Editor's Note: Baron wrote this article some time ago for the "Club Bulletin", a forum within the AOL Diplomacy Club discussion group. The Club Bulletin is gone, but we reproduce the article here with Baron's kind permission. Be sure to look for part two in our Spring 2008 Retreat issue!
I feel safe in saying that there are probably a number of you out there who believe a Russo-Turkish alliance (hereafter simply R/T) is the strongest alliance on the Diplomacy map. I'm sure we all agree that a compelling argument can be made to support such a position. Even those people who might make a case for some other combination cannot deny that only R/T has earned its own special nickname (i.e., the "Juggernaut"). Such is the Juggernaut's perceived might that evidence of its existence is often enough to panic the other Powers and force them to make common cause against the deadly peril.
Given all of the supposed advantages a Juggernaut enjoys, it seems odd that we don't hear more about R/T's domination of Europe. I think there are primarily three reasons why this is so: player personalities, slow starts, and alliance imbalance. Let's discuss each of these in turn.
The truth is that in a large percentage of games, the Juggernaut will never get off of the ground. For this we can thank that unique quality that makes Diplomacy special: its reliance on player personalities to determine what happens during the game. A number of factors to include reputations, negotiating skills, friendships, dislikes, perceptions, and moods will impact on who works with who during any particular game. This means there are going to be games where the Tsar and the Sultan just don't get along for whatever reason. There are also going to be games where one or the other simply appears like a less attractive partner than the Archduke. In any case, it's safe to say that a Juggernaut is definitely not a foregone conclusion just because it may be the strongest alliance on the map.
The Juggernaut can be stopped. The best time to stop it, of course, is before it can gain momentum. As stated before, the fearsome reputation of the Juggernaut is such that it attracts considerable attention from the other Powers. Rather than let R/T roll to victory, the Rulers of Europe often try to drop their quarrels so they can stand united against the threat from the east. This, however, is easier said than done. If the Juggernaut can blitz out of the blocks while the Powers are still quibbling amongst themselves, it may reach that critical mass where only internal disruption will halt its progress (more on this later).
The point to be made, though, is that R/T can be stopped. The Turkish half of the alliance, in particular, can be bottled-up very effectively. I feel it's worth taking a moment to examine why this is so.
The dynamics of Diplomacy are such that the game often begins with England, France, and Germany squaring off in a two-against-one in the west while Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey engage in the same life-or-death struggle in the east. Italy stands between these two triangles and can intervene in either. In my mind this makes Italy's actions a primary key to Juggernaut success, a point I'll address in more detail shortly.
Popes typically have deep, abiding, and entirely justified suspicions regarding Turkey's intentions. Because of this, Rome's attention is often focused eastward right from game-start. Should an R/T take shape, Italy will probably be (or, more correctly, should probably be) eager to assist the Dual Monarchy. Almost invariably, failure to do so is likely to result in Ottoman fleets appearing in Italian ports sometime in mid-game. If they are working together, Austria-Hungary and Italy can be a tough nut to crack, especially for the Turks. The three Austro-Italian fleets Turkey is sure to face can make the going very slow in the Mediterranean. Unless Turkey can break through the Austro-Italian lines before England or France intervenes on their behalf, Turkish units will probably be stuck in neutral for a long time.
Russia's situation in the north is very different. With England, France, and Germany butting heads, the Tsar is sure to find an ally eager to see Russian forces entering the fray. This generally serves to give Russia better expansion opportunities than its Turkish partner has. As we all know, once the Bear gets big from eating dots, it's hard to contain him. This leads directly to the next reason why Juggernauts don't completely dominate the game.
I contend that "typical" Juggernauts contain the seed of their own demise in that they often heavily favor the Russian half of the partnership. If one accepts my logic regarding the prospects for Russian and Turkish growth as discussed above, it is easy to envision a scenario where Russia, over a period of game-years, gets much bigger than Turkey. If this occurs, the alliance is in grave jeopardy.
On the one hand, the Tsar may be tempted to leave his Turkish ally behind and go for the solo win. Russia has won more solo victories than any other Power and I wouldn't be the least surprised if the majority of Russia's wins started out as Juggernauts. On the other hand, even if the Tsar intends to be faithful, the Sultan may get nervous about his ally's long-term plans or become angry at the seeming unfairness of the supply center distribution. A stab is the almost inevitable result. The anti-Juggernaut coalition, in an attempt to split R/T apart before it can win outright, is sure to do everything it can to foster images of Russian betrayal in the Sultan's mind.
In a postal game I played in (1995HL), my Turkey held steady at 7 centers for four years (four VERY long years!) while Russia, ably played by Warren Ball, grew from 8 centers to 13 centers over the same period of time. We were somehow able to work through the intense problems this growth disparity caused and eventually share a 17-17 draw, but it was a very near thing. I question how many other players would have stayed the course under the same circumstances.
So where does all this lead? I'm glad you asked. Unfortunately, my time is up for this issue. We’ll discuss how to take a Juggernaut to victory next time.
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