The Diplomacy Hit Parade

by Stephen Agar

All Diplomacy articles are to some extent subjective, and this is more subjective than most. I am going to discuss the spaces that I regard as the ten most crucial on the board and why (a kind of Diplomacy Top of the Pops). In writing this article I have ignored those spaces which are often the focus of much Diplomacy in the first couple of years, but which, once settled, often have little impact on the game (e.g. Belgium or Greece). Rather, I have tried to think about the value of spaces in the overall scheme of things. In true TOTP style we’ll start with No.10 and work our way up to the No.1 space.

10. Norway

A traditional build for England this is another neutral whose fate is usually decided early on. The importance of Norway (as opposed to Sweden, Denmark or Finland) is that it provides the quickest East-West passage on the board due to the border with St. Petersburg. Thus, Norway either becomes the springboard for an attack on Russia, or conversely the way for Russia to break into the west. It follows therefore that control of Norway is often important in the early mid-game, just as the eastern and western triangles are being resolved. That said, its strategic position is undoubtedly enhanced by the fact that it connects two even more important spaces, St Petersburg and the North Sea.

9. Warsaw

Not the most exciting of centres, Warsaw figures in my Top Ten because of its crucial role in most stalemate lines as an important gateway space. Bordering Livonia, Moscow, Ukraine, Galicia, Silesia and Prussia it is the launching pad of any Russian attack west, and yet often the first Russian centre to fall from a German attack. A prime target for any of the western powers seeking an outright victory.

8. Tunis

Tunis is not just a side-show in 1901, although it is of limited importance until the very end of a game. While eastern powers may be expected to secure Tunis sooner or later, for a western power Tunis is one centre across the stalemate line and so must be a prime goal. A difficult centre to hold from the east if pressed by superior numbers, it can be held more easily from the west and so can play a vital part in a western alliance stopping a Juggernaut.

7. Galicia

Even if Austria and Russia don’t fight over Galicia from the first move, it’s importance is far greater than the fact that it happens to border on a Russian and two Austrian home centres. Without doubt, neither Austria or Russia can feel comfortable when the other occupies this space and Galicia is a necessity for an attack in either direction. But it is also much more. Once the Balkans has been settle d, Galicia becomes a corridor space, linking Rum (and through that Bul and Sev) with Germany (through Boh and Sil). In most mid-games you will see units using Galicia as a motorway to the front line – in that respects its role is similar to that of Norway, but in the east.

6. The North Sea

An obvious contender for the Top Ten is the North Sea, bordering as it does on six supply centres (Edi, Lon, Nwy, Den, Hol and Bel), as well as five other spaces (NWG, SKA, HEL, ENG, Yor). Control the North Sea and you control movement to and from England. If Russia gets as far as the North Sea, then 18 centres must be on the cards, while control of the North Sea by either Germany or France indicates that they will probably come out on top from the three western powers. England can never afford to lose the North Sea if she is to stay in the running, while Germany and France can never, in the final analysis, permit England to stay in the running – and so the North Sea becomes vital for all of them. In the event of an Anglo-French or Anglo-German alliance flourishing late into the game, the North Sea becomes just as important if only for the need for both sides to respect its neutrality.

5. The Ionian Sea

A large sea space bordering three supply centres (Tun, Nap and Gre), but whose value lies in the fact that it seals off the Eastern Mediterranean completely. Control of ION is necessary for any eastern Power (especially Turkey) to move westwards in large numbers or for Italy to stay in the game. In games where there is a east-west clash with the game being decided around the central Mediterranean stalemate lines, ION becomes a key bottle neck, control of which can decide the game (though often the problem is how to pass fleets through it while maintaining control of it). An easy space to defend, a difficult space from which to launch an attack.

4. The Mid Atlantic Ocean

Vital due to the way it closes down access to the Mediterranean, the MAO is a common anchor in East-West stalemate lines, as it is easy to defend from behind. F(NAO) & F(IRI) & F(ENG) S F(MAO) seals up the board completely from fleets attacking from the Mediterranean (and any supporting fleet can be traded for a unit in Portugal). Although important in the early game for Anglo-French relations (it borders three supply centres and is the way into England’s backdoor), it is the gateway nature of MAO around the straits of Gibraltar which put it in my top ten.

3. St. Petersburg

Another Russian home centre. Although often thought of as a dead-end sort of space, St. Petersburg ranks highly for exactly that reason. It is a dead-end. One way or another St.P is the anchor of practically all stalemate lines, its geography making it very easy to hold from Scandinavia with minimal support. For Powers such as Turkey, Austria and Italy taking StP is often vital for victory – it can only be attacked from the south-east by armies in Livonia and Moscow, and so is easily held with a single support from Norway or Finland.

2. Munich

A supply centre in the middle of the board, bordering seven spaces and adjacent to Switzerland, Munich is the fulcrum around which the board turns. The owner of this space has the ability to strike out in every direction – eastwards via Silesia, south via Tyrolia, north via Kiel or west via Burgundy. At this point from the Baltic to the Mediterranean is only four spaces wide, while from the Black Sea to the Atlantic is a mere six spaces Munich’s strangely elongated shape make it the superhighway of east-west movement across the board and as most games of Diplomacy turn into an east-west conflict at some stage, control of Many games have been lost because the front runner couldn’t get to Munich and no stalemate line can afford to ignore it.

1. Switzerland

No, I’m not joking. Switzerland is by far the most important strategic space on the board. Every stalemate line runs through Switzerland. It creates the Mar/Pie bottleneck which makes it so difficult for a Mediterranean power to break through into the Atlantic (and vice versa). North of Switzerland there is only a two space corridor (Mun-Kie) through which all east-west units may move. Switzerland is the fulcrum about which Diplomacy turns. Any Power which controls Switzerland (i.e. controls the spaces adjacent to it) can never be contained by a stalemate line. By being impassable, Switzerland divides the board into the familiar E/F/G/ western and I/A/R/T eastern blocs. It’s effect on the game is out of all proportion to its size and so it must get my vote as No.1.