England’s Opening Moves: Southern Openings

Having looked at England’s Northern openings, let’s have a look at the Southern openings that could be an option. There are three useful Southern openings, although two of them don’t seem to be much different from each other and possibly aren’t quite as useful as the third!

Each opening is named after a local river in this case: the Leith is in Edinburgh, the Ouse is in York, and the Severn rises in Wales before crossing the Wales/England border and running into the Bristol Channel.

The Leith Opening

  • F Edi-NTH
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Edi

This is a less useful opening of the three – I hope you can see why without me pointing it out, but I’m going to point it out, anyway: A Lpl-Edi. From here, the army can be convoyed via the North Sea but why move it to Edinburgh? This seems to show that your intention is to convoy it to Norway..?

Maybe that’s the point and you’re using the position of the army to send a subconscious message: Look, Germany, I’m not gunning for any of your SCs… or Belgium.

I’ll look at the weakness in this opening below, when I discuss the Ouse Opening because the two aren’t really very different from one another.

The Ouse Opening

  • F Edi-NTH
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Yor

This time the army moves to Yorkshire. This is absolutely no different from A Lpl-Edi, except perhaps – again – in the message it sends: Look, Russia, I’m not looking to convoy to Norway!

Both of the above openings don’t threaten Norway if Russia orders A Mos-Stp in S01. If they intend to bounce you in Norway, with A Stp-Nwy, then you’re not getting Norway! Given that, as I pointed out when discussing the Northern openings, Norway is the only SC that England can guarantee taking in 1901, England is running the risk of not getting a build. There’s nothing wrong with this per se but you have to be confident of getting something from elsewhere, or that Russia is not opening to St Petersburg, to go for it.

The only advantage that this opening has is in England having an army in a position to defend all three home SCs. However, in 1901 at least, none of them are under threat! The only space neighbouring an English SC that can be reached in S01 is the Channel – and either England occupies the Channel or has bounced with France’s order of F Bre-ENG. So this advantage is very slight: either England is defending for the sake of defending or they don’t know what they’re doing.

The Severn Opening

  • F Edi-NTH
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Wal

This is an effective opening with one drawback (assuming the orders work): it will antagonise France. After all, if in F01 England is in the Channel with an army in Wales, that army is one move away from occupying Brest.

Now, with the Severn Opening England is sending a very clear message: that army is aiming to be on the mainland. England can take Brest (as mentioned above) but can also have a good shot at Belgium, given that the army being convoyed to Belgium can be supported by the North Sea fleet.

Of course, the same could be said for either the Leith or Ouse Openings. In this case, the North Sea fleet would do the convoying and support would come from the Channel fleet. So Belgium is perhaps the main target for England if they open with a Southern opening.

Which SC?

With a Northern opening, England has the options of Belgium, Holland, Denmark or Norway as potential SC targets. With the Southern openings you can also reach Brest. It could, therefore, be said that the Southern openings are more flexible than the Northern.

I’m not convinced that it makes much of a difference, frankly, and there is one major drawback to the Southern openings – England has to take the Channel. But more on that below; let’s first assume F Lon-ENG succeeds.

(a) Belgium

Belgium is an awkward space. It can be reached by all three of the western powers: England, France and Germany, and none of them can reach it before F01. All three can have two units bordering Belgium: England (as we’ve seen above) can have a fleet in the Channel and the North Sea; Germany can have a fleet in Holland and an army in Ruhr or Burgundy; France can have an army in Burgundy or Picardy, and a fleet in the Channel or Picardy. In fact, France could have three units in place around Belgium: A Mar-Bur, A Par-Pic, F Bre-ENG. I don’t think I’ve seen this before and that’s understandable: in chasing after Belgium, France is giving up on both Spain and Portugal in 1901. Given that France could take both Iberian SCs, this would be a surprising development!

It is fairly common for Belgium to remain neutral at the start of 1902. England will possibly prefer to take Norway, leaving just one unit to move to Belgium. France may aim to occupy Burgundy – and, if they really want to be in Burgundy, they can’t be stopped – or, less usually, Picardy. It’s not very usual to see France try for Belgium with multiple units, if at all. Germany is more likely, these days, to order F Kie-Den in S01, leaving only the army in Munich to have a chance of bordering Belgium.

Given that it is likely that two powers may have an equivalent number of units bordering Belgium, it isn’t unusual to see a bounce there. However, if England truly wants to take Belgium, and she’s prepared to forego Norway, they’ll probably have a good chance.

If England gets off to the ideal start, you’ll get both Norway and Belgium in 1901. It’s unusual to see France and Germany bother to prevent this, and rare indeed to see them work to together to keep Belgium neutral. France is probably more interested in Iberia; Germany in Holland and Denmark. Given that both powers could gain two SCs without considering Belgium at all, there’s little incentive to prevent England getting there unless a Franco-German Frankish alliance is in play (or the F/G/R German Ocean Triple).

Additionally, because the three powers will all see Belgium as a must have SC, it’s fairly common to see Belgium switch hands multiple times during a game. The power that takes it first doesn’t always maintain control of the SC; sometimes this might be because it’s a good choice to swap between allies in order to balance growth.

So Belgium is potentially English in 1901. It doesn’t require a Southern opening to take it, though, so the chances improve because of this.

(b) Norway

I’ve discussed Norway at length when looking at the Northern openings, so this time I’m going to look at it from the Southern openings point of view.

With a single fleet bordering Norway following a Southern opening (in the North Sea) England is relying on Russia not ordering A Mos-Stp in S01, or – at the very least – that Russia can be persuaded to not move A Stp-Nwy in F01. Frankly, that second option has a low chance of succeeding: unless Russia is aiming to move A Stp-Fin to support themselves into Sweden in 1902, what else would the army in St Petersburg be doing?

Well, perhaps it’s there to try to enforce England to land a fleet in Norway? From this position, Russia can point out that, if England won’t give assurances of landing a fleet in Norway, Russia would bounce there. Given that such assurances aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on, though, I can’t see why Russia wouldn’t seek the bounce anyway.

If England is opening with a Southern opening, you’re probably seeing Norway as a possible choice rather than being the priority a Northern opening indicates. Not necessarily the case, of course: you may be aiming for Norway and hoping for Belgium or Brest.

(c) Denmark and Holland

I’ve lumped these two together because they’re pretty similarly unlikely. Both are usually seen as German SCs by default. Germany can move to either in S01, and the other in F01. If England attempts to move there, it’s probably a case of preventing a German occupation rather than any real hope of being successful, which is quite a waste of a move.

Denmark is slightly more possible. If Germany orders F Kie-Den in S01, they may well look to move F Den-Swe in F01, aiming to bounce Russia from Sweden. Either way, Germany guarantees an SC: if F Den-Swe succeeds they’ve taken Sweden; if it fails, the fleet stays in Denmark. And, if Germany is looking to do this, then they will also have ordered A Ber-Kie in S01. From Kiel, the army could move to Denmark or Holland, most often Holland if they’re being careful not to capture 3 SCs in 1901 (which makes them a target to all the jealous powers bordering them!)

(d) Brest

Brest is the new option. In fact, it could be a very likely one if England’s order of F Lon-ENG succeeds. It depends on how France reacts to that.

If France believed England would stay out of the Channel, they’re likely to aim to defend Brest, but then again, they may not bother. If France can take two SCs in 1901, even if they lose Brest they still get a build. And holding onto Brest is likely then to become a siege for England.

Having said that, England and France might agree to England capturing Brest, with a fleet, in return for England then allying with France for the long-term. This is known as the Hey Bresto! opening and I’ll discuss it in more depth in the post on Alliance Openings for England. The big advantage for both is security: England doesn’t have to worry about French fleets being built in Brest, and France has secured an English alliance.

Leaving aside Hey Bresto! for now (mainly because it is an unusual one to say the least), how likely to succeed is F ENG-Bre in F01?

Well, France can defend Brest quite easily, usually. The French fleet is likely to be in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean (less likely to be in Picardy). A French army is likely to be close – Paris, Gascony, or Picardy. If France has been ultra-defensive, they may even have ordered A Par-Bre in S01; there are better things to do with that army but it does secure Brest if France is worried about England opening to the Channel.

England’s job, then, is to persuade France to either (1) let the London fleet into the Channel because the aim is to take Belgium, or (2) ignore the fleet in the Channel because the aim is to take Belgium. France may well choose to ignore the fleet anyway but they won’t be shocked if F ENG-Bre happens.

The Severn Opening is more likely to cause France to be worried about and English attack because the army is in Wales and can be convoyed to Brest. This doesn’t preclude A Wal-Bel, F ENG C Wal-Bel, of course, but the sheer proximity of Wales to Brest magnifies the concern. Why would England order A Lpl-Wal if the aim is to take Belgium? Why not simply move A Lpl-Yor or -Edi, which are just as good for the convoy?

The Severn Opening is the best option if England is looking to convoy to Brest, but it isn’t the only option. It’s very easy to forget that an army in Yorkshire or Edinburgh can also be convoyed to Brest: A Yor/Edi-Bre, F NTH C Yor/Edi-Bre, F ENG C Yor/Edi-Bre. In fact, if you really want to sell France a dummy, and your aim is to get an army in Brest no matter what, then use the Leith Opening because nobody expects that army to be going to Brest!

The problem with this deception is that it means England is gambling (admittedly with good odds) that Brest will fall. If it fails, then England is stuffed. Both fleets have been co-opted for the convoy which means that England is passing up the chance for another SC.

I actually think that, if the S01 order of F Lon-ENG succeeds, England probably has a fair chance of taking Brest if she wants. France may feel that they can’t afford to order a unit to defend the space. Of course, if France loses Brest, even if they gain 2 SCs ,they only receive one build; so it may as well be that they go for 1 SC and use another unit to defend Brest.

It’s important to mention that France defending Brest in F01 is a success in itself for England. If France orders this, and England doesn’t attempt to take Brest, the French order will succeed. This leaves France occupying Brest and being unable to build there anyway, an extra bit of defensive insurance for England.

The whale in the pool

(Much more appropriate than an ‘elephant in the room’ in this context.)

There is one problem with the Southern openings that is, well, big. We’re not talking baluga here – much more blue whale. It is the problem of F Lon-ENG.

Two units border the Channel: the English fleet in London, and the French fleet in Brest. With regard to the English Channel, both fleets have the option of moving there or not. This means that the probability of both England and France moving there is 1/4:

  • England stays out of the Channel, France stays out of the Channel;
  • England stays out of the Channel, France orders F Bre-ENG;
  • England orders F Lon-ENG, France stays out of the Channel, and
  • England orders F Lon-ENG, France orders F Bre-ENG.

You can see, also, that the probability that England will succeed in moving to the Channel is also 1/2, and that seems like decent odds. However, in Diplomacy, these are risky odds at the best of times and, given that a bounce in the Channel is a wasted move, you have to be very sure to succeed before ordering F Lon-ENG.

As discussed in the Northern openings post, defensively England doesn’t need to move to the Channel – A Lpl-Yor effectively defends from a French fleet in the Channel moving to London. Offensively, you’re best persuading France to let you move there.

Of course, you can always lie about it. You’re absolutely not ordering F Lon-ENG. If you then move there, France faces a dilemma: do they defend Brest or run the risk that, now you’re there, you’re not aiming for Brest? If you’ve lied to get there, why would they believe you’re trying for Belgium? If you’re looking to persuade France of this, if it’s possible, ask for support into Belgium.

The Southern openings are risky simply because if F Lon-ENG bounces back, you’ve wasted a move. If France is your target, though, perhaps it’s worth the risk..?


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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