Malicious Support: Diplomacy's Ultimate Force Multiplier
by Tim Hoyt
Force Multiplier: U.S. term for new tactics or equipment which are meant to
increase a unit's combat effectiveness in a manner equivalent to an increase in
it's size... (Edward Luttwak and Stuart L. Koehl, A Dictionary of Modern War,
HarperCollins, NY,1991, p. 226).
Diplomacy poses an irritating tactical dilemma. Players know that there can
never be more than 34 pieces in play, and must calculate the strength of their
forces against potential or actual enemy coalitions. In theory, no state is safe
until if has eighteen units (a win) or a secure stalemate line: otherwise,
potential enemy coalitions may outnumber and eventually destroy them. Until
these ambitious goals are realized, players must do everything possible to
create artificial "force multipliers", which increase their relative power
against that of all others.
The obvious manner in which to achieve this is through alliance, which is the
core of the game. The game of Diplomacy has been described as an exercise in
convincing six other people to allow you to destroy them. This may be a little
extreme, but no single player can win without the cooperation (witting or
unwitting) of other players. Successful players maximize the utility of every
piece: at the most basic level, this includes ordering only the minimal number
of "holds". Successful alliances combine their strength, using support orders to
defend existing territory or to displace and destroy enemy units.
The support order has limitations, which are described in detail in section
IX of the February 1982 2nd edition rules (sorry if I'm using an obsolete set).
One of the most intriguing uses of the support order, of course, is the unwanted
support: helping an enemy into a space he was hoping to keep vacant by a
"bounce". For example, Austria: A Gal Bud; A Vie Bud. Russia: A Rum S (A)A Gal
Bud. This would be particularly annoying in a fall turn, if Austria were
intending to build in "vacant" Budapest.
It would occasionally be useful to be able to force one of your own units to
retreat, in order to keep an advance moving or break a potential stalemate line.
This is expressly forbidden by the rules. Section IX.3 states that "an order to
move into a space occupied by another unit of the same country may not succeed
if the second unit fails to leave that space...an order by one country which
supports an attack by another country against a space occupied by one of the
first country's units does not permit a move dislodging that unit..." This can
often be frustrating. Most players have probably experienced a situation in
which if they could just free ONE of their units up, they would have that
breakthrough, and their enemies would cower before them and submit to endless
Fortunately, there is a way. The "unwanted support" order, while annoying,
pales in comparison to the incredible aggravation and paralyzing effectiveness
of the "malicious support" (I am indebted to Laurence Zuriff, not only for
coining the phrase, but also for participating in a test case on Compuserve!).
Effective use of malicious support requires a tight alliance between two
countries. It also requires some intermingling of pieces. Many players are
unwilling to permit this, preferrring to divide responsibilities. The most
common form of this is the land sea alliance: Germany builds armies, England
builds fleets, for example. "Spheres of influence" are another means: France
secures the Low Countries and Iberia and then attacks on the Mediterranean
front, while England gets Scandinavia and attacks through the Barents and
Baltic. There are advantages to these agreements: they provide psychological
security for cooperating players in a cutthroat game; they delineate acceptable
and unacceptable behaviour (if you build that second fleet, we're at war!); and
they maximize the value of existing pieces in an alliance by ensuring that the
fewest possible pieces are wasted guarding against the ally's possible perfidy.
The difference between "force maximization" (my own term) and "force
multiplier" (an accepted military term) is that the latter INCREASES the
capability of existing units: the same numbers of forces achieve the results of
larger numbers of forces. Achieving this in Diplomacy is the equivalent of
having extra pieces on the board, working for you. The way to achieve this is
intermingle allied forces, accepting the risks and vulnerabilities attached.
Malicious support takes advantage of this by using enemy pieces to achieve
The theory of malicious support is as follows: allies A and B have
intermingled, cooperating units against enemy C. There are times when it is
advantageous for B to support C's units in attacks on A, in order to displace
A's units and force them to "retreat" in an advantageous manner. For a coalition
on the offensive, this may allow a unit to retreat across a not quite formed
stalemate line, foiling C's efforts to establish an effective defense. On the
defensive, malicious support may allow A to rebuild an unwanted unit as
something more productive and useful.
The example which follows came out of Compuserve Game TAD149, Fall 1905
moves, for those who might be interested.
Position (Spring 1905):
Austria: A Bud, A Gal, A Gas, A Mun, A Rum, A Tyl, A War, F Mid
England: F Yor, F Hel
France: A Bur, A Ruh, F Eng, F Hol, F Lon, F Por
Germany: A Ber, A Kie, A Sil
Italy: A Arm, A Mar, A Pie, A Ukr, F Bla, F Lyo, F Spa(sc), F Tyn, F Wes
Russia: A Den, A Fin, A Lvn, A Mos, F Swe
Turkey: F Sev
The stinking ruin of Versailles still smolders as you assemble your new
"provisional military government" of France. The recently deceased President was
obsessed with eliminating England to the point that he allowed an Austro Italian
alliance to "turn the corner" into the Mid Atlantic, as well as giving up Spa
and Mar. One quarter of your naval force sits beleagured in Portugal: for some
reason, your predecessor made no effort last turn to remove itfrom that
obviously lost province. Paris and Brest are threatened by Austrian troops and,
most ignominiously, the pitiful Hapsburg Navy, which stands astride the narrow
Mid Atlantic like a Colossus (apologies to Bill Shakespeare).
Your traditional allies of Germany and Russia continue to engage in
uncoordinated and often futile attacks on the Hapsburgs, although it appears
that Munich will change hands once more this year and be restored to the Kaiser.
You have just taken Holland, so a build is possible if one of your centers can
be kept open. Obviously, you have your diplomatic work cut out for you, but you
leave that temporarily to your Foreign Minister and concentrate on the tactical
Four attacks of serious significance appear possible. First, and least
threatening, is F Mid-Por; F Spa(sc) S F Mid-Por; F Wes-Mid. Portugal is lost.
In fact, you would almost prefer this attack, because it would allow you to
retreat F Por OTB and build a new, and more useful, F Bre (or some other unit,
if negotiations with Austria or Italy prove fruitful).
A more threatening move would be for Austria to attack or convoy to Bre:
Austria and Italy just completed an A Pie-Gas convoy last turn. F Mid can also
attack, supported by A Gas. Least likely is that A Gas will attack Bre supported
by F Mid: you have two units which can cut F Mid's support. IF Bre is the
target, youcan guarantee its safety by moving F Eng-Bre, F Por-Mid, and A
Par-Gas. That cuts either possible support for an Austrian attack on Bre, and
either takes Bre with F Eng or bounces an attack.
A third problem is A Gas-Par. That only requires a bounce,but A Bur is
necessary to hit Gas. Insufficient forces and too many threats: the curse of a
Dip player on the defensive.
Finally, Austria might be sneaky and give up Munich in order to take Bur. A
Mun-Bur, A Gas S A Mun-Bur, A Mar S A Mun-Bur is,for the moment, unstoppable. On
the other hand, that will guarantee that you protect both Par and Bre and get
your build. Since buying time is everything, you ignore that problem, and try to
resolve what to do about Par and Gas, and hope for the best.
The actual Austro Italian attack in F1905 was as follows:
Austria: F Mid-Bre; A Gas S F Mid-Bre; A Mun S (E) F Hel-Kie(failed, NSO).
Italy: A Pie-Spa; F Spa(sc)-Por; F Wes S F Por-Mid; A Mar S A Par-Gas; F Lyo
C A Pie-Spa.
The Catholic Alliance took advantage of the intermingled pieces through
malicious supports. If France had attacked Gas, cutting support for F Mid Bre,
Austrian A Gas retreats to Paris because of Italy's support for the French
attack! At the same time, if F Eng bounces Bre and F Por cuts Mid's possible
support,Italy's F Wes S F Por-Mid gains Portugal for Italy as an unsupported
attack (F Spa(sc)-Por), and retreats Austrian F Mid-Iri for a spring attack on
French Lpl. If France makes it's "best move" to defend Bre and secure a build,
it loses both Par and Por. As a result, rather than being able to build a piece
in a vacant center, it will actually lose one.
This would not have been possible without malicious supports. If all of the
pieces in theater were Italian, the retreat to Paris would not be possible, and
neither would the support of F Por-Mid or the retreat of F Mid to Iri. Similar
positions exist in the East, where Italy's two armies and a fleet cooperated
carefully with Austrian forces against first Turkey and later Russia (the game's
not over yet...<grin>). Italy at one point "owned" both Budapest and Serbia for
a period of two years, trading those centers back to Austria as it conquered
This is not exactly a "fair" example: the Austro-Italian alliance has a very
strong hand to play in this game, and there isn't too much that France can do
about the tactical situation. Nevertheless, it exhibits the malicious support at
its nastiest,when it can turn a strong French defensive move into a surprisingly
weak one. The malicious support may, however, be very useful in the "standard"
Russia-Turkey alliance, where Russia attempts tomove his F Sev out into the
Aegean Sea in F 1902. A Russian fleet as a spearhead into the Ionian can be the
recipient of malicious support from second line Turkish fleets, allowing
"offensive" retreats into Tyn, Apu, Adr, Alb, or possibly even an Italian
controlled supply center. Malicious support may also be a dastardly option in
traditional F-G and F-G-R anti English alliances. When the filthy Sassenach
attack to cut your support for something nasty, have your ally support the
English in and retreat to Yorkshire or Wales! Surely the opportunity of pulling
off a really neat trick like that is worth the risk of having two or three
allied units sitting near your home supply centers...
FOOTNOTE: Ironically, the French player did nothing we expected. His moves
were F Por H, F Eng-Nth (!), F Lon S F Eng-Nth, A Bur-Par, A Ruh-Bur, F Hol S F
Eng-Nth. While France lost Bre and didn't (couldn't) build, it retained the
possibility of finishing off England and staying alive by cannibalizing German
and Russian centers. The new provisional government, which requested a one week
delay in orders for diplomatic reasons, apparently executed the entire Foreign
Ministry. The French player failed to even attempt to break up the Austro
Italian alliance, and also did not communicate with his former allies in Germany
and Russia. Lack of coordination between these allies resulted in the loss of
Sev, Mos, Mun, and Bre to the Austrians. The Catholic Alliance in Spring 1906
controlled 21 centers (12 Austrian, 9 Italian).
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 75