The Bluffer's Guide to Diplomacy

The Bluffer's Guide to Diplomacy.

Diplomacy - once considered the third (next to role-playing and war-gaming) branch of gaming (since displaced by Collectible Card Games), it is still a game apart in many ways. In being a multiplayer game with no random elements it distances itself from other board games - although among games I know, Puerto Rico is similar (although there is chance in that game, most major effects are not based on chance).

A brief description: The board is a map of Europe, with country and county boundaries marked as appropriate for the years preceding WWI, which ought to be termed 'The Great War' if you're one of those people who enjoys being accurate to the time period. The major differences between the game map and the present map are that Russia includes many states modern Russia does not (but, I believe, the USSR did), the Balkans have completely different borders, Germany is, well, different, and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman (Turkey) Empires still exist.

WWI saw the fall of both those Empires, with Austria-Hungary becoming not just Austria and Hungary, but a number of Baltic States, and the Ottoman Empire becoming the various countries of the Middle East.

None of this relates to the game, except to warn that historically Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey were the big losers of The Great War - which means that one has to do better than their leadership did in actual history if one wishes to win.

That, and noting that the game is about playing the Seven Great Powers (or, if you prefer, Six Great Powers and Turkey Just Coming Along For The Ride), recreating WW1 from a perspective where entire armies represent single pieces. The powers are Austria-Hungary, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey. Ideally, each player takes one of these (there are variants for less than seven players, but they play differently from standard Diplomacy).

Game play is fairly simple. Each year consists of two seasons, Spring and Fall. A season is essentially a full turn. A Spring Move and a Fall Move are different; new territory is captured only during the Fall. This is an important mechanical point, and if you like flavour, consider it to be a case of requiring time to set up entrenchments, time only available in the Winter, because in Spring there are other things to do.

The game is won by capturing 18 of the 34 Supply Centres (little black dots) on the map. Each country, bar Russia, starts off with three of these. Russia begins with four; this IS an advantage, but not an insurmountable one. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, new Supply Centres can only be captured in Fall moves; this means every second round of actions.

Supply Centres do not just determine victory; they also determine the number of pieces you may have in play. At the end of each Fall move, if you control more Supply Centres than you have units, you may build new units in any of your starting three or four supply centres that are empty. If you control less Supply Centres than you have units, you must remove units to equalize. These changes are all written down secretly and revealed all at once.

Please note this means that asking someone to give you a supply centre is not something minor; it is a piece, and in a game where at most you can have 17 pieces without winning outright, it represents at a minimum 6% of their total power, and in the early game closer to 33% or 25%; Supply Centres are incredibly important.

Each Season a player submits moves in writing for all of their pieces. If a player should omit moves for a piece, it defaults to Hold. Each piece should clearly have it's move written out; it is bad form and confusing to write a move along the lines of 'Fooa moves to Foob, Fooc Supports' - for one thing, it makes it harder to check whether the person adjudicating the moves has moved all pieces.

The orders submitted are all resolved simultaneously, although in practical terms they happen one at a time, they are considered to all happen at the same time.

Before orders are submitted, however, there is the section of the game the game is named after: the Diplomacy phase. To get anything significant done in the early stages of a Diplomacy requires the help of another player, or at least them not actively trying to hurt you. The two ways to get this are a) to simply sit back and pray or b) make a deal.

By Early Stages, incidently, I mean pretty much everywhere up to the point where you win. You might have the position and pieces to force something through without cooperation, but a dedicated alliance of all other players can, in most positions, force at least a stalemate. Of course, driving a wedge into an alliance can be done - of course, that means on of the 'allied' players is now helping you, whether they mean to or not.

Allowed moves are as follows (Standard Format in Brackets)

Hold (P Foo H) - the piece in Foo attempts to stay in one place. This is generally a waste of a turn; even if you don't think it will matter, consider giving a Support order instead, as Support orders, in addition to counting as support, count as orders to hold.

Move (P Fooa-Fooc) - the in Fooa attempts to move to the specified adjacent square. These are the active moves; pieces that actually go somewhere are good. The term Tempo as used in Chess and Magic (and possibly other games) theory applies here.

Support (P Foo S P Fooa/P Foo S P Fooa-Foob) - the piece in Foo assists another piece to either hold a square adjacent to the square the supporting piece is in, or to attack a square the piece could move to. The other piece can belong to any player, but if the piece does not make the move you specify (if it does not hold when you support it to hold, or it does not attack the square you named), then your support has no effect.

If a piece controlled by another player attempts to move into the square occupied by a piece giving Support, the Support is cut and the order should instead be read as an order to Hold.

Convoy - (F Foo C A Fooa-Foob) - the Fleet piece in Foo - which is a body of water bordering on Fooa AND Foob - enables an Army given the order (A Fooa-Foob) to complete their move, even if Fooa and Foob are not adjacent. Multiple fleets can assist; if two fleets are in adjacent bodies of water and one body of water is adjacent to Fooa and one is adjacent to Foob, then if both fleets are given the same order by their respective controller, the army can move from Fooa to Foob.

If a convoying Fleet is dislodged it does not count as having been given a Convoy order.

(P can be either an Army, A, or a Fleet, F) (A square means a named section of land or water enclosed by thick and/or thin black lines)

That almost covers the rules. A few important points:

Two pieces cannot occupy the same square. If two attempt to move into a square in the same season, they both 'bounce' and no one can enter that square that season. If a piece attempts to move into a square where a piece has either been given a hold order or has been bounced to remain there when you were expecting it to move, the piece bounces.

If a piece controlled by another player would bounce you, but you have been successfully supported into the square, they bounce and you go into the square. If they were already there, they are dislodged into any adjacent square except the one you came from. If there are no such squares, it is disbanded and removed from the board - however, it is likely to respawn at the end of the next Fall move.

A piece cannot cut the support to an attack on the square it is in.

Armies do not count as being adjacent to bodies of water. Fleets do not count as being adjacent to land squares that do not share a coastline black line with their current square. This means they cannot move, or give support, into those squares.

Phew. That covers the rules. Please read them if you want to play in the Diplomacy game I will be running on Wednesdays (Diplomacy takes some time; it will run for a number of weeks).


These strategies are likely to only make sense if you are looking a Diplomacy map. Googling Diplomacy is likely to find you one, and there will be some available on Wednesday. The list of armies and fleets after the name is where you have to place Fleets and Armies when starting the game.

    England (F London, F Edinburgh, A Liverpool)

England has an excellent starting position. Numerically inferior British positions can be superior to those of just about any other country, due to the fact that unlike the other six countries, England is surrounded by water.

This means England is likely to have to focus on Convoy moves to take new Supply Centres - but Convoy moves are extremely strong in terms of Tempo, as once you've convoyed an army in, you can use the fleet that convoyed it in to support it to attack along the coastline. Also, water squares tend to border on more land squares than land squares do, so you have more choices.

The downside is that England usually IS numerically inferior. France and Germany can usually rely on obtaining two supply centres, and Russia and Austria-Hungary have good odds. Only Turkey and Italy - two of the weakest powers - face a similiar problem.

The 'standard' opening is Liverpool - Yorkshire (A Lpl-Yor), Edinburgh - Norwegian Sea (F Edi-Nwg) and London - North Sea (Lon-Nth). It guards against France going Brest-English Channel (attacks on London get blocked by Yorkshire - London), and against Russia going Moscow-St Petersburg (as you can support either the North Sea or the Norwegian Sea Fleet into Norway with the other one).

It's safe, but allows you the option of taking (say) Belgium as well as Norway - or at least disrupting plans to take Denmark, Holland or Belgium from France or Germany. Moving the Army to Edinburgh allows you to meddle while still convoying the Army to Norway, but leaves you open to the Russia/France openings mentioned, while moving to the North Sea and the English Channel tends to make an enemy of France and leaves you WIDE open to the Russia/France opening mentined.

Russia and France are the two powers most likely to be looking your home supply centres speculatively, so this is important to guard against. Germany is a slight risk, but in general makes a better ally than enemy (as France can easily betray you by making a fleet in Brest and sending it North).

Allying with Germany when Germany isn't being crushed as a good call. Allying with France is okay, although it's only safe if you make a deal to occupy Brest with one of your Fleets. Allying with Russia can also work out. Allying with anyone else is unlikely to take effect early.

To win a game outright, you need to venture far; a detailed article pointed out that if you only take coastal provinces, you have to attack both Russia and Tunis - this is a massive area to cover, so you need to plan to encircle the map with fleets somehow.

    France (F Brest, A Paris, A Marseilles)

France is another strong favourite. It has more options than England. The things to keep in mind are that retreating from Germany is dangerous, as it will likely result in you entering Trench Warfare to stop them, and that Spain and Portugal will still be there in a few turns. Grabbing Belgium and Spain or Portugal is a fine opening, grabbing Spain and Portugal is less impressive.

Grabbing all three in the first two moves is a recipe for disaster, as it will probably leader to a 'gank the early leader' situation, while simultaneously leaving you out of position to defend yourself.

Paris should usually move to Picardy, or Burgundy with support from Marseilles. Brest should either move to the Channel, Picardy, or the Mid Atlantic Ocean. Marseilles should either move to Spain, Burgundy, or give a support order.

You occupying Burgundy is bad for Germany - Germany occupying Burgundy is a NIGHTMARE for you if they play it well (Chess players will understand the term 'Back Rank Mate' - well, that's fairly close).

Italy attacking you is more annoying than dangerous unless you're already hard pressed. Still, subtly hint they should go after Germany or Austria or Turkey. England attacking you with German support is very dangerous. England or Germany attacking you alone can force you on the defensive.

Allying with England is good for you as you can attack them easily when the time comes. Allying with Germany also works well, as you can attack England fairly well - but it is risky, as you two are close together, and thus easy to betry either way.

Allying with Russia also works; Russia going north can go hard on England, and Russia going West can go hard on Germany.

Allying with Italy is also possible, but takes a while to pay off.

To win outright you probably need to conquer England and Germany. Italy or Russia is a good follow up. Keep this in mind, and look for an opportunity to attack them for a safe three+ supply centre grab that will cripple them and kill them if they're your ally, or look for a workable overall conquest plan if they're an enemy.

    Germany (A Berlin, A Munich, F Kiel)

If you read the sections on England and France, you'll realize that you and they are bound together. Some theory calls you and they the 'western triangle' and implies that winning outright will depend on whoever manages to defeat the other two first being fast enough to take down the winner of the 'eastern triangle'.

More importantly, they're the people you need to deal with.

Denmark is something you can guarantee. Kiel-Denmark is a staple move, although Kiel-Holland does happen. Kiel-Holland loses the ability to threaten Russia with bouncing them out of Sweden (or make a deal with England to let one of you take Sweden away from Russia), but it IS easier to get Belgium if you do that and Munich to either Burgundy or the Ruhr. Berlin-Kiel-Denmark is also fairly safe.

Still. If England was going to bounce you out of either Holland or Denmark, they can bounce you out of either equally easily. And Denmark is a good place to have a Fleet, rather than an army. Holland - not so much.

England and France both make acceptable allies. England works fairly well; you churn out armies, they churn out fleets, and you attack different targets. France falls, you turn around, and both of you start hitting other people. France, on the other hand, can get rid of England altogether, thereby clearing out the North Sea or giving it to you (happy times), and then you can face each other in a bloody war - actually, this may explain why there's not many France/Germany alliances. France has nowhere to go except through you unless they have a lot of fleets (although, if they defeated England, they probably have three by now).

Of course, Germany has other concerns. Russia can attack you overland, as can Austria-Hungary. Italy can wander into Tyrolia and then Munich.

An alliance with Austria Hungary is pretty much needed. Luckily, it's pretty much a dead cert. It's almost an offer they can't refuse. You both have too many other powers bordering you to want more enemies.

You want Russia and Turkey to be at each other's throats. A 'Juggernaught' is too dangerous.

Since you can threaten to deny Russia Sweden, or kindly give it to them, and you're likely to be aligned with Austria-Hungary, I suggest engineering or at least blessing an Austria-Hungary/Russia alliance to eliminate Turkey.

This is, incidently, why at intermediate strength games, Turkey tends to die. Turkey does well if this does NOT happen, but if Germany, Austria and Russia appraise the board well, well... poor little yellow pieces.

To win outright you probably need France, Italy, and chunks of Austria-Hungary and Russia. It's possible to pull off a conquest of England to go with France and Italy.

Oh... and you don't like people in Tyrolia. You want to be able to leave Munich empty; having a hard outer shell of armies and an empty inner circle of supply centres is GOOD and something England and France can take for granted. (Who needs to occupy England? Who needs to occupy Paris, Brest, Spain or Portugal?)

Russia (F St Petersburg South Coast [StP SC], F Sevastopol, A Moscow, A Warsaw)

Russia is the single strongest nation. It should be, it has 33% more pieces and up to 4100% more potential openings. No, really, 4100%. I'll just cover the good ones, okay?

The Fleet in St Petersburg should move to the Gulf of Bothnia. Pretty much period. It should then move to Sweden, unless Germany is in Kiel already and seems likely to bounce you - then you should go to Sweden and regret the bad Diplomacy [or, if you're moving for an all out attack on Germany, move adjacent to Berlin, Kiel and Denmark - don't you love water?).

The Army in Moscow can go to St Petersburg, Warsaw, the Ukraine, or Sevastopol in reasonable openings. Sevastopol should only happen occasionally, mostly if you aren't going to bounce with Turkey. St Petersburg is nasty for England if England isn't being careful, and can let you take Norway in later turns. Still, England can guard against it, and will if they're following my advice, so this is a situational opening. Warsaw is the right call if you're going West. This pretty much only applies if you have a rock solid alliance with Turkey. Ukraine is 'standard'. Go there if you want to take Rumania without losing Sevastopol or getting lucky. Also go there if you want to make Austria-Hungary cry...

Assuming your Army in Warsaw heads to Galicia, you have massive pressure on Rumania (often needed), and a threat to Austria-Hungary. They can bounce you out. Heading West from Warsaw is aggressive, and causes Germany to sigh and probably die. Heading to the Ukraine while Moscow heads to St Petersburg is basically splitting yourself between North and South. Good, but not too good.

Remember, to get more pieces, you need to make progress. Splitting is thus slightly risky. (Although bludgeoning England into bludgeoning Germany into giving you Sweden is a fairly good play, and if Austria isn't your enemy, then 2:1 might be enough to grab Rumania).

Sevastopol is a very boring piece. The Black Sea is the best place for your Fleet. Sadly, it is also the best place for the Turkish Fleet. This tends to lead to bouncing competitions, especially since if you agree to a De-Militarized Zone, if they betray you they can grab Rumania by force and then press on.

One bounce and then grabbing Rumania may be the best bet - ideally Turkey would have moved to Constantinople and BOTH of you agree to stop messing around with the Black Sea, but if they're your enemy then you just build a second fleet and force them out.

Check the section on Turkey, it's much shorter than yours and covers the situation in depth.

Long term, you need to conquer most of the land mass of Europe. England is possible, but try to focus on rolling over Germany, France, Italy, maybe Austria, maybe Turkey... honestly, just pick weak targets, you have options.

Turkey (F Ankara, A Constantinople, A Smyrna)

Turkey is simple. Your moves come down to:

The 'Fcuk-You-Russia' F Ank-BLA (Black Sea) A Con-Bul (Bulgaria) A Smy-Arm (Armenia)

The 'Yes-Sir-Russia' A Con-Bul A Smy-Ank F Ank-Con

The 'Russia?' A Con-Bul F Ank-BLA A Smy-Con

I think there's a fourth, even worse, move.

You will get Bulgaria. You will likely not get anything else. You will LIKE this.

Seriously though, both the 'Russia?' and the 'Fcuk-You-Russia' can give you an extra territory. The FYR plan can give you Sevastopol if you're lucky. The 'Russia?' can give you Rumania or, if Austria Hungary is incompetent or in danger, Greece.

The 'Russia?' gives you Rumania if you managed to convince Russia to not bounce. The best ways to do this are to promise a DeMilitarized Zone while lying through your teeth, or to just suggest they grab Rumania while they can and keep quiet about DMZ's.

For the most part however, you will get Bulgaria, and you will then start sending fleets into the Aegean. There you will meet Italy and Austria-Hungary and fight them. This is actually a good plan.

For alliances, only Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Italy are likely to be relevant within the time frame this guide covers. Russia forms the other half of the Juggernaught Voltron beast, which has you hitting low and him hitting high. This is a powerful combination, at least in theory (never actually seen it work). You tend to be weaker than Russia in this situation, however.

The other option is working with Austria Hungary. I suggest allying swiftly with Germany and Austria-Hungary in anti-Russia plan; although the Germany guide doesn't cover this, his ability to deny Russia Sweden helps you a lot, and he really shouldn't care much which one of you he allies with.

The downside is Austria-Hungary may be suspicious, since this alliance is most easily betrayed by, well, you. Try to convince him you're nice and not at all treacherous.

Oh, and beware the Lepanto. (See: Italy)

Long Term, you need to hit Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and probably France to win. They're just close.

Austria-Hungary (F Trieste, A Vienna, A Budapest)

Among beginners, Austria-Hungary is soon dead. It is easy to just get carved up like a Turkey, something that oddly enough seldom happens to Turkey.

It's an easy enough problem to fix, however. Firstly, clue Italy into the fact that the two of you fighting isn't really good for either of you. He can stab you for a supply centre, but you can force him out and then stalemate both of you.

Italy is actually someone you can ally with successfully if he realizes that.

Germany isn't usually relevant. You can safely ally without having to do anything, since neither of you has the opportunity to attack each other.

Russia needs to be dissuaded from attacking you. Turkey doesn't, but he can make a decent ally. (You prefer Russia, although simply not fighting Russia and allying with Italy can be sufficient).

The important moves to be able to make: Take Serbia from Budapest. Go to Albania from Trieste, take Greece with Support. Defend Galicia (hopefully without having to move). If Italy is your friend, you can move Vienna-Galicia and be totally safe and destined to hit 5 SC's. If he's a weasel, you can't.

If you feel like a hedgehog, Trieste goes into venice, Vienna into Galicia, and Budapest into Serbia.

Budapest - Rumania is cute, but tends to be forced out by Russia. Only go there if you plan on bouncing him out of Galicia or are tricking him (keep in mind Turkey will likely deny you Greece if you do this).

Long term, you need to probably take down Turkey, or Russia, or both, and then turn around and hit someone else. Good luck, by the way.

Italy (F Naples, A Vienna, A Rome)

Italy is another slow starter. There are few ways to get to 5 Supply Centres quickly. The three options:

Venice->Tyrolia->Munich (requires alliance with Austria-Hungary and/or an unsuspecting Germany). Venice->Piedmont->Marseilles (requires a stupid France, or a German alliance) Venice-Trieste (possibly with a visit to Tyrolia).

All of these make you an enemy quickly, and you aren't well placed to actually attack any of them.

The simplest and best option is a Lepanto.

The Lepanto is a bit slower, and boils down to moving Naples into the Ionian Sea and (this is the bit you might miss) Rome into Naples, then convoying the army you just moved into Tunis. You then build a fleet in Naples, and start moving towards Turkey, preparing to slip your fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and your Army in Syria - or just attacking them directly.

A variant on the Lepanto requires a trusting and trustworthy Austria.

You open like the Lepanto, but with one difference. What, you may ask? You move into Trieste. A Trieste recently vacated by Austria.

Then Austria starts swearing at you and has to be physically restrained... but is in fact secretly prepared for this.

After all, when he supports that Army out of Trieste and straight into an attack on someone else, well...

What was that about Italy and Austria-Hungary being the two worst countries?

I thought so.

Your extra piece can be put anywhere, although I'd recommend building it somewhere it can start attacking soon. (Remember, Naples will have a fleet).

As for alliances and so forth - don't bother. Apart from Austria, and whether or not there's a stealthy attack on or by France/Germany (which doesn't need an alliance to prevent), there's no need for allies. After all, making allies also makes enemies. Just wait out the first year (unless you go for the above Lepanto variant), and then make deals with those in need of help.

Long term, you tend to hit France, Austria, and Turkey. Germany is also possible, and it is a real coup to attack England successfully. Keep that in mind and grab the chance if it can (specifically, it's hard to get into the Mid Atlantic Ocean, but it can be really tasty to do so).

Free Extra Bonus Advice

If you take, or even attack, someone's supply centres, you are likely to make an enemy. I'm not naming names, but someone tried to 'keep me honest' and managed to royally screw over BOTH of us by bringing ME to a halt (and, in fact, an about face), while not actually making real gains for himself, while letting a third party get stronger and in a better position.

That is known as a 'Bad Thing'.

Why? Just a random attack that was annoying. Don't do random things. If you can't see how something fits your general plan, don't do it.