by John Smythe

 [SA: I am reprinting this article mainly for historical interest, to show how perceptions of the game have changed over the years. At the time what follows was a very influential and much discussed article. Reprinted from Brobdingnag No.63 (June 1967) and Diplomacy Digest No.40 (October 1980) ]

First, let me begin by defining my terms. A “middle power” is a country surrounded by three or more potential enemies. Please note that I underlined the word “surrounded”. Germany and Austria are middle powers. Germany, with potential enemies to the east, to the south, and to the west is surrounded. England, though faced with three potential enemies, fights on a single front, the Scandinavia – NTH – ENG front. A middle power is usually meek and mild mannered when conducting diplomacy, for it must fear a two front war. 

A “quasi-middle power” is a country possessing excellent natural defences, in contrast to the exposed positions of Germany and A-H. Though surrounded, its natural defences permit it to be relatively aggressive in conducting Diplomacy. Though a 2-front war is a possibility, the QMP need not worry about it overly. France and Italy are QMP. 

Finally, there are the very strong “peripheral powers.” Gut on the edge of the playing board sit Turkey and England. Not surrounded, and posses of superb natural defences…. they are overbearing in manner, even offensive at times, when conducting diplomacy. Turkey is guaranteed at least one build the first year, and England usually picks up Norway quite easily. They need never fear a two front war. Their only real problem is to limit the length of their single front. I leave it to the readers to classify Russia. 

The first objective to the middle power is to achieve some measure of security by eliminating its neighbouring peripheral or QMP powers. To make an assault upon a fellow middle power is suicidal. The usual method is to enlist the aid of a QMP to fight the peripheral power or, though not as strong an arrangement to ally with the peripheral power to defeat a QMP. Then as the middle power overcomes its first victim, it prepares itself for its forthcoming battle with its ally. And if it has prepared well,- the middle power may even survive the conflict, or, better, force the peripheral or QM power to seek elsewhere for additional SCs 

Germany, if she harbours any hope for surviving the game, must first eliminate either England or France, preferable the former. To attack either Russia or Austria is to find defeat (I made the error, twice! In 1965Q and in Nostrillia I allied with England to defeat France, consistent with my theory. Instead of following through then, by attacking England, I made the error of attacking Austria…) 

Look at the assets given Germany. She is surrounded on three sides. Munich is usually threatened on the second move. Her convenient SCs, unlike those of France and Italy, also are threatened on the second move by a potential enemy. (Here is where I disagree with the manner in which the game is set up. In the real world, Germany was capable of fighting on two fronts against three enemies. Only the intervention of the U.S. saved her enemies. Germany in Diplomacy is a mere shadow, a farce, of the real-world Germany. I still believe that in Diplomacy Germany should be given 3 armies and 1 fleet to start the game) Germany should be able to gain 1 SC the first year, perhaps two. 

Even with 2 builds, Germany cannot overcome France or England. She must seek assistance. To ally with England means giving England a foothold on the continent and the opportunity to become a superpower. In simple terms, England will possess the power to parry every German thrust. To make matters worse, Bel, Hol, and Den will be open to capture, while England’s SCs won’t. England will surely control NTH and ENG. Germany faces an impossible war. The only other alternative is to trust England and go after either Russia or A-H, a very poor second choice. 

An alliance with France is Germany’s best hope for survival. An F-Germany alliance can eliminate England after a long and nasty campaign. The defeat of England usually leaves 3 in control of NTH and NWG, giving protection to her lowland SCs and Denmark. Also, Edi will be hers. Nwy may belong to Germany, if Russia permits. Finally, it is not to difficult for France and Germany to disengage and demilitarise their borders. But once England is gone, where may Germany turn? She has at least 2 fleets, maybe more. To fight Austria, or her conqueror, Germany needs armies. And the border between A-H and Germany is not littered with convenient SCs. A German war with A-H is usually long and difficult and is without immediate rewards. 

The only convenient SCs, Nwy and Swe, are owned by Russia. Also, a war with Russia permits the use of the fleets. So it would seem that Germany a and Russia would come into conflict over Scandinavia – not too bright a prospect. 

The above is enough to demonstrate that Germany is faced with what amounts to an impossible position. For I have attempted to give a the best of all possible situations. I think it is to the best interest of England and France to smash Germany. Both gather in a wealth of SCs, and both are then in an excellent position to disengage and go on their merry ways. And in the early years, France and England need not worry about Russia and Austria. For the first three years Russia, A-H, Turkey and Italy are usually engaged in some fragile alliance structure or other for control of Asia Minor and the Balkans. 

There is one hope for Germany. If France and England go after Germany, Russia and Italy must fear for their future. Once Germany is gone, nothing prevents France from turning on Italy for mastery of the Mediterranean. And nothing prevents England from overrunning Scandinavia and northern Russia. Germany just might be able to enlist the aid of Italy and Russia, if those two powers are not fully engaged elsewhere. 

What Germany really needs is for England, or France, or both, to be played by weak players. Then Germany has a chance. Otherwise, dear reader. forget about winning when you receive Germany as your country. You’ll be lucky to survive… You can have one consolation: France is even more difficult to play. 

Mark Berch (writing in Diplomacy Digest No.40 October 1980): “Well things sure have changed in the last 13 years, eh? To be fair about this, Germany had a horrible record in the early days of postal play. In the first 17 completed 7-man games, Germany averaged 2.1 centres at game’s end. This includes 11 eliminations only one draw, and no wins. Indeed, in only 2 of those 17 games did a finish with more than 3 centres.”   

Stephen Agar (writing in Spring Offensive 40 January 1996) Well, the most recent figures I have for the relative success rates of the differing Powers are as follows:

 % of outright wins as a % of all outright wins% of outright wins as a % of all completed games

61.2% of all postal games end in outright wins