England’s Opening Moves: Splits Openings and the Western Opening

I’m putting the Splits openings and the Western Opening in the same post because, although some will disagree, there is really only one version of the Western Opening that makes any kind of sense (and that’s pushing it!)

The Splits openings

These openings are strange. I wouldn’t say I’d never use them but there is a glaring issue with these openings. The Splits openings are for those players who really don’t know what they want from 1901 or for whom paranoia has won through.

I’ve named them after notable buildings in Edinburgh, York and Wales (and I had a lot of notable buildings in Wales to choose from so I went for a town in Wales with a renowned castle).

The Castle Opening

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

At least this opening does something right – two of the units are in touch with each other. With the northern fleet moving to the Norwegian Sea and the army moving to Edinburgh there’s only really one goal: convoy that army to Norway.

The weakness is in the southern fleet moving to the Channel. This means that England can take Norway using only one fleet – without support. England has to be very sure that Russia isn’t going to block a move to Norway. If they do, then England is stuffed.

Meanwhile, F Lon-ENG has to succeed. And if it does, it needs support to get anywhere. Maybe it has it; France may have agreed to allow the fleet into the Channel to support it into Belgium. If France wasn’t expecting this order, you’re doing yourself no favours by using the order.

The Minster Opening

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

This is an incredibly defensive set of orders. England is trying to take Norway with a single fleet, attempting to take Brest or Belgium, and using the army to defend the home SCs.

Why anyone would use this opening is strange. The only thing I can think of is that, being aware that the North Sea is going to be undefended, the army is deliberately staying at home and being used to cover Edinburgh and London. It can’t be to defend from France ordering F Bre-ENG because that is what the southern fleet is doing.

The Harlech Opening

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

This opening makes more sense than the Minster Opening in that it aims to get the army somewhere and isn’t about defence. As with any opening that starts with F Lon-ENG it relies on England being able to actually succeed with that order – if that fails, then A Lpl-Wal is pointless.

As with the Castle Opening you need to be sure that France is helping you – or Germany (I didn’t mention Germany above). If there’s an Anglo-German (Saxon) alliance then it’s very much about getting the army into Brest, possibly Belgium. Belgium will be able to help get Germany into Burgundy, but Brest will do some damage to France and force them to fight on two fronts.

Desperation openings?

The Splits openings smack of desperation. England is desperately trying to cover every possibility. If this is an attempt to defend the Channel, the Splits openings are all about bouncing with F Bre-ENG, especially the Castle Opening. Why? Why waste that move?

I’ve included the Minster Opening for the sake of completeness. There is a school of thought that England should deliberately keep that army at home for the purposes of defence. I get that. If you think that focusing on fleets is important in the Early Game (and I absolutely agree with that) I can understand that using the army for defence seems like a good thing.

There are two problems with this type of thinking, though. First, you don’t need to use a Splits opening for this. A Lpl-Yor with the intention to leave it at home could be the Jorvik Opening or the Ouse Opening. Both of these options are more flexible than the Minster Opening.

The second problem is that, even following a fleet-heavy build policy, it makes more sense to get that army into play. If you’re relying solely on fleets to expand the empire in the Early Game, tempo is going to be a problem. The purpose of the fleet-heavy build policy is that your fleets are aiming to dominate the northern seas. If you don’t have your army in play, being able to hold an SC and affect play, you’re relying on those two starting fleets to do this. There are circumstances where that army is needed for defence and leaving it at home is a necessity but really this should be accomplished by diplomacy.

Flexibility openings?

Another way of looking at the Splits openings, more positively, is that they are more flexible than the Northern or Southern openings (and much more flexible than the Western Opening discussed below!) Well, perhaps.

Neither opening is particularly threatening to Germany. In fact, Germany could see this as an opportunity: the North Sea is empty (see below)! All the Splits openings give England a chance at two SCs.

Well, frankly, all but the Western Opening give England a chance at two SCs, so I’m not sure that the Splits openings are more flexible than these. Additionally, the Castle Opening is anti-Russian and the Harlech Opening is anti-French: I’m pretty sure that this is the antithesis of flexibility.

The North Sea gambit

There is one huge problem with the Splits openings: the North Sea is left empty (if only for Spring 1901).

The North Sea is England’s one ‘must have’ space. It is incredibly important for offence and the key to England’s defence. A fleet in the North Sea borders two of England’s home SCs; it borders Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium; it also borders other important sea spaces: the Norwegian Sea, the Skagerrak, the Heligoland Bight and the English Channel. A fleet there can pressure Germany, Russia and France – if not immediately, then within a year. If another power’s fleet occupies the North Sea, then England’s security at home is severely compromised and the ability to get armies onto the continent is all but lost.

The Splits openings ignore the North Sea. Of course, either fleet could defend the North Sea in Fall 1901. In doing this, though, you pass up on getting one of the SCs you’re aiming to grab. And, where I Germany, presented with the Splits opening from England, I’d be very tempted to order F Den-NTH in F01. I’d be giving Sweden to Russia, of course, but why not? England’s left herself vulnerable. The Splits is a great way for Germany to build a German Ocean Triple alliance with France and Russia.

The Western Opening

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

I finished looking at the Splits openings by pointing out that the North Sea is left empty and how bad a decision that potentially could be. Now we’re looking at the Western Opening which fully opens up the North Sea. In fact, it turns England away from the east completely, which is why it’s the Western Opening.

This could be disastrous. As with the Splits openings, it provides Germany with a great advantage, for exactly the same reasons as discussed above, but exaggerates it. Not only is England giving the North Sea to Germany but giving up a defence of Edinburgh and London.

With the Western Opening, however, you’re likely to have a very solid feeling alliance with Germany. This opening is violently anti-French. The fleet in Clyde moves to the North Atlantic Ocean; the fleet in the Channel convoys the army to Belgium, with German support (because there’s no way France is going to support it!) You build a fleet in Liverpool and throw the fleets at the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. The idea is that you crush the French maritime defence and swamp them.

The pay-off for Germany is that they get a free run at Scandinavia. They support England against France but focus on Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and the majority of their units are moving against Russia. In return, they agree to create a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in the North Sea and the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland). Theoretically, by the time Germany can turn her attention towards England, England has defences in place.

Potentially, this is a good opening. The alliance with Germany is a good one for England. England gets to focus on fleets, Germany on armies. The two other northern powers – France and Russia – are dealt with quickly and, if the alliance works, Germany and England have the additional security of being safe from each other (initially).

The Mid-Atlantic Ocean

I’ve not mentioned the MAO in any of these discussions about openings just yet. Mostly this is because I’m going to cover it in the Continuation Openings post (those openings that take England’s opening moves beyond 1901). One of those is the Atlantic Bind where England focuses on pushing into the MAO instead of grabbing a second SC.

The Mid-Atlantic Ocean is another important space for England. When thinking about the Western Opening we’re thinking of using it offensively. England should be able to force entry to the MAO in Fall 1902 when there will be three fleets bordering it. The orders to achieve this are:

SPRING 1901

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

FALL 1901

  • F Cly-NAO
  • F ENG C Wal-Bel
  • A Wal-Bel

WINTER 1901

  • BUILD F Lpl

SPRING 1902

  • F NAO S Lpl-IRI
  • F Lpl-IRI
  • F ENG-Bre/MAO (expecting a bounce)

FALL 1902

  • F NAO-MAO
  • F IRI S NAO-MAO
  • F ENG-Bre or S NAO-MAO

Once in the MAO, England can now take Brest, and push another fleet into the Mid-Atlantic, aiming to build another fleet (or even an army) in Liverpool or London.

The problem with this, as opposed to the Atlantic Bind opening, is that it’s sloooooowwwww. It takes until 1903 to get a fifth SC and then it’s only Brest. From there, it’s difficult to press on. If you build an army in W03, it is F04 before it has a chance of replacing the fleet in Brest.

The army that was convoyed to Belgium in F01 isn’t mentioned above, of course, and it can have an affect. If it moves to Picardy in 1902, it has a chance of providing extra support for a fleet to get into Brest, which may bring the fifth SC closer. But the fact is that France is still likely to get two builds in 1901 and only the most stupid of French players wouldn’t build F Bre and A Par in W01. Picardy is defensible and so England would need to look at using the army to support Germany into Burgundy. This feels like a war of attrition against France rather than being a quick victory.

The German problem

And the Western Opening makes England extremely reliant on the Saxon alliance. Germany is being very nice to England if they decide not to take advantage of England throwing everything west. One of the issues is that, to take maximum advantage in Scandinavia, Germany probably needs to build a second fleet and challenge Russia in the Baltic Sea region. And, frankly, the quickest way for Germany to move from Sweden and Denmark to Norway is to access the North Sea. So much for that DMZ!

The question would then be, once Germany has occupation of the North Sea, why would they give it up? Potentially to press on into St Petersburg, I suppose. And what’s happening then? Germany is pushing east, swamping Russia in the north, and taking England’s role there. Once they’ve defeated Russia in the north, potentially holding Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Warsaw and Moscow, they’re on 9 SCs. Where do they go next?

Germany can probably hold their Russian gains with three armies in Moscow, Warsaw and Livonia. If they do this, they don’t need to have anything holding in Scandinavia. This makes it a race between England and Germany: who can defeat France or Russia first? Germany has six units to move west, and a springboard to gain the North Sea. If England has maximised their position against France, they’ve got Brest, Paris, Spain, Portugal and Belgium – 8 SCs. With three units left to hold the south in Spain, Portugal and MAO, that’s five units to push east and defend the North Sea. This is the time when England should be considering switching to an army-heavy build policy but they’re no good in the North Sea.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

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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