In this article from Diplomacy World #66, Jack McHugh discusses the best ways to avoid getting that knife stuck in your metaphorical back.
In Diplomacy World #65 we were treated to "A Stabbing We Will Go", a nice little tactical article by General John McCausland on how to stab. While knowing how to stab is nice, it is just as important for players, especially novices, to know how to avoid being stabbed in the first place.
Diplomacy is a game that can be won alone but not right away. Like it or not, you will need allies early in the game. Given that, it is impossible to ignore the problem of avoiding a stab. You can't stab all of your neighbors and expect to win.
So, let's say it is 1902 or 1903, you've made your alliance choices which so far seem to be working out. If, for example, you are Turkey, Italy has gone west, and AR have decided to attack you. Don't bother reading this article for help in that situation.
But let's say things are going nicely and you have reached 1905 or 1906, you've grown to 6-9 centers, and you are planning to go for a draw with your ally or allies. Or so they have assured you.
Don't be fooled into thinking that simply by writing letters you can assure a successful alliance! Yes, writing letters is important; but what's just as important, particularly later in the contest, is how you play the game. Here are some do's and don'ts to help you be the victor, rather than the victim, in your Diplomacy game:
First, don't leave any portion of your holdings wide open. Even if it is just a lone army or fleet, it will discourage a stab. For example, if you are playing a RT alliance as Russia, leave an army in Rum or Sev to guard your holdings. Don't let Turkey get into a situation where he could swipe two or three centers in one move. If you do, and the Turk stabs you, don't blame him — blame yourself. Remember that all Dip players are thieves at heart, or they'd be playing Chutes and Ladders instead.
Second, while you may cede certain areas to an ally, don't believe that means you are not entitled to defend yourself or have certain capabilities. For example, if you are Germany in an EG, naturally England will want naval supremacy. Since you want this alliance to work you'll agree, but don't let England bully you into no fleet builds at all. Try and work out a reasonable formula, like one German fleet for every three English fleets. If England can move around Europe at will, he will be more likely to stab you since it is doubtful you can either attack or defend successfully against all his fleets and convoys.
Third, maintain as even a growth rate as possible. No alliance will be secure if one party is at ten centers and the other at five. You simply aren't as valuable to an ally if you have significantly fewer centers. It becomes easier to destroy you than work with you. Don't forget an alliance requires some degree of work on both sides, therefore it isn't as cost effective to work with smaller powers later in the game. Make sure you're getting your fair share of builds or get a new ally.
This will become even more true as the board becomes divided into great and small powers. While it is true that the larger powers may fight in the end, if your country is too small you won't be around to see that fight. Don't believe that you're indispensable to your ally.
Fourth, look at the board and see how you can maneuver your units to help your ally. Han ally needs you he will be less likely to stab you. Do watch out for McCausland's "Planned Stab" where you are helping an ally in one place while he stabs you in another. That is less likely to happen if you've been a helpful and reliable ally throughout the game.
An ally is an asset. The more valuable you make yourself, the higher the return must be on a stab to make such a move worthwhile. A valuable ally will only be stabbed to go for the win, and any good player should be able to count the 18 centers and see what's coming.
Fifth, keep an ear to the board. Sometimes you can get wind of a stab from another player. Be aware, however, that most information is worthless. The other players usually have a vested interest in seeing you have a falling out with your ally, and will constantly warn you of stabs, most of which they are simply making of whole cloth. Other players are the most useful at pointing out tactical deficiencies in your defenses. They will point out nasty ways that your ally could stab you and take many dots in one season.
Finally, remember that units speak louder than words. An army or a fleet can do more to convince your ally that you will defend yourself than a hundred of your most persuasive letters. The reverse is also true. No matter how sincere a letter your ally writes, watch the board and see where he is moving his units. The game is won or lost on the board, not in your mailbox!
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