Learning To Like To Draw A Black Block

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…)