The "Bait and Switch" in Diplomacy
by Mark Fassio
Well, it's Friday at 1500 hours (3 pm to you civilians). Army plays Lafayette tomorrow (we're 7-0!) and we have a promotion ceremony coming up in one hour (read: beer, chips, and work cessation). Given the choice between trying to cram two hour's worth of reading into one hour, or writing an article for the 'zine, I have chosen the latter. I've acceded to the plaintive requests of our esteemed Dip World Editor and decided to try my hand at producing more garbage, oops, I mean, "crafting definitive S&T articles on how to play the game."
One would assume that there would only be "so much out there" to write about without being repetitious. However, just like variety in rock and roll (7 million artists all singing about the same basic thing, albeit in different ways), so too is there still variety in Dip writing. At least I hope you think so, or you won't even read this thing!
I'm going to write about double-stabbing, or baiting and switching. This term applied to the old shell games (a con artist favorite) where they "bait you" with seemingly 'easy win' situations, then pull the ol' switcheroo and hook you with deviousness. This is a common tactic for us Dippers, too: you stab, re-ally, then stab again when the time is better and you've "thrown off the scent" of your previous bad behavior. I find this tactic works best with (1) a game that already has your alliance progressing well (i.e., advancing toward a viable stalemate line, or perhaps beyond it) against a strong foe and (2) an alliance structure that allows you to be "behind" a good part of your ally's line (such as Eng in an E/F, Tur in an A/T, etc).
Here's the applicability in Dip: you ally with a nation (or nations) and go along your merry way. Somewhere down the line you make a stab move, and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work.. Perhaps board dynamics had other stabs/shifts of polarity at the same time, and the stab has proved counterproductive in the new environment. Quite possibly you--like me--just make occasional bonehead moves and your timing is off (i.e., the premature stab). So what do you do?
Well, a lot depends on the board situation (as well as the personality of who you stabbed). If the board is clearly aligned against you and the stabee can exact revenge in a "benign" environment, you're on your own: take your lumps. However, in many cases, some enemy coalition will still remain, threatening both you and your former partner(s). If you can tread water for awhile, it helps to maintain constant communication with the guys you just tried to hose, pointing out the danger in continued fighting among "ourselves." If the other countries against you are still dangerous to all, and if you're a smooth diplomat, then you have a chance of "baiting" your former partner(s) into rejoining a National Front. Make some tactical concessions--give up a center you took from him/her (making sure you can't have it used against you later). Get this re-energized coalition moving forward against the enemy. Not only does this shock the enemy (who thought he had your former pal(s) in his pocket), but it also provides increased security among your re-allies. (Why? Because you can probably assume that, once you stab your ally, he/she will try and link up with the former foe and get back at you. The former foe now has an extra puppet/satellite that he feels is 'secure", never expecting a rapprochement. Ah, but that's where good Dipping comes in now, doesn't it?!! Imagine the enemy's shock and anger if your ally rejoins you when all seemed well!) With the "bait" initiated for re-alliance, you proceed along for awhile, having them advance far from home along with you, and then you pull stab #2 (the "switch") at a more opportune time.
History buffs will see a possible similarity in this approach to that of Manstein's recommendations regarding the upcoming Kursk offensive in 1943. Rather than do a "forehand" slap of the enemy (stab head-on and take your chances), Manstein wanted to let the enemy (in this case, your re-allies and future stabees) overextend themselves, and then strike a counterblow when timing and force balance favored them (the "backhand approach"). Let your allies retake a center or two that you took from them in stab #1 -- lull them into more security. Work out "corseting" strategies (where you and your partners have interlocking units in the forward area) to let them see your "sincerity" in working through a "no-kidding" alliance. With them back in your camp, you can propose far-reaching strategies that will have them advance along with you. Then, as England, let's say, allied with France vs the rest of the board, you try for France to be in NAf and Ruh. You, of course, are "corseted" along the sea lanes up front (and behind!) him, to provide that interlocking security coverage and advance along the line. (AND to fall "backward" into Iberia, Tunis, or the coastal provinces.)
For then comes Stab #2. Hopefully by this time, the foe you're fighting against will be enraged at seeing his presumed 'satellite puppet' re-ally with you, thus throwing him into a "revenge at all costs" rage against your re-ally. This will aid you later, for it gives you a proposed strawman to offer up, diverting attention from you while the foe turns on your re-ally. Your ally is then in a real "hurt box," because, once you stab again, is he REALLY going to get a fair and impartial look from the foe he's attacked not once, but twice????? Hence the "switch" part of the "bait and switch." And, with our pal Manstein's analogy, your re-ally is far from home and vulnerable to cut supply lines, and being chopped up by you and/or your foe(s). Overextension leads you to let him advance, then you backhand when least expected and when you set the tempo and timing.
Again, timing is everything, and a lot of variables obviously have to be in your favor before you try this. The ally may never feel totally secure again after Stab 1, meaning stab #2 (may also prove unworkable (that's where unceasing diplomacy should be applied, to prevent such possibilities). The board position has to be right, the timing is critical, and the foe must be strong enough to re-attack your re-ally (when he rejoined your alliance), yet weak enough that you can still push ahead after stab #2 of your allies.
I make no claim that this is an earth-shattering new idea, or that it even has utility for 99% of the games being played. But somewhere, and at sometime, the opportunity will either present itself for a "bait and switch", or you yourself can set the agenda and try it. If for no other reason, a well-prepared Dipper will ensure it's in his/her 'toolbox of options,' should you ever need to fix your Dipmobile. 'Nuff said!
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 80