By Richard Egan
England seems to be a very popular country to play, often
topping preference lists and just as often placed second after France or Russia.
Yet curiously, unlike the other Northern Powers, it is not a country with a
particularly good win record. It comes off worse than even boring old Turkey. So
why is it one of the favourite few?
Certainly England has its advantages at the beginning of
the game. As an island it is relatively easy to defend, and has the unique
distinction of commencing play with two fleets and one army - hardly the “two-
power” standard, but a navy capable of securing the local waves at least in
1901. Unlike Russia’s two fleets, the English ones can operate together, and
are very much the key to the northern balance of power in the opening moves.
Even when England is restricted to one build in 1091, a
player can sometimes make sure Germany gets no more by bouncing him out of
Denmark or Holland, and he can certainly get concessions by making threatening
noises at Germany and France over Belgium.
Yet this in itself is a measure of England’s
corresponding weakness. Every army built by England has to be convoyed (thus
obliging the player to hold with a fleet or two for this purpose), and to gain
any chance of winning armies are going to be needed on the continent to
penetrate the darkest inland provinces of Europe. Indeed, the nerve-wracking
decision of how to balance fleets and armies is no more finely poised than in
the Pink corner.
Even without going into the advantages of the Northern and
Southern Openings (F(Lon) - NTH, F(Edi) - NWG and F(Lon) - ENG, F(Edi) -
NTH respectively), I don’t need to point out that in Autumn 1901 France
and Germany can easily sever those convoys needed to land the B.E.F. on the
European mainland - and what use is an English Army stuck in Yorkshire or London
- unless invasion looms via ENG, in which case you’re likely to be in trouble,
OK, so I’m exaggerating, but it is precisely because of
its insular position that England alone among the seven Dip Powers is physically
restricted to a maximum of two builds in 1901, and one of those is unlikely
given bad “diploming”. Yes, Italy usually only gets Tunis, but even so it is
patently clear that England's greatest strength is also it's greatest weakness.
Even when two builds are seized, they are often precarious and certainly
isolated from each other.
Nonetheless, as ever, the game is not so much decided by
what you do as by what six other players do. The name of the Game is diplomacy
and enemies and alliances are what really count. Given that, let’s take a look
at England’s position vis a vis the rest of Europe, starting with France.
France, after all, is closest to home, and just has to be
Public Enemy No 1. Historically, the two countries have always been at
loggerheads (short illustrative anecdote evidently the two-fingered salute
originated at Agincourt: the Dauphin, who expected the common English archers to
be routed, threatened to cut off the two bow fingers of each one caught alive;
the French lost the battle, the cream of the Dauphins knighthood fell before the
volleys of arrows, and after the victorious English bowmen rubbed salt into the
wound by defiantly waving their two bow fingers, intact, at the French Prince.
But enough of this, back to Diplomacy). On the board, France is clearly the
biggest single threat to English security, in much the same way as an England
left unattended can become the wolf at the back door of a France tied up in the
mud or in Germany. For England, Portugal and Spain are tempting prizes, and
Brest is too close for comfort.
Nevertheless, early in the game, England will often accept
a non-aggression pact with France. This is, in essence, a “cop-out”,
postponing the inevitable (if, that is, either has serious ideas about winning).
After all, France just has to be the biggest single obstacle to England
attaining the magical 18 supply centres, being sprawled right across the route
south. An early alliance does allow the partners to indulge in centre-snatching,
and it denies Germany an easy start after all, if they team up with the express
purpose of “bashing Fritz”. Even so, keep an eye on that French F(MAO) -
lethal when lobbed into the Irish Sea.
Beside France and England, the third member of the
“Northern Triangle” is Deutschland. Surprisingly, the stats seem to suggest
that Germany is a better target for England than France. Just why this should be
so is a matter for thought, although Denmark, Holland and Kiel neatly link up
Norway and Belgium, and establish a strong English bridgehead in Europe. Germany
is a strong contender, and has to be KO’ed quickly, or he can seal off the
mainland with a Fortress Europa approach - yet he can also be a useful ally
against England’s other rivals (France and Russia), and is less likely to trip
an English ally up then France (who usually wants a finger in the same pie as
far as Germany and the Low Countries go). But can you afford to let Germany off
the hook - his neighbours are, after all, his weakness...
Then comes England’s third neighbour, Russia. Tension
with the Big Bad Bear inevitably focuses on Norway. An unlucky England will lose
it, but given the right conditions he could take all of Scandinavia and StP to
boot - though beware of Mos, which is tempting, but distant and slippery to
hoot. Russia can be a cul-de-sac for English expansion, though it makes an
excellent target for the Anglo-Turkish Alliance. Turkey can do England little
harm, and the first thing to do when one starts playing England is write to the
Sultan himself. Austria makes an acceptable substitute, but if he can’t be
persuaded to stab Germany he can never be fully trusted.
Last up is Italy. Like England, he has his eye on Spain,
even Portugal, as mid-game builds, and is likely to team up with Russia to
distract Turkey and Austria (England’s natural allies) if he has any sense.
I’d say let Italy get on with losing the game were it not for the fact that he
can be a source of profound embarrassment for the rest of the Northern Triangle
- especially if they had forgotten they had a southern border.
So the real solution
to England’s isolation (not really as splendid as it seems) is to pair off
with one of the other two northern powers, on the clear (personal) understanding
that they have to be well stabbed in the mid-game. Given that France is less
able to bring fleets to bear quickly than Germany, as a rule (although this is
admittedly a very flimsy rule), the French might make the better initial
pairing, giving one an ally against Germany, and some freedom to move against
Russia. I suppose sitting on the fence has its worth, but to get into Europe you
need an ally, and to penetrate Europe you need to hit him and hit him hard.
It’s for that reason that I topped the page with two words, ”Perfidious
Reprinted from Vienna No.2 (Augusy 1984)