Most experienced players, if asked which power a newby should play, would say France.
France is one of the powers that does well in games of Dip, almost regardless of format or players. The theory is that this makes it a good power to play if you’re looking to get into Diplomacy.
Two questions come readily to mind:
- What makes France one of the more successful powers in the game?
- What makes it such a good power for newbies?
France has three neutral supply centres within striking range in 1901 – Portugal, Spain and Belgium. Munich and – less likely London or Venice – are also within reach. It is entirely possible that she will start 1902 with six units, if pretty unusual.
Belgium is the problem. While she could capture Belgium by moving either:
- F(Bre)-Pic/ENG in S01 and F(Pic/ENG)-Bel in F01, or
- A(Par)-But/Pic in S01 and A(Pic/But)-Bel in F01
the chances of this working are small. England is usually interested in capturing Belgium if she can. Her excuse is that France can capture Spain & Portugal and Germany can get her mitts on Holland & Denmark; England is only able to secure Norway so Belgium keeps her on an equal footing with her near neighbours.
Germany is probably not overly concerned about taking Belgium for herself in 1901 but she will be interested in preventing France from capturing it. In fact, for her, the ideal start is for no one power to control Belgium and have England and France argue over it!
Still, France often manages to gain the Iberian SCs. Again, this isn’t guaranteed – Italy can throw a spanner in the works by moving A(Ven)-Pie in S01, threatening Marseilles. The thing is, Italy seldom does this – she’s often too involved to her east and wants to try to gain Tyrolia (at least) if she can.
This all makes for a good start for France. She has the luxury of being able to let England into Belgium, in fact.
As I mentioned when discussing the Entente Cordiale alliance, much of French history has involved enmity with her neighbour across la Manche. At the beginning of 1901, this was becoming a thing of the past. I don’t intend to discuss this more here, though, as I’ve already mentioned it!
The thing is, France has as much history of conflict with Germany and that state’s historic predecessors. France itself is named after the Franks, a Germanic tribe. The first French king of note was Charlemagne, who created the beginnings of the French state and established an empire over France and western Germany.
French monarchs had an uneasy time with the Holy Roman Empire, a union (of sorts) of German states. The HRE was most dangerous when dominated by the Spanish or Austrian thrones.
When the HRE broke down, it was replaced by the German Confederacy, a much more disunited grouping. It was the weakness of the Confederacy, under Austrian leadership, which allowed Napoleon to spread his empire through central Europe.
Germany was never a real power until Prussia took the leadership of the Confederacy, uniting the northern German states initially and then, following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1, when Bismarck was able to unite Germany. Finally, the German Empire was formed – which was a stepping stone to WWI.
To the west, France had a significant rivalry with Spain. At her strongest, Spain encircled France, controlling the HRE and the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands [Holland on the Dip board]). When the Hapsburgs emerged as the dominant power in Germany, however, Spanish power waned. Napoleon had no problem with extending control over Spain.
Finally, we can’t ignore Italy. Apart from the Roman Empire, Italy was never a major power in Europe. Rather it was the plaything of the other powers: Spain, Austria and France. However, France was rarely able to extend much control over Italian states – only Louis XIV and Napoleon succeeded to any great degree. Even a unified Italy presented no real threat.
In the game, France has the same problems – with the exception of Spain. As mentioned above, Spain and Portugal are often under French ownership in 1902. The powers France has to contend with are England, Germany and Italy.
Italy is not usually a threat. As mentioned above, she is often more concerned with Austria. She has a guaranteed SC gain in Tunis and is daft not to go for it unless she is guaranteed an Austrian SC (or two).
But Italy can’t be ignored, either. France has to reach some agreement over Piedmont, east of Marseilles. Should Italy move there in S01 then France has to worry about Marseilles.
In fact, if Italy does open with A(Ven)-Pie, France is in a no win situation. France may have opened with A(Mar)-Spa or A(Mar)-Bur. She will have moved to Spain; she may have moved to Burgundy or been bounced from there – by either A(Par)-But (on purpose!) or Germany’s A(Mun)-Bur.
The best move, defensively for France, is either an organised bounce in Burgundy or to order A(Mar) HOLD. Should France find an Italian army in Piedmont by A01, she cannot lose Marseilles.
Having said that, even with a successful move to Spain, France could order A(Spa)-Mar in F01 if Italy occupies Piedmont. There’s no reason for Marseilles to be Italian in F01!
No, the real problem isn’t losing Marseilles to Italy – it’s having Marseilles occupied by a French army. For this to be the case, France will probably not have gained both Iberian SCs. Even if she has, and she has moved A(Par)-Bur in S01 and A(Bur)-Mar in F01, enabling her to gain both Spain and Portugal, she can’t respond to the Italian threat by building in Marseilles!
As I’ve mentioned, though, Italy seldom tries this. A good Italian player will pass up attacking France directly in 1901. If she is aiming to move against France, she’ll make that move from 1902 onwards. A good France will do whatever she can to tie Italy into the east.
England: I’ve mentioned England in the post linked to above (and now here!) It is probably in French interests to ally with England. An Entente Cordiale alliance should work out to French advantage.
The English Channel is the key space in this relationship. Richard Sharp says it is in neither power’s interests to bounce there. If it comes right down to it, both France and England are better off letting the other occupy the Channel if that is what she demands.
This argument is better from England’s point of view. A French fleet in the Channel in F01 can easily by prevented from capturing London. France would be silly to antagonise England so openly… unless she has a solid Rhineland alliance with Germany or – better still – an Anglo ‘Ammer alliance with Germany and Russia.
For France, an English fleet in the Channel in F01 is problematic in the same way an Italian army in Piedmont is. If England successfully moves F(ENG)-Bre in F01, though, she will take some shifting. By the time France can move to challenge for Brest back, England will have a fleet in the Channel to support herself.
In fact, should the above situation occur, it is best to allow England to keep ownership of Brest. This should end the conflict and allow England to keep the build she gained. If France can survive this early setback she can move on, weakened to be sure and – initially – the junior partner in an E/F alliance.
A bounce in the Channel, though, is a waste. The problem is that agreeing a demilitarised zone (DMZ) in the Channel and expecting England to honour it is risky. However, Brest can be covered by the army that starts in Paris if need be. I wouldn’t suggest A(Par)-Bre in S01, though; better to gain a bounce between A(Par) and Germany’s A(Mun) in Burgundy in S01.
Which brings us to France’s other problem space and to Germany.
Germany can afford to wait and see over which power to ally with in the North-West Triangle (NWT). She can move to Holland and Denmark (perhaps Sweden in F01), gain two builds and then decide, in the 1901 Builds phase, who to work with – England or France. If she’s in Sweden (or has prevented Russia from gaining Sweden) the Anglo-Saxon alliance of E/G is more likely, to carry the fight to Russia. If she has allowed Russia into Sweden, she can form the Rhineland alliance with France against Germany.
But Burgundy holds the key. Unlike the Channel, neither France nor Germany should be happy with Burgundy being occupied by the other. For Germany, it exposes Munich, perhaps to a Victor Emmanuel alliance between France and Italy.
For France, a German army in Burgundy exposes Marseilles and Paris. While this may seem of little consequence (especially the threat to Paris, which is easily covered) it is the threat to Marseilles which is problematic.
Again, a DMZ in Burgundy is preferable. However, neither can really afford to let the other in as we’ve seen. At the very least, it ties a unit down to defending SCs. What France ideally wants is to force Germany into bouncing in Burgundy. This also isn’t a disaster for Germany. A bounce in Burgundy is nothing like the waste a bounce between England and France in the Channel would be.
The other option for France, though, is that the army in Marseilles supports the army in Paris into Burgundy in S01. Combined with F(Bre)-MAO, it allows the F01 orders of F(MAO)-Por, A(Mar)-Spa and leaves the army in Burgundy to influence Belgium, threaten Munich or defend Marseilles. It does leave Brest vulnerable, however…
Germany certainly won’t be pleased by this move, however. What France has to do is use diplomacy to convince Germany of her peaceful intentions. The only viable choice is to persuade Germany that you’re worried about Italy moving to Piedmont and that you want to keep the army in Marseilles free to move to Spain. This shouldn’t convince Germany but, in the final analysis, there’s nothing Germany can do to stop this move. It ties her down to defending Munich, too!
The point about France is that it can be both defensively and offensively played. Why anyone would choose to play France defensively is a bit of a mystery but the option is there.
So, how good is France for a newby?
Well, I’m not sure. While it is definitely a power to gain a good start in a game – which is always a good thing for a newby – it could well be a bewildering draw, simply because of the sheer number of options… and the temptation to over-stretch and gain the maximum number of builds.
And this is the final comment I’m going to make about playing France. There is a danger inherent in growing too quickly too early in the game. France could well gain the maximum number of builds in 1901, giving her six units in 1902. Which is great, except…
Well, an overly strong France makes the chances of an Anglo-Saxon alliance (E/G) more likely. Both are threatened by a strong France. More dangerously, if the Anglo-Saxon is augmented by Italy – the Guillotine triple alliance of E/G/I – France is in great danger. She will have to have taken a centre from Germany or Italy – Venice – for her to be able to defend this alliance, named for its ability to decapitate France. Only the support of a power on the far side of the board – Russia or Austria – can help.