Contrary to the reactions most people have after they see the results of the very first move of the game, you can’t win the game in the first move. You can lose it there, though, but not through a poor move selection- just by poor small-d diplomacy. The important thing to consider when you’re making your first moves, even moreso than any other, is how everyone else will see what you’ve done. Always ask yourself: What am I doing, and why? That’s the key question. You have to know what you want- a solo, a 3 way draw, not to be eliminated- and be able to draw a mental pathway from where you are through what you want to do finishing up at that outcome. Spring 1901 is not too early to keep endgames in mind- if you’re Austria, for example, you had better be fully aware that there is virtually no way both you and Turkey are going to be thriving in the endgame, so if you choose to befriend Turkey- be aware of that limitation.
A sequence of smaller articles over the coming days will go into specific openings and strategies that are fairly widely recognized in the Diplomacy community, and what they mean for you and how you may interpret them if you see them being used by others. There are some general rules, however, a few of which overlap on the earlier advice for new players.
- There are no prizes for occupying Supply Centers in the Spring. Only Fall. If you’re France, and you get the funny feeling that maybe Italy is about to try some funny stuff- keep Marseille in place! You can always move to Spain in the fall. The same goes for France if you want to self-bounce in Burgundy to make sure Germany doesn’t attack you from Munich so soon; if you have an understanding with England, you can still move F Brest-Midatlantic Ocean and then F Midatlantic Ocean-Portugal in the fall, along with A Marseille-Spain, and still get two builds.
- Don’t get 3 builds. Don’t even try. There is absolutely nothing that will unite potential enemies faster than seeing one nation with 3 builds and maybe one other with 2 and the rest 1. That extra build is almost never worth it, even in no-press games; you’d be shocked how well players can still coordinate their efforts without press.
- Don’t get zero builds. You need the flexibility a build in Winter ’01 offers you, or you’re again probably out of luck. Keep this in mind while you’re making your Spring moves- put yourself in a position to guarantee (or almost guarantee- few things are certain in Diplomacy) at least one build.
- Don’t leave your own home centers open to invasion. If you lose a home center in Fall 1901, your game is likely to be over before it properly begins. If you have doubts that your neighbor may be planning an attack on you, be it France to the English Channel, Germany to Burgundy, Venice to Trieste or vice versa, defend your home turf.
- Talk, talk, talk to everyone, no matter how far away they are. I know this was said verbatim already. It’s that important, and it’s even more important for the first move than any other. Very often the other players will get impressions of you from the first press that will stay unchanged for the entire game. Present a front of competence (no matter if this is your first game, don’t tell anyone that!) and civility, and it will pay off in spades.
- Know what effect your moves will have on the entire board. If you’re Russia and your first move is A Moscow-St Petersburg, you are either going to suck England into Scandinavia and leave France completely open to dominate western Europe or you are going to completely scare England away and force him to go through France. There is no middle ground. Other nations have similar dilemmas, where their moves may have unexpected consequences around the entire board.
- Be familiar with opportunity costs. No move in Diplomacy is free, there is always something else a unit could be doing that may be more valuable. In the Russian example above, if you go north, you only have two units to contend against all of Austria and Turkey in Fall. If you’re not confident that you have a solid alliance with at least one of those two, you need that third Moscow army in the south to hold the line. And so on. There’s only one unit on the board where there is only one correct move in Spring 1901, and that’s the Turkish army in Constantinople. Every single other unit has multiple valid options.
One final word of general advice for the Spring 1901 moves: DON’T PANIC. Even if you think you’ve botched it, there are no unrecoverable situations this early in a game, especially if you have kept the lines of communication open like you should be and can keep talking. Remember, there’s always somebody who doesn’t want to see you eliminated early and bloat your neighbor’s supply centers that will be willing to help, be it with a second front or helpful tactical information.