by seeing the game for what it is, can real mastery be attained.
In my last post I discussed how important control of Gal is for Austria, with some discussion of what happens if Russia occupies or doesn’t occupy Gal in Spring 1901. The flip side of this coin, obviously, is what it all means for Russia. So let’s look at a few of the same scenarios as discussed in that previous post.
Russian occupation of Gal is a clear diplomatic signal to all powers that Russia is moving south and he is moving against Austria. The other possibility is that Russia greatly fears Austrian aggression, and in an effort to keep Austria out, the Russian attempts to bounce Austria. We’ll break these scenarios down, and what they mean for the Russian position against Austria.
Let’s look at the Russian aggression scenario first. As Russia, you have decided that you and one of either Italy or Turkey (or both!) are going to dismantle the Austrian. The only Russian army readily available to attack Austria is the army in War, as the army in Mos has to travel to Ukr first, and the fleet in Sev is useless for anything but occupying Rum in the case of a war with Austria. You have no choice in the matter, you have to get into Gal.
Assuming Austria sees this coming, which is entirely likely, the map for Fall 1901 might look something like this:
The fleet in Tri may or may not have moved to Alb, but this is relatively inconsequential. You may think you are in a very strong position, but the interesting thing about Gal is its asymmetric tactical importance: for Austria, an empty Gal is the same as one occupied by Austria; for Russia, an empty Gal is a giant wall that requires a great deal to get past. Austria will pull out one build this year, possibly two if he had moved Tri-Alb and he and Italy aren’t fighting. Vie can happily move Vie-Gal, which means that if Germany has made an anti-Russian move in the first turn, the army in War is tied down and can’t do anything useful about it if your primary goal is to occupy Gal. A first turn bounce in Gal, or any unoccupied Gal at the end of Spring 1901, sets Austria up for a very pleasant Fall 1901, filled with relatively straightforward choices.
The alternative scenario is as follows. Let’s suppose Austria opens Vie-Bud Bud-Ser and Russia opens War-Gal. The strategic situation here is totally different. Austria has to choose between a sacrifice a home supply center or clearing out of Ser. This also leads to an interesting decision by Russia, and it could lead to multiple interesting outcomes. Russia must gamble between Austria deciding to cover Bud and Vie, or holding Ser. If the Russian thinks Austria will cover his home SCs, then he should do nothing, hold Gal, and let Austria lose control of Ser in an attempt to cover both his home SCs. If he thinks Austria will continue to stab south against Turkey, he should move for either Bud or Vie, which gives him a 50% chance of picking up an Austrian SC. This is clearly a truly terrible Austrian opening in the face of anything but assured Russian friendship.
A more likely scenario is as follows: Austria moves Bud-Ser, and leaves Gal unbounced. This is a slightly easier defensive position for Austria, but it is still a poor position to be in.
Austria can self-bounce, and assuming he has moved his fleet to Alb, can still expect to bounce any Turkish advance on Greece, or pick up a second build. However, the occupation of Greece is no longer a guaranteed thing, as Austria must self-bounce in Bud to prevent Russian occupation. This is an aggressive first position, and leaves Austria in an awkward position, but it does not spell his demise, particularly if he has gotten into Gre.
The early Austrian position is surprisingly difficult to crack, even if Russia occupies Gal and has Turkish support. Austria gaining one build and filling in Bud with an army is all it takes to create a very hard nut to crack, one that will require Turkey to gain a build in Greece (assuming Turkey is your only ally in this). However, Russian occupation of Gal changes the dynamic of the war. As we have seen, if the Russian army does not occupy Gal in the Spring of 1901, Austria has a much freer hand to pick up two builds, assuming Italian neutrality. Paradoxically, despite seizing the early initiative with the occupation of Gal, Russia’s hands are still tied in attacking Austria until either Turkey gets an army in Greece (which then causes big trouble for Serbia) or Russia gets an army in Rum.
Because of the diplomatic troubles inherent in inflating Turkey quickly while Italy is left with only Tun, there is a good chance the Austrian player could have a very firm rear flank, trading aid in keeping Greece out of Turkish hands for future builds. There are alternative openings, such as bouncing in Gal, moving into Ukr, and having the fleet hold in Sev, so that you can get an army into Rum in the Fall, but even this only goes so far, particularly if Austria manages two builds.
As Russia, the door to Austria is Gal, but unfortunately the occupation of Gal is only the first step. It affords no overwhelming tactical advantage like a German occupation of Nth or a French occupation of Bel offers. The Eastern side of the board tends to develop slower because of the absence of these tactically critical supply centers. Whoever occupies Gal, be it Russia or Austria, gets to dictate who has to play defensive, but it by no means knocks the door open to the other side’s SCs.
For my final installment on the importance of Gal, I will look at the impact the Galician Question has on Turkish strategy and tactics.
Turkey is another nation that faces limited, but extremely momentous, decisions- like England, it sits in a corner. While this makes it inherently difficult to conquer, it also makes it difficult to push out past a fairly small perimeter- this is something important to keep in mind as you look at the map and read about various tactics.
Turkey has only 3 neutral supply centers and 1 enemy home center within its possible reach in 1901, the most limited selection of any power on the board. What’s worse, two of those neutral centers can be only reached by Turkey in the fall, but can be reached by other powers in the Spring. Further narrowing the field of possible orders, Turkey has the one unit on the board (A Con) whose first round move is almost mandatory- Bulgaria, the only neutral SC on the board that is indisputably Turkey’s in 1901. If you manage not to hold that in the first year, something has gone horribly wrong. The other two units, then, are where the interest picks up. Even more than other nations, Turkish moves in 1901 are dominated by the elephant in the early game of any Diplomacy match- Is there or is there not a Russian-Turkish alliance (the “Juggernaught”) and how much do you want to try to fake people out if so?
Before discussing specific moves, the overall strategy needs discussion. In general, if you can, a R/T alliance is one of the strongest possible on the board- even if it favors Russia slightly more than Turkey because it’s easier for Turkey to get bogged down in the Balkans. The problem is that everyone else competent on the board is well aware of this, and if it’s blatant that an R/T alliance has formed you can be fairly sure Germany, Austria, and Italy are going to start working together- and that’s doubly bad news for Turkey. So your goal is to camouflage a juggernaught for as long as you reasonably can, while still ensuring a build.
- Russian Attack Openings
These openings have the common feature that they involve F Ankara-Black Sea. They can be a smokescreen, especially with a prearranged bounce in the Black Sea; or Russia can move to Rumania by arrangement and then in the fall allow Turkey to take Rumania and disband Russia’s fleet. Understandably this is rare, since Russia gives up hope of a southern build.
- Balkan Attack
This is the order where A Smyrna moves to Constantinople. It is a fairly balanced set of orders, combining apparent threat to Russia and Austria alike, and lets you apply force to Serbia, Greece, and Rumania even with a Black Sea bounce in the Fall.
- Crimean Attack
In this order, A Smyrna moves instead to Armenia. This is the most ostensibly anti-Russian opening possible, giving if Black Sea succeeds two units on Sevastopol in the Fall; but even this can be a stealth R/T with F BLA C A ARM-BLA-BUL or RUM!
- Balkan Attack
- Mediterranean Attack Opening
In these, F Ankara moves into Constantinople instead of the Black Sea. There’s really only one companion to this; A Smyrna H provides cover on Turkey’s north shore in case Russia attacks the Black Sea anyway because you can self-bounce in Ankara while holding Bulgaria, and then building your build as a new F Ank. Typically the companion to this is trying to bounce in Greece, and being satisfied with one build as you move F Con-Aeg and build another fleet in Smyrna. Two fleets in the Mediterranean in 1902 is a disaster scenario for Italy, who is in very real danger of getting swamped early; however, if Russia cooperates, this is the clearest possible indicator of an R/T alliance.
- Turkish Hedgehog
Properly speaking this is a variant of the Mediterranean push, but is a notable enough opening on its own to merit a separate entry. It goes like this: A Con-Bul, F Ank-Con, A Smy-Arm. You’re attacking in all directions at once; the optimal compliment to this is to persuade Russia to let you have the Black Sea, and then just don’t take it. If he does, you can self bounce in Ankara and hold Bulgaria; if he doesn’t, you can play merry hell with Sevastopol with that army in Armenia while holding Bulgaria or bouncing in Greece and moving into the Mediterranean early. This is a high risk high reward strategy, and signals an A/T more than anything else (an alliance not typically long for this world) as it is hard to ‘pull back’ into an R/T alliance. If you want to convince a wary Austria and Italy you have no desire to steamroll them, though, this is a good move.
Overall, as a matter of personal taste I tend to default towards a Mediterranean push; I almost always try to rope Russia into an alliance and am dubious about any competent player being taken in by a ruse for long enouch to make up for the loss of tempo by moving ‘backwards’ with respect to Italy and Austria, both certain midgame bitter enemies of you.