The Grand Alliance

Roger Yonkoski

There have been many Diplomacy articles that focused on opening strategies and early to mid-game alliances. However, there have not been many articles that focus on the end-game. One that comes to mind is Jamie Dreier's series of three Pouch Zine articles concerning the Endgame. In these articles, Jamie discussed possibilities for getting beyond a seemingly drawn position to a chance for a solo victory. The purpose of this article is the opposite. It concerns preventing a win and forcing a draw. More specifically, this article discusses forming win-preventing alliances, particularly between players who are currently fighting amongst themselves. Much of the discussion draws from my game experiences; however, I also solicited comments and read End-of-Game Statements from players in recently completed games.

Definition of the Grand Alliance

I define a Grand Alliance as an alliance that is required for a certain subset of powers to prevent one power from winning the game. If any one of these powers refuses to join, then the front-runner would win. Such an alliance requires not just peace between those involved, but cooperation and often a great deal of trust. Typically there has previously been a great deal of animosity, distrust, and friction between the alliance members, thereby making the task that much more difficult.

Why Should the Grand Alliance be Formed?

I believe that it should be the objective of all players to prevent anyone else from winning, if they cannot win themselves. Most players may start with this objective, but by the time the game is near over, emotions have sometimes clouded that objective. Indeed, it is the task of each player to blow smoke into the other players' eyes and cloud their vision in just that way. With their vision thus clouded, players may be willing to let the game end for many reasons: revenge, loyalty, admiration, apathy.

I submit that all players have a duty to the game of Diplomacy. This duty is to always play to the best of their abilities through the end of the game, to try to prevent others from winning, and (at the risk of sounding corny) to play their position as if real citizens actually depended on their efforts. The hobby is better when everyone continues to play their position until the end, and in my opinion, plays to win or else prevent others from winning. It is a matter of honor to put the duty to the game over the pull of the emotions listed above. Therefore, all differences and motives should be put aside to form a Grand Alliance when it is necessary. The players in the game kwijibo, when creating a Grand Alliance to prevent an Austrian win, summed this up well: "if Austria is going to win, he is going to win the hard way."

When the Grand Alliance is Necessary

The basic requirement for the necessity of Grand Alliance is when one power will win unless all other powers cooperate fully. This could have happen either because of a stab or because one power may have been suddenly very successful. A specific example is when one of two very large powers left on the board suddenly stabs the other. The stabbed party has probably been systematically betraying other powers and was doing so under the assumption that the stabber was going to be faithful (at least until he stabbed him). Suddenly the power that was just stabbed must make peace with its former enemies and defend against the win.

In the game primary, England and I (I was playing Italy) were both at ten centers. We had just eliminated France; England was working on Germany and Russia while I was fighting Austria and Turkey. In my mind I thought we would go on working together to eliminate all resistance. It was one of my first games and I really did not give too much thought to what would happen at the end of the game. England stabbed me when I turned my back and he suddenly grew to 14 units. It was my first opportunity to form a Grand Alliance. Similarly, in the game kwijibo, Austria stabbed his long-time ally Italy to suddenly grow to a very large size, leaving four warring parties to try and prevent his victory.

It is not always one of two large powers that stabs the other to create the need for a Grand Alliance. In the game newbiegm, England came from behind by finishing off the powers that he was fighting and without making any new enemies, he was suddenly the front-runner -- whereas another power was previously the large threat.

Evidence That it is Difficult to Form

I would guess that a significant fraction of solo victories occur because of the failure of the losing powers to form a Grand Alliance. Admittedly, there are games that are won by a stab that either results in an immediate win or in a forced win, where the victor has a set of moves that will gain 18 centers despite any possible opposition moves. Here the Grand Alliance plays no part because there is no way to prevent the victory.

However, many times such a condition is guarded against, so that a player must take a chance and stab and hoping to win by a combination of good tactics and a failure of combined resistance. In these situations, the Grand Alliance is the other player's only hope.

Other victories occur because a small power helps one player win. This may occur because the two players find a similarity in their playing styles or in order to avenge a wrong done by one of the other powers (the "throw-game" threat). I would argue that in this situation, the Grand Alliance should have occurred, but the losing powers failed to create it.

There has been some recent discussion on on when and why people would help other people win. The fact that such situations do occur is a direct example that Grand Alliances fail to form when necessary. Also, the fact that many solo victories end with more than two or three other powers surviving suggests that many of these victories could have been prevented.

Difficulty in Forming a Grand Alliance

Typically the powers that must form a Grand Alliance have been at each other's throats and some may have been about to eliminate others. One may have recently stabbed another. Two may have been fighting for so long that they cannot remember a time when they have not been fighting. There may also have been differences in personality that cause several members to have no desire to work with each other. Therefore, it can be very difficult to get these powers to talk together, let alone work together.

Momentum is also another factor that must be overcome. Once you have been working in one direction for so long, it is hard to suddenly stop and do something else. Especially if you have been trying to eliminate Turkey for six game-years and you are finally only a couple moves away from doing it! Suddenly you have to give up this goal that is finally in your grasp. You may not only have to trust him, but make sacrifices for him. That is hard to do. This situation appeared to have happened in both coaster and newbiegm. In both cases, Austria was trying to eliminate smaller powers rather than focusing all his effort on preventing an English victory.

Other difficult factors are the possibilities that some powers may have given up on the game or were naturally very silent and did not send press. If you have difficulty communicating with them, then you will have a hard time convincing them of the necessity of joining the alliance. One final difficulty is the ‘he played a great game and deserves the win’ comment. Overcoming these obstacles will be discussed a bit later in this article.

In the game rematch, just such a difficult situation occurred. Italy was on the brink of victory. Austria felt a great deal of loyalty to him and was ready to hand him the victory to prevent Germany from eliminating him. Germany and I (France) were at odds because he had stabbed me for the second time in hopes of taking part in a two-way draw. He was upset with both Austria and me because of our threats to throw the game to Italy. Basically, we all wanted to give Italy the victory in order to punish the others. Finally, on the last move possible, I organized the Grand Alliance that prevented the Italian win. It was during this game that Austria (Jim Ridenour) coined the term the Grand Alliance to describe the alliance that we formed.

How to Create the Grand Alliance

Step 1: Calm Down
The first step is to make certain that you are calm yourself before you send any messages to others. If you are not calm, then you are likely to do more damage than good and will make your task more difficult. It is hard to send a message offering to cooperate with the power that just brutally stabbed you. In the game primary, as I was turning to fight England, expecting to work with Austria and Turkey, they grabbed some centers from me. I was pretty angry that they would attack me, thereby hurting the power that had the best chance at preventing the English victory. I was ready to throw the game to England and probably told them so. After calming down and doing some soul searching, I realized that the correct thing to do was to forget the transgression and work together to prevent the win. However, my letters in anger did not help my cause when trying to form the alliance. It was one of my first games and I learned many lessons from it.

Step 2: Create Awareness
The second step is to send a message to all remaining powers, except the front-runner stating that a Grand Alliance is necessary to prevent a victory. Sometimes it will be obvious. In other cases, some powers may need convincing. Be as detailed as you can be and show sets of orders that the front-runner could use that would guarantee victory unless mutual cooperation occurs. The key is to have everyone accept that the win will occur without the alliance.

Step 3: Recruit Members
The next step is to convince everyone that the Grand Alliance should be formed. This does not necessarily follow from having them accept that the win will occur. There are many reasons -- from apathy to loyalty to animosity -- why someone would not agree to prevent the victory. One of the most common statements is that the front-runner deserves to win because he played such brilliant game. Other responses are that one player was a jerk and deserves to lose. You must use whatever means possible to convince the other players. One way to combat this is dependent on how you have handled and presented yourself in the game. As long as you haven't sprayed insults around and engaged in stupid, meaningless stabs, you can use the counter-argument, "well, you and I aren't jerks, and do we deserve to lose?" This means that to mitigate against resistance to a Grand Alliance, should it ever become necessary, you should always play a nice, polite, friendly game, even with your enemies. Communicate after stabbing someone, and after being stabbed by someone.

When it comes time to form a Grand Alliance, I suggest starting with politely restating the facts and using arguments from the 'Why the Grand Alliance should be Formed' section above. Appeal to their sense of doing the right thing or their sense of honor. If that does not work, try other approaches depending on the personality of the person who needs convincing. Sometimes persistence is your best weapon. Use the entire negotiating period if necessary.

There are a variety of other arguments that can be used. One is to point out that by just rolling over and allowing the leader to win, the victor would not have earned his victory -- that would really be a hollow victory and is in some ways cheating him.

Often, the offer of being in the draw (especially for a small power) is enough to get them to join the Grand Alliance. For some, just the knowledge that they did not lose is enough to motivate them. Others may be motivated by the challenge or the enjoyment gained from denying someone victory. It helps if you have established relationships with the other parties, enough to know what motivates them.

Special Note on Janissaries

When forming the Grand Alliance, one must watch for the janissary tactic employed by the front-runner. Here, the front-runner offers another player his survival in return for his help. The leader promises not to eliminate the subordinate power unless and until there is a chance at a victory. The smaller player's reward and motivation for helping the larger power is not only survival but also a promise to be in the draw if the front-runner cannot win. What makes it so dangerous is that the actions taken by both the front-runner and janissary are so unexpected. The way to combat this problem is to find a way to offer the janissary the same deal; that is, promise to help him survive and be part of the draw. Your advantage in the argument to win him over is that you are working for the draw and the front-runner is working for the win. Put to him this way, the janissary is more likely to trust and prefer your offer. However, the disadvantage is that often you may not be able to guarantee his survival. At least promise it and see if you can get him to side with you. At any rate, watch for the janissary situation, which may require the Grand Alliance to be formed a bit earlier.

A janissary tactic is exactly what happened in the game plush. Turkey’s actions helped cause a Russian solo victory. He simply valued survival over losing. He wanted to be part of a Grand Alliance, but was not recruited. In this example, the others failed to understand his motivations and offer him what he wanted (a part in the draw). Therefore, they failed to create the Grand Alliance that was possible.

Implementing the Grand Alliance

Once you have everyone on board, then it is necessary to lay out a set of moves that will prevent the victory. Again, this plan needs to be sent to all participants. In fact, you should not send any press that do not go to all members of the Grand Alliance, except those that are required to convince a wavering party. You should encourage all members of the alliance to follow this rule as well. This openness eases some of the distrust. The nature of the plan is just as important as the arguments used for convincing people to put aside their differences and join the Grand Alliance. The plan must provide security to all those involved (that is, a small power should not be worried that they are being maneuvered into a situation in which they will be eliminated). However, the plan should also be constructed as if all the units worked perfectly together.

Often, some members will be required to make sacrifices. They may have to move away from someone else’s border to provide them with more security. Sometimes supply centers need to be exchange to allow for a critical unit (or type of unit) to be built in critical areas. It helps if you, as the organizer of the alliance is at the head of the line when it comes to willingness to make sacrifices. The sacrifice shows your commitment to the alliance and that you are not trying to manipulate them for your own gain. In the game kwijibo, France gave Italy one of his supply centers so that a critical unit at the front could be kept. France and Italy also combined to convoy a French unit to the Italian homeland in order to help prevent an Austrian win.

The catalyst for forming the alliance need not be the same person who suggests the plan. Often, having a different power devise the actual military plan -- especially one of the smaller powers -- helps to set people at ease. A good knowledge of stalemate lines helps greatly in planning, so the best tactical mind from ammong the Grand Allies should be sought and put to work on the plan of action.

Another difficult issue is the question of what to do with a member of the Grand Alliance whose units are far from the front against the common enemy. In the game primary, Turkey was completely cut off from the front. He was asked to place his units in non-threatening locations and essentially do nothing. In order to keep his interest and make him more involved, the other players eventually convoyed a Turkish Army all the way to Marseilles. But most of his units had to wait patiently with nothing to do. This can prove problematic, and the other members of the alliance must pay special attention to this player and his special needs. He will be the most vulnerable to persuasion from the enemy, and this persuasion will only grow more difficult to resist as the Grand Alliance moves into position and begins to succeed. Throw as many bones to such a player as you can. Hopefully these bones can come in the form of centers that you don't need, but failing that, they could be some cute moves and paths to get his units to the front). You should also play on the fact that this player will be the most likely to receive communication from the enemy, and he can be put to work gathering inside information to help the Grand Alliance.

Maintaining the Grand Alliance

If the Grand Alliance is successfully formed, stopping the front-runner is often a relatively short task, sometimes as short as one turn. The next difficulty is in maintaining the alliance. This can be even more difficult than forming it. The pressures on the alliance are the front-runner trying to break it up, boredom of the participants, and greed of the participants.

The obvious response of the front-runner is to try to break up the Grand Alliance. He can do this by appealing to the loyalty of one of the members. Or he can try to make a deal with the second largest power to help him catch up then go for a two-way draw. He can also purposely pull back from the front to tempt the other players to either try to eliminate one of the alliance members or to try to make a big improvement in their position and make their own run for victory. In the game kwijibo, Austria tried unsuccessfully to break up the Grand Alliance by offering side deals to individuals and asking for the size of the draw to be reduced.

Sometimes a long period of whittling away at the front-runner can lead to boredom and apathy. Active attention must be paid to keep the cause alive. Also, if the game actually goes this way, waiting to force a draw by the "three years without changes" rule can be long and drawn out. It takes patience and perseverance to accomplish that. Some powers may just get tired and bored and break out to seek long held-off revenge. In kwijibo, a great deal of effort was required to finally contain Austria and force the draw. The players mentioned boredom in their End of Game Statements, but commented that England really kept the alliance together, and kept them working towards the goal.

Ending the Grand Alliance

One main reason that a Grand Alliance would end is when the front-runner has been reduced in size to the point that he is no longer a threat to win. This assumes that it was possible to breach his positions and slowly push him back. Often, the Grand Alliance will spontaneously break-up as most powers simultaneously realize that there is no longer a threat and each tries to take advantage of their position. This is exactly what happened in the game primary -- most of the Grand Allies stabbed each other on the same move. The game finally did end in a solo victory, but by a power other than the target of the Grand Alliance.

Another reason to break the Grand Alliance is to try and reduce the size of the draw. The front-runner may have provided some breathing room or may have been push back enough that such a move is possible. It is more of a reduction in the Grand Alliance than destroying it. The risk is that the power being eliminated may be able to throw the game to the front-runner. Be careful when trying this; don't do so unless you are absolutely confident that you can pull it off. However, it could be argued that reducing the size of the draw is also one of your obligations to the game. Just do not let it supplant your higher obligation of preventing the win.

No-Partial Press Considerations

Your task becomes that must more difficult in games that do not allow partial press. The reason, of course, the imperfect communication. In broadcast only press, it is still possible to present arguments for the need to create a Grand Alliance. However, the front-runner can see them and argue the point. It is also more difficult to coordinate moves because of the open form of communication. Just as the large power looks for a forced win, what you really need in a no-partial press Grand Alliance is a forced defense -- orders that the leader simply cannot win against. These are rare situations, however, so coordinating moves is often a challenge for a Grand Alliance.

In no-press games, the problems are even more exasperated. It is difficult to overcome the hurdles to the alliance when you cannot send convincing arguments. In the game pedersen, Germany won while four other powers tried to stop him. One of the players reported in his End of Game statement that the four powers together had enough units and the will to cooperate, but with no press allowed and a poor defensive line, it failed. You can only use your unit orders to express the need and desire for alliance. Therefore, it is probably important to create the Grand Alliance a bit sooner in no-press (and broadcast-only press) games. Unfortunately, without press, the alliance is usually slower in forming. However, the fact that many no-press games do end in draws is evidence that a Grand Alliance can be formed without press.

Using the Grand Alliance to Survive

Creating a situation that will require other players to form a Grand Alliance is a tactic often used to prevent elimination. For example, in the game killer, England joined the game as a replacement power. It was clear to him that he was being eliminated in favor of a FGT draw. His response was to immediately take steps to throw the game to Turkey. When it became obvious to France and Germany that Turkey would win, they guaranteed England a part of the draw if he would join them in a Grand Alliance to deny Turkey the victory. This trick of bring the game to the brink of a solo victory to force inclusion in a draw can be very useful.


I would like to thank the players in all the games mentioned in this article (and other games not mentioned) for providing useful EOG statements. The statements certainly helped understand what occurred in the games that I studied for this article. Also, I would like to thank all those who answered my letters concerning what happened at the end of certain games in which they played. Many of them took the time to write detailed letters to me. It wonderful to find people who not only care about the hobby but are nice enough to help someone on such a project as this. Finally, I want to thank Doug Massey for providing a list of recent partial press games with solo victories.

Roger Yonkoski

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, click on the letter above. If that does not work, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.