German Strategy

by Don Turnbull

There isn’t much doubt in my mind that, of all the countries in the game of Diplomacy, Germany is the most mis-represented. If Allan Calhamer made a mistake in the design, it was in presenting a Germany much weaker than the realistic counterpart. Historically, Germany proved herself capable of waging war on two major fronts against three powerful enemies; in the game, if there is the slightest suggestion of a two-front war, Germany is usually compelled to put her armies and fleets back in the box. For this reason (and others less critical) Germany is probably the most difficult country to play in the game, if one assumes competent players in the neighbouring countries. I have often wondered what would happen if Germany were given four units at the start of the game, rather than three.

I mentioned the concept of a ‘natural corridor’ when writing about Austria earlier in this series. Well, if Austria is a natural corridor, providing the ‘edge powers’ the territory for reaching each other, then Germany is too — in spades. Switzerland blocks off the western edge of Austria, but a vacant Germany presents a clear road from the North Sea to the Balkans. Additionally, whereas in the case of Austria at least one (Italy) of her adjacent powers is relatively weak, Germany is surrounded by four powerful enemies — England, France, Russia and (to a lesser extent) Austria.

First of all, it is abundantly clear that Germany is really asking for trouble if she attacks Austria. Even if the campaign succeeds, all Germany is doing is widening the corridor; Great Powers will be moving through the corridor sooner or later, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to open the gates wider in the opening game. If Germany cannot negotiate a firm alliance with Austria, then a border treaty is vital. Tyrol is too close to Munich for comfort, and Tyrol outflanks Italian defenders in Venice and Austrian defenders in Trieste — need I say more? Yes, I need — on no account should Germany attack Austria in the early stages of the game.

This leaves three directions in which Germany can expand — against France, Russia or England. Having said this, it is fortunate for Germany that her intentions need not be telegraphed in the first year. Everyone expects German units to make bids for Denmark and Holland, and perhaps Belgium also; therefore a move towards these centres, negotiating with neighbours all the time, will not arouse unhealthy suspicions in anyone’s mind, and the three options can be left open (at least overtly) until it is clearer which way the wind is blowing elsewhere.

Unless there are strong reasons for doing otherwise, the best opening moves for Germany are F(Kie)-Den, A(Mun)-Ruh, A(Ber)-Kie. There are exponents of F(Kie)-Hol; however this is most anti-French, and usually commits Germany too early. These moves give Germany a good chance of three builds (although this might not always be a good idea — see later) and do not betray any particular foreign policy. There may be a minor argument with France over occupation of Belgium, but that’s nothing to the row A(Mun)-Bur would cause, for instance. An opportunity to stand off a Russian attack on Sweden in Autumn 1901 is presented, if that’s the way things seem to be shaping. All in all, these moves give Germany the best chances with the smallest risk.

Germany’s main problem starts in Winter 1901 (what to build) and Spring 1902 (who to attack) since by that time she must commit herself one way or another — to an attack either on Russia, France or England, and to strong supporting alliances. In this context it is worth remarking that three German builds in Winter 1901 might attract undue attention; whatever anyone might say, German hopes are nil if Russia, France and England decide to ally against her. In many circumstances, there’s a lot to be said for sacrificing or delaying the third build (Holland is the best candidate for initial neutrality) in the interests of fostering good relations.

To deal first with France. When dealing with French strategy in the last issue, I made a considerable strategic point of the barrier presented by Switzerland; now a barrier doesn’t take sides, of course, and is equally effective in defending France from German attack. This makes France a difficult county to invade, even with English assistance. Looking ahead a stage further, the omens aren’t all that good even if England and Germany, in combination, eliminate France, since Germany then lies in the way of future English development. England has a strong corner position, so Germany is likely to be the loser in the middle game. For these and other reasons I would discount France as Germany’s first target.

An alliance with England against Russia has its attractions. Since the war would usually involve English fleets and German armies, Germany would emerge with control of Warsaw and perhaps Moscow — important strategic positions. However, English fleets would swarm in the north, and Germany stands a good chance of being tied down. Don’t forget, in the context of German-English relations, that Holland, Belgium and Denmark — three centres usually occupied by Germany in the middle game if not earlier — are adjacent to the North Sea; an English fleet in the North Sea can therefore tie down three German units. In addition, when the spoils are divided, England will emerge with St. Petersburg and either Norway or Sweden, so English units will occupy positions to the north of Germany just at the time German forces want to move south.

The third possibility — a campaign with France against England — is probably the most attractive of the three. While the campaign takes place, arrangements must be made to reassure Russia about her interests in the north; that may be the road for the second campaign of the game, of course, and it wouldn’t do to pre-empt it. The advantages are numerous — Germany will emerge with control of the North Sea, protecting Denmark, Holland and Belgium; a correct stance with Russia would result in German control of Norway — a vital stepping stone for a future eastern campaign; England, once conquered, is easy to defend; finally, when the campaign is over, it is an easy matter for France and Germany to demilitarise their borders and go their separate ways without interfering with each other. There are snags, of course, not the least of which is the natural defensive strength of England, and it will be a long campaign; in addition, unless arrangements are made with Italy (to leave south France alone) and Russia (to get interested in Turkish centres) it could be disastrous. Nor should one forget Austria — a well-timed stab from that direction would be disastrous for Germany. Many games have seen a Germany weakened, by the loss of home centres and a reduction in building power.

Whichever course is adopted, Germany walks a tight-rope throughout the game. It is at once too easy to be strong (and hence a target) or weak (and hence relegated to an inferior position by stronger allies). The over-running of Germany in the middle game, even after a successful German opening campaign, must always be reckoned with. It requires a skilled player to handle the intricacies of German strategy; weak players in England and/or France help a lot, of course, but don’t expect miracles when playing Germany – it’s a hard nut to crack.

This article first appeared in the September 1972 edition of Games & Puzzles magazine
Supplied by Keith Hazelton


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