The Middle Game in Diplomacy
Whatever country you are playing there are a few basic guidelines which you need to follow, unless you derive a clear practical benefit from not doing so. Much of what I have to say will strike the better players amongst you as being pretty self-evident, but I have seen many glaring where these underlying tenets have been ignored by the players, to their own eventual discomfort.
The board and countries in Diplomacy fall naturally into two parts. These bits, for want of more interesting names, are the Western Triangle and the Eastern Square. The opening period of play should see you establish a fairly solid relationship with one of your neighbours and the demise of the other one(s) in your part of the board…
You will now have to evaluate your position and determine what course, or courses, of action will lead to your final victory. The problem that you have is that several other players are also scheming towards their own inevitable final victory!
The critical factor during and immediately after the first two to three years is whether you have been able to crush all but one (or even all) of your neighbours before the other part of the board has been able to achieve a similar state. This means, for example, that if you are England you have reduced or eliminated Germany and/or England before Russia has reduced or eliminated Italy, Austria and/or Turkey.
The Politics of DefeatIt is important to bear in mind exactly what you're going to do if you haven't reached the delightful state of affairs described above. If you haven't, then you are going to have to co-operate with your neighbours to stop the other part of the board from overwhelming your side.
If you are part of a conflict which has yet to succeed in coming o the limited resolution described above and the other side of the board is already there, then you must seriously consider burying the hatchet with your immediate neighbours and setting about protecting yourselves. This can be regarded as the politics of defeat, but the fact is that you cannot win if someone else does. It is at this point that you need to establish an overt relationship with your neighbours and a covert one with one or more of the other side of the survivors from the other side. This latter "secret alliance" can work well in splitting the major alliance and gaining you ground when the situation stabilises to the extent that you can start looking forward to your own expansion again.
It’s why talking to other players, even if they’re your active enemies is pretty much essential. Most times it makes the game more fun, too!
This is true, even when the other half of the board is not immediately adjacent. Let us postulate a situation where Germany has Bel, Hol, Den, Par, Mar, Mun, Ber and Kie, while England has Nwy, Swe, Spa, Por, Bre, Lon, Lpl, Edi. In the Eastern part of the board, you are Turkey and have come under an attack from an Austro-Russian alliance while Italy has belatedly come to your assistance. You know that Italy is likely to come under attack by a combination of England and Germany. This looks reasonably good for survival (which it is) but it is not a good situation. England and Germany will both make headway against the opposition with your four or five centre country sniping away and weakening any defence your current enemies can make. If they split their forces and attempt to contain you whilst defending themselves, the result is a slow but gradual extirpation of your neighbours - both England and Germany will gain as many centres as you AND they are already ahead of you.
Staring Disaster in the Face
So, if you're not well ahead or at least as equally ahead as the other side of the board, then it is worth exploring ways in which the remainder of the board can stop the big boys carving the rest of you up. It is important to do this sooner than later. The real danger signals are when a unit from a reasonably settled part of the board crosses the major stalemate line (which is StP, Lvn, War, Sil, Boh, Tyr, Pie, GoL, WMS, NAf). If this has happened, then it's time to shut up shop and stop them getting any further, whichever country you are. The same is true to a limited extent when Turkey, France or Austria crosses the minor stalemate line of the ION, when Germany rounds the Straits of Gibraltar, and when Russia gets a foothold across the North Sea. This often means that they've achieved a position whereby it is going to take a concerted effort to stop them winning and thus stop you from winning.
How will you win?
It is worth restating that to win a game you have to eventually capture 18 supply centres. Many inexperienced players overlook this obvious fact and don't have a "shopping list" of centres that they will need to win. Let us look at the centres, given a normal sort of game, which are normally on that list (Those that are occasionally added to the core list to complete the wining pattern are shown after the totals and in italics):
England: Lon, Lpl, Edi, Bre, Par, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel,Den, Nwy, Swe, Kie, Mun, StP, Ber, Mar (17) Tun, Ven, Rom, Nap, War, Vie
France: Bre, Par, Ma, Lon, Lpl, Edi, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel, Den, Nwy, Swe, Kie, Mun, Ber (16) Tun, Ven, Rom, Nap, War, Vie, Tri
Germany: Kie, Mun, Ber, Bre, Par, Mar, Lon, Lpl, Edi, Spa, Por, Hol, Bel, Den, Nwy, Swe (16) Ven, Rom, War, Vie, Tri, StP, Mos
Austria: Vie, Bud, Tri, Ser, Gre, Bul, Rom, Ven, Con, Rum, Ank, Nap, Smy, Mos, Sev, War, Tun (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber
Italy: Nap, Rom, Ven, Tun, Tri, Vie, Bud, Gre, Ser, Con, Smy, Ank, Sev, Mos, Rum, War, Bul (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber, Par
Turkey: Con, Smy, Ank, Nap, Ven, Rom, Tun, Tri, Ve, Bud, Gre, Ser, Sev, Mos, Rum, War, Bul (17) Mar, Spa, Por, Mun, StP, Ber
Russia: Mos, War, StP, Sev, Nwy, Swe, Rum, Bud, Vie, Tri, Ser, Gre, Ank, Smy, Con, Bul, Ven, Rom, Nap (19) Mun, Kie, Ber, Den, Hol, Edi, Lon, Tun, Bel
Although the Eastern side of the board has more potential areas for expansion, it also has more competitors for each supply centre then the western side of the board. You can also see that StP only appears in the core list for England and Russia. This is because it is relatively easy to stitch that side up against invaders by supporting the unit there already, which in most cases is either English or Russian. If these two countries have been eliminated (or are in anarchy) there is nearly always someone in a position to support a StP unit to stop someone else's onward progression.
It is crucial, therefore, that you try and get across one of the stalemate lines which will enable you to secure those extremely difficult last two or three supply centres. I will never vote for a win concession (unless it's me that's going to win!) if the major country has failed to "cross the line". Until that point, any player, no matter how good, can be stopped. Of course, there is always the possibility that some idiot is prepared to sacrifice a share in the draw for a petty and self-immolating revenge.
How Do You Improve Your Chances Of Winning?
There are a number of basic concepts which I use to judge how well I'm doing in a game and to assess how I can improve my situation.
This is quite a simple concept to understand and it is measurable. You can establish how secure a supply centre is by counting the number of your units which can move to it and the number of other units which can move to it. If you have more units or the same number of units adjacent to you supply centres, then you're relatively safe. (Obviously, there may be localised areas where this is not the case.) If less units, then you are not secure and you should establish security as a priority. You can refine this by grading your security level and by grading the units next to your supply centres according to the reliability of your allies, but don't forget that you really rather encourage them towards indiscretion and they can stab you at any time. Similarly, you can count the number of units with two moves of your centres as an approximation of your medium term security.
LebensraumThis relates to your "hit list" of supply centres. It is a count of current supply centres, plus a count of those which you might be able to get in the short term by a judicious stab. If the stab leaves you secure and in a good position to continue your onwards expansion then it is well worth doing. This assessment also gives you a idea of how close to victory (or not) you are. Conversely if the stab doesn’t achieve this then DON’T STAB.
Allies and Enemies
This is much more difficult to judge. It depends on your assessment of how reliable your allies are and how implacable your enemies. But that is only one part of the story. You mustn't just view your own situation. You have to view the alliance structure of the whole board and it can also be helpful to assess other countries' security and lebensraum. And the only way to do this is to have regular communication with all the other players, even the ones who appear to be implacable foes. This is because players cannot avoid giving away information if they write back; and even if they don't, a significant minority of players will act upon your suggestions, even if they don't reply! Besides which, you can stuff them up with apparently true information. Very, very, few people will throw a letter away without reading it and it is rare that they would fail to take the information in. But don’t lie... just emphasise the facts you want them to act on.
Having assessed all these factors, you are in a much better position to determine your future strategy and to decide what to do and when to do it.
I mentioned stabbing. A stab (except for the first few moves) should be used sparingly and only when (a) it is required to put you in a winning position and offers significant gains; and (b) you can hold what you've taken. Ration yourself to perhaps one or two stabs a game. Whenever possible resist the temptation to lie about what you are going to do - lying destroys credibility, so you might as well only lie if you are going to get something out of it.
(First published in Gallimaufry Issue 53, edited and updated this date.