Firstly, I believe you can control the course of a game quite substantially in NoPress play, you just have to know how. Whether your opponents will attack or not is not merely random chance at all. It depends on what you do. Sure, there are some instances where you guess wrong at the start, and never recover, but this is not just random chance. You can identify the risks, it's just a matter of knowing when to play conservative and when to go for it.
Secondly, although many players who play Italy in NoPress are "major jerks," it is oversimplifying it to say this is always the case. If you don't put a lot of thought into how you approach Italy you can be left wondering what else you could have done. Yatchman's comments on Italy may be due to a lack of depth of thought about Italy's options. More on that later.
My main premise in NoPress play is that, on a given front, the side that is able to bring the most concentrated, co-ordinated force to bear, will win out nine times out of ten. (The tenth time is usually when that side just makes a dumb mistake....) Given this irrefutable fact of NoPress play, I believe one should pick a target, and throw everything at it. Don't try and expand in three separate directions at once. Hold on one front with the minimum forces needed (preferably no forces are needed) and throw everything at your target, and don't stop till the opposition is completely crushed -- don't let up. Sometimes you can win on a front where you are outnumbered, but this usually relies on you fighting two (or more) powers. Here your advantage is that your forces are able to co-ordinate, and your opposition need to guess. Don't bank on them not being able to do guess correctly -- I've seen good NoPress players able to maintain an uncanny understanding over a long period of time.
Thirdly, yes, alliances are hard to cultivate in NoPress. There's an element of luck involved sometimes, and sometimes no matter what you do you can't forge even the most logical of alliances. Sometimes the country you want to ally with is being played by someone who's decided to attack you regardless. However, the assertion that alliances in NoPress play are much shorter is, in my opinion, just plain wrong. Because they are so hard to forge, once formed, alliances tend to last a very long time - more so than in press play. Also if you're allied to Germany and attacking England, it's nigh on impossible to communicate your wishes to make peace with France and stab Germany without letting Germany in on the secret...which kind of ruins the surprise of the stab doesn't it? So, allies tend to prefer to stick together long term in NoPress play. A solid start is important, but there is also something to be said for taking a flyer at the start, and hoping that your enemies take the safe and sure start you think they will...momentum is all important in NoPress (see my theorem for success below). Yatchman did get it right when he spoke of the vulture effect in NoPress. Stumble, or show any signs of weakness as England, and even Turkey will be pushing through the ranks to get a piece of you.
Okay, so what do I think about No Press Openings? Yatchman broke his article into the West, the East, and Italy, and I initially intended to do the same. However the deadline for The Pouch Spring Retreats issue has snuck up on me, so in order to get this in on time, I will handle England and Germany this issue, and cover Yatchman's comments about the other five nations in time for the Fall Movement Issue.
Yatchman says, "Norway is almost always a freebie in 1901, so attempting anything else is fraught with unwarranted risk. Convoy the army there -- its a no brainer....[and in summary for England] for Spring, 1901:
F LON-ENG (a MUST move!)
F EDI-NTH (or NWG)
Now, while I admit convoying the army to Norway is often a good idea, I don't feel it is a 'no brainer.' For one, if Russia opens with a northern opening (A MOS-STP), Norway is not a guaranteed build, unless you use the second fleet to support it in there. Yatchman went on to say in his commentary on English openings: "The key strategic space for the opening is ENG -- the channel. Let's get tactical: If France moves to the channel and I don't, I'm screwed!" and further, in his suggested openings: F LON-ENG (a MUST move!). Well, if you're going to the channel, and Russia opens to the north, aren't you then faced with an embarrassing conundrum? Norway is no longer a no-brainer, as it's not guaranteed. Given this possible outcome, I say that IF you take Yatchman's advice, and move to the channel, then F EDI-NWG is an illogical move. It has to be F EDI - NTH to give you the option of convoying to BEL with support from ENG if Norway is no longer such a no brainer.
But should you move to the channel? My experience in NoPress games is that it is easier for France to attack England successfully than vice versa. As France, I never feel safe with England still at my back; too many things can go wrong too quickly. I think it is fair to say that France goes after England's back door reasonably often in NoPress. Given this, I say England has two choices: go after France hard from the get go, or go for a blitzkrieg opening into Scandinavia.
If you take the former option, F LON-ENG, A LVP-WAL/YOR, F EDI-NTH is a much stronger move than Yatchman's suggestion. If you go to Wales with the army, you're committing yourself to using F ENG to convoy it to BEL/PIC/BRE in the Fall, or holding in Wales. The convoy is a gamble, as you're by no means guaranteed to have a fleet in ENG. As Yatchman pointed out, France has a strong incentive to open to the Channel in NoPress. Because of this, I think A LVP-YOR is a better idea. If you bounce in the channel, and Russia didn't open to the north, you can still take Norway as a no-brainer. If you make it into the Channel, you have France in the unenviable position of guessing F MAO-BRE, F MAO-POR/SPA, or F MAO H (not such a bad idea actually). Personally, given French F MAO and English F ENG after S1901M, I would always push for MAO as England.
Now if this whole 'attack France' business has you screaming at your 'puter wondering what this lunatic from New Zealand is going on about, your other option is Scandinavia. I say if you're going to Scandinavia, go hard, go all guns blazing. Open F LON-NTH, F EDI-NWG, A LVP-EDI (to give you choices as to which convoy route to take). If Russia came north, play it safe and support your army into NWY. If you're feeling brave though, try A EDI-NTH-NWY, F NTH C A EDI-NWY, F NWG-BAR, and set yourself up for a stronger 1902. The other alternative which is just as devastating (if it works) is A EDI-NWG-NWY, F NWG C A EDI-NWY, F NTH-SKA, or even F NTH-DEN if you want to fight Germany and Russia -- though if I was France and I saw that, it would be like a big red flag for me to walk into LVP.
In summary? Don't pussyfoot around. NoPress games are won tactically, not diplomatically. What counts is numbers of units concentrated on a front. If you're going to the Channel, don't do it for passive reasons; go after France's arse. IF you're gonna go tripping in Scandinavia, forget France, hope they don't attack, and go hard in Scandinavia. It's easy to get bogged down in Scandinavia, so make sure that doesn't happen, and hit it with everything you've got in 1901, 1902, and 1903, then worry about the south.
Germany has more options at the start of the game than any other country except Russia. There are ten SC's in range for 1901 (likewise for Russia). Hence, I find Yatchman's statement that there is no substitute for
simply unbelievable. Not that the set of moves is bad...they're pretty solid. What I take issue with is the assertion that there are no substitutes.
As discussed, alliances are harder to form in NoPress play. If you can form an alliance with one of your neighbours before the other players do so, you're well on your way to a solid powerful midgame position. As Germany, more so than most other nations, a solid midgame position is crucial. Being a central power you will get eaten up in the midgame if you don't hold the initiative. There are too many hungry hounds nipping at you from all sides for you to be able to defend against them all simultaneously. As Yatchman noted, once you show any sign of weakness in NoPress the vultures swoop en masse. You can't talk your way out of it, and numbers brought to bear are the crucial thing in NoPress play.
One of Germany's great assets in NoPress play is it is in a good position to form an alliance with any of England, France, and Russia, and usually has an unspoken non-agression pact with Austria too. Make the most of this, and try to forge an alliance early.
Since forging or solidifying an alliance is so important for Germany in the opening, and since there are so many possible alliances he can forge, I believe there are, therefore, other opening options -- options that Yatchman did not recommend.
One way to broker such an alliance early is to allow Russia to take Sweden. I'm not saying this is the way to go, but it IS an option. If you're going to let him have Sweden, move F KIE-HOL in S1901M. This signals to Russia that you want to be friends. You can then order A BER-KIE, followed by A KIE-DEN, and A MUN-RUH, followed by A RUH-BEL, and F HOL S A RUH-BEL. By doing so, you invite a friendly relationship with a Russia who is dying for a friend early in NoPress play, and you make sure of two builds (unless England orders F NTH-DEN in the Fall...which is not an entirely bad idea if you're England in this situation). The other advantage of opening F KIE-HOL is that you almost ensure that BEL is yours, or at the least that neither France or England have it.
Another option is A MUN-TYR combined with A BER-KIE and, depending on how you want to approach Russia, either F KIE-DEN or F KIE-HOL.
As will be seen in my next article's discussion of Italy, A VEN-TYR is not uncommon from the Italians in S1901M. A MUN-TYR takes away the conundrum Germany faces with an Italian army in TYR at the start of F1901M. If you get a bounce in TYR you're sitting snug and safe in MUN even if France is in BUR. The trade off is that you have less influence in the Low Countries. If you don't get a bounce, and actually get into TYR, that's not all bad either....
The final opening that I will mention is F KIE-BAL, A BER-KIE, A MUN-RUH (not to say that the multitude of others I have omitted do not have merits; I was just trying to rebut Yatchman's assertion that no alternatives exist). This opening gives you two units on SWE in the fall, which gives you some nice possibilities after S1901M.
Germany has a multitude of options. In my opinion, a trap for beginners is to try and exercise too many of these alternatives at once. Pick one direction and go hard at it. Concentration of forces in NoPress is often the critical factor. Decide before the start which way you want to play Germany. Do you want to blitz Scandinavia, invade France, or be a naval power and try to eliminate England as soon as possible?
In the next issue of The Pouch I will write on the comments Yatchman made about the other five countries. That's a promise, Manus.... [Music to my ears. And hey, it almost rhymes!! --Ed.]
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