Openings: Seven Reasons to Think Again

Here’s a question a lot of Diplopups (novices) ask, and a lot of Dippyists (players with more experience) like to debate: What’s the best opening moves for each power?

There is just one answer to this question, but it isn’t simple:

Whatever are the best moves in your situation.

There you go. Job done.

Pfft. If you know me, you know I’m never shutting up that quickly.

Why ask this question?

If you’re a Diplopup, you’re likely to ask the question because you’re looking for a foolproof way to start the game and build a decent position. Nothing wrong with that except that, in Diplomacy, nothing is foolproof.

If you were able to guarantee what other players will do, perhaps… assuming you’re not the fool you’re trying to proof against. In any game of Diplomacy, though, anyone could do anything that you don’t expect.

So asking this question as a novice is understandable, there just isn’t a good answer. There are openings that you probably shouldn’t make, but no openings that you can make that will secure you and get you into a great position in all circumstances.

When a Dippyist asks the question, they’re looking to create a discussion about the pros and cons of each combination. Discussion is always good when there’s something to bring to the fore that is perhaps missed. That’s why I’m asking the question, after all!

It’s all situational

I like using England as an example. One of the reasons I’m using England as the example here is that I’ve discussed English opening moves already in the blog. (I just noticed, in looking for the series, that I haven’t finished it! I’ll have to remedy that… sometime.)

What do you need to consider when making a decision about which opening to use? Well, there’s a long list and I’m going to (try to) present it in some sort of sensible order below:

  • Which players can I work with? This isn’t a simple question. There will be some players in the game who play the game similarly to your way of playing; if you want a comfortable alliance, they’re the choice to make. There will be some that play differently from you, and it could be that you find this uncomfortable. However, I often find myself allying with one of the latter players, simply because I feel I can use this difference to my advantage. For instance, if I find a Carebear in the game, I can probably guarantee that I’m in a solid alliance; alternatively, if I find a Unusist, I can judge when I think I’m likely to be stabbed and get my retribution in first; also, I can offer them a good deal that they’re likely to take.
  • Which players can I trust? This is a different question. I might think I can work with a player, for whatever reason, yet also feel that they’re not being open to me. If France tells me they definitely aren’t moving F Bre-ENG, then I usually find myself planning to deal with that order. My rule of thumb on this – and it isn’t always a good one – is that if someone tries hard to persuade me that they’re definitely, absolutely, not going to do something, especially at the start of the game, they probably are going to do it.
  • Which players are open to decent levels of communication? Let’s be honest here, all of you who understand the game will communicate with everyone at the start of the game. You’ll also be prepared to have a decent level of correspondence with everyone, too. So what do you do if a neighbour doesn’t seem to have a similar commitment? First ask yourself why they’re not doing this: there could be a good reason. However, often that ‘good reason’ is that they’re not vibing with you. (I just used ‘vibing’… sooooooo cool.)

Now, I’ve not yet finished my list, but this is where I want to pause.

You’ll have noticed, I hope, that I haven’t even considered on-the-board questions yet. Don’t worry – they’re coming! But there’s a reason for this: you shouldn’t be considering on-the-board decisions seriously until you’ve considered the people in the game.

A mistake a lot of people make when discussing opening moves is to only consider the pros and cons of this opening in comparison to these openings. That’s fine: it’s something you’ve got to consider. But, when you’re in a game, there’s no point in making final decisions about where you’re moving your units without considering the players.

Some people do, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is because they go into a game thinking either ‘I’ve used this opening before and it worked then so I’m gonna use it again’ or ‘I’m going to try something different this time – let’s try this!’

Well, you know, fair enough. If that’s how you want to play the game, that’s fine, but the problem is that you’re putting tactics before planning. That’s always the wrong way around. Your strategy has to be based on something you at least think you understand about the game you’re playing now and not based on something that worked in another game, probably with other players.

So, by all means, enter some orders at the start of the turn. That’s good advice: it’s better to have some orders entered, in case something happens and you don’t get the chance later on (bad internet connection when you want to enter those orders; real life interrupting, etc), and have your units do something than to not have any orders in at all. But don’t become married to those provisional orders. Change them when you’ve considered the items above.

So…

  • Which supply centres do I need to take? Once you’ve made some decisions about the people in the game, then you can start considering which SCs you are going to target. There’s a solid argument that, in many ways, this is not up for debate for some powers. Turkey, for instance, should be planning to take Bulgaria no matter what – letting someone else in there is going to cause security problems, and not that far down the line. By all means try for shock and awe, but avoid shock and awful. The extension to this thinking is ‘What SC(s) will I need to take next?’ This is important, too, and involves thinking about what follows.
  • Where do I need to move? Once you know which SCs you’re aiming for, then you can work out where you need to be to take those SCs. Again, for Turkey, this is almost a dead cert as far as Bulgaria is concerned: you need to order A Con-Bul. Fair enough. But if you’re also looking to take Rumania, for instance, this probably needs to include F Ank-BLA and A Smy-Bul. Then you can support A Bul-Rum with your Black Sea fleet. But, perhaps, the better way includes A Smy-Arm in S01… then A Bul S BLA-Rum and A Arm-Sev..? And, if you’re allied with Russia, where are you going to want to be against Austria (or Italy)?
  • How can I secure my alliances? This is, perhaps, a surprise inclusion, but it’s definitely something you need to think about. The chances are that, to get all those lovely SCs you’re wanting to get you’re going to need an ally, or two… or more. And you definitely don’t want to be the odd-player out in your area of the board. So, what can you do to secure that alliance? Well, frankly, nothing works better than making someone an offer they can’t refuse (although forgedabou’ the swimming with the fishes threats). In a Diplomacy Games podcast Andrew Goff said that he tries to make people a deal that does a little more for them than it does for him. This sounds nuts to begin with but he goes on to say that if he can get three or so decent deals, which each offers the other players slightly more than he gets out of it, then he is coming out on top overall. You should, then, be looking to make sure you are coming out of 1901 with something on the board, but certainly secure in your alliance.
  • Can I afford to make enemies? Often, in S01, the answer is no. If you make an enemy from the get-go, then the chances are you’re going to make more than one… and given that this is likely to mean you’re isolated, you’re going to struggle. The other aspect to this is that you can never guarantee that the alliance you think you have will work out in reality; don’t, therefore, antagonise a any player unnecessarily. BUT this doesn’t mean do nothing. Too often players get so tied up in not making enemies that they don’t try to do anything that could threaten anyone. This isn’t about walking a tightrope between gains and isolation, it’s about turning the tightrope into a rope bridge at worst – still tricky but a little more secure.

Conclusions

Be wary of people who tell you that you should always do this when playing that power. For instance, a number of people tell you that England should always target France first. From a purely tactical point of view, this makes sense – France is the biggest barrier to England winning the game. However, it just might be that the player controlling France is the best person to ally with for you.

There are no inarguably right moves for you to take, no matter which power you are playing in a game. The only right moves to make are those that further your interests in that game at that time.

What I’ve found is that people who tell you that this opening is the best to make base their recommendation on their experience, often in a small number of games. It has worked for them a few times so it’s bound to work for everyone all the time.

It isn’t.

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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