In The Colonial Stew: An Analysis of the Hot Spots in Colonial Diplomacy

As a lover of strategic wargames I was pleasantly surprised to find that Avalon Hill’s new game of intrigue in the Colonial Era was far more than the name suggested. The title COLONIAL DIPLOMACY infers that it is a sequel to or a variant of the successful DIPLOMACY, but it is far more than just a game for diplomats as I found out very quickly in my very first game. The large board contains 58 colonies that are fiercely fought over in a colonial world that stretches from Imperial Japan and Manchu China in the east to Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Turks in the west. The diverse geography containing multiple continental areas, peninsulars. barren deserts, impassable mountain ranges, isolated seas, open oceans, single islands and larger island groups, land bridges, the Suez Canal and the mighty TransSiberian Railroad, creates a game environ rich in strategic options. Add to such a battlefield seven warring powers with Empires which quickly grow to eight or nine armies each and you have a challenging game of strategic warfare on your hands combined with the uncertainties of Napoleonic style diplomacy. The game is really “Advanced DIPLOMACY’ or “A Wargame for Diplomats.” so anyone that is not totally “sold” on DIPLOMACY but likes strategic level games should give this one a go.

It goes without saying that DIPLOMACY fans will find the expanded format of their favorite game set in the unfamiliar world of 19th century colonialism, a fascinating if not demanding experience. A feature of the game for me is the fact that many of the 29 neutral colonies at the start of the game are grouped together into areas that are bounded by three or four of the major powers thus creating what I have termed Hot Spots. The colony-rich areas themselves or a single land or sea space that borders the colony-rich area may constitute the Hot Spot. Each will be fought over not only for its intrinsic colony value but also for its offensive or defensive military value. As the major powers converge on these areas they will become a quagmire of embattled units (a meat-grinder for some) with the outcome dependent on diplomatic as well as tactical skills. A sound strategy coupled with a good ally might result in the swift destruction of another power’s units, but on the other hand with no finn alliance or a tactical error (simply a wrong guess of your opponents moves in some cases) the contest may continue for many turns and tie up the units of several of the major powers. For some powers a Hot Spot will be the main area of expansion or perhaps a breakout point and then a protracted battle is a disaster. However, if it can be used as a defensive block to potential enemies while territory is gained elsewhere, then keeping the Hot Spot hot for as many turns as possible is the main aim. In the games I have played so far, I have identified seven major Hot Spots that have a great bearing on the game. This is not to say that other players will not find others as different strategies are used. We will now focus on each of these areas to see why they become so hotly contested.

Yellow Peril

The Yellow Sea region is, perhaps, the hottest of Hot Spots in the game. It has the potential to tie up two of the largest Empires on the board (China and Russia) and one of the most dangerous (Japan). This region incorporates at its center the Yellow Sea which is the single most strategically important space on the board. Surrounding this sea are seven provinces all of which are supply centers: Shanghai, Manchuria, Port Arthur, Seoul, Fusan, Kyoto and Kushu. What’s more, these include two Chinese, one Russian and two Japanese home centers, so it is easy to see why this area is so hotly contested. These three powers are so geographically entangled that they are destined to become embroiled in a huge battle for each others home centers. To the victor goes the spoils in the Korean Peninsular. The Yellow Sea being the center of the whole area is strategically invaluable. For Japan it is the key that opens the door to the mainland and provides access to the Korean Peninsular which is a stepping stone for an all-out invasion of Russia or China (or both!) Without the Yellow Sea any Japanese mainland strategy will be put seriously in doubt and a “lucky” attack from the Sea of Japan onto Vladivostok, Seoul or Fusan would be needed to gain a foothold on the mainland. Russia has only one fleet here to Japan’s three and in the early turns views the Yellow Sea as the defensive door that must stay locked to a possible early Japanese invasion. Along with the armies and navies already stationed here, this area can drag in units from Peking, Otaru, Tokyo, Vladivostok and Omsk (via the TSR), which ties up a large part of these three powers’ military units for many turns. The outcome will be the destruction of units in the middle of the action as they get caught in the “meat grinder.” For each power involved, a defeat can have dire consequences that can greatly reduce their chance of victory at best, but more likely cause their elimination from the game. Whilst busily feeding units into the area, Russia will be weakened in central Asia, China will be vulnerable to attacks from France and Britain in the South, and Japan will lose the initiative in the Pacific and so have her options severely limited. Whether China, Russia and Japan come to some sort of agreement on this region or fight furiously for it, the outcome here is always going to influence the outcome for the entire game and the Yellow Sea area will always keep its rating as the number one Hot Spot on the board.

The Black Sea Circle

This region with the Black Sea at its center contains four supply centers including two Turkish home centers (Constantinople and Angora) and one Russian home center (Odessa). Rumania lies directly between Odessa and Constantinople and whoever gets to control it probably will get the upper hand at this end of the board, but at what price? To fight for too long over it would be detrimental to both as Britain grows strong. To leave it neutral is a satisfactory solution but how long can each be trusted not to take such an easy grab, particularly when the other would then be in no position to do anything about it. If an alliance is formed that gives it to one power then that power is always in a position of strength on the home front to pull off a very effective backstab that would severely weaken the other. Then there is the question of the Black Sea itself. If a fight is on from the outset then controlling the Black Sea is a must because it allows for a supported attack onto all four supply centers. If an alliance forms between Russia and Turkey, should it be left neutral as a buffer zone and what if either side enters without permission? The situation is tense enough but the Russian Black Sea fleet must also be added to the equation just to complicate things. If Turkey demands a neutral Black Sea, what is the Russian fleet going to do all game-stay in dry-dock? Not likely. this area has the potential to explode at any point in the game and make life very uncertain for players of Russia and Turkey.

Beware the British Triangle

The next three Hot Spots form a geographical triangle of British units upon which the survival of the British Empire depends. In each of the three areas one British unit stands alone deep in “Enemy Territory,” outnumbered and without any prospects of support for a few turns facing annihilation unless each can pull a military or diplomatic rabbit out of the hat.

(1) Singapore. This region with the Java Sea at its center has an array of six supply centers around it (Java. Sumatra, Borneo-Dutch, Singapore-British, Malaya, Borneo-neutral) and is the second most crucial sea zone in the game. The three Dutch home centers are scattered around the Indonesian Islands and consequently are all unsupported. The one space that links them all is the Java Sea which must be viewed as the key to the defense of the Dutch East Indies. In the center of this sea lies the solitary British fleet in Singapore which seems harmless enough by itself but which has the capacity to tie up the Dutch for many moves. Diplomacy between Britain and Holland at the start of the game is intense and Holland needs a non-aggression pact from Britain but if a stab occurs on the first run and the Singapore fleet enters the Java Sea the Dutch are in trouble. Similarly if the British take Malaya and get to build a second fleet in Singapore they are very hard to dislodge. By the next few turns other British units will be dragged in from India as will French units as the battle spreads up the Malayan Peninsular. If a British-French alliance develops, a major campaign follows which last many turns and keeps all three Empires tied up well into the game. On the other hand a bad tactical move by Britain results in the loss of Singapore by turn 4 or worse still, turn 2.

(2) Hong Kong.

The second corner of the triangle finds three home centers Canton, Tongking and, of course, Hong Kong, side-by-side all belonging to different Empires. Once again the isolated British unit is in a position of power with France and China needing its help. The South China Sea is the center of this region with access to five supply centers (Annam and Formosa as well as the three already mentioned). It is a desirable area to control especially by mid-game when France is breaking out into the Pacitic or the Japanese or Dutch are closing in on French Indo-China. The cause of the nightmare here is three home provinces being adjacent and France and China wanting to move units into Burma and Thailand. If China and France don’t trust each other and quickly grab the neutrals here, they can’t grow fast enough to keep up with the surrounding powers. The risk is the loss of either Tongking or Canton which is a disaster for both of these powers. The chance of this happening is made greater by the British who only stand to benefit by such a fight and will be very willing to lend support to ensure that trouble occurs. Who will take the gamble and move? Who will stayput and can they be trusted not to take your home center on the second turn? Who will ally and who will get stabbed in the back? All very interesting questions with each game producing a different answer.

(3) Bengal and Burma.

The third corner of the triangle is Bengal and the adjacent four supply centers in Assam and Burma. Britain generally owns Bengal (but not always) and for the very good reason that it is situated at the end of the impassable Himalayan Mountains. Extending to the Bay of Bengal, it is the only road into the heart of India and the British Empire from the northeast. Britain’s fortunes therefore depend heavily on what happens in the Bengal region. The combined forces of France, China and Britain come together in Burma and their supporting fleets take position in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. An enormous military and diplomatic struggle follows that makes or breaks these powers. Britain may find an ally and invade China or IndoChina. On the other hand, the British can fall to the “yellow hordes” from the north or the rampaging French from the east. Either way this area determines the balance of power for these three central powers.

Crossroads of the Pacific

The Philippines lying several moves away from the major powers in the Pacific region does not immediately strike you as being a Hot Spot but it has certain qualities about it that usually lure several of the nearby Empires into what is often the largest and most protracted fight in the game. With the resource areas of Manila, Cebu, Davao (in the Philippines) and Formosa, Sarawak and New Guinea on the perimeter there are enough carrots here to attract fleets from the Dutch, French, British, Japanese and even Chinese if they have used their port cities to build a navy. The lure of the Philippines is its remoteness at game start with no power really laying claim to it. Any power that can break away from its other commitments has a chance to stake a claim here. The race is on between four or five powers to sail there first, but for the French, Dutch and Japanese a foreign power dominating this area becomes a threat to their homeland and they will try to ensure that this does not occur. The set-up of the board and the many alliances that can form between all the parties involved makes for a full scale battle here that will even involve fleets along the Chinese coastline (it is not unusual to have up to ten fleets from different powers all involved in the taking of one crucial space). For the Japanese to attack south or the Dutch to move north on Japan, the battle of the Philippines must be won first. For the French and British, ownership of the Philippines protects the back door and keeps two major threats away. This area remains a Hot Spot until the entire Pacific end of the board comes under one power’s control.

The Top of the World

In the mountainous desert region in the center of the COLONIAL DIPLOMACY world lies the quiet province of Afghanistan. Quiet at first. . but wait a few turns and you will see one of the most turbulent areas on the board develop. Russia, China. Turkey and Britain are ultimately drawn here for a “Battle Royale” that takes place for control of the hottest non-resource center on the board. Ownership of Afghanistan allows moves into five adjacent supply centers (Tashkent, Kashgar, Kashmir, Karachi and Persia) and gives great flexibility in attack. Defensively it is just as valuable because it can be readily given support from the many adjacent provinces making it difficult to take and its location at the crossroads of four major powers guards entry into each of the Empires. A defensively strong area that can yield up to five supply centers is a very tempting target. Diplomacy here for an ally is fast and furious as the four powers fight for survival. The benefits of a well-timed stab are so great that it is almost an inevitable occurrence. Once the dust has settled, the victor is then in a position to go on and conquer the rest of the region.


Hot Spots-each with their own unique set of problems, combatants and diplomatic struggles, all occurring at various different stages of the game, and all having a major influence on the eventual outcome of the game -adds to the intrigue and intensity generated by COLONIAL DIPLOMACY. The variable results in each area with diplomatic and military fortunes fluctuating right to the end of the game make it a challenging experience time and time again.

Analyzing the Neutrals in Colonial

COLONIAL DIPLOMACY (CDP) is a game of grand strategy in which the players compete with each other to form the largest colonial empire. This involves the acquisition of certain provinces which are important for military, economic or strategic purposes. These colonial provinces or colonies (supply centers in DiP) are the “currency” of the game and all diplomacy and strategic maneuvering of military units is geared toward gaining more of them. Their vital importance to the game is twofold. Firstly, victory at the end of the game goes to the player with the largest empire -the greatest number of colonies. Secondly, each colony that is taken over by a player entitles that player to build a new military unit and add it to his forces on the board. This also means however that each colony lost by an empire means the loss of a military unit by that empire, so it is obvious that the game revolves around their ownership. There are two ways of expanding one’s empires: (1) by capturing the neutral colonies around the board and (2) by captunng other players’ home territories. The latter option can be more difficult because home centers are within other players “home countries” and are usually better defended. There is also the great attendant risk of precipitating a diplomatic -if not military-crisis with that empire. This discussion will therefore concentrate on the neutral colonies and examine each power’s potential for growth by attaining these. At game start there are 29 neutral colonies scattered around the board. These are unowned and unoccupied, so just as their historical counterparts did, the payers race each other to capture these colonies either through diplomatic channels or open warfare. Players need to have a good understanding of each of the seven major powers; their respective geographical locations on the board, resultant offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses including home center vulnerability, proximity of the available neutrals and the probability of successfully gaining each of these. All these factors need to be taken into account so that a reckless grab for the nearest colonies in sight does not yield a short-term gain that soon ends in disaster. Even a good knowledge of which neutrals each power can realistically expect to take isn’t enough sometimes and before a decision is made on which neutrals to target, an examination on a strategic level is necessary. Take into account the unfolding alliances. For example, Turkey may view Egypt as a likely gain and make every effort to beat Britain there. This is fine if Russia is neutral or allied but if she is an enemy, mobilizing south could be a disaster resulting in the loss of a home center. Taking all this into account. it is possible to construct a table outlining which of the neutrals are potentially able to be captured first by each of the major powers. Colonies which are guaranteed to go to a particular power by virtue of proximity or an attack by’ superior forces are in the “probable gains” column. This means that if the power listed wants to take that province no other power or alliance can prevent it. If there is any possibility of a stand-off or a supported attack by two other powers which could prevent the listed power from taking the colony, then it is not listed in the probable column. Nothing is certain in CDP and although some colonies are listed as and appear to be definite gains for a major power it doesn’t always work out that way. New Guinea is guaranteed to the Dutch by the first counting turn (turn 2), if they so desire, but in many games they go straight to the Philippines in order to get there before the Japanese, British or French. In the subsequent struggle the Dutch may lose and the Japanese, for example, may be the first to take New Guinea. The remaining colonies are found in the “possible gains” column. For each power, only the colonies that it has as good a chance of taking as any other power are listed. The purpose of this column is to show the theoretically possible gains of each power. It does not take into account the numerous different strategies available to each power and the effect that different alliances can have on the outcome as this would be impossible. The outcome during play may in fact be very different from what is “predicted” here, but this is after all highly desirable and an important feature of the game. The final column lists which home or starting provinces may come under attack by other powers by the first counting turn. While attempting to analyze the potential gains for each power, this factor must be taken into account. It’s all very well knowing which neutrals are “easy’ pickings” but what if you lose half your home country in the process. Potential home center losses therefore, must temper one’s expansionary zeal and may further cast doubt on some of the possible gains listed. As mentioned already the diversity of strategies available and innumerable combinations of alliances possible make the play so different each time the game is played so some explanations are necessary to explain why some colonies have been placed where they have been. These will be discussed under the heading of the relevant empire.


Sudan is a certainty, but sometimes Britain attacks Egypt with the Aden fleet first and if Turkey has been drawn into a Crimean conflict with Russian then Egypt and the Suez will become British. A build in Aden is usually able to take Sudan later or if it is left neutral and Turkey overruns the British position. From Egypt the fleet can retreat to Sudan. However, if it is a non-counting turn or if Aden is under siege by Turkish armies the fleet may have to fall back to the Red Sea and defend Aden, so that Turkey could be the first to take Sudan. The Chinese army in Sinkiang can cause a standoff in either Bengal or Kashmir so only one of these colonies is certain-the other being only a possible gain. Britain should see to it that China is friendly at least for the first counting turn and this will guarantee both colonies. Karachi has been put in the probable column (despite the fact that Turkey can reach it in two turns just like the British), because it can be taken by a combined attack using Army Delhi and Fleet Bombay, which justifies this classification. Britain tends not to do this, however, because this would risk losing Kashmir to the Chinese and severely weaken the northwest frontier. It is unlikely that Turkey would risk a standoff in Karachi and give up a certain build in Shiraz or Persia, but it has been done. Fleet Hong Kong is as close to the three colonies in the Philippines and Formosa as the French. Dutch and Japanese so one of these four colonies is a possible gain for Britain. Access to these areas for both Britain and France is via the South China Sea and if a dispute arises between them their chances will diminish. Hong Kong is very vulnerable to attack. It is highly risky vacating this home center until a deal is made with China and France. Singapore is also very isolated from the rest of the British Empire and can be lost to the Dutch on turn 2 if it takes Malaya and has wrongly’ guessed the move of a fleet in the Java Sea. These two fleets in Hong Kong and Singapore. due to their remoteness, have been termed the “isolated fleets.” Although they are extremely vulnerable, they are challenging units to deploy. In skillful hands, they can either frustrate the nearby powers or join in an alliance with them, making “diplomatic” if not territorial gains. Britain should not give up on the Pacific colonies.


The Manchu Empire has the luxury of three certain builds which at ftrst glance seems excessive but her position in the center of the board surrounded by four opposing powers (which could take three of her home centers by the first counting turn) completely negates this. There is enormous pressure on Canton, Shanghai and Manchuria at game start such that China may not be able to take Chungking or Mongolia until later. It often happens that Chungking is taken in as a result of a retreat from Canton. The army in Sinkiang has the choice of Kashgar or Assam. The decision depends on China’s game plan and from which direction the threat might come-Russia in the west or Britain and France in the south. The three colonies in Burma (Rangoon, Mandalay and Upper Burma) are an even battle with France and some gains will be made here, but the position in Korea is extremely complex. Seoul and Fusan (rarely both) can be won by China in the three-way struggle here with Japan and Russia, but the outcome will depend on which alliances are formed in each particular game.


French Indo-China is located close to the colony-rich areas in Thailand and Burma. In the initial diplomacy phase this area must be claimed as France’s natural sphere of influence and a strong claim made to at least three of the five colonies there. Bangkok is the only certainty (two French units can mount a supported attack there). Rangoon could have been classified as such if it were not for the possibility of the Dutch fleet from Sumatra causing a standoff here. Of course, the Sumatra fleet has three other more important tasks on its list of priorities: take Ceylon. support fleet Java into the Java Sea or take Malaya. The proximity of Mandalay and Upper Burma all but guarantee one of these two bringing France’s probable gains to three, but adherence to the listed criteria requires that only Bangkok be regarded as a certainty. All players of French Indo-China need to be aware of the potential in the Philippines and not give these colonies up to Japan and the Dutch. Formosa, Manila Cebu and Davao are all just as close to Indo-China as they are to any other power. The only snag is the need to negotiate a passage through the South China Sea from Britain’s Hong Kong fleet.


It is possible to take three certain builds by the first counting turn (Ceylon, Sarawak and New Guinea), but this option means that the Java Sea is left open and it is very likely that the British fleet in Singapore will enter it and thus threaten all three home centers with the loss of one of them. So three certainties may result in only a net gain of two builds and what’s worse a strategically bad situation with Britain occupying a Dutch home center and building a new fleet in Singapore. If the Sumatra fleet enters the Andaman Sea instead of taking Ceylon, either Malaya, Bangkok or Rangoon becomes a possibility, but there are many scenarios possible here and what alliances are formed between Britain, France and Holland will affect the outcome particularly in Malaya which could be taken by any of these three powers. The Dutch chances in Malaya are improved if they can get into the Java Sea and take Malaya directly or with support from the fleet in the Andaman Sea. Bangkok, although listed as a certainty for France must still be included on Holland’s possible list because the Sumatra fleet is equally close to it. France may not choose to make a supported attack here. By turn 3, Holland could well have her own supported attack into Bangkok (from Malaya and the Andaman Sea) and be the first to take it. Note: Davao is not underlined because although three powers contest it, only one of France or Britain can be in a position to challenge for it and Holland’s chances are 50%.


Sakhalin is there for the taking but some Japanese strategies require quick mobilization toward the Philippines and/or Korea and a unit can’t be spared to take it. Then if Russia builds a fleet in Vladivostok, Sakhalin is suddenly not so certain. Despite Britain and France being just as close to Formosa, Manila and Cebu as Japan, the Japanese chances here must be slightly greater than the other two powers. If agreement can’t be reached on who should enter the South China Sea first or if one deliberately intends to obstruct the other, Britain and France will stop each other. Assuming no such conflict occurs then either Britain or France can be in Manila or Cebu on turn 3, so Japan can only be in the race if it gets a fleet into the Upper Pacific on turn 2. This means foregoing either Sakhalin, Formosa or the Yellow Sea; what a decision to have to make! Seoul has been listed as a possible gain based on game statistics which show Japan taking it first in about 30% of games. It appears that Russia should be able to take it easily but this is not the case. Russia is able to move to Seoul on turn 1 from Vladivostok or Pt. Arthur (with support from the other if needed). China may stop this by moving Army Manchuria to Seoul, thus leaving Seoul empty or she may attack Vladivostok. Meanwhile Japan can have maneuvered into the Yellow Sea, Sea of Japan and the Okhotsk Sea, so that she threatens Pt. Arthur, Seoul and Vladivostok. This often leads to Russia charging back to defend its home bases. The situation is even worse for Russia if China has allied with Japan in which case two of the three threatened provinces could be lost. Note: Fusan is not underlined because only one of China or Russia can challenge Japan for it.


Tashkent can be taken by either of the armies starting in Moscow or Omsk. but also by the Chinese army in Sinkiang, so it will require a supported attack by these two Russian armies in order to be sure of it. The problems facing Russia on the Pacific coast often dictate that the Omsk army be railed across to support Vladivostok which would then cast doubt on Tashkent’s status as a certain Russian gain. The situation in Korea, as mentioned already, is quite complex and impossible to predict, but both Seoul and Fusan are even chance bets. The odds are even better if China is committed against Japan. Rumania is a desirable gain for Russia to strengthen the rear before railing east to fight on the Manchurian front.


The possible gains for Turkey are fairly clear cut but which ones are actually taken varies enormously from game to game. Shiraz is a sure thing because no other unit can get there before the Baghdad fleet, but Rumania, Tabriz, Persia and Egypt are each fifty-fifty chances and will depend not only on Turkey’s game strategy but also on that of Britain and Russia. The tactics adopted by Turkey and Russia in the crucial area around the Black Sea and Rumania will set the stage for what happens in this region of the board. If the two are fighting, then Turkey may not be able to spare a unit to take Egypt, because Angora and Constantinople would be left unguarded. In this instance Britain will easily claim Egypt. Similarly, anything can happen in the Persian provinces, depending on what alliances can be formed among the three powers concerned. Karachi must be included as a possible for Turkey because it can standoff an unsupported British attack here and then on, subsequent turns with support from herself or Russia, she can get there before Britain.


Having concentrated thus far on the 29 neutral unoccupied colonies in the game. it would be remiss in any discussion on empire building in CDP not to mention the possibility of capturing enemy’ home centers in the first few turns when most players are concerned with snatching the neutrals. These represent an even greater prize. Not only does your own empire grow, but also the bonus is that one unit is removed from the defeated empire as well. The drawback of this is that one of your neighboring powers becomes hostile and will counter-attack. This will then affect your ability to chase the neutrals that would normally be in your domain. The outcome, in terms of ownership of the neutrals. may well be very different and can be the subject of another discussion. This not withstanding, the table shows which enemy home centers are capable of being captured by the first counting turn for each of the major powers and this should be contemplated in one’s overall “neutral” strategy.


The table was constructed in order to give players an overview of all the possibilities for each of the seven powers and not for the purpose of predicting the outcome. The geographical complexities of the gameboard, the numerous strategies available to each of the great powers, the number of potential alliances between the seven players and the unpredictability of the stab in the back all combine to ensure that COLONIAL DiPLOMACY plays differently each time. Many factors have to be considered when chasing colonies: Should the possible gains be taken before the certainties in order to stop other powers getting them first or, by taking the certainties and building new units will your task of capturing more colonies be made easier? Is it worth risking the loss of a home center to pick up some nearby neutrals? Do you stab an ally or create an enemy by overrunning other home centers? All this makes for an intriguing and challenging game that plays differently every time. so take this into account when studying the tables and remember nothing is certain in COLONIAL DIPLOMACY.