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Don't Ask: Opening Strategy for Russia


Dave Scharf


Diplomacy World #78


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Dave's Four Styles of Diplomacy Players[]

Before delving into tips specific to the play of Russia, I propose to outline the four broad (and extreme) styles of play into which I tend to categroize Dip players. Ask yourself which group you fall into. Your style of play may well dictate how you play Russia. And, therefore, my thoughts on Russia may simply be irrelevant to you.

The ditherer[]

The ditherer believes that constantly waiting to "see the lay of the land" will make him/her a winner. This style of play is conservative in the extreme. It is characterized by a willingness to agree to all sorts of DMZ's and peace treaties (agreements which are generally kept), but a reluctance to actually attack anyone until they are already being assualted in force by one or more other players. The ditherer is defensive by nature. The thinking is "if nobody ever attacks me, I'll get a few scraps here and there and I'll win." The ditherer will do well in games where a balance of power is maintained over several game years since the ditherer may well accomplish some slow growth.

The terrorist[]

The terrorist believes that attack is the only style of play. This style of play is aggresive in the extreme. It is characterized by wanton assualts on neighbours with the intention that others will "join in the cause." Terrorist players depend upon positional play and a swift attack more than they depend on a superior force and a long slow war of attrition in which the force with numerical superiority will ultimately win. Agreements mean nothing to the terrorist. Agreements are made ONLY to secure superior position for the terrorist. He/she will not hesitate to break them. The terrorist will do well in games in filled up with ditherers. In other words, if you have no fear of being attacked by those around you -- then you have free reign to do the attacking.


Methuselah seeks a single long term alliance. This style of play is characterized by an early two way alliance which will be played to a two-way draw. Methuselah never wins because Methuselah doesn't want to. Methuselah considers a draw to be a win. This style of play is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice one's own interest in favour of the interest of the two power "super country" alliance. Similarly, Methuselah will hold grudges. Stab him/her and then ask for peace and you will NOT get it regardless of the cost to Methuselah. He/she has a long, long term plan and wants to see it through regardless of the ebb and flow of the game. "OK, F/E will get together and trounce Germany, then I will go up against Italy while you attack Russia through the north and that should leave us into a position to attack Austria whilst we keep Turkey confined to the SE corner of the board." The plan is hatched prior to Spring 1901 and will either succeed as is since it will not be changed, or Methuselah will be defeated trying. Methuselah will do well if the other five powers on the board don't see it coming and continue to bicker among themselves whilst the "super country" knocks them off one by one.

The Jack Rabbit[]

The Jack Rabbit prefers to think in the short term. This style of play is characterized by a player who asks him/herself "What will put me in the best position in the fall of THIS year." Alliances and agreements are intrinsically short term. What agreement can I make now that will facilitate achieving my short term goals? Once the immediatte objective is met, a new one is set. "OK, Austria has been eliminated, now on to Italy" (and the completely new set of agreements that need to be made). The Jack Rabbit occasionally stabs innefectually, tempted by a single centre gain without regard to the long term consequences. The Jack Rabbit will do well in games filled up with Methuselah or ditherers.

My Style of Play[]

I tend to fall somewhere between the Assassin and the Jack Rabbit, especially in the early going. It is my strong desire to come out of the gates really strong. And so, regardless of what country I play, I tend to arrange a strong early alliance bent upon destroying one of my two neighbours. The quicker someone is out, the narrower the field. Similar to a raise in poker... you've got to get some people to fold before their hands catch up to you and beat you. This style, I think, results in early success or an early exit. If you guess right and pick a solid early ally then you are on your way to eliminating one enemy early and securing an excellent eary position for yourself. If not, then you have set your cards upon the table and your two neighbours will certainly be in an excellent position to eliminate you.

Further on this point, I find that a lot of players are not direct enough. They wait to be asked into an alliance and then wait to be asked to do this or that. Generally, my first message to my neighbour is "Do you want to get together and blitz our mutual neighbour?" Often, players accept the first solid offer they receive. So, talk early and make your intentions clear.

Further, if you know your opposition and can place them in one of the classes above then you are at an advantage. If you are Germany for example and you know that France is a Ditherer and England is an Assassin then it should be a fairly easy matter to steer England towards France. France will have replied to England's messages with "show me you're serious about attacking Germany and I will join in." When you reply to England "Let's do it, I will move to Bur in Spring 01 and France will be gone by Fall 02" England is much more likely to accept your offer than France's. Also like poker, knowing your opposition can be an invaluable asset.

The Unique Play of Russia[]

The Opening[]

Generally, the board divides into F/G/E in the west and R/A/T in the east -- Italy sits somewhere in the middle and can go either way, although other than an early attack on Austria, Italy will not be of much consequence in either realme until Spring 03. Russia, of course, if unique in that she also can play a strong role among the F/G/E triangle due to he postion in Scandanavia. In fact, Russia can come into conflict or co-operation with every country on the board save France as early as Fall 01. So, if you are playing Russia, then get busy. Talk to everyone. And talk to them often.

What should you say? The greatest threat to Russia is A/T. So, your first goal should be to ensure that there is no A/T blitz coming. My first step is to write to Austria and ask if he/she would like to blitz Turkey, while also writing to Turkey and ask if he/she would like to blitz Austria. My initial communications are direct and to the point, and hopefully first out of the gates. As I say, the first offer is often accepted. There then will follow a series of negotiations concerning DMZ's and specific moves and the splitting up of centres and so forth. If all goes well, you will be left with a choice "Do I side with Turkey or Austria?" If I know nothing about the other players, I will tend to side with the player that communicates promptly and openly. Lack of communication usualy means lack of interest in my plan, or lack of time to devote to the game -- both make for poor allies. Other tactics to lure either A or T into an alliance include the spreading of false information. This has, in my opinion, limited success. I tend to believe what I get from the horses mouth and nothing else. But you are rarely held accountable for little white lies that are passed along second hand. So, for instance, I might tell England that Austria has invited me to attack Turkey and I might tell France that Turkey has invited me to attack Austria. If either of these rumours gets back to either A or T it should help in convincing them to join in my own plans. If you can start that game by avoiding an A/T alliance you are well on your way.

With Italy, I dither. Wether or not I choose R/T or R/A I don't say too much to Italy about my plans until they are plain for all to see. If I am attempting to eliminate Austria with a R/T then I don't want Italy to know that. Italy and Austria talk a lot. They have the only two home supply centres on the board that boarder on another. Each, although Austria more so, is concerned that the other will attempt to slip into a home centre. So, almost no matter what Italy is saying to me, I wait until my moves speak for themselves to really open up honest lines of communication. Italy and Austria talk too much and I don't want Italy tipping my hand to Austria.

In the north, you must talk to Germany about the potential bounce in Swe. It is usually a simple matter to convince Germany not to bounce you in Swe. Likely, Germany has his/her hands full with F/E -- he/she does not want to risk an additional enemy and avoiding conflict with you is almost certainly Germany's best option. Usually, in 1901, the north is routine. Stp-Bot-Swe. In 1902 though, things get dicey.

As of Spring 02, G/E can take Swe from you no questions asked. From there, it's not much of a stretch to take Stp and then the north is open to invasion and you are soon fighting a losing battle. The whole point of your negotiations with the western triumverate (F/G/E) should be to maintain a balance of power until one of A/T is eliminated and your position is consolidated and defensible. For that reason, when it comes to F/G/E, I am a ditherer. I may well try to sew the seeds of discontent with some rumour and innuendo to keep the F/G/E guessing as to one another's intentions, but as Russia you must take something of a wait and see approach. A F/E alliance is good. Swe will be safe and so, in turn will Stp remain free while you pursue your interests in the south. In fact, I think that a F/E is best for Russia since with the intervention of a single fleet (build F Stp(nc)) you can help Germany out substantially and keep that balance of power going for the forseeable future with minimal investment of units. A G/F is also not bad. You likely can't do much to help England (although I wouldn't be too anxious to help in her downfall), but that's not a a bad thing since England can probably hold off the mauraders long enough for you to settle matters in the east. It is the G/E alliance that spells trouble for Russia. In the first place, they can take Swe in Srping 02 no questions asked and from there they will go on to attack Stp... Mos... etc. So, Diplomacy in the west should be aimed by misinformation and anything else to attempt to avoid a G/E alliance. If it does materialize, you may have to invest substantial assets in the north immediately to stave of the inevitable assualt that is coming your way. In Diplomacy, too often, players get caught up in their own plans that they leave preperation for the next challenge until it is too late. If there is a G/E alliance then, as Russia, you WILL be challenged in the north. And, that challenge will come sooner rather than later. You must respond immediattely -- even if that leaves your A/T front short a unit or two. Hopefully, in the south, you have developed sufficient steam to continue the attempt to eliminate one of A/T while still sending three units to the north (Swe is already there, a build in Stp and a build in Mos).

So, in short, I open with Russia:

  1. Arranging a solid R/T or R/A alliance bent on destroying the odd one out. If it's R/T, as soon as it is obvious on the board, I encourage Italy to join in -- the bigger the blitz the quicker Austria goes down and the quicker that one of my opponents is gone (now one of SIX of us will win instead of seven).
  2. Attempting to keep G/F/E in a balance of power or confusion, but most importantly I attempt to avoid a G/E allaince. Take Swe.

If it is R/T v A then War-Gal and Mos-Ukr are obvious. Sev is more difficult. I prefer to move to Bla since it is such an essential place. I usually ask Turkey to permit me to go there -- it is the best position even for an attack on Austria. If Turkey is reticent then I suggest an arranged bounce in Bla to open in spring. And in fall, I make a fleet build in Sev conditional on Turkey moving to Bla (ie. If Turkey moves Ank-Bla then build F Sev, otherwise build A Sev).

If it is R/A v. T then Sev-Bla is near essential. Also War-Ukr; Mos-Sev. Obviously, in any case Stp-Bot-Swe is the 1901 moves for that fleet.

First year builds? If there appears to be ANY threat in the north and I mean ANY threat, then F Stp is essential. F Stp(sc) if the trouble is coming from Germany and F Stp(nc) if England is the primary threat. In fact, I make that build almost regardless. Remember, prepare early. You will eventually want to defend yourself in the north, or, go on the attack. In either case, another fleet -- if not another two or three will be essential. Start in 1901 if at all possible. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

The Middle Game[]

I am here assuming that one of A/T has been eliminated and that you have at least held your own in the north. Now the decision becomes "Do I stick with my original ally, or do I take him/her down next?" Often, this decision is not in your hands. If a strong two-way alliance has emerged in the west then you will pretty well have to stick with your original ally since the western alliance is now, or soon will be, coming your way.

In fact, I find that R/T is the strongest alliance on the board. If the other players do not recognize it and continue to squablle while R/T diassembles Austria then R/T can usually coast to an easy victory by virtue of the fact that there forces will be bolstered by Austrian/Balkan supply centres and in better position to keep the offensive moving west. If you are in a position to do so, keep moving west. Russia, by virtue of her position, is usually in a better position to stab a R/T ally than the other way around. So, keep rolling. Take down your ally when the time comes. In the meantime... eliminate as much opposition as possible.

If you choose to abandond your original ally then there are still many options available to the Russia player. And it is this part of the game that makes Russia a particularly strong country to play. R/I works VERY well in the middle game. Your original ally can now be beaten and you will likely get the lions share over Italy -- again due to your position on the board. In addition, Italy is probably lagging behind you at this point and any opportunity for growth is usually welcomed by an Italian player.

R/E works well against Germany -- a Russia fleet in Bal works wonders.

R/G works well against England. And even R/F by the middle game is very feasible against Germany or England.

One note on stabbing your allies. Don't do it unless you are sure that you will gain sufficent units or advantage to be decisive. In other words, unless you can go on to eliminate the victim, don't stab. I admit that sometimes things don't go your way -- you stab Turkey at the very moment when the rest of the board has woken up and realized that you might win and called off their petty squabbles. But, too many players spoil a good opportunity for a win by stabbing their early game ally too soon and thus allowing the opposition on the other side of the board to get things sorted out and into a superior positional advantage. If there is a country on the board that is in a poor position -- attack. Don't stab your ally for a couple of lousy centres and let Germany get her troops mustered on her eastern frontier.

In short, if you can get to a point where one of A/T has been eliminated and you have yet to be seriously threatened in the north, you ought to win. To stop you, the remaining countries on the board will probably need to call of their own petty squabbles and line up against you. If you take part in a second elimination then you certainly should win. This is, again, a positional advantage of Russia. If you wind up fighting France for instance it is likely that your builds will get to the front before France's will. And that, once the game does bog down into tactics and attrition, should be sufficient advantage to win.

I have, I admit, said little about specific tactics along the way. I didn't see much value in such a discussion. Tactics tend to be a matter of setting up the board, analyzing the combinations of moves and using a little risk management. "Which move will bring me closer to my goal whilst risking the least?"

Good luck. Keep looking over your shoulder. Keep your knife sharp. And, if I ever play Russia against you in a game... everything I have here written is all lies.

{Let's all be sure to tell Dave how great his article was, so he'll be motivated enough to keep writing for DW. Okay?}