by Harry Drews
The best has been saved for last, so let us start off, by noting how well the potential and vastness of Diplomacy Russia simulates the actual country in the twentieth century. Russia is blessed with, the greatest intrinsic strength of any country on the board and in conjunction with a fragmented opposition, the Russian bear should be able to waltz to a comparatively easy victory in a disproportionate amount of time. To illustrate the potential of’ Russia, one has merely to count the shortest distance between any supply centre on the board and the appropriate Russian army or fleet in Winter 1900. The furthest one would have to go to reach the most distant supply centre is five provinces. There is no area of the board which is not readily accessible to our conquering forces. A further feature of the wide latitude available to Russia is the presence of four home centres which makes it possible to build units over a great range of the board. The enormous flexibility and versatility endowed to this country make Russia extremely potent and not really susceptible to stalemate.
Postal Diplomacy circles are giving increasing attention to the Russian position and. this may cause some difficulties in games where experienced garners are present. The obvious strategy of the Russian player will be to work hard to break up potential alliances against Mother Russia before they have a chance to set and to quietly increase the supply centre total to ten or so. At this point, only a capable, united opposition will be able to stop us from grinding our way to a win.
The two fundamental points of our initial strategy should be to divide both the Austro-Turkish and Anglo-German alliances, and to concentrate our first efforts in the south. Time is in our favour if’ there is no blocking alliance present on the board. This time will allow us to pick up some badly needed supply centres. Either Turkey or Austria should be the victim of our first assault, because the potential quick rewards are so much greater here than, say, in Scandinavia or Germany. Moreover, no neutral stance can be maintained here in the south, while it is frequently possible to neutralise Scandinavia.
To formulate the optimum game plan, we need to know how the other players perceive Russia. Do they see us as an immediate threat, a future deadly threat, or as a good potential ally? Realistically, Russia is not much of a threat to anyone at the start of the game and this should be all the ammunition our propaganda machine requires. Turkey should be interested in a long-term alliance on the basis that the eastern edge of the board will be secured and then a sweep made across the board. Our friend Austria will be desperate for a sign of friendship from anyone just to increase his chance of survival. A capable Italian player will, doubtless recognise in Russia his best potential ally. Co-operation with France may be secured if his recollections of’ history are refreshed with a description of how effective the Franco-Russian alliance has been through the years. This pairing can be just as worthwhile on the Diplomacy board. England has good reason but necessity may disperse caution to the extent that a non-aggression pact may be formulated to enable her to strike at either France or Germany. Germany will likely be just as anxious as Austria to come to terms because France and England are unknown quantities. In short, there is a suitable angle available for use with each of the other six powers, and with such fertile grounds for negotiation, it will have to be a very poor Russian player indeed who is blitzed early in the game.
The two fundamental axioms of warfare, the concentration of force and an attack on only a manageable portion of your opposition, must always foremost in the mind of the Russian. We will be working from within an arc of 180 degrees with an interior line of communications. As long as we engage the enemy on only a limited portion of our long front our problems should not be insurmountable. To visualise the better our possible series of attacks, let us arbitrarily divide the front into the following sectors: Scandinavia, Germany, the Balkans and the Black Sea. Those are the areas of immediate concern, although eventually our forces may permeate either the British Isles or Italy. The order in which we attack each one of these sectors will be determined by their vulnerability and worth. The worth encompasses both their economic value and their significance in our alliance structures. It should be our firm policy to have only one active sector at any on time unless we are at a 12 or so centre standing. Again, it is my firm belief that to be successful on the Diplomacy board you must have one strong, long term ally, a host of nice friends who you will do in turn, and one immediate till death us do part enemy.
The Turkish sector contains only 3 centres but they are important. If we control all three then our defences are much simpler to maintain. Also, we have a clear route to the Mediterranean. The Balkan or Austrian area is by far the richest on the board – 7 supply centres. Of course, I am including Greece, Bulgaria and Rumania. The Russian can achieve an absolute victory without any of these centres, but if we can take them it is so much easier to win. Scandinavia (3) The British Isles (3), and Italy (4) are obvious, separate sectors. Germany (5) includes Holland and Belgium. Let us now go on to interpret our optimum strategy in terms of these sectors and our possible allies.
A high degree of trust is required if we are to make Turkey our long-term ally. Sevastopol is too exposed and we forfeit half of the Austrian knot of centres. An alliance with the Turk may often make for the speedy downfall of Austria and the chance to intervene in the west before a strong power emerges. I would be inclined to attack England rather than Germany. Our entrenchment in Scandinavia and England will give us an effective stranglehold on Germany and we can then flood the Hun with our power. The presence of a strong naval contingent in the Atlantic will ensure the pacification of the centres as far away as Belgium. Many players regard a military marriage with the Turk as a powerful union, but I feel that the close positioning of opposite home centres makes for a trying time. Demilitarization is just not feasible and as a consequence as many as four or five units may be needed to garrison the area. Too little is left for other sectors. If Turkey must be stabbed (due to stalemate on other fronts) a tough task confronts us. Turkey has the advantage regarding the Black Sea and a march through Austria becomes a weary grind. Unless Turkey offers advantages better than others on the board, better forgo this pairing.
Austria makes a wonderful temporary partner. There is less likelihood of an antagonistic Italy (a very real danger if we align ourselves with Turkey) and we can take possession of the Turkish centres. In the long run Austria will compete with us for too many of the centres we require and she may even become a liability if Italy cannot be subdued. Defence against Austria is difficult and our underbelly is dangerously exposed if we reach into the Atlantic. Austria is a useful early friend and a subsequent nuisance. Best get rid of her in the middle game.
England offers us little in the way of attractive alliance options. We will be shut out of most of’ Germany and Scandinavia and sooner or later we will be stabbed. If once we befriended England then how can we ever build the fleets necessary to capture some of her holdings? Most likely our potential help in Paris or Berlin will be disarmed and in irons. Italy could give us some naval support from the southwest but the Mid Atlantic must be first breached. England thus never can be our long-term ally – only a short-term instrument of balance.
Germany makes a good ally, largely because we can dominate the Fatherland and yet pick up any centres to the north and in the south. A clean stab is always a tantalizing possibility. In the same breath we should include Italy. Italy and Russia together compliment each other so well that this must rank as the perfect alliance on the board. Together these two powers can control each sector of the board in turn. The alliance can be camouflaged in the early stage of the game and Turkey or Austria can be used to reduce the other opposition in the south to a single country which then itself is eliminated. The alliance can also assemble centres very rapidly – usually in time to turn on the west with overwhelming force. Because Russia has a bit of an edge in positions she can take 18 centres before the Italians can. Alternatively, Italy can be stabbed in the later stages of the game.
France has been neglected so far for one reason. France is too distant from Russia to make an effective number one ally. Yes, France can prove to be very useful as a distracting or balancing force, but her inability to intervene alongside Russia in the early going makes it a Russian necessity to find a better ally. Some other power is needed early to give the vital, local, overwhelming concentration of force. After this early hurdle, Russia becomes practically invulnerable to single power opposition.To summarize, we can safely state that either Germany or Italy makes the best long term ally. England is a damper on our expansion hopes, Turkey is a constant threat, and Austria is too much in the way. If we do not attack in the south first, then two of the three southern powers are bound to ally and they will overpower us in time. The north does not offer the early, fast, critical gains that we so badly need. A stealthy inch to ten or twelve centres will provide the material for an all out dash to the remaining centres. If you draw Russia, smile, for you will have more fun than anyone else.
Reprinted from Paroxysm 11 (July 1975)