"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
- 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.
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking
on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear
DP..." mail interface.