by Dan Stafford
The purpose of this article is to guide novice players in the formation and use of sound strategy in their play of the game of Diplomacy in general and to present guidelines for developing the proper strategic options for a French victory in particular.
Three basic premises should guide your play. First, fleets are the key to victory. I believe this to be true for every country on the board, but especially France. The playing board is designed in such a way–with relatively small land provinces and relatively large sea zones–that control of key bodies of water dictates the flow of the game. A good rule to go by is that when in doubt, build a fleet. And be in doubt as often as you can!
Second, central powers are your friends… particularly the ones on the other side of the board. If you are playing an eastern power (Austria, Russia, Turkey or Italy), then Germany is your buddy. Likewise, if you are playing a western power you want to see Austria do well. Why? Simply because Austria has such a difficult time following the first principle of strategy outlined above. Austria has only one home center which can be used for building fleets and that center will often be occupied for one reason or another, which means that even when Austria is doing well, she may not be able to build enough fleets to defend her Balkan empire from eventual seaborne invasion…that is, eventual French seaborne invasion.
The ideal situation for France is to have Austria dominating the Balkans or even all of the east while unable to build more than one or two fleets.
Third, your primary ally should be the other central power. Since fleets are the key and you want to win the game, not just draw, wouldn’t it be perfect if your primary ally were land or army oriented, like Germany, as opposed to fleet oriented, like England? Yes, it would be. Which brings us to the next topic.
Primary Alliance Structure
Phase I of a French victory begins in 1901 when you choose either a German or English ally and concludes when the one you didn’t choose is out of the game. (I’ll leave a discussion of an E/F/G triple alliance to someone else. Suffice it to say that such an alliance is not often in the best interests of France.) There are those who would argue that an E/F alliance is tactically stronger than an F/G. And there are those who would argue that your decision about which you ally with should be made solely on the merits of the diplomacy and personality. I contend that the latter group is partially correct, and the former group is dead wrong!
With regard to the E/F alliance, Germany is a tough nut to crack. She will be able to secure two builds in 1901, even without an ally, putting her at 5 units. France and England will have a very difficult time indeed bringing more than 4 or 5 of their own units to bear on her, and progress initially will be slow or nonexistent. And what about Russia? Any intelligent Russian player will jump to the aid of Germany. What a magnificent chance for him to completely stalemate all the western powers and possibly gain Norway in the process while firmly establishing himself as a (naval!) power in the north. Only a fool in Russia would play into the hands of E/F by attacking Germany, for surely the foolish Russian will be the next target of E/F as soon as Germany is crushed.
Clearly, the preferred arrangement for France is an alliance with Germany for a host of both tactical and strategic reasons. Tactically, England is much easier to take than Germany. With as few as four fleets between them, F/G can easily conquer England. The Russian reaction? Few Czars will be able to resist the temptation of taking Norway, thereby removing the threat to St. Petersburg, securing all of Scandinavia, and establishing himself with multiple fleets in the north. Further, the remaining eastern powers will not consider the sacking of England as anything to be immediately concerned about. They will merely see three powers vying for the spoils from only other power, with none of them becoming dominant.
The major problem with the E/F alliance from a strategic standpoint is that it does not allow France to build Fleets. Your English ally would, quite properly, be rather distressed if you built them. And yet, after the fall of Germany, your next target ought to be either England or Italy. But you would have insufficient fleets to mount an effective attack on either. However, if England was your first victim, then you would have several fleets already on the board and could then proceed to attack, with ease, Italy, Germany or even Russia.
To enhance further your chances of winning, some skillful, yet subtle, diplomatic efforts should be made to create a desirable situation in the east. For instance, if Russia and Turkey happen to attack Austria, you might want to point out to Italy what will happen to him at the hands of an R/T alliance if he doesn’t act to save Austria now. A triple R/A/I alliance vs. Turkey is also a good situation for France.
After the Fall of Britain
Phase II of a French victory begins when all of the English home supply centers are held or about to be taken by F/G forces. At this point you have two options. One is to stab Germany immediately, but I believe this would only be the best course of action under a small set of circumstances. The most prominent circumstance for an early stab of Germany is if Russia is strong enough to help you take on Germany–but not too strong–preferably a Russia who has suggested to you the German Blitz without prompting, and the existence of a virtual naval stalemate in the Mediterranean between Italy and Turkey. If either I or T is gaining dominance over the other or Russia is too weak or unwilling to move against Germany, then stabbing Germany is the less attractive of your two main options. Obviously, if your German ally is hedging at the suggestion of moving east, then you might have to lower your criteria for green-lighting a stab. However, in most cases moving strongly into the Mediterranean will prove more profitable than stabbing Germany.
Assuming you have chosen the Mediterranean option for Phase II, then timing is the key to successful acquisition of the Italian centers. It is rare that you will have a situation where both Italy and Turkey are still strong at this stage of the game; only one of them will still be a going concern, usually at the expense of the other. You, of course, have been watching this situation closely. If Turkey is winning, then at the point – or a little before – that it becomes clear Italy cannot stop the golden horde, he will be very susceptible to your suggestion that you send in a few fleets to help stop the Turks. And then do it! Move in your fleets, coordinate with the Italian, and do what you can to drive Turkey out of Italian waters.
Only then should you try to grab every Italian center you can. In the other situation, where Italy is winning against Turkey, timing is again crucial. Strike too quickly, while Turkey is still intact, and he will be able to recover to threaten your Mediterranean domination after Italy is gone. Wait too long, and Italy will have already shifted his forces back to the west after having finished off the Turk. Strike at just the right time, say, when Turkey is down to 2 or 3 centers and while Italian fleets are still heavily committed to the Eastern Med, and you may be able to overrun a virtually undefended Italy and face only a broken Turkey afterwards.
The conquest of Italy signals the end of Phase II and the beginning of the final phase. Again, you have only two main options. First is to play for a two-way draw with your German ally. By now he has overrun Scandinavia, and his armies are ringing in around Austria and southern Russia. He is probably in no position to stab you because he has only 2 or 3 fleets and can’t really threaten your English holdings.
Second, you can go for the win. This can be done in two ways as well. One is an immediate stab of Germany after you have secured the Italian peninsula in its entirety. You can use your naval superiority to force the German out of Scandinavia and St. Petersburg. However, you will still have to take Holland and Denmark for the win and that won’t be easy. The other way is to play it out as allies to the end, as if you’re going for the 17-17 center split, and then try to grab one of his centers for the win. Certainly, this method is risky too, as your ally may be able to do the same to you just a little more quickly.
This article has outlined a blueprint for a French victory. I do not mean to suggest that it is the only way to win with France, merely that in my experience it is the best way. There will, of course, be a hundred different variables in each and every game you will have to address so that no two French wins will ever be exactly the same.