Playing Turkey

by Jake Orion


I have received a lot of specific questions regarding how to play particular countries. In response, I thought it would be helpful if I just went into more specific details of each country in this series of articles. Germany will be the second country in my seven-part series. If you have not read the three-part series on opening strategy, I’d suggest that you read it before getting into the details of this article. Remember, strictly military issues like many of the ones mentioned below often tell little about the wonderful game of Diplomacy. Determining a player’s true intent, making alliances with reliable neighbours, and working the balance between security and expansion are really of paramount importance. Please never forget that.

This article hits the very basics early, but later it details more specific recommendations, so please bear with it if you are a more experienced player.


Turkey is nicely nestled in the far south-eastern corner of the Continental map. Unlike its counterpart corner-nation, England, Turkey has two land territories that connect to the European mainland. Armenia connects to Sevastopol and Constantinople connects to Bulgaria. This physical attribute makes it reasonably easy for Turkey to field land units; Turkey doesn’t have to convoy them. The land connections are an important attribute of the Sultan’s lair, an attribute that England lacks. Because of them, Turkey can grow faster than England can.

As for local sea territories, Turkey borders three: the Black, the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Each of these bodies of water nicely complements the control of the valuable land and/or sea positions. The Aegean borders Greece and the Ionian, the Eastern Med borders the Ionian, and the Black borders a cornucopia of supply centres.

Turkey can try to expand north into Russia, northwest against Austria or west toward Italy. Regardless of in which direction Turkey looks to spearhead its forces, it must leave one of its coasts weakly defended in order to posture itself effectively for an opportunity to grow. This truth could arguably be applied to any country in Diplomacy, but, in Turkey’s case, the delicate balance between expansion and protection lies on a particularly narrow and volatile fault line. That’s because the mass of supply centres in the Balkan arena is a dense one and the nations in and around that mass must vigilantly guard their resources there. Thus, the region is always heavily militarized. Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Rumania are perpetually occupied. This explains why the region is always a point of tumultuous conflict.

An Interesting and Difficult Point

Now let’s take a look at the five territories around Turkey — namely, Bulgaria, Armenia, the Black Sea, the Eastern Med, and the Aegean Sea. Mentally place a unit in each of these areas. Next, place the standard Austrian, Italian, and Russian units in their usual territories (Greece, Serbia, the Ionian Sea, Rumania, etc.). Now take some time to think about how easy it is to expand (by military force alone), assuming that you are able to occupy all five space simultaneously. What’s the answer? The answer is…. it doesn’t look good. Greece, Rumania, and the Ionian Sea can only be attacked by two units (one unit attacks and one supports the attack) while Sevastopol can be attacked by two units and possibly get some support from a cut (a Turkish army in Bulgaria attacks Russia’s army in Rumania thus cutting support to Sevastopol). Interesting, isn’t it? Even when controlling all of the most advantageous positions around Turkey, the Sultan’s forces have little hope of gaining ground by military means alone. This is true even when neighbouring nations dedicate the standard few units in the region. Sevastopol can easily be defended by an army in Moscow and/or Ukraine, Greece is certain to be defended by Serbia, and the Ionian Sea will most certainly be well-defended by Italy (since it is Italy’s soft spot). In summary, Turkey may be surrounded by a dense region of supply centres, but it cannot realistically gain ground without considerable help or cunning deceit. Notice: This is not the case for France, England, Russia, Germany, or Austria. Each of those nations can effectively mount substantial military campaigns by their lonesomes, within a given region.

What makes this matter even more difficult for Turkey is that, once Turkey is able to control the “launch” territories (like the Black Sea), the defending nation often has plenty of forewarning to deliver a defence. This attribute seems so obvious at first glance, but is in fact critical to the understanding of how to play Turkey. Turkey has a very limited number of options when it comes to expansion. Furthermore, to obtain a fifth supply centre, the Sultan needs to do more than just situate both land and sea units precisely. He also needs tangible aid from a foreign nation, and he needs his country not to be attacked on its weak border.

Strategy Basics

The vast majority of the time, Turkey seeks the alliance of Russia or Austria first and foremost. Meanwhile, the Sultan nearly always pushes for Italy to stab into Austria. Avoiding an Austrian-Italian alliance is very important to Turkey. The lack of an A-I alliance increases Turkey’s bargaining power in Balkan matters, gives Turkey a better opportunity to penetrate into Italy’s soft spot (the Ionian Sea), and very effectively prevents the likelihood of a sea invasion via the Med. Unfortunately, it’s hard for Turkey to influence the A-I relationship. Any attempt to do so can very likely upset Austria. That’s because influencing the A-I relationship essentially means that Turkey has to push Italy against Austria (Austria never wants to aggravate Italy early and suggesting to Austria that Austria do such a thing is ludicrous). Such tactics defy my opening strategy articles’ baseline philosophy and therefore I do not recommend pushing Italy against Austria at all.

Gaining Russia’s alliance is often a mixed blessing, because Russia always encourages Turkey to send its fleets into the Med as a sign of goodwill. This leave Russia with a powerful upper hand. For one, Russia can take the Black Sea at any time. For Russia to take the Black Sea is truly disastrous for the Turkish nation. The Black Sea is not only Turkey’s soft spot, but also is a critical lever arm to influence a panoply of possible problems/opportunities in the Balkan region. Turkey makes a challenging decision when it cedes its influence in the Black Sea.

Also, if you side with Russia and start to move your fleets into the Med, you have all but declared war on Italy, practically forcing an A-I alliance. Italy cannot afford to let an R-T grow, especially if it means the proliferation of Turkish fleets in the Med. Hence, Italy is likely to side with Austria as soon as those Turkish fleets threaten the Ionian Sea (Italy’s soft spot). However, if for some reason Italy sides with R-T and lunges into Austria (usually foolish for Italy), then Turkey is sure to be a giant power in the coming years. Furthermore, the R-T alliance becomes nearly unstoppable. So, in short, an R-T is awesomely powerful when Italy heads west or attacks Austria, but it yields little when A-I unite and defend themselves. Its important to note that if Italy works with R-T and Austria falls early, the post-shake-out phase does not necessarily fall in Turkey’s favour. Russia may stab south (since the Black Sea is likely to be open) and/or Italy may team up with Russia to attack the Sultan’s lair. Another comment: R-T is unlikely to yield a Turkish solo victory. That’s because Turkey is not able to obtain a sufficient quantity of supply centres just from overrunning the Mediterranean empires. There simply are not enough supply centres in the Med. Turkey more often than not needs a tangible presence in the Balkan area to get a solo. An R-T makes that unlikely; Russia is certain to have the vast superiority in army might in the Balkans after the shake-out, and Russia can very effectively seal off any stab possibilities. The only case when this is not true is when Russia is under heavy pressure from the its north/west. Such pressure may loosen the Bear’s southern defences. However, more often that not, the nation in position to seek a solo with an R-T is Russia, not Turkey.

Gaining Austria’s alliance is nothing short of superior for Turkey. It is especially delightful for Turkey when Austria cedes Greece in exchange for help in obtaining Rumania. With Austria’s help, Turkey gains leverage in obtaining Sevastopol and/or the Ionian Sea. Both of those provinces are avenues that often yield very fruitful growth for the Sultan very quickly. Additionally, having Austria as a friend after the shake-out phase is sheer felicity. Austria stands ominously in the middle of the map as a big protective padding to continental army powers. Better yet, despite Austria’s strength, Austria lacks the ability to stab effectively at Turkey. Therefore, Austria becomes analogous to what Germany is to England (after the shake-out phase). However, unlike England, Turkey can very effectively stab into Austria and attempt the coveted solo. The possibility for Turkey to obtain a solo in an A-T is further increased by the fact that the Balkans are so rich in supply centres. This geographic feature allows for rapid expansion while making it difficult for foreign powers to repel Turkey’s fusillade.

Strategy Suggestions

Playing Turkey is really not that difficult because the nation has so few options. Italy is really key to Turkey and vice versa. Neither nation wants a fleet war early since such an event is very unlikely to yield to either nation tangible gains against the other. Turkey wants a two-against-one-nation fight, in its favour. It also wants to maintain control/influence in the crucial Black Sea region.

With those facts in mind, I never move my Ankara fleet into the Med in the first year, even if the Russian seems well suited as a partner. Such a move simply hurts you in too many ways. You lose control of the Black Sea (making you very vulnerable to a stab), you irritate Italy, and you key Austria to the fact that there is an R-T alliance. Instead, I recommend keeping a fleet in the Black Sea region. This should be reasonable to Russia, because, in order for an R-T alliance to crush Austria, the alliance needs an army in Bulgaria (otherwise Austria can effectively hold its ground). Therefore, the southern Russian fleet will situate itself in Sevastopol. Now, if Turkey occupies the Black Sea, its Black Sea fleet helps the position of the R-T alliance militarily and it is not a threat to take Sevastopol. The fleet proves to be very effective in accomplishing multiple Turkish objectives. Even if Russia wants the Black sea demilitarized, the Turkish fleet (just sitting in Ankara) still does a myriad of positive subtle things. Namely, it assures Italy that Italy is not directly threatened, it protects against a Russian stab, it allows for a Turkish stab, and it keeps Austria talking with the Turkish side of the R-T alliance. The later point is actually quite important. When Austria sees an R-T alliance, it must try and stop it to survive. Therefore, Austria must make an offer to R or T to reverse the trend. When Turkey has a spare fleet in the Black Sea region (as opposed to having the Black Sea undefended), you can be certain that Austria will make Turkey an offer. It is always better to get the offer than to let it be sent to your neighbour.

If Turkey sides with Austria, Turkey has very similar priorities as it does with an R-T alliance. Turkey must keep Italy out of its waters and actively try to occupy the Black Sea. Should Turkey move to Armenia in the Spring of 1901? I never do, but it is not necessarily a mistake to do so if you know your fellow players well. I do argue that such a move is too aggressive (being against the “open strategy” philosophy), rarely yields a fifth supply centre for Turkey (in the first year, that is), and gives Russia the ability to shore up the defence of Sevastopol during the adjustment phase. It is my opinion that the second year is a more opportune time to occupy Armenia and take the Black Sea.


Turkey is a great country to play. With the exception of Russia, no one can grow faster than Turkey. It is one of only three countries that have a good chance at a solo every game (France and Russia being the other two). If Turkey can gain control of the Ionian Sea, it really has explosive growth potential. Remember though, Turkey needs to gain grounds in its local realm before trying to parade the Sultan’s navies around Med.