For the first of the 1901 Opening Strategy posts, I will start off with a nation that has only one or two real decisions to make on the first move, but they are colossal ones- England. First, to visualize the ‘reach’ of England in the first year, I find the following types of maps helpful; colored in blue shading are all sea and land spaces which an English unit can possibly occupy (no matter how outlandish) after Fall 1901.
What does this map tell us? In this case, that there are 5 supply centers that are potential targets for England in the first year. You need to get at least one of them, or you’re going to get swamped when France, Germany, or both see you as easy meat after a failed first year and build fleets. Belgium, Holland, and Denmark are 3 neutral SCs you can go after on mainland Europe. Holland and Denmark are generally considered in Germany’s sphere of influence, and more importantly start out next to Germany’s home centers. You’ll have to pull off some major trickery to get in either of those in 1901, and you’ll be strongly committing yourself to a E-G war off the bat, which can be suboptimal. Belgium and Norway, then, are the traditional English targets in 1901 and are the 2 neutral SCs most often considered to be in England’s “sphere of influence”- although Russia CAN move to Norway in Fall 1901, it has to completely commit to a northern strategy to do so, and this is rarer than you think.
Aside from the neturals, however, you can also attack Brest in 1901 if France is daft enough to let you into the English Channel and you’re snaketongued enough to make him keep it uncovered in the Fall for you to waltz in. While rare, this is often almost a knockout blow for France in 1901, especially if you also get Norway. Typically this is off the table, however, and Belgium/Norway are the two targets with Norway being the prime candidate for your first build.
So how does this translate to opening moves?
The first thing you need to know is this golden rule for England: Do not under any circumstances lose control of the North Sea sea zone. It borders 6 supply centers- more than any other non-SC space on the board, including two English home centers. For that reason it is absolutely and non-negotiably vital to England’s position. That leaves the question of what to do with your other fleet, and the answer you come up with to this determines your opening. There are two typical answers, and each of those has two generally seen choices for where the army in Liverpool moves, which makes for a total of 4 notable English openings.
- Southern Opening
This is the name given to the openings where you move F London-English Channel and F Edinburgh-North Sea. Imaginatively named, it moves you south, and indicates a focus on making absolutely sure you get Belgium in 1901 more commonly than Norway.
- Southern Opening, Welsh Variant
In this, A Liverpool moves south to Wales. This is what you pick if you’re SURE you will be taking the Channel- if you don’t, you are in trouble, because you have two units unable to attack any SCs in the Fall and everyone on the board knows you’ll be moving F North Sea-Norway, leaving that key space open for Germany to move in if it wants to put the screws to England quickly. But if it works, and you start Fall 1901 with F ENG, NTH and A WAL, you can keep everyone guessing with Fall. You could take Norway and land an army in Picardy, completely discomposing France’s defensive position; you can land in Brest, and make the attempt to take France’s home SC ASAP. Nice job if you can manage it. Or, most commonly, you can launch a supported convoy into Belgium and be sure of a build and a foothold on the Continent.
- Southern Opening, Yorkshire Variant
In this, the army moves to Yorkshire. It’s a bet-hedging opening, and the one typically done if France agrees to a bounce in the English Channel. With it, you can convoy into Norway instead of moving a fleet there, or try your luck in Belgium anyway, without leaving the North Sea open. Another note for both Southern openings if the move to the English Channel succeeds- if France has moved so that it cannot self-bounce in Brest, i.e. neither army moves to Picardy or Gascony, it can often be a better idea to move from the Channel to the Mid Atlantic instead of Brest; MAO is often a key sea zone throughout the game, and occupying it, forcing France to reoccupy Brest (and not incidentally be unable to build a 2nd northern fleet after 1901) can often put the French entirely on the wrong foot in an early E/F war.
- Southern Opening, Welsh Variant
- Northern Opening
In these openings, F London moves to the North Sea, and F Edinburgh into the Norwegian Sea. These are the most common English moves, since usually France is quite willing to move to the Mid-Atlantic rather than the Channel and it can absolutely guarantee a build- which is something that can’t be said of the Southern openings.Typically these are seen as anti-Russian openings, and indicating a detente or even a nascent E/F/G Triple Alliance (or at least discussions to that end that England doesn’t wish to ruin!)
- Churchill Variant
Named after everyone’s favorite Prime Minister for his scheme to invade Norway in WW2, this variant includes A Liverpool-Edinburgh. This is the single most popular English opening in my experience, because you have the flexibility to launch a supported attack on Norway if Russia commits north, or to convoy your army with NWG instead of NTH and retain freedom to use your North Sea fleet to interfere in Belgium/Holland/Denmark. Sounds great- but the drawback is if France actually does open to the English Channel, you’re in trouble because you have to try to cover London and can’t set up a mutual bounce, leaving you open to accidentally abandoning the key North Sea sea zone.
- Yorkshire Variant
This variant trades off the flexibility of the Churchill opening for security. Even if France ends up opening to the Channel, you can cover it with your army and still be able to hit Norway with a supported attack- hence, this is the only opening for England where there is no possible combination of enemy moves in 1901 which prevent England from gaining a build in 1901. Every single other possible opening has a foil with sufficient cooperation from other nations. Should the French not open to the Channel, then again you have the choice of a supported convoy into Norway or unsupported attacks into Norway and Belgium both, or some more exotic Fall move into Holland or Denmark as Russian and German moves allow.
- Churchill Variant
One of those four is liable to be the English opening almost every game; all others either leave the North Sea exposed, something which is playing with fire at best, or clearly less flexible than one of the openings presented. In general, think of the Southern openings as anti-French, and the Northern openings as anti-Russian; the opening which commits the least to antagonizing either of those two is probably the Yorkshire variant of the northern opening. Regardless, the overall message is clear; in Spring 1901, England’s job is to pick a center, be it Belgium, Norway, or something less likely to be taken, and move to maximize its chances of taking it and getting that vital build in 1901. The final choice of which opening to pick comes down to the small-d diplomacy England does with France, Germany, and Russia.