Don’t Be a Turkey: Play Turkey!

by Mark Fassio

I. Introduction: Turkey is Good 

Turkey.  The images conjured up by this country are generally of a notorious nature militarily:  Bashibazouks and Mamelukes.  Pillagers of Constantinople and twice besiegers of Vienna.  Impalers of heretics and, of course, “The Sick man of Europe.”  Well, put away that thermometer and body bag and break out the dancing girls and hookah!  When playing Diplomacy, you’ll find that Turkey is one of the strongest countries on the board when properly played. 

Granted, I (a self-proclaimed Hobby Old Fart since 1976) have played Turkey in most of my games.  My bias thus naturally leans toward the Yellow-Pieced Country.  And while it’s generally true that a mediocre Turkish play can outdo a good Italian or Austrian (the Carusos and other Hobby Legends aside, of course). 

Turkey’s geographic location offers a natural “hedgehog” position. It’s a nice, compact area that is hard to be rooted out of early unless a solid AI or RA develops.  Even then the hostile alliance usually tips their hands by Fall 1901, giving the Turk time to prepare a defense and seek help.  But let’s discuss the Turk’s offensive potential versus its defensive prowess. 

II. Drang Nac Westen (or, Go West Young Man) 

Turkey should be able, through astute Diplomacy, to link up with one of his Balkan neighbors and cause some tensions between the other two.  As to choice of allies, I personally prefer the Russians because almost all the considerations of playing that duo are positive.  Geographically, an RT has no rear or flank enemies, due to the good ol’ board edges. 

Militarily, you’re in like Flynn when it comes to coordinating moves. Once the land bridge of Ukr/Rum/Bul is established, you’ve got a natural springboard for joint operations.  (Alas, poor Archduke; I knew him well…)  The Russian should keep peace with a least Germany in the west, so that full attention can be devoted to the Balkans early. 

As far as moves go, a good option is to simulate war between yourselves by moving to Arm/BLA, writing obfuscatory letters, etc. Then at a later date (Fall 1901 to Spring 1903 is good) you can use a Black Sea fleet to convoy into Austrian Areas, optimizing surprise. A truly trusting alliance will also try to get the Russian fleet into the Med.  Or you can arrange a Turkish “stab” (aided by the Austrians, no less) into Russian occupied Rum in Fall 1901.  Russia can retreat his fleet off the board and build an army to use against Austria in the Balkans.  Hey, the RT has more options than a Chinese Menu! 

Diplomatically, you and your Tsarist ally can smokescreen the board long enough to get positioned against any expected western counterattack that will organize.  (Western players worth their salt will indeed organize to stop an RT, given its lethality.) 

The best thing for Turkey and Russia is to immediately write both the Austrian and Italian early and often.  Don’t let them even think of forming an IA “Lepanto” against you in Turkey, instead offering each of the nebulous gains for neutrality while you do your deeds. Promise Italy you won’t build fleets, even though “Austria wants me to sail against you.” (It’s probably a fib, but so what?  We’re not playing bingo here.)  Tell Austria (rightly so) that you encourage him to go for two in 1901, if he’ll let you get the other two in the Balkans.  I recommend getting him to support you to Rum from Ser while he gets Gre and Ser.  Austria will be more than happy to bide his time with an amenable Turk who’s preoccupied “elsewhere.”  The true unsheathing of blades is best saved for the moment when Austria is out of position (diverted west or sucked north versus Gal/Rum) – that’s when the RT is best poised to strike. 

Once you get rolling and Austria or Italy is weakened, you must write furiously and heavily to Germany, France, and England.  Stress that this “apparent” RT is temporary at best, that it’s expedient for you to eliminate the “obvious AR” that was forming, etc.  Solicit their help in “keeping Russia in check” while offering lots of vague promises of assistance to them.  With a little luck and a lot of letters (remember that this game is called “Diplomacy”) you can divide-and-conquer while the West fights among themselves.  Timing is everything in an RT: when to strike, when to move, when to begin your disinformation campaign against the board, etc.  Always stay friendly with others, since one never knows when the time may arrive for you to realign your priorities! 

One word of caution:  while the RT alliances are very strong, perhaps even more so than the EF on the opposite edge, don’t get overconfident or smug about your power and position.  I remember a game back in 1988 where I was the Sultan and was allied with Don Williams.  (I consider Don to be one of the great all-time Dip players, by the way.)  We figured that our aggregate 30+ years of PBM experience and our RT geography would let us run rampant over the unknowns to our immediate front. 

We were rudely awakened by a competent AI, which literally had our backs to the wall until the previously-mentioned factors of luck (Italian player resigned) and skill (we badgered and persuaded two other sharp players to help us out) came into play.  We eventually won with a 17-17 two way draw, but in the first 3-4 game years all we could think about was survival as two-center puppets.  Moral of the story:  be humble with yourself, be smart versus enemies, and write incessantly.  First impressions and continued writing mean more to us old gamers than any jazzy new move you can think up. 

I also recommend play a “tactical game”, in which you look 1-3 turns ahead and look for short gains.  This would be as opposed to a “strategic game”, in which you would do things like plan coordinated moves for 1906 while still in 1901!  With your “nibbling” strategy and hoped for suppression of anti-RT coalitions, you should be well on your way to imposing the Turkish crescent over half the board. 

III. Conclusion:  You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! 

Even putting aside the main advantage of an RT alliance as the ideal Turkish policy, playing Turkey can offer a myriad of options.  An AT works well when you strictly lay out demilitarized zones and growth plans, while the IT (very rare) can work at least until Midgame if you do an Italian fleet/Turk army mix.  Turkey can always project itself as the friend of the country “over the horizon” (France’s buddy against Italy, Italy’s buddy behind Austria, etc.)  You should get away with that most of the time, since everyone likes to have their neighbor made into the middle of an Oreo with your help. 

Playing Turkey occasionally requires breaking some eggs (lying) with respect to your neighbors early on, but keep in mind that this is how successful omelets are cooked up! 

Well gotta go.  I have real Turks to talk to here (I write this from Zakho, Iraq.)  Hope this article stimulates some interest in playing The Best Country among any closet Turcophiles out there.  Good hunting! 

From Diplomacy World No.64