An Introduction to French Opening Strategy

by Richard Hucknall

No doubt I am an exception, but France is the country I like playing least of all. L don’t know why this should be so, as it has a good track record for postal wins and has the best record for draws. However when I see the French opening set up it fails to fire me with the interest that both Austria and Russia seem to generate. 

The big advantage for France is the proximity of three neutral supply centres; two of them (Por and Spa) usually there for the taking in Autumn 1901. Thus it is no surprise that most Frances have 5 centres at the end of the first year. The ‘cushion of Iberia’ was how Nicky Palmer described it in his article ‘The Northern Dash’ although this article was based on the idea that France can afford to ignore Spa and Por in 1901 and pick them up again at his leisure. The two centres can be taken in a variety of non-aggressive ways but should England, Germany or Italy attack in the opening year then France can defend fairly well but will have to be content with one gain from Iberia. An attack by two or more of these countries is usually disastrous and France is left to play a rearguard action.

The major diplomatic effort at the gamestart is usually to forge an alliance with either England or Germany against the other. Better still ally with both and play them off against each other —the talent of a top player. Personally, I prefer the German alliance as the sight of numerous English fleets to the north always makes me nervous. Should England be eliminated then France and Germany have separate areas for expansion without having to come to blows, but an Anglo-French alliance eliminating Germany means France must attack Italy next (difficult) or stab his former English ally. If he goes against Italy then the English may land fleets in Brest and armies in France. 

As discussed in other articles, Belgium is the major 1901 focal point and France has a very big say in who finally takes this centre. This can help him dictate the pattern of play in the early game. The most sensitive areas for France are ENG, Bur and Pie. Germany has no reason to go for Bur unless he supports an attack on France or wants to attack France himself. Should he be adamant that he should take Bel the he can go to Hol and Ruh, giving a good chance for Bel in the autumn without threatening French centres. However, a pre-arranged stand off in Bur can be a good thing. Germany is often happy to keep A(Mun) where it is in case Austria, Russia or Italy move against him and this can be arranged by a Bur stand off. France has the choice of A(Par) or A(Mar) to bounce the German A(Mun) back. I prefer A(Mar) as then in the Autumn it can be used to defend against an Italian attack or take Spain. I believe this stand of f can go a long way to cementing a French/German alliance. 

A move to ENG by either England or France can be construed as aggressive unless you have sufficient diplomatic skills to persuade your neighbour otherwise, but unlike the Bur stand off, there seems to be little point in arranging a stand off in ENG as fleets in Bre and Lon will be of little use for Autumn 1901 moves and may just result in another stand off with vital supply centres blocked for builds. 

Piedmont is perhaps the most interesting of the three. Although it is only of minor importance in 1901 it often becomes vital in the middle and end game, being the only land province between the Med and the Alps. Normally, it can be neutralised in 1901 as France is more concerned with Germany and England whilst Italy is concerned with Austria, Turkey and Russia and his southern expansion. From the French point of view, Mar can still be defended quite comfortably even if Italy has moved to Pie in Spring 1901, although it may mean a delay in taking one of the Iberian centres. A useful ploy in this situation is to tell Italy that you will defend Mar from his A(Pie) (assuming Mar is vacant) by a stand off and will then build F(Mar). This can be a sufficient deterrent to send A(Pie) back where it came from although your A(Mar) will also be back where it started. Pie has another peculiarity in that there is only one exit on the French side but three on the Italian side. A French army in Pie can be pushed into Tyr, yen or Tus. This can be a back-door attack on Germany but requires trust and. secrecy on Italy’s part and cannot come to fruition until 1902. The advantage is that it can be easy to convince Germany that your A(Pie) is Italy bound. 

Generally, most games begin with non-aggression pacts between France and Italy. Occasionally one sees attacks in 1901 but usually they agree to keep GOL, WMS, NAf and Pie vacant and there are strict agreements about fleets in TYS and A common request is that France does not build F(Mar). I often smile at this as a F(Bre) can move to WMS just as quickly as a F(Mar) could. If you build in Bre to lull the Italian into a false sense of security, then move to MAO (promising an attack on IRI) the fleet can be thrust into WMS with a build of F(Mar) to complement it. Then Italy is in trouble!