French Strategy

by Don Turnbull

Geographically, France’s position is good; out on the West wing is with nothing but sea on all but one front. However it is the impassability of Switzerland which is the factor having most influence on France’s development. In 1901 the fact that Switzerland forms a barrier to the east is a very good thing for France, since it bottles up any Italian attack and prevents German forces from sweeping westwards. French units can almost meander around Iberia at will, without bothering much what’s happening in the east. However, when the time comes for France to look east, as it assuredly will at some stage, Switzerland is a nuisance which prevents good deployment of French forces. France is therefore quite an easy country to defend, but it is also a difficult country from which to mount an attack.

France’s first problem is Italy. Piedmont is a narrow corridor, but could be a nuisance. France’s first job, therefore, is to persuade Italy to look eastwards, and perhaps to arrange for Piedmont to be de-militarised. Italy has only one ‘safe’ build, so must decide which way to go in 1902, while many other countries are content just to pick up their initial builds and see what happens elsewhere. So Italian intent must be plumbed and guided gently in the other direction. Having said this, however, all is not lost if Italy proves uncooperative: France can hold off an Italian attack in the south almost indefinitely, providing Germany and/or England isn’t applying pressure in the north.

Don’t forget that no country can withstand the concerted attack of three other powers. If, as France, you find Italy making nasty noises in the south, and are unable to come to terms with England or Germany, then walk — do not run — to the nearest cliff and consign your soul to the seagulls and rocks.

While persuading Italy to keep out of Piedmont, French thoughts must be directed towards setting up a working alliance in the north. As an admitted over-simplification, let me assume that there are only two possibilities — with England against Germany or with Germany against England.

First, let’s look at the fruits of a FrancoGerman alliance against England. The division of the spoils would almost certainly give France control of London and Liverpool without argument; Germany could take Edinburgh and Norway, which should satisfy him (though Russia might not be pleased). Additionally, one must consider that Germany can build two fleets capable of getting into English waters quickly; Germany is therefore a good partner in a campaign which requires a majority of naval power. With this in mind, the campaign should be brief. But the attitude of Russia must be considered. If Russia sides with England, then pressure will be put on Germany; this isn’t, though, such a bad thing for France, since the length of the campaign isn’t quite as important as the relative positions of the allies after it is over, and having a weak ally in Germany puts France in a strong position. If Italy proves difficult, then the campaign will be still longer, but we have already taken care of the Italian problem. This, then, is not a bad alliance, and the resultant position could be very favourable for the French.

Now, what about an alliance with England against Germany? First, it would probably give France possession of Belgium in 1901, and thus six units in 1902, which is never a bad idea. In the following year, Holland, at least, should fall to France, and she has a good claim to Munich, allowing England control of Kiel and Denmark. The position of Russia assumes greater importance here; Russia is not going to stand by while a strong alliance gobbles up one of her neighbours — she is either going to assist Germany, or claim part of the spoils. Curiously, it seems better for France if Russia helps Germany; Russia is pre-occupied in the south, so can’t bring all her forces to bear, and even if Russian pressure is applied, it will be against England rather than against France. A helpful Russia would, however, want Berlin and probably Denmark, thus reducing the spoils claimed by the English and French. All in all, it is perhaps better to have Russia on Germany’s side than operating in conjunction with the Anglo-French alliance.

Little to choose, therefore. There is a third ‘simple’ strategy, of course —attack Italy. However this is not to be recommended in the opening game, for reasons which should be obvious. It’s no use putting a new lock on the front door when the back door is always left open…

Emerging from the above is a necessary lesson to be learned about Diplomacy. Whenever you form an alliance with another country and agree to conquer a third, it’s not a bad idea to end this campaign with a slight edge over your ally. Remember — you may be attacking him next!

It isn’t possible to give a ‘best’ opening move for France. The right set of orders depends on perception of the most likely enemy, and it isn’t a good idea to announce one’s suspicions too early. The essential objectives are Spain and Portugal, yet any of the three units can be used to effect these captures.

The right place for F(Bre) Is MAO, without doubt. Gas is weak, Pic is anti-German and ENC definitely anti-English. Don’t forget to avoid trouble in the early stages whenever possible.

A(Par) usually goes north to bid for Belgium and/or protect against a German advance. Pic commits France’s intentions to Belgium, but doesn’t protect against Germany; however Bur may be regarded as a hostile act by Germany, and this doesn’t protect against England. And, of course, A(Par) could go to Gas, with the aim of taking Spain in the Autumn; this defends Mar against Italian nastiness, but leaves the door wide open in the north.

A(Mar) could go to Spa or Bur. The latter should be discounted immediately unless you are prepared to announce open war against Germany, and we have already dealt with Pie. So Spa seems the right answer — after all, if Italy turns nasty, one can always order Spa-Mar in the autumn, standing off an Italian attack and leaving Mar free for a build.

The opening moves therefore depend on appreciation of the most likely enemy. If England, then F(Bre)-MAO, I A(Par)-Pic, A(Mar)-Spa seems best. If Germany, F(Bre)-MAO, A(Par)-Bur, A(Mar) S A(Par)-Bur is good. If you want an Italian war, then F(Bre)-MAO, A(Par)-Bur, A(Mar)-Spa allows for F(MAO)-SpaSC, A(Spa)-Por, A(Bur)-Mar in autumn, with good flexibility in south.

In summary, France is possibly in the best position in the game to play it cool for a while; she can ensure two builds without arousing any suspicions at all, and can plan 1902 after seeing what other countries are up to, since they must, in general, declare their intentions earlier. But the Swiss barrier will sooner or later play a big part, and 1901 isn’t too early to start thinking of ways of tackling it.

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