There is one question which vexes people about England. Well, more than one, I suppose. How do you win as England, one of the best defensive powers? It’s easy to survive, so it’s easy to draw, but how do you reach 18 SCs? This question is one.
Not the question I’m thinking of, though. The question I want to examine today is about England’s early builds.
Look at a Dip map and the one thing that stands out is that England is a sea power. She stands alone, separated from the rest of the powers – the rest of Europe – by sea spaces. Well, of course she does. The British Isles are islands. The Dip board is certainly a stylised map of Europe in 1901 but it reflects most of the accurate geography of Europe.
If England is to get armies onto the mainland, then, she needs to use fleets. Armies need convoying across sea; convoying requires fleets at sea. Fleets are a necessity and so England begins with two fleets, more than any other power other than Russia, and Russia’s fleets are split, one in the north and one in the south.
At the start of WWI, England had a maritime policy that said her navy should be at least as large as the combined fleets of the next two largest naval powers. This was simply to maintain her empire and independence.
The British Empire was an overseas empire. To gain the optimum advantage from that, she needed the freedom of the world’s seas. That required naval dominance.
Britannia did rule the waves.
In Dip, the situation isn’t quite as historically accurate. As I’ve said, England has more fleets than most other powers. Practically, she meets the historical naval policy in that, if one combined the fleets of any two other powers represented in the north, England has an equivalent number of fleets.
However, it is not true to say that this gives England naval dominance. There is design in this decision. An “Anglo ‘Ammer” alliance (my name for the France/Germany/Russia alliance) has an extra fleet in the north. Although Russia’s northern fleet starts at St Petersburg’s southern coast, so it cannot easily attack England, if this alliance is formed it is a simple matter to prevent England building while the Ammerites build extra fleets in S01.
A French fleet appearing in Brest and a Russian fleet appearing in StP(nc) will quickly throw a frustrated England into the problem pit. And that’s without Germany building in Kiel, which she may well feel she has to do to maintain security in the face of French and Russian northern fleet builds.
This suggests England has to work at dominating the seas. Sitting on her laurels, maintaining equality with two other powers – even across the board – may not be enough.
And yet there is debate in the Dip Hobby about whether England should build fleets or not.
The seeming prevailing wisdom is that England needs a balanced build policy. Yes, build fleets but also build armies. There is a clear reason for this.
If England is to win the game, she will need landlocked SCs. Like any other power, she can gain 18 coastal SCs to win. She begins with three – all England’s home SCs are coastal – and she is in easy reach of Portugal, Spain, Brest, Belgium, Holland, Kiel, Denmark, Norway, St Petersburg and Sweden. Which makes 13. Berlin, Marseilles, Rome, Naples and Tunis may be gained – and this would make 18.
However, expecting all of these coastal SCs to fall into England’s hands is a reach… and expecting this to happen before some other power gains the magic 18 is a stretch of which Reed Richards or Ralph Dibny would be proud.
Realistically, England needs to be able to capture landlocked SCs or – at the very least – needs armies to hold some coastal SCs. A fleet-heavy builds policy means England will survive but she won’t win.
If this is the case, then England can’t afford to focus on fleet builds… can she?
Ruling the Waves
Well, I’m not so sure.
My most successful game as England saw me build fleets exclusively for most of the game. There were other conditions that made this possible. I had a strong alliance with France in the early and mid-game. Having said that, France kept pushing me to build armies once he thought my fleet numbers were sufficient. In fact, he became more and more frustrated with my fleet-focused stubbornness!
I also had weaker players in control of Germany and Russia. I’d got into St Petersburg with a fleet early on and held it… with a fleet. Russia gave in pretty quickly simply because I had a fleet there: no threat to Moscow, for instance. And Germany had problems from the very start because of the “Entente Cordiale” alliance with France.
The fact remains, though, that I had reached a substantial number of SCs with fleets and one or two armies before I even considered building armies.
Why was this successful? Because I truly dominated the waves.
Partly this resulted in England becoming all but unbeatable. It was too difficult for any other power to attack England effectively. She would need to contend with fleets enough that attacking me was impractical.
Partly, I suspect, it was because other players didn’t see this fleet build policy as a threat. England can survive but she can be marginalised, held at bay while my armies grab inland SCs. I was underestimated, perhaps, because I was building fleets like a maniac.
Whatever the reason I reasons, I went on to win the game. Eventually I attacked France. Perhaps she felt secure because I appeared to be reliant on her armies. Perhaps France was controlled by a player who simply couldn’t see the threat. Whatever the reason, when I did begin to build armies, France was already beaten. She couldn’t prevent my fleets dropping armies onto French soil.
I also established the security to swap the fleet in St Petersburg with an army. I sent armies through Scandinavia, convoying to Prussia or Livonia via the Baltic Sea, and I was able to threaten Moscow and Warsaw.
An initial focus on a fleet-heavy builds policy as England isn’t a quick way to win the game. It took a while to create the circumstances in which I could switch the policy to one of building armies. As such, in a tournament – where it may be important to get quick success due to a game end date that will end the game before it is over – perhaps this Britannic policy isn’t the best.
In a stand alone, natural game, however, I would always suggest that England should be a fleet building power before the mid-game at the very least. Even in a tournament it is worth considering: A draw may be more useful than trying to win, for instance.
A Britannic policy – building fleets before armies to establish unchallenged dominance of the seas – works for England. The chance to build armies can’t be overlooked but it should be seen in the light of the need to take inland SCs. When does England need to take inland SCs?
Winning slowly is still winning. England must be given the chance to do this… and fleets are the key.