In recent tournament play in Australia there has been a disturbing trend against Russia, and to a slighly lesser extent Germany. Although in part this can be attributed to the usual comings and goings of the great powers as viewed statistically (with the current dominance of France, and to a slightly lesser extent England), there is also a fundamental misconception about the way Germany and Russia should be played in the early game which is having a great effect, particularly on Russia, but also on Germany.
The misconception lies in the belief that Russia and Germany cannot work together. The most glaring example of this almost universal problem arises when we consider the Sweden question.
Fundamentally, Sweden is the only neutral province on the board that only two powers can reach with equal numbers in 1901. All the others are either "safe" (such as Tunis or Bulgaria) or "unsafe" (such as Belgium or Rumania). Sweden alone stands out as the only neutral province which only Diplomacy can resolve. Sometimes I think that Germans bounce the Russian there just because they can. So negotiation is the only other solution.
Or is it? One theory suggests that Russia gives Sweden away in order to gain position in the Baltic Sea to launch an attack against the Hun. Would this tactic (if employed on a regular basis to antagonistic Germans) result in a movement away from bouncing in Sweden? My answer is no. Firstly, it will only further perpetuate the myth that Germany and Russia cannot work together, which hardly seems to suggest more access to Sweden for the Russian. Secondly, the counter-tactic to this move (F Den - Swe, A Kie - Den) is so strong that F Bal becomes a besieged unit and Russia has picked enough enemies to ensure a rapid downfall. No, I am convinced the answer lies in a more fundamental strategic misconception rather than such tactical niceties as this.
As you think about it, this strategic fallacy is a disgrace. The game of Diplomacy is designed to be a fluid, dynamic game. The current accepted wisdom that Russia and Germany cannot work together, as well as being completely wrong, is a direct affront to the game.
By eliminating the possibility of a RG coalition against the threat of EF you have removed the major obstacle to that most dangerous of alliances. Is it any wonder that we consistently see EF's (and EF(g)'s) dominating the board when the first line of defence is in tatters by the end of 1901? In fact, the situation is a little more uneven than that, since the southern powers can also now exactly judge Russia's position in the north they can play the bear to make sure Russia collapses at just the right moment for them to get most of the centres.
It's catastrophic. Germany wipes out a potential ally and Russia must play totally in the south in order not to be gently squeezed out of the game. Suddenly England and France make all the decisions and Italy, which would otherwise be free to choose between Austria and Turkey is more concerned with the threat of French incursions into the Med than actually growing to a reasonable size.
Enough of the reprecussions of the apparently "standard" move of F Den - Swe. What are the alternatives? And why would Germany use them?
Firstly, I contend that there are only two cases where Germany should bounce Russia in Sweden. One, where Russia has opened to Silesia or Prussia, and two, when Germany is part of an EFG alliance.
Where Germany is in an alliance with the English what they most desire is peace in the North so that they can get about the job of dismantling France as quickly as possible. The primary reason that EG alliances fail in the early game is that they waste time and energy trying to take Sweden and St. Petersburg when fast, strong moves against France are required. Russia will keep in these circumstances.
In an FG alliance, Russia's assistance of Germany (by getting F Swe into Nwy and supporting Den - NtS) is crucial to Germany's chances to gain, and bouncing in Sweden in those circumstances is moronic, if not outright suicidal. Again, good play from Germany should ensure that Russia at best cannot stab them and at wosrt can be stabbed effectively and quickly for all the Scandanavian centres.
In the case of an EF alliance, Russia is Germany's only hope, and getting Russia offside in the hope that this will appease England is dangerously misguided.
Why in the world Germany (of all powers!) would want to enter an EFG (which is 90% of the time just an EF wearing big trousers) is beyond me, so this leaves the case where Russia is obviously attacking you as the only truly legitimate reason to bounce in Sweden.
So why does it happen so often? Usually it is because most of the other powers on the board wish to see Germany Diplomatically isolated. Certainly England, France and Austria want be sure that Germany has nowhere to turn if they choose to attack them, and England at least is usually petrified of a RG attack (even without French help).
Sadly, most Germans are listening to this shady advice. The same way that A Mun - Ruh guarantees that someone will move to Munich in Fall, a bounce in Sweden usually means that Russia is now open to suggestions about attacking Germany. They certainly don't owe the German any favours. The number of times I have heard German's say "Everyone on the board said to" when I ask them why they bounced my Russia in Sweden is phenomenal, and what makes it even more remarkable is that if there was ever a good reason not to do something strategic it is if everyone else tells you to do it.
The fact is that 75% of the time Russia getting Sweden is good for the German. And most of the remaining 25% are when Russia is already attacking and you obviously choose to bounce or when it wouldn't matter either way.
I could go into lengthy tactical analysis of how RG alliances work, and how ERG coalitions work, but frankly you are all bright young children and there are many ways to make it happen, so I leave that up to you. What I want to stress is that they are not only possible, but quite strong alliances.
There are some basic elements in the siutation which should be discussed. They are all questions from Germany about "Why should I give you Sweden?", and they all have standard answers. If the Russia breaks his word the German knows who to trust. If the Russian keeps his word (as almost always happens, because it is in Russia's interest) then Germany is set for a good game.
Germany might ask Russia to build A StP, but never F StP. An F StP will make a long-term alliance impossible. Russia should tell the truth about the southern position. If they think they are going to get Rumania, they should say so. If they think they are getting Vie, Rum and Ank they should say so. Russia really, really wants Germany to be friendly and should be prepared to make genuine concessions which benefit the German. Offer any assistance and be good for it. Never lie to Germany as Russia, it is way to guarantee A Ber - Pru and A Mun - Sil. England is Russia's arch enemy, and working with the German is the only way to solve this problem.
This is bleedingly obvious. The "trick" is that you should mean what you say. If Germany gives me Sweden then I really will build F Sev and A StP if he's asked me to. Why not??? We're working together and if Germany were gunning my Russia they would be
The correct answer is true. So, as it happens, is the incorrect answer, but there's no need to say it. Frankly, it astonishes me that Russia would ever be first in for an attack on Germany. Any gains they make are just lost to England when the German is eliminated. Attacking Germany should be Russia's last resort. Sadly at the moment it is all too often necessary.
Generally, Russia and Germany attacking each other is as constructive as Italy attacking France with one army. The averages bear this out quite dramatically. Get over F Den - Swe. It doesn't help Germany. And it results in Russia getting done.
It is in both Germany and Russia's interest to assume a stance of benevolent neutrality at the start of the game, and sometimes an active alliance is the only way to prevent EF from overrunning the board.
Hopefully, if everyone listens to the gist of this article, we can pull the Russian average back above two at the next tournament... now if only we can convince people that EG alliances can work we would be almost back to a balanced game!
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