Table of Contents
- A Mysterious Letter
- The Score
- Opening Theory
- A Journey and a Journee West
In the following letter I received some years back I learned of a game today known as Diplomacy:
This message finds you at a tumultuous time. The Great Powers are consolidating their positions. Units, fleets and armies, are gathering at their borders, preparing for possible armed conflict.
While I may be a lowly plebeian, I have eavesdropped on diplomats in my travels from the corners of cafes and from balconies above private courtyards. From speculation on information gathered in this fashion I have grown relatively rich. And in a world, mind you, where the future is difficult to predict!
Apologies, for I have digressed. The main point is this: Despite my status, my modest travels from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Iberian peninsula to the south of England and finally to the villages outside of Saint Petersburg have put me in a position to impart knowledge befit a rising diplomat in these critical moments of the new century.
Before I share more, I must ask something of you. I have enclosed an insert of a game I came across, which I urge you to review.
With that, I am at your service.
PS Don’t forget to review the insert of the game.
Great! I’m glad you opened this part.
This is the game I have delighted to partake in with a rather rowdy bunch at a tavern near my present location. They coaxed me to their table with the promise of a mug and the insinuation of a good time to be had. They needed a seventh player, for this game could not be played otherwise. We drew lots and were then given titles akin to the seven Great Powers of our day.
To begin the game, each person held three (or four) of the thirty-four coins (the Russian held four). The remaining twelve coins were scattered on the table’s grainy, uneven, and beer-stained surface.
The ringleader went on to explain that the game was deceptively simple. All there was to do was persuade the others to let you have eighteen of the thirty-four.
Already, this was a pretty interesting game. (Who would allow one of out seven players to amass such a bounty?) But even at the start, you can imagine the mounting predicaments. How would we divide the twelve unowned coins? And, once that feat complete, how on earth would I persuade the others to give me their coins, particularly the shiny ones!
There were of course in this affair additional territorial and resource components to consider, as well as the fact that all our decisions occurred simultaneously and under the table. (My shins are now quite battered.)
I will not bore you though with the spatial relationships nor the economy, from which the constraints of positioning, logistics, and tempo came into my attention. Unlike a game of cards, no player may drunkenly hand his whole lot of coins to another by disastrously bad play, boredom, or interest in a passing lad or lass.
My counterparts were delighted that I joined in. And they were even more pleased that I seemed to understand the finer points. I need not remind you I grew up thieving in the streets and can don a remarkably good costume should I need to pass through guarded gates unnoticed.
I inquired about their little game of thirty-four coins and they assured me that although much had been discussed and even written about the game, that it was surely in its infant stages. What’s more, in times of peace, how else would the generals occupy themselves?
Having secured eighteen coins, I promptly spent them on a round for the table and finally bid this crew of drunken adolescents adieu. I made for the port to catch a lift to my next destination.
So it was that I had my first introduction of the game that would become Diplomacy. What follows is what I have gleaned from conversations with dear Frederico. Any knowledge imparted here I owe to Mr. Barbosa. As such you will see me quote him regularly.
After receiving the mysterious letter, with great fortune I tracked down Frederico Barbosa. I found clues I later wondered if he intended for me to find, not unlike seeds of misinformation spread to eager ears. Was he a chef, a carpenter, a spy? Though I came to understand him best as a Portuguese poet, his identities nevertheless seemed as numerous as the cities and seas he’d traveled.
My main contribution to the pursuit he’d already begun was to assist him in clarifying the rules and preparing the game first introduced to me as 34 Coins for more widespread play. He seemed to think that putting the skill of the diplomat in the hands of the commoner would benefit society. “See what a life such skill has granted the likes of me, and from such a dire starting position!”
How could I disagree? Hence, we developed the game further, testing its merits and responding to its demerits and detractors, all the while hoping a better game designer than we would take it up and spread it more effectively to the masses.
In the years that followed I played many games of Diplomacy, though fewer than I would have liked. Even when Frederico’s charming persuasion accompanied my enthusiasm in this back-alley tavern or that underground cabaret, it was exquisitely difficult to convince strangers to play with us, times being what they were. It helped that we were able to recruit a modest bevy of gamemasters throughout Europe to conduct Diplomacy games by post, although these games tended to be reserved for the upper classes.
Diplomacy is a great game. A game of cunning, deceit, and deception, to be sure, but also one of careful planning, collaboration, and creativity. It calls on the player to at once be dangerous and delectable.
Whenever I played it called to mind the struggles the Great Powers themselves engaged in. The desire to expand their territories. To secure their borders. To ensure growth and prosperity for their people. To fix the memory of their achievements in the legends told by their followers.
While I only played with the honorable Frederico Barbosa a single time–he swiftly soloed and departed before the night was out–his presence did linger over me as I feasted upon the dawn of a spring day in the south of France, 1908. Physically, I was exhausted, mentally spent, my mind dulled by late night wine with five other defeated diplomats, and yet there was an energy moving about me. You might say it was the spirit of Mr. Barbosa, the memory of our negotiations, the charm of his diplomacy, the brilliance of his deadly backstab, to which I will later relate.
After the sun had dissolved the fog mid-morning I descended to the streets of the 5th arrondissement, where, at a street cafe I watched the passersby, sipped a refreshing coffee, and revisited each moment of the game, how I’d made my decisions, and what I might have done better. All this in a journal bestowed to me by Frederico. Besides playing as many games of Diplomacy as one can, reviewing and discussing past games was a practice Mr. Barbosa suggested was the best way to improve.
Frederico fancied discussions about Diplomacy as much as anyone. Sometimes he preferred them to playing the game itself.
What is the fundamental nature of Diplomacy?, he asked me prior to our only every game together.
For me, Diplomacy is a 7-player game about area control guided by secret and simultaneous piece movement. The player who most effectively manages and strategically expands his territory wins or takes part in a draw. If we advance the discussion to include game theory, all good strategies include one thing: effective negotiation. In a word, Diplomacy.
Mr. Barbosa didn’t mind this description, though he had his quibbles.
He who can influence his opponents to collaborate at the right moments and misdirect them in others improves his drawing and winning chances. The game was a ritual, he argued, which had comparisons to Machiavellian political philosophy as well as to notions of realpolitik present in the era contemporary to the starting positions of the game: 1901.
When I was unsure of what was meant by ‘Realpolitik’, he produced a book from the mid-19th century by the German, Ludwig von Rochau. “Keep this secret, keep this safe,” Frederico whispered.
I studied “Grundsatze der Realpolitik angewendet auf die staatlichen Zustande Deutschlands” carefully with the help of a translator visiting from Berlin. The following passage stood out:
“The study of the forces that shape, maintain and alter the state is the basis of all political insight and leads to the understanding that the law of power governs the world of states just as the law of gravity governs the physical world. The older political science was fully aware of this truth but drew a wrong and detrimental conclusionâ€”the right of the more powerful. The modern era has corrected this unethical fallacy, but while breaking with the alleged right of the more powerful one, the modern era was too much inclined to overlook the real might of the more powerful and the inevitability of its political influence.”
I discovered that von Rochau himself was exiled here in Paris until the 1848 uprising and returned to take an influential role in the national liberal party. In an all-but-promised twist of history, Rochau’s initial ideas were conflated and overcome by Otto von Bismarck’s statecraft which unified Germany. As such, before the dawn of the new century, the word realpolitik was ubiquitous but changed from its first meaning.
If we see Diplomacy as a ritual of negotiation, we see several kinds: conflict resolution, creative problem solving, trust and relationship building, distribution of limited resources, a handing out of mercy or justice. It is also involves sacrifice, revenge, collaboration and competition in an environment of scarcity, acts of injustice, and arbitrary scapegoating, to name but a few.
Mr. Barbosa again had his issues with my summation, and wondered if Diplomacy was best played amorally. (That is, without morality; to emphasize, amoral is not the same as immoral.)
In an amoral landscape, I did not have the ground to stand upon to call something sacrificial or vengeful. As soon as I attempted to argue with him, however, Mr. Barbosa often shapeshifted into Frederico, the friendlier, chattier, and otherwise more amorous individual nearly impossible to disagree with if only because you desperately wanted to remain friends with him.
This personality shapeshifting was among a long list of traits which made Mr. Barbosa a formidable Diplomacy opponent.
Diplomacy offers the nearly insurmountable challenge of navigating six other humans, each with non-aligning end-goals to your own, each with varying levels of skill and approach and style, without which the game would not be engaging.
Diplomacy mirrors life. Many people don’t like playing Diplomacy because it requires them to fight, to deceive, to wrestle with difficult people. Let them go play dice or read the paper, where their fate is determined by chance and their freedom given up to the actions taken by other agents.
Meanwhile, a Diplomacy player relishes each of the plentiful categories of problems he may face. Positional, relational, strategic. Usually all three. He manages reversals of fortune only a bad gambler might have predicted. No matter how bleak or blissful a position, the Diplomacy player seeks to improve it.
Like so many of the virtues, we need not over-justify playing a game like Diplomacy. Playing it and doing so with one’s full energy and attention is justification enough.
We will certainly return to philosophy, however we must enter into a discussion of Scoring and following that–Opening Theory–so that new players have sufficient understanding to join in this game of power politics with us.
Depending on the scoring system under which you are playing, your strategy should differ. This comment is agnostic of your personal preferences for draws and solos. The various amateur rulebooks I came across in my travels were vague on drawing and winning conditions.
Even with Frederico’s tendency to solo, he favored draw-based scoring or systems like Janus which provided a survival incentive. Perhaps this increased his own chances of soloing, the maestro that he was.
Meanwhile, Mr. Barbosa leaned toward sum-of-squares and solo-or-bust styles of scoring.
I didn’t mind much which scoring system I played with, so long as it was clear to all participants which scoring system we used, and that at least most of them had agreed to it in advance. This way players can take on a strategy that suits not only their personal style of play, but also the nuances of their Great Power and the scoring system they will be measured against.
While some scoring systems seem to encourage livelier play than others, the meaning of lively can always be disputed.
As always, even when I disagreed with Frederico–or Mr. Barbosa–he moved ahead my thinking. Here’s one thing in which we agreed: Given how decentralized the spread of Diplomacy has been, I would not be surprised to see innovations in how to measure a diplomat’s success over the board. In addition to a designer capable of visually expressing the game we’d come to know as Diplomacy, we sought mathematicians and strategists eager to draw vectors along dimensions of survival, collaboration, and dominance.
Frederico long encouraged me to draw up a primer for new players relating to Opening Theory. It was not uncommon, however, to find in the same conversation the shapeshifting Mr. Barbosa argue against exactly this pursuit: “Let new players play the game–and learn the game they will!” (Where Frederico was poetic, Mr. Barbosa was direct.)
I too shared this complex and contradictory position, and in writing what follows I accept the tradeoffs.
First, a small but crucial point about notation. New players will have to write orders clearly, to be understood by the gamemaster. (Of course, one can write a sloppy or outright incorrect order as a way of weaseling out of a commitment.)
Diplomacy notation is easy to understand once you’ve learned it. I’ll be using the following in this book:
A Mar - Spa (indicates army in Marseilles Move to Spain)
F Ank - BLA (indicates fleet in Ankara Move to Black Sea)
A Par - Bur
A Mar S Par - Bur (indicates army in Marseilles Supports the Move of Army in Paris to Burgundy)
The order A Par - Bur should also be written for the above Support order to be valid.
A Pic - Wal
F ENG C Pic - Wal (indicates F in English Channel Convoys the army in Picardy to Wales)
The order A Pic - Wal should also be written for the above Convoy order to be valid.
A Mun H (indicates the army in Munich holds position)
Strategies and approaches to the Opening vary. Here are merely a handful of theoretical points upon which Frederico and I agreed.
Though I’ve been slow to call attention to it, you have probably noticed my use of male pronouns. By no means is Diplomacy for men or best played by them. In fact, Frederico sent me a letter in the Autumn of 1906 describing a game he organized with seven–yes, seven–women. “I was the gamemaster, nothing more,” was how he ended his letter. I actually believe him.
Having mentioned this apropos of nothing, let us carry on with the basics in which Frederico and I agreed regarding the early game.
Any sound strategy includes a plan to collect neutral supply centers. Some neutrals seem to be the natural neutrals of various powers. Consider Spain and Portugal for France. Norway for England. Holland and Denmark for Germany. Serbia for Austria. Bulgaria for Turkey. Which Great Power is missing from this list? That’s right: Russia. Despite beginning the game with four units, the Bear has no guarantees of supply center growth in 1901.
Other neutrals are more contested. Belgium could be French, English, German, or remain neutral. Indeed, Belgium is often correctly used as a bargaining chip to seal collaboration between two out of the three Western powers against the other.
Once gained, Belgium is not necessarily easy to hold. This attribute holds for neutral centers like Greece, Rumania, and Sweden as well.
Under few circumstances should your orders put you at serious risk of ruin. If you learn through the grapevine that England is planning to order F Lon - ENG (with 100% probability), then Mr. Barbosa and I see little alternative to ordering F Bre - ENG.
A possible exception to this thinking is while playing as Austria. Of course, versions of the Hedgehog ensure survival till at least 1902, not all continuations give Austria the appropriate leverage or position to combine with neighbors in mutually profitable ways. To provide an example, it may be necessary to risk an Italian stab in order to position units to work with or against either of Russia or Turkey. If the Italian incorrectly stabs, then it was going to be a difficult game anyway.
Mr. Barbosa and I went back and forth about not only what sort of relationships to create, but also how to manage them. But we both agreed that they should be created.
With relationships come expectations, modes of communication, and the sharing of information. Even in contentious or outright antagonistic relationships, expectations are set, communication occurs (however little), and information passes back and forth.
As you react to developments around you and sew the seeds of your own flourishing, the creation and management of relationships is paramount to early game success.
Flourishing in Diplomacy is found in myriad ways. The successful diplomat gains neutrals, avoids ruin, and establishes some manner of cooperation with one or more neighbors, such that he can enter the mid-game. Once there he will use his position’s strategic leverage and his diplomatic skill to continue advancing his interests.
Frederico, preferring to be at the absolute center of influencing play, and soaking up attention like sunbathers in Marseille, didn’t much care for Turkey. He described it thus: “Bland at best.”
And yet, despite this disdain, I witnessed Mr. Barbosa work his magic toward big draws and decisive victories.
Take heed as the “quiet corner position” to which Frederico turned down his nose is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
With concentrated home centers in Con, Ank, and Smy, the Turkish homeland is relatively easy to defend for even sustained sieges. A four-center Turk with, say, a fleet in BLA, a fleet in AEG, and armies in Bul and Con is as formidable a rock as any four-center power.
“But you ought not merely aim to survive,” Mr. Barbosa reminded me in my earliest games in control of the Turkish units. “Where is your fifth center coming from?” (This, conveniently, is a useful question for Italy.) Will your fifth center be Greece, Rumania, Sevastopol? Which should it be? When is the best moment to annex it?
Mr. Barbosa played four openings with Turkey.
A Con – Bul
A Smy – Con
F Ank – BLA
This opening picks up the neutral supply center Bul (just as all the following will), and A Smy - Con means Con will be able to support Bul in the fall (even if Russia and Austria aim a supported attack against it). You will have your build.
Meanwhile, you likely bounce with Russia in BLA or take it yourself if Russia plays the Southern Opening, with F Sev – Rum.
Mr. Barbosa in this way kept relationships with each of his neighbors viable. From here, he preferred to use Bul to support an Austrian attack on Rumania, either from Serbia or Budapest. This approach had multiple advantages.
The first, that it angled for a Turkish-Austrian alliance that Mr. Barbosa might exploit to his benefit later.
Secondly, such a maneuver often kept Russia from gaining Rumania and limited him to 1 or 0 builds (depending on Germany’s action or inaction toward Sweden). Russia would certainly not appreciate the Turk’s providing of assistance to Austria, but he needn’t be completely averse to working with Mr. Barbosa going forward.
Finally, in situations where Italy was keen to disrupt or even attack Austria in Fall 1901, Mr. Barbosa could tip off Italy to the forthcoming Austrian orders. Perhaps Italy could even take Trieste or deny the Austrian fleet in Albania from securing Greece. This series of events might demonstrate to the Russian that he might yet have a friend in Turkey, given that the Russian by end of Fall 1901 is likely in Galicia and prepared to leverage that position to Austria’s detriment.
“Where are you going to build?” Frederico asked one Turkish player in a game I observed where he played as Germany. It was the only question he asked the Sultan in Fall 1901 negotiations.
Where indeed? The most obvious place would seem to be Smyrna. The most obvious unit, a fleet, which will then set sail to the Aegean Sea, possibly to be bounced by an Austrian or Italian fleet. In some games, where Italy and Austria are aligned, this defensive posture is necessary to keep Con and Smy safe. If you remain steadfast, perhaps you could turn either of the Italian and Austrian against the other. Or, at some point, the French may sail east and give you the releasing of naval pressure you need to break out of the corner.
Another straightforward option might be a build of Fleet Ankara. The situation may call for the taking of the Black Sea and a push into either Sev or Rum.
Speaking of Russian antagonism, the following openings are less friendly toward the Russian than the Balkan Concentration.
A Con – Bul
A Smy – Arm
F Ank – BLA
With the Armenian army, immediate pressure is put on Sev. As a result, Russia is made to work harder to secure Rumania.
In a letter from Mr. Barbosa about a game he’d played this way, Mr. Barbosa wrote about his confident negotiations with each of his neighbors. Russia pleaded for Rumania; Austria offered to help keep Russia out of Rumania; Italy asked for support into Greece. Having involved Italy in persuading the Russian to leave Sev open for a build of his own, Mr. Barbosa swindled his way into Sev from Arm. (The Russian opted for F BLA - Rum and A Ukr S BLA - Rum to secure Rum, and so gave up BLA to Mr. Barbosa’s F Ank - BLA.)
It was a dream start, 2 builds from Bul and Sev, all too common for the masterful Frederico. He built a fleet and an army and carried on into a steady mid-game and eventually stabbed Austria for the solo.
A mountaineer, storm-stained and brown
from farthest desert touched the town
And, striding through the town held, up
Above his head a jewell’d cup.
He put two fingers to his lip,
He whispere’d wild, he stood a-tip,
And lean’d the while with lifted hand,
And said, “a ship lies yonder dead,”
And said, “Doubloons lie sown in sand
along yon desert dead and brown,”
— Joaquin Miller 1875, The Ship in the Desert,
Roberts Brothers’ version.
A Con – Bul
A Smy – Con
F Ank – Arm ( ! )
Yes, your fleets can move along coastlines. And yes, you needn’t always play F Ank - BLA by default.
As with the Crimean Crusher opening, similar pressure is put on Russia to fulfill early game expectations of gaining Rum while maintaining Sev.
Openings like this play to Frederico’s flair and he was especially good at explaining his motives in numerous ways to his various opponents. With novelties comes the advantage of neighbors more open to nuanced explanations which serve your own interests more than theirs.
Tactically, F Arm provides the same threat to Sev with the bonus option of playing F Arm - BLA in Fall 1901 to either take BLA or cut support there depending on the Russian’s play. In most cases, Russia’s only guaranteed orders to take Rum will be to send the fleet. The best outcome could be to see Russia’s fleet land in Rum, a Russian army blocking a build in Sev (hedging against F Arm - Sev), and the success of F Arm - BLA.
From here, you can straightforwardly build F Smy and already be quite secure. Alternatively, you might build an additional army–to advance through Arm into Sev by Fall 1902–or F Ank to placate either of Austria or Italy.
A Con – Bul
A Smy – Arm
F Ank – Con
Any variation of F Ank - Con in Spring 1901 can vibrate alarm bells across all of Europe, but the Turkish Hedgehog combines F Ank - Con with A Smy - Arm. The army in Armenia should be used as a diplomatic fact to dampen the signals of a Juggernaut (Russo-Turkish alliance).
Conveniently, such an opening could be used as the beginning move order to a Russian-Turkish alliance. Mr. Barbosa was not fond of the alliance, especially from the Turkish side.
With the Armenian army, the Turk puts Russia to a similar test as has already been discussed. “But look closer,” Mr. Barbosa urged me. Then I saw the following:
A Bul - Rum
A Arm - Sev
F Con - BLA
This continuation makes it very difficult indeed for the Russian to gain Rumania. More difficult than any other opening. (Unless of course, he is already there with Spring F Sev - Rum.)
Further, Turkey has the option to sail into the Aegean with F Con - AEG without contest. Whether you make plans with Italy, Austria, or Russia, your units are well placed to find leverage some kind of near-term alliance and quite possibly your fifth build in 1902 or 1903.
Turkey’s game can be quite strong with only 5 or 6 centers. With fleets in AEG and BLA, Turkey can mobilize armies into southern Russia or the Balkans via convoy as well as defend comfortably. To win, Turkey will likely have to break through into StP or perhaps Portugal.
“Armenia, with army or fleet, if over-used by yours truly, is altogether under-utilized by the general population.”
I enjoy playing Russia almost as much as Frederico.
Why? The Russian must stay as busy as any diplomat in the early years. To begin with, he is arguably playing as two separate powers of two centers each. Opponents, though, will not cease to remind him he has four units at his disposal, or five or six after 1901. But even a six-center Russia is not overwhelmingly strong after 1901 and will have much to do.
While discussing with Mr. Barbosa Russia’s ability to build fleets on both sides of the primary stalemate line (from Saint Petersburg to Spain), our conversation often led back to the merits of scoring systems and the merits of each Great Power within them. From our observation, Russia may not perform quite as well as expected in non-timebound draw-based systems, but would perform quite well in time bound sum-of-square, dominance, or solo-based scoring measures.
When I did, I too was quite pleased to draw Russia, knowing if I maintained good relationships with at least a couple of my neighbors that I’d be able to prepare myself for fast growth and a possible solo.
“Request Sweden with the overture of friendship.” This was all Frederico would recommend me prior to my first game as Germany. It soon became clear that I could ask for Sweden and explain to Germany that the build would be used in the South. He, naturally, didn’t need me meddling with him with something like F Swe - Bal and by allowing me into Sweden, I’d be happy to refrain from the Baltic…until later.
As for Rumania, I struggled to find a plan that worked as smoothly as the German-Russian arrangement.
Except in rare situations where Austria desired to combine against Bulgaria in Fall 1901, I preferred not to open with F Sev - Rum (this allowed Turkey into BLA). Instead, my default became to play F Sev - BLA while suggesting the Turk open F Ank - Con. “You can always fight later,” said Frederico of this approach, “but at least there is the possibility of Russo-Turkish cooperation.” Seldom have I found Turk’s very willing to play this way without also opening to Armenia as a hedge, but it is worth a shot.
The lovely thing about Russia’s numerous openings is that many of them may be transposed into several strong continuations, no matter your Spring diplomacy.
Where you eventually build in Winter 1901 could even further keep options open for 1902 and beyond.
A Mos - Ukr
A War - Gal
F Sev - BLA
F StP(sc) - BOT
A Mos - Ukr (and its variants) is flexible, setting Russia up for the neutral Sweden and Rumania. Frederico likes to suggest to Austria that A War - Gal is coming, and that A Gal - Rum (with A Ukr S Gal - Rum) is the plan for Fall 1901. By itself, the Austrian should not like to see a Russian army in Gal, but with the second part of your plan–removing that unit from Gal to reach Rum–the Austrian should be more comfortable with the Spring move. One way to make the success of the move more likely is to stir trouble between Austria and Italy prior to Spring 1901 moves.
A Mos - Lvn
A War - Ukr
F Sev - BLA
F StP(sc) - BOT
Frederico and I both agree that an outright attack on Germany with A War - Sil tends not to achieve much. However, opening to Livonia does provide viable strategic options.
In the first place, it allows for a convoy into Swe with A Lvn - Swe and F BOT C Lvn - Swe. When Germany has opened F Kie - Hol, the convoy cannot be stopped. When the German opens F Kie - Den, Russia should negotiate to allow the convoy to succeed (in exchange for a southern build). If Germany wavers, Frederico would remind him to consider Russia’s alternate orders of A Lvn - Pru and F BOT - BAL. Further, if one wants to play such a game, Russia could even feign offense at the German’s unwillingness to allow F BOT - Swe and announce he will be ordering F BOT - BAL. Meanwhile, assuming Germany will take the bait, Russia continues to order his convoy and encourages England to order F NTH - Den (!).
Frederico informed me in a brusque letter that establishing the fact that one is capable of such a maneuver allows for more dynamic threats in future games.
Additionally, A Lvn puts an army adjacent StP without committing it there in Spring 1901.
A Mos - StP
A War - Ukr
F Sev - BLA
F StP(sc) - BOT
Similar to the Octopus (A War - Gal), The Squid puts immediate pressure on England to support himself into Norway. He will only gain the neutral with your good graces or by supporting himself in with fleets in NWG and NTH. If one is content to play an anti-English game from the start, putting the idea of F Lon - ENG in the English player’s mind–to defend against a possible French F Bre - ENG–is a useful ploy.
A Mos - Sev
A War - Ukr
F Sev - Rum
F StP(sc) - BOT
Looking for a fairly non-committal and defensive approach? Look no further than the Southern System. If one so wishes, and the Austrian is inclined, the Bulgarian Gambit–attempting to dislodge the Turkish army in Bul–may be attempted in Fall 1901.
The Tsar’s game can be quite strong even without a clear early game ally. If one does find direct cooperation, Russia can secure either a foothold in Scandinavia, the Balkans, or Turkey, entering the mid-game with 7-9 centers and everything to play for. Because Russia can build armies and fleets on both sides of the primary stalemate line, routes to a large draw or a solo are numerous.
The lively Frederico prefers the Ukraine System, trusting his diplomacy in the north can put him in a playable position in both theaters.
And if diplomacy fails, tactical maneuvers can keep the Russian viable with even a single northern fleet.
I cannot help but share an example of this shared in a letter Frederico sent me on the eve of 1905. He described a position wherein England and France had weakened Germany and where he as Russia held a single northern fleet, desperately trying to stay relevant in Scandinavia.
Imagine this scenario, where England proceeds to attempt to capture the Russian owned and occupied Sweden. Denmark is unoccupied.
F Nor - Swe
F SKA S Nor - Swe
The Russian F Swe is dislodged.
Why not retreat to Den? Retreating to BAL is more defensive, in one sense. It also still borders four supply centers: Swe, Den, Kie, Ber. Also, Den cannot be held, because England will still have 2 fleets adjacent and simply order:
F SKA - Den
F Swe S SKA - Den
The English player decides his best approach is to self-standoff in Den. This way he will prevent either the German or Russian from claiming it, as well as retaining his just-captured Sweden.
F Swe - Den
F SKA - Den
Russia, anticipating this, orders:
F BAL S Swe - Den
Ah ha! Russia’s support is successful, helping the English fleet in Sweden out of his owned supply center, retaining control of it.
“Had my maneuver not succeeded, I may have had to disband the northern fleet,” never a option Frederico was fond of as it significantly reduces winning chances, “as my southern game was quite lively indeed.”
Frederico lived for poetic moves such as this one. While he did not shy away from sending letters of games not going his way, the ratio of letters with a triumphant tone to a defeated tenor was impressive indeed. And every time I examined the reports and inserts of positions Frederico sent, I found a new way of optimistically approaching my own games.
Perhaps the most difficult for new players, Italy has risen significantly in status, both in results collected from our network of gamemasters throughout Europe, and in my own heart. Frederico shared my enthusiasm.
More than any other power, it matters little how Italy wants to start the game. Italy’s strength is its strategic influence, its ability to tilt the game in various directions, its implicit threat to do so.
On that fateful evening in Paris where I played my first and only face-to-face game with Frederico, he was playing the Italian pieces. He played a seemingly quiet opening. It actually seemed he was at odds with Austria. Indeed, he ordered A Ven - Tri in Spring 1901 (bounced by Austria’s A Vie - Tri) and followed up with A Ven - Tyr in Fall 1901.
I was the Austrian. After that initial poke, we were able to arrange a rather effective partnership for much of the game. He afforded a fleet to assist against Turkey, but otherwise spent his early and mid-game efforts against France. We worked together so well that I was even made to pass an army through Venice to get a tempo against France in 1904.
Unfortunately for me, he coordinated a two-front stab against me to hamper my otherwise solid growth: he stabbed himself and persuaded the German, who had all but dismantled England and Russia, to thrust against my eastern flank. In the relative anarchy that followed, I was unable to reason with the German that his efforts would only see Frederico benefit. In the end, he saw the reason, but it was too late. Frederico had achieved his solo victory by 1914.
In his triumph, Frederico demonstrated all the hallmarks of the Italian diplomat, exercising strategic influence in his negotiations whilst showcasing a clinical understanding of naval logistics, including, in the final push, efficient deployment of armies to the western and eastern edges of his position by well-placed fleets throughout the Mediterranean. A thing, as it was, of beauty. I will not soon, if ever, forget it.
A Ven - Tyr
A Rom - Apu
F Nap - ION
Already in these I predict ‘early days’ of Diplomacy, the Lepanto–with the intention of convoying an army into, say, Syria, in Fall 1902–has come into and out of favor.
Opening like this does allow one the flexibility to transpose into a traditional Lepanto if the situation suggests it, but Mr. Barbosa and I, in our long discussions, have for the time being concluded that the convoy into Syr or even Smy (if you’re lucky) is something of a dead-end for Italy.
More important is to figure out a strategic plan that puts you into the mid-game where Italy really shines. In some games, your fifth center may be Trieste (with Austria’s blessing), in others, Greece. With the opening to Tyrolia, it may even be Munich.
A Ven - Tyr
A Rom - Ven
F Nap - ION
If you are out for the Austrian (and you believe he will defend well in Fall 1901), possibly followup with A Tyr - Boh and A Ven - Tyr and build A Ven. This sequence puts three units on Trieste in Spring 1902.
Strategically, such an out-and-out attack against Austria is double-edged. While Italy is likely to gain one or two centers, what is his plan thereafter? (In a short, time bound game, this opening is quite viable.) Ideally, one would like to work with Russia or Turkey against the other, preferably with Russia against Turkey. This way, Italy arguably has the best chances to solo.
A Ven - Pie
A Rom - Apu
F Nap - ION
The Panther angles for a Central Power (A/G/I) combination to pressure both France and Turkey from the start.
The key move from the Italian perspective is in Fall 1901, where A Apu - Alb is achieved by Austria F ADR C Apu - Alb. This additional Balkan army can be used in several ways to take Greece and continue pushing itself or Austrian units into Bul.
A Ven - Pie
A Rom - Ven
F Nap - ION
Arguably the most dynamic of openings for Italy. Is A Pie used for A Pie - Mar?, or might it swing eastward with A Pie - Tyr?
Keeping in mind the wise suggestion of Frederico to patiently build strategic influence, does this opening sacrifice too much of Italy’s latent upside by irritating its neighbors?
For Italy, nearly all of the game of Diplomacy lies beyond 1902. To impatiently flail for unplanned centers may prompt a coalition against you. To ask for more than your fair share in an early game collaboration could mark you as greedy. To launch headfirst into a forlorn, lazy Lepanto, a shrug on your shoulders, should likewise be avoided.
Instead, do what Frederico did best: Charm your neighbors; strike an alliance with Austria if you can; stay onside with France (until the right moment); and find a path to a fifth center whilst maintaining strategic leverage.
“The rest of the board hinges so much on what Italy does,” said Frederico, taking a drag of his cigarillo post-victory, “why would you waste such power?”
“Any opening which sees me decimate the Austrian immediately–in short games–or else ally with him for an extended time.”
A central power with a lot to do and a lot to play for. With neighbors in France, England, Russia, Italy, and Austria, the German diplomat will be speaking with all other players for most of the game.
“This goes for any Great Power, but especially as Germany,” Frederico opined over scotch on a train ride from Berlin to Munich, “I will maintain good relations and discussion with all players.”
“At least,” he sips and takes a long look across the wintry countryside, “until that player is eliminated.”
By numerics, Germany has a comparable range of openings to Russia, but a review of its early game advantages, priorities, and relationships narrows the German’s focus.
Like France and England, Germany will have to take a stance with regard to Belgium’s future. With France, Burgundy will likely be discussed. With Russia, Sweden and the Baltic.
F Kie - Den
A Ber - Kie
A Mun - Ruh
A delectable opening with the option of continuing with the Jutland Gambit, a favorite of Frederico’s, discussed at this section’s conclusion.
“Mind you don’t see an antagonistic French army in Burgundy,” warns Frederico. “Better you encourage the Frenchman to open passively, perhaps with A Mar - Spa and A Par - Gas (the Iberian Indecision) or–if the Frenchman insists on Burgundy because of your perceived skill level with the German pieces–the reciprocal insistence should be deployed come Fall sending that unit to Belgium to bounce the English’s convoy.”
F Den is free in Fall to bounce the Russian with F Den - Swe if it appears the Russian is up to no good in the South. Otherwise, it became a near-standard of Frederico’s to establish good relations with the Russian at least with regard to Sweden. “After all, I can’t fight everyone at once,” said Frederico, “but I can get them to fight each other.” What he was saying in a roundabout way was that a German moving north to control Scandinavia was often a good path to victory, assuming games with sufficiently long time controls.
F Kie - Den
A Ber - Mun
A Mun - Ruh
In shorter games, preparing to break into France for quick gains was not unheard of, at least in Mr. Barbosa’s repertoire. He often found a steadfast partner in England for this straightforward approach, and the Rhineland was an opening of choice for such an opening sequence.
My own hesitations aside, I saw the effectiveness of the outright German-English attack from the French side, especially if Italy was tipped off as well and annoyingly progressing into Piedmont.
“Only for short games or in tournaments where the French player has already scored well in previous games.”
(I should mention that we did manage to setup one tournament in the Paris underground. Its tunnels were suitable for discreet negotiations. I cannot confirm, however, that we ended the tournament with the same number of players as we started. Some players seemed to drift off into the darkness.)
F Kie - Den
A Ber - Kie
A Mun - Bur
The Burgundy Variation of the Anschluss establishes a bounce with France in Burgundy to keep the German army in Munich flexible for Fall 1901 (and beyond). The key is to ensure that Austria has a good early game. A strong Austria, for example, means the Russian is not too strong, and that a middle game offensive into Scandinavia and even northern Russia remains a possibility for the German.
F Kie - Hol
A Ber - Kie
A Mun - Bur
Not preferred by Frederico nor myself, however useful to feint the desire for three builds, or, indeed, the actual total acquisition of six centers by year’s end 1901.
The opening’s weakness is that, although overtly friendly toward Russia (who will walk into Sweden), it suggests greed which either the English could meet by denying your A Kie - Den or the French A Bur - Mun (if he has in Spring supported himself into Bur).
To be at the helm of Germany is an exciting treat for most keen diplomats. You begin the game with the all important center: Munich. Routes to strong mid-game position are several, through Scandinavia, across the North Sea to England, and even into the heart of France. Keep the East balanced long enough and when you turn your sights in that direction, the remaining powers may not be able to stop your advance.
One of Frederico’s favorite continuations of the Danish Blitzkrieg was the Jutland Gambit:
This gives Germany two builds (likely F Kie and A Mun) and a good game in either Scandinavia or in tandem with the French against England.
When discussing strategy, Frederico never pretended to know something he didn’t know anything about. When he made a claim for a particular opening, it came from experience, or at least from a fellow player he respected. When he argued for a specific continuation, it was almost exclusively from experience. Frederico, as I, had a fondness for France, even if it didn’t showcase the dynamism or challenge of other powers, in particular the central powers and Russia.
While it could be annoying to see the Englishman in ENG, the German in Bur, and the Italian in Pie, even this will not be the end of France’s game. It is such that France gained a reputation for a comfortable and flexible defensive position in the opening. The Iberian peninsula holds two easy supply centers and routes to a good draw may continue with either German or French partnership (sometimes both).
F Bre - MAO
A Mar - Bur
A Par S Mar - Bur
This approach ensure the French have a say in Belgium (even if the Frenchman doesn’t prefer it for himself) and a good chance to collect Portugal and Spain.
“Don’t be too eager to collect Belgium in 1901,” Frederico warned.
Then, Mr. Barbosa, the next day, “If you can steamroll into Belgium for six units in 1901, then you are well on your way to a solo!”
It was not often I caught Mr. Barbosa so boisterous. Perhaps it was something he ate. As such, I sided with Frederico on the Belgium question. I was happy to own it, but only if I also had a partnership established with either of England or Germany.
F Bre - ENG
A Mar - Spa
A Par - Bur
If your plan is to attack England, why not get started early? The English will often not risk bouncing in ENG–having better things to do–and perhaps you’ve even tipped him off that Russia is ordering A Mos - StP, so he better play F Edi - NWG and F Lon - NTH to ensure he can pick up Norway.
One path to a solo victory is to see the English decline early, and to ensure the French pieces are better positioned than the German’s to collect the spoils. From there, perhaps Russia is inclined to assist in the dismantling of Germany. With good timing, Austria or Turkey will be poised to attack Russia just as the anti-German campaign kicks off such that your French armies decisively gain the German homeland.
F Bre - MAO
A Mar - Spa
A Par - Gas
A quiet opening that Frederico gradually inclined me towards. If France is the target, a fleet build in Bre (or even in Mar) can transpose into a French convoy from, say, Gascony or Picardy, into Wales or Liverpool in 1902 or 1903.
Certainly, a French player can have a good game powering through into the German homeland with English naval help (or even an English army convoyed into Belgium or Holland), but the English/French combination is somewhat in favor of England as the game stretches on.
F Bre - MAO
A Mar - Bur
A Par - Gas
The Vineyard gives the French player substantive chances to gain Portugal and Spain while also affecting Belgium’s outcome.
France can do well with either of England or Germany onside, or even both, in the notorious Western Triple, which gets a jump on the Eastern theater. The Western Triple is decisive but varyingly useful depending on the scoring system at hand.
If France aims for a good draw or a solo, he likely will opt to partner with either of the English or the German. In a game where he must solo, he needs a plan to dismantle England, else England could reach the annoying 7-center stalemate position with the right maneuvers. Most English players will not be so clinical tactically, yet if a solo is desired, the French diplomat would do well to lay plans and create routes to the English isles at the right moment in the late early game or early mid-game.
In longer games, Frederico tried to play a quiet opening as France. The Iberian Indecision (F Bre - MAO, A Par - Gas, A Mar - Spa) might be his quirky favorite, leaving his options flexible and the squabbles over Burgundy to the English and German. “Let the game develop,” Frederico often said.
My preferences tend toward sending at least one unit to Burgundy, even though a German unit there by itself does not threaten France overly much. Better not to come across as weak and begin to change Germany’s good opinion of you too early in the festivities.
In one game, I faired quite well by sending my southern army first to Piedmont and then into Tyrolia! This approach, which can be used by other Great Powers as well, is what came to be known in the Parisian underground as Scatter Theory.
All in all, Frederico and I agreed that France provided plentiful paths to good draws. It almost always had play in the middle game and can build fleets in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Its home centers’ distance from key central territories sometimes made solos elusive against strong opponents willing to establish stalemate lines. Nevertheless, a comfortable and enjoyable Great Power to command.
I drew England in my first game. This was some time before Mr. Barbosa and I had shored up what the map of the game should look like, and how it looks at the time of this writing. Redrawing territory boundaries and adjacencies changed quite a lot, it turned out. Even then, fleets held a certain sway.
As the rules developed, fleets maintained a charm that their brusque counterparts–armies–did not, and we liked that.
England, too, it was finally decided, should begin the game with two fleets, in Edinburgh and London. One would be too few. Three, too many.
England can afford to play a quiet opening so long as it keeps a frisky Frenchman out of the English Channel. Frederico was as likely to open there himself as not, and thanks to his diplomatic skill–when he did open there–often found it empty. “Leverage on Belgium is all,” he would calmly remark.
My own taste is to feel out the Frenchman’s own theory on the matter before making a decision. Frederico would mimic my tenor while mocking my oft-used phrase, “It will be situationally based.” Won’t all your decisions be?
F Edi - NWG
F Lon - NTH
A Lvp - Yor/Edi/Wal
Quiet and flexible, allowing supported moves or convoys into Norway, for starters. If the French is onside, England can seize Saint Petersburg by Fall 1902 without concerns of the Frenchman moving in the Irish side door.
The additional northern fleet has multiple other benefits, mentioned previously in discussions from Russia’s perspective.
The first is that it can meddle with Germany in either of Holland or Denmark. The Danish Croissant, made famous by Frederico, involves the Russian boldly claiming he is going F BOT - BAL (angry with the German over a potential bounce in Sweden) and tipping off England to this plan. When the German attempts to bounce Russia with F Den - BAL, Russia instead plays F BOT - Swe and England swoops in with F NTH - Den.
England could also use NTH to head off a German Jutland Gambit by bouncing German F Den - SKA with F NTH - SKA. (If the German is actually going for this and the English player should like to punish him, F NTH - Den prevents the build with the oncoming A Kie - Den.) Merely bouncing in SKA could still see England and Germany work together since England could argue he wanted to improve his position against Russia.
A second and perhaps more common use of the fleet in NTH is that it allows the English player to reliably make gestures to France or Germany with regard to Belgium.
F Edi - NTH
F Lon - ENG
A Lvp - Yor/Wal
When Mr. Barbosa was at the reins, a common opening indeed.
Mr. Barbosa, ever the straight-shooter, nevertheless occasionally used the Southern Opening as a feint in a delayed English-French combination against Germany.
F Edi - Cly
F Lon - ENG
A Lvp - Wal
I must confess when Frederico wrote me about this opening my first thought was I must have drunk too much the prior evening, and my second thought was that I’d misread it.
No and no. Clyde really was the destination of the Edinburgh fleet. On its way to NAO or IRI in Fall to get a jump on a French campaign.
In the game in question, Frederico also managed to land an army in Belgium with F ENG C Wal - Bel, while France defended Brest and therefore could not place a new fleet there.
A second English army arrived on the mainland in 1902. Once France was done away with, England continued into the Mediterranean, and Germany pressed into Scandinavia and Russia.
What happened, you ask? Did Frederico manage to get the best of the German and solo this game, too? If you have to ask…
F Edi - NWG
F Lon - ENG
A Lvp - Yor/Edi/Wal
Why not? Such an opening displays confidence in several ways.
The first: A confidence bordering on arrogance that the North Sea need not be occupied in 1901.
The second: To sail south into the English Channel without the backup of F Edi - NTH seems eclectic. It does serve a purpose, however. In the event the fleet bounces with French F Bre - ENG, England may order F Lon - NTH in Fall 1901 and open London for a build (which he will get from F NWG - Nor. (It must be said that the variety of tricks to be played against Germany are forfeited without F NTH.)
Meanwhile, what is done with the army is suggestive. A Lvp - Yor for flexibility. A Lvp - Wal to prepare for the possibility of a convoy to the European mainland. A Lvp - Edi for a convoy to Norway. These subtleties are not to be overlooked nor undersold. Frederico, when opening with The Splits, was often keen to lay the opening scenes of narratives that would unfold, usually in his favor, as the game progressed into 1902 and beyond.
Perhaps Englands’ best choice for a partnership is with Germany. Even if Germany has the better of the arrangement, England’s positioning of a mere two fleets–in the North Sea and the English Channel–can in a flash transpose into armies in the Low Countries or Denmark. Once England has expanded his reach, fleets in NTH and BAL can quickly carry troops for a chance to break through the stalemate line into Warsaw or Moscow.
The poet was at home with England and versed in its nuances. As such, his opening choice could not be pinned like a badge on his lapel.
Sometimes even ordered A Lvp H (!). This to show the Russian with intent that he would not be convoying to Norway in Fall 1901. These again were the poetic nuances that Frederico would demonstrate just when you thought he’d given up his rebelliousness to the strict rule-governed approaches of Mr. Barbosa.
We come at least, in reverse alphabetical order, to the Austrian Openings. By now you should have guessed that Frederico quite enjoyed the Austrians. As with the Germans, in the center of the action, the fulcrum of negotiations, the gravitational force upon which the game was pulled.
With Austria, Frederico was as much a poet as a puppet master. He never played scared. Instead, fearless, electric, a physical force. Once Frederico achieved a seven- or eight-center Austria, he was known to let loose the tactical excellence of Mr. Barbosa. He was a force with the red pieces.
Many players with red worried over their survival in the early game. Not so with Frederico. He merely wanted to understand with whom he could work with. If with Italy, all the better. This way the Italian could contribute to a balance of power in the Western Theatre whilst Frederico carved up the East.
In these scenarios, Frederico was unafraid of the apparently lopsided alliance with Turkey, understanding that if needed Italy could spare him a fleet or two to assist in bringing down the Turk once he and the Turk had crippled Russia. If Turkey was not inclined, Frederico was just as happy to work with the Russian.
Even in games where he came under attack, Frederico managed to glean the assistance of the German, prompting moves like A Mun - Tyr for protection of Trieste and Vienna.
A Vie - Gal
A Bud - Ser
F Tri - Ven
I received a letter once from a mysterious address (always a new one when from Frederico), but I could not believe the game it described. Frederico had played the Southern Hedgehog. I chalked it up to failed negotiations, but perhaps Mr. Barbosa had taken over his consciousness for Spring 1901. It was the only explanation.
All things being equal, the Southern Hedgehog is a good opening:
A Vie - Gal bounces a Russian A War - Gal.
A Bud - Ser prepares to collect the neutral supply center.
F Tri - Ven breaks up the Tyrolian Attack. As a reminder…
A Ven - Tyr
A Rom - Ven
F Nap - ION
Italy would end up with A Tyr and A Rom prior to Fall 1901 instead of A Tyr and A Ven both adjacent to Trieste.
The downside of course is that Italy has not played like this and the thrust into Ven makes it difficult to work together in the opening, when Frederico suggests Italy and Austria must align their interests.
A further downside is that without F Tri - Alb, there is no chance at Greece.
A Vie - Tri/Gal/Bud
A Bud - Ser
F Tri - Alb
One of Frederico’s go-to openings since it gave him the best chance for two builds, a near must-have from his perspective with Austria.
The question is only what do with A Vie. If the Russian can be persuaded to do something else with A War besides A War - Gal, then Austria can hedge against Italian A Ven - Tri with A Vie - Tri. If he feels secure, A Vie - Bud is a rare luxury allowing Austria to have a say in what happens for the kind people of Rumania.
A Vie - Bud
A Bud - Ser
F Tri - Hold
A strange opening that Frederico and I debated even including in a manual such as this. It is trusting of Russia but not of Italy.
In a speculative continuation, however, an Austro-Italian pairing that started with the Hungarian Houseboat and the Tyrolia Attack could dislodge and disband the Trieste fleet while disguising their partnership with Italian A Ven - Tri and A Tyr S Ven - Tri.
A Vie - Tri
A Bud - Gal
F Tri - Alb
Assuming a bounce in Galicia, this opening does allow the Austrian to support himself into Serbia with A Tri - Ser and A Bud S Tri - Ser. F Alb heads for Greece and a possible two builds.
Of course, with the right diplomacy, A Bud (again assuming a bounce with Russian A War - Gal) could also affect Rumania’s fate or try again for Galicia.
Perhaps the best outcome after two builds would be:
With this alignment and cooperation from Italy, Austria is setup to take command of the Balkans.
Some Austrian diplomats don’t think beyond 1902 till they’ve survived till then. But to forgo such potential is a mistake Frederico and I agree on. (Only Mr. Barbosa, in his sourest moments, would even dream of taking on a survivalist mentality.)
And plan you should, else you be confronted with something like the following in Spring 1902:
A Gal, A Rum
A Tyr, A Ven
A Bul, F Smy
Actually, the above is only too common (and there are worse scenarios), but an Austrian with an ounce of grit and a measure of panache will know how to work his neighbors to his own delight. If it seems like Italy has your number, play his game for awhile. If Turkey would like to work with you, do not be afraid. At one point, even in these seemingly weakened arrangements, the well-timed stab is a knife in your favor. Better still, you may even keep it sheathed well into the mid-game.
Some variation of the Balkan Gambit. Frederico was a master at making the right assessment with his Viennan army and an absolute enchanter in persuading his neighbors not to attack him too soon.
By the time I finished my cup of coffee, the sun had risen high overhead, and the waitress asked if I should like to look at a lunch menu. Indeed, I should like to.
While I waited for my croissant I paged through von Rochau’s translated pages on realpolitik. Having just played the all-night game of Diplomacy, having just witnessed the ways Frederico shapeshifted and leveraged his position and enchanted all comers, having seen the poetry of his negotiation, strategy, and tactics, I saw with fresh eyes what this simple game we knew as Diplomacy meant for wider society.
I suddenly felt a desperate need to discuss the game with Frederico. I knew the man had evaded me for exactly this purpose, knowing I would desire to talk his ear off before properly considering the game myself. But now I had taken my coffee, my reflection, and put a croissant in my stomach.
Leaving a more sizable tip than was my standard, I collected myself, tied off my coat, and made for the train station. I had an idea where the Portuguese poet was off to next. He was going home, and with a clarity I’d not had since I left my Dutch homeland, I set out in pursuit of our next encounter. I intended with all my heart not to miss this opportunity. The cobblestone streets of the 5th arrondissement clattered their farewell against my boots. “Farewell,” they echoed. “This is so long, but not goodbye.”