Russian Strategy

by Don Turnbull

To the novice, Russia may look an attractive country to play. She starts with a one-unit advantage over other countries; two builds are almost certain in Winter 1901; central Russia is a long way off the beaten track, and should thus be easy to defend.

Well, Russia’s power is often a considerable disadvantage; other countries, in envy of the potential Russian rate of growth, could very well decide to join forces in an initial anti-Russian campaign, and although Russia is the only country which can —and usually must — fight on two fronts at the same time, a concerted attack in 1901 and 1902 often brings Russia to her knees. A Russian player who shows the iron fist in preliminary diplomacy is really asking for trouble.

Three countries on the board need to look in three directions at once; Germany must look south, east and west; Austria must look north, east and west; Russia must look north, west and south. We have already discussed the predicament of the two ‘corridor’ countries in earlier articles; Russia is, however, a ‘border’ country and thus a better prize for potential conquerors early in the game. I don’t need to repeat the principle that, if you invade a ‘corridor’ country, you must expect others to use it as a corridor later in the game. A simple extension of these arguments is that Russia’s troubles occur early in the game — if Russian play is crafty enough in the first 3-4 game years, survival, if not victory, is guaranteed in the later stages.

Let’s first define the three Russian fronts. In the North, England is a possible enemy, and Germany can be attacked from Scandanavia. In the South, Austria could be attacked through the Balkans, or Turkey could be invaded via the Black Sea and Armenia. Finally, in the Centre, advances could be made into either Germany or Austria. Russia could, at a pinch, cope with a war on two of these fronts, as long as the third was made secure by negotiation. Better still, of course, secure two fronts and concentrate the offensive on the third.

My advice to any Russian player is to secure the central front and to look to one flank or the other for initial advances. The reasons for avoiding an attack on the central front are largely negative — to invade Germany would involve the creation of a salient into a corridor country, and would leave the captured territory open to attack from north, south or west. In other words, Russia would, by these means, merely extend her geographical disadvantage. Flanks should not be exposed — despite the machinations of the new liberated society — but should be defended and consolidated.

It seems essential, therefore, to come to terms with Germany right from the start, probably by arranging the neutrality of Silesia, Prussia and the Baltic. To encourage Germany into advancing on France or England is never a bad idea; a definite alliance could even be made with Germany against England —and more of this later.

In the South, the options are relatively clear — fight Turkey with Austrian aid, or fight Austria with Turkish aid. If you have read these articles sensibly, you will probably come to the conclusion that Turkey is the better target. Although it will take time to break Turkey’s corner position, the territory gained will be easier to hold and will safeguard the southern flank perfectly: after the war is over, Russia and Austria can go their own ways without interfering with each other, and if there is to be a stab in the back, Russia is better positioned to perform it on Austria than the other way round. To fight Austria with Turkish cooperation invites a later argument over the Balkans and a less secure southern flank.

In the North, it isn’t quite so straightforward. From the strategic point of view, England is the best target. But there are difficulties. England is difficult to invade without strong naval forces, and Russia’s only northern naval base is not conveniently placed for speedy deployment of fleets into English waters. Germany could, of course, be persuaded to provide the much-needed fleets, but this probably means that German units will do most of the invading, and Germany will hold the whip-hand when it comes to sharing out the captured territory. On the other side of the coin, England must be stopped if Russia has any ambitions at all in Scandanavia.

Germany could be attacked from the north, instead of on the central front. But to capture Germany with Russian units while English units are free to roam around Norway and Sweden isn’t a very good idea. And France isn’t going to take kindly to the idea of Russian units in Kiel and Munich, unless by some miracle French attentions are exclusively directed towards Italy and the Med.

If you want a straightforward, lengthy and dull war in the north, England is the best target, with Germany being fattened up for the kill in the middle game. If you want risks and excitement, and feel suicidal, try attacking Germany while allowing England to build up strength.

There is a third alternative, which requires very delicate handling, but which can give the best of both the above worlds if it can be brought off. This is to open war against England with German assistance; capture Norway in 1902 and build in the north. Then, with England weak and Germany looking in the other direction, move in on Germany from the north, perhaps with French assistance —indeed, if England has been kept to three units, the English player may be glad to give you a hand in order to take the heat off himself. When Germany has been defeated, the northern Russian flank will be secure, and England will be weak enough not to offer much in the way of opposition. But be careful! The other players will have read this article as well!

Readers may ask how the opening moves may be made in order to concentrate in the north (there is less flexibility and less certainty in the south, and this area will have to be dealt with by negotiation, rather than tactics). Here are some powerful moves for the first year in the north:

Spring 1901.
F(StP-SC) -GoB.
A(Mos) -St P.

Autumn 1901.
F(Gob) C A( Liv-Swe)
Winter 1901.
Build F(StP-NC)

At the end of 1901, Russia has four units in the north, and the capture of Norway is almost certain in 1902. Assuming, also, that Rumania (Rumania and Sweden are Russia’s ‘traditional’ 1901 captures) has been taken, there will be a fleet garrison in the south and another unit to build where the need arises.

Granted, the above moves do not prevent English capture of Norway in 1901. One could play A(StP)-Nor in the Autumn, but there are two disadvantages to this: first, whether England supports her capture of Norway or not, StP is closed for the winter build; second, the Russian army in Finland deters Germany from having nasty thoughts about Sweden in 1902. To attempt the standoff of the English attack on Norway may look a good idea, but it isn’t all that hot in the long run.

Of course, if you are going to use the above, you must be sure of two things: first, that Germany isn’t going to try a push eastwards (the Russian central front is exposed); second, that the move F(Sev)-Rum in Spring 1901 is going to ensure the capture of Rumania — in other words, Turkey is happy about it. Any possibility of a double-cross in the south, and you should think carefully about the moves for A(Mos) and/or A(War).

Experienced players enjoy the challenge of making an interesting game out of Russian strategy. And if nothing else, it forces a player to think on a wider geographical scale than any other country.

This article first appeared in the November 1972 edition of Games & Puzzles magazine
Supplied by Keith Hazelton