by Edi Birsan

Editor's Note: This article is a composite of columns that Edi original wrote for the Paradox Interactive web site when the company produced its version of Diplomacy for the PC a few years ago. They appear here with the kind permission of Paradox.


The Simple Self-Bounce (Alias: the Self-Standoff)

Typically the motivation for this is that you have two units that you do not want to see move while at the same time keeping a mutual adjacent province empty of a threatening single unit. Most classically this occurs in the Fall of 1901 around Marseilles when the French have opened:

Army Paris to Burgundy
Army Marseilles to Spain

…and the dastardly Italians have snuck into Piedmont with Army Venice.

The French want to keep the Italians out and at the same time keep Marseilles open for a build. Therefore the classic defensive move is to order both French units to Marseilles since if the Italians either hold or go away or go to Marseilles, that province will be open for a build.

The counter and danger: Remember that the other player could support one of your units against the other and pull a unit out of its position. So in this case the Italians could play Army Piedmont Support Army Spain to Marseilles, which would not only clog up Marseilles so that the French could not build a fleet there, it would also pull the French out of Spain—meaning that the French would have one less supply center in 1901(a rather rude response)!

The most common places where the self bounces are: Marseilles in the Early Game, Tuscany in the Middle Game (where Italians are trying to block the landing of a French army while staying in both the Tyrenhian and Piedmont) and finally in the End Game period it would be a toss up between Galicia and Silesia as various East vs West power blocks try to form up a stalemate line or break it in the center.

Self Bounce in a support cutting method

There are cases where you are faced by an enemy unit that could either support or move and you want to in effect neutralize its possibility. Take for example:

German army units in Kiel, Berlin and fleets in Sweden and North Sea
French units in Munich, Helgoland and Baltic

The Germans are only interested in holding two of their own supply centers at the end of the turn, ignoring Holland and Denmark which may be covered by other unit moves.

If the German armies order mutual support, then the French will be guaranteed to pick up their choice of Kiel or Berlin by using Munich to support one of those attacks while the remaining unit goes to the other center to cut the German support. The German fleets are going to go to Baltic and Helgoland to make sure that the French fleet units there cannot issue support but Munich is a problem. If the German sends only say Kiel to Munich with Berlin support and the French reply with Helgoland to Kiel supported by Munich and Baltic to Berlin then Kiel falls to the French because the German attack out of Kiel cannot cut support for an attack on its own province.

Therefore the classic solution is to order both Berlin and Kiel to Munich, this way Munich’s support is always cut regardless of which way it is issued.


The Convoyed Attack:

It happens very regularly in the Black Sea region that one power has a fleet in the Black Sea and another power has a fleet bordering on the sea. Often players will try to use the fleet at sea as a supporting unit and turn after turn the support is cut by the other fleet. The other problem is that in some cases the attack out of the Black Sea (if it gets to the destination) may not be worth the problem of suddenly reversing the position with your opponent who has been trying to take the Black Sea for a while. The solution most commonly overlooked is the convoyed attack.

The advantage to the convoyed attack is that the fleet remains in the Sea zone and is not affected by the attack upon it in delivering the attacking army. So when you have a situation like:

Yours:Army Bulgaria, Army Rumania, Fleet Black Sea
Enemy:Army Constantinople and Fleet Armenia

Then you are better off taking army Rumania to Constantinople via convoy with support from Bulgaria which cannot be cut in this situation so that the two goals of taking Constantinople and retention of the Black Sea is obtained.

The Convoyed Switch of Provinces

One of my favorite and oldest tricks is to switch places with some enemy unit by convoying an adjacent unit around the enemy. The most common place for this to take place is in the Rumania-Bulgaria- and related Black Sea spots. Take for example a situation where Turkey is on its last legs and being pounded, but mostly being over run by Armies:

Enemy Army Ankara, Army Bulgaria, Army Smyna
Friendly Army Con and Fleet Black Sea

You figure out or are tipped off that the attack is going to come from Bulgaria and that they are going to use the other two in support. So what you respond with is: Army Constantinople to Bulgaria VIA convoy only, Fleet Black Sea Convoys Army Constantinople to Bulgaria. As this is your own unit and your own convoy then the attack is considered as coming from the sea and the two units trade places. Not only do you keep a supply center, but with a single unit in Bulgaria you are in a threat position against Greece, Serbia and Rumania. Further you have the rather funny situation of being able to use one unit to trap three armies in Turkey with no quick way out. Thus buying more time for rescue, or simply to torment the enemy for another 4 seasons.

The Offensive Retreat

Think about your diplomatic as well as tactical possibilities when you have a unit that can retreat. Often it is better to retreat into an offensive position than a defensive position. For example: Army Silesia is dislodged and retreats are possible to Galicia or your Berlin. You can cover Berlin from Kiel, therefore it is better generally to retreat forward to Gal so as to create more Diplomatic possibilities.

Death Zones

When you advance think about what happens next. More people have rushed to push a fleet into the Skaggerak without thinking of how often and easy it is for the fleet to be destroyed there. (Skag is the most popular deathbed for fleets at sea, while Greece and Belgium are close to being a Fleet’s most common grounding down site on land).

Armies die very easily in Belgium and Bulgaria especially with common openings and Spring 1902 stabs.

The best habit is to always think of what are the next moves for you and your fellow players if what you are trying to do works.


The Russian-Turkish alliance is typically called the Juggernaut because of its potential to sweep the board and negate most stalemate lines if Russia is able to maintain three fleets in the north. It usually shows its ugly head by the classic moves of Turkey going:

Fleet Ankara to Constantinople
Army Constantinople to Bulgaria
Army Smyna to Ankara.

The Russians often compliment this by going:

Army Warsaw to Galicia
Army Moscow to the Ukriane
Fleet Sevastapol either hold, or to Rumania.

If the Austrians stand the Russians out of Galicia in the Spring with

Fleet Trieste to Albania
Army Budapest to Serbia
Army Vienna to Galicia

And the Italians have gone for a simple wait and see opening like

Army Venice holds
Army Rome to Apulia
Fleet Naples to the Ionian

The Austrians and the Italians might see the handwriting on the Eastern walls spelling out "Juggernaut", and want to react to it. So what do you do tactically while you go screaming to the Germans and the English to move on the Russians in the north?

What you need to do is to buy time and try to bottle up the Turks. The reason for this is that if there is progress by the Russians then it will attract Germany and England to deal with a balance of power approach in the north regardless of their initial response. Where as no one else can help you (Italy-Austria) against Turkey. If Turkey appears to be bottled up or delayed, then the temptation for the Russians to ditch their ally increases.

This is a little gambit that buys that time and causes some problems for the Juggernaut:

Army Vienna to GaliciaFleet Ionian to the Aegean
Army Serbia support Fleet Albania to GreeceArmy Apulia holds.
Fleet Albania to GreeceArmy Venice to Trieste

The Turks are bounced out of the Aegean and block their army in Ankara with a fleet stuck at Con. The Italians still get a build and the Austrians get a build. Italy builds a Fleet Naples and can head for Tunis via the Tyrnhenian Sea while for Austrians put Army Budapest on the line for the Eastern front battle.

In the Spring of 02 there are some guessing games now for the R-T:

The Italians can convoy Army Apulia to Albania and move A Trieste to Tyrolia for the long march to Bohemia and turning the flank at Galicia, while the Austrians play defense on the East. These orders leaves both Austria and Italy in each other’s back pocket, but it is a sure way to stuff the Juggernaut.

As in all things Diplomacy, much depends on how you move the pieces sitting around the board (the players) rather than the pieces on the board. However, this one little gambit gives you some more things to toy with and have fun tormenting the East.


At the start of the American Revolution there was a lantern signal system established to warn the American militia outside of Boston which way the British Army was going to leave the city and move on the arsenals a short march away: One by land and two by sea. This also corresponds to the British (called English erroneously for short in the game) moves on Belgium in Diplomacy: they can take it by a convoy of an army, or they could use one or both of their fleets to take it (if they opened successfully to the English Channel).

Of the few provinces that can be contested by three powers in Fall 1901, Belgium is by far the most commonly contested, and has a more reasonable split of actual ownership. (See if you can name the others!) We are going to look at this from the British stand point.

Both Germany and France have two fairly secure neutral centers for 1901: Spain and Portugal for France, Holland and Denmark for Germany. England has only Norway, and that can be threatened by the Russians moving Army Moscow to St Petersburg in Spring 1901 — an uncommon but not rare move. If either France or Germany take Belgium in addition to their other two centers, they will get three builds and the English will be confronted with 4 units vs 11 on the other two powers. However, if the English take Belgium, then all three Western Powers will have 5 centers. From an English perspective the fact that a 5 center England is nominally stronger than a 5 center Germany or a 5 center France does not need to be discussed with those powers! But parity makes for a good argument sometimes.

The question then remains what to put into the cauldron of Belgium for it is far from a safe place, as we will see.

The Army option:

Putting the army into Belgium is an immediate threat to either Germany or France, since from there the Army can strike out to Picardy, Burgundy, Holland and Ruhr — none of which are particularly favored by the host countries. Therein lies the act of diplomacy. By introducing the army into Belgium the English are often forced to take an aggressive stand against either France or more commonly Germany. Staying neutral there is often difficult, as if you are not aggressive against either you become the rally point for a Germany-French alliance to destroy your army very easily in 1902, by any combination of moves on it — from all of the afore mentioned places, 3 of which are mostly occupied by Spring 1902.


A gambit is a stratagem in which you give up something for an over all gain typically in position, but of course when playing Diplomacy there is the position on the map and the position with the main 7 pieces (players) around it. Here we look at a classic game opening gambit in the North, specifically: Sweden (Home to Paradox Games, by the way!).

Diplomatic Background:

Russia has negotiated a bounce with Austria in Galicia; thus ensuring that Army Warsaw will be hanging around for Fall 01 festivities, while at the same time being very sure of taking Rumania for one secure build.

Germany has been annoying and has ordered Fleet Kiel to Denmark in Spring 01, and Russia strongly suspects that he is going to play Denmark to Sweden to keep the Russians from getting two builds. The German player is very keen on considering that bouncing Russia from Sweden is an automatic response to Russia getting a sure build from Rumania in the south.

England is concerned enough about Germany to launch a pre-emptive strike so that Germany is not advancing on itself maybe pulling the French in on it in 1902. Italy, Austria and Turkey are self-absorbed and not threatening to the Russians.

Tactical setting at the end of Spring 01

Germany has opened with:

Fleet Kiel to Denmark
Army Munich to Ruhr/Burgundy/Tyrolia
Army Berlin to Kiel

France is not in the Channel, and ideally has a piece in Burgundy and is somewhat hostile to Germany.

England is in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea, and has an Army in EDInburgh or Yorkshire.

The Germans are either going to have to cover Munich, or are unwittingly going to bounce with France on Belgium so that both Russia and the English are fairly confident that the Germans are ordering Army Kiel to Holland and Fleet Denmark to Sweden. The Anglo-Russians then respond with a killer Swedish Gambit:

England: Russia:
Fleet Norwegian Sea to Norway Fleet Bothnia to Baltic
Fleet North Sea Convoy Army EDI/York to Denmark Army Warsaw to Silesia
Army EDI/Yorkshire to Denmark  

What this does is to give England two builds, pull the German fleet from Denmark to Sweden where it is semi surrounded by 3 units, put the Russians and the English in a position where they have a force of two on Berlin & Kiel as well as possibilities to make the German absolutely look like he is screwed, so that France and Italy may be tempted to turn vulture and make a play for Munich.

Diplomatically, for Russia it commits the English and pulls the English army away from Norway where it is always a threat to St Petersburg.

It also teaches the German to think twice before he goes to automatically bounce the Russian out of Sweden.

As in nearly everything in Diplomacy, dull predictability leads to a downfall.

There are dangers, of course, and one of the reasons we are trying to make sure that Army Kiel is pointed at Holland is so that Germany does not play something like Ruhr to Holland and Kiel to Denmark. However, in that event the Germans are bounced out of Denmark and they are blocked up in Kiel so they cannot build a fleet Kiel to torment the English.

Handling the 1902 northern campaign has some of its own pitfalls and traps, but that is beyond the scope of this little note from your friendly mentor.


What do you want from an alliance and your ally? Classically an alliance is an arrangement 'to destroy an enemy and weaken a friend'. You will of course never be able to sell it as such in the real or game world, but that does not mean that it is not true. When you go into an alliance with a person, (remember all positive things are between people, all negative things are between countries) you have an immediate goal of attacking or defeating or simply stopping another power or a collection of powers.

These are the things that you have to ask of yourself:

  1. What do you want this alliance to do?
  2. How far are you willing to take this alliance?
  3. What would make you change this alliance?
  4. What would make your ally change the alliance?
  5. What happens after the immediate short term target/goal is achieved?
  6. What are you getting out of this alliance in terms of game power?
  7. What is the other player getting from this alliance?
  8. What is the relationship balance in the alliance: who is dominant?
  9. Is the other partner(s) able to see the advantages and the disadvantages?
  10. What will be your ally’s reaction if you grow faster than they do?
  11. What is your conception of achievement: is it this game based?
  12. Is it going to make the game more interesting or fun for you all?

Your ally may not know all the answers to the above questions, and it is not important that he does, often you are better off they do not think about, but that does not apply to someone who is being mentored here!

During the course of an alliance, do not take it for granted that your ally will stay allied to you as the game develops. Remain positive with your ally even though you may have your doubts. I have seen many alliances suddenly fall apart because one party turns to another and says: "are you going to stab me?" Either the idea was suddenly planted in the player's mind when he was concentrating somewhere else, or it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy where the players say to themselves: "I best attack now because if he thinks I am going to stab, then he will stab me and I might as well do it first."

The critical aspect in maintaining a long alliance (especially with more than one party) is that all the other powers must be 'front line' powers. That is, their units must be mostly committed on the front, and what few units are not on the front are tied up either in a required support role or so far away that any deviation from alliance support or arranged bounces, that it gives you plenty of time to react and you have the ability to react.

For example: the classic Western Triple alliance of France, Germany and England can be explosive off the start with sweeps into Russia and the Mediterranean. However, as the English complete their sweep of the north and secure St. Petersburg, the Germans can be faced with the horrible prospect of having all their armies on the line between Tyrolia and the Ukraine while England is sitting with one army on the front and 4-5 units behind him and the French have all their fleets in the Mediterranean with only one army committed and are sitting back with two other armies in France. This is why very often it is Germany who winds up the victim as the Western Triple becomes an E-F alliance, as France moves his spare armies to Belgium and Ruhr while English fleets come south to Holland, Denmark and the Baltic.

Understanding people’s goals is also a critical issue, including your own. Sometimes an alliance is not broken, and you may not want to break, simply because it was so much work to keep it going and satisfying that even for an in-game result of say going from a five way draw to a four way draw, players will not want to break an alliance as the in-game achievement is not worth the effort.

This aspect becomes even more complicated when a game is being played that is part of a series of games, either repeatedly with the same small social circle of players or within the confines of a linked series of games in a tournament. Then, you have to understand what your own goals are within that dynamic and understand what the other player sees. In tournaments there are 'tournament players' whose focus is always on the over all score in the tournament. There is also the issue of reputation and your own manipulated self-image that you may want to think about.

Learn not just to think ahead in an alliance, but to think about the alliance in depth and know what you want so you can then understand what others want and what they may see in you.


There comes a time when you may find yourself in the position that you have to talk to the machine. I use the word machine, because to call it an AI or "artificial intelligence" is a gross overstatement. Thirteen year olds and teenagers are prime examples of 'artificial intelligence'. What we have in computer games is a simple machine. There is generally more satisfaction in talking to your plants and you favorite pet rock than a machine. This is not to pick on the Paradox Diplomacy software; it cannot help that it is part of a soulless conspiracy of electrons from another astral plane that insist on trying to cohabit our universe in the disguise of something called 'software' (Ever get hit in the head with a flying CD? Soft it is not. However, the CD's are good for cutting day old pizza that has been kept warm on the top of the now old fashioned monitors, but I digress.)

Sometimes you just have to talk to the machine that has taken over one of the countries in the game. First thing to remember before you rant and rave at the stupidity of the machine is to remember that you are talking to the machine as a form of SELF PUNISHMENT. That's right: you are stuck talking to the machine because YOU did not get 6 other people coordinated enough to play the game Diplomacy the way it was intended since its divine creation — with people. So always remember that: Diplomacy is to be played with people! If you do something ungodly, you have to talk to a machine.

So what do we do when we have to talk to the machine? First, forget about any illusion that it 'thinks'. Second, what you want is simple: for it to do what you tell it to do. In many ways this is exactly what you want from people players, only with some social entertainment surrounding the effort. Third, if it is not going to do what you tell it to, then you want it to tell you what it is going to do so you can crush them and wipe them out like the electron trash that they are.

Getting the machine to do what you want is very similar to a classic approach to selling people. Get the machine to agree to something small, then something else a little bigger and then something a little bigger yet and then get specific on what it does while avoiding discussions on what you do. After all, the focus of the negotiations is to always be controlled by you and it is always best left on the target… it is never about you it is always about THEM.

The general treaty agreements are almost uniformly useless as a practical matter. The machine has a very odd definition set of what constitutes an alliance move and what does not. It is not worth the effort to figure it out. However, if you get any kind of agreement with them, then go and try to get a specific tactical MOVE — not moveS — out of them. The machine loves to be supported in its attacks. Whether you do it or not, they are great suckers for support. This allows you to get them to tell you what they are doing.

Once you have one unit down, you can then move on to another few units and a few more after that. If you feel rushed you can try a whole set, but avoid outlining units that would be making ‘positioning’ moves unless you have an alliance as the machine generally will go for direct attacks. The machine (or people in the current version) are not able to accept a part of your proposal it is always all or nothing. If you have an alliance with them, you can ask them to move out of their centers.

For example, as Turkey I was fighting Austria and took all the Balkans with my own armies and even had an army in Galicia. The machine had armies in its three centers: Vienna, Budapest and Trieste.It asked for a non aggression pact, which I agreed to and then increased it to an alliance.

Once there was an alliance I then asked the machine to move:

Army Vienna to Bohemia
Army Trieste to Tyrolia
Army Budapest to Galicia

It did, and it died with my orders being:

Army Galicia to Vienna
Army Rumania to Budapest
Army Serbia to Trieste

When the machine agrees to specific tactical moves, you have about an 85% chance that it will do what it has agreed to do.

You can also track what the machine is going to do by asking it to do something specific and then seeing what it rejects. This is one reason why you want to use one or two units as the critical 'wind gauge' to see where it is at. When there is a Fleet in St.Petersburg north coast and the machine is NOT moving to Norway, then you can figure it is either going to the Barents or holding.

Multiple country agreements can be tricky. I have done only a few of them and generally the sequence is something like this: get both machine countries to agree to an Alliance against some other country. Then do joint communication with them and propose that one of them support the other to a center of the mutually hated country. This is your best chance to pull off a shocking coordinated attack that will look like the machine was down right brilliant in its attack on a player … meanwhile you have a good laugh as the player curses the AI and goes looking for some Prozac to ward off his depression.

The various 'animal' personalities in the game do have some different reactions. Typically the Dog is most likely to stick with any plan and the Jackel the least. The machine on 'hard' is less likely to agree to anything and tends to be more suicidal. Therefore when playing with a group of humans (or even some teenagers attempting to pass themselves off as human) put the machine on Easy or Normal as this will have a greater possibility of the machine getting its orders from another player and thus rather more logical than anything its toaster brain can come up with.

And remember: kill the machine first. After all, it would be rather embarrassing to be eliminated by a binary number sequence.


Rather than discuss the various country alliance structures in the game and their concerns, let us start first with the most important piece in the game: of the seven people sitting around it: YOU. Whatever alliance structures are configured they really all rest more on you than any strict tactical or strategic bizarre web that may be constructed in the game. As new players dealing with other players this is where the most grievous errors are made.

Who Are You?

Knowing yourself seems like a philosophical garbage pick up line to most gamers. After all, we play games not to be ourselves, but to be someone else! In the game of Diplomacy unlike others, you bring most of your own psychological baggage with you whether you like it or not. One of the reasons that when you play against teenagers there is such wonderfully amusing and sometimes shockingly unexpectedness is simply because they don't know themselves, so how are you to be reasonably expected to create a profile in your dealing with them of who they are?

Elite players have a style and they are very adapt at manipulation of that style to interact with other players; but before you get there, first you have to be able to develop a style or what role players would call a game persona. Sit down and think hard about what YOU bring to an alliance. Not just the pieces and the strategic setting, but the emotional and personal aspects of an alliance. Know what sorts of things annoy you and drive you nuts in an alliance and then see if you can find out exactly what aspects of yourself will fit that negative when you deal with people.

For a veteran player: when does mentoring become patronizing? Or for a new player when does following suggestions feel too much like being a puppet? Knowing your own push-button issues will allow you to go into an alliance with at least the ability to communicate those issues to someone else either directly or more diplomatically by working on them in different ways as well as being aware of what to look for in others. This begins to become part of your style, which is more than your tendency to stab for one center, or perpetually go back to the player who you just stabbed and lie to them again and again to see if you can get away with it.

Here is a quick list of things to know about yourself and some small pointers:

  1. Are you often blind to negative possibilities so that when you are stabbed it 'feels worse' because you feel blind-sided? Do you take being lied to or lying to someone else too personally?

    You have to build a buffer here, as you should never let a stab touch your true feelings. It is only a game. We feel foolish when we do not see something, better is to learn where you are open. As a real handy guideline, all the interaction things that are positive are between the players, all the negative are between the countries. You ally with Fred, but you are stabbed by Germany.

  2. Are you able to lie to someone straight faced?

    If you can't, then don't try it. Change the subject; say you are not sure, whatever.

  3. Do you think about what is going to happen in the next set of moves, both tactically and their psychological effect on a player?

    Part of who you are is what you can see and that helps you project yourself onto the board.

  4. Do you find yourself trying harder to convince yourself that things are going to get better and that you can win?

    For the most part it does not matter, what is important is to play the game and try to piece together something that is fun. This is a game in which if there is one 'winner' that means that there are 6 that did not win. Those are not good odds for people whose focus is on winning. The making of your own personal goals other than simply a rulebook victory will help you get some fun out of the game and make it fun for others. You can fall back on the Cynical New York Optimist approach: I hope it gets better, but if it doesn't it's because I want it that way.

  5. Do you play the pieces on the board or the pieces around the board?

    This is a game of players, playing with the AI can help your tactics, but the real challenge is always the people. Keep the focus on interacting with the people.

  6. When you make a mistake how do you react?

    If you beat yourself up for a mistake, do you really think anyone else will cut you a break?

  7. Are you a fast talker and planner, or do you like to mull things over?

    If you like to analyze and think things over, don’t make snap judgments when pressed. Stay true to yourself.

Edi Birsan

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