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Don't Ask: Opening Strategy for Turkey


Dirk Fischbach


Diplomacy World #78


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or, Don't Ask For Turkey, When You're Hungry: Thoughts On Playing Turkey

I. Salem Aleikum[]

Aleikum Salem, dear Sultan. You have made an excellent choice this morning - Turkey is among the finest powers on the board. Yet, many decadent Europeans do not understand that victory comes in the final battle, not the first, nor do they realize that clever tactics may win a battle but strategy wins the war. That is why one of the early Diplomacy historians, Richard Sharp came to write in "The Game of Diplomacy" about our beloved Ottoman Empire, "I find it claustrophobic, inflexible and frustrating.... A country for tenacious, uncommunicative, unambitious tacticians. Turkey bores me to death." He just did not understand that our forces do not rush to battle before the morning coffee. We often conquer only one country (Bulgaria) in 1901, and perhaps may not gain a single additional dot in the following years. Yet as Mohammed is my witness - any Turkey which survives until 1904 with her three home centers untouched by the infidels has an excellent chance of winning the game. To help us, Allah crafted our beautiful motherland to be a natural fortress, tucked into the Southeastern corner of Europe. While I lead you through your palace, my Sultan, let us share some ancient wisdom about the proper ways of ruling Turkey. During this tale, you will hear of the "Lepanto" and other cruel intrigues against your well-being. You will be told about the "Steamroller" and other paths to excellence, and most importantly, you will learn that the experienced sailor concentrates on the horizon, not on the bow of his ship. Take a moment to consider these brainless bugaboos on the other thrones of Europe. Every child knows that you should not hunt when you are hungry, for then you do not have the patience needed to pursue the ultimate prize. These morons are so eager to rush to the first battle, so focused on winning medals in meaningless struggles that they rarely think about the crown jewel awaiting him who is first to gain 18 dots. Thus I am sure you will not mind my taking you on what seems like a detour but will prove to be the direct way to victory.

II. Turkey: An Eagle's View[]

You might have already guessed, oh Omnipotent One, Turkey is for strategic minds. That is why so many of its rulers fail. If someone prefers tactics over strategy, likes high stakes gambling, and is more interested in an early 10 than a late 18 dots, they do not have what it takes to play Turkey. I know that you, my Cherished Commander, are different from those stupid Europeans who are so overoptimistic that they book their victory parties even before the first move. You, my dear Sultan, are wise enough to take your time and look at the map. No, not at your neighboring countries, you look at the stalemate lines. That's the name for imaginary but impenetrable lines of defense no enemy can ever force his way through. To give an example, if France holds with F TYS and F Tun it would be difficult for our navy to gain access into the Western Mediterranean Sea. Add a few more units (F LYO, F WMS, F Mar) and our mighty forces could never break through no matter which or how many units we possess. That is known as a stalemate line. You need 18 dots to win and to my knowledge no Turkey ever captured them without sailing into the Western Mediterranean. So just like any good sailor, you should concentrate on the horizon - think about strategies that get you past Sicily, my Ingenious Emperor. The problem is, sailing West usually necessitates eliminating Italy and your Italian fellow knows just as much about Diplomacy as you do. Certainly, Italy is the country most likely to end in the dustbin of Diplomacy history, but in an earlier life your loyal servant has seen such blasphemy as the Union Jack raised in Ankara. You should not take anything for granted in Diplomacy. Let us reconsider stalemate lines, oh Prosperous Pillar of Faith. Other stalemate lines to watch are the Strait of Gibraltar, the Alps south of Munich and the surroundings of St. Petersburg. Jointly they form the key stalemate line dividing the board into seventeen Northwestern dots (including Spa, Mar and StP) and seventeen Southeastern dots (including Warsaw). You need to pass this line somewhere in order to win. Not focusing upon that fact during every single turn of the game, while writing every single letter you send, and when deciding every move, retreat and build will be the main cause of failure. Your home centers are far from the stalemate lines and Turkey's traditional slow start does not help in getting to or even passing through these barriers. Yet, if you succeed, you will be assured of victory. So you are a strategic mastermind, Wisest Potentate Of The Civilized World. You look at the map and ponder over the stalemate lines. What do you see? You will need fleets, fleets, fleets to rule the Mediterranean (*that* every Sultan seems to see) but unless you decide on the "Steamroller", you also need armies, armies, armies. Look at your two closest neighbors. Austria and Russia. Both are land-locked countries and to capture all of their dots, fleets don't help. Ruling the waves does not gain 18 dots and stalling you in the Ionic Sea is easier than resisting a combined land-sea attack by our mighty forces. So like everything in Allah's wonderfully crafted world, this is a matter of balancing your powers wisely, my Supernal Sultan. The only problem with armies is that Bulgaria is a bottleneck for expansion to the Balkan, and unless you have a fleet in BLA, your expansionist plans will be frustrated more than once. Now, let us enter the war room, and review some dangerous knives pointed at the heart of our nation.

III. Lessons from Lepanto: Ensuring Survival[]

Our wise men say that Turkey is hard to eliminate. Indeed it takes a determined attack by two of our three neighbors (with the third not rushing to our help) plus a lot of time to break Turkish resistance and take our three dots. That is the benefit of resting in a "safe" corner. Nevertheless there are ways in which deceitful neighbors can take your empire out and preventing these moves should be your primary goal. Years ago, an American infidel named Edi Birsan invented what is now the most famous Diplomacy opening, the "Lepanto" (Hoosier Archives, Nov. 1971). It is not merely an opening, it is a strategic alliance against Turkey. In this scenario Italy and Austria strike a deadly blow to our fortress by placing an Italian expedition corps in Turkey's Syrian Achilles heel: Italy moves F Nap-ION, A Rom-Apu, A Ven H in Spring 1901, F ION C A Apu-Tun, A Ven H in Fall 1901, builds F Nap and attacks Turkey with F ION-EAS, F Nap-ION and F ION C A Tun-Syr, F EAS C A Tun-Syr in 1902. As the Turkish Commander in Chief, you should learn these moves by heart, these constitute the deadliest poison you will ever encounter. Although I hate to descend into tactics already, I must provide you with the antidote to this toxin. The best response is F Ank-Con in Spring, 1901 and a build of F Smy in Winter, 1901 but that would make Turkey vulnerable to a Russian attack. Thus you should leave no doubt from the onset that the Battle of Lepanto took place in 1571, not in 1902 (besides, back then, Spain ruled the Med. afterwards and reduced Italy to an Austrian front yard). Of course Italy will think "this Lepanto stuff must be great if the Sultan is that afraid of it" but fortunately, you are a smart diplomat. Intrigue Italy with the possibilities of easy gains on Austrian soil and you are halfway to victory. We will come back to what one might call the "Anti-Lepanto" defense when I discuss the Opening Moves but first we need to look at the other threat: Russia in Armenia.

IV. Armenian Alternatives: Stabs and Steamrollers[]

Oh my Keeper of the Right Faith, the most common threat to Turkey is a Russian fleet in the tranquil Black Sea. It constantly puts two of your supply centers at risk. Yet, arranging a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in BLA is like praying for rain - it fails when you need it. Combined with a Russian A Arm, F BLA grows from a nuisance to a deadly noose. If Austria or Italy join Russia, you are history in the making. Thus it is important to keep Russia out of Armenia. Our strategic council found three ways to achieve that. The first is to move there yourself. This is commonly achieved in the "Russian Attack" (F Ank-BLA, A Smy-Arm) to which we will come back in the "Opening Moves". A word of advice - gaining Sev in 1901 is a rare outcome and the main effect of this opening is to raise Austria's price for cooperation. The second way to keep Russia out of Armenia is a stand-off F Sev-BLA, F Ank-BLA. In Spring 1901, that is a common arrangement between our two nations, but it works just as well later. Yet, in the Fall 1901 Russia will want to use F Sev to take Rum and afterwards few Russians are willing to bind their units in a DMZ arrangement. The third way to keep Russia out of Armenia is to make him your ally. That is the most dreaded alliance on the board and is commonly called "Juggernaut" or "Steamroller." Russia rolls through continental Europe while Turkey rules the Mediterranean coasts. Once established, that alliance is almost impossible to stop and if you and the Russian have agreed upon it, your foremost goal should be to keep it secret as long as possible. The Spring, 1901 standoff over BLA is too common a feature to trick anyone, thus you need at least a Turkish move to BLA in the fall to camouflage your plans. In its purest form, the alliance will result in a "lease" of A Con to Russia while Russia orders F Sev exactly the way you want him to. This often fails because it is difficult to channel the Russian F Sev through Con into the Med without inviting a stab. A pure "Steamroller" starts with A War-Gal, A Mos-Sev, F Sev-BLA, A Con-Bul, F Ank-Con, A Smy-Ank in Spring, 1901 and A Sev S A Bul-Rum, F BLA-Con and F Con-Bul (sc) in Fall, 1901 but these moves are far too obvious and risky to be recommendable. Thus Turkey and Russia usualy suffice with bouncing F Sev-BLA and F Ank-BLA and retreating the Russian fleet off the board at the first possible moment. Even a perfect "Steamroller" creates just one little problem for Turkey. It benefits Russia more than our glorious nation. A smart Russia will know this and will hand you dots in the Balkan to keep the two of you at par during your slow crawl through the Med. However, greed tempts most Russians, and unless second place is your goal, they must be stabbed eventually. The only alternative is to slow Russia's expansion down by cooperating with her enemies, which brings me to our next issue: Strategic Alliances.

V. Strategic Alliances: Good Confederates Can't Stab[]

Turkey has two natural allies - England and Germany. They have the key requisites to be your confederates - common enemies and no opportunity to stab you. England is a corner power like you and her main goal is just like yours - crossing the stalemate line. Central powers sometimes call the two of you the "Wicked Witches" because sitting and scheming in your corners you can jointly spell trouble for everyone else. England can prevent France from stabbing Italy (your chances of reaching the Strait of Gibraltar are slim once French fleets entered the Med.) and England is one of the few counties likely to go to war with Russia in the early game. An English - Russian dot-fight in Scandinavia is excellent news for you, my Smart Sultan. Unless, sadly, your Russian partner is incompetent enough to lose that battle and permit English armies in Moscow. Germany is not as useful, but a weak Germany makes for a strong Russia, or has France turning South quicker than you would like to see. Thus you should foster the friendship and nurture that ally. France is a nuisance. Getting him to attack Italy is difficult in the early game and may be counter-productive after 1903. He has the annoying tendency to stop England and Germany from doing what you would like them to and there is nothing you have to keep him at bay. Send him friendly letters and use him for spreading rumors but that's about all you can do with France, my Revered Ruler. Among your closer neighbors, a Steamroller with Russia is promising but may be too obvious while any alliance with Austria suffers from the potential two-way battle against Italy and Russia. There have been many heated debates among our nation's wisest generals whether an alliance with Russia or with Austria is more successful. In a "Steamroller," Turkey is the junior partner and usually ends in second place. With Austria it is just the opposite. Turkey tends to be the stronger nation and the one much better suited to stab his ally. That sounds like A-T is preferable but A-R is a forceful alliance while A-T is often countered by an Italian alliance with Russia. To tell you the truth, my Sultan, nobody knows. Both are viable options but in the end it will come down to your judgment. Italy is the only neighboring power that is an unlikely choice as your ally. Both of you need to rule the Mediterranean to prosper and both of you know that you will eventually clash. Italy is a good test of your skills as a diplomat. Offer him nothing, but make him think you are giving him the sun, moon and stars. Best of luck with it, my Witty Wordcrafter, for in this I have little help to offer. A discussion of alliances would not be complete without the coalitions that are potentially harmful to you: A-R and A-I are both dangerous and common, but thanks to your board position, they will need a lot of time and patience to pry you out of the corner. Furthermore, few of these alliances work well over the long run and you should take every opportunity to drive a wedge between them. Be alert but do not fear for your sound sleep, my dear Sultan. To return to a more general view, the perfect game for Turkey sees England fighting Russia, Germany attacking France, and Austria defending against Italy, which leaves you time to pick the dots in your vicinity. Once Turkey reached 7-8 supply centers, our forces will be almost impossible to stop. That should be your medium term diplomatic goal. Let me come back to the initial Richard Sharp quote, my Sultan. A main reason for Turkey's pitiful record are the many "incommunicative" rulers we had. Unless seventh place is your goal, you should write, write, write - every turn at least one letter to every power, probably three or four to even the most distant ruler. With that diligence and your famous penmanship, my Sultan, we should see Turkey excel in this game. Now I have kept you from the battlefield long enough, Wisest Guard of Ottoman Greatness. Let us rally our troops for the battles to come.

VI. Finally: The Opening[]

Volumes have been written about other countries' openings. For Turkey it's simple. Army Con-Bul is a must, and beyond that there are merely four sensible options:

1. The Russian Defense: F Ank-BLA, A Smy-Con[]

Two thirds of all Russians start with F Sev-BLA. Hence arranging for a standoff F Sev-BLA, F Ank-BLA is a common feature of the opening negotiation with Russia. Add A Smy-Con to that and A Bul is safe from Austrian-Russian cooperation in the fall (A Ser S F Rum-Bul). If Russia moved to Gal, you might move A Con-Bul and A Bul-Gre in the fall to keep Austria at one build or even. If Austria is at war with Italy, A Con-Bul and A Bul-Ser (or Gre) might be worth a thought. We are not as overoptimistic as other rulers and thus we know that 95% of the time we will gain nothing but Bulgaria. Another word of caution, my Splendid Sultan. Some Sultans might gamble at the stupidity of their neighbors and try long shots like an unsupported convoy F BLA C A Con-Sev. As Turks we have learned from bitter experience that simple ways are the best. No overly clever moves, no scene stealers, just sound strategy. Please abide by this at all times, my Mature Master.

2. The Russian Attack: F Ank-BLA, A Smy-Arm[]

Maybe Russia is stupid. Maybe he orders A War-Gal, F StP-BOT, A Mos-StP and F Sev-Rum. Yes, and maybe Austria is stupid, too. Turkey holding Sev and Rum might spell doom to the Habsburg empire, but is that enough reason to break an alliance with such a nice person as you are? A desperate Czar facing your "Russian attack" in the South and English opposition in Scandinavia might offer Austria most of the Balkan while all you can promise is War and Mos if Austria is stupid, Rumania if you are. So why should we even think about this opening? Maybe just because these are the most popular Turkish moves in 1901. You remember that many hungry hunters who do not win the Big Game? This is their choice. If you allow me a personal statement, my Gentle Governor, I found the outcome of the Russian Attack to be often discouraging - the only thing it assures is the eternal hatred of the Russian. It is unlikely that he left Sev exposed enough for you to gain it in the fall. Instead you might force him to build a second fleet in the South and that can only be used against you. This is a prime example for patience being a virtue.

3. The Anti-Lepanto: F Ank-Con, A Smy H[]

Earlier, I introduced this Edi Birsan and his dreadful "Lepanto" to you, my Charismatic Chief. The only assured antidote against a Lepanto is fleets in AEG and EAS. To get them, you have to open with F Ank-Con, and move F Con-AEG in the fall. In the spring, A Smy should hold rather than move to Ank. That is an option for the fall if the Russian fleet is in BLA. Stabbing you for Ank in F1901 would then backfire as it left Ank rather than Smy open for building your second fleet. The Anti-Lepanto is pro-Russian, defensive, and might give you a head start in the fleet race to Gibraltar but many would view it as an early warning signal for a "Steamroller." Alerting your neighbors to your cooperation with Russia is not a good idea. You should use all diplomatic means to deflate rumors about your good relation to the Czar. After all, alliances are shifting in the early game and you should try to keep all doors open. Russia for example might have joined Austria in a quest to eliminate you and that could dwarf a Lepanto in comparison. If you chose the Anti-Lepanto and Russia goes to BLA in Spring, 1901, your fall orders should be an announced A Bul-Rum and the threat of F Con-BLA to make sure Russia supports F BLA into Rum.

4. The Pastiche Opening: F Ank-BLA, A Smy H[]

Much less common than the other moves, this set of orders leaves all options open for your renowned diplomacy, my Sweet-talking Sultan. In the fall you might prepare for the Lepanto with F Ank-Con and A Smy-Ank. If you end up in BLA, you might opt for an attack on Russia with A Bul S F BLA-Rum and A Smy-Arm. If in doubt about the alliances you might buy time with A Smy-Con and F Ank H in the fall. Plenty of alternatives, none of which is too convincing but flexibility comes at a price, my Opulent Ottoman. Of course there are a few other opening moves (e.g. F Ank-Arm, A Smy-Con) but it's hard to think of any circumstance that would make them preferable to one of those named above. Which leaves me with little to add, my Magnificent Monarch. Now it is up to you to lead Turkey to greatness and glory once again. May Allah keep your scimitar sharp and your enemies hungry.

Allah Akbar!

{Dirk Fischbach plays Dip on Compuserve all the way from Europe...but don't hold that against him.}