by Rohan Keane

"I would rather fight alliances than be a part of one"

So said Napoleon Bonaparte, presumably sometime before he was defeated for the last time by the English and Prussians at Waterloo in 1815*. But was he right? Is there something in forsaking superiority in numbers to be master of your own destiny?

Consider the options for and against going it alone:

Benefits of Going It Alone:

  • Only you know your plans. That means no leaks to the enemy that you haven't authorised, and no sure way for someone to know your moves short of watching you write them.

  • Flexibility. You are not forced to commit units to help your ally hold or gain territory at the expense of your needs. You can also choose who to work with turn by turn, based on what suits you, without having to worry about offending your ally or allies.

  • No misunderstandings. You'll never have to spend half your diplomatic time co-ordinating complex orders, only to hear the words "but I thought you wanted me to move there" once the moves are read out.

  • A competent player never has to worry about a devastating stab. You will never be open enough for any one player to hurt you too badly.

  • Approachability. Because you are freelancing, other players will seek you out for help, or with offers of alliance, without fearing that they will become the next victim of your "real" alliance.

  • Surprise. Alliances often telegraph their moves, picking one target, destroying them, and moving on to the next. Freelancing means you can move from one target to another and back again, as the mood strikes you.

  • Trust. You cannot be turned against yourself (at least not if you're at least partially sane).

Benefits of Alliances:

  • Numbers. An alliance will usually have the numerical superiority over the individual, and the added power that goes with it.

  • Diplomatic power. With two or more people working the board, the chances of somebody listening to the party line is increased.

  • Focus. With an ally taking up half the slack, it can leave you worrying only about your own theatre of operations, and building to suit.

  • The stab. Who else but an ally could leave themselves open to a three centre attack? Enemies and uncommitted players won't.

  • Psychological power. Sometimes smaller players will, in the face of a large alliance bearing down on them, offer to spearhead rather than be ground into the dust.

  • Synergy. If, for example, you are a good tactician and your opponent is a good diplomat, you can both specialise. You can offer tactical advice, and your ally can plan the diplomatic offensive.

I'm not going to offer an opinion on whether going it alone is better than joining an alliance, because like everything in this great game of Diplomacy, it's all subjective. What works for me may not necessarily work for you, and vice versa. Not just that, but every game is different; and every player has their own style, experiences (good and bad), likes and dislikes, and other personal peccadilloes — which means that there is never such a thing as a perfect style, or the perfect opening, and so on. But I will offer the observation that the stand-alone style of play seems to work better in a chaos game, or in one that has a lot of novice players, and the alliance style seems to work better when the game has mostly experienced players.

*Ironically Napoleon chose the inn "la Belle-Alliance" as his headquarters for the battle of Waterloo, and thanks to Clausewitz the battle is known in Germany under that name.
Rohan Keane

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