ENGLAND FOR EXPERTS
by Toby Harris
Isn’t it funny; having not won a Diplomacy tournament since 1998 (until WDC 2015), I still felt confident as an authoritative advisor on the game. Yet as the 2015 World Champion and current WDC holder of Best England, there is now a feeling of “who the hell am I to advise others how to play England?”. It probably goes back to a basic principle that it’s more fun to be a loser and tease the winners, than it is to be a winner and to talk about it. A big part of me prefers the former. What the hell, Best England counts for something, so I’ll write …
I played England twice at WDC 2015. The first time (round two) went on to win the “Best England” award
This result also won Marco Ferrari a bottle of wine, because he bet on me to win that round (for which the prize was a bottle of wine). Let’s hope this solitary prized bottle went some way to replenishing the many quality bottles drunk at Marco’s house that same evening!
The second time I played England at WDC was in the final. That was more of a “solid” game.
There are some great tips and tricks to learn as England … if you don’t already know them. So let’s start with some basics. Oh and using Larry Peery’s favourite board, Olde Faithful …
Starting with some basic maths: if Russia’s northern fleet has been disbanded (after the loss of Stp and any further northern opportunity), and if German has no remaining fleets then … if you have the position above, how can you ever go below seven units? Norway (army or fleet) guards Stp (also, army or fleet) indefinitely from the south, and no A(Kie) will break through Denmark. That leaves you with a *massive* four fleets to go against France.
Like with most games, Diplomacy is a “game of efficiency”. And guarding four centres with three units is very efficient. So this position is an early target for any England.
I first learned this basic principle from my cousin at the age of 11. But have never heard it discussed since. Maybe everyone already knows it, maybe they don’t. But if you do all know it, I haven’t heard anyone write about it (or play it) it in the last 36 years.
This is not a fancy move, not a clever coup, not an amazing stab — just a basic & simple position to aim for (like AEG & Alb for Austria). If you can get to this position (especially in a WDC final — where 7 centres are usually close to where you need to get) then you will always be a contender for the title at the end.
So, this was my goal at the WDC final. It wasn’t an “anti-Peter-MacNamara” thing … I just played this basic principal of sealing StP and then working to keep Germany bagged up.
With Cyrille as Germany however, a new mid-game fleet in Kiel was always a probability!
Consider the Country You Are Playing Very Carefully
I have heard so many times that if you had to win a game of Diplomacy to save your life then you would choose France. This thought remains true today, and as much as it always has done. France is easy for beginners to play, fun, flexible, quick to span the stalemate lines, a powerful aggressor and awesome in defence.
But this article is not about France … it is about England. Artistic cartwheels on playing France are coming next time! Behind France, if choosing next, I would quite possibly rate England second best. With the right skill-set, England is a very powerful defensive and aggressive country. And here is the crux …
If you ‘could’ have 18 units on your Island … you are just 4 moves away from 18 centres!
So England is not as “tucked away in the corner” as you may think. It is a powerful country, both offensively and defensively. And it is the best country in the game to make long convoys (i.e., using 2+ fleets), and is the only Great Power on the board which can realistically convoy one of its own armies from one corner of the board (Stp) to the opposite corner (NAf) in a single turn. Clyde to Syria is probably more of an ‘Edi Birsan move’ though.
At the first WDC in 1988, somebody actually did the unthinkable! Yes, this is where the Yorkshire Pudding opening was first played. Edi-Yor, Lvp-Yor, Lon-Yor. Dennis Jones. One of the craziest guys you could ever meet. Crazier than Igor Kurt & Frank Ozmiansky sharing a head. A regular at the London monthly hobby-meet of the 1990’s, sadly Dennis died a tragic death very recently. Hopefully there will be some glasses raised to him at Manorcon next month. Btw, let’s not forget he was also the person who said (of Alan Calhammer, as he walked around browsing the boards of WDC 1) “who’s the guy with the beard?”
The part I enjoy most about playing England is the army / fleet mix. “There are no supply centres in the sea”, were the words in one of the earliest 1970’s articles I read about England, which is of course very true. But there are also some sea spaces with are worth more than a supply centre. Just from a strategic perspective. And it is getting this army / fleet mix “just right” that splits the novices from the masters when playing England. The wrong choice of unit build can easily make the difference between winning the table or not.
I have seen games where fleet after fleet after fleet have gone on to win the game. And also games where a constant string of armies (with just the two original fleets) have achieved an equally admirable table-topping result.
So is there a best strategy? Are fleets better than armies? Or should you focus on armies?
First you have to “feel” the country you are playing … make it your body, with you as the brain. And then you will always know what choice of unit to build, and where to build it.
As with all three of your direct neighbours, there are three approaches: attack, ally or neutral. The neutral approach with Russia tends to be along the lines of putting a fleet into Norway in exchange for no Russian builds in Stp. This “wait and see” approach is fairly common, leaving Russia free to focus on the South and you free to cope with the F/G machinations. So I won’t dwell on it further for fear of having to change the name of this article to the “England — for those who want to wait and see”.
Just remember one thing … 18 centres rarely comes to those who “wait and see”
Attack Russia with the ‘Robin Levy’ Opening
Who the hell is Robin Levy, you ask? Actually he was (and probably still would be) an awesome player, with innovative forward-thinking talent. If you check the World Diplomacy Database, you’ll see that he only ever played at Midcon & Manorcon in the UK from 1988 to 1995. Perhaps a better intro for him would be to say that he was a very close friend of (and introduced to the Diplomacy hobby by) Jim Mills. And from the 1980’s through to the mid 1990’s, there really was only ever one guy that the UK would regard as their finest player of all time. That was Jim Mills. Jim will be at Manorcon EDC 2015 btw, so I hope many of you will get to meet, play and appreciate him as the massively skilful player that he is.
Anyway, Robin Levy had a skill of his own. And he perfected a few special moves that he made his own too. So if you want to attack Russia, grab Stp and all that then by all means convoy to Norway and move to BAR. Alternatively, consider the way Robin did it — very successfully and more than once. Here is his ideal Fall 1901 position …
… using Olde Faithful again Larry …
It is clear what has happened here; Robin persuaded Germany to bounce Russia from Sweden. This is not an impossible task; you only need give a promise that it is in the best interests of a long term alliance. Robin also spoke with the South (Austria & Turkey) to deny Russia Rumania and (ultimately) any builds at all. And France was sent on his merry way to Iberia, with a longer term campaign against the Italians in mind.
In return for an offer of Belgium and promises to Paris etc, Robin’s England forced its way to Sweden in Spring 1902, with the follow-up free ride to Bar. Sweden & StP were his two builds in 1902. It worked every time I saw it; including the time I was his Russian victim.
In reality this suite of moves should not be so heavily welcomed by Germany, because an English F(Swe) in 1902 is dangerous … even if it’s ultimate plan is to move to GOB and force StP for certain. But a second German fleet after 1901 can usually hold the balance of power and keep the E/G alliance moving in the right direction without fear of a stab.
If Germany can overcome the initial shock of England’s speedy growth, this opening is incredibly powerful. Nobody realistically expects it, and I haven’t seen it played (from memory) since the early 1990’s by Robin Levy himself.
It does require an element of trust in France & Germany from the start, but when you are surrounded by “wait and see” players, it is a safe bet.
Actually I was hoping to save this opening for a rainy day, but now I’ve already become World Champion there is no reason not to share it with all of you to try for yourselves
Ally With Russia — The Most Powerful Alliance EVER?
What really disappoints me about most players as England is their lack of open-mindedness regarding Russia. Russia can be a GREAT ally. The best of all alliances in fact.
Possibly the strongest alliance combination ever?
With Russia on side, England can attack both F & G at the same time! All you have to do as England is lose the idea from your head that “Norway is yours”. There are other goodies to take, better fish in the sea and an alternative way to consider playing England.
I first saw this opening in an article in John Wilman’s zine “Watch Your Back!” from the 1970’s and loved it. It is the coolest combo move of all time, immensely powerful and requires just a little trust from the E/R players to make it work.
After getting stabbed by Dave Simpson at EDC 2013 in Belgium (that’s “Cool Dave” to you guys & gals in the USA), I played Russia to his Germany in the following round. And that gave me every piece of energy, confidence and desire to give this R/E combo a try. Jean-Louis was playing England, he liked the idea and I was all up for (there’s no better way to say this) … teaching Cool Dave a lesson <grin>
The spring 1901 moves follow, and played out on (are you watching Larry?) Olde Faithful …
Oh blimey, what a mess! Not for the faint-hearted and not for any player whose opening line to you is “I would just like to wait and see what the others will do”. Sod that, dive in, the water is lurvely … come on in and have a swim …
Firstly let’s consider Russia and their Southern flank. If Russia faces an A/T alliance then they will be denied Rumania anyway! So Russia should not think that by chucking two (or any) armies south that it makes this centre any more certain. If anything, the light approach of a single fleet in the South makes it *more* likely Russia will take Rumania. All Russia need say to A/T is … “hey guys, have an alliance. Go against Italy and leave me alone. I will have a northern game and give you no trouble — just a single fleet in Rum is all I ask”.
And when you think about it like this, it all makes sense. Why attack a Russia that has some control in the north? He is in fact a good friend to the A/T alliance headed against Italy.
Russia then has a 50/50 of Ber/Mun. Ok, not exactly a 50/50, but you may as well have a prod at one of the centres. And finally, Russia’s duty in this alliance is to order F(GOB) - Bal in return for the gift of Norway. An army in Norway won’t hurt you as England!
And for the Russian move to BAL, and exchange of Norway, you get a convoy to Denmark!
Of course Germany should “bounce” Sweden, get in there, leave Den vacant etc.
All this is subject to bluff, counter-bluff and all sorts of issues.
The aforementioned last time I played this (2013 EDC) it created a mess of a game. It took FIVE GAME YEARS for the others to grab any kind of grip on the game, and that was only because JLD bounced over Nwy in Fall 1901, rather than making the right moves.
This is NOT a “chance” opening — if you can really trust Russia it is both powerful and effective. And it sends the entire table into total head-scratching chaos very quickly.
France — Attack?
In the WDC final I opened as standard. But in round 2 (with Cyrille as Germany and Dirk as France) I took my chances on the Channel. Dirk is generally a “wait and see” kind of player (which I hope he will change one day), so I was right in guessing he would not be bouncing Lon-ENG. After promising to convoy Wal-Bel in the Fall (to make up with Dirk), my new A(Bre) was in great position at the end of the first year. Sorry Dirk.
There are many ways to work with France — tolerate, ally, attack, or go around. This was the full-on attack, with some bluff. Sometimes you have to play the player. This is not so much to name names, but to say that Dirk gave me confidence that he could smell a new hope in working together if I made that convoy to Belgium. It was a gift, and one of my few lies of WDC. A good lie — it worked. A successful convoy to Brest in 1901 is about the best possible start England can ever have. Not only have you grabbed a second build in 1901, but you have single-handedly weakened the most formidable opponent on the table … France.
He never recovered from this; not because I was trying to be cruel, but my olde fashioned view of Diplomacy is this … if you are going to stick the knife in then give it a twist as well.
Or … don’t let Pascal do his triangle on you … “never let win the one who stab you”!
With Cyrille as Germany, he saw I was headed to the Med as fast as possible. And that is always a good way to get an ally on board. i.e., show them that you mean business, are in an all-out attack on someone else and invite them to … ahem … “dive in … the water is lovely”
I *LOVE* this phrase in Diplomacy btw. If ever you make a stab on someone, and want others to join in, just make like Jerry (”Tom & Jerry”) doing backstroke in the dog’s fur, and invite everyone else to come in and share the good times. Cruel? Perhaps, but it sure is fun. And best of all, the “Jerry backstroke” is incredibly effective in winning over new allies!
The best move in Diplomacy is … the move that succeeds.
This is so true. Far better than any stand-off or tactical planning. And for England, the best place for A(Lvp) at the end of 1901 is Brest. The trouble is that you need a very special set of circumstances, bluffs, confidences and complete bullshit to ever achieve it. Dirk is a fantastic guy (EDC finalist last year) and I am delighted he has stayed with Diplomacy. So if he reads this article I honestly hope that he will *NEVER* let another England fondle his Brest again.
I would like to cover the brest (er … best) way of dealing with Lvp-Wal / Lon-ENG when you are playing France in the next article. It will be called (… take a wild guess) “FRANCE FOR EXPERTS”. In this game my England tried the same thing against Rene Van Rooijen, and the end result was really rather special — for us both! Wanna clue? “Let him through”. Clever!
So to attack France there is no easy direct route — a bounce in ENG is more harmful to you as England than it is to France. Why? France can always move to MAO in the Fall and build F(Bre) … and that hurts. So if you open to ENG then be diplomatically sure it will work.
Or Attack Germany?
The only other route is to work with France in relative harmony; try to send France South, perhaps work with Germany against Russia (or other way around), and see how things go. D’oh … *THAT* phrase again. I hate this “wait and see” stuff! Are you here to play or here to pussy around?
All being well, and thanks to Larry Peery’s favourite Diplomacy set (that would be “Olde Faithful”), your Fall 1902 position with E/F/G might look something like this … it is a good place to be:
England 5, F & G 6 each. It is normal. Not clear from the map (black on black) but the German A(Pru) is ready to support Kiel (also black on black) — Livonia, France headed south and England looking at northern Russia. Actually, that could just as easily be an army build in Edi — probably it should be for this three-way alliance. No matter — the unit choice does not affect the next stage.
An attack on France means NTH-ENG and NWG-NAO. That will force MAO the turn after. And for this reason it is so important to keep a fleet in NWG at all times as England. This is like the Austrian F(AEG). It is your gay pride unit … but it swings. It gets to MAO in just two swift moves. But if you make this move (well, two moves to MAO) then you have to move quickly. You have to take MAO before France gets a build from Italy! Ideally make sure Germany is happy to take Belgium, and that you have a crack at Brest. It is not about the centres — it is NEVER about the centres. It is all about the units. If you can achieve the loss of one or two centres then a French fleet may be disbanded, or their inner land-mass opened up with the lack of armies. Hence A(Edi) would be the better choice … get one ready to convoy over …
Attacking Germany from here is equally as potent: SKA or HEL are viable targets. And both have merit. Actually the options here are very diverse. Just look at the position and see which way you would go? I did call this “England for Experts”, so if you plan to attack Germany now …
is F(NTH) – HEL the best move or NTH – SKA? <stop and think about this before reading on … >
Ok, for my opinion I would go for SKA. With another fleet (NWG) moving to Nwy, and Edi following into NTH, it means Sweden is then the target. The reason for this choice is because, once in Sweden, you then start to threaten BAL. And once England has a fleet in BAL … it is all over for Germany.
So yes, my choice here would be to start with Scandinavia and work south, rather than go for the heart via HEL. A dilemma perhaps if you were planning to stab Germany?
Armies or Fleets?
Now this is an area I would LOVE to give you advice on. As a general rule I would consider builds (starting with the 4th unit — i.e., after the initial 3) as follows: F, A, F, A, A, F, A, A, F, A, A, F, A, A.
But this can change so quickly, based on the Diplomacy of the game, your choice of allies and what simply works best. And to rely on my build-string above would be foolish. It is just an ideal based on what might be, what might become and assuming you have the fleets in place to give the armies a chance, and the armies in place to allow more fleets to work together.
England is both a complicated and a simple country to play — all in one. And you MUST fail in playing her before you can ever appreciate how to truly succeed. It represents the biggest learning curve of anybody’s game, and only longevity of your playing career can heal that.
But ask yourself this question: take 8 English fleets out of the box and place them on the map (with no other units of any country) in their best possible position for you as England. Where would they all be? All at sea of course. You would want armies on the land spaces — ideally. So how many great sea spaces are there? Maybe ENG, MAO, NTH and three or four in the Med? So that’s seven fleets. What about the 8th? Ok, ideally as far as ION / ADS / AEG.
And that’s my point — England doesn’t need more than 8 fleets. So if you are headed towards 18, then ultimately you will be looking at probably having more armies than fleets in that final push.
Listen to your chosen ally (/ allies) and see where it takes you. England is up there with the most fun countries of all to play. But also listen to common sense.
That is unless you take Norway and do a 4 – 4 – 3 – 3 – 3 - 2 – 2- 0 for the game?
That would be a waste. Of course, that’s not you. You are reading this because it says “England for Experts” and, as an expert, you have no intention of a declining S.C. count. Indeed, you want to get to 18. Can it be done?
Ok I confess, I have never had an 18 England in face-to-face Diplomacy. In fact I only just realised today (when checking some stats) that I had won a “Best Country” for all seven Great Powers at some tournament in the past. But this not really anything to boast about; age and longevity gets these kind of results over time. And most of them have been certificates rather than solid gold or silver trophies.
My heyday as England (before WDC 2015) was definitely in 1985 – 1987. A few years before the first WDC. These were postal games in Brian Frew’s postal Dipzine “Veni Vidi Vici”, which was so desperately awaited each month when I was a teenager. Brian promised to come to EDC Manorcon this year (and gave Gwen Maggi a good bashing a couple of years ago at Midcon) but unfortunately the man from Belfast just cannot make it this year. With his zine, style of play, Dip articles and general composure (hey, he still has it!) I always look back at Brian as the Godfather. But in reality the master has just as many nerves about the student as the student does of the master.
So the VVV (Veni Vidi Vici) years gave me four concurrent games, and I played England in three. There were numerous duplicated players across the games too. The interesting thing came when I was ready to stab — but if I stabbed this guy then there was some explaining to do in another game. And I worried that to stab one player might mean he would not work with me in the other game(s). Is that meta-gaming? It was a really decisive moment in my Diplomacy history. I stabbed both guys / allies, across two games and just went for it. It was crazy, ruthless and with pure passion. Brian Frew saw it all coming (as GM) and if you had asked him then “is this Toby Harris guys any good?” I am sure he would have said things in my favour. Two 18’s as England is a hefty order, and (until WDC 2015) this was my moment as England.
How To Play England?
Feel it like it’s a part of you — not like Buzz Saw (“The Running Man”) but like you can do GOOD with it. How you can help others. Mould yourself to England and become England. Don’t be greedy and ask for Belgium in the first turn; the way to take Belgium is to encourage France & Germany to bounce in Burgundy (for safety) — using A(Par) of course, to give France flexibility over their fleet in the Fall. That guarantees you Belgium.
But to push past the stalemate lines and take an 18, you have to be considering Moscow, Munich, & Tunis. And that means a combination of both armies and fleets. Alternatively, flooding the Med with fleets might get you into more of Italy, and I suspect that this path yields more 18’s than any other. So a “quick” 18 (by 1907) would need a quick elimination of France, which means an all-out attack early on, possibly a ballsy capture of Brest, with some help from Germany and/or Italy.
If I had to get an 18 England to save my life, this would be the way I would try it.
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