The Ambassador Unit

by Stephen Agar

Having just typed out Nicky Palmer’s two articles from the 70’s (The Scatter Technique and Son of Scatter Theory), I thought I’d add a few thoughts about the merits of having a single spare unit under your control to send as an ambassador to your firends, while playing the rest of the game in a conventional manner. As Nicky indicates in his second article, if you follow Scatter Theory to its logical conclusion you can end up with a position which is essentially indefensible. However, while maintaining the concentration needed to win a regional battle, a Power can often afford to detach a single unit and send it wandering, with very useful consequences. I should make it clear that I am not referring to the common trick of trying to get a unit behind your enemy’s front line (usually by retreating) so it can move around the rear taking the odd centre and making a nuisance of itself, nor am I talking about the sentry units often left behind to police a sensitive border with an ally. 

No, I am talking about the deliberate decision to send a unit in a direction in which you have no immediate plans to carry out any action in strength. Admittedly this tactic is mainly open to the central powers (and possibly France) as England and Turkey are probably best advised to concentrate their forces – as the odd rogue unit can only really be used to irritate your ally. Initially such activity is likely to involve armies rather than fleets and to occur around Pie, Tyr, Boh, Sil and Gal – the empty spaces which divide the board in two. The aim could be one of three: 

(1) to intervene decisively at an early stage in favour of a long-term (but non-adjacent) ally in order to either sustain that ally against a concerted attack (thus in Pydna James Hardy (playing France) detached an army to Austria which reached Vienna by 1903, the idea being to help stop a perceived juggernaut – in the end, the tactic paid James dividends, though possibly more as a result of others dropping out); or 

(2) to enable that ally to achieve a regional advantage which is in your long-term strategic interests (how many French players really want a dominant Italy in the Mediterranean?); or 

(3) to harass a neighbour when neither of you are really in a position to attack the other – thus enabling attacks on that neighbour by others to be more likely to succeed (often useful if you want to make life hard for a Power who is spread out, such as Russia). 

It occurs to me that this tactic of sending ambassador units across the central divide would pay particular dividends for a Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy and Austria) as Germany could spare an army in 1902 to intervene against Russia, in return for which Italy could send a unit towards Spain causing France no end of trouble etc.. Alternatively, it may be the only way to stop a Juggernaut dead in the water. 

If you are playing one of the vulnerable central powers, there is a lot to be said in doing what you can to manipulate the balance of power in the other half of the board (much has been written about Germany’s interest in sustaining Austria). This is one way to do it. Just a thought.