Earlier in 2008, I stumbled across the blog of Eero Tuovinen, and read with interest one of his postings about the triangular designs inherent in Diplomacy and its variants. I have often been impressed with the 1900 variant in particular and its multiple overlapping diplomatic triangles. One of those multiple diplomatic triangles is in the eastern half of the variant's map, and consists of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia. The variant designer, Baron Powell, references this triangle in his Gamers' Guide to 1900. This Eastern or Polish Triangle has not yet been analyzed in depth, so I wanted to take some time and do so.
As theorized by Eero Tuovinen in his blog, "the triangle is imperative for the tension of play to appear: a player needs to be forced to choose one of his neighbors as an ally, while using the other's trust as a weapon, while simultaneously fearing that the same could be done to him. This is only possible if all three are in a triangle arrangement relationship." Do the relations between the powers Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia meet this basic threshold for classification as a diplomatic triangle?
First, in standard Diplomacy, the interactions of the three powers in question, Austria, Germany and Russia, were discussed in some depth by David Hood in Diplomacy World #50, "Triples and the Russian, Austrian, German Alliance" (p.54-55) [Note: this article has also been reprinted in the Pouch]. In the context of a discussion of the R/A/G triple alliance, he notes that that each pair of powers can bilaterally ally. The A/G alliance is naturally oriented against Russia and specifically at the target of Warsaw. The other two pairings, however, are not necessarily aimed at the third member of the triangle. G/R alliances in standard Diplomacy are anti-English with a focus on Scandinavian affairs. David doesn't mention G/R vs. A at game start. And A/R alliances are also aimed at a fourth power outside the triangle in question, Turkey, with a Balkan prioritization. Again, David doesn't discuss a game opening A/R vs. G alignment.
When applying the theoretical test of Eero Tuovinen, it does not appear as though there are true triangular relationships between Austria, Germany and Russia, because of 1) the limitations of a three unit Germany with its western commitments and 2) an Austria saddled with a fleet at game start. Instead of an Eastern or Polish Triangle of Austria, Germany and Russia in Diplomacy, the relationships are not triangular, but unbalanced. While one leg of the diplomatic triangle, A/G vs. R, is viable, the other two legs, A/R vs. G and G/R vs. A, are weak. There just is not the requisite tension. With only one solid leg, it is difficult to treat this as a true diplomatic triangle of 2 vs. 1 resolution in the same way as we discuss the Western Triangle of England / France / Germany.
In 1900, some of the changes implemented by Baron Powell strengthen the idea of recognizing this Eastern or Polish diplomatic triangle. First, Germany is strengthened by the addition of a fourth home supply center and starting unit. This gives the Kaiser greater freedom to intervene in the East than he would have in Diplomacy. This strengthens the potentiality of both G/A vs. R and G/R vs. A. Second, the swapping of a fleet for an army for the starting unit in Trieste for Austria-Hungary gives the Archduke the ability to send an army into Bohemia or Tyrolia to open the game and still use two armies to secure a share of the Balkan spoils. The possibility of A/R vs. G is therefore also increased. With these simple alterations to the starting positions of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Baron Powell created yet another diplomatic triangle.
One of the strengths of the 1900 variant is that Baron Powell has ensured that there are multiple overlapping diplomatic triangles. This escapes the dichotomy of the two great triangles we recognize from Diplomacy — England / France / Germany and Austria-Hungary / Russia / Turkey — and instead drives players to broaden their horizons. This is due to encouraging, rather than discouraging, diplomatic interaction the seven great powers. This greater variety of interactions increases each power's diplomatic clout as a variety of new combinations among the seven players emerge. It also increases the enjoyment of players as they have greater numbers of options to exhibit creativity
So, what are the three powers in question to make of this supplemental Eastern or Polish diplomatic triangle in 1900? The first key is for those players to recognize that they are in a new diplomatic triangle. They cannot simply dismiss the new potential alignments, such as A/R vs. G and G/R vs. A, as remote as they are in Diplomacy. The three players must also acknowledge that the ownership of any supply center or the certainty of control over any frontier province in the short term is not nearly as important as the successful maneuvering within the new diplomatic layout this supplemental diplomatic triangle offers.
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