Early Game Alliances: England/France

The “Entente Cordiale” is the well established name for the Anglo-French alliance. It comes from a contemporaneous alliance established in 1904 between the two states, aimed at defending themselves from German aggression but – more importantly – ending direct colonial competition.

England’s POV

If England is to win the game, she has to attack France. This is going to be true in the vast majority of situations. A lot of people will tell you that England must, therefore, attack France from the start.

There is always something silly about such sweeping, catch-all statements, to me. While it may be built on great strategic advice, it places the choice of alliances a player can make solely in the Gunboat Diplomacy arena, where it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against.

Richard Sharp, author of The Game of Diplomacy, believes England should almost always attack France. He argues this point in his chapter on playing England, and this is reinforced in his article “Hey Bresto!” – which ironically describes an Anglo-French alliance. One line from this article describes his attitude: “It is a fact that England and France are completely incompatible.

This doesn’t take into account the people playing England and France – and the other powers, for that matter. It may be that England’s best candidate for an ally turns out to be the person playing France at this point in the game. If that is the case, then make the alliance.

The Problem of France

So, while I believe an alliance with France can work, it comes with problems. The most obvious is stated by Sharp (read the above links): France can swiftly swing to attack England if England focuses on Scandinavia and Russia.

There are two ways to minimise this problem: secure the Channel and focus on Germany.

The English Channel can be secured by a DMZ – making it an agreed demilitarised zone, a space to which neither England nor France will move. However, this isn’t really secure. France may, after all, be a lying sod. England opens with the Churchill Opening (F Edi-NWG, F Lon-NTH, A Lpl-Edi) intending to take Norway and push on into St Petersburg; France then orders F Bre-ENG. Dammit.

This can be minimised by changing the England’s opening to the Jorvik Opening (F Edi-NWG, F Lon-NTH, A Lpl-Yor). Here, the army can cover London by moving Yor-Lon in F01 if needed. Still, the French fleet is in the wrong area of the map, whether it stayed in the Channel, moved to Wales or the Irish Sea, or went to Belgium. It should be in Spain!

The only way to secure the Channel, therefore, is to order F Lon-ENG in S01. There are two possible outcomes:

  1. F Lon-ENG succeeds. In this case, England has options. She can move to Belgium, Picardy, Brest, MAO, or the North Sea. She may be able to convoy her army (if the order was accompanied by A Lpl-Wal).
  2. F Lon-ENG bounces. This you do not want to happen. It may have secured the Channel from F Bre-ENG but it’s wasted a move. England is possibly going to fail to build in 1901. Disaster.

England should only seek to move to the Channel if you think it will work. And the only way to make it work is to have France agree to the move, or to move there while being damn sure that France won’t.

Any E/F alliance is aimed at attacking Germany, whether as a stand alone alliance or as part of a triple alliance. (There are three triple alliances that allow England and France to attack Germany: the Spaghetti Western with Italy; the Triple Entente with Russia, and the Western Triple with Germany. Yes, it includes the Western Triple, which is the perfect ersatz alliance for an E/F strike on Germany!)

If England is to work with France, Germany is the target. England should still move to Norway but stop there. This is a pretty good idea in the Early Game anyway, frankly; although there’s no reason England shouldn’t push on into St Petersburg, doing so leaves the back door open for a French attack. Remember, we’re talking about making the Entente Cordiale work!

After Norway, England should move to attack Germany with France. This may include supporting Russia into Sweden if necessary to secure England’s position in Scandinavia. But England should look to dominate the northern seas and attack Germany in Holland, Denmark and Kiel. This will allow France to attack Germany in Ruhr and Munich.

The alternative to this is to run a Scandinavian Gambit and forsake Norway with cast iron support from France to take Belgium. This will only be possible if England can get her London fleet into the Channel, so a southern opening, either the Eboracum Opening (F Edi-NTH, F Lon-ENG, A Lpl-Yor) or the Beacons Opening (F Edi-NTH, F Lon-ENG, A Lpl-Wal). But either opening will only be successful if France has an army in Picardy or Burgundy to support the Belgian attack.

The point of all this is to get France to focus on attacking Germany with England. There really isn’t a downside in this for France… but that doesn’t mean that France will go for it. If you feel like you’re flogging a dead horse, then drop the idea.

France’s POV

France has the ability to play out 1901 without committing to anything. With Iberia (Spain and Portugal) waiting for French units to occupy them, she can reach 5 units at the end of 1901 without really trying. Keep England out of the Channel; bounce with Germany in Burgundy; agree to DMZ Piedmont with Italy (which shouldn’t be difficult in most games).

This means that France can wait until 1902 before moving into an alliance with any of her neighbours, providing each neighbour believes that there’s a chance of a French alliance. England needs a non-aggressive France to make gains in Scandinavia and Russia; Germany – being a central power – needs a non-aggressive France in the same way she needs all her neighbours to be non-aggressive; Italy needs France to not be in Piedmont.

However, her two Northern Triangle neighbours – England and Germany – won’t want to wait for a slow-moving France. England can’t afford to wait and see if France will ally with her or Germany. Germany will want to see some commitment or she’ll take what Russia is offering.

The Problem of the Channel

France doesn’t want England in the Channel unless it is with a firm agreement that England is going to Belgium. Nothing else makes sense. Unfortunately, France can’t do much to guarantee England is going to Belgium.

Given that England doesn’t want a French fleet in the Channel, though, this isn’t a huge obstacle to get over. Be sincere in committing to the DMZ and that should be that. After all, F Bre-MAO makes more sense for France – England will probably order A Lpl-Yor in S01 anyway so F Bre-ENG is unlikely to work if France is planning to take London.

However, the strength of an Anglo-French alliance is going to be greater if France agrees to F Lon-ENG. After all, it shows trust. But what happens if England decides to then move F Eng-Bre? Or what if England wants to order A Lpl-Wal?

Now add Burgundy into the mix. Burgundy is French; it sits between Paris & Marseille and the German SC of Munich. France doesn’t want A Mun-Bur; Germany doesn’t want A Par/Mar-Bur. This is the English Channel on land!

France can’t cover Brest from an English fleet in the Channel, and cover Paris and Marseille from a German army in Burgundy. Well, she can assuming she can recover from potentially zero builds in 1901!

France must therefore make something of a gamble in 1901 and the least problematic is an English fleet in the Channel. If England wants to move there, then she’s likely to be sincere about trying for Belgium… and, if she’s not, then she’s more likely to move F ENG-MAO because this is a better position to attack France in long-term.

The Problem of English maritime strength

France has a longer-term problem, however, if she chooses to ally with England: to get to England later in the game, or to defend against England later in the game, England’s fleet strength will need to be considered.

France really can’t insist on England not building fleets. England needs fleets to get her armies onto the mainland… and France needs English fleets to help defeat Germany. But, later in the game, France is going to face an England that has fleets to use freely in the north, while French fleets are plugging away in the Med.

There are two possible answers to this: one is a reworking of the Hey Bresto! opening as described by Richard Sharp, which I’ll look at below; the other is keep a rearguard in France at all times, including an army in Brest and/or Gascony.

The rearguard in any alliance is always a good idea, when you can afford it. This is because – unless you have the dubious joy of being allied with a Carebear (a player who plays to draw games) – then you’ve to continually keep in mind that, at some point, your ally is going to betray you and try to win if they can.

This may be sooner rather than later. You may, indeed, by allied with a player who seems a chance and jumps on it. This means that you could be vulnerable to any opening you give them. It could simply be that your ally thinks that this is the best time to stab you.

So holding units back to discourage this is going to be a good thing. With regard to the Entente Cordiale I’d think about an army in Gascony and – preferably – Brest. If it’s possible, an army in Brest and a fleet in Gascony is even better. At least, however, an army in Gascony.

From Gascony, France can cover either Spain or Brest. If an English fleet should wander aimlessly into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, then, only Portugal is exposed. And, if it does, France can retaliate with a fleet build in Brest.

Making it work

Any alliance needs trust and trust is earned. I’m not going to develop this very much here, because that’s best dealt with in a general post about alliances. What I will say is that both France and England need to prove that they’re trustworthy to the other. It’s going to be very hard to overcome the distrust of France saying they’re not moving to the Channel only to order F Bre-ENG in S01. And vice versa.

If you’re England and you want to move to the Channel, say that’s what you’re doing. This isn’t about getting an advantage over France, remember, but about trying to build a working relationship with them. France might not want you there but, unless they say they’re ordering F Bre-ENG to counter this, you’re probably going to succeed. But France won’t trust you no matter where you’re aiming to go from the Channel.

If you’re France, there’s really nothing to be gained by ordering F Bre-ENG. If you want to cover Brest, order A Par-Gas. If England orders F Lon-ENG anyway, then A Gas-Bre covers a possible attack… and if you don’t need to cover Brest, A Gas-Spa works just as well as anything else, and A Gas-Bur can still be played.

So, say what you intend to do, and do what you say you’re going to do.

Hey Bresto!

I’ve mentioned Richard Sharp’s solution to the problems with the Anglo-French alliance a couple of times, so let’s have a look at it.

The idea behind this is that England occupies Brest in F01 with a fleet – S01: F Lon-ENG; F01: F ENG-Bre. This is a good way for England to secure herself from French fleets. Building in Marseille is a very long way round!

But why would France agree to this? It reduces her build capacity to just Paris and Marseille, and it means she has to take two SCs in 1901 to build anything!

Well, if it secures the E/F alliance, then it’s worth considering at least. England should be looking to guarantee you Belgium and Holland as well as the majority of the German SCs. Of course, England may not actually follow-through on this promise but it’s a consideration.

If I were France, I’d be insisting that England moves from Brest and throws her fleet east immediately in 1902. That way, if England does betray you later in the game, you have the chance to retake Brest. And, as soon as possible, the Channel is made a DMZ. I would also insist that England does not build in Liverpool unless she has to – and then only an army. Unfortunately, if England has to build in Liverpool, the alliance is working too strongly in England’s favour, or it hasn’t worked.

Hey Bresto! could also be changed into what I call the Brestpool opening – England and France swap Brest and Liverpool. So England occupies Brest with a fleet and France occupies Liverpool with a fleet. The two fleets balance out and neither is an immediate threat to any other SC the other holds. The problem with this, as far as France is concerned, is that it takes longer for her to get a fleet to Liverpool and England may well have built there anyway… but we’re considering making the alliance work, so that won’t happen, will it?

Yeh, I know …

A simpler, more balanced, version is to have both France and England to simply not build in Brest and Liverpool respectively. Is this going to work? While the alliance lasts, I guess. And it will – maybe should – break down eventually.

The Western Triple

I’m going to discuss the Western Triple alliance – between England, France and Germany – in a separate post later. However, in that post I’ll be discussing how to make it work. Here, I’m thinking of how to make the Entente Cordiale work!

The one thing both England and France want is to defeat Germany. The Western Triple is a soft way to succeed. In this alliance, Germany has to expose themselves to both England and France: she pushes east with English support against Russia, and France pushes south-east against Italy. The problem for Germany is that both England and France have units sat behind her.

The WT is the alliance which is one of the most vulnerable to being ersatz – false. It’s easy for an E/F alliance to help Germany get what she wants – Holland, Denmark and Sweden – and then leave her facing Russian aggression in the east while slipping into Holland and Munich.

If you really want to get the E/F alliance off the ground, push the Western Triple!


Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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