The Game of Diplomacy
by Richard Sharp
For some reason Germany never came my way during my first few months as a
Diplomacy addict; and it was, in fact, the last country I played. By this time I faced the
prospect with some alarm, having had a letter from a friend who had just been eliminated
from a postal game as Germany in 1903 and could see no redeeming features to the country
at all. How wrong he was! In postal play, at least, I would rather play Germany than any
other country on the board. In terms of outright wins in British postal games, Germany
ranks second behind Russia; but in expert games I would expect Germany to win more often
even than Russia, the success of which country seems to me to be due partly to factors
unconnected with real playing strength. A good player as Germany can dominate the board,
sitting tight in the centre and making things happen all around him. It is my view, widely
shared among experienced players of my acquaintance, that playing Germany in a good-class
postal game is the most enjoyable experience Diplomacy has to offer.
In the hurly-burly of face-to-face play, Germany is more difficult to manage as
with all the central powers, the disadvantages seem to come to the fore in this form of
the game. The notes that follow relate more to postal play, then; but there is no reason
why, with familiarity, the methods described should not be applied in face-to-face play as
At first sight, Germanys position does not look reassuring. The black centre of
the board is dwarfed by the vast purple mass to the east, while Austria thrusts up from
the south into the heart of the country, and France and England wait in the west. It is
apparent that a four-power attack on Germany would be as swift and crushing as the
three-power onslaught that sometimes destroys Austria. But in the case of Germany, it
never happens. Austria would have to be insane and Russia really desperate to move against
Germany early on; England may attack, but can muster no real impetus; France is the
likeliest source of real danger, but strategic considerations are more likely to turn
France against England first.
When it comes to neutrals, Germany is better off than any other country on the board.
There are no less than four that Germanys units can reach in 1901 ; and two
can be gained by force during that year against any defence, something that only France
can match. Denmark and Holland are normally accepted by all players as being
Germanys by right; again only France has such clear-cut claims to two neutral
Germany also controls two very important sea spaces: the Baltic is a massively strong
placing for a defensive fleet, which can support all Germanys northern edge with
virtual immunity from attack; and the Heligoland Bight protects Kiel from the attentions
of the Royal Navy. (This particular sea space has always seemed to me to typify the amount
of thought and care that went into the designing of the game try playing a game
without it, and see how long you can stop England winning!) In short, Germanys
position has tremendous potential for both attack and defence; it is up to the player to
cash in on it.
One does not need to be specific: Germanys central position, astride the
stalemate line, gives great flexibility. Everything except, perhaps, Turkey and the
farther Balkans is within reach and can form part of a winning German empire. Perhaps the
most popular line is to play for the seventeen centres north of the line
ParisMunichWarsawMoscow, plus a random one from below the line, usually
Marseilles or Vienna. But Germanys great advantage is easily seen here: if England
puts up a tough resistance and clings to Liverpool, or if Turkey moves in from the south
in time to hold Moscow, there are plenty more fish in the sea and there will surely be a
weak spot somewhere. Apart from the obvious benefits there is a strategic advantage here
too: Germany will often be able to win without taking territory from an ally, and the ally
will be aware of it and so less likely to change sides once his own winning chances have
The number of possible openings for Germany is over a thousand! Fortunately, a mere
thirty-three have so far been tried in practice, and of these only four have a frequency
of more than about one game in fifty, accounting for over eighty per cent of all games
between them. Ill consider these four, in order of popularity, and then look very
briefly at some alternative ideas.
The Blitzkrieg Opening (Denmark Variation) is the most popular of all openings
played by all the countries put together, occurring in over forty per cent of all games.
The moves are F(Kie)Den, A(Ber)Kie and A(Mun) Ruh. The virtues of the
opening are clear enough: it makes sure of Denmark, and the strategically vital threat to
Sweden; and it ensures that Holland can be forced against any defence, with an option of
keeping a finger in the Belgian pie if(as is usual) Holland can safely be left to a single
unit. The opening thus gives the certainty of two neutral gains, and two chances of three:
either F(Den)Swe, A(Kie)Den, A(Ruh)Hol/Bel; or F(Den)Swe/stands,
All too often, though, one sees the Munich army making an undignified return home in
the autumn, to guard against a French army in Burgundy (or, more rarely, a threat from
Tyrolia or Silesia). This is safe enough, but does rather defeat the object of going to
Ruh in the first place. Again, how wise was that object? Most players would agree that for
Germany to get three builds in 1901 is to court hostility, especially from England, who
might reasonably have claimed Belgium for herself!
The other components of the opening are obviously sound. The point of the move to
Denmark rather than Holland is the threat to Russian ambitions in Sweden. Germany cannot
afford not to play this valuable card. Although he cannot himself make any early use of
Sweden, he can possibly cause Russia serious inconvenience by standing him off there in
1901. It is a commonplace of Diplomacy that threats are useless: If you stab me
Ill destroy you is merely an incentive to make 2ure the stab is good and hard.
But if you do anything to annoy me Ill keep you out of Sweden is a
threat to which there is no answerGermany can do it, and Russia knows he can. Hence
the rarity of a Russian opening to Prussia or Silesia. (To the Russian counter-threat
if you stand me off Ill invade you next year the standard reply is:
What with ?) For the most potent use of this German weapon, see the Anschluss
The Blitzkrieg Opening (Holland Variation) is, surprisingly, the second most
popular start for Germany, with a frequency of some twenty per cent. The moves are as
above, but with F(Kie) now going to Holland. The difference is greater than would at first
appear. First, Germany is no longer able to dictate terms to Russia this is by far
the greatest disadvantage. Also, it is no longer possible to be certain of gaining two
neutrals, though admittedly it would take an unlikely set of circumstances to prevent it.
Tactically, its clear that the fleet is less handily placed in Holland, and the army
ditto in Denmark. I really cannot see that this variation has anything to commend it
except the certainty of being able to control the Belgian question, a very small advantage
compared to that which has been squandered. The opening can be construed as violently
pro-Russian and mildly anti-English; as such it would be a fair choice if Russia is known
to be a very weak player, or if you are sure Turkey is going to attack Russia from the
start ... and Russia doesnt suspect it. The argument usually advanced is that this
set of moves gives Germany the chance to play off England and France against each other
from the beginning, thus tying down the two biggest threats; and this is certainly
desirable, but there are better ways of doing it.
The Burgundy Attack, in which A(Mun) is ordered to Burgundy and the fleet goes
to Holland, is the third most popular German opening, accounting for some twelve per cent
of games. The published statistics show a Denmark Variation of this opening as
the fourth in popularity; but there is little doubt that in this case A(Mun) is normally
expected to stand off in Burgundy, which makes this effectively the same opening as the Anschluss
(see below). When the fleet goes to Holland, on the other hand, it seems likely that
Germany expects, or at least hopes, that the move to Burgundy will succeed.
The opening seems to me a great deal better than the Holland Blitzkrieg. In
Burgundy, the southern German army can do everything it could do in Ruhr, and more; it
threatens Paris and Marseilles while not relinquishing its influence on Belgium. In
combination with an English move to the Channel it constitutes a devastating attack on
France: if the latter opens with such standard negative orders as F(Bre)MAO,
A(Par)Pic, A(Mar) Spa he is already in terrible trouble.
If A(Mun) is stood off in Burgundy, the opening has once again worked well and Germany
is a great deal better off than he would be if he had opened to Ruhr, for instance. It is
worth noting that the stand-off may be prearranged, as an anti-English maneuvre;
the key here is whether France has moved to ENG, in which case the stand-off is almost
certainly rigged; if France is really hostile to Germany, he is likely to order
F(Bre)MAO, A(Mar) S A(Par)Bur.
In general, the Burgundy Attack works well enough, and is certainly the best of the
traditional-style openings, whereby Germany conceives his role in the early game as being
a member of a western triangle, ignoring Russia. This approach assumes that
Russia would concentrate entirely on his own triangle with Turkey and Austria, with just
the one fleet in the north which normally became part of Germanys forces. Nowadays
Russia does not so often play in this fashion, and consequently the Burgundy Attack has
become a luxury, only sound when Russia is known to be weak or passive.
The Anschluss is to my mind by far the best approach for Germany in a strong
game. I would go so far as to say that it is obligatory. The key move (or rather non-move)
is the leaving of an army in Munich until autumn 1901, and often much later. This can be
done in various ways: the unit can stand, or can participate in a pre-arranged stand-off
in any of several places, most commonly Burgundy. The same effect can even be achieved by
moving A(Ber)Mun while A(Mun) goes to Ruhr. If we count all these as being
essentially part of the same opening, the total frequency is probably between five per
cent and ten per cent.
Historically, the Anschluss was the annexation of Austria by Germany on 11 March
1938; as such, it may seem an odd name for a pro-Austrian opening! However, the German
word doesnt necessarily (or even usually) imply rape the union may be voluntary on
both sides, and in this context will be. The essence of the idea is that Germany and
Austria play as a single country during the period of their initial vulnerability; and,
more specifically, Germany will come to Austrias assistance if the latter is
attacked by Italy and! or Russia.
I think I can claim to have discovered the Anschluss, or at least to have been
the first to formulate the idea clearly. What first put it into my mind was a random check
on the many disasters that have overtaken Austria in Diplomacy: clearly, if Italy and
Russia decide to take Austria apart, with or without Turkish assistance, only Germany can
do anything to prevent it. Austrias record is horrific : in the first 230 completed
British postal games, Austria failed forty-three times to achieve the modest
performance of surviving until 1904! What is revealing is Germanys performance in
those games: one win, four draws, one second, two equal seconds, seven thirds, one equal
third, eight fourths, one equal fourth, six fifths, four equal fifths, seven sixths, and
one magnificent seventh, when Germany managed to go out in 1902, a year before Austria. So
in the forty-three Austrian disaster games, Germany won 2.3 per cent and drew 9.3 per
cent; in the other 187 games Germany won 14.4 per cent and drew 12.3 per cent. To put it
more simply, in games where Austria fails, Germany has the worst record of any country;
where Austria lasts until 1904 or later, Germany has the best record. Yes, I know
the dangers of drawing conclusions from small samples, but I cannot believe that this is
If you accept that it is desirable for Germany to take Austria under his wing,
threatening Italy with reprisals if he moves east, how effective is the idea in averting
disaster? This is more difficult to demonstrate, but I am personally convinced of the
results. I have used the idea or the threat of it, which is almost as good
against Italy in every game I have played as Germany. I dont keep records of most of
the face-to-face ones, but I am certain that Austria has never been knocked out before
1905 in any game in which I have played Germany. The games ofwhich I have records show the
1973IS (postal). Italy accepted the terms and attacked France. Austria won in
1905! (Very poor play by Russia unbalanced this game.)
1973GB (postal). Italy again accepted. Result was a two-way draw between Italy
and Germany, with Austria third.
1975IE (postal). Italy accepted yet again. Unfortunately Austria stopped sending
in orders. Result was a GermanyTurkeyRussia draw, with Italy fourth.
1974N (postal). Italy ignored the threat, and attacked Austria. Italy came sixth;
Austria fifth; Germany is still surviving in 1922. (Germany should have won, but blew it!)
1974DB (postal). Italy accepted. Austria won in 1911, with Germany third, but the
game should have been drawn (tactical error by Germany, dammit).
1975 NGC Championship, Qualifying Round (face-to-face). Italy refused. Germany won in
1907, with Austria second and Italy sixth.
1976 NGC Championship, Final (face-to-face). Italy refused. Germany and Austria both
came very close to winning; Italy didnt; result was a six-way draw.
So far as they prove anything, these figures suggest that if Italy accepts the German
ultimatum he will do well, and if he refuses he will do badly. Whatever he does, Germany
and Austria do well. Indeed, the main weakness has been that Austria does too well.
Well, I hope Ive convinced you; Ive certainly convinced me.
The mechanics of the Anschluss are simple enough: one army must stay in Munich,
by whatever tactic, and the fleet must go to Denmark. Italy is told that if he attacks
Austria then Germany will move against him; Russia is told that if he moves to Galicia he
will not get Sweden. Italy usually and Russia always can be relied on to see the force of
these arguments, though they may decide to chance it even so.
An even more potent version of the idea might be devised whereby Germany moves to
Tyrolia in spring 1901. This has several advantages, though a nervous Austria might
object. Surprisingly, the move has been tried more often in conjunction with
F(Kie)Hol, which seems to be entirely illogical. There is a lot to be said for
A(Mun)Tyr, especially now that Italy quite often uses Tyrolia as a stepping-stone
for an attack on Germany, and this could be the German opening of the future.
Rarely seen German openings include the hair-raising Barbarossa: F(Kie)
Den, A(Ber)Pru, A(Mun)Sil. This is a spectacular form of suicide which will
quite often succeed in taking Warsaw but will allow England an unopposed landing in
Holland in autumn 1901. If your hatred of Russia is stronger than your desire to win,
fine. The move to Silesia has been tried in other contexts too, but seems even more
pointless when played as an isolated thrust. The many other openings have been played once
or twice each, and variety is all they have going for them.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
More than any other country, Germany should communicate with all the other players.
Sometimes one hears it said that there is nothing Germany can say to Turkey, but this is
nonsense: Turkey should be encouraged to attack Russia (and vice versa) ; Turkey may even
be offered help in his efforts, though under no circumstances should such help ever be
actually forthcoming. When Turkey wins, Austria does badly; so it is not surprising that
in games won by Turkey in postal play there is no recorded case of Germany finishing
second. What Germany wants for Turkey, and should try to arrange, is modest success at the
expense of Russia rather than Austria.
Austria is the best friend Germany has. For either to attack the other is simply
unthinkable on the very rare occasions Ive seen Germany try it, its
been catastrophic for both countries; Ive never seen Austria attack Germany early
on. In the opening stages the two should stand firmly back to back, unless Germany
actually has to help Austria fight off Italy. Later it may be desirable to combine
operations against Russia. It is true of Austria and Germany as of no two other countries
that the stalemate line that bisects the board runs along their common frontier; thus
either can hope to win without attacking the other at any stage. In all my games with
Germany and Austria I have never attacked Germany from Austria; and the reverse
attack I have attempted only once, in extremely odd circumstances and with disastrous
results. Offer him your assistance and give it freely; its the best investment you
England can be a friend too, but a dangerous one. The drawback of the Anglo-German
alliance is that it works too well, and England gets the better of it. If England once
gets a grip on the coastline from St Petersburg to Brest, you can say goodbye to any idea
of winning. Your best policy is to agree to an alliance against Russia (preferably) or
France (if England insists) but not both. Try to get him involved in a Scandinavian war
which will delay him until France can stab him hard in the back; then, when its too
late, support him against France.
Remember, England has what you want: the North Sea, and the strong corner position it
controls. If you can take the North Sea without fear of losing it again, youve got
him. Its no exaggeration to say that control of this sea space is Germanys
most important goal, and attaining it is halfway to victory. My favourite game,
1974N, provided a good example; the position before the autumn 1902 moves is shown
in Diagram 8. England has so far been the victim of some (carefully arranged) bad luck,
but things seem to be going his way at last; he has managed to take Norway, and his German
ally is moving purposefully against Russian-occupied Sweden, while also keeping France out
of Belgium. With the promise of Belgium for his own, provided only that he takes it with a
fleet, England hopes to get two builds to make up for the disappointment of getting none
in 1901. Germany has promised to attack Sweden too, so the likely Russian attack on Norway
will have its support cut.
When the adjudication comes along, England sees with relief that Germany has done all
he promised; after a while he notices that Germany has done a bit more too:
ENGLAND F(NTH)Bel, F(Nor) stands*, A(Yor) stands
GERMANY A(Hol) S ENGLISH F(NTH)Bel, F(Den)-Swe, A(Kie)-Den ...
RUSSIA A(StP) S F(Swe)Nor
FRANCE A(Bur)Bel, A(Gas)Bre, F( MAO)ENG,
England is a bit puzzled by the presence of a German fleet in the North Sea, but
Germanys moves seem friendly enough otherwise, so he decides to support it. After
all, he has got one build. But, come spring 1903:
ENGLAND F(Bel) S GERMAN F(NTH)*, A(Yor)-Wal, F(BAR)-StP(nc),
GERMANY A(Hol)-Bel, F(NTH) C A(Den)-Edi, F(Kie)-HEL, F(Swe)-SKA...
FRANCE A(Bur) S GERMAN A(Hol)-Bel, F(ENG) C A(Bre)-Wal,
With these moves England sent a plaintive press release (Will someone please tell
me what the hell is coming off round here?) and received the terse reply from the
gamesmaster, Conrad von Metzke, 'You are.'
By autumn 1903 England is down to two units (it would have been one, but by this time
Germany had stabbed France by keeping him out of Liverpool !). Germany has the North Sea
locked up for good, and a fine all-round game. Indeed, looking at that posi~on now, over
three real years later, I cant believe that I failed to win it. Still, its not
After that lengthy digression, we can return to study the relationships of Germany and
France. Germany can sustain an alliance with France on the same terms as with England,
i.e., slightly unfavourable ones. On the one hand Germany may expect rather quicker
territorial gains when allied to France; on the other, France has easy land access to
Germany and can stab him faster and harder than England can. The ideal pattern is the
familiar one: support France against England, then at the moment of his success smash into
him from the side, preferably with Italy helping down in the south. I remember writing
somewhere that the ideal position for Germany in about 1905 is to see the English in St
Petersburg, the French in Liverpool, the Italians in Marseilles and the Germans everywhere
else. Keep this pleasing picture in mind; frame it and hang it above your bed; it works.
The initial approach to France should contain proposals for a delayed attack on
England. Suggest France goes quietly about the business of collecting his Iberian centres;
this will give you time to sort out the ItalyAustria problem (if there is one) and
to embroil England in Scandinavia beyond hope of extrication. If France does impetuously
insist on going to ENG in spring 1901, encourage him enthusiastically, and tell England
about it. Early French successes are bad for you. Above all, do not be greedy about
Belgium disclaim all interest and try to make England and France fight over it.
Youll get it in the end anyway.
In the last analysis there is little future for Germany until both England and France
have been seriously weakened, and at least one of them preferably eliminated. With three
English centres, three home ones, five northern neutrals, Brest and Paris, Germany has a
fine power base for an attack against Russia or a push further south into French
territory: eliminate England, occupy the North Sea and Mid Atlantic, and the game is
Russia can become the biggest long-term threat to Germany. Only Russia wins more games;
and in those games it is naturally rare for Germany to do at all well. The danger signs
are a RussoTurkish alliance, or Russian control of the Black Sea. Either of these
means Russia is going to have an easy time in the south, and will be looking for new areas
of expansion: this means you. This is why Sweden is such a vital area. If Russia, for
instance, opens to Rumania, Ukraine, St Petersburg while Turkey opens with A(Con)
Bul, F(Ank)Con, you have already seen enough to deny Russia control of Sweden,
certainly for 1901, preferably for good. Fortunately you will find no shortage of allies;
the Russo-Turkish alliance is rightly feared by everyone, and quite often provokes a
five-country union in opposition to it. (France wins these !) England should be delighted
to assist you in suppressing Russia in the north, but even so you will have a tough
struggle to emerge on top. However, the dreaded juggernaut is seen less often nowadays,
since players of Turkey have begun to tire of second place.
Provided there are signs of a clash between Russia and Turkey, Germany can look with
favour on the St Petersburg opening. The Russian army will normally be stuck in St
Petersburg after the autumn, preventing his building a second northern fleet (this build
is very bad news for Germany when it happens). The time to worry here is when England has
attacked France flat out from the start; though this is nice for you in one way, it does
mean that Russia may be allowed to take Norway, and that he will not meet any serious
opposition from England; if things seem to be going reasonably well for him in the south
he might risk building a fleet on the south coast of St Petersburg. So here is another
occasion when he must be denied Sweden: you will have to handle Russia alone, so you build
F(Ber), A(Kie) and in spring 1902 you order F(Den)-SKA, A(Kie)Den, F(Ber)BAL;
now you can block Russia out of Sweden for as long as you like.
As part of the terms of the Anschluss you should insist that Russia doesnt
move to Galicia. He is likely to accept this demand, which virtually restricts him to two
choices in the opening: A(Mos)StP, A(War)Ukr, F(Sev)Rum, or
A(Mos)Sev, A(War)Ukr, F(Sev)BLA. Obviously you prefer the second, and
your early diplomatic efforts should be aimed at persuading Russia to open this way. If he
does, you have nothing to fear from him during the early years.
Finally there is Italy. Here is another potential ally of the greatest value. Once
Italy understands that you will not tolerate any mucking about in the direction of
Austria, he is likely to become rather despondent he has so few choices open in the
first place. Recently, there has been a trend for Italy to attack Germany through Tyrolia,
assisted by the French moving to Burgundy, so Germany should make it clear that he is
going to play for an arranged stand-off in Burgundy (or even a stand-off with Austria in
Tyrolia). It is vital for Germanys interests to leave Italy only two effective
choices: attack France, or attack Turkey. Both of these are highly favourable to Germany.
An irresistibly strong three-way alliance can arise when Italy accepts the positive as
well as the negative aspects of the Anschluss. I have worked this one with great
success in both postal and face-to-face play: Germany and Italy against France, Germany
and Austria against Russia, Italy and Austria against Turkey. As for England, it must be
Germanys responsibility to involve England in the Scandinavian area, and to induce
France to stab him in the back. If all this works, the consequences can be really
devastating, with the three weak centre powers rapidly growing to dominate the
board. The most likely way for this threesome to split is for Germany and Italy to stab
Austria; but a cunning Germany will be able to retain an ambivalent position in this
conflict for long enough to confuse the issue. The two things Germany must watch for are
Italian fleets west of Gibraltar and Austrian armies north of Sevastopol either of
these is a clear danger-signal that someone is doing too well, and vigorous action will be
A GermanItalian alliance against France, whether or not combined with alliances
with Austria, must be handled carefully. Germany does not want Italy to move against
France before the latter is committed against England. He should persuade Italy to open to
105 rather than the more obvious TYS, take Tunis with an army, and build F(Nap). A(Ven)
can stand, or feint against Austria. Now if France has agreed to take on England in 1902
Italy can be unleashed against him with A(Ven)Pie, F(IOS)Tun, A(Tun)NAf,
F(Nap)TYS, and by the end of 1902 Italy will have a strong position against southern
France. Timing, always important, is particularly so in this attack: if Italy goes in
prematurely, experience shows that France copes easily; and if the stab is too good, there
is danger that Italy will do too well, and get more out of the attack than Germany does.
Perish the thought!
Playing Germany is not easy: it requires skill and subtlety. But the time will come
when you savour the marvellous sensation of being allied to everyone, dominating the play,
knowing in almost every detail what each seasons moves will be before they happen.
This is the way to play Germany, and theres nothing else quite like it.
The Game of Diplomacy is (c) 1978 by Richard Sharp. It is reproduced here with
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