Legendary Tactics – How to Win as England

This is a weekend of YouTube Diplomacy reviews, it seems. I dunno… maybe I’m being lazy. Who cares?

I have previously looked at a Legendary Tactics video, starting with their ‘Beginner’s Guide’. Today, I’m going to look at a video from their 7 Nations Series.

Interestingly, there are 9 videos on this series. This is because the tips they give on Turkey cover two videos and because they have a video on France in French. Wonder if you could get a video giving tips on playing Turkey in Turkish..?

Anyway, I’m looking specifically at “How to Win as England” which is an interview with umbletheheep the producer of The Briefing, a Dip newsletter about Diplomacy (I must do a post on The Briefing at some point).

I have to say that this video seems to be a little daunting if you read the whole of the title – 60 tips! I guess, when I’ve written about playing England, I’ve probably included something like this number but seeing it in one place makes you wonder what you’re missing.

When you listen to the video, LT really maximise the number of tips they have. The first three (I’m not going to give them here – watch the video!) are really general tips for playing any country, with an English spin.

Umble says that England really isn’t as defensible at it can seem. This isn’t, in my opinion, perfectly true. You can defend England easily enough, although he’s right to say that England can also be taken down pretty quickly by a good opponent. But, if you’re a naturally defensive player, England is a true fortress. Of course, you’re not going to win by being very defensive so maybe that’s why this is glossed over.

I like the fact that Umble starts by mentioning that England has only two very useful units in 1901 – her fleets. Anything the army does outside of England relies on the effectiveness of these fleets. This means, Umble says, that you need to be a good diplomat to play England well. Very true. Of course, you need to be a good diplomat to play any power well but, as Umble stresses, with England – only having two effective units – you need to be able to get alliances in place quickly to utilise them.

They then focus on England’s big problem at the start of the game: the English Channel. Do you move there or not? LT is surprised that there is a rough equivalence between players who would and who wouldn’t move there.

Umble points out that you need to ask why you’re looking to move there. Precisely. If there isn’t a reason to move there (apart from you following the long-standing fallacy that England must attack France) then why move there?

Umble’s good reasons are: to pressurise France, to take Belgium, and to show Germany that you want to take on France. These can all work. Certainly, if England succeeds in moving to the Channel, France will likely have moved F Bre-MAO. If this is the case, then what does France do? Possibly cover Brest and thereby prevent themselves from building there. Of course, England taking Brest would do exactly the same thing! But this might allow England to order F ENG-MAO and get into a decent position.

Personally, I’m not sure that showing Germany you’re serious is a great reason for ordering F Lon-ENG in S01. If I were Germany I’d be wondering why France allowed it to happen.

Why would Umble not move to the Channel? First, flexibility. I would always stress the ability to be flexible no matter which power you’re playing. If you start with F Lon-ENG, even if it succeeds, you are limiting your flexibility unless you also order A Lpl-Wal (which gives you absolutely no flexibility with France).

He also stresses that the Entente Alliance between E/F can be a good alliance for England. This flies in the face of the traditional stuff you’ll read about England’s openings on, say, the Diplomacy Archive – and so it should! Anyone who says you should do this if you’re this power is really missing the point. You’re not playing against powers; you’re playing against players.

An English fleet in the Channel in F01 is going to limit the possibilities of working with France. It means you’re reliant on the German (or possibly Russian) alliance. You’ve got to be fully confident in this alliance otherwise you’re struggling.

It also means you don’t have a guaranteed build by moving F Lon-ENG, as Umble says. England needs a build in 1901, realistically. Not getting one doesn’t mean you’ve lost… but it’s a considerable handicap. As England, you simply can’t appear weak because this alerts everyone else in your area of the board that you’re the power to go after. And, often, everyone else will come after you because getting England out of the game is always a priority if the chance is there.

What would help in deciding to move to the Channel?

Umble mentions, briefly, that you have to able to move there. For me, this is a key consideration: if you’re not sure, don’t. If you think France might not order F Bre-MAO, for instance, where else is it going? Possibly Picardy, I accept, but unlikely.

If you’re ordering F Lon-ENG in S01 it has to succeed.

He mentions what Germany is doing, as well. If Germany is ordering A Mun-Bur, then this means that F Lon-ENG is more palatable. Ideally, as Umble says, A Mun-Bur has to succeed. If England and Germany are going after France, and you – as England – are confident in that, go for it! I’ve never quite understood “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” simply because if the Trojans had they would have seen that it would’ve been better to not gleefully accept it, but this is one of the times when the saying comes to mind.

Also, talk to France. Has Germany encouraged them to move F Bre-ENG? As Umble says, almost the ideal outcome for Germany is England and France going to war while Germany watches contentedly from the sidelines, waiting to see which way to jump.

Is Russia moving north? Remember, the only way to guarantee an SC for England in Winter 1901 is to use a Northern opening (F Edi-NWG, F Lon-NTH) because, if Russia is moving A Mos-StP, that army can otherwise bounce England from Norway. So, if Russia is moving north, F Lon-ENG is a bad move.

Finally, is Germany the sort of player with whom a long-term alliance is possible? Remember, you’re allying with the person not the power. If you have any doubts about Germany, why damage the chances of an alliance with France?

They then move onto the Northern openings, although pretty briefly. LT prefers the Chruchill Opening of F Edi-NWG, F Lon-NTH, A Lpl-Edi because it gives flexibility over which fleet to convoy A Edi-Nwy. Umble agrees, with the qualification over needing to be sure France isn’t opening F Bre-ENG. In this case, he says, A Lpl-Yor is better because it can defend London.

Personally, I don’t think the Churchill Opening is preferable to the Jorvik Opening (my name for the Northern opening that has A Lpl-Yor) and I don’t see the former being more flexible than the latter. Of course, with A Lpl-Yor, it can only be convoyed by the North Sea fleet but there’s a reason for that – if you’re needing support from a second fleet to take Norway, then that support should come from the Norwegian Sea fleet as support from the North Sea fleet could be cut by either a French fleet in the Channel or a German fleet in Holland or Denmark. This is unlikely, but possible. (I’ll discuss England’s Northern openings in a future post).

Of course, if you do open with A Lpl-Edi, then the North Sea fleet can still convoy it to Norway. But I think A Lpl-Edi reduces flexibility. That army can’t defend London and, if you’re not going to move F Lon-ENG, then France has nothing to stop them occupying the Channel. You don’t want to give them London and you don’t want to use the North Sea fleet to defend London.

Umble believes England also wants to take Belgium and preferably with an army. I’m not sure an army is always the best choice: the chances are that Belgium will switch hands during the game and an army, if it’s still there, is unlikely to have options for a retreat, while a fleet can retreat to the Channel and the North Sea, as well as Picardy and Holland.

However, if England can get an army into Belgium (or a fleet) you then have the chance to influence what happens in the west, as Umble points out. So, if you’ve opened with a Northern opening, the Jorvik Opening makes even more sense – you have options over Belgium if Russia hasn’t moved north.

What Umble’s saying is that England should look for two builds in W01 – Norway and Belgium. This is, realistically, England’s best start. In fact I’d say England’s best choice of alliance isn’t the Entente Alliance (E/F) or the Saxon Alliance (E/G) but the Western Triple (E/F/G) because you have a good chance of being given Belgium with this one as a 2-2-2 build plan (and, after the WT, the Northern Triple [E/G/R] or Triple Entente [E/F/R]).

I’m not convinced England must get two builds or that, if you’re going for two, that Belgium is the best option. You don’t have a lot of chance of getting Denmark but, if you can, take it over Belgium (you will probably need to have Germany believe they’re supporting you into Belgium to get Denmark). Realistically, though, Belgium is the better chance for an English second SC.

Do you need it? Probably not. You need another fleet to go into 1902 with, certainly. You need to take absolute control of the northern waters. An extra build from Belgium is always good but it isn’t absolutely needed in most circumstances. On the other hand, if you’re sure you can take Norway, why not go for the fifth SC?

What about Sweden? Not that England can get there but what do you want to happen there?

Umble wants Germany to bounce Russia from Sweden. If this happens, he says, then England has a good chance of either Russia or Germany supporting England there. And, of course, Russia and Germany are likely to go to war.

I’m not sure. There’s something to be said for the Anglonaut Alliance of England and Russia. One of the nastiest things it allows you to do is play Russia’s Swedish Gambit opening where, in F01, Germany orders F Den-Swe, Russia orders F GOB-BAL, and England orders F NTH-Den. While Russia doesn’t get Sweden and Germany does, this separates Germany’s units. If England gets into Denmark, there’s your second build. If F NTH-Den bounces with A Kie-Den in F01, then still Germany must either risk A Kie-Den, F Swe S Kie-Den (from which that support can be cut) or F Swe-Den, A Kie S Swe-Den, which means either England or Russia gets into Sweden.

But this will always depend on the circumstances you find yourself in. There’s certainly no harm for England in seeing Russia and Germany bounce in Sweden, and it’s certainly more helpful, as Umble says, than having Russia successfully move into Sweden.

Just to mention the Western Triple alliance and Umble’s thoughts on that. He says don’t be the one to suggest it. Quite rightly he says Germany is often very nervous about the WT and Germany should be nervous about it! After all, as Germany pushes east towards Russia, England and France sit behind them patiently waiting to stab Germany. If they – Germany or France – come to you with the WT then why not go for it?

They move on to look at the Anglo-French alliance and how England can use that to win. First, watch your backdoor: don’t give France the chance to move fleets into the North Atlantic Ocean and/or Irish Sea. I agree and this is the main reason why a lot of writers don’t like the E/F alliance. But it’s easy enough to do that. A fleet in Liverpool is the first step. It doesn’t need to be rushed but it does need to appear within the first few years.

Secondly, make sure you get the north, and that includes northern Germany – Kiel and Berlin. While this only leaves Munich for France, England can get to these two SCs much easier than France can. Umble likes something I like: take the north and collapse onto Germany and then France.

Umble stresses that England needs to be taking Moscow and Warsaw at the same time as you’re moving against Germany or France. I’m not convinced. England is likely to need one – if not both – of these SCs to win, but I don’t see the need to take them as soon as possible. Besides, who is going to help? Germany will certainly not want to give England a chance there and, if you’re going to do it, you’re probably going to need help from Germany, Austria, or Turkey and none of these are simply going to help you too much while they get one or none of the Russian SCs. I’ve found it’s better to take your time doing this.

Where Umble and I disagree is that he puts an emphasis on England building armies. He says England only needs five or six fleets to win so you need to pump armies onto the continent. I don’t see this, myself. As I’ve said a number of times – and will say again – England can only win if she controls the seas.

A lot of people see England building fleets as working defensively. It does, of course, but it’s also very effective offensively. Get after the coastal SCs with fleets and replace those fleets at sea with new fleets. Once that’s on place, build armies.

You will need armies to solo – but only about half your units need to be armies. Fleets get them to the continent. You need to make sure your fleets control the seas and grab SCs to get your armies to the continent.

What about the Anglo-German alliance? Well, Umble and I agree here with the established thinking: Germany must commit to be the land power and England the sea power. Absolutely.

He says – and this makes absolute sense too – force your way into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Get fleets in the western seas – English Channel, Irish Sea, North Atlantic Ocean – and get into the MAO. From there – and again I agree with this – get into the western Med waters, ideally West Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Lyon. Then take Spain and Portugal. That way, you’re across the north-south divide and gaining SCs.

Another aspect of this, Umble says, is to get Sweden, and the aforementioned Swedish Gambit is a good way to do this. England can point out to Russia that they’re not going to get Sweden so why not support you there? You then won’t go after Russian SCs at all.

I get this but I see that as an alternative to a Saxon Alliance. After all, why would Germany, who sees Russia support you into her SC of Sweden, then work with you going forward? That seems counter-productive. If you can manage this with your diplomacy, by all means try it. Risky, though.

So, the Western Triple? As England, whoopee! France moves south against Italy, Germany east against Russia, and England gets toddle along picking up northern SCs – Norway, Sweden, St Petersburg, possibly even Moscow with help. You’re safe and you have time to choose which of your allies – France or Germany – to attack.

For me, I still like to concentrate on fleet builds – it discourages a Franco-German stab in a WT and it can allow you to offer to support France at sea. After all, you’re all mates; an English fleet or two dropping south to back-up France is nothing but helpful.

If you’re facing a multi-power alliance against you? Well, you don’t have any option here, Umble’s right. You’re on your way out, especially if you’re facing a German Ocean Triple (F/G/R). So you use the self-interest of the each ally to break that alliance down. Focus on who is getting the advantage from the alliance. If you can, help Germany achieve this because Germany is the easiest of the three to stab so France and/or Russia are going to be thinking of this (normally). If one power is struggling to get builds, point out how easy it is for the other power(s) to be building.

It might work.

Work with Turkey, Umble says. I agree. Turkey isn’t a threat unless they get too strong. They’re a full continent away and, if Turkey is strong, then the other powers need to work on preventing them from winning.

In the meantime, if you’re doing this, I believe you, as England, need to stay a little behind Turkey as far as SC count goes. Not the best scenario if you’re playing in a tournament, perhaps, but if Turkey can be identified as the threat, then you’re going to be able to get an advantage from this as other players move to counter that threat.

This video, like every piece on Legendary Tactics in this series, is a great piece. As you can see, I don’t agree with everything Umble says, but that’s not important. There’s a lot of good stuff here.

The only slightly disappointing thing about it is something I can forgive in context: Umble talks a lot about board-topping. This is an aberration in Diplomacy which persists in Tournament play because so many Tournament Scoring systems use SC-count. So, rather than focusing on England winning the game, Umble is thinking about England finishing on most SCs.

In many games a lot of people will play, finishing on most SCs in a drawn game is a meaningless thing. On webDiplomacy, perhaps, with the Sum of Squares scoring system they use as one aspect of their ratings (ridiculously, in my opinion: Sum of Squares is not a ratings system); but elsewhere the number of SCs you hold in a drawn game has no impact.

However, as Umble is becoming more involved in tournaments, the thinking in a tournament is different because SC-count is the scoring system used. This means the context he is talking about isn’t, necessarily, regular play.

That’s a shame but it explains why the references to topping the board come up so often.

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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