Why I Love Colonia VII

by Gene Prosnotz

I’m writing this article to urge hobbyists to play Colonia VII, the Diplomacy variant invented by Fred Hyatt. In my opinion, Colonia is the best, and the most interesting, Diplomacy game ever invented.

Its called Colonia VII because there were seven revisions of the map and of the assignment of colonies before reaching the present version, where all nine powers are of approximately equal strength.

To my knowledge, Colonia is the only Diplomacy game where most of the great powers have clusters of centers widely separated from each other, in contrast to regular Diplomacy, where each power starts with a contiguous group of centers. Thus, in Colonia, you may be engaged in four separate wars in four parts of the globe, with different enemies and allies in each sector.

The map is world wide, with 136 supply centers, 47 non-supply center land spaces, and 64 sea spaces. There are 19 island supply centers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans which are totally surrounded by water.

At the start of the game, there are four colonial powers, two semi-colonial powers, and three land mass powers, with starting supply centers as follows:

England: Two at home, one each in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Netherlands: Two at home, one each in North America, Africa and the Pacific.

Spain: Two at home, one each in North America, Africa and the Pacific.

Portugal: Two at home, one each in North America, South America and India.

France: Three at home, one each in North America and Africa.

Austria: Three at home, one each in South America and the Pacific.

Russia: Five at home (Europe and Asia), one in Africa.

Ottoman: Four at home, one in the Pacific.

China: Four at home, no colonies.

The colonies are surrounded by neutral centers, so that by the end of the second year, a colonial power might have approximately sixteen centers, spread out with four different clusters of four centers each in widely separated areas.

The victory criteria is 50 centers. Most games end in draws, I know of only two games which resulted in a win.

The rules are the same as regular Diplomacy, with one big difference. Any power can build in a colonial home center. For example, England starts off with five centers: London, Liverpool, Nigeria, Malaya and Ecuador. Only England can builds in London and Liverpool. However, an enemy power which captures Nigeria, Ecuador or Malaya can build there. The colonial home centers are all of the original home centers outside of Europe, except for Omsk, Vladivostok and the Chinese home centers (and the Ottoman home centers).

Here are the reasons why I like Colonia:

(1) The size of the board makes the game much more complex.

(2) In Colonia, you need a global strategy. Your decision on why to ally with in Africa will affect developments in America, Europe and the Pacific. You may have to plan four separate campaigns in different areas.

(3) The existence of so many separate areas gives you a lot more strategic options, and increases the likelihood of a successful survival strategy. In regular Diplomacy, even the best players will be doomed, if ganged up on by two or three neighbors. In Colonia, you may be ganged up on in one area, but survive with strength in a different part of the world, where the powers present, and the alliance configurations, are different.

(4) There are many more permutations and combinations. In a recent game, as Netherlands, at one point I was allied with England and Portugal in North America, and was allied with Russia and Ottoman in Africa. Meanwhile, England and Russia were at war in Europe, and Portugal and Ottoman were at war in Asia.

(5) Overall strategy, concentrating on the big picture, becomes more important than center grabbing, even when we are talking about neutral centers whose capture won’t offend anyone. In regular Diplomacy it would be unheard of to pass up two neutral center builds in the second year. Yet in Colonia I achieved a powerful positional advantage by doing this in one game. I could afford it because the bypass of the two neutral centers still left me with 13 centers at the end of the second year.

(6) Colonia has strategic challenges which don’t exist in regular Diplomacy, such as how to link up your forces. Isolated colonies can be vulnerable, you can strengthen your position by linking up two of your colonies. In a recent game, won by Netherlands, the Dutch successfully linked up their forces in Florida and Melbourne, and created a power base stretching across the South Pacific and through Mexico and Central America.

(7) Related to the above is the strategy of trading colonies. This is difficult to achieve, and rarely seen, and takes a lot of trust, but it can be powerful. In one game (played on the former map) Netherlands started with colonies in Surinam and India, while Ottoman started with a colony in Brazil. The Dutch and Turks traded Brazil for India, the trade taking place at the end of the third year. This had a devastating effect. Netherlands obtained a double colony in South America, and conquered all of South America. Also, the Dutch fleets which left India hooked up with the Dutch forces in Angola to conquer all of southern Africa.

Meanwhile, Ottoman combined India with the Near East and was able to conquer all of southern Asia, and was able to establish an unbroken power base running from Morocco to Siam.

The result, an early three-way draw between Netherlands, Ottoman, and their other ally, Russia.

(Note that when you trade colonies you are trading 3 or 4 centers each).

(8) In regular Diplomacy, most countries’ building centers are close together, and the only real tactical choice is whether to build an army or a fleet. In Colonia, you have the question of what part of the world to build in. Sometimes, it is a good strategy to decline to take all of your builds, so that you can build in a key area the next year. In short, you have more complex strategic and tactical options. (9) Annihilations are more important in Colonia, since the enemy will often be unable to rebuild in that part of the globe. When fighting a war in the colonial areas, it is usually better strategy to go for the annihilation than to go for a supply center, especially on a spring move.

(10) Convoys are more important in Colonia than in regular Diplomacy, because they enable you to transfer units to a different sector of the board where there are limited opportunities to build. In a recent game won by Netherlands, the Dutch started their invasion of South America by a surprise build of an army in Melbourne and a convoy to Chile, catching the Portuguese defenders by surprise. (Winter builds and Spring moves were combined in one turn).

(11) Naval warfare has a greater role in Colonia; as stated earlier there are 19 island supply centers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, accessible only by sea. Builds in this part of the world are almost always fleets, the above Melbourne army being a rare exception.

(12) Stalemate lines are almost non-existent in Colonia. There are a few; for example, two Turkish armies in Baghdad and Armenia can hold off a land invasion from the east, as long as Russia is friendly and as long as the invaders can not break through by sea into the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.

In short, Colonia is a great game. I strongly urge people to try it. And I hope some GMs will run games. I offer to GM a game if someone will publish it.

Reprinted from Diplomacy World 77