Opposite Theatre Alliances

by Cal White

Strictly speaking, the Diplomacy board can be divided into two “theatres” or “spheres of influence”. The Western theatre includes England, France and Germany, while the East takes in Russia, Austria and Turkey. Italy, while conceivably fitting into either, is generally considered to be in with the Eastern group. At the start of the game, it is important for each country to deal with the other members of its own grouping. Since these are your closest neighbours and can affect you immediately from the start while you are weak, it does not pay to ignore them. However, it is a big mistake to assume that this is all you have to do in the opening and middle stages of a DIplomacy game. The rest of the board is just as important and you must pay proper attention to developments everywhere.

In Diplomacy, your main objective is to make it to the end game with a reasonably sized attack force and as good a strategic and tactical position as possible. The end game is usually considered to be when three or more countries are either eliminated or are no longer factors in the game. At this point, there will probably be a few countries trying to stop a larger power from grabbing those last two or three centres OR several medium size (10 centre) powers jockeying for position.

In order to get to end game in good shape, you have to have an overall plan and, when I say overall, I mean board-wide. In every action you take, be it military or diplomatic, you MUST consider how it will affect every country on the board, not only now, but later. Don’t forget that, in building up one country, be it yours or your ally’s, it will have effects all the way across the board.

If you look at nearly any end game situation, you will find that the two major opposing powers/alliances are generally from different theatres. This happens because the countries in each theatre fight it out for survival and the winning country or alliance then takes on the winning country or alliance from the other theatre. The winner of THIS battle (who is generally the winner of the game) is usually the one who cleans up his theatre FIRST. When both teams/players can attack cross-theatre at approximately the same time, as is often the case, you will probably get a stalemate. Unless there is a stab, the game will end as a 3 or 4 way draw.

One of the best ways to avoid these large draws is to find a way to get your forces across the major stalemate lines, especially the one that runs from St Pete’s to Switzerland to Spain. The easiest way to do this is to ally with a country from a different theatre. Since you and your ally are on opposite sides of any line, the two of you cannot be stymied this way. As a side effect, this also reduces the chances of a stab as you each have your own area of expansion. The question now becomes: “who do I choose as an opposite theatre ally?” The answer really isn’t that hard.

Each of the four corner powers has its “counterpoint”. England’s counterpoint is Turkey (and vice versa) and France’s counterpoint is Russia (and also vice versa). If France is strong, that probably means that one of England or Germany are not doing too well. With the elimination of either of these two powers as threats, Russia has probably developed strongly as well. Similarly a powerful Turkey is most likely going to mean a healthy England because of the removal of Russia as a threat. The Central Powers also have their own counterpoints, perhaps not quite as pronounced, but there nonetheless. For example, a healthy Italy could easily mean a strong England because of the reasonable likelihood that France has been attacked successfully. Similar relationships exist between England/Austria (Russia should be weak), France/Austria (Italy & Germany will be in trouble), Germany/Turkey (probably a weak Russia), Russia/Italy (bye bye Austria & Turkey). Keep in mind, of course, the fact that none of these pairings represent hard and fast laws, but, rather, handy rules of thumb.

When you are trying to decide on who you should choose as an opposite theatre ally, it would seem to make sense to choose a country whose success is also likely to herald similar success on your part. For example, if you are playing France and you have to decide between Russia and Turkey, you should keep in mind the board wide effect. Historically, a strong Turkey means a strong England. This is not likely to bode well for you as the French player. On the other hand, a strong Russia means that neither England nor Germany is going to have much of a chance to expand. Even if they should choose to ally (France’s worst nightmare), a strong Russia should keep their attention elsewhere.

The choice of an opposite theatre ally becomes, on closer inspection, quite obvious. You should choose for an ally the country whose success will help your own. In most cases, it will be your country’s counterpoint.

The one drawback of the opposite theatre ally theory is the fact that it would seem to have a tendency to lead to a two-way draw. There IS a small amount of truth to this. Should you choose to attack your opposite theatre ally in the end game, you can run into the very same problem you sought to avoid in the first place: a potential stalemate line. This CAN be a problem, but in defense of the theory, it should be pointed out that, if you have been working with an opposite theatre ally from the start of the game, you will have have ensured yourself a good chance of doing two things essential to your victory.

First off, you will have probably eliminated two or three smaller powers which might have hung on to the end as minor yet vital parts of a stalemate line. This is especially important if you are playing DIAS (Draws Include All Survivors). The fewer powers remaining at the end of the game, especially if it is just down to yourself, your opposite theatre ally and a couple of one or two centre powers, will mean that you will have to gain FAR fewer centres with your stab then you would otherwise. It’s much easier to get to 18 centres when you start from 15 or 16 than from 11 or 12.

Secondly, as the game progresses, you and your ally will find your forces intertwining as you come closer together (geography-wise) by eliminating the other players. If you have already decided that you are going to go ahead with your stab and try for the outright victory, it should be an easy matter of maneuvering one or two units into position to grab those last few centres. This must be done with great subtlety or you will tip your ally off as to your intentions.

Success in Diplomacy is a thing of beauty. It not only involves an ability to move little blocks or pieces of plastic around on a board, it requires clear and free thinking in order to see what is happening all around you and make sense of the various personalities and psyches behind each country. The player who can combine all this along with a sense of strategy will do well. If you can play the game with the acumen necessary to encompass the entire board, you will win more than your share of games.