by Brad Wilson
Very few people seem to like playing Germany. In face-to-face games, drawing the black block often elicits groans exceeded only by picking the dreaded red block. Postal play preference lists rarely show Germany at the top.
To an extent, this is justified. In 1901-1902 Germany can be attacked by five countries, with any two usually enough to cause major hassles. In addition, while Germany can usually pick up at least two neutrals, occasionally she can pick up three. The result of this is usually a wail of “greedy!” from Germany’s neighbors and out of resentment and fear an attack often follows.
How can anyone, especially a novice playing Germany, avoid these pitfalls? As the winner of “Best Germany” at the 1984 Atlanticon tournament and having directed some very successful Germanies both FTF and PBM, I will offer a strategy to make sure that if you play Germany FTF you won’t be watching TV in 1903, or if you’re in a postal game, you’ll use your whole book of stamps. I will make no effort to be all-inclusive; that’d take forever, and I’m sure there are other strategies that are effective for Germany. But here is mine:
Rule I: Don’t Get Greedy.
Very often, inexperienced German players will be hypnotized by the prospect of picking up three neutrals by moving F Kiel-Holland, A Munich-Ruhr and A Berlin-Denmark in Spring 1091, and then F Holland supports A Ruhr-Belgium, A Ruhr-Belgium, and A Kiel-Denmark in the Fall. While this looks superficially attractive, it has two major pitfalls. One is that your immediate neighbors, England, France and Russia (Austria and Italy are usually a bit less concerned with Germany) will feel threatened and left out. After all, those three new units have to go somewhere, and you will be perceived as a militaristic threat. Second, should the Russian player launch a sneak attack into Silesia and Prussia in Spring 1901, you have no leverage on Sweden, in effect giving the Russian a free build to use against you.
Much better to move F Kiel-Denmark, A Munich-Ruhr, A Berlin-Kiel, and then use Belgium as a negotiating pawn or bribe; it probably is more useful to you that way. (I might add that this is dependent on the Spring 1901 situation being fairly normal, i.e. no one is visibly–in his letters, in the board position, etc.–out to get you.)
Rule II: Let the Russians Have the Aquavit.
Unless Russia has moved against you in Spring 1901, there is no good reason to stand him out of Sweden in the Fall. By doing so you only antagonize him unnecessarily. Usually this course of action is urged upon you by the English player, professing alliance with you and pointing out that this could be a good first step in attacking Russia. That may be true, but if he’s lying you have annoyed a country whose help may be absolutely essential in fighting off England. If he’s not lying, big deal; you can usually toss the Russians out of Sweden in Spring 1902 with English help (from Denmark and Norway). No sense in starting a war earlier than you have to.
If the French player is urging you to make the move to Sweden, be extremely suspicious; an E/F alliance against you is probably forming. In the long run, the bounce in Sweden usually benefits not Germany but England. Avoid it.
Rule III: Watch the Alps.
One of the recent trends in postal play is Italy ordering A Venice-Tyrolia and thence to Munich in Fall 1901, often with French support. This is a difficult move to see even after Spring 1901, for an Italian A Tyrolia could also be anti-Austrian. The move, often called “the Byrne opening” after its foremost and most successful exponent, Kathy Byrne [now Kathy Caruso], is often followed by a joint F/I campaign against you in Berlin, Kiel and Holland, and is exceedingly difficult to resist.
The opening without the French army in Burgundy to help is considerably weaker and fairly easy to deal with. Generally, the best course to avoid being “Byrned” is to: (a) use clever diplomacy to keep France happy, (b) sacrifice Munich to pick up the neutrals you will need to build the units necessary to evict the trespassers, and (c) propose anti-Italian countermeasures to the Austrian, who may be interested. Generally, though, the best way to avoid this is to be aware that it can happen and use diplomacy to prevent it.
Rule IV: The Berlin-London Axis?
Picking your major ally is a big choice and one that will be influenced by numerous factors that vary from game to game. For instance, if France never writes, if Russia moves to Silesia, or if England sends you letters saying he’s out to control world beer production, then your choices are fairly clear. But usually, such is not the case. It is my contention that an E/G alliance is the best for Germany.
France/Germany? Superficially nice, but hey, let’s be real. Chances are that even if you two knock England out of the box quickly (not likely), you’ll not be able to keep Russia out of Norway, and France will usually get Liverpool and London, leaving you with Edinburgh, which you probably can’t defend. Plus, you are now snugly between France and Russia and they are probably in a better position to attack you than vice versa. Even if France doesn’t stab you, you are still faced with having to evict Russia from Scandinavia and northern waters, a time-consuming task that probably will make your entry into eastern areas too little, too late.
Russia/Germany? Good for getting rid of England, but again, France has to be watched (and Russia can’t do much to attack France) and once Russia heads west to Norway and Edinburgh, it’s easy to stay pointed in that direction and walk into Berlin, Denmark and Kiel, since your units are likely to be in England or the Low Countries. No good.
Western Triple (E/F/G)? Just look who’s between England and France and forget this idea. While you’re attacking Russia, just watch them respectively sail and march into Holland and Munich.
Certainly, England can betray you too, but it is harder. You can limit builds of offensive units (your fleets and English armies) that each would need to attack the other. Russia can be disposed of by a quick attack and spoils can be distributed fairly (you: Warsaw & Moscow; him: St. Pete & Sweden), allowing fast entry into the eastern areas of much-needed centers. France can be equally split up as well, though taking her out is tougher. It’s best to encourage a French-Italian war and hit France when her attention and units are focused southward. You get Paris, Belgium and Marseilles; England gets Brest, Spain and Portugal. It should be noted that all your centers are easy to defend from England; this is also true in reverse, possibly unfortunately, but this does reduce dot-induced stress. Italy can then be attacked on two fronts- -by you over the Alps and by England through the Med, while your armies move on Austria. At this point you and England should be strong enough to secure a two-way draw or you can stab (taking Sweden or Brest, often) for the win.
I make no claim that my four rules are the one way to play Germany well. I do say that they will usually be successful when accompanied by diligent diplomacy and competent tactics. So when you draw the black block, don’t groan; remember the above four rules, live long and prosper (and put Europe under the iron boot…)