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England: 1901 Strategies

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.

Dip_Opening_E
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.

  1. 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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  1. 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!)

    1. 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.
    2. 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.

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.

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Spring 1901

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.

There are a few very pivotal non-SC spaces on the Diplomacy map. Bel is the lynchpin for any war between France and Germany. Eng is always a point of serious contention between England and France, even when they are on good terms. Ion is frequently a source of friction for Italy and Turkey, and usually determines who gets to control the Mediterranean.

For this article, we look at the importance of controlling Gal. This little province borders four supply centers, three of them home supply centers (Bud and Vie for Austria, and War for Russia). Any war between Russia and Austria is determined by who gains early control of Gal, and for Austria in particular. This article will focus on the Austrian perspective, particularly the early game.

Gal is the big opening that leads to any invasion of Austria, and has the effect of freezing Austria’s progress to protect his home supply centers. A Russian army in Gal is a serious problem for any Archduke, as it borders two home supply centers, and is readily accessible by Russia. For starters, it is relatively easy to hold Gal once taken. Russia in Rum and War, two centers he is likely to occupy anyway, and by supporting Gal from War, and keeping an Austrian army out of Rum, can hold on to it indefinitely. Any Austrian invasion invariably must go through Gal, as it is the only direct land access to any of the Russian home SCs.

Let’s first look at what happens if Russia occupies Gal in Spring 1901, along with some otherwise fairly standard opening moves. Here, Russia has A Gal F Rum, and Austria has A Vie A Ser F Alb. Turkey has A Bul, and it doesn’t really matter what’s coming up behind it.

Russia occupies Gal in the opening move, unopposed.

Russia occupies Gal in the opening move, unopposed.

In this situation, say Austria is in precariously good relations with Turkey and Russia, and being the end of Spring 1901, no hostilities are likely to have flared. Russia in Gal causes serious troubles, though. If Austria were interested in occupying Gre, he could have unquestioning leverage over Turkey with his support from Ser. With a Russian army in Gal, however, the safe early move absolutely requires that Austria order A Vie-Bud A Ser-Bud for a self-bounce to protect, and the realistic scenario here is for one Austrian build. If Turkey and Russia are allied against Austria, this is a bad turn of events, as a Turkish move of F Con-Aeg in the Fall will lead to almost certain loss of Gre in the long run, particularly with Austria facing Russian aggression.

Furthermore, Austria has lost some serious negotiating leverage. Russia is in Gal, which means he gets to dictate the flow of action for Austria until he is removed. The consideration of Vie and Bud being constantly under threat pins two armies down with only one, and at best wastes a turn just removing Russia from Gal. Russia’s presence in Gal also causes trouble even if Turkey and Austria are allies. If the Turkish fleet is in Con rather than Bla, there is no way to leverage Russia out of Rum, the first step of an Austro-Turkish alliance against Russia. Overall, this leads to a protracted conflict that leaves Austria exposed to Italian intervention.

Now let’s look at the case of Austria bouncing Russia in Gal by moving A Vie-Gal to counter Russia’s A War-Gal. This is a much more tenable position for Austria. In the case of non-cooperation with Turkey, Austria is now free to occupy Gre unopposed with his army in Alb.

Austria and Russia bounce in Gal.

Austria and Russia bounce in Gal.

The army in Vie is free to move Vie-Gal again, which will bounce Russia again, but with two builds leading to two armies, by Spring 1902 Austria will have overwhelming forces to walk into Gal unopposed. This swing is huge, as it affords Austria free hand in containing Turkish aggression, if it happens, as well as keeping Russia out of Austrian territory.

If Austria and Turkey are allied, all’s the better. Rum is sitting alone, with zero support, and Turkey can move A Bul-Rum while Austria moves F Alb-Gre. This puts Russia on his back heels, and leaves him in serious trouble for Spring 1902.

To count the tally, Austria keeping Russia out of Gal affords him one extra build if Turkey is a non-combatant or a hostile, for a net gain of +1. If there is an AT alliance, this nets Austria one extra build, one extra build for Turkey, and a lost build for Russia, for a net gain of +3 for an AT alliance. These overwhelming numbers spell the end for Russia, and a quick victory for the AT alliance.

So clearly, Gal can be the difference between an extra build for Austria, with all the leverage that four Austrian armies affords. For the next part, we will look at the same situation with Russia, and for the final part, a look at how who controls Gal changes prospects for Turkey.

How Not To Begin

Starting out in the game of Diplomacy can be wildly intimidating. There are, however, a few simple things that you can avoid doing, and since I love lists of ten, here are ten things you should not do if you’re first starting out:

  1. Do not wait for other people to contact you. Reach out and be proactive. Good players will see this as a valuable trait in an ally, mediocre players will view you with a touch of respect, and bad players, well, you don’t generally want to get lumped in with them anyway.
  2. Do not go it alone. Going it alone in Diplomacy is the fastest possible way to get wiped out. You cannot stand up against two powers working together, and unless you are playing England or Turkey, if you go it alone you will not last past the second year.
  3. Do not hold grudges. Past happenings exist to inform current decisions. If Russia screwed you on a support order at the beginning of the game, but you need Russia’s help now, Russia is a potential friend. Use past actions to make enlightened decisions: if a player repeatedly lied to you about his support orders, or continually fed you false intelligence, he will not change. However, if it was an honest grab for supply centers, and the dynamic of the board has changed, it might be worthwhile to find a new friend.
  4. Do not ignore the far ends of the board. If you are playing as Russia, what France does will not affect you in the first turn or two, but keeping a close eye on how France plays, what France does, and even attempting to keep an open line of communication can yield big dividends in the long run. This can alert you to early solo attempts and allow you to rally against it, as well as play for a long term division of the board.
  5. Do not stab for no reason. A lot of new players get the impression that stabbing is the name of the game. It isn’t. The name of the game is “diplomacy”, and gains should be made through overt means unless there is no other recourse. Stabbing should be done either to kill off an opponent or to solo, and no other reason is worth the shaking up of the stability of the board and the inevitable black mark on your reputation a stab creates.
  6. Do not be rude, brusque, or otherwise unpleasant to other players. People will be more inclined to forgive transgressions or otherwise cooperate if you are remembered as a pleasant player.
  7. Do not lose contact with another power. Even if they stab you, betray you, or talking to them makes you grind your teeth. You can glean remarkable information from off-hand comments by other players.
  8. Do not tip your hand. If you have long term plans, it is best not to share the details with even your closest ally. Keep your future as nebulous as possible in the eyes of other players. This keeps them from using this information against you, and it also keeps you from overcommitting in case something goes bad and you have to adapt.
  9. Do not count supply centers. A lot of players play with the idea that the best strategy is to gain the most supply centers. This gives you more units, which gives you more power. However, it also makes you a target if you start out with an early lead. Playing this way also has a way of leading you into untenable strategic positions, even if you gain the tactical advantage. Diplomacy is a game of leverage, not brute force. Before attacking a supply center, ask yourself what risks you take from moving there. If the list starts to grow too long, it might be best to just hold back.
  10. Do not be a sore loser. Nobody likes playing with someone who refuses to acknowledge when they are beaten. As a corollary, do not be a sore winner. Gloating about a victory has the same effect on people. But there is also an extra dimension to this. By resting on victory and refusing to acknowledge that you were defeated by anything other than chance or bad luck keeps you from seeing the holes in your game. If you found yourself hopelessly outnumbered at the early onset of the game, ask why, don’t just assume it’s how the dice fell. If you won a solo, ask what led you to be able to achieve the solo. Never assume that a result is a consequence of anything you could not do better.

As always, and with most things in Diplomacy, every one of these rules are malleable to the situation. Perhaps your opposition only responds to rude threats. Perhaps you want to appear weak so that you can ride the coat tails of a more powerful ally. However, it has been my experience that these ten things, among many others, are relatively simple, common things that any player can implement without a lot of practice, and which many bad players choose to ignore.

Introducing Press Central

Welcome to Press Central, a blog dedicated to commenting on strategy, tactics, and the flow of the board game Diplomacy.

For those not in the know, Diplomacy is a grand strategic board game invented by Allan Calhamer, featuring the seven great (and not-so-great) world powers of 1900 Europe: England, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Austria, Germany. The game requires seven players to play in the base map, and an endless number of variants exist, introducing new powers, different maps, and new unit distributions.

Unlike traditional war board games, Diplomacy has no roll of the dice, and all players submit their orders simultaneously. These orders, along with just about anything else, are negotiated between the players in the intervening time. It is the intricacies of these negotiations, the reading of various personalities, and the move to find common gain that drives the game. There’s little room for solo efforts, and players who do not find a friend early are usually the first to go.

The novelty of player cooperation carries over to the end of the game. While most games have a clearly defined set of rules which characterize the “end” of the game, Diplomacy games frequently end in agreed upon draws between two or more players, although a solo victory is possible if one player can take over more than half of the board, a difficult feat to achieve.

To read more about the rules, visit the Diplomacy Archive and while you’re there, browse through the strategy and tactics articles.