English Opening Strategy

by Stephen Agar

 In the early days of Spring Offensive I composed several articles on opening strategy, on the grounds that this was a good old chestnut, of interest to newcomers to the hobby and an easy way of filling a page or two. Of those articles, the one dealing with England was the one I was least happy with, it was written in a hurry and far too biased in favour of attacking France. With the publication of up to date opening statistics for England in issue 24 of The Numbers Game I have suddenly felt the urge to go back re-assess what I said before, so here are my thoughts. 

Essentially there are only four English openings, which account for 92.12% of all recorded UK postal games (some 2,132 in all). They are: 

F(Lon)-NTH, F(Edi)-NWG, A(Lpl)-Yor      39.07%

F(Lon)-NTH, F(Edi)-NWG, A(Lpl)-Edi      22.61% 

F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH, A(Lpl)-Yor      23.45%

F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH, A(Lpl)-Wal      6.99% 

These openings break down into two convenient groups depending on whether England chooses to move to the Channel or not. Let's look at the Northern Openings first: 

F(Lon)-NTH, F(Edi)-NWG, A(Lpl)-Yor      39.07% 

This is by far the safest opening for England, being the only sensible opening that absolutely guarantees England a build in 1901 (something which none of the other three openings can do). This opening takes care of the fact that Russia may open with A(Mos)-StP and France may try F(Bre)-ENG, by permitting a supported attack on Norway while leaving an army adjacent to London to cover it against a French attack - though if you're also facing a German F(Hol) you may find that you get your build at the expense of conceding the North Sea to Germany, which is a frightening prospect. If you can think of nothing better than this opening is probably your best bet, and 4 out of 10 Englands appear to agree. A(Lpl)-Yor also has the advantage of making the opening look less anti-Russian than may otherwise be the case. This opening also preserves some flexibility in that if Norway can be taken uncontested, England has the possibility of a convoy to Belgium if a friendly neighbour is inclined to support the move, or convoying via NTH to Norway and putting the F(NWG) into BAR for a supported attack on StP in S02. 

F(Lon )-NTH, F(Edi)-NWG, A(Lpl)-Edi      22.61% 

Widely seen as the most anti-Russian opening, with this combination England forsakes the ability of being able to cover London and have a supported attack on Norway in order to leave herself the option of convoying an army via the NWG - which is especially useful if you believe that Russia will not open with A(Mos)-StP as it leaves F(NTH) free to do other things. Having said that, there's no a lot of point in this opening unless you want to keep your options open about taking Norway with an army, so perhaps we should consider the pros and cons of doing so. 

StP - The Cul-de-Sac? 

If Russia doesn't embark on a northern campaign and provided England isn't facing an all out attack elsewhere, it should be possible to force StP within two game years. But is it worth it? If you take StP with a fleet then England is left with F(StP)nc almost permanently stuck there, difficult to retreat without surrendering the centre, impossible to advance. If you take it with an army, a further advance is theoretically possible, but as it is unlikely that Mos is going to be left vacant, where is the support going to come from? Short of a simultaneous attack by Germany eastwards, there is little prospect of reinforcements with the result that it is common in games to find an English unit standing forlornly in StP for most of the game. 

Of course, one real advantage of taking StP is that it secures England against attack from Russia - with no possibility of a F(StP)nc to contend with England is able to focus her energies elsewhere. The downside is that to take StP does require an early attack (before Russia builds a second northern unit) and in order to take it England has to commit a large proportion of her forces to Scandinavia, leaving her exposed to an early French stab. It may not be a bad tactic if you are confident in having France as an ally against Germany, as the extra forces in Scandinavia can also be put to good use by forcing Sweden, but it does leave you exposed for a while. If Germany lets Russia into Sweden in 1901, then it will rarely be a good idea to try and force StP with F(NWG)-BAR as this will almost certainly prompt a conditional build of F(StP)nc in the unlikely event that Russia wasn't going to build F(StP)nc anyway. 

F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH, A(Lpl)-Yor      23.45% 

This opening isn't as anti-French as it first looks, though most people will get twitchy if a neighbour moves a unit to border one of their home SCs on the first move of the game. The A(Lpl)-Yor signals that France will not be on the receiving end of a convoy to Bre or Pic, so the most England could hope to achieve, if the intention was to stab France, would be a quick stab at Brest - which would almost certainly be a short-lived occupation, being kicked out in 1902, and something which is probably not a good idea unless there's already German units on French soil. It should be noted that nay opening which fails to include F(Edi)-NWG risks England getting no builds at all in the event that Russia orders A(Mos)-StP in S01. 

Assuming the premature stab at France isn't the main reason for the opening, it would appear that the idea is to put two units on Belgium (though at the cost of sacrificing Norway). The logic of this opening does defeat me a little, because a supported attack on Belgium will not necessarily secure it - Germany can bring two units to bear on Belgium in A01 as well (though admittedly only if he opens F(Kie)-Hol), while a French army in Pic or Bur will be decisive in determining whether England gets Belgium or not. All of this means that if the object is to take Belgium (presumably with the army) then it can only be done in alliance with France and at the expense of abandoning Norway. Whether or not you think the potential to take Belgium (if help materialises) is worth surrendering for the certainty of Norway is a matter of taste. I suppose that if you are 100% certain of French help (especially if France is going to open with A(Mar) S A(Par)-Bur) then putting an English army in Belgium coupled with an attack into Germany by a French A(Bur) could be very powerful. Still, it's hardly a risk-free strategy. 

F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH, A(Lpl)-Wal      6.99% 

This opening does tend to say, rather unambiguously, that your intention is to attack France. The only point in moving A(Lpl)-Wal is to enable the army to be convoyed by the F(ENG), which means that the destination of the convoy would have to be Bre, Pic or Bel. Of course, if you're stood out of the Channel then you're in a mess straight away - you may have cost France an extra build, but Brest will be safe and France will probably build there. Therefore, this is only an opening to try if you really believe that France will not go for the Channel under any circumstances. 

Assuming you get into the Channel, what next? Belgium is obviously the one to go for if you're acting in concert with Germany and that is part of the deal. Other than that you're in a guessing game. On balance, if you're going to attack France it is more important to get an army across the Channel than it is to take Brest, and in an ideal world you'd get an army into Pic or Bel while France would cover Brest and thus be unable to build a second fleet. Whatever I say here will probably turn out to be wrong for you, but if I was playing England in that situation I'd go for Picardy France has ordered A(Par)-Pic or A(Par)-Gas, as he'll probably use it to cover Brest one way or another, and go for Bre if the only French unit adjacent to Brest is a F(MAO) - most French players will take the gamble and go for the extra build, rather than risk ending up with only one build an the French fleet back in Brest where it started. Obviously, if there's a German A(Bur) then that changes things and opens up the prospect of support into Picardy. 

I suppose the possibility exists that this opening could be used in conjunction with a solid French alliance to allow a French support of A(Pic) or A(Bur) S ENGLISH A(Wal)-Bel C by F(ENG). It would certainly surprise Germany, but France would need nerves of steel. 

This is not an opening for the nervous, you could get no builds at all and your gamble in going to the Channel and Wales could end up being something of a disaster if you guess wrong.

 Reprinted from Spring Offensive 38


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