(A Personal View on Opening Strategy)
by Stephen Agar
Let me begin by repeating the warning I gave last time. This is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of all the possible options open to England in Diplomacy. It is an insight into how I play the game and you may think a lot of what I say is simply misguided or stupid. If so, please write and tell me. All statistics have been gratefully taken from The Numbers Game available from Richard Sharp and Steve Doubleday at Norton House, Whielden Street, Amersham, Bucks, HP7 0HU which is thoroughly recommended for all those with an interest in such things.
Let's be honest. It is easy for England to get to four or five units and get stuck. Attacking St.Petersburg is a deadend strategy which usually results in you being attacked from behind. Germany is difficult to attack at the beginning of the game, although you must always guard against a German F(Hol)-NTH or F(Den)-NTH. You need to build fleets, you need to get armies on to the continent and, most importantly, you need the Mid-Atlantic and access to the Mediterranean. The logic is inescapable; attack France sooner rather than later.
Usually England orders F(Edi)-NWG and F(Lon)-ENG, a combination that happens in some 64% of games, the A(Lpl)-Yor being more common than the A(Lpl)-Edi variation. In my view this is an opening for wimps. Okay, so you can guarantee that you can take Norway, but what then? You are into a 3-way negotiation with Germany and Russia over Scandinavia, with no guarantee that you won't be the odd man out. France has probably built another F(Bre) in A01 and someday soon you will find a French F(MAO)-NAO up your backside.
I have always favoured the French Attack - F(Edi)-NTH, F(Lon)-ENG and A(Lpl)-Wal. The preparation for this opening is to try and ensure that Germany orders F(Kie)-Den and above all else to make sure that France does not move to the Channel. The statistics for the battle for the Channel are quite interesting. In 56% of games, neither France nor England attempts to move to the Channel, in 25% of games England takes it, in 10% France takes it, and in a mere 9% of games is there a stand-off. The moral is clear, negotiate an empty Channel and then move there yourself - your chances of getting in are over 75%, yet surprisingly only some 34% of English players order F(Lon)-ENG and only 7% of them risk the full-bloodied French Attack. German support is crucial for a successful and quick assault on France. You will have to commit yourself from the outset and it is vital that you do all in your power to keep momentum and take Germany along with you, even if you have to promise him Belgium.
England takes the Channel
So far so good, but guesswork now takes over. There will be a French fleet in the Mid Atlantic and probably a French army in either Picardy, Burgundy or occasionally both. German armies may be in Kiel and Ruh, but you hope there won't be a German F(Hol).
Let's consider the options:
1. F(ENG) C A(Wal)-Bre; F(NTH)-Nwy
The ideal English solution is a successful convoy into Brest, however if France covers Brest with the F(MAO) then the result is total disaster. The convoy fails and France will build another F(Bre). Whatever the experts may say, it is a guess. Good luck.
2. F(ENG) C A(Wal)-Pic; F(NTH)-Nwy
A safer strategy in that it more likely to succeed, depending on whether or not there is an existing French army in Picardy and the likelihood of France being able to take Belgium. Assuming it works, at least you have a toe-hold on the mainland and you can actually use the army to do something, rather than just sitting forlornly in Wales enjoying the sheep and scenery. If this move can be coupled with a German move into Burgundy this can work very well indeed. Even if France has Belgium behind your back that can be taken care of by an Anglo-German alliance.
3. F(ENG) C A(Wal)-Bel;
If you are firm in your alliance with Germany, and Germany has ordered F(Kie)-Den, A(Ber)-Kie why not try and negotiate support into Belgium, allowing Germany to push his third unit into Burgundy? F(NTH)-Nwy gives you two builds if it is successful. However, don't be greedy, England doesn't need two builds in 1901, the position you achieve is far more important than the extra unit. However, I would not support Germany into Belgium as that raises the possibility of three German builds in 1901, one of which will inevitably be the threatening F(Kie). Of course, if Norway's neutrality is assured, you may decide to forgo Norway in 1901 and use F(NTH) to support a move into Belgium.
If Russia has moved A(Mos)-StP you must in all honesty expect A(StP)-Nwy. The possibility exists, I put it no higher, to make virtue of a necessity and ally with Russia and order F(NTH) S A(Wal)-Bel anyway. Assuming the French and German opening moves make a supported move to Belgium likely to succeed, you could go for it and allow Russia to walk into Norway. This strategy concedes Scandinavia to Russia and is therefore probably suicidal.
4. F(ENG)-MAO; F(NTH)-Nwy; A(Wal)Std.
This is probably the long-term devious strategy. If France does cover Brest it will be a spectacular success, provided you have taken Norway. A build of F(Lon) which is then supported into the Channel by F(MAO) puts England into a very strong position indeed. AO2 can then be spent by conducting speculative raids on places like Portugal, Spain or having a supported attack on Brest. You can afford to order F(Nwy)-NTH to prevent a German stab. If Germany joins your attack France is doomed.
On the other hand, if France moves F(MAO)-Por or Spa in AO1, ignoring the threat to Brest, he may be able to build a second F(Bre) that year (provided he didn't cover Brest with A(Pic)-Bre) and your strategy will fall apart. F(MAO) is now dangerously isolated and your attack can only be continued with support from Germany.
So which of these alternatives do you choose? Don't ask me, I haven't got a clue. Look at the state of the board after the SO1 moves, consider how much you can trust Germany, assess the personality of the French player -is he the sort to play safe or take risks - and then guess accordingly. If you guess right you will appear to be a genius, if you guess wrong you will look foolish. Still, I believe it is better to make a calculated guess as a result of making a French attack, rather than end up with fleets chasing their tails in the Barents Sea or some other such place.
Stand-off over the Channel
Of course, as everyone knows, a stand-off over the Channel is a disaster for England. If this happens you will be forced into the difficult decision of do you go for the Channel in AO1 and risk a German move to the North Sea or do you order F(Lon)-NTH and risk France taking the Channel. The latter is probably the better course as you simply cannot afford to let a German fleet into the North Sea. This raises the prospect of A(Wal) being ordered to take a holiday as the badge of your failed strategy.
A failure to get into the Channel in SO1 will leave England knocking his head on the brick wall of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. France merely has to vacate Brest and build another fleet and England is stuck. Germany is probably still well and truly on the sidelines waiting to pounce on whoever falters first. With a maximum of three fleets in 1902 England can only make head way against France by using them all, leaving Germany the option of the devastating F(Den)-NTH. If you have promised Germany support into Belgium from the start, that may be enough to secure German co-operation in the short-term. However, it would be a long hard slog against France with little immediate gains. You should really consider a U-turn, apologise to France for all you are worth and order F(Lon)-NTH, A(Wal)-Yor. Of course you will have to trust France not to attack you as soon as your back is turned.
Believe me, as one who has tried it, if the initial attack on France fails at the first move, forget it.
First Published in Spring Offensive No.3 (July 1992)