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Don't Ask: Opening Strategy for France


Mike Oliveri


Diplomacy World #78


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Tom Nash wrote the first Don't Ask article for France, and I have to start mine by recommending that you read his. He did a wonderful job, and it is worth the time. Had I known that he would eventually leave our forum, I would have asked him to do a special issue of Don't Ask where he could have covered all the countries.

But you didn't come here to learn about Tom Nash! You came here to learn about playing France. More specifically, how to open as France. So, let's lay some ground work. France has a lot of options to open. You can play France four or five times in a row and still not have used all of them. And each one is a different game for France. This makes France one of the more interesting and at the same time more challenging countries on the board. With that, I want to ask you, when you first learn that you have France, before the personalities get involved, do you have a plan?

Where do your 18 centers come from? That will tell you who your freinds are going to be and who your enemies are going to be. Any variation from this initial count, required by alliances or just the play of the game, will force you to shift your imaginary victory line. Therefore, you want to think about shifts that you can live with, and one's that you don't want to be forced to make. But that can be done in the middle game when you get there, and unless you get swept up by E/G(/I), you will get there!

You start with Bre, Par, Mar. That's a given and let's hope that you will not have to shift your victory line that much [g]. Then you add Spa and Por. That is conservative, but usually no one is arguing yet. So, let's add a little spice. I say you also want to lay claim to Bel. That's six, and that is your prefered opening goal. Many player's say that getting six to start is marking yourself for immediate elimination. I don't agree. If your diplomacy skills allow you to get six, then the alliance necessary to get there is in place. The only time you will settle for five is when you can't convince England or Germany to let you have Bel from the start. If that's the case, you still have some dipping to do, but this is where you start. Now comes the hard stuff. In no particular order, you have Edi, Liv, Lon (England), Hol, Kie, Mun, Ber (Germany), and Tun, Nap, Rom, Ven (Italy). That's only seventeen, and as such it is your base for a two way draw. But to win, you will need either Den or Tri. So, who are your friends? Russia, Turkey, and possibly Austria. And who are your enemies? Yep, every last one of them. Your mission is to figure out the order of it, not the who of it!

Keeping that in mind, where will you get help and where will you be forced to go it alone? Italy should be tied up with Turkey. If he wants to open to Trl, all the better. It keeps Germany occupied and seals Italy's fate. If Italy opens anti-Austria, you can let him go, but he will probably have to be your second target. You want to keep Russia in your camp, and Russia really doesn't care whether it is Italy or France he has to deal with in the end game. But a strong I/R/T against Austria is not all that bad. If things go in an orderly manner, T should be the target of I/R after Austria falls. You just want to make sure that when Italy turns your way, he is rushing to recover from your attack and not the other way around [g]. The tough choice is yet to come. Are you pro-English or pro-German? Remember that you want six if at all possible. So, the openings are dictated by those two factors. Also, keep in mind that you want Russia to help you against your temporary ally, be it England or Germany. If Russia is going to be working I/R/T against Austria, and then I/R against Turkey, you are not getting that help. You have to force Russia away from that plan. The best way to do it is with a strong F/G against England. If you team up with England, Russia and England often get into a stalemate line. That gives you something, but a hot war between Germany and Russia is much more to your liking.

Pro-German/Anti-England Opening[]

If you are going to do it, do it with a flare. I will discuss a more neutral opening later. But for now, we know where we are going, so let's get there as quickly as we can. The bottom line is that you have an alliance with Germany to take on England together from the get go!

S/01 F Bre-Eng; A Mar-Spa; A Par-Gas. 
F/01 F Eng-Bel; A Spa-Por; A Gas-Spa.
Builds: F Bre, F Mar, A Par.

There are better openings if you are willing to settle for five instead of six, but I believe in going for the gusto if the opportunity presents itself. Ideally, you have German support into Bel. He builds one fleet in Kie and you have the upper hand on England. Neither of you need to send more units into the battle. Your combined four fleets should do fine, but if you want to add an army or fleet to the cause, you can. Your armies in Por and Spa move back to the center of your home country. Defense and your second target dictate that you move for Bur and Mar/Gas as soon as you can. The fleet in Mar should stay close to home for the same reasons. If your second target looks like Italy, then you want to try to have Mar open for its second fleet build by F/03. Also, if you do get six in 1901, you may not see anything in 1902.

The corner stone to this, and all of my openings, is that you try to commit a minimum of force to your initial target. You reinforce as needed, but some of your builds should try to stay close to home. Anytime you find yourself sending your first builds in the same direction as your opening, you are creating a void to your rear. A void which will be hard pressed by your neighbor before you are ready to respond.


Because duplicity is the spice of life in this game. Take a look at the above opening, only play it with England in your camp going against the duped German partner. I'm not recommending that as the strongest opening against Germany. I just think it can be fun [g]! Your builds may be a little different, but not necessarily so. You already have a lot of armies to the rear. They just have to get to the front to do some damage. Maybe the order of builds is changed, with A Par first, then F Mar and F Bre. Order of builds can be argued as an indication of intent, and defense (with a reasuring tone) is your right as a strong dip player.

But if you are working with England to hit Germany, it is probably better to be more direct. Try this on for size, again getting England to support you into Bel.

S/01 F Bre-Mid; A Mar-Spa; A Par-Bur. 
F/01 F Mid-Spa(sc); A Spa-Por; A Bur-Bel.
Builds: A Par, A Mar, F Bre.

Again, I use my builds primarily to cover my rear and prepare for my second target. But in this case, most of my movement has been away from my primary target. Because of this, I want to get my armies into the game faster than waiting for the army in Por. Also, Germany will be a tough nut to crack even with an active England, so the additional army will probably be needed. The fleet in Spa stays close to Mar, just in case, while the fleet in Bre moves to Mid. The rest is trying to push into Ruh and Mun, while helping England land in Hol.

All Other Openings[]

If my previous words about duplicity were of interest to you, don't forget to play this opening as an anti-English ploy. You want to build two fleets and one army, and you want the Spa fleet to come back around again, but it works very well. In fact the above anti-German opening is your basic start when you are unsure of where you are going or if you are going to move on Italy first. When you are unsure, you will probably have to settle for five in F/01. That is fine, but try to have the option for six in any case. If you are moving on Italy first, you are playing (hopefully) a Western Triple. In no other case should you choose Italy as your first target. E/G is enough of a problem in 1901. Why would you want to deal with that in 1903 or 1904?

S/01 F Bre-Mid; A Mar-Spa; A Par-Bur or Gas. 
F/01 F Mid-Spa(sc); A Spa-Por; A Bur-Bel.
Builds: F Mar, F Bre, A Par.

If you must go for five, you probably must also move to Gas. This is friendlier than the move to Bur, and it is defensive in nature. If you have no pressure from any of your neighbors, you can take Spa and Por with your armies and let the fleet hold. Or you could make a decission on who is going to be your first target. You might as well, it is still the same decision as the one you had last turn. Italy? Move to Wes. England? Move to Eng. Germany? Move to Bur. Any of these is better than just sitting and waiting for one or more of them to decide for you.

If England or Italy surprise you, your army in Gas can be used to cover Bre or Mar. But if it is only one of them I would be tempted to let one center fall with the intention of getting it back by F/02. If Germany moves into Bur, however, I would cover both Par and Mar, taking a single build gladly. When Germany moves to Bur in S/01, there is little that even the best diplomacy can salvage. Take your lumps by being limited to a single build. But make Germany pay for his decision. Over and over again! Russia should find it an interesting opportunity. The German moves west in 1901. That is expected. The German continues to move west in 1902. That is a void which has to be filled! Sorry for the cliche, but it is an offer that can't be refused because it is an offer that may never be made again.

So, there you have it. Start with one these openings as your base, and vary the diplomacy before you vary the opening. What you will see are all the clever hidden moves for F/01 which can be spun off of each of these S/01 openings. After you have played with them, add some more options by taking a strong anti-English opening by moving into Eng and Pic. You will only get five centers, but the variation should be fun to play. Try a Western Triple, so you can appreciate why French players hate it so! Go ahead, move that army into Pie and see what it gets you. [g]

The point is that France has lots of options, more than anyone else on the board, with the exception of Russia. Then remember that he needs four units at the start of the game to give him his advantage in count. Another nice thing about France is that you really can be stumped and it probably won't hurt you. But try to avoid that by having a plan. Count those eighteen so you know exactly where they are coming from. Then you can respond quickly and with force when Russia, Turkey, or someone else starts to threaten your chosen sphere of influence. And never forget to play the diplomat. After all, it is the name of the game!

{Mike Oliveri is an occasional Diplomacy World contributor, and more importantly, one of my toadies.}