by Toby Harris

Moving on with strategy article six of seven: Russia. There’s no way of improving upon the Italy article because it had so many different and wonderful ideas from so many great players. But without any doubt, Russia has the most flexibility of all the Great Powers in terms of straddling the natural stalemate lines from the beginning of the game, the flexible movement of pieces, the options of a North / South campaign, and certainly the most interesting choices of opening. But this comes at a price; with four natural neighbours, Russia is easy to kill and impossible to defend if the rest of Europe is against you.

When playing Russia you should know your likely game-end chances by Fall 1902.

I have played Russia enough times now (by post, face-to-face, and via email) to have explored most options. And some of them are truly wonderful! Russia works well with any country on the board, and usually best with two or three allies. You need allies.

If your last Russian opening was A(War) – Gal, F(Sev) – BLA, A(Mos) – Ukr, F(StPsc) – GOB,
then you need to explore. Try something new. Savour the game of Diplomacy better.

So here are some ideas which I hope you’ll consider for your next game as Russia.

1. Working with England

Starting with the ‘fastest’ and most amazing alliance Diplomacy has to offer…

I only pulled off my favourite R/E alliance once by post, and got really close to it at EDC 2013 (with Jean-Louis). It’s fast and totally furious, with the whole board in disarray after 1901!

First you need to speak with Turkey; ask for a bounce in BLA in the Spring, but insist that A(Smy) moves to Ank. This is very important. Explain that if your opening is unappreciated they can order F(Ank)-BLA and A(Smy)-Arm in the Fall. But if they like what you do then their fall orders need to be: F(Ank)-Con, A(Smy)-Ank, A(Bul) s RUSSIAN F(Sev) – Rum. That way Smyrna is freed up to build a new fleet and the Juggernaut starts rolling.

And then Austria. The best Russian players don’t ask for a bounce in Galicia; they advise Austria that they have many more interesting things to do with A(War) instead. So let’s agree a total DMZ in Gal. Austria should normally go for this because it makes good sense for both Powers. But do beware of the rogue Austrian who breaks this deal and has intent to order A(Vie) – Gal – War – Mos – Sev. I’ve seen this done … quite recently actually ;-). If you can get Austria on board to defend Tri/Tyr from Vienna then you’re home and dry. Now to focus on the North; the really important part of this great plan.

With Germany you say the standard stuff. I hope we can agree to the usual DMZ in Silesia and Prussia, and that in return you will let me have Sweden. I really need to have Sweden. Sweden is the key to whether or not we can work together. Can I have Sweden? I need it!

Just emphasise that you will play nice in return for the promise of Sweden.

Now to England. With England you have to explain all the “Northern” orders for both your countries for both Spring and Fall 1901. They will either like it or not. It works so well for both of you; getting both Great Powers off to a great start and England straddling the Western half of the stalemate line by 1904 - 1905.

The orders are like this (Spring and Fall):

A(Mos) – Stp – Nwy, A(War) – Sil – Ber / Mun, F(StPsc) – GOB – BAL, F(Sev) – BLA - Rum
F(Lon) – ENG – Bel / Bre, A(Lvp) – Yor – Den, F(Edi) – NTH – c A(Yor) – Den

Back to my Olde Faithful Diplomacy board from the 1980’s Midcon tournaments, and with a Huzzah from Larry Peery to boot, the Fall 1901 position (before builds) will hopefully look something like this:

Pre-builds image

There is no knowing about the YELLOW CIRCLES on the map. Did you go for Mun or Ber? Did England go for Bel or Bre? And were these moves successful? That is very much down to your respective styles of play, who you’re playing and how well the double-bluffs work.

The GREEN CIRCLE is all about your relationship in the south. If you have successfully convinced Turkey into a delayed Juggernaut, their final 1901 unit positions (and your fleet) will be as shown. And they are free to build F(Smy) as agreed. And Gal should be a DMZ.

You can even rope Austria into a three-way Southern alliance here. i.e., you stay north as Russia, whilst the two of them head west. Needless to say, Austria can also be tempted by the tasty tit-bit of Munich (with your support of course) should the desire arise. But as long as Gal stays vacant and Turkey builds F(Smy), the pair of them can head West with comfort and satisfaction that they can take you out of Rum any time they like.

Now the BLUE CIRCLE . This is the key part of this whole manœuvre. Forgive me for attempting to teach the French something by using one of their own words (via Medieval Latin) … manoeuvre, but this part is the crux of the plan. These Fall 1901 unit positions are precisely the ultimate goal of this plan. Of course – the attempt is to anticipate the bounce in Sweden and then move to BAL, allowing England the luxury of a convoy to Denmark. And in return you have the freedom of Norway, with an army. i.e., nothing to threaten England with. It’s so gorgeous!

England knows it all along of course (you explained it before the first move), so they have to pretend to Germany they will order to Norway in Fall 1901 regardless. And as Russia you have to beg forgiveness of Germany after Spring 1901 and ask for Sweden anyway.

Finally the RED CIRCLE on the map. A stockpile of Russian units … you will need plenty of those juicy pieces as the game develops, so keep them nearby. You now have a choice of three builds to make! Ok, two is more likely with this opening; chances are that you will only get one of Ber/Mun/Rum, when coupled with Norway makes two builds. So make them.

1902 / 1903

The Spring 1902 moves should be obvious now; English A(Den) supports Russian A(Nwy) – Swe. Possibly F(BAL) supports it also, whilst F(NTH) supports A(Den) to stand. Who cares where F(Swe) retreats? What can it do? Retreat to Finland? The gist is that between yourself and England you eliminate Germany by Fall 1903 (or at worst they are down to their last centre). And all the while France is kept at bay with the English fleets, whilst your armies block any possible French expansion into German soil.

1904 Onwards

The north is now sealed and Germany eliminated. England is (and remains) your game-long ally. You have no call to stab each other unless a dix-huit presents itself on your doorstep. So whilst England heads into France and onwards to the Mediterranean, you have to make your choice of which ally to stab or work with in the South …

2. The Middle Game: How to Stab Turkey

Irrespective of the opening moves, the mid-game for Russia regularly presents the challenge of how to stab Austria or Turkey. Turkey is easy – we all know it. Let’s go back to Olde Faithful for a second to see the perfect stab. You will need just three units in place to set up the perfect stab!

Setting up the perfect stab

The plan is simple – you have to persuade Austria to yield Greece for a Spring season. Let the Turkish army in. It’s a lot to ask but the bounty is plentiful.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a stab on Turkey is that you do not need an Army in Sev. That’s way too obvious. Turkey will see A(Sev) – Arm from a mile away. But hey, if you can pull this off as well then good luck to you.

The post-stab position should look like this:

The stab!!

Now you get it … Convoy A(Sev)-Ank and support Austrian A(Ser)-Bul whilst F(Alb) cuts Greece. Sure, it’s not guaranteed, but in Diplomacy you have to play the odds. Turkey has many choices. F(AEG) is just as likely (more likely) to support Greece than Bul. Be generous; Austria takes Bul, Gre, and Con. You take Ank and Smy. Get an ARMY onto the Turkish homeland first – not the fleet. You will need the leverage later on. Once the convoy to Ankara succeeds (and you get a new build), the rest of the Turkish centres usually follow suit very quickly.

3. The Middle Game: How to Stab Austria

Is there a skill to this? Making sure there’s an army (rather than a fleet) in Rum is pretty obvious, as is the move to Gal at the right moment. If you have been attacking Germany in the early game, the innocuous A(Sil) can slip down to Boh as well. The problem with attacking Austria is that it can defend itself with the five key scissors defence. Just beware of this! You know the scissors of course, and you’ll know the five key scissors too? That’s why this article is called Russia for Experts. You’re not the kind of player who proclaims the Emperor is wearing a magnificent new invisible cloak of course? Of course not – you played the five key scissors yourself in a game of old. Ok, so we’re on the same page.

By the way, there is no such thing as the five key scissors; I just made it up. My point being that Diplomacy is like a game of poker. Go with what you actually see, rather than the bluffs all around you. If you are to stab Austria then do it not just because you can take Galicia (that part is easy to bag) but because you have a follow-up plan. A good Austrian player is a dangerous enemy. Don’t piss Austria off unnecessarily! If you stab then stab well, with forethought beyond a single move into Gal.

Austria does have the natural scissors defence, and any good player will know it. That part is factual. Scissors relating to the geographical ability to cut any support against any centre or unit. Austria has an awesome defence against Russia if played correctly.

4. The Agony Of Choice – What to Build?

If in any doubt at all as Russia with only one unit to build, have no doubt - A(Mos).

Making your choice of 1901 build(s) as Russia is one of Diplomacy's toughest challenges. It can be game-changing. F(Sev) for example is totally gorgeous. A disaster though if Turkey has also built F(Ank), as your four fleets get locked into a tangle around the Black Sea for ages. Here we make our choice in playing Russia. Our long term strategy. How to build.

At Manorcon 1989 Germany wasn’t sure as to whether or not I should be gifted Sweden. Sweden was ‘his’ gift to decide the fate of, and he bounced me. Fine. I moved to BAL in Spring 1902, backed up with a freshly built A(War)-Sil. That game ended as a 17 Russia; lost a 66% chance for an 18 in the final season. Yet I built zero fleets throughout. Just army after army, piling them through the centre of the board. Armies are a good strategy.

I have seen the northern game strategies, best executed by Dan Lester and Cyrille Sevin. That is very powerful, but needs new fleets in the north. That makes you vulnerable in the south. It is possible to lose the south (Rum / Sev etc) and still win the game from the north.

And the Southern game, meaning Stp is there for the taking any time England chooses. There are enough centres in the South for Russia to get to an 18, but you will need fleets.

I have seen (as Turkey) a F(Sev) build. It’s nasty. It hurts. You know you will be fighting to the death. Russia beat me that time, so I guess it works. Sometimes at least.

And I have seen F(StPnc) too. Brave. England will either defend Norway or they won’t. And if they don’t, it’s yours – and you get more northern fleets as a result. Is the English homeland a realistic prospect after that? I guess it could be.

And finally the F(StPsc). I only ever did this once. Cyrille was Germany. After promising me Sweden if I opened A(Mos) – StP, I followed up with F(GOB) c A(Stp) – Swe and built F(StPsc). I will never forget his sharp response after that move: I will attack you!

Remember one thing, though – Russia is shredded apart so easily. Keep some units close to home. Don’t be greedy. Staying on 5 – 7 centres for a while is not a bad thing. Your time will come. If in doubt – build A(Mos). It’s your last line of defence and a great repellent!

Email writer thumbnail Toby Harris

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