by Edi Birsan
with help from the hobby



The purpose of this little guide is to provide players a quick look at the aspects of tournament play that may not occur to them until after several tournaments. For the "new to tournaments" player, it is an attempt to close the gap in information on this very different aspect of the Diplomacy hobby. It is also intended to provide a basis for numerous discussions at the after-game lounges, for experienced players to mull over and dispute various aspects as presented here.

After all, what is a good Diplomacy Convention, if not one that you can talk about long after the action is over?


What does "doing well" in a tournament mean? Is there a standard recognition of achievement? When does it end?

General gaming is usually a single event. All Diplomacy tournaments are a series of games tied together in which the results of one game affect the perception or results of others. In tournament play, it is not enough that you end the game with a 15 center Austria; it is important that no other Austria finishes with more than 14!

In a social game, if things get awkward and boring you may simply say the hell with it and go on with other things. In a tournament system, your actions affect not only everyone at your table; they have a ripple effect on all other tables. If you decide to throw in with the front runner and help them win, you will affect not only their score, but all the country scores of everyone else in the Tournament.

Tournament play is for most an intense period of gaming, in which the pressure to do well is greatly heightened. For many it is also the first time that the definition of "Doing Well" has been determined by others, and may be structured in a manner that is not in line with what the player has been accustomed to in their normal playing areas. For example: is having 8 supply centers in a 5 way draw "better" than 7 centers in a 4 way draw? Is it better to have tied with the most centers, regardless of the number of players that survive a game; or is better to have as few as players as possible, even if your supply center count is small?

It should also be noted that tournaments have a mega-game aspect in which tournament players may be very affected by the actions on other boards prior to the current round or that they notice at the same time. Tournament players may approach you on the basis of "let's attack player 'C', because they are in the lead in the tournament", or because you want best country or some other tournament award. While the playing style of some players is much more focused on tournament results as opposed to the individual game, be on the look out for this aspect of yourself and of the other players. There is no right or wrong here — there is simply knowledge. As a general rule, if you want to attack or arrange an attack because the target is a tournament leader you can think it, and you can act on it; but it only works well when you are in a group of other similarly-minded individuals. If you do not know the inclination of the other players for sure, it is generally better not to bring in factors from outside the board. The average player is turned off by such tournament focuses. Many if not most of the players in a tournament may only be there because this is the only way for them to get into a 7 player game, or are there for a single round, or for kicks and chuckles — and are not there for the sake of doing well in the tournament results. Know the answer before you ask the question.

It should not shock you to find out that in the last 8 World DipCons and the last 12 North American DipCons, the answers to these questions varied widely — with almost no uniform agreement among the systems employed on how to handle the above conditions. Every tournament system has taken a different approach to defining what "doing well" means. This is the only one of several variables that players have to deal with in a tournament.

You should look over and understand what the tournament system identifies as "Achievements That are Worthy of Recognition". If you disagree with them, save it for after the tournament; there is too much at stake to start complaining at the start of the convention, and it is not going to change. You should decide if in your play you are going to focus on what the tournament system says is achievement, or whether you are instead going to play in a personal style independent of what the tournament rewards. If you decide to go with the tournament system, then be on the lookout for those players who have either consciously decided to go against the system's rewards, or who appear to be unaware of the system.

You may be able to blend their reward system with your own focus on the tournament results in such a manner that both of you accomplish what you want, with you gaining ground in the tournament system and the other players achieving some personal goal. Tournament players often look down on players who are unaware of or ignore the tournament system. Nonetheless, the ultimate purpose of any game is to have fun and make it fun for others: it is interesting that sometimes the "personal players" achieve a much greater sense of enjoyment and continue to come back, whereas the "tournament players" quickly burn out with their own intense competition, chasing ever-shifting artificial goals and rewards.

Face to Face games often have social limits: play to midnight, or until the last train leaves for home. Postal play and e-mail play generally have no arbitrary limits, and the game continues till a draw or a win. Tournament play has limits. Most often it is a matter of game time or real time. In a few systems there has been an attempt to place no time limit on the games, but to play all the way to a win or a draw. The last method is going out of favor, but still has some social limitations — the family person with small children at the convention, or reasonable local home front requirements. If you find yourself in one of those rare tournaments where there is no set time limit, then before the country assignments at your table consider bringing the subject up — proposing a reasonable end to the game — and see if there is an agreement. If you know that you are only good for (say) 12 hours, then you may want to take note of those who are determined to play to the bitter end, so that in the mid-game period you can make the appropriate adjustments to ensure that only similarly-minded social players make it to the end game. If you are instead one of those who feels that their health make-up and intensity can sustain an all-nighter, then consider the pressure that you will be putting on yourself to perform well in future rounds if you physically exhaust yourself in an early round. Also remember that when players in the tournament find out you pushed a game far beyond the accepted social envelope, your chances of survival in subsequent rounds may go down quickly.


It is only a game.

Say this to yourself again and again, until you get it straight. Tournaments bring out intense competition, and eager players can get carried away focusing on minor aspects of the tournament system, or the rules, or the legibility of another player's handwriting. It is only a game. Having gotten that straight, try to treat people as you should in any social setting, and remember that nothing is personal. Do not use any language that you would not employ in front of your mother when talking to your daughter. It is only a game.

Behaviour issues at a tournament that you may have to deal with are:

Cross-round Grudges

It is considered very bad behavior to bring hard feelings from events that occurred in the last round into a new round. So if you were viciously stabbed in the first round, and wind up with the same player as a neighbor in the next round, do not go into the game with revenge as a motive. In fact, go out of your way to make sure that the other players know that you treat each game separately. In that way, from a very real tournament perspective, your in-game diplomacy will be far more flexible and you will have a better game. If everyone thinks you are tied to the last game experience, then you have fewer options. This does not mean you forget who is trustworthy and who is not; it just means that you may employ a little more caution, but not hostility, when dealing with past foes.

You generally do not have time to go around in the middle of your game to see what everyone else is doing; but if you do have the time, try to avoid contact with other players in the other games. For example, if you are playing Austria and doing well, do not go around cheering on all other boards to kill their Austrians so your score stands as the highest country effort. Do not interfere with other games, or even discuss the tactical options in those games when the players are around.

Cross-round Tournament Player Mentality

Some players are very keen "tournament players". This means that they will make their decisions in a particular game based on the tournament standings. They will mostly go against those who are leading the tournament, and who are ahead of themselves in the tournament. This consideration is not considered 'bad' behavior: it is an accepted part of tournament play. It is a phenomenon that can be used effectively by its victim, or as a nudge in one direction or another: however you have to be very careful with this attitude, as there is a group of players who consider tournament play to be unsporting behavior, and are turned off by the idea that you should attack so and so because they are ahead of you in the tournament. Know your players in this regard, and act accordingly.


Most Diplomacy players are paranoid; after all, if they really are all out to get you, you cannot be crazy to think so! Here are two of the most common things that players get paranoid about in tournaments:

Nationalities/local cliques

Diplomacy is a game in which if there is 1 winner, then there are 6 who did not win. Some areas of the world have had a greater exposure to nationalistic conflicts than others; and for them it is sometimes tempting for those who did not win to lessen both their own loss and the achievement of the winner, by claiming that there was some conspiracy of a nationalistic or a local clique to favor their own against all others. Sometimes there is a minority target fear: "We are the outsiders to this country and they may all jump on us, so should we stick together?"

The reality is that in about 50+ North American DipCons and international Diplomacy Tournaments that I have watched, I have not seen any real function of such nationalistic bias or local cliques despite some grumbling here and there. Diplomacy as a game system attracts INDIVIDUALS, and rewards individuals. It is the egotist's dream game.


There are two important elements of tournaments that can vary widely:

It is crucially important to know how the tournament handles these issues, because if you are interested in getting a good result, they should both affect how you play.

Time Limits

There are three basic ways that a tournament can handle the time allocated for each round, and they are named for how each round ends:

Fixed game year endings are most common in European tournaments, with a few American tournaments experimenting with 1909 and 1911. French tournaments have experimented heavily with the shortest of the deadlines (typically 1907), while the Americans have the longest of the deadlines (when deadlines are used at all). The Swedes have had tournaments with various dates, but are becoming more oriented towards the shorter deadlines. It is unknown why everyone picks an odd year…

The effect of a fixed deadline on the game is that in the last two years (or hour) of the game, players become far more cut-throat than if the game were to end at an unknown time or range of years. So start to think of your standing in the tournament, and guard yourself from what might otherwise be a suicide stab in the final years.

Also, the shorter the fixed deadline, the more common it is for conflicts to start in 1901. For example, in 1907 fixed deadline games, the following openings are more commonly seen:

You will also see far greater numbers of agreed standoffs in Spring 01 in the shorter games than you will in the longer games. The three areas of critical standoffs are:

Germany and France are less likely to agree to a stand off in Burgundy, because the French can force the issue by using Army Marseilles to support Army Paris in. Furthermore, the Germans gain no momentum by having Army Munich bounce around. They are far more flexible with Army Ruhr, and knowing that the French double-crossed them by going to Burgundy when it was agreed otherwise.

Shorter games also bring out greater risk-taking by both the very experienced players and the newer players, while average experience players tend to be cautious. This is often seen in the cases where Germany has to decide whether to cover Munich in Fall of 1901 when there are armies in either Burgundy or Tyrolia, or the French/English decisions when a hostile force is in the Channel.

The theory is that tournament play in general rewards the bold, and that in a shorter game there is less reward for the defensive move than the offensive one. In a longer game you have more opportunities to plan a bold move sequence, so that defensive play becomes more important. Using the defense as a diplomatic tool is also very important in the short game, where you can sometimes turn someone around simply by showing that it would take 3 game years to achieve a break, and then it might only yield one or two centers while the rest of the board is growing.

Shorter time games will see greater changes in alliance patterns as players become very focused on even the smallest power difference between themselves. It is therefore in these short games that the players who are operating outside of the reward system of the tournament become critical partners for the tournament-focused player, as they will be less likely to turn on you because of a power differential than another tournament player will.

Supply Centre Ranking vs. Draws

All tournament systems hold a win as the pinnacle of achievement; the differences come in what they rank as important after that. Tournament systems generally come down to a simple division: do they reward supply centers, or do they reward participation in a draw? The two extremes of these views can be seen in the following example:

In a game that ends (regardless of how) with supply centers of 13-12-6-3:

Overall, the European tournament systems throughout the 20th century favored the Supply Centre Ranking system, while the American systems tended to favor the Draw methods.

Some systems will have a little mix of the two extremes, but it is surprising to note that for the most part the tournament approaches are fairly polarized. Know which way your system rewards achievement. As an exercise, you might find it helpful to outline your own scoring in the following four situations, to bring out the bias of the system and help you decide if within a tournament system it is in your interest to move the game strategically from one relationship to another:

At end of the game:

Knowing your tournament score may decide whether you want to eliminate the weak players to reduce the numbers in the game, or instead keep them around because that will make your relative ranking higher.


Tournaments have multiple rounds. Many allow you to skip one or two rounds, or to drop your lowest score in a single round. Many tournaments also have a round devoted to "Team Play", which may also double as a round scored for the tournament. When you play in a team round, your results are linked with your team mates in other games. The dynamics of these games thus have an additional set of factors, in which you become subject to forces outside your game as time progresses. In team games, you will often see players from the other games coming over to share their results with their teammates. The general behavior of non-game interference is greatly weakened in team rounds.

In the case of a good result in another table, the story could come with information on who else is doing well on their table. The temptation (and sometimes outright advice) is to go after a particular team on your table so as to toss them back in the overall team standing. However, this very viable team technique is actually very rarely seen, and in some circles is considered "rude". Instead what is the most common inter-game dynamic is that a teammate who has been eliminated drifts over to share their woe. In those cases it comes with a certain wave of depression that the fellow teammates' results are meaningless, since the rest of the team was pounded. In these cases it is very common for the other players to come in with a chorus of "this game means something to my team, so why not help me?" This outside dynamic is something critical in a team game round, and opens up opportunities for diplomacy and discussion.

This is another way in which tournament play is very different from all other games.

Team Rounds also tend to attract the more competitive players. Many of the novices will avoid a team round because they do not have a team, or they perceive the team round as something that experienced players alone do. All of which is not always the case, as many pick up teams have done well; but it becomes a reality that the games are affected, and that you see on average a higher degree of competition and experience in the team round games.

If you have done well in your prior rounds and have decided that good individual results in the tournament are your personal goal, then it may be in your interest to avoid the Team Game Round, since there are some additional outside dynamics and the level of competition is greater.

Another question of tournament play is whether you want to skip a particular round, the most obvious being to skip the first round or the second round. By skipping the first round in a tournament that allows you to drop a round, you may have a better idea as to who is ahead and can then try to catch up. However, if you have done very well in the first round, you may want to skip the second round to see who appears to be competition in the tournament and then plan your approach based on what you may consider as your margins. Of course, all this depends on being able to find out what the results are!


Some experienced players believe that tournaments have a certain flow or mass psychology, which you can pick up in an early round and then apply in the later rounds of the same tournament. This point dwells almost on the "mystic forces of a tournament" — which may not be valid, and can never really be proven either for or against. For the purposes of this guide we will discuss it because it is a fun aspect, and some people really believe in it!

The flows are in two areas: play on the game board and play around the game.

Play on the Game Board:

It is held that sometimes tournaments will have it out for one or another country, and you will hear that "Russia is being pounded". Or that one particular offensive opening is being used extensively, such as Lepanto (see below on openings) against Turkey. (In DipCon 9 in North America, where there was a seminar talk to the players before the tournament about the Lepanto opening, the resulting 3 rounds of a total of 57 games saw the best Turkey in a 1909 deadline game being a 7 center survival, with 23 cases of Turkey being eliminated. Killing Turkey by any means was obviously in the Flow of the Tournament!).

When you convince yourself that there is a Flow in game play, then your position on supporting it, directing it or reacting to it is based on your country of play. Remember that you may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy through your own actions. However, if you are convinced that the other players in the game may have been influenced by the latest fad in openings, then make your moves accordingly.

Play Around the Game Board:

The most common mass psychology aspect of the Tournament Mob is the approach to very experienced players. In some tournaments there appears to be a mentality of ganging up against the experienced players, while others seem to ignore it. Experience can be an attraction to other experienced players who always fear a silly stab, while at the same time be an attraction as a target to the paranoid novice or average player who fears the tactical ability of a star player. Getting a sense of how this will play out allows you to emphasize or try to divert attention from your skills, or to play up the paranoia or the situation as best fits in with your position.

Individually, there is a long standing tradition of dumping on the prior year's winner. This is something that is outside of what we are talking about here as the flow of the crowd, and almost a tradition of sorts that the former champions take as a badge of honor.


Tournaments are, by nature, the comparison of your results with everyone else. Knowing where you stand can drastically affect the style and play of the game you are in. This is also a key question of game morality or ethics: how much should you allow your play to be affected by the results of the prior round, by the results seen in games around you?

Most VERY experienced players will tell you that they more or less play each game on its own and hope for the best. Most experienced players will admit to the reality of tournament information affecting the play, though they deny that they themselves are affected. Most novices seem to recognize the validity of tournament information affecting play, but are unsure on how to do it and question whether it is valid to beat on someone just because that player did well in the previous round.

Some tournaments post the results of one round as soon as it is done, so that players can see what the best country score is and who the leaders are. Some tournaments are very much the opposite, where cross-game information and its effects are considered highly rude and anti-social. This attitude reached a height in the United States, where for several years the common method was that the actual tournament system was not known in advance of the play, and that players were only given the most general of information. You were advised to play your game as best you could, and then at the end when the system was applied the winner was chosen. This method has gone out of favor, because players want to be able to accept the results on a system known before hand.

Currently, it is fairly common for players to know who or which countries scored an outright win in the prior round, as well as the top scorers. This is the reality of a tournament as played.

It is also a common reality that on the final elimination round to get into the top board or in the final round of a tournament to determine overall standings, as the game progresses and the end results of their game are about to be determined, players discuss what their position in the game means to them in terms of their tournament standings. It is not unusual for a deal to be cut on the top board that will give one player 1st and another 2nd. This negotiation is based on Tournament Position, and not actual game board position.

The ethics of it all and the social value of the situation are up to you to decide. However, be aware of this difference between regular play and tournament play that tournament scoring brings out.


(Now how many of you skipped all that good stuff up above and went straight to this?)

The following are the most common conservative openings in play regardless of venue:

There has been a slow trend toward having the English play Liverpool to Edinburgh and the Italians to play Army Venice to Tyrolia, but for conservatism you can not beat the above display.

Tournament play brings out a sense of bravado and dash in many players, and it is therefore very common to see slashing openings as part of a tournament. The shorter the time period in the tournament, the greater the tendency to go with a slashing opening. Here are some examples:


Made for a French and German alliance against England. It is critical that France gets into the Channel in Spring 01. Works best if the German move in Fall 01 is unexpected. Can be enhanced by having the Russians move Army Moscow to St. Petersburg in Spring 01 in order to pressure Norway.

S-01 France: Fleet Brest-English Channel, Army Paris- Picardy
Germany: Army Berlin to Kiel, Army Munich-Ruhr, Fleet Kiel-Denmark
F-01 France: Fleet English Support German Fleet Denmark-North Sea, Army Picardy-Belgium
Germany: Fleet Den-North Sea, Army Kiel-Denmark, Army Ruhr-Holland
W-01 both France and Germany build a Fleet and an Army
S-02 Army Belgium-Wales convoyed by Fleet English Channel
Army Holland to York convoyed by Fleet North Sea

Critical factors are the concept of taking the North Sea from the English in 1901, and opening up tremendous convoy potential and leverage for the F-G combination. The double convoy is an idea to demilitarize the Lowlands and go for 100% offence against England. There are plenty of chances for a double-cross in St Pete in 02 which will give the game some tension. Also strong chance for a quick-growing Germany and France.


France is not often the target of a slashing opening attack; but when it is, it is generally a double stab by England and Germany, who have agreed with the French to stay out of Burgundy and the Channel. The situation can be made worse by Italy going to Piedmont; however, Italians very rarely do this in tournament play.

S-01 England: A Liverpool to Wales, Fleet London to the English Channel
Germany: A Munich to Burgundy, Fleet Kiel to Holland, Army Berlin to Kiel
Italy: A Venice to Piedmont
F-01 England: Convoys to Belgium with German support, or into Brest
Germany: Army Burgundy goes for Paris or supports the Italians to Marseilles
Italy: can go for Marseilles or, if he fears a stand off, can support the French from Spain to Marseilles

Note that Italy can make the above really obnoxious by using the Western Lepanto, where he also moves Army Rome to Tuscany and Fleet Naples to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Then in the Fall he convoys to Tunis, leaving Fleet TyS in place to move on the Gulf of Lyon or the Western Med in the Spring of 02.


Everyone wants to be in Munich! Works best with a traditional conservative German opening to Ruhr/Kie/Den. If Germany has made it clear to Russia that he intends to stand him out of Sweden in the Fall, then this can often result in a mass gang up on Germany as follows:

S-01 France: A Paris to Burgundy (can be supported by Mar if paranoid)
Italy: A Venice to Tyrolia
Russia: A Warsaw-Silesia, F StP(sc)-Gulf of Bothnia
F-01 In the Fall of 01 all sorts of things can go down. Given the above, the most common result is:
France: A Burgundy-Belgium
Italy: A Tyrolia-Munich
Russia: A Silesia-Berlin, F Bothnia-Baltic

The combination of attacks on both Munich and Berlin generally means the German is reduced to 1 build at the most, and often stays the same at 3. The Russian Fleet in the Baltic cements the 1902 offensive to take the rest of Germany if F-I-R stay together and the English decide to go vulture and make a play for Holland and Denmark.


The Germans in tournament play with short deadlines are often tempted to make a play for all three nearby centers of Holland, Belgium and Denmark. However, often one can avoid being a target by taking only 2 centers at the start. The Baltic Opening is also designed to be used as part of a Western Triple Alliance where France goes south, putting both armies in the Iberia and shifting Fleet Brest through the Mid Atlantic and into the Western Med in Fall of 01. England goes to Norway with an Army, and then shifts Fleet Norwegian into the Barents. The German agrees not to take Belgium, and to support England into Sweden in Spring/Fall 02 so that the western powers can all have 5 centers. Germany open develops as follows:

S-01 Fleet Kiel to Baltic,
Army Berlin to Kiel,
Army Munich to Ruhr
F-01 Fleet Baltic to Sweden,
Army Kiel to Denmark,
Army Ruhr to Holland
W-01 build Army Munch,
Army Berlin
S-02 Army Denmark to Livonia Convoyed by Fleet Baltic,
Army Berlin to Prussia,
Army Munich to Silesia

The sequence above assumes that the Germans will bounce with Russia in Sweden. If Russia orders F Bothnia down to the Baltic in F-01, then the German gets three builds — which can include a fleet to blow the Russians out in the Spring. Also note that Denmark is vacated in favor of the move to Livonia: this is a gamble that the Russian will not go for Sweden in the Spring, instead letting the English have it. Most less-than-experienced players never see the convoy into Livonia, and thus this presents a massive German Army invasion of Russia that spells the end.


No country has a reputation for being first out like Austria. The following attack works well even when there is an agreed stand off in the Black Sea. It rings the Austrians with hostile armies in 1902, and with a little luck will keep them down to at least 4 and maybe even 3 in the first year. The combination given below is why Austria is eliminated more than any other country:

S-01 Italy: A Venice-Tyrolia, A Rome-Venice
Turkey: A Con-Bulgaria, A Smyrna-Con
Russia, A War-Galicia, A Moscow-Ukr
F-01 Italy: A Venice-Trieste, A Tyrolia Support Army Venice to Trieste
Turkey: A Bul-Greece, A Con-Bulgaria
Russia: A Galicia-Budapest, A Ukraine-Rumania


Paranoia is the normal state of affairs for a Diplomacy player. Combine that with playing Austria and the slightest increase in insecurity, and Austrian players may go for the Hedgehog Opening. Barring a German entry into Bohemia, this opening will make sure that Austria gets at least one build in 01, and with Italian support has the option of destroying the Austrian Fleet and replacing it with an army.

S-01 Army Vienna to Galicia
Fleet Trieste to Venice
Army Budapest to Serbia

In the fall the Austrians can cover both Vienna and Trieste while keeping Serbia, so they are assured of a build. If the Italians are in position to dislodge Fleet Venice (for example, with Army Tyrolia and Army Apulia), Austria may ask them to do so: by refusing to retreat, the Austrians build two armies. In the South the Army Serbia can be used to go to Bulgaria or Greece to curtail the Turks, or even to support the Turks to Rumania for some more fun in the Balkans. The danger of the opening is that in the face of a Russian-Turkish alliance, the Eastern Steamroller has a jump on Greece and the central Balkans: that, and an Italy who might not be so forgiving of the intrusion into Venice.


Russia is about the only country that can attract 4 powers to attack it in 1901-02 with any degree of regularity. The mass jump on Russia is often driven by personality factors, as well as the simple desire to crush someone early. Critical to speed in the south is the failure of the Russians to stand off the Turks in the Black Sea. Failure to stand off in Galicia against the Austrians will also contribute to a massive downturn in Russian survival chances. When Russia dies early in a game, it is usually from this sort of opening:

S-01 Turkey: A Smyrna-Armenia, F Ankara-Black, A Con-Bulgaria
Austria: A Vienna-Galicia, A Budapest-Serbia
Germany: F Kiel-Denmark
England: A Liverpool-Edi, F Edi-Norwegian
F-01 Turkey: A Arm-Sev, F Black Support A Arm-Sev, Army Bul-Rum (or supports Austrians there)
Austria: A Galicia-Rumania or Ukraine, A Serbia support Turkish A Bulgaria-Rumania
Germany: F Denmark-Sweden
England Convoy Army Edi to Norway, Fleet Norwegian to Barents

These moves may keep the Russians from having any builds in the first year, and will attract the Vulture in the English if nothing else. In the Spring of 02 the Doom Ring is assembled as the English slip an army into St Petersburg and back it up with a fleet in the Barents, the Germans move armies to Silesia and Prussia. The Turks and the Austrians should have Rumania and Sevastopol, and the only question is who gets Moscow. A sad fate for the Russians, but a common enough one.


Italy is often not the target of a blitz in 1901, since normally not much can be done to hurt him other than bringing three armies against Venice in the Spring. Players in tournaments very rarely open with mad slashing and dashing moves against the Italians in an opener. However, one possibility is the Ionian Gambit. It depends totally on Italy being convinced to move its fleet into Tunis in the Fall of 1901. Austria plays a conservative opening to Albania, Serbia, and covering Trieste. Then in the Fall of 01, Austria slides both armies south, taking Greece from Serbia and moving Fleet Albania to the Ionian. From here the Austrians can convoy into Apulia, Naples, threaten the Turks, or get themselves in mischief in any number of places. One of the variations on this is called the Blue Water Lepanto, where in Spring 02 Italy dislodges the Austrian fleet in the Ionian and the Austrians retreat to either the Aegean or the Eastern Med to start the Turkish campaign.


Of all the countries to get at in an opening, the hardest is Turkey. The biggest opening advantage comes from a Russian successful move into the Black Sea. This is an uncommon occurrence in Tournament play — more common is the bounce in the Black Sea. However, if Russia is either in the Black Sea or has a fleet in Rumania, there is always the possibility of an Austro-Russian combination to move on Bulgaria in the Fall of 01 to cripple the Turks. This move is occasionally done when the Turks have been terrorized by the prospect of an Italian Lepanto, and are opening with Fleet Ankara going to Constantinople for the move to the Aegean in the Fall of 01. This leaves Bulgaria open to a supported attack. If successful, it also means that Russia will have a shot at controlling the Black Sea and threatening Armenia in the Spring of 01.


The Lepanto system is one in which the Italians open with Fleet Naples to the Ionian, Army Rome to Apulia, and then in Fall of 01 convoy to Tunis. From there they build Fleet Naples, and in Spring of 02 shuffle the fleets: Ionian to Eastern Med, and Naples to the Ionian, all in order to convoy Army Tunis to Turkish corner — into either Syria or Smyrna, depending on the opportunities. As openings go in tournament play, it is rarely pulled off completely. It is a slow opening when carried to the full extent. However, it has flexibility in that in the Spring of 02 Army Tunis can be convoyed into Albania to kick off a Balkan campaign, or even dully back to Apulia to take on a defensive role.

There are variations in the plan making use of Army Venice, which in what is called the Key Lepanto goes to Trieste and then to Serbia with the Austrian's consent, as the Italians can then give up on going to Tunis and instead shift the Fleet directly to the Aegean or the Eastern Med in the Fall, while the Austrians fill in at Greece and the Ionian behind them. A very tense situation for both parties. The Italians must have loads of trust in the Austrians, as a complement to the loads of trust that the Austrians gave the Italians in permitting their Spring 01 walk through Trieste. However, if done in good faith, the Key is a fast move on Turkey.


Like the Lepanto above, single country slashes are fairly uncommon because they rely on extensive diplomatic-strategic balances to be employed with success. One of the most overlooked French openings is one in which the French yield the issue of Belgium as a matter of contention between England and Germany, while having an alliance with the Germans. The idea is to keep the French Fleet in the Mid Atlantic in F-01, use it to move to the North Atlantic or Irish in a stab move on England in S-02, and follow it up with a move that allows the convoy of an army into England in F-02, all while protecting Brest from the English coming in the Channel. It also allows for movement into the Western Med to face off against the Italians if needed. A possible dream sequence may look like this:

S-01 Fleet Brest to the Mid Atlantic,
Army Paris to Gascony,
Army Marseilles holds or goes for one of the more unusual standoffs
with Germany in Burgundy or Italy in Piedmont
F-01 Fleet Mid Atlantic convoys Army Gascony to Portugal,
Army Marseilles to Spain
W-01 Build Fleet Brest,
and Army Paris or Fleet Marseilles
S-02 Fleet Mid-North Atlantic,
Fleet Brest to the Mid,
Army Spain to Gascony,
Army Portugal to Spain
F-02 Convoy Army Spain to Clyde/Liverpool/Wales depending on your options.


The strategic game is one in which you look at the alliance patterns as a system. It has long been argued that a perfect Diplomacy game is one that would resolve into a three way draw. In the beginning game, there are basically 5 players against 2. Usually this means that there are one or more players splitting their forces against the 2 targets. In the middle game the situation comes down to 3 against 2, again with at least one of the majority alliance holding down two fronts. In the end game there is no stable strategic situation, as 2 on 1 in a perfect game would see the 2 breaking down as soon as there was an advantage to one side; then the 2 would change in make-up, and you would have a strategic stalemate.

Tournament play with fixed deadlines does not allow for the end game to develop for the most part. Therefore you have two parts to a game: a beginning, and a middle. The most dangerous situation in a tournament is for there to be one side of the board where there are 2 vs 2, and the other side where there are 2 vs 1. This causes a significant power shift in tournament terms towards the odd side. The most common set up where this happens is when the East breaks out as Austria and Italy vs. Russia and Turkey. That leaves England, France and Germany to play odd man out. If you are thinking of fast gains, then think globally in large groups. Plan to be in the 5 vs. the 2. Think about who is going to be your buddy and who your target when you are down to 5 and it is going to be 3 on 2. The shorter the game, the less stable the alliance has to be. So an alliance of everyone against France and Austria is probably the most unstable group of 5 to go into a mid game situation. However, in a game which ends in 1905 this might be perfect for a group of slashers. A longer game means you have to pace yourself strategically, and will most likely have less shifting of alliances unless the tournament system is in the extreme range of Supply Centre Ranking. Strategically thinking, every time you change your own alliance structure you lose time. If you ever have an army go back to a province it came from you have lost time.

Strategic tournament thinking also means that you have to consider whether you are going to be facing any of these people in the next round. How great will your future ability to influence them be if you set yourself up as someone who is always playing against the leader even when he is your ally? While cross-round grudges are considered very bad behavior, knowing a player's playing style is often critical in making a choice. Who would you want as an ally: the player who always plays against the leader, or someone who is willing to run side by side with you against the enemy, putting your alliance ahead of a single supply center difference in your power? It is interesting to note that players who have mostly played in Supply Centre Ranking tournaments are most prone to turn on you when you have an alliance and you pull ahead, while those who are most used to operating under a Draw system tend to have longer alliances regardless of difference in supply center count.

In the games where there is a lot of time and draws are the emphasis then strategic play comes down to choices. Do you ally with partners who will be crossing the stalemate lines, and thus risk a double-cross with no defensive stalemate; or do you plan an alliance structure that seeks to achieve a stalemate line to guarantee results in a small draw?

Remember that most alliances bring with them a mirror alliance, and that the tighter one alliance is, the more it forces its opponents to be allies. The most common alliance is that of two players who are neighbors: England-France and Russia-Turkey (The Juggernaut) are the two most powerful combinations. They also each have the potential to provoke an opposing three-way alliance which can overwhelm them in time. Know the strategic limitations and counters to your alliance mix.


When you start the game, you set a tone for yourself that others hear. For new players, take a good look at the openings that are possible. When you are given a country assignment, immediately consider its most common conservative opening and the slashing combinations above. Know the game geography of your home country, so that you can discuss your opening without having to wonder if Liverpool connects to London (*it does not), or being shocked to discover that Army St Petersburg could move to Norway in Fall of 1901.

In tournament play, if you act like you do not know anything and try the technique of a victim learning to play, then you will be a victim and will not have learned the most important thing: have confidence in yourself. The technique of the meek, which works in some social settings, does not work well in tournament play.

Irrationality as a technique works mostly in short games where you can get away with a few "crazy" moves or paranoid plays. "I want to see what it would be like to get an Italian Army in Silesia in 1902" or "an Austrian raider into the Mid Atlantic". When confronted with a player who is using irrationality, adopt a consistent policy of treating them as an enemy. This way their irrationality is discounted, since you are only concerned with their unit moves. You will be surprised at the number of times players who, professing to be wild and crazy, suddenly prove to be conservative after all when forced to contend with unrelenting pressure.

In longer tournaments, the general reaction of players to those few who try to constantly stab and lie is to eliminate them. In shorter tournaments players tend to be more forgiving of stabs, simply because players can always fall back on the old line: "The tournament system made me do it...I need the center to stay even in the tournament."

Stagnation is a common error. At times you may have to play a few turns in a 'turtle' mode, just holding a defensive line. You should not be content with this, not ever. An imbalance is a dynamic that wins tournaments and breeds great players. It is also a lot more fun! When you find yourself in a stagnant situation, see whether you can get your ally to help you open things up diplomatically. Sometimes a retreat presents your opponents with conflicting desires, allowing you to shift the alliance structure.

For the most part, order writing is horrible in tournaments. The handwriting is even worse. The number of miswritten orders goes through the roof. Even very experienced players make errors. The first thing to do is to make sure your starting forces are correct. Do not try to abbreviate things if you are nervous or new. Remember that a poorly written order that allows for only one interpretation generally will work. So what if you spell out North Sea — it avoids a discussion point on any abbreviation starting with Nor. Use a big piece of paper: the trees will forgive you long before you forgive yourself for a bad opening move in which you forgot to order a starting piece because the paper was cramped…

The most common tactical error is to forget that a force cannot cut support for an attack on itself. The second most common tactical error is to forget that your allies' armies are still capable of dislodging you if they are supported by your enemies. One North American DipCon was decided by an unintended support that caused Munich and a stalemate line to collapse.

Players may come across adjudication errors, some of which may be in your tournament interest to overlook. Polite play requires you to point them out. Playing with illegal extra units or wrong locations may be funny at the time in a secret inner place, but in the long run it is not good for the game. Every tournament has a Gamesmaster somewhere; make use of him to help in the confusion. However, do not argue the results. A bad GM call may be wrong, but arguing with the GM is even more wrong.

And above all else, remember:

It is only a game.
Have fun, and make it fun for others!

Edi Birsan

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