Opening Strategy

by Jake Orion

Introduction to the Series

Welcome all. I am glad to see you have enough interest in the fascinatingly challenging and yet delicate game of Diplomacy to spend some time to read about it. I used to read a lot of articles about Diplomacy myself, but I found that it became necessary for me to condition myself to ask the question, “How does that help me become a better player?” What I was finding was that many articles about Diplomacy supplied great detail about the game, but gave little insight as how really to play it better. It is my intention here to be poignant, brief, and as clear as possible.


My Opening Strategy article will be divided into three sub-topics: philosophy, reading fellow players, and final pointers. This article is part one, Philosophy. After this series, I plan to detail additional insight into the particular options available to each specific country, if you are further interested. If you are a novice or intermediate player, I would like to think the coming suggestions will make you a better player (in opening strategy) on average. Let me remind you that although these comments may appear very general and, being general, are applicable to any country (as the name of the article suggests), the information is specifically about Opening Strategy (meaning the first year). Please do not forget this important caveat. Okay, let’s get on with the good stuff……

After year one, it is my goal:

  • to have no outright enemies (imminent conflicts);
  • to have cultivated a strong position to bond with at least one strategically close neighbor;
  • to have established my personality; and
  • to have developed a reasonable portfolio as to the nature of my fellow Dippers.

This all sounds pretty good. I am sure the semantics of the wording above can be mangled many times over to sound more technical, polished, and/or precise. However, the above four points are the basic idea in the beginning… namely, make friends, have options, and avoid getting enemies. The above is pretty obvious after a quick read-by, but there are important semi-tacit points here and general rules that I think optimize your chances of achieving the aforementioned goals.

Here is a summary of basic “philosophy” pointers I think in general will get you through a successful opening for every country…..

  1. Don’t stab or lunge at any foreign power region!!!
  2. Don’t aggressively lie or be deceiving.
  3. Don’t be greedy in negotiation or movement.
  4. Use your personality and always be thoughtful.
  5. Write everyone.
  6. Don’t push unless pushed.
  7. Make simple proposals.Comments, Clarifications (referring to above numbering) 
    1. Don’t stab or lunge at any foreign power region in year one (especially the spring!). Unless the move is necessary for defense or was positioned through request (e.g. Turkey being given Greece, instead of Austria, in exchange for peace), straight attacks from the get-go are the mark of poor play. Time and time again I see players snubbed because they vaulted into foreign territory and provoked an endlessly slow stalemate only to lose to a power who effortlessly overruns territory after territory. Classic cases for spring moves such as Italy moving into Trieste or England seizing the Channel will far more likely result in failure than success. The key is, always remember that you must maximize your chances of finding reliable allies and avoid risking enemies. Until you know who is friend and who is foe, you are best-off to take advantage of the generous local supply centers which lay unoccupied and contribute ample growth for the coming year’s campaigns.
    2. Words early on travel more freely than at any point in the game. Later on when nations have sculptured their posture toward fellow powers (friend or foe), then communication clarity inevitably decays. However, being a snitch or finger pointer in hopes of generating fear or whatnot often is easily filtered and eventually portrays you as slimy rather than worthy.
    3. Don’t be greedy in negotiation or movement.
    4. Obvious one here: Players like to write those who are entertaining and friendly. Never hurts and always add to the fun, win or lose.
    5. Every player deserves a word early on. Opening the door for the first time, so to speak, helps the hinge’s lubricant to do its job. To do so will make supplemental contact easier. I will write more about this in a later article.
    6. Handing out information about plans or ideas for expansion can be dangerous; play what you’re given and keep an open mind. If the pusher demands information, take a neutral course of action and look for the positive side as much as possible. For example, R-T always talk a lot about the Black Sea. Statistically one nation gets it, but in the beginning, if issues get heated (a.k.a. Russia says forcefully that the Black sea should be demilitarized and you are nervous) look to bounce instead of risking the calamity of a nasty stab. When pushed, seek a conservative, equitable and honest solution. Note: I will detail the Black Sea more in my future articles (perhaps too controversial an example here).
    7. Making simple proposals is very important and is done far too little. This is an excellent tactic which has never done anything but help me. If you’re Austria, why not contact Germany and seek a demilitarized zone in Bohemia and Tyrolia? What can it hurt? You get a treaty for yourself, mollify the fears of a neighbor, and more likely than not open a door for a future alliance. It’s amazing how a demilitarized zone in Galicia, Prussia, Silesia, the Baltic, and the Channel can open the way for future goodwill in territory which is rarely tread upon by friendly powers. Failure to achieve such a treaty may very well occur (which is always a useful piece of information) but the impetus of asking for a demilitarized zone is always a sign of a good-natured neighbor and that will more likely than not play in the minds of those receiving dimilatarized-zone proposals. Besides demilitarized zones, simple proposals like mutually talking to a fellow power about an issue or assuring a neighbor that you recognize his/her reign in a neutral territory are similarly applicable.

Regarding Fellow Players


This is part two of my three-part series on opening strategy. The articles are intended to be general guidelines which apply to every country you may play. In part one, we learned ways to present oneself in opening diplomacy, in order to optimize one’s chances for future success. Part two, below, looks at the other side — namely, the competing players, and how one can best assess their characteristics.

This is a exceptionally difficult topic, upon which there exist a lot of subjective opinions. There are no hard rules here. Like Philosophy, however, Diplomacy is a science; it is well that we study it.

The bad news is, messages written in Diplomacy bear no firm relation to orders submitted. Technically, a player can say anything he wishes, yet the rules make no binding obligation that players act as indicated in their letters. This attribute of the game does two important things:

  • It makes the game exponentially more difficult; and
  • It allows for lawless anarchy (which is the sheer joy of the game).

The good news is, maximum entropy invariably yields little success; and therefore it behooves us players to embrace some civil correlation between our words and our actions (at least some of the time). What all the above really means is, you never really know what the other players will do. However, optimizing your chances of properly filtering the information you receive is critical. Although this is extremely difficult to do, I have developed some general guidelines as to how best to judge your competition.

In my Diplomacy study-data-book, I have tediously logged over two hundred Diplomacy letters written during year one, evaluating and categorizing each entry as best possible. I have relatively equal data sources from every power in the game. More than seventy percent of the data sources are from intermediate or advanced level players. Being an engineer myself, I am well aware that the number of uncontrollable variables in my data-pool is unthinkably large. I have however found a few behaviors in year-one diplomacy that correlate well with future actions.

Here are some behavior patterns that I have noticed in year-one Diplomacy, and what they likely mean:

  1. Short, aggressive letters are likely to be lies or just useless chatter.
  2. An offer to be a third party in a blitz-attack is usually a scam.
  3. Multi-letter explanations or detailed-logic letters are excellent signs of desire for a close alliance.
  4. Alliances contingent on or starting out with aggressive openings are extremely unstable ones.
  5. Accusations and rash talk are made by less reliable (more capricious) players.
  6. Silence implies a dangerous neighbor.
  7. Fellow players write their most sought-after allies first.

Generalities are really unsettling propositions to technical people like myself, but the way I see it, if an indicator presents itself, there is no sense in ignoring its potential implications. At the very least, it’s best to utilize the above information (and perhaps to construct ways to clarify better a letter’s possible true message) than callously to overlook it.

I have a few more pieces of information that I have theories on, but have little or no data to back them up:

  1. Capricious players, overly-opinionated players, and warlike-military players are poor allies.
  2. Players who make alliances based only on very favorable divisions are poor allies.
  3. Key phrases about fellow players’ philosophy are often insightful.

Comments, Clarifications (referring to above numbering)

  1. Letters like, “Hey let’s attack England,” or, “I’ll go to Trieste if you move to Galicia,” rarely bear any meaningful intent by the sender. I have even found that even when I respond with, “Sure, let’s attack,” the sender rarely takes me seriously.
  2. The classic here is G-E offering Italy a piece of France or E-T offering Germany a piece of Russia. Regardless of the case, the last to get the offer is usually the last for a reason. Namely, two scared players are trying to embroil you in conflict against their neighbor.
  3. – 6. No further comment…
  4. This is a critical detail which appears to be of great value. Everyone likes to write their anticipated future ally first and not their planned enemy. If you find out that one country has been having detailed conversation with another only to write you days later, time to be concerned.
  5. If they sound like Norman Schwarzkopf, it’s a bad sign. (Still love ya Norm.)
  6. If they seem to be spending their time pushing everyone for an obvious territorial advantage early on, they often are too single-minded to be trustworthy. For example, Turkey pushing to trade Greece for Rumania (a classic offer) or Germany demanding Belgium in exchange for an F-G assault of England. Are these reasonable offers? Yes, but to push hard for them in the spring of 1901 is a bit much, especially if the initial response is not met favorably.
  7. Don’t forget to read into the other player’s feeling by their words. I’ll just give an example here… If Russia says “everyone knows Russia and Austria must battle at some time, but let’s not let that happen.” This is a useful piece of data which may very well be foreshadowing, so keep it in mind.

Of course, I realize, there is a lot more to handling and assessing fellow players than what I have written. Most of it is far too intangible to categorize or stereotype. Subjects like decoy information and persuasion techniques are just too involved for this introductory article. I will go into much further detail when I discuss the individual countries and what I see as their options. All I hope to leave you with in this portion of literature are some simple thoughts, based on experience, which may tip you off as to a player’s possible characteristics or plans.

The third article in this sequence will get involved with more peripheral points regarding general opening strategy. I plan to make it a short topic and then tie in all three parts of the sequence. Always feel free to write me and express your comments or ask questions. It has been a pleasure and an inspiration, reading some of the comments that I have received on part one.


This article is mostly about what to do when things have gone wrong (in year one). It’s longer than I anticipated, so as promised I will answer many commonly-asked questions in the next article.

My boss has a wonderful array of sayings and metaphors. One of my favorites of his is, “If you’re lucky, life is plan B.” Diplomacy is certainly that way, as well. Events and reactions never transpire as planned. There is always a fading path or a missing bridge somewhere on your trek’s original course. Thankfully, I am only contracted to write about opening scenarios. That helps reduce the infinite number of possibilities by at least ten (that’s an engineering joke; sorry).

In article one, we learned about posturing ourselves wisely to make friends. In article two, I did my best to generalize the unthinkably difficult task of reading your opponent. Now, let us say you did everything a little less than perfectly and, somehow, a counterpart’s actions are foreshadowing malicious treatment to your nation. What do you do?

Unfortunately, there are no great answers when things get tough in the opening game, but there are options. Truthfully, I cannot say I am confident that any one option is a solution: they are more like treatments to symptoms which may in fact have no cure. (That’s a polite way of saying that sometimes you do everything right and still get demolished.) We’ll proceed with our study, nonetheless, for it is better to have some taxonomy of possible options, than it is to get confused when things go wrong, swinging randomly about, like a blindfolded child going after a pinata.

All right, let’s look at two different scenarios. In the first, you have only one enemy or only one serious point of contention. (Example: who among F,G or E gets Belgium, what to do about a possible occupation of Galicia, or how to resolve the Black Sea fleet issue.) Common sense should tell you that you can do one or more things, in the following categories:

  1. Make more conciliatory offers for a neighboring party’s support.
  2. Whack into your enemy and frustrate him while pleading for a sane truce.
  3. Give in to the point of contention.
  4. Push for distant nations to become hostile against your neighbor.

Well, considering it’s the opening year, I would recommend neither (2) nor (4). Both are too radical and provocative considering the fledging 1901 environment. Exciting foreign powers this early in the game presents yourself completely in opposition of article part one’s and two’s strategy. Namely, your nation has become aggressive, manipulating, and an outright instigator. Avoid this. The most important reason is that your pointed actions make an equitable solution all the less likely. This is because word travels quite freely at the game’s opening, therefore harsh, provocative talk is very likely to be amplified and then boomeranged onto your potential enemy’s lap, making the matter worse. Options (1) and (3) are far less hostile and optimize your chances of putting aside your differences. Other more serious threats or opportunities may very well compel your rival to halt his hostilities with you. Even better, perhaps your other neighbor may join your side and solve the problem in the more traditional European fashion — militarily.

A limited “bounce” may be appropriate under certain circumstances, but it’s hardly the start of a good friendship. However, if the area of conflict is a soft spot in your nation’s security (for example, the North Sea to England, the English Channel to France, or the Black Sea to Turkey) then a “bounce” may be necessary, considering the drastic risk of yielding this territory. Let’s say that a bounce does become necessary — you have now opted for a strategy somewhere between categories (2) and (3). I say this because most bounces (excluding the Black Sea one) put no one in a good position to grow and liberate non-player supply centers (a good example of this is a spring bounce in the English Channel, which weakens both parties’ ability to gain their respective supply centers: Norway and Portugal). Therefore, you have somewhat given in and somewhat aggravated your neighbor.

In scenario two, we will say that it is clear that two neighbors are allying against you. Now you’re in mega-trouble and all bets are off so go nuts!?!? Not really. If you made reasonably generous offers of peace and followed the proper etiquette of parts one and two, you should be able to meet this foray blitz with dignity while projecting doubt in the minds of your aggressors. Always remember, alliances in year one are the most likely to falter and reverse. This is not to say that things are thumbs-up for you, but not all is necessarily lost. Serious concessions have to be made and tactics have to be altered. Keep in contact with your enemies and do your best to work your magic to reverse the environment. I will not detail this further, since it’s not typically a first year problem. We could go into great detail in this matter, but this series of articles is to be of limited length, and, basically, this is exactly the matter that parts one and two were designed to help you avoid.

Opening Strategy: Parts One, Two and Three – Summary

The framework of part one was constructed around your nation’s domestic posturing. Part two looked at how you can assess your fellow players’ characteristics. Part three looks at perspective options if things get confrontational. The most important thing, overall, is to keep your objectives set on achieving the following:

  1. to possess no outright enemies (imminent conflicts),
  2. to have cultivated a strong position to bond with at least one strategically close neighbor,
  3. to have established your personality, and
  4. to have developed a reasonable portfolio as to the nature of your fellow players.

Often the simple little common sense things seem so obvious when written down. However, I have seen hundreds of players get caught up in the greed factor or the military-maneuvering component of the game and fail to exercise the most basic principles of the game. Diplomacy is in many ways an extension of psychology. Everyone wants good friends and everyone wants to succeed. Posturing yourself as a cultivator to others’ needs is critical to obtaining long term success. Manipulation seems great in theory, but even the average player rarely overlooks the true content of your actions once the orders are read. Year one is not the year to go for the solo. It’s the year to plant the crops and work the field. Every duck that you hunt does not have to line up in a row for you to shoot by 1902.

I encourage you to re-read the three parts of the article again and ask questions or make comments. I have received a sizable amount of mail and am happy to see how encouraging and helpful the responses have been. I always try to keep an open mind and a positive attitude about Diplomacy. It is a fabulous game which I have always looked at as just being fun, and not as a person-to-person intellectual battle of wits to feed the ego.

This ends the first article series on general opening strategy. My next article will likely just be spent answering questions. As always, I appreciate any suggests and comments good or bad. My job here is to facilitate your understanding and ability. Feedback only makes that task easier. Good Luck!