Germany – A Personal View on Opening Strategy

by Stephen Agar

I have always had a soft spot for playing Germany because I played it in my first ever game of Diplomacy back in 1977 (NGC 184 which started in the long-dead Turn of the Screw and ended up in the renowned Ethil the Frog). Of course, the fact this was the one and only game of postal Diplomacy that I have ever won has nothing to do with it. I regard Germany as the most exciting country to play in postal Diplomacy because there is scope for interaction with all the other players from the beginning and because you have several options open to you with which to use the two builds which you will almost assuredly get in 1901.

My long term strategy as Germany is usually to attack France with English help, turn armies eastward against Russia, and then stab my English ally when necessary for a victory. I have never found Franco-German alliances to be very prosperous, you both have armies near each other, you get in each others way and it is very easy to end up being stabbed. Similarly I have always had difficulty making Anglo-French alliances work because of the F(Bre) dilemma. Therefore an alliance with England against France seems natural to me. The main advantage of an Anglo-German alliance is that it is possible for the alliance to hold together for quite a while without either party feeling the need to stab the other. England builds fleets and goes for Brest, Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean, while Germany takes Paris, the Low Countries and then turns on Russia. Care must be taken to try and prevent England encircling Germany by moving armies into Russia via StP. The Russian genie should be left inside the St. Petersburg lamp, but English armies pushing through Russia can lead to Germany becoming encircled.

Burgundy or Bust?

If you medium term strategy is an alliance against France, then should you order A(Mun)-Bur (as nearly 20% of Germanies do)? Like many bold initial moves (Eg. A(Ven)-Tri) it is fine if it works, but embarrassing if it doesn’t. Talk to Italy, if he claims to be sold on an anti-French strategy and is willing to go to Piedmont, then go for it. Failing that I usually ask for an agreed stand-off between A(Mun) and A(Mar) over Burgundy on the grounds of mutual security. For those who are interested Richard Sharp’s statistics show that in S01 Germany orders to Burgundy 27.4% of the time and of these 79.3% are stand-offs. France takes Burgundy over one game in five. If you do have an agreed stand-off in S01 and all is going well you can always try A(Mun)-Bur in A01 when it is more likely to succeed.

The main alternative is to order A(Mun)-Ruh, hoping to have a decisive say in Belgium. The problem with this move, as I see it, is that if France is in Burgundy you have to gamble on whether to cover Munich or not (and if the return to Munich is successful you cannot build there) or to do something over Belgium which will show your hand too early. I think that if you are going to be seen to go against France it is far better to do it by ordering a unit into Burgundy, rather than having a stand-off over Belgium. If England is sympathetic to your anti-French plans and he is not facing a northern Russian army, why not try and convince England to move F(NTH)-Bel, while you go for A(Ruh)-Bur. Burgundy is the keyhole to France (and Gascony is the door).

Other significant options seem to involve leaving an army in Munich to give Germany some say in Tyrolia in the Autumn in case he needs to come to Austria’s assistance. No doubt the S01 move to Tyrolia (5.77%) is often a pre-arranged stand-off (35.7% of the time anyway).

Whichever way you arrange things, it is essential to leave Munich clear for a build in 1901 if at all possible. This should be possible provided you are not faced with a determined French attack from the offset (namely A(Mar) S A(Par)-Bur) or a Russian A(War)-Sil (which is a pain in the backside).

The Swedish Question

The first decision is whether or not to order F(Kie)-Den. Certainly the move to Denmark is very popular (71.8%) and has the advantage that you can deny Russia Sweden in A01, which is usually what happens. However, the move F(Kie)-Hol (26.94%) increases the possibility of three builds in A01 or even two builds plus control of the North Sea, so I don’t think it should be immediately discounted. In The Game of Diplomacy Richard Sharp was adamant that the move to Denmark was superior, but I am not so sure it is that clear cut and the statistics concerning ultimate German wins after both openings are indecisive. Certainly England will prefer it if your fleet moves towards northwards and it can sometimes be disastrous to get three builds in 1901, but the opening to Holland is by no means fatal.

The consensus is to go for Denmark rather than Holland in S01, usually with the intention of building a second fleet in A01 to use against Sweden. I do not think it is helpful to allow England or Russia to dominate Scandinavia and it is far better to try and play one off against the other as far as possible. Provided England is not antagonistic it should be possible to persuade England not to be too upset about a second German fleet if it moves to the Baltic. Furthermore a F(BAL) can conveniently convoy armies from Kiel to Livonia. In the long term a second fleet can also be an advantage for when the time comes to stab England. Although I would be careful to limit Russian expansion in the north, it is always in Germany’s long-term interests if England can be persuaded to go for StP with a fleet (leaving the rest of Russia for you) and then build fleets pointing towards France.

Whether you move F(Den)-Swe in the autumn depends on events elsewhere. If Russia was getting hammered by a combined Austro-Turkish alliance I might be persuaded to let Russia into Sweden in the knowledge that he would be building in the south. Russia may not be a natural ally for Germany, but it would not be in your interests if Russia was dismembered too quickly. A lone Russian fleet can always be kicked out of Sweden in 1902 provided England is not antagonistic. If Russia is doing well in the south (eg. has Rumania and/or Galicia) I would not feel too guilty about standing him out of Sweden (and neither should you). However, there is much to be said for promising Sweden to Russia even if you are going to stand him out, if only to avoid F(GoB)-BAL in A01, which is always a pain in the backside.

It goes without saying that whether you order F(Kie) to Denmark or Holland, A(Ber) should always follow up to Kiel.


F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Ruh = 34.85%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Bur = 19.31%

F(Kie)-Hol; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Ruh = 15.04%

F(Kie)-Hol; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Bur = 7.71%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Tyr = 4.77%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)Std. = 4.44%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Mun; A(Mun)-Ruh = 3.11%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Sil; A(Mun)-Ruh = 1.33%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Sil = 1.11%

NMR! = 0.89%

F(Kie)-Hol; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Tyr = 0.83%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Pru; A(Mun)-Sil = 0.55%

F(Kie)-Den; A(Ber)-Kie; A(Mun)-Boh = 0.50%

What Next?

It is generally accepted that Holland and Denmark are Germany’s. A build of F(Kie) will usually give you Sweden in 1902. What next? Ideally you want to break out to the east (Warsaw, Moscow) and the west (Paris, Belgium). After all you can only use so many armies against France anyway, and if you can secure Burgundy early on you can avoid having to stockpile units in Belgium, Rhur and Munich. With help from England it is usually possible to spare a unit or two by 1903 for an attack on Russia.

Of course to win you need England’s centres. If you build a second fleet in 1901 to help take Sweden and then leave a fleet in Denmark (for safety’s sake) then to stab England effectively you have to sneak it into the North Sea when England’s back is turned. Of course England will be aware of this fact and will do what he can to keep NTH covered. If you can, try and stab England before he stabs you, because surprise is your best ally when it comes to storming England’s excellent defensive position.

However, you can usually afford to wait a while – England will usually want to take Brest and eradicate any threat from French fleets before turning on you. You must always be on your guard though as the North Sea is a powerful space and an English fleet can easily slip into Holland or Denmark unnoticed if you are careless. If it were not for HEL being in the way England would probably win many games at Germany’s expense (thank you Mr Calhamer). The only way to retain an ally is to make sure that he has more to gain by keeping the alliance going then he does by turning on you and this is often possible provided there are French fleets in Brest and/or MAO.

Germany often prospers when all other countries can be kept weak. Encourage everyone else t fight everyone else and they won’t have the time or units to send armies into the centre of the board. As Richard Sharp pointed out long ago, it is often in Germany’s long-term interests to lend Austria a hand if necessary, if only to make sure that you have a friend guarding your backdoor (Tyrolia, Bohemia and Silesia). These spaces are often empty in the early stages in a game, but when things hot up (about 1904/5) if you cannot secure them you will surely lose.

The case for Germany’s fate being dependant on Austria is beyond doubt. In The Numbers Game _13 Richard pointed out that ignoring games where Germany or Austria dropped out, there have been 392 finishes where Austria has been eliminated early (5th or worse) and of these games Germany has only won 7% and drawn 18%. In games where Austria has managed 4th or better, Germany has won 16% and drawn 30%.

Opening Statistics

Many of you have expressed an interest in Diplomacy statistics, and in particular statistics relating to the various openings used in postal Diplomacy. At the moment reasonably up to date opening surveys have been published in Richard Sharp’s and Steve Doubleday’s occasional zine The Numbers Game for all countries except France and Italy and no doubt they will be along soon. The relevant back issues of The Numbers Game are probably still available from Richard Sharp and Steve Doubleday at Norton House, 46 Whielden Street, Amersham, Bucks., HP7 0HU. So if you are interested in such things, I suggest that you write for a sample copy and enclose say ?1 (or at least 50p for each back issues you would like to see) and why not ask to see a copy of Dolchstoss while you’re at it. I can’t guarantee that any particular back issue is still in print, but it’s worth asking. All statistics in this article are from The Numbers Game No.13.

First published in Spring Offensive No.7