Formulating a Strategy

by Doug Ronson

A few years ago Larry Peery was offering a booklet on how to play each country, from openings to middle and end game strategy. While I am not one to knock such projects, I refused to buy a copy. I didn’t want to be told how to play a country, I wanted to make mistakes and learn from them. Thus the purpose of this article: how does one formulate a strategy for Diplomacy based on one’s own goals and interests? 

Formulating a strategy in Diplomacy can be just like formulating a strategy in business or sport. In any of these ventures strategy can be defined as the establishment of goals and the means by which we achieve these aims, The belief that there is no need to form a definite strategy (that one must play the game in the present and not in the future) can only be carried so far. Perhaps we should look at some business strategy. A corporate strategy is necessary because (1) there is an inadequacy in stating goals in terms of maximum profit and (2) the necessity of planning ahead in undertakings with long lead times. A good business strategy will recognise that to make the maximum profit immediately may mean foregoing larger profits in the future.

The same goes for Diplomacy – an early stab of an ally may double your centre count from four to eight but may leave you without any allies and no one trusting you, meaning your inevitable downfall. If you did not stab, then you could later do so and win all the marbles. A tennis player who goes all out in the early going will find himself winning but running all over the court. Once he is tuckered out his opponent will take over and win easily. The necessity of planning ahead is also important. Attacks should be executed efficiently and quickly. If you have your units positioned well in advance for an attack then you will be ready to strike hard and fast but still have a chance to change plans should the situation change. 

Thus, it is necessary to establish not simply any strategy, but also a flexible one. Over dedication to a certain plan may result in lost opportunity. A Russian player who is determined not to stab his Austrian ally until Turkey is eliminated may find a perfect opportunity for a stab while Turkey still has a couple of centres. Failure to take such an opportunity might mean the failure of the stab. 

When establishing a strategy, then, the following questions should be answered: 

1)    Does the strategy exploit full opportunity? An Anglo-German alliance may find that if it doesn’t attack both Russia and France they may lose the centres of those countries to other powers. 

2)    Is the strategy consistent with present and projected resources? A small company with a new product will quickly lose her market if she cannot meet demands to competitors marketing copies. In the Anglo-German alliance it must be considered whether there are enough units to battle both France and Russia. 

3)    Is the chosen level of risk feasible? For the tennis player, is it worth trying some possible winning (but risky) shots, perhaps losing a game or perhaps winning the game and destroying the opponents morale. An Italian attack on France may seem smart but the profits might be reaped, not by the Italian, but by the English and Germans. Perhaps it would be better to prop up the French against the Anglo-Germans. 

4)    (And most important) Is your strategy consistent with your aims in the game? A doubles tennis player may win by poaching (that is, taking shots not on his side of the court) all of the time, but will his partner enjoy the game? Are you playing the game to win or are you interested in having fun and making friends with the other players? 

Much of this may seem fairly obvious but I am surprised at the great number of players who do not have a strategy for each game. To sum up, then: 

1.      establish your goals and decide whether they are realistic, and 

2.      establish a means of achieving those goals and decide whether that method is feasible. 

Reprinted from Rats live on no evil staR No.3 (June 1976).
First published in  Paroxysm No.31 (June 1976)