by Stephen Agar
Someone wrote to me recently bemoaning the lack of Diplomacy articles that deal with end-game situations. Of course such articles are rare, because the permutations of the possible situations are too numerous to be dealt with in any detail. In-depth articles on opening strategies rarely venture into 1902 yet alone 1908.
This article is no exception. It is not possible to advise on tactics when any permutation of units on the board is possible. However, I think that I am able to suggest some long-term aims that should be considered from an early point in the game.
The Magic 18
Assuming that your intention is to win outright it is essential that rom the beginning of the game you have an awareness as to where the 18 centres needed for victory are going to come from.
For example, consider England. Lon, Edi, Lpl, Nwy, Swe, StP, Den, Kie, Mos, War, Ber, Mun, Hol, Bel, Bre, Par, Por, Spa gives 18. However, if the English player is unable to take Moscow and/or Warsaw then England will almost certainly need to enter the Mediterranean to open up the possibility of Marseilles or Tunis. Therefore, any English player with ambitions for 18 centres must aim to take out Germany, most of France and either make real inroads into Russia or get fleets into the Mediterranean.
At the other end of the board, let’s consider Turkey. Con, Ank, Smy, Bul, Rum, Ser, Gre, Sev, Vie, Bud, Tri, Ven, Nap, Rom, Tun and you are only up to 15 centres. To make 18, Turkey will probably need three out of Mos, War, Mar, Spa and Por. Thus the Turkish player must aim to either go deep into Russia or penetrate the far reaches of the Mediterranean (and in all probability the MAO). As for Italy, the other mediterranean sea-power, it is certain that Italy must break out into the Atlantic in order to reach 18 centres, as Italy is very unlikely to get as far as Moscow.
The First Stab
Sometime before or during Spring 1902 you are going to have to attack another player in a major way. At that point in the game it is helpful to formulate where you see your 18 centres coming from. Thus a Turkey who directs his/her early energies to building fleets and an alliance with Russia commits itself to taking the Atlantic if it is to reach 18 centres. I would not go so far as suggesting that any country’s first victim should be decided purely from the point of view of a pre-arranged grand strategy to reach any given 18 centres. Often your first target will present itself for one of many reasons, he/she might not write, they might not be credible, you might not like the look of their handwriting or you may just prefer one of the other players as an ally. Diplomacy, when played properly, is a game dependent on personalities.
So, your first major offensive is underway. Pause and consider. Examine the probabilities as to where you think you may find that 18th centre and adjust your mid-game strategy to ensure that you are in a position to take number 18 when you stab whichever close ally you have at the time.
But why bother with all this analysis? Can’t you just play it by ear and gradually 18 centres will come out of somewhere? No. It is crucial to have a long-term game plan because of the existence of stalemate lines on the Diplomacy board.
A stalemate line is a series of occupied linked spaces on the board which can be defended successfully no matter how it is attacked by any combination of forces on the other side of the stalemate line and contains sufficient supply centres within it to support the armies and fleets needed to support it.
Stalemate lines exist because of the geography of the board, always running through Switzerland, which provides an impassable and invulnerable pivot. The hallmark of a likely stalemate line is a series of adjacent spaces which have fewer adjacent spaces on one side of it than the other. There are two types of stalemate line, one which is secure in either direction and one which is secure in one direction only and each of these types of stalemate line can either be a line which safeguards 17 centres, or one which protects less than 17 centres. The importance of the minority stalemate lines (those protecting less than 17 centres) is that they can be effective against an alliance of two or more other powers, who then have to concede the draw or attack each other.
Munich, Bohemia, Silesia, Warsaw, Moscow is a common East-West stalemate line. Five armies in those spaces can be defended by up to seven units placed directly to the north of that line, yet only five units can attack from the south. As it happens, the Mun, Boh, Sil, War, Mos line only needs armies in StP and Lvn to make it invulnerable to any possible attack from the south. Thus seven armies can tie up half the board. The key spaces in this line are Bohemia and Silesia. At the beginning of a game, Bohemia and Silesia may be among the least visited spaces on the board, but by the end of the game you can guarantee that they will be hotly contested as they are the axis of the Mun-Mos line and can be defended from either side.
On the other side of Switzerland the Mar, Spa, Por, MAO line or the Tun, TYS, Tus, Pie line are often the basis of many stalemates, with variations depending on which side controls Spa or TYS. On this side of the board it is crucial to have the right mix of fleets and armies to be able to hold the MAO and the WMS.
A strong Russia in full control of its home centres will straddle any possible stalemate lines and thus cannot ultimately be held by them. England and Germany fall squarely on one side of the stalemate line and Turkey and Austria fall squarely on the other side. Italy straddles some stalemate lines, but is usually eliminated in games with stalemates based on TYS/ION. France has possibilities in that Marseilles can be a doorway to the Mediterranean, but all too often in end-game situations France needs to keep Marseilles garrisoned in order to protect it and thus is not in a position to use it to build fleets.
That is why you must keep the magic 18 centres in view from early in the game. Can England afford to let Turkey get as far as the Tyrrhenian Sea? Can Turkey afford to let England enter the Mediterranean or let France move through Italy? These are decisions that must be made and acted on early in the game, or you may live to regret it.
First published in Spring Offensive No.4 (August 1992)