I hate triple alliances, with a passion. Doesn't matter to me that some of the hobby's best writers have praised the triple in magazines from Diplomacy World to Avalon Hill's The General. People like Melinda Holley and Mark Berch have outlined various strategies and methods by which triple alliances can be originated and maintained. Rod Walker's famous Gamer's Guide to Diplomacy discusses the possibility of a triple between the Western powers of England, France and Germany like it was a normal option in a normal Diplomacy game. And for that matter, I have been in numerous games, both face-to-face and postal, that featured triple alliances enjoying some measure of success.
No, I still hate 'em. The biggest problem with triple alliances is that most players know the danger of facing one and will take steps to stop you in your tracks. Particularly in games, a triple is difficult to hide and thus opens you up to the formation of an opposing triple on the other side. For example, there are telltale signs that a smart Austrian will notice when the Western powers are setting up for a triple. He will have little difficultly getting his Eastern neighbors to organize against the Western Triple, that is, unless these people are rank novices.
Not only does this mean that the Triple is unlikely to progress; it also means that the game is about to settle into a boring fight over stalemate lines that is about as much fun as jumping in a pit of hydrochloric acid. The fun of Diplomacy is in the fluidity with which experienced players will make and break alliances to suit the problem at hand. When the game boils down to a nasty tactical exercise, you might as well be playing Squad Leader or something.
Probably the least emotional reason I have for opposing triples is that joining one is often a terrible blinder in terms of expansion. Obviously, when three guys gang up on somebody else, the loot has to be divided three ways and Triple units will have limited avenues of movement. It may be neat to beat up on Russia and Italy for a while in a Western Triple, but you often will have little ability for growth afterwards.
Now, I know the counterarguments to this. Since the Triple is often penetrating the stalemate line, there is good tactical reason for participating. After all, a later stab can get the goodies you left behind on your side of the board. Yeah, but the problem is that the stab potential would be much better had you gone the traditional route of two against one in your own area of the board. A France who just finished off Germany with English help is going to be in a better position to stab England than if he had worked in a Triple against Italy. The bottom line here is that a Triple is fine if you just want to play an alliance game and call a three-way draw. But if you want to wheel-and-deal, then the Triple is inferior.
Now, I do not mean to say that the offer of a Triple is not a good negotiation tactic. Even commitment to such an alliance for a year or two is not a bad idea. My beef is with actually thinking that the Triple is a good idea in the long-term. Lie all you want to about wanting a Triple, but don't actually believe yourself!
Another problem with Triples is that they are really a myth. All communication in Diplomacy is bilateral in nature, and this is especially true postally. When you talk, the actual communication is taking place in the mind of each one of your Triple partners. My point is that what you say will be interpreted, judged, debated, etc. by each individual player involved. If you delude yourself into thinking that talking to one partner means you are talking to "the Triple" then you will make serious errors in judgment. A "Triple" is really just a series of bilateral alliances, so remember to play it that way if you "do the wrong thing" and Triple up. Even if you are thinking multilaterally, your partners may not be.
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