It is no philosophical question: to Stab in the Spring or Fall? Is it nobler in the mind to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… wait a minute, since when do Diplomacy players bear anything? Hell, if you are going to stab someone the question is NOT Spring or Fall, but “What the hell am I getting out of it?” In consideration of a stab there is the practical question of what happens next? All tactical moves in Diplomacy occur in a strategic and diplomatic context that overrides the simple niceties of the move/support/convoy/hold order system. If you are going to stab someone, which is rather rude and crude, then whether you are going to be in a better strategic and diplomatic position by doing it in the Spring or the Fall is based on the players in that game and your own ability and style.
A Fall stab has a strong sense of finality about it. The reason for this is that it is immediately followed by an adjustment period in which the victim (in a face-to-face game) cannot talk to you, and thus displays their reaction with their adjustment. Likewise you have to follow up your bad behavior with an adjustment (hopefully a bunch of builds), again without communication that is going to set the tone for the next season. Thus you have already gambled on an uncontrollable in-game tactical expression.
A Spring stab has a lot of diplomatic flexibility for both sides. It allows you the opportunity to assess what the change of the strategic position is, and the new posture of the other players to the change you introduced, while still leaving you time to back out or readjust if you have a superior diplomatic position. If the target has the superior diplomatic position it may be your first view of that reality, and you have time to decide and interact with the players before adjustments. It also allows for everyone to discuss the next move and the adjustments based on the new strategic situation that is not available when you have a Fall stab.
Tactically we cannot discuss the value of the stab on the basis of Spring/Fall since we cannot create the situation that exists in a philosophical discussion. Sometimes you can take more centers in a Spring stab than a Fall, other times you cannot, and in fact would not be able to hold what you take in a Spring stab based on the tactical position.
Simply put, a stab in the Spring allows for collective decision making and influence, a Fall stab does not. If you know what is going to happen and can control it almost remotely then it does not matter. If you need to reduce everyone’s options then stab in the Fall. If you want to increase your options, and you are capable of rising to the challenge of those discussions with a stabbed ally and a board suddenly thrown into chaos, then go for a Spring stab.
Ultimately you may find that the very perception that the action is a ‘stab’ needs to be worked on. You should try to manipulate the perceptions so that it is an attack — or even better, a ‘reaction’ or a simple benign ‘counter’ to an unfortunate situation that forces you to make a:
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