English Strategy

by Don Turnbull

I think it was Allan Calhamer, the inventor of Diplomacy, who first referred to England in the game as ‘The Wicked Witch of the North”. Certainly, England is potentially a strong country, and many players, until they learn better, are rather envious of the controller of English destinies. However, don’t run away with the idea that playing England is all cakes and ale.

England occupies an enviable and unique position on the board. It is placed at one corner, so need not be apprehensive about attacks from the west when initially advancing towards Europe. It is surrounded entirely by sea spaces, and starts off with a superiority of fleets, so control of the local seas can be gained without too much trouble. Invasion of England requires sea power, and other countries cannot build sea power quite as quickly as England; it is an easy country to defend, for this reason. Finally, in designing the games, Calhamer’s policy of directing the action towards the centre of the board is as favourable to England as it is unfavourable to Austria (see the last article in this series). All these factors add up.

On the other side of the coin, England has only one sure build in 1901 —Norway. Even this can occupy the attention of all three units, if Russia chooses to be awkwardThe growth potential is thus small, at least until English forces start to get a foothold in Europe. What, then, should a player for England attempt in the opening stages?

Control of the seas is the first priority. The North Sea is easy (and vital); the Norwegian Sea is just as easy, though Russia might be more interested in leaving that space vacant; the English Channel is a sore point with France. The first bout of negotiation will be with France concerning the Channel. The opening move Brest-Channel, while not disastrous, can be dangerous. Russia must be approached concerning her attitude towards the Norwegian Sea and Scandinavia in general. Norway is just as ‘English’ as Sweden is Russian. And Norway is adjacent to Sweden. Need I say more?

England cannot be forever content to play around the seas and in Norway. If she is to expand (and to play a defensive game as England is to invite trouble —both Germany and France have higher growth potentials) then it must be in Europe. This, in turn, means building armies fairly early in the game and convoying them to France, Germany or Russia. Although the 1901 build should be a fleet, there is a lot to be said for building an army in 1902.

England has three clear directions of advance. Let’s examine, briefly, the pros and cons of each.

France. A successful French campaign ensures almost complete control of the western side of the board; it gives English forces another good defensive position, since France is not an easy country to invade; it gives a good yield of centres; finally, it removes the problem of the Channel. However the issue isn’t clear cut. France isn’t a country which can be easily invaded, in my experience. You cannot expect much co-operation from Italy. If you are going to make France your first target, you need to ensure two English builds in 1901 and only one for France, and this involves much co-operation from Germany and Italy.

Finally, the campaign must be quick, since other countries can build up in other areas quicker than England can in France. I need hardly add that the opening move F(Lon)-ENC is most dangerous!

Germany. There are fewer centres to pick up in Germany than there are in France, bearing in mind the fact that your allies in the venture will want their pick of the spoils. But Germany is easier to invade than France. However, don’t forget that, while you are occupied in Germany, France is picking up easier builds elsewhere, and will emerge stronger than you.

Russia. Initially, Russia is engaged on two fronts, so with German help in the north, and Turkey making nasty noises in the south (see how far your diplomacy has to extend?) it should be relatively easy to conquer Russia. However, there isn’t much to be gained. Apart from St. Petersburg, all the centres yielded are of considerable interest to your allies – Germany wants Sweden and Warsaw. Turkey wants Moscow. In addition, having finished with Russia and perhaps gaining two centres, France and Germany will probably be stronger than England. And don’t forget that either France or Germany will constitute the second target. There is the advantage that England would then control the entire north of the board, but that doesn’t mean much since there is no-one else around and little to defend.

To the above arguments, add just one more strategic point. Germany is the only country in the north which can build two fleets bearing directly on English waters. And remember that if England ever has to defend her shores, fleets will be in the van of the attack.

Got the message? Right. Germany is my choice, albeit a marginal one. England must be prepared to accept slightly lower gains in exchange for a stronger position in the middle game.

Which country, of France and Russia, must you enlist to help you in the German offensive? Remember that one of these will be your second target. My personal preference is to form a strong and lasting agreement with Russia. If played correctly, this can result in England and Russia expanding in different directions in the middle game, without a conflict of interests.

One final point about the opening before considering the moves themselves — England cannot withstand an attack by a Franco-German alliance, even with Russian support. If France and Germany are set to attack you, plead with Russia and Italy, build fleets whenever possible, and pray.

Opening moves for England are less complex than those for Austria. The North Sea is essential, and the Norwegian Sea only just less so. The position of the army after the Spring move has been hotly debated. In the final analysis, Edinburgh is a better place for it than Liverpool, but once again the attitudes of other countries govern this. It is nice to gain Norway with a fleet in 1901, convoying the army to Holland; it is also rather difficult to convince Germany that this is in her best interest.

Probably the best opening move is




This allows for all sorts of options. If you want an army in Norway (though this is anti-Russian) then it can get there by either fleet, with the other one giving support if necessary. Alternatively, the army could go to Denmark, Holland or Belgium. Finally, a French move from Brest to the Channel can be countered without losing flexibility.

This article first appeared in the July 1972 edition of Games & Puzzles magazine
Supplied by Keith Hazelton