Hey Bresto!

by Richard Sharp

Show any novice the Diplomacy board, run over the rules, then ask him what country he thinks is strongest. Pretty often he’ll say, as I did, ‘England’ (if he says, ‘Italy, run over the rules again). So it’s a great tribute to the natural self-effacing modesty of the English that England’s performance in our postal games is abysmal – at the last count I believe England had won fewer games than any other country, except of course Italy, which doesn’t really count. 

There is a lemming-like sameness about the way England is played. We open F(NWG), F(NTH) and A(Edi) or A(Yor). In Autumn 01 we land triumphantly in Norway. Aided by our loyal German allies we knock over St Petersburg in A03 (flourish of trumpets) . . . and remember too late that we left the back door open, so that France, who has been pottering aimlessly about in Iberia, has suddenly come to stay: F(MAO)-IRI, F(Bre)-ENG, and it’s goodbye England yet again. 

Even if France misses the opportunity, this northern attack is useless; it leads nowhere. The chances of getting beyond StP are minute. And a great deal of time has been wasted, so that there is little chance of catching France on the hop, while there is no way England can really hope to attack Germany: where are all the armies coming from? 

It is a fact that England and France are completely incompatible. Did you know that there is no genuine case yet of these two countries finishing in the first two places? Yet England and Germany constantly do so. The reason is simple enough: England and Germany can easily form a long-term alliance, since although they are neighbours neither is equipped to attack the other. But England and France are both essentially naval powers: although France might possibly win without occupying any English centres, England can’t hope to win without attacking France, and France knows it. Try it and see: try to build an 18-centre England without Par, Mar, Bre, Spa or Por. You end up in Trieste or Sevastopol. 

In this clash, France has most of the advantages. England has one, though: that a move to ENG in Spring 1901 is advantageous for England and not for France. For reasons I have never fully understood, a great majority of Englands don’t move to ENG in Spring 1901; yet the move is obviously right, and can reasonably be presented to France (before or after it’s made, according to choice!) as a bid for Belgium, to which England has a better claim than either of her neighbours. When not coupled with A(Lpl)-Wal, this move is not necessarily anti-French – a comparable case is F(Sev)-BLA, which is just common sense, and only become anti-Turkish when harnessed to A(Mos)-Sev. 

Sitting in the Channel recently (with French permission, this time), I found myself thinking, as so often, what a pity it was that England and France couldn’t ally. Then it occurred to me: they can, but only if France takes on the role of Germany, i. e. becomes totally land-bound in the north, though unlike Germany France would still have fleet activity available in the south. The only way for England to ensure France kept to such an agreement would be for England to take and keep Brest. I proposed this very logical scheme to France, and rather to my surprise he accepted. 

Yes, I know, I know, you wouldn’t have agreed. I wouldn’t have caught you with a flimsy excuse like that – I’d have had to come out in the open and stab you like a man, right between the eyes. I know. But then, if you’d been playing France, I wouldn’t have suggested it. It works: the fleet in Brest is no threat on other French centres; while the plan does involve  the fleet moving down through MAO there is little risk in this, as England is unlikely to try a one-unit stab at 50-50 odds when the only result would be to lose Brest again. Both countries have better security as a result: England can’t be stabbed, and France won’t be. 

It is, after all, no more dangerous than the Key Lepanto (actually it’s a hell of a lot safer, given the respective strengths of France and Austria in defence). The only thing wrong with it is that I can’t think of a suitable name for it, unless by analogy with the Key Lepanto we call it the Hey Bresto. 

Reprinted from DolchstoƟ No.53