by Jake Orion
I have received a lot of specific questions regarding how to play particular countries. In response, I thought it would be helpful if I just went into more specific details of each country in my next series of articles. Germany will be the first country. If you have not read the three-part series on opening strategy, I'd suggest that you read it before getting into the details of this article. Remember, strictly military issues like many of the ones mentioned below often tell little about the wonderful game of Diplomacy. Determining a player's true intent, making alliances with reliable neighbors, and working the balance between security and expansion are really of paramount importance. Please never forget that.
This article hits the very basics early, but later it details more specific recommendations, so please bear with it if you are a more experienced player.
Okay, let's first hit the basics. Germany is one of the inner three countries, along with Austria and Italy. Much like its fellow central-Continental partners, it has a compact concentration of supply centers that makes it easier to defend and harder to overwhelm. Why is that important? It's important because Germany is hard to stab at successfully and very hard to get off the board quickly (note: when I say stab, I mean a sneak attack which goes on to yield a complete conquering of a nation, not a one-supply-center capture). The only potential weak link to the impressive German defensive posture is Denmark. Denmark lies hanging with often only a sole unit for protection. It easy to see after a few games, however, that if you attack Germany and take one or two of its supply centers, it's still not a clean-up battle. Germany can effectively defend and counter within its borders seemingly forever. This is not the case for many other nations like England and Turkey.
Many think that France is German's sworn enemy. However, the majority of the time, Germany is actually eliminated due to an attack from England and/or Russia. England and Russia are the only nations capable of lunging into Germany with the kind of effectiveness that opens the Reich up to a tag-team wurst, pretzel and supply-center feast (okay beer as well). By its lonesome, France can do little against Germany for two reasons:
Russia and England are the only candidates capable of taking Germany's relatively vulnerable supply center, Denmark, and/or penetrating into Germany's soft spot, the Baltic sea. What is most important to realize, however, is that, if Germany goes down, it goes down because it gets attacked by multiple players. And at least one of those players will be England or Russia. This fact is key to understanding how to play Germany.
England is the most obvious partner for Germany. The English-German combination can make substantial gains in France and/or Scandinavia in a reasonably efficient manner. This alliance and its advantages are so obvious, I will not write about them further at this juncture.
A German-French partnership assures the early departure of England. Remember, England has a very weak line of defense if attacked with reasonably strong forces. The issue with G-F is always how to divide the United Kingdom's loot fairly. Lines of defense are hard to maintain between F-G once England has been eliminated.
An active German-Russian alliance does nothing good for Germany. It is essential that Germany avoid getting attacked by Russia, but, other than that, the two nations should not look to move against a neighboring nation like Austria or England (at least not until the late stages of the game). Allowing Russian to take Norway when England is hostile to Germany is perhaps as far as an active R-G should go.
In the beginning, Germany is like every other country. It gobbles the neighboring supply-center fodder (Denmark and Holland in this case) and seeks alliances. Then it postures itself for growth opportunities. This opening segment for Germany is not unique; the three opening strategy articles suffice here. The only point of particular interest is Belgium. If there is a acknowledged G-F or G-E, I recommend trying to take Belgium. If there is no formal alliance between F-G-E, I do not recommend trying to take Belgium. Belgium is a catalyst for trouble before alliances are made. The nation that takes Belgium early without agreement often gets enemies due to that center's provocative location.
Germany is always in big trouble early if Russia attacks it. Therefore, I never recommend bumping Russia in Sweden early on, regardless of whether Turkey and/or England are heading after the Great Russian Bear. Diplomatically, the bounce in Sweden all but assures bad ties with Russia indefinitely. Militarily, a bounce in Sweden means that the Russian fleet will likely head to Germany's soft spot: the Baltic Sea. This is very bad. Germany does not want Russia dead early and should not actively provoke Russia. Germany also is rarely successful when it moves on Russia early. Offering goodwill and plenty of demilitarized zones with Russia is likely the best of options. Germany wants Russia occupied, preferably in the south. An R-T alliance is bad for Germany only if Austria cannot hold its ground. Often, A-I bounce head to head with R-T and that is great news for Germany. Of course a crumbling Russia is better than a strong Russia; don't get me wrong.
Ninety-five percent of the time, Germany makes plans with either France or England to destroy the other. Which one is a better partner? France usually, but not always. When you side with France, it is much easier for France to overrun England. Germany has the tedious task of penetrating the North Sea (England's soft spot) while France can rip into England effectively from a choice three sea territories. Thus France often gets to England first and that's bad. Also, if Russia is sizable and you have sided with France, your doom is all but sealed in the mid-game. However, siding with England leaves you uncomfortably vulnerable to a sneak attack by the UK fleet swarm once France has been drubbed. However, it is worth noting that England often cannot make serious gains if Germany maintains a tight defensive posture. Holland, Belgium, Kiel, Berlin, etc... all nicely protect one another. If England is looking to break through, it often requires a preparatory move (or two) thus giving Germany time to react.
Regardless of what others say, more so than Austria and Italy, Germany suffers from its central location. I hate it when I read articles about how being in the middle is an advantage and how it makes it easier to grow quickly. That's rubbish. If Germany allies with either 'E' or 'F' and then attacks the other (as is likely), Germany often does well early on only to get swallowed unceremoniously by its former partner right after the victimized nation has been pillaged. It is tragic but true. If you are partners with Germany, you have a great ally. Germany sits in the middle of the board and protects you like padding on one side while helping you grow on your side. What is even better for Germany's partner is the fact that if Germany gets attacked on an opposing front, you can either use Germany as a growth plug against the offending nation or attack Germany from your borders and take your share: two good choices for the German ally. Russia often makes the mistake of attacking Germany, only to watch England or France make the big gains on the weakside front (this is by far the most common novice error I see Russia make... and it hurts me so to see it). It may sound like I'm writing about Germany's partner and not Germany. Well, that's the point actually. Germany needs to realize its nation's true value and vulnerability in order to best implement foreign policy.
A quick definition here: The mid-game shake-out is when two or three powers have essentially been eliminated, leaving only four or five nations as potential victors. It is at this stage of the game that the remaining four to five powers often reposition themselves and seek a new course of action. Namely, they try to close out the game with a three-way draw or go for the rare solo. Germany above all suffers from mid-game shake-out syndrome. When you are Germany, there are three basic ways to prevent your demise in the mid-game shake-out:
Let me explain further...
I find that authors commonly like to tell you the nation they are writing about is easy to win with or is better than you think. I claim Germany is much harder to play than people say. The better a game's players, the harder it is to succeed as Germany. A lot of people play a blitzkrieg or stabbing game when they are Germany and think they are geniuses because they get a couple of extra SCs. Soon after their German growth spurt, they find themselves with no friends, with a bad reputation, and under assault from all sides. (That would never happen to Germany historically.) I suggest keeping your friends as long as possible and always jockeying for a good mid-to-end-game posture. Germany has great strategic value to its allies, so use that to your advantage. Germany needs to be the ultimate Continental diplomat, always watching all fronts carefully. When one power or alliance gets too powerful, Germany needs to be the first to start sending up the warning signs and gathering counter-forces. Lastly, I will say it again, never let yourself get caught with weak defenses during the mid-game shake-out.