Malicious Support: Diplomacy’s Ultimate Force Multiplier

By Tim Hoyt

Force Multiplier: U.S. term for new tactics or equipment which are meant to increase a unit’s combat effectiveness in a manner equivalent to an increase in it’s size… (Edward Luttwak and Stuart L. Koehl, A Dictionary of Modern War, HarperCollins, NY,1991, p. 226).

Diplomacy poses an irritating tactical dilemma. Players know that there can never be more than 34 pieces in play, and must calculate the strength of their forces against potential or actual enemy coalitions. In theory, no state is safe until if has eighteen units (a win) or a secure stalemate line: otherwise, potential enemy coalitions may outnumber and eventually destroy them. Until these ambitious goals are realized, players must do everything possible to create artificial “force multipliers”, which increase their relative power against that of all others.

The obvious manner in which to achieve this is through alliance, which is the core of the game. The game of Diplomacy has been described as an exercise in convincing six other people to allow you to destroy them. This may be a little extreme, but no single player can win without the cooperation (witting or unwitting) of other players. Successful players maximize the utility of every piece: at the most basic level, this includes ordering only the minimal number of “holds”. Successful alliances combine their strength, using support orders to defend existing territory or to displace and destroy enemy units.

The support order has limitations, which are described in detail in section IX of the February 1982 2nd edition rules (sorry if I’m using an obsolete set). One of the most intriguing uses of the support order, of course, is the unwanted support: helping an enemy into a space he was hoping to keep vacant by a “bounce”. For example, Austria: A Gal Bud; A Vie Bud. Russia: A Rum S (A)A Gal Bud. This would be particularly annoying in a fall turn, if Austria were intending to build in “vacant” Budapest.

It would occasionally be useful to be able to force one of your own units to retreat, in order to keep an advance moving or break a potential stalemate line. This is expressly forbidden by the rules. Section IX.3 states that “an order to move into a space occupied by another unit of the same country may not succeed if the second unit fails to leave that space…an order by one country which supports an attack by another country against a space occupied by one of the first country’s units does not permit a move dislodging that unit…” This can often be frustrating. Most players have probably experienced a situation in which if they could just free ONE of their units up, they would have that breakthrough, and their enemies would cower before them and submit to endless humiliation.

Fortunately, there is a way. The “unwanted support” order, while annoying, pales in comparison to the incredible aggravation and paralyzing effectiveness of the “malicious support” (I am indebted to Laurence Zuriff, not only for coining the phrase, but also for participating in a test case on Compuserve!).

Effective use of malicious support requires a tight alliance between two countries. It also requires some intermingling of pieces. Many players are unwilling to permit this, preferrring to divide responsibilities. The most common form of this is the land sea alliance: Germany builds armies, England builds fleets, for example. “Spheres of influence” are another means: France secures the Low Countries and Iberia and then attacks on the Mediterranean front, while England gets Scandinavia and attacks through the Barents and Baltic. There are advantages to these agreements: they provide psychological security for cooperating players in a cutthroat game; they delineate acceptable and unacceptable behaviour (if you build that second fleet, we’re at war!); and they maximize the value of existing pieces in an alliance by ensuring that the fewest possible pieces are wasted guarding against the ally’s possible perfidy.

The difference between “force maximization” (my own term) and “force multiplier” (an accepted military term) is that the latter INCREASES the capability of existing units: the same numbers of forces achieve the results of larger numbers of forces. Achieving this in Diplomacy is the equivalent of having extra pieces on the board, working for you. The way to achieve this is intermingle allied forces, accepting the risks and vulnerabilities attached. Malicious support takes advantage of this by using enemy pieces to achieve coalition goals.

The theory of malicious support is as follows: allies A and B have intermingled, cooperating units against enemy C. There are times when it is advantageous for B to support C’s units in attacks on A, in order to displace A’s units and force them to “retreat” in an advantageous manner. For a coalition on the offensive, this may allow a unit to retreat across a not quite formed stalemate line, foiling C’s efforts to establish an effective defense. On the defensive, malicious support may allow A to rebuild an unwanted unit as something more productive and useful.

The example which follows came out of Compuserve Game TAD149, Fall 1905 moves, for those who might be interested.

Position (Spring 1905):

Austria: A Bud, A Gal, A Gas, A Mun, A Rum, A Tyl, A War, F Mid

England: F Yor, F Hel

France: A Bur, A Ruh, F Eng, F Hol, F Lon, F Por

Germany: A Ber, A Kie, A Sil

Italy: A Arm, A Mar, A Pie, A Ukr, F Bla, F Lyo, F Spa(sc), F Tyn, F Wes

Russia: A Den, A Fin, A Lvn, A Mos, F Swe

Turkey: F Sev

The stinking ruin of Versailles still smolders as you assemble your new “provisional military government” of France. The recently deceased President was obsessed with eliminating England to the point that he allowed an Austro Italian alliance to “turn the corner” into the Mid Atlantic, as well as giving up Spa and Mar. One quarter of your naval force sits beleagured in Portugal: for some reason, your predecessor made no effort last turn to remove itfrom that obviously lost province. Paris and Brest are threatened by Austrian troops and, most ignominiously, the pitiful Hapsburg Navy, which stands astride the narrow Mid Atlantic like a Colossus (apologies to Bill Shakespeare).

Your traditional allies of Germany and Russia continue to engage in uncoordinated and often futile attacks on the Hapsburgs, although it appears that Munich will change hands once more this year and be restored to the Kaiser. You have just taken Holland, so a build is possible if one of your centers can be kept open. Obviously, you have your diplomatic work cut out for you, but you leave that temporarily to your Foreign Minister and concentrate on the tactical position.

Four attacks of serious significance appear possible. First, and least threatening, is F Mid-Por; F Spa(sc) S F Mid-Por; F Wes-Mid. Portugal is lost. In fact, you would almost prefer this attack, because it would allow you to retreat F Por OTB and build a new, and more useful, F Bre (or some other unit, if negotiations with Austria or Italy prove fruitful).

A more threatening move would be for Austria to attack or convoy to Bre: Austria and Italy just completed an A Pie-Gas convoy last turn. F Mid can also attack, supported by A Gas. Least likely is that A Gas will attack Bre supported by F Mid: you have two units which can cut F Mid’s support. IF Bre is the target, youcan guarantee its safety by moving F Eng-Bre, F Por-Mid, and A Par-Gas. That cuts either possible support for an Austrian attack on Bre, and either takes Bre with F Eng or bounces an attack.

A third problem is A Gas-Par. That only requires a bounce,but A Bur is necessary to hit Gas. Insufficient forces and too many threats: the curse of a Dip player on the defensive.

Finally, Austria might be sneaky and give up Munich in order to take Bur. A Mun-Bur, A Gas S A Mun-Bur, A Mar S A Mun-Bur is,for the moment, unstoppable. On the other hand, that will guarantee that you protect both Par and Bre and get your build. Since buying time is everything, you ignore that problem, and try to resolve what to do about Par and Gas, and hope for the best.

The actual Austro Italian attack in F1905 was as follows:

Austria: F Mid-Bre; A Gas S F Mid-Bre; A Mun S (E) F Hel-Kie(failed, NSO).

Italy: A Pie-Spa; F Spa(sc)-Por; F Wes S F Por-Mid; A Mar S A Par-Gas; F Lyo C A Pie-Spa.

The Catholic Alliance took advantage of the intermingled pieces through malicious supports. If France had attacked Gas, cutting support for F Mid Bre, Austrian A Gas retreats to Paris because of Italy’s support for the French attack! At the same time, if F Eng bounces Bre and F Por cuts Mid’s possible support,Italy’s F Wes S F Por-Mid gains Portugal for Italy as an unsupported attack (F Spa(sc)-Por), and retreats Austrian F Mid-Iri for a spring attack on French Lpl. If France makes it’s “best move” to defend Bre and secure a build, it loses both Par and Por. As a result, rather than being able to build a piece in a vacant center, it will actually lose one.

This would not have been possible without malicious supports. If all of the pieces in theater were Italian, the retreat to Paris would not be possible, and neither would the support of F Por-Mid or the retreat of F Mid to Iri. Similar positions exist in the East, where Italy’s two armies and a fleet cooperated carefully with Austrian forces against first Turkey and later Russia (the game’s not over yet…<grin>). Italy at one point “owned” both Budapest and Serbia for a period of two years, trading those centers back to Austria as it conquered Turkey.

This is not exactly a “fair” example: the Austro-Italian alliance has a very strong hand to play in this game, and there isn’t too much that France can do about the tactical situation. Nevertheless, it exhibits the malicious support at its nastiest,when it can turn a strong French defensive move into a surprisingly weak one. The malicious support may, however, be very useful in the “standard” Russia-Turkey alliance, where Russia attempts tomove his F Sev out into the Aegean Sea in F 1902. A Russian fleet as a spearhead into the Ionian can be the recipient of malicious support from second line Turkish fleets, allowing “offensive” retreats into Tyn, Apu, Adr, Alb, or possibly even an Italian controlled supply center. Malicious support may also be a dastardly option in traditional F-G and F-G-R anti English alliances. When the filthy Sassenach attack to cut your support for something nasty, have your ally support the English in and retreat to Yorkshire or Wales! Surely the opportunity of pulling off a really neat trick like that is worth the risk of having two or three allied units sitting near your home supply centers…

FOOTNOTE: Ironically, the French player did nothing we expected. His moves were F Por H, F Eng-Nth (!), F Lon S F Eng-Nth, A Bur-Par, A Ruh-Bur, F Hol S F Eng-Nth. While France lost Bre and didn’t (couldn’t) build, it retained the possibility of finishing off England and staying alive by cannibalizing German and Russian centers. The new provisional government, which requested a one week delay in orders for diplomatic reasons, apparently executed the entire Foreign Ministry. The French player failed to even attempt to break up the Austro Italian alliance, and also did not communicate with his former allies in Germany and Russia. Lack of coordination between these allies resulted in the loss of Sev, Mos, Mun, and Bre to the Austrians. The Catholic Alliance in Spring 1906 controlled 21 centers (12 Austrian, 9 Italian).

Reprinted from Diplomacy World 75