Which country has the best defensive position in Diplomacy?

by Doug Massey and Stephen Agar

Doug Massey

Here’s an interesting exchange I had with someone I’ve never met:

First, her original email:

“Hi, I was on a Diplomacy website and saw that you were the e-mail guy, so I thought I’d ask you a question.  Now, I know this sounds dumb, but at here at work we have a question of the day and if we know the answer we get popcorn (dumb, I know). Today’s question is something like “Which country has the best defensive position in the board game Diplomacy?”  So I have been looking all over the web for the answer because I have never even heard of this game.”

“So if you could answer the question, I wold appreciate it.  I am dying for popcorn!  If you don’t get this message today, that’s OK.  I just thought I would try.  Thanks.”

Now, my reply:

“It’s not a black-and-white issue — it’s kind of like asking who the best football team is, but without a Super Bowl to actually decide it. However, I’d guess the answer is Turkey. Let me know if that’s the right answer!”

Then, her response:

“Sorry, but the ‘correct’ answer is England.  I asked the lady how she came up with the answer (I told her that Super Bowl stuff) and she said she got the answer from Trivial Pursuit.  Hmmm.  My friend took a stab at it and got it right, so in the end, I did get some popcorn.  But thanks for responding!”

I’ve played Trivial Pursuit but don’t remember ever getting this question. I’m glad though — I can just imagine that my girlfriend reads me the question and says “That’s not fair — how can you get a DIPLOMACY question?”

And then I get it wrong.  She would laugh for a week.


Stephen Agar

An interesting question – and one that I would instinctively answer as either England or Turkey – though, like Doug, I wouldn’t be sure which to go for. One way to answer the question would be to just stick to the topography of the regular Diplomacy board and consider the relative closeness of other Powers home centres. You get the following:

Those who have read my articles on balancing variant maps will know that I measure the best defensive position as the Power with the least vulnerable supply centres – in practice those with home centres the furthest from everyone else’s home centres. If you examine the board closely you will find that the number of enemy SC’s within 1-4 spaces of each Powers home SC’s is the following:

 1 Space2 Spaces3 Spaces

If you then apply a simple scoring mechanism of say 4 points for a hostile SC 1 space away, 3 points for one 2 spaces away, 2 points for one 3 spaces away and 1 point for one 4 spaces away, then you get the following scores:

Vulnerability Points

E = 5 points
T = 6 points
F = 10 points
I = 15 points
R = 16 points
A = 16 points
G = 17 points

So A/G/R/I have roughly comparable poor defensive positions, France is in the middle and Turkey and England have the best defensive positions (with England slightly ahead).

From my point of view it is quite a relief that the method I use to balance variants seems to bear out my gut instincts with regards to the strength of a defensive position – i.e. England and Turkey best, France better than the others. It also bears out the observation that E/F/T have corner positions while R/I/A/G are all middle-board powers to all intents and purposes.