The Strategies of the Ancient Mediterranean

by Don Hessong

At first glance The Ancient Mediterranean board looks like it’s divided into two halves. In the east there’s Greece, Egypt and Persia, while in the west are Rome and Carthage. It’s easy to assume that in this game there will be two sub-campaigns, one in the east and the other in the west, which may or may not spill over into each other during the game’s early stages. Then the winners of each half will start fighting in the later stages of the game. This situation would be similar to the original game of Diplomacy.

On the other hand, many people assume that Rome and Carthage would make great allies and steam-roll across the board. However, there is at least one problem with this alliance. They have no common enemy. They can’t attack a mutually accessible victim and carve it up between them because no such target exists. There is an area in the middle of the board where they can provide some degree of mutual support, but this area is small.

This does not necessarily mean that Rome and Carthage will always be at war. Most players are aware that to fight one against one without an ally is futile and self-destructive. What happens in the west depends, to a great extent, on events in the east.

With three powers in the east one might assume that two of them will ally against the third. This does happen often enough, but there are complications. If either Egypt or Greece ally with Persia against the other, the gains in the early game are good, assuming Persia’s ally is not getting pressure from one of the western powers. But the problem is that whoever Persia’s ally is, cuts Persia off from the rest of the board once the first victim has been eliminated. This leaves Persia in the position of having only one possible avenue for expansion, the original ally. And it leaves the original ally in the position of being sandwiched between Persia and the remaining western powers, which will usually prove to be detrimental. Egypt and Greece may decide to ally against Persia, but this alliance has its difficulties too, in that both powers have to turn their backs to the western half of the board.

The Triple Alliance Strategy

One way to avoid these pitfalls (not that it’s possible to avoid pitfalls in Diplomacy) is to arrange an alliance structure that accounts for the fact that not all enemies or allies will be on the same half of the board. In The Ancient Mediterranean this includes any three-way alliance where one of the allies is not adjacent to the other two partner powers. For example, in a Greek-Carthaginian-Egyptian alliance, Greece is not adjacent to either of the other two allies. Greece would aid Carthage in an attack on Rome and aid Egypt against Persia. Naturally, the Carthaginian-Egyptian border would be a neutral zone.

Rotating your perspective for each power one spot to the right will create a new triple alliance consisting of Persia, Rome and Carthage. In this alliance Persia would support Rome in an attack on Greece and at the same time help Carthage against Egypt. Again the two powers that are adjacent would require a neutral border between them (in this example I consider Rome and Carthage adjacent).

There are a total of five combinations of this triple alliance structure and any given power can be a member of three of them. This can make for some interesting games given that different players will negotiate for different alliance combinations.

Of course this only describes the beginning game. In the middle game, the other two powers will have been eliminated and the triple alliance will have to sort itself out.

A Word About Armies

In The Ancient Mediterranean there is a lot of fleet action that happens in the middle of the board. But don’t forget the flanks. Every power has two flanks, however narrow, which can be attacked by land. Usually at least one, if not both, of these land areas is either under attack or being used to attack. So don’t neglect the armies. Greece and Persia especially, have a larger land-space to sea-space ratio than it appears and if you are stuck with too many fleets bottled up behind the lines, those enemy armies can roll around the flanks before you know it.

DIPLOMACY copyright Hasbro Inc.
The Ancient Mediterranean map and rule variations copyright Don Hessong