An Introduction to English Opening Strategy

by Richard Hucknall

England is in the unique position of starting the game with more fleets than armies, and it is this factor that is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. The island corner position means that English home centres will be easy to defend and her two fleets have command of the northern seas until at least 1902 when an alliance between her two immediate neighbours is essential to challenge her superiority. However his glaring weakness is his single army. To win England must at some point in the game make a serious invasion of the mainland and it is this that should govern his strategy. 

There is only one possible opening move that guarantees England a build against all possible opposition and that is F(Edi)-NWG, F(Lon)-NTH and A(Lpl)-Yor. With this opening he can take Norway in the Autumn even in the face of Russian opposition from StP and still be able to defend London should the French have moved into the English Channel in the Spring. However if ENG has been left unoccupied then England has the choice of how to take Norway (F or A) and there is also the possibility of a convoy to Del, Hol or Den. Basically there is only one choice to make for the English player and that is whether to go for ENG or not. Admittedly there are variations caused by the move of A(Lpl), but these are not very involved. 

Despite the limitations of opening moves, England must conduct a lot of diplomacy prior to the first moves based on how he wants the game to develop in the middle game and where he hopes to launch his first land offensive. Belgium is often the focal point of the diplomacy and this centre can be used to stir up trouble between France and Germany to his own advantage. I have even seen an English army convoyed to Belgium and supported by both France and Germany. This is very amusing if it can be engineered but lays open the danger that France and Germany may object to being made fools of and ally against England. Sometimes there is an advantage in not appearing to be too clever. 

Unlike Belgium, Norway is generally accepted as England’s automatic gain in Autumn 1901 and it is a brave Russian who contests this, but the manner in which Norway is gained is of prime importance. An English fleet in Norway is not really aggressive from a Russian point of view as England soon finds himself in a cul-de-sac if he tries to attack Russia with fleets only. StP if he is lucky, then full stop. But an army in Scandinavia tends to precipitate an Anglo-Russian war. 

Scandinavia usually seems to produce a Russia/England/Germany triangle. Properly managed, England can play the other two off against each other to his own advantage but must be aware of the possibility of a stab by France while he is committed in this area. All two often France plays a fleet into IRI or NAO in 1902/03 while England has only F(NTH) to defend his homeland and this is often fatal. 

Should England be attacked by both France and Germany she is in trouble. Nevertheless he is often able to stick around for a long period by a policy of “Hide & Seek” around the British Isles. An alliance with Russia makes the Franco-German alliance even more difficult to press home and there is also the possibility that either Austria or Italy can be persuaded to attack your enemies. 

When it comes to the question of alliances for England an alliance with France can usually see off Germany, but this is often where the problems begin. The alliance can be difficult to maintain in the middle game unless England has made a successful land invasion against either Russia or Germany and even then he is in danger of that French move to the Irish Sea. All too often an Anglo-French war begins. My personal preference is for an alliance with Germany whereby England gives assistance against Russia and Germany reciprocates by helping against France. The exchange of Bel for Swe in 1903/04 means that the North sea can be neutralised and both powers have separate, non-conflicting areas for expansion. To my mind, England is not the most interesting country to play. However, the actions of the English fleets in 1901/02 often have far-reaching and long-lasting effects and can determine the pattern of alliances over the whole board. It is an achievement if this naval advantage can be used to reach the magical 18 centres.