Opening Strategy, Part III:
Noteworthy Points and Summary

by Jake Orion

Abstract

This article is mostly about what to do when things have gone wrong (in year one). It's longer than I anticipated, so as promised I will answer many commonly-asked questions in the next article.

My boss has a wonderful array of sayings and metaphors. One of my favorites of his is, "If you're lucky, life is plan B." Diplomacy is certainly that way, as well. Events and reactions never transpire as planned. There is always a fading path or a missing bridge somewhere on your trek's original course. Thankfully, I am only contracted to write about opening scenarios. That helps reduce the infinite number of possibilities by at least ten (thatís an engineering joke; sorry).

In article one, we learned about posturing ourselves wisely to make friends. In article two, I did my best to generalize the unthinkably difficult task of reading your opponent. Now, let us say you did everything a little less than perfectly and, somehow, a counterpart's actions are foreshadowing malicious treatment to your nation. What do you do?

Unfortunately, there are no great answers when things get tough in the opening game, but there are options. Truthfully, I cannot say I am confident that any one option is a solution: they are more like treatments to symptoms which may in fact have no cure. (That's a polite way of saying that sometimes you do everything right and still get demolished.) We'll proceed with our study, nonetheless, for it is better to have some taxonomy of possible options, than it is to get confused when things go wrong, swinging randomly about, like a blindfolded child going after a pinata.

All right, let's look at two different scenarios. In the first, you have only one enemy or only one serious point of contention. (Example: who among F,G or E gets Belgium, what to do about a possible occupation of Galicia, or how to resolve the Black Sea fleet issue.) Common sense should tell you that you can do one or more things, in the following categories:

  1. Make more conciliatory offers for a neighboring party's support.
  2. Whack into your enemy and frustrate him while pleading for a sane truce.
  3. Give in to the point of contention.
  4. Push for distant nations to become hostile against your neighbor.

Well, considering it's the opening year, I would recommend neither (2) nor (4). Both are too radical and provocative considering the fledging 1901 environment. Exciting foreign powers this early in the game presents yourself completely in opposition of article part one's and two's strategy. Namely, your nation has become aggressive, manipulating, and an outright instigator. Avoid this. The most important reason is that your pointed actions make an equitable solution all the less likely. This is because word travels quite freely at the game's opening, therefore harsh, provocative talk is very likely to be amplified and then boomeranged onto your potential enemy's lap, making the matter worse. Options (1) and (3) are far less hostile and optimize your chances of putting aside your differences. Other more serious threats or opportunities may very well compel your rival to halt his hostilities with you. Even better, perhaps your other neighbor may join your side and solve the problem in the more traditional European fashion -- militarily.

A limited "bounce" may be appropriate under certain circumstances, but it's hardly the start of a good friendship. However, if the area of conflict is a soft spot in your nation's security (for example, the North Sea to England, the English Channel to France, or the Black Sea to Turkey) then a "bounce" may be necessary, considering the drastic risk of yielding this territory. Let's say that a bounce does become necessary -- you have now opted for a strategy somewhere between categories (2) and (3). I say this because most bounces (excluding the Black Sea one) put no one in a good position to grow and liberate non-player supply centers (a good example of this is a spring bounce in the English Channel, which weakens both parties' ability to gain their respective supply centers: Norway and Portugal). Therefore, you have somewhat given in and somewhat aggravated your neighbor.

In scenario two, we will say that it is clear that two neighbors are allying against you. Now you're in mega-trouble and all bets are off so go nuts!?!? Not really. If you made reasonably generous offers of peace and followed the proper etiquette of parts one and two, you should be able to meet this foray blitz with dignity while projecting doubt in the minds of your aggressors. Always remember, alliances in year one are the most likely to falter and reverse. This is not to say that things are thumbs-up for you, but not all is necessarily lost. Serious concessions have to be made and tactics have to be altered. Keep in contact with your enemies and do your best to work your magic to reverse the environment. I will not detail this further, since it's not typically a first year problem. We could go into great detail in this matter, but this series of articles is to be of limited length, and, basically, this is exactly the matter that parts one and two were designed to help you avoid.

Opening Strategy: Parts One, Two and Three - Summary

The framework of part one was constructed around your nation's domestic posturing. Part two looked at how you can assess your fellow players' characteristics. Part three looks at perspective options if things get confrontational. The most important thing, overall, is to keep your objectives set on achieving the following:

  1. to possess no outright enemies (imminent conflicts),
  2. to have cultivated a strong position to bond with at least one strategically close neighbor,
  3. to have established your personality, and
  4. to have developed a reasonable portfolio as to the nature of your fellow players.

Often the simple little common sense things seem so obvious when written down. However, I have seen hundreds of players get caught up in the greed factor or the military-maneuvering component of the game and fail to exercise the most basic principles of the game. Diplomacy is in many ways an extension of psychology. Everyone wants good friends and everyone wants to succeed. Posturing yourself as a cultivator to others' needs is critical to obtaining long term success. Manipulation seems great in theory, but even the average player rarely overlooks the true content of your actions once the orders are read. Year one is not the year to go for the solo. It's the year to plant the crops and work the field. Every duck that you hunt does not have to line up in a row for you to shoot by 1902.

I encourage you to re-read the three parts of the article again and ask questions or make comments. I have received a sizable amount of mail and am happy to see how encouraging and helpful the responses have been. I always try to keep an open mind and a positive attitude about Diplomacy. It is a fabulous game which I have always looked at as just being fun, and not as a person-to-person intellectual battle of wits to feed the ego.

This ends the first article series on general opening strategy. My next article will likely just be spent answering questions. As always, I appreciate any suggests and comments good or bad. My job here is to facilitate your understanding and ability. Feedback only makes that task easier. Good Luck!

 

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