Classic Games – 1969BG – ALBION 69/1

The First Game of Postal Diplomacy in the UK

 Game: Albion 69/1. GM: Don Turnbull.
Started: Albion No.1 (July 1969). Finished: Albion No.21 (Sept 1970)

 Supply Centre Chart 

(Michael Nethercot)
(John Munro)
331110    7th
(Malcolm Watson)
(John Newcombe)
(John Robertson)
4434320   6th
(Chris Hancock)
(David Wood)

Don Turnbull (Gamesmaster) 

This isn’t an easy report to write. For one thing, I am very conscious of the fact that I am inexperienced in Diplomacy -this was the first attempt on my part at acting as gamesmaster; also it is only the fourth Diplomacy game with which I have had any personal contact whatever. You can read other magazines and their games until you are blue in the face, but that doesn’t make you an expert on the game, or even marginally competent. The second reason is that Malcolm Watson is virtually breathing dawn my neck at the time of writing, pronouncing scathing and carping criticism on everything I write; this doesn’t help matters any. 

So if you read this report and compare it with the game moves, and come to the conclusion that I am talking through my hat, you are probably right. I would welcome comments on the game from others, in particular those who have been involved with postal Diplomacy for a long time. 

You should also be warned that Malcolm Watson has promised me an article on the game for the next issue. Rush out and cancel your subscription right now. 

None of the players had any previous experience of postal Diplomacy, in that, at least, they were equal. However there were, in the game, two ‘couples’ who had known each other for a long time, and it was to be expected that they would ally. And so they did – the alliance between France and Italy played a major part in the game; that between Turkey and Russia played a less important part, but existed. Austria fell in naturally as part of the “eastern” alliance, while Germany joined the “Western”. England seemed to take little interest in the proceedings, and was reported to have complained to the effect that “some people were telling lies in their press releases and diplomatic correspondence.” He could, I suppose, have complained to the gamesmaster about this, but didn’t. Perhaps he realised somewhat belatedly that this sort of thing was exactly what one expected from such a game. Perhaps it just never crossed his mind. Whatever happened, his participation in the game was minimal, and although his last unit did not disappear until 1906, he contributed nothing in any positive sense to the game. 

However England’s lack of appreciation of the despicable qualities required of a postal Diplomacy player did affect the game very considerably. As soon as France realised England’s position, along went the invasion fleet, and France had virtually undisputed access to three free and secure supply centres. 

However that is jumping the gun a bit, and we should first see how the game started and developed, and the main areas of the conflict should be isolated. 

A “standard” opening by all parties was to be predicted. However this was not entirely the case. Austria seemed to have little territorial ambitions, and beyond securing Serbia made no attempt to enter the Balkans. Perhaps the “eastern” alliance was using Austria as a buffer, while the latter had somehow been persuaded to agree. Whatever the case, Austria’s role was marked down as defensive right from the start. 

The German openings were interesting, too. A(Mun)-Ruh and F(Kie)-Den are normal moves, but A(Ber)-Sil was an unusual and perhaps risky addition. Early antagonism of Russia by Germany did nothing to help the cause of the latter, particularly since Russia was obviously interested in a northern offensive, and therefore in cahoots with Turkey as far as security in the south was concerned. 

Finally (on the subject of the opening) England’s failure to submit orders threw open the question of future occupation of Norway. Russia and Germany both leapt at the challenge, and hence the English shores were left for the French to invade. This, more than any other factor, was the major influence on the game. 

In Winter 1901 came the normal builds; however the build by Germany of A(Mun) was rather weak. F(Ber) would have been much better in order to take the offensive north into the Scandinavian area. This weakness in the north became apparent immediately 1902 started, with Russia and Germany fighting in the north and still leaving England alone. At the same time a struggle for the Med. between Italy and Turkey hotted up, but Austria, forced to build armies by not leaving Trieste vacant, could not lend a hand to Turkey. The Austrian move into the Adriatic Sea came at least one season too late. 

Meantime France continued to build for assault against England, which was to take place in late 1903. Liverpool and London fell while Russia and Germany were slogging it out on the borders, although a Russian fleet was clearly destined for Edinburgh to try to get one English centre at least. 

In Spring 1903 we had a very strange move in the south-east. Turkey retreated from Bulgaria into Constantinople in order to allow the Russian fleet to move from Rumania to Bulgaria. Presumably the intention was to allow the Russian fleet into the Med., however neither country seemed to realise that this was possible through Constantinople, but not Bulgaria. The Russian fleet sitting hopelessly in Bulgaria was a real thorn in the Turkish flesh, and I was most surprised not to see it removed straight away. However there it stayed, until late 1904. Turkey lost a build in Winter 1903 due to this unit, at a time when a new fleet would have been most useful in the Med. This was not the only example of lack of co-operation between Russia and Turkey, although it was perhaps the most significant. 

The conflict between Italy and Austria carried on sporadically, with neither side making any gains. Suddenly, however, Italy moved from Tyrol to Bohemia, isolating a unit which he promptly removed. The purpose of this move was never clear to me – it was certain that Germany and Italy were allied via France. From this point on, Italian moves became more and more disorganised, with the predictable result. 

1904 commenced, therefore, with Austria hemmed in by a lack of fleets, Italy fighting for survival and France ready to assault England’s last centre (Edinburgh). Russia managed to support the last remaining English unit in Edinburgh, but this merely delayed the French occupation, since Russia was still involved with Germany around Norway and Sweden. Russia badly needed Austrian support from the south at this juncture, while Austria, although well-blessed with armies, seemed reluctant to give it, despite the fact that the Austrian capture of Venice left a spare army which could have moved north. 

France slipped an army into the Ruhr at this stage, and Germany allowed it! Perhaps this was rather a cheeky move on the part of France at this stage, particularly since French fleets were now being diverted to the Med. to help Italy (apparently) and Germany was the only really useful ally the French had. However the real test of a move is whether it works or not (in the long-term sense as well as the short-term) and this move worked. Turkey’s advances in the Med. came adrift here, and Tunis was lost to the Italians. However the Russians finally moved the Bulgaria fleet, and the net result was the transfer of a Turkish fleet from Tunis right back to Smyrna. 

French moves in the Med. now started to control the game. Italy seemed happy to allow France to do just whatever he liked – even to the extent of occupying Italian centres in 1906. Straight after this, Italy vacated Tunis and left the whole Italian territory open for French assault. France promptly made the final assault, and Italy disappeared under the French boot in 1907 (not long after England). 

Meantime the rest of Europe wandered on in rather an aimless manner. German units entered Russia, but not for long; however Germany also allowed a French fleet into the Skagerrack, whereas a German fleet should have been there for some time previously. Germany, like Italy, seemed anxious to give in to France whenever the opportunity arose. 

Meantime, in Turkey, a conscience was clearly the subject of a wrestling match. Turkish forces, unable to expand in the Med., had seen most of the Balkans and southern Russia open for the taking for some time. In Autumn 1906 the conscience won -A(Bul) was convoyed to (of all places) Smyrna by the Turkish commander. A most strange move. However, in Spring 1907, the same army marched north again, to Armenia. Even then, the Turkish conscience wouldn’t allow an invasion of Russia (this was vital if he was to stop the French at all), and the army started to move south again in Autumn 1907. Truly a strange series of orders which reflected the partial chaos in the communications of the Eastern alliance. 

Winter 1907, and the writing was clearly on the wall. France had an enviable control of north and south, yet no-one seemed too interested in trying to stop the eventual win. A belated Austrian assault on Germany in Spring 1908 only opened the Austrian southern flank to French attack, while Turkey waited still longer before moving against Russia. The Russian fleet which had occupied Sweden for so long moved out to allow France in. In all fairness, it should be stated that the Russian could do little about this – the time was long past for any anti-French move without the co-operation of very nearly everyone left in the game. 

Finally France stabbed Germany, Turkey started to move into Russia, and France won. Easily and without much shouting. Many players failed to submit orders in the last two or three seasons, accepting the inevitable. 

There were, in my opinion, three major factors which contributed to the French win. 

1.      Malcolm played to a plan, and once he had set his objectives he didn’t deviate from them. The alliances were stable enough to allow this policy. He waited until the right time to hit supply centres – he didn’t just occupy them when the opportunity arose, but made sure that, once having captured a centre, he would retain it. He also played his diplomatic cards well, obviously, since… 

2.      Italy (in particular) and Germany (to a lesser extent) seemed happy to allow France to dictate their moves and development. A combined assault by the Italians and the Austrians on southern Germany in, say, 1905 would have made a lot of difference. An Italian alliance with the Turks in the Med. would have threatened the southern French flank at a time when Italy and Turkey badly needed elbow room. 

3.   The luck element of the game – the early departure of the English commander, destination unknown. Having taken the English centres, France could spread out without fear of any losses in England or at home. Had John Munro played on, and perhaps allied with Russia, things might have been very different. 

However there are always ifs and buts, and if anyone supposes I am trying to diminish Malcolm’s win by making excuses, they are wrong. Malcolm played well and consistently (no-one else did) and deserved to win. The fall of England only made the game a bit shorter. Anyone can, with the benefit of hindsight, point out better moves for players, better alliances that could have achieved this and that result. All I have tried to do is to isolate the major factors involved in the game and the French win – nothing more is intended. 

Malcolm Watson (France) 

Firstly let me comment on Don Turnbull’s critique of this game.  He starts off by suggesting that there is a possibility of him talking through his hat.  This is quite absurd, of course, since he can’t afford one.  However if we do not take his statement literally, we can agree that he has been misled in certain instances due to the fact that he had little idea what went on behind the Political Scenes.  I will therefore try to cast some light on this area of darkness whilst giving my reactions and impressions of the main incidents which took place during the game. 

As Don quite correctly stated, we were all very new to the arts of diplomacy, and I, having little or no idea what the hell to do, decided to wage an aggressive war against Germany with the support of Russia and England.  After all, I told myself, it worked in reality back in 1914 – why should it not do so again?  Having resolved to follow this course of action I contacted both England and Russia and formed an alliance to the detriment of Germany.  I also contacted Italy and formed a non-aggression pact with him in order to secure my southern flank. 

You can see, even at this stage, blatant inexperience on my part.  I had not stopped to think where I should go after the fall of Germany, and all my treaties to date prevented me from expanding further without coming into conflict with one of my present allies.  Fortunately events were kind to me, and my problems were solved, as we will see later. 

Spring 1901 brought a nasty shock.  England failed to move any of her units and my grand plans for Germany stayed, with the English forces, in splendid isolation.  The only other surprise at this stage was Italy’s unprecedented invasion of Austria.  This event was, however, very pleasing to me since I was now assured that Italian attention would be focussed away from the shores of France. 

Sparks flew from my pen as I furiously tried to undo the damage caused by England’s lack of action, and, lo and behold! In the Autumn Britannia condescended to move. All other countries took their objectives without any trouble, the only surprise being the lack of Austrian ambition in the Balkans. 

As I have already mentioned, England’s failure to move in the Spring of 1901 caused the infamous Charles de Gaul to take up pen and chastise his erring ally. The lack of response to these letters convinced me that my best bet now was, to put it crudely, clobber him.  I therefore set about wooing Germany to my side, whilst at the same time advising Russia that England was still my close ally, and warning him against any aggressive move in that direction.  The fact that Russia was taken in must show the lack of Russian diplomatic activity in this direction. 

At first Germany wasn’t sure whether to trust me or not, and the Spring of 1902 saw him launch attacks on my frontiers.  However my units remained in defensive postures as promised.  Russia moved forces up to the Russo-German border, an act that no doubt forced Germany’s hand with regard to my peace proposals. This of course is what I had hoped for, since Russia had not been informed of my change in policy, and was still under the impression that I considered Germany to be a common enemy.  The Russians also seized Norway, despite a half-hearted attempt by England to prevent this; at this stage England ceased to be an influential power and John Munro submerged himself in a big basin of self-pity and retired from the game somewhat ungracefully. 

Things started to look a bit black for Italy as Turkey ranged her forces alongside Austria’s, and it was only thanks to some very astute play by John Robertson that Italy defied vastly superior forces for some considerable time. 

Autumn 1902 brought great joy to the French powers – not only did the German armies on the Western Front stand passively, but also their army in Eastern Germany attacked Warsaw, thus committing a definite act of war against Russia. Things were looking better and better for me. Italy fully engaged in the Med., Germany and Russia about to plunge into war, and Russia under the impression that England was still a participant to be reckoned, thanks to my big bluff. By the time Chris realised the truth it would be too late. 

Spring 1903 sees the war between Germany and Russia continues in earnest, while Italy continues to defy Turkey and Austria. However John was well aware that he could not hold out forever, and requested French aid in the matter. In response to the appeal a French fleet was dispatched to the Med. whilst in the main theatre of operations my invasion fleets set sail. 

Autumn 1903 not only sees the successful invasion of England, with London and Liverpool falling to the forces of the gallant French, but also the start of French influence in the Med. From this point in time French forces moved into this area in a steady stream with the blessing of Italy, who was only too glad to receive their aid. 

In Spring 1904 we have the first instance of combined Franco/German and Franco/ Italian moves, all successful, the former to the detriment of Russia, and the latter thwarting the moves of Abdul Wood the Terrible Turk. I was also able, at this time, to move my army from Belgium to the Ruhr; its purpose was to support the German army in Munich against possible Austro/Russian attack. Munich was the corner stone in the western defences. This army also served the secondary purpose of being a good arguing point should Germany decide to cut up rough with me. 

We now delve back into the devious world of doubtful diplomacy, realising that Russia could not be happy about my occupation of England, and guessing that he would try in some way to interfere with my capture of Edinburgh. I wrote to Chris warning him against interference in this matter in any way, shape or form. He duly obliged in Autumn 1904 by supporting the English army against my attack. I could now in all justification discard all previous treaties that existed between Russia and myself and draw the sword to defend the honour of France. War was declared and I started laying plans to gain full control of the Northern Seas prior to my attacking Scandinavia. The elimination of England was now a secondary objective, which could be dealt with at my leisure. 

The war between Russia and Germany was now swinging against the latter, and he was obliged to pull back troops from the French border in order to supplement his defence in the east. The battle for control of the Med. continued with the build-up of French forces. This campaign continued in a very erratic way for some time with neither side gaining the upper hand until I decided to take a firm grip of the situation. 

Spring 1905, and France and Russia come into direct conflict for the first time, the results being inconclusive at this stage, but French reinforcements are being rushed to the spot. Back on the eastern front Germany regains some ground when Russia inexplicably goes on the defensive. Chris was obviously worrying about the growing menace in the north, and was now shifting forces to this area – too late, as it happens. From now to the end of the game he was obviously caught between two fires, not knowing whether to attack or defend against both Germany and myself. This proved to be his undoing. 

The war in the Med. continued in a satisfactory manner; progress here was slow but sure, and final victory in this area was certain. Or so I thought at the time. 

Autumn 1905, and we find a state of complete chaos, with units of the four antagonists hopelessly intermingled in the Med. In the north things are looking better, with the French navy now outnumbering the Russians by three to two. French mastery in this area is now more than a possibility. Russian actions at this stage are very hard to follow – she loses all initiative, by switching from the offensive to the defensive, and never regains it again. 

Spring 1906. The Med. is in a continued state of turmoil, with the advantage now going to the eastern Powers. At the request of the Italian Government, French forces now occupy Rome in order to deny this fair city to the grasping hands of the Austrians. The English army, which had been chased out of Edinburgh the previous year, is now evicted from Liverpool and goes into retirement in the hills of Welsh Wales. The war on the eastern front takes an unexpected twist when Germany captures Warsaw – a good thing for me since it diverted Russia’s attention away from the high seas and back to this area. 

In Autumn England’s downfall is complete, the Russian navy is pushed back toward its homeland whilst her armies take up positions for yet another push on Germany – true 1914-18 stuff, this. The French fleet in Rome moves on to Naples whilst Italy re-occupies Rome. She has decided that it is better to lose a supply centre temporarily to a friend rather than lose it permanently to a foe. The fighting here was at last swinging our way; however, there was a serious breach in relations between France and Italy, caused by the unsatisfactory results achieved in the campaign. 

It struck me that to continue supporting Italy was really quite senseless -she was now a burden on my resources rather than an asset to the French Cause. Consequently I laid plans for her destruction. For some time now I had been aware of Turkey’s disillusionment with the war; therefore I approached David and suggested peace terms in return for his withdrawal from the area. Being somewhat frustrated at his lack of progress in the Med. he allowed himself to be persuaded, and in the Spring of 1907 moved his forces to threaten Russia’s undefended supply centres, whilst Italy unwittingly set herself up for the chop. My navy took a firm control of the northern seas prior to an assault on Norway, whilst Austria stirred herself at last and lined her armies along the Austro/German border. 

We didn’t have long to wait to find out what her intentions were – with the aid of Austria, Russia regained Warsaw. However Austria was still loath to use the full power of her armies against Germany. Turkey had obviously had an attack of conscience, and now moved all his forces back to their previous positions. However this was to no avail, as I had managed to buy all the time I required for the destruction of Italy. Italy went down without knowing what had hit her. Norway was also occupied by an amphibious attack, and I was on the home straight at last, with thirteen units and no one in a position to do much about it. 

My only fear at this stage was that Germany might panic at the fate of Italy and line herself alongside the Eastern Powers. Fortunately her deep mistrust of Russia and Austria prevented her from coming to terms with them. Spring 1908, and French forces continued to close in on Russia, whilst Germany, fearful of an attack from me, stands and supports all round. French forces in the Med. have now taken a firm control of this area and are pushing the enemy back, whilst my newly arrived reinforcements move towards the German frontier as a precaution against possible attack. 

After the fall of Italy I contacted Germany and gave my assurance that he had nothing to fear from me as long as he continued to act as an ally. However in Autumn of this year he attempted to occupy Sweden, when it was quite obvious that the French were about to do so. Another letter was sent to Germany warning her against repeating such an act, and in the Spring of 1909 she adhered to this advice. Unfortunately for her, this loyalty was short-lived. At this time Italy was completely occupied by the French, all Scandinavia was likewise occupied, and it was just a matter of time before I took the final three centres from Russia and Austria. 

These two countries had sunk into a state of inactivity and Turkey, deciding on a final fling, stabbed them both in the backs by occupying Rumania and Serbia. It was also in the fateful Autumn of 1909 that Germany turned traitor and attacked Sweden yet again, despite my earlier warning. Since he could no longer be trusted there was nothing for it but to wind up the game at his expense. Spring 1910 was spent setting Germany up for the final crunch, Kiel and Holland were occupied, and Munich was left at my mercy. Autumn 1910 and the Coup de Gaul was administered. Munich is occupied, and it is all over with, Turkey still running amok in the Balkans. 

I think Don summed up this game quite well, and therefore I do not intend to go into it again. The purpose of this superlative piece of literature, as I said at the beginning, is to give an insight to my impressions of the game, and of other players’ actions and intentions. Some of it is guess work, and I would be very glad to have reactions from other players. 

I will now, in the true tradition of all great authors, make a dedication: 

a)   to Don Turnbull, who hasn’t yet seen what he has to type, and

b)   to my wonderful fiancée who volunteered to take over as chief scribe when my own writing hand gave out.