by Shaun Derrick
That little blue bit just south-east of the centre of the board is the mighty French Empire in the Far East! No, it doesn’t look very spectacular, in fact it looks quite puny, surrounded by China, the odd British fleet with Japan to the north and the Dutch to the south. One would immediately consider the French to have little hope of survival, let alone winning the game, but samples of play by post and at the MasterCon tournament have proved that the French can do very well indeed, though the potential to win outright still seems less likely than some of the other powers on the board.
The one redeeming feature of the French position is the plethora of supply centres compacted around its border, it is here that the highest concentration of supply centres can be found. In reality this is an optical illusion as the areas are smaller and movement consequently slower. Still, it is a brave man who chooses to play the French; and how would he approach each of the other powers.
British: The British can be a very good ally, they can be relied upon in an alliance against the Dutch, but less so against China, your immediate northern neighbour. Initially you must agree on the SCS. You really want your fleet in SCS as two of your three home centres border this sea area and three other centres are adjacent making this sea area nearly as important as the Yellow Sea. The British should be encouraged to give you HK in exchange for another less important centre. It can often be in his best interest to do that, particularly if pressed by the Dutch and Turkey. One very important factor that needs to be mentioned is that you will have to get a fleet or two on the western side of the Malay peninsular as holding any gains such as Ran, Ban or U.Bur is going to difficult if the British do decide to stab you. Of course it is possible to win the game as the French without ever getting west of Malaya, but the task would be very difficult. If the British are going to be aggressive you have to get Chinese help and possibly the Dutch to help too. If they won’t play ball you are in a tricky situation. A game long alliance with the British can work well for both sides, but the likelihood is that a stab on the Brits will be necessary for the final push.
China: Your northern neighbour should be amenable to a non aggression pact so long as you stay out of his hair! You should be in line to collect the majority of the centres in Indo-China while he fights the Russians or Japanese. You don’t want to see Chinese fleets in Can and he doesn’t want to see too many French armies in Indo-China, so the compromising can take some working out. You will need Chinese centres to win the game, so make sure that they are accessible later in the game – if an alliance with Russia is possible, then it would be well worth considerirg. There are a lot of centres available to both of you without treading on each others toes, but China will want your centres for victory, so beware of that. If China attacks you right from the start, don’t despair, the likelihood is that one of your neighbours will help you out as a large Chinese presence in the centre of the board will unnerve a lot of people.
Dutch: Always be wary of the Dutch. Like Turkey in the standard game he has a good defensive corner position from which to expand, and expansion will inevitably mean looking towards the French sphere of influence for gains. An alliance can work if you combine against the Japanese threat from the north, or the British threat frorn all angles. Long term alliances are unlikely to succeed as any growing Dutch power will be looking for the easiest centres to grab; yours!! Consider him as a short term ally and long term enemy.
Japan: The great eastern maritime power will be looking to you for support against China or the Dutch, but with such a strong navy he can quicidy overwhelm your gains in the Pacific, so any alliance is best considered carefully. If you can get him to agree not to come south of Formosa and pursue a land policy then you may well have an excellent alliance going; but the chances of Japan sticking to the agreement wane with each turn – hopefully just enough to get yourself established in the Pacific island areas. Always be wary of a Dutch/Japan pact which can be lethal. It is probably in your interest to see Russia and China combining against Japan as this ties up the Japanese navy while you have more freedom to wander the Pacific Ocean, probably fighting the Dutch. As the smaller Pacific power you can be useful to Japan, in return for him being useful to you in China.
Russia: Must be in the ‘friendly’ category as Russia’s enemies are often your enemies too, but in the first couple of turns there is not much you can achieve together. If you have the opportunity to ‘ally’ against China it may well be worth pursuing, but this could let Japan have an easy ride in the Pacific. Better to try to get Russia and China fighting Japan while you concentrate on the south and Indo-China. If you have both done reasonably well you will have a lot more to say in the mid-game; depending on who the winners and losers are, an alliance is definitely worth considering. Russia’s strength across the northern edge of the board will worry a lot of powers, but your own concentrated group in the middle will look less menacing, so he is likely to be the one attacked by other powers. You will probably fight over control of China, but other powers will be the main influence by this stage. If a stalemate line is possible west to east across the board it is likely that the Russians will be in the north and the French in the south.
Turkey: Being far to the west with no less than eight areas between you at the shortest point – home centre to home centre, barring convoys, you don’t really have a lot of possibilities other than purely diplomatic ones. It very much depends on who you are allied to, but with Turkey’s choice being limited to north or south, you just encourage him one way or the other. Assuming the Turks break out into the Indian Ocean you will have probably been allied with or destroyed the Dutch, so this new mid-game threat(?) will loom. In fact the Turks can easily be blocked from extending very far past India so he will have to look north for his future gains. I would like to see a game where these two powers do well – it would be mighty interesting to see who would come out on top.