by Peter Northcott
A rather arrogant title, you may think, for Last Stand’s final Diplomacy article. Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of the game on which I can consider myself an authority, then this is it. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too hard, I have somehow managed to win all three of my postal games as Germany, in addition to achieving the first ever outright win at the National Diplomacy Championships, again with the same country.
So, having set myself up as an expert, I will now attempt to leave myself an escape route by pointing out that many other good players have achieved great German success using entirely different methods from that which I ‘m about to describes Therefore as long as you take my advice with a pinch of salt and remember that it is written from a personal point of view, you should not go too far wrong.
When opening with any country, it is always worth bearing in mind long-term strategic objectives. As a first stage, a secure corner position is a wise idea since it narrows the front-line and reduces the possibility of. an unexpected stab through the back door. From this base, a winning power would seek to expand – preferably across the (StP-Tun) stalemate line- steadily, but remorselessly. However, should the contest begin to go sour, a corner provides as safe a defensive position as any.
From Germany’s point of view – as a central power – the most easily accessible edges/corners are the north-west, north, north-east and eastern regions of the board. In effect this means either England or Russia. Since Russia both straddles the stalemate line and is the greatest long-term threat to Germany’s fortunes, the north-eastern corner would seem to be favoured as the ideal first destination, all else being equal.
Now Germany can be played defensively – using the waiting game – since it has a wonderful natural defensive zone of buffer provinces stretching through 3600. To me though, this is not the way to maximise German winning chances. A central nation has four neighbours – the law of averages suggest that one of those will attack given a long enough timespan. Diplomatically, it can’t reassure participants to have an unengaged, yet reasonably powerful neighbour just sitting there, watching and waiting. I have always found that if two players are at war, they give far more if not threatened from a different quarter. What is more, it is very difficult not to become involved in other people ‘5 conflicts – so alienating one party – if a state of armed neutrality is being observed. Therefore, when playing Germany, I have always liked to get on and get involved. Perhaps it is just my style… yet Germany does have the flexibility to switch resources readily, and attack with great power and penetration.
From the preceding standpoint, it follows that at the gamestart, the overriding diplomatic priority is to get England and France involved in a bitter and protracted war, but preferably not decisive. As secondary objectives it is desirable for Turkey to exert considerable pressure on Russia’s southern flank, as it is for Austria, but to a lesser extent. Italy can be loft to it’s own devices, but it should not be allowed to disrupt the desired Anglo-French balance (this can be achieved by offering or withdrawing assistance as appropriate, for an Italian attack on France). Russia should be encouraged to move south. Although, on the face of it, an Anglo-Russian war may appear desirable, from a strategic point of view it is wise to keep targeted territories – say Scandinavia and northern Russia – as free from foreign troops as possible – they will all. have to be fought in the end.
It should go without saying that a firm alliance be forged with Austria.
In 1901, I consider it very worthwhile to gain three neutral supply centres – commonly Belgium, Holland and Denmark. Although this may strain relations with England and France, the sight of German troops streaming east in 1902 should prove sufficient recompense. So, how about opening with: F(Kie)-Den, A(Ber)-Kie and A(Mun)-Ruh? In the autumn, A(Ruh)-Bel, A(Kie)-Holland F(Den)-Swe (standing Russia out of Sweden – fairly standard these days and not overtly hostile – besides, there is no place for kindness around a Diplomacy board!) should gain both Bel and Hol if England and Franca have been carefully played off against each other. Sometimes either may support the German move to Bel in return for a hinted invasion of the respective antagonist in 1902. This can be conveniently forgotten, provided the attack on Russia in Spring 1902 is sufficiently firm and decisive.
All being well in Spring 1902, the moves: f'(Ben)-Swe, F(Kie)-BAL, A(Ber)-Pru, A(Mun)-Sil, A(Hol)-Ruh, A(Bel)-Ruh/stands should put Russia in a very awkward position. The possibility exists of the capture of Warsaw (with Austrian help?) and Sweden in the autumn, leaving Germany on a commanding eight units. A further army could then be landed in Livonia to get behind Russian lines.
Eventually, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Norway should all be captured, giving an eleven unit Germany. Of course, one or two of these may have to be sacrificed to allies in return for support and assistance.
The next move depends on the prevailing strategic position. If the south-east is still well-balanced between Austria, Italy and Turkey, then England – by now hopefully fully stretched against France – presents a’ tempting target. This move, which may anyway be pre-empted by the earlier capture of Norway, should yield at least two home English supply centres as well as removing the prime threat to German domination of the seas. In addition, the elimination of England gives crushing diplomatic leverage over France. He knows that he must attack Germany before too long, yet his ally has never been overtly hostile and has helped out against England. Besides, the German war is one that France simply cannot win at this stage of the game.
Ideally, when the English war is nearing an end, the time should be ripe for a wholesale land invasion of Austria and, possibly, southern Russia as well – but it may pay net to unnecessarily antagonise Turkey, primarily to cross the stalemate line and forestall any resistance as well as to pick up supply centres. As an aside, it is nearly always worthwhile to stab early – this catches the opposition off-guard, even if the aggressor does not have his pieces arrayed to achieve their maximum lethal potential. Therefore, when one conflict appears to be heading towards a conclusion, stab the next victim rather than wait for his suspicions to be aroused.
As a final assault, it should be possible to take out France – both by sea and overland. Should a third front be required, the move to Piedmont through Tyrolia can be very useful.
Now, clearly, very few games go as smoothly as the ideal outlined. Nevertheless, strategically, an early attack on Russia must be wise – would you feel safe wading into France with a strong Russia at your back? It is far easier for Russia to attack Germany than it is for Prance. As far as I am concerned, it is either Russia or Germany (without examining statistics I would guess they do not share in many draws), with whoever comes out en top having a very good chance of going on to win the game. If Russia is left to grow for too long, it will become almost invulnerable, at least with6ut active widespread support against. So, securing Belgium in 1901, giving the much-needed extra army to deter the western powers, and an attack on Russia (without Sweden, remember?) in 1902, represents one of the few chances Germany ever has to attack at an advantage. In addition, acquiring Belgium later than 1901, will be much more contentious with France, and to a lesser extent England, than in 1901.
Some players might be perturbed at the thought of racing out into such an ostentatious lead. I can reassure them that it is far easier, on 90% of occasions, to win from the front than from behind! Only 40% of games end in draws, and most players are not attuned to the thought of preparing stalemate lines in 1904-5.’ Stay one, if not two, steps ahead of the rest. Most leads are lost by indecision on the part of the leader – where next? Oh, and stab each power once and once only – and stab to kill, showing no mercy. Apart from that one critical occasion, honesty is the best policy.
As a final piece of general advice – work hard at the diplomacy. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for it.
Reprinted from Last Stand No.57 (December 1985)