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Don't Ask: Opening Strategy for England


James Mueller


Diplomacy World #78


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It takes a special kind of idiot to write an article about opening strategies in Diplomacy for England while currently getting plastered in the early going of a game *as* England. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I AM that idiot! When I find out I'm going to play England, before learning anything else about the game, my primary concerns are obvious. France and Germany. These are England's big worries.

Oh sure, if Russia chooses a northern approach it can be a major pain, but this is relatively easy to squelch diplomatically. Conjure up southern invasions (real or imagined) and Russia will usually pull his punch. If he doesn't, you have a plethora of allies to choose from to chastise the aggressive Russian. No sensible German will want to see Russian units all along his northern border, and an alliance born out of need is often as good as any other.

So you talk to Russia to make sure you won't be seeing his units headed your way in droves (and prepared the groundwork to wipe him out if you do), what next? Now it's time to settle down and get into those diplomatic trenches with France and Germany. It's imperative to prevent an F/G against E at all costs. Belgium, for instance, is a nice thing for England to have in 1901. Give that sucker away in a heartbeat if it's the difference between England alone and England with an ally.

If offered a western triple (E/F/G), I accept it with reservations. The major reservation is Germany. If Germany *wants* a triple, that's great. But if E tries to influence him toward it, any competent Germany will smell a rat. Let Germany persuade you, rather than the other way around.

Ultimately, western triples almost invariably bomb. Fortunately for England, it's not the British who get nuked! Germany is almost always the odd man out. But the western triple may be serving a very useful purpose (say, opposing a dangerous Russo-Turkish combination.) England should be constantly weighing the costs and the benefits of this alliance, and trying to be friendly with his allies so that when it's time to consign someone to the ash heap, it ain't England. Ideally England will have the pick of continental allies between France and Germany. If diplomacy is handled correctly, it's surprising how often this 'ideal' situation arises! How do you choose which one to go with? That's entirely dependent on the character of the players. Personally, I think that it's a dead heat.

I know some players feel that E/F is a stronger alliance, but there are very definite advantages to E/G as well. With an E/G, in the mid-game (after disposing of France, of course) you have the chance to do some great open- field running in the Med.

If England is trying to move east in an E/F, there is the logistical difficulty of landing enough armies fast enough. France is likely to outstrip England, growth-wise -- not a desirable turn of events!

In an alliance with Germany, as the game progresses, tensions mount because of the geography of the home centers. This makes the alliance a touchier one, but it's mostly to England's advantage since it's far easier to stab Germany than vice versa. When Germany starts building fleets, it's pretty much a dead giveaway what he's thinking. Make sure you have an agreement about the numbers and locations of units, and this alliance can thrive, though.

On the subject of opening moves, I don't have a lot to say. I never have any preconceived notions about how I'd like to move. If you get a French player or a German one that you like and trust (to a certain degree, anyway) who is enthusiastic about blitzing the other, by all means go for it! If relations are uncertain, a more cautious approach is required.

As a general rule it's important in the beginning to remember that England's greatest strength is a weakness too. It's true that it's very difficult to invade England, and an active defense can keep the barbarians at bay for quite a while. But that very isolation can lead to a fatal complacency. Why worry about finding allies right away? Plenty of time later, right? Wrong! England can really suffer from a lack of direction in the early part of the game. It's just as important for England to make friends as any other country, perhaps moreso when the reputation of the 'Wicked Witch' is taken into account.

{James Meuller is also not the same person as the other Steve Smiths.}