This is the third article in our series on two-SC Great Powers in the Ambition & Empire variant. If you are unfamiliar with the variant, we recommend that you start with the first article, which includes an introduction explaining the variant (as well as a beautiful map!), and the second article as well. Each includes links to the rules online at the Pouch and as a PDF. There is also an article with designers' notes.
Ambition & Empire is a great variant designed by Jeff Kase and Baron Powell. It is a Diplomacy variant for ten players set in Europe at the conclusion of the Seven Years War (1756-63). The title pays tribute to the empire-building, war-and-conquest philosophy held by the great leaders of the day; a remarkable cast of historical figures that included William Pitt the Elder of Great Britain, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Maria Theresa of Austria, and Catherine II of Russia.
One issue that sometimes, sadly, makes players wary of trying this variant is the disparity in starting size of the great powers. Five powers, including Poland & Saxony, begin the game with only two units and two supply centers. This is the third article in a series on two supply center great powers in the Ambition & Empire variant, which has been featured in previous issues of the Diplomatic Pouch. In this installment, we’ll discuss approaches for playing Poland & Saxony.
As a general preface to these articles, we always want to stress that potential players of the Ambition & Empire variant should not be discouraged by any initial inequality in starting size among the powers. A few rules in this variant - the arming of the neutral supply centers, the implementation of a rule for the spending of “diplomacy points,” (a.k.a. DPs) and a mechanism to allow smaller powers to gain a third home supply center for a build site - help to level the playing field. You can see the official variant rules here: http://www.diplom.org/Online/variants/aerules060824.pdf
All that being said, if there is one power on the Ambition & Empire map that gives players cardiac arrest during the power assignments, it is Poland & Saxony. But is that justified?
Consider that during the sixteen completed games of this variant, Poland & Saxony actually has fared well. It has a solo and three draws to its credit with a slightly above average Great Power Rating of 294.00. The average power has a GPR of 252.00. (The GPR is based on a formula developed by Baron Powell. Basically, you divide 2520 points by the number of Great Powers that participated in a solo or draw. The GPR is the number of points each Great Power earned divided by the number of games played.) The one thing of note is that Poland & Saxony has been eliminated the most of any of the ten playable powers, being eliminated in ten out of sixteen games.
Furthermore, Caissic analysis shows efficient routes to victory by utilizing the center of the map and the proximity of numerous supply centers. By applying Paul Windsor’s concept of counting tempi (successful moves of a military unit further away from its starting position), we can find some excellent routes for Polish & Saxon expansion. The eventual fifteen supply centers depends a bit on who your allies are, and the location of Poland & Saxony’s third home supply center. Below, as a starting point, are the most efficient growth areas (neutrals marked with asterisks):
This is a real, but often overlooked strength of Poland & Saxony. No other powers can boast more territories within two tempi of their starting position in S’1763. (On a technicality Austria has eighteen supply centers within a two tempi radius but that is based on the isolated army in the Austrian Netherlands which contributes five supply centers to that number).
Poland & Saxony does have one thing going for it. There is an extraordinarily long list of possible supply centers that can be reached in only two tempi, afford a level of flexibility that should be paramount in the mind of any Polish & Saxon commander. Where a Turkish Sultan, confronted with a hostile Austria, is going to face a long, ugly struggle in the Balkans, Poland & Saxony has the ability to adapt and flow with the ever chaotic diplomacy of the first year.
Having said all this, the starting position is not ALL sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Poland & Saxony has the unenviable task of trying to forge an empire out of two non-contiguous, land-locked supply centers. Diplomacy will be everything, because Poland & Saxony needs to make strong diplomatic ties with Austria, Prussia, Russia and should recognize that Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, England and France will all have significant roles to play in Polish & Saxon expansion.
A Quick Glance at the Map
How does Poland & Saxony view the rest of the world in Ambition & Empire?
First, there is neighboring Austria. Many Austrians will want to see a protracted tussle between Prussia and Poland & Saxony. If Austria thinks that is going to happen he may leave you alone… or he may seek to partition you with Prussia… or possibly even help you if you explain that you need parity to wage war and keep a strong consolidated Prussia from breathing down Austria’s northern frontier. On the other hand, if he senses that you have good relations with the Prussian then he'll be much more wary and may even send an army or two to protect his north. Austria is a powerful force in the neutrals in the middle of the board and can significantly help or hinder Poland & Saxony gaining Baden-Wuerttemberg and/or Hesse-Westphalia. Play history suggests that Austria most frequently suffers from early leader syndrome in this variant. Poland & Saxony needs to be aware of that and be positioned to take advantage of it. As will be discussed shortly, Poland & Saxony should consider using the threat of Austrian expansion to get help from France, the most obvious potential Austrian rival for southern Germany and Italy.
Britain is a naval power that Poland & Saxony can generally have good relations with. Keep in mind that they start out as a strong power from a strategic and tactical standpoint. If Sweden looks like a bad bet for a friend, then you'll probably want to do what you can to help keep Britain off Denmark-Norway's back. This could include negotiating a DMZ in the North Sea or even using your diplomacy points for F United Provinces s Danish-Norwegian F Christiana - North Sea. If Sweden is the preferred ally then Britain should be helped out against Denmark to keep them off Sweden's back. Play this one by ear but don't let them run away with things. One important note is that the British unit in Hanover can be a huge asset to Poland & Saxony, especially if Prussia starts off as hostile to British interests in Germany. That lone British army can do a lot to distract Prussia from aggression south and east while Poland & Saxony gets on its feet and strives for a third home supply center.
Denmark-Norway can be just as natural an ally. As a largely naval power, Denmark-Norway represents an excellent complement to Poland & Saxony's land forces. If they quickly engulf Sweden this is not a bad thing for Poland & Saxony as they essentially supplant them. Poland & Saxony wants and needs a strong ally so do whatever you can to make sure that any war between Sweden and Denmark-Norway is short and decisive.
And how about Poland & Saxony and France? This is an interesting relationship and depends largely on your direction of expansion. If war with Prussia is likely then France moving against Hesse-Westphalia looks particularly nice. On the other hand, if you are planning on taking some of those juicy neutrals in the middle yourself, then you want France heading south and targeting Savoy, Tuscany, and eventually Milan. France can be a particularly powerful ally if relations with Austria look antagonistic. The leaders in Warsaw and Dresden need to carefully consider all the ramifications of the almost inevitable struggle for supremacy that is likely to take place between Austria and France. The key is to position Poland & Saxony so as to benefit from this conflict, not be caught in the middle of it. Remember that France’s open assistance can be a two-edged sword. French support into Baden-Wuerttemberg can immediately put Poland & Saxony and Austria at odds, while French support into Hesse-Westphalia may put Poland & Saxony at odds with Prussia.
Next, let’s look at Prussia. This is by far your most pivotal relationship. Poland & Saxony must quickly and accurately size up the Prussian attitude. Poland & Saxony can only succeed with a willing Prussia or with a strong coalition against Prussia. There is no middle ground. For much of the game, you will have units adjacent to their supply centers and they will have units adjacent to yours. This leaves both sides vulnerable and tempted by attacks of opportunity that can arise. You will almost certainly have a unit adjacent to a Prussian supply center in the fall (only A Dresden to Baden-Wuerttemberg and A Warsaw Hold avoids this) so make your discussions with Prussia clear if you plan on working with him. Do not surprise him in '63 and get off to a bad diplomatic start. An early conflict with Prussia is often at Poland & Saxony’s disadvantage. Prussia starts with a third unit, and it is arguable that Poland & Saxony’s home supply centers are more vulnerable and tempting to ravenous neighbors.
The variant’s co-designer, Baron Powell notes with interest that Prussia is perceived by many to have a vastly superior starting position to that of Poland & Saxony. In my mind, the differences between the two German powers are really not so great at all. In fact, they are together in the same boat as far as Baron is concerned. An examination of Prussian tempi verifies this. Prussia needs 21 tempi to reach 15 supply centers, while Poland & Saxony needs 24 tempi for the same goal. Furthermore, both Prussia and Poland & Saxony have the liability of non-contiguous starting positions broken up by another power… each other! Baron justifiably believes Prussia and Poland & Saxony are potentially each other’s best ally or worst enemy, depending on the situation.
Now, let’s consider Russia. As in standard Diplomacy, Russia can play a very important part in determining the world order. Russia has three different expansion routs and none of them are particularly attractive for Poland & Saxony. Those three routes are north into the Baltic and Scandinavia, south into the Black Sea, and directly west towards the knot of German supply centers in the middle of the map. Jeff wonders if the best plan is to convince Russia to creep along the Baltic, taking Courland, Koenigsberg and Berlin. Chris prefers to re-direct Russia southward into a conflict with Turkey over the Crimea. Either way, Poland needs to negotiate very quickly and persuasively as Russia can get up a good head of steam very quickly if Sweden and Turkey both move West. In fact, Poland & Saxony may be best served by having Russia not grow in any specific direction, but by having the Tsar stall and not grow in any direction. A Russia pinned down by Swedish and Turkish attacks will prevent the Bear from looking westward. Warsaw will always be an attractive stepping stone for the Czar and this should never be forgotten.
Spain is someone you are likely to have positive relations with if for no other reason than you overlap in almost no way for supply centers that you need. A strong Spain is almost certainly good for Poland & Saxony because it helps to provide a break on France, Austria and Britain. Even though Spain is distant, never overlook coordinating diplomacy points with another power, at any point of the game.
Then, there is Sweden. There are few alliances on the Ambition & Empire map that are more natural than Sweden and Poland & Saxony. Sweden has few neutrals to try early on for and can be tempted to strike against Prussia and/or Russia early on. Good communications with the Swede can allow this pair of two supply center powers to function as one four supply center power. In the long run, Poland & Saxony and Sweden have little overlap in supply centers they will each need (possible having conflicts over Courland, Berlin, Konigsberg and Moscow). Prior game experience suggests that Sweden, in the long run, tends to be a land power. If this proves true over the long haul, then co-designer Baron Powell sees Sweden and Poland & Saxony clashing eventually, unless the two allies are far-sighted enough to see conflict coming and devise a way to work together that benefits both parties. This friendship can be especially solid if Poland & Saxony ends up with a land-locked supply center for its third home supply center and Sweden does not have locate its third home supply center on the southern shore of the Baltic.
Lastly, there is Turkey. Like Spain, Turkey is a good ally to cultivate for the long term. If Turkey can be convinced to move north, foregoing North Africa, this has powerful ramifications for Poland & Saxony in the early game. It makes Russian aggression MUCH less likely and it gives Austria something else to worry about. Convincing Turkey to do this can be done. Ambition & Empire co-designer Baron Powell cautions that the Sultan is unlikely to embark on such a crusade without the unwavering support of Poland & Saxony, and perhaps other powers as well.
One important point to get across that Ambition & Empire is more about 3-4 way coalitions in the opening stages than it is traditional 2-power alliances that are the norm in standard Diplomacy. Partly this is due to the increased size of the board and the increased number of initial players. Poland & Saxony wants to team up with multiple partners to carve out a viable position for itself. Variant co-designer Baron Powell has stressed again and again that the key to success, at least early on, is to become part of a coalition of AT LEAST three powers. Not only does this grant the members of the 3-4 way coalitions tremendous informational and tactical advantages, it also gives them enormous diplomatic clout. They will often have more DPs to allocate then any of their rivals and they will more effectively coordinate those allocations where their rivals do not.
Now let’s take a look at the tactical options to start the game. Because of the separated nature of the Polish armies, not only is it sufficient, but Jeff would suggest it is optimal to look at each of the two units independently. In general, however, Poland & Saxony can be viewed as a very modular army.
To begin with, there are only three options for one of the initial Polish & Saxon units, A Warsaw. Starting in the north, and working clockwise, this unit can move to Posen, to Lithuania, or to Galicia in S’1763. Of its three potential moves, all of them end up with the unit being adjacent to a Prussian home supply centers. At a basic level moving to Lithuania is anti-Russian and to Galicia being the anti-Austrian. Moving to Posen is most clearly a move against Prussia because it threatens all three Prussian home supply centers.
A Warsaw to Posen. This is unambiguously a move against Prussia. It’s also likely to be met with a bounce as any of Prussia's units can move there. Generally, this move will be reserved for winters with the diplomatic stars align in which the Polish & Saxon player is relatively certain that Prussia will assist him into Lithuania and that Prussia is moving west against Mecklenburg or Hanover. If he successfully moves into Mecklenburg or Hanover (and Breslau back fills into Berlin) then Poland & Saxony has the potential of getting Berlin or Breslau.
A Warsaw to Lithuania. Russia is likely to be more upset by this then Prussia. Not only is it adjacent to two of their home SCs but it also is a jumping point for Crimea which most Russian players will view as their property as well. It gives Poland & Saxony an opportunity at Courland and Koenigsberg with the right DP allocation or help from an allied fleet sitting in the Baltic. Lithuania is more important defensively, however. Nick Higgins has written about Lithuania’s limited value as an offensive position. A Russian advance westward can be severely hampered.
A Warsaw to Galicia. A Polish & Saxon move here is going to be seen as generally anti-Austrian. The Prussian player should not ignore this order as Breslau is not completely safe. With successful diplomacy with Austria this can prove to be a powerful misdirection.
In contrast, there are more options available for the other starting Polish-Saxon unit, A Dresden. Starting in the north, and working clockwise, this second unit can move to Lusatia, Bohemia, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse-Westphalia.
A Dresden to Lusatia. Prussia is not going to like this at all, but it may still be useful. This move threatens two Prussia home supply centers and may force Prussia into a guessing game. It also can be assisted by Hesse-Westphalia (although it is likely that the support will be cut). It is tough to keep Prussia appeased on this move, however.
A Dresden to Bohemia. This is generally an offensive move against Austria but it does not have to be. Bavaria is a tempting target for Poland & Saxony if there is a perception that the north part of Germany is going to be a gigantic mess (which is often the case). Keep in mind, many Austrians will be extremely uncomfortable with a Polish & Saxon army in Bavaria. Long term, this move is clearly anti-Austrian but a skillful diplomat may find it possible to convince Austria that you are "merely establishing a southern border so that you can move North against Prussia from a place of strength". France may make a play against Baden-Wuerttemberg in the fall which will cut your support so plan accordingly.
A Dresden to Baden-Wurttemburg. Similar to Hesse-Westphalia but much easier to pull off. Unlike Hesse-Westphalia which is likely to be invaded in the Spring, Baden-Wuerttemberg is relatively untouched. Some Austrian players will be looking at Venice in the spring because he can control his own fate more easily, so Bavarian support through diplomacy points is less likely to be cut. Baden-Wuerttemberg provides a good jumping and a strong claim to the riches of the German forests. Switzerland and Hesse-Westphalia are right next door and provide key support to France and the Netherlands. Jeff views this as the strongest opening move for Poland & Saxony and should be strongly considered in S’1763 if Prussia can be trusted or perhaps in F’1763 after an arranged bounce in Lusatia.
A Dresden to Hesse-Westphalia. A powerful move if you can pull it off. It probably means you've got Austrian or British backing (or both). Hesse-Westphalia also borders five supply centers which are either neutral or non-contiguous and thus vulnerable to attack or diplomatic bargaining as Hanover and Austrian Netherlands tend to be more isolated in the first couple years. Assisting Denmark-Norway into Hanover from the position in Hesse-Westphalia in 1763 might solidify a strong ally -- and someone else to help keep Prussia in check.
This second Polish & Saxon unit could also choose to support the neutral units garrisoning the minor powers of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse-Westphalia. If the diplomacy does not look promising for Polish & Saxon growth, do not ignore the tactic of supporting one of the armed neutrals in order to deny growth to a rival.
When we combine these options for both starting units, we get a matrix that looks like this:
While Jeff said earlier it is optimal to look at each of the two units independently, Chris submits that there are a couple of opening combinations that merit some discussion in depth.
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