Diplomacy, as played by social players around the world, would have been better named ďStabby McStab goes to StabvilleĒ. Itís all about taking centres where you can; negotiating turn-by-turn to make the most of the glorious mess that is Diplomacy when played by beginners, however talented.
As players gain more experience, and especially when they are exposed to face-to-face tournaments, the elements of the game beyond the tactical are developed: Alliances last more than a few turns.
The stab, however, is rarely ever far from the mind of intermediate players. This is a critical phase of development in your play. If you donít learn to stab, you will always be vulnerable to the stabs of others. You must develop a sense for your vulnerabilities, however much you go on to stab in your Diplomacy life.
Here is a great example to practice your stabbing sense, from a game Brenard Andrioli provided on Facebook recently. Spring 1907 is coming up, and EF is allied against RA, with Austria having just stabbed Italy. Can you find the best tactical stab? Here is the map; take a few minutes to consider it before you read further.
Click to display full-size map in a separate window
The stab I think is the tactical best here is for England against France:
Itís a 3 centre stab, with all the spring moves being alliance-oriented (setting up to land armies in Northern Russia and helping France into Munich while covering Kiel from retreat) and the fall moves all pretty much guaranteed as France must defend Munich.
It leaves England with armies in Ber, Kie, Hol, and Bel and fleets in all the right places to continue the attack. France is losing units everywhere and the moment they defend against England Italy will open a second front. Pretty awesome, huh? And when you see stabs like this and defenses against such dark magic, your results improve dramatically.
I wouldnít do it. This is the crux of the article.
Stabs are a great way to gain centres, but if you want to win games of Diplomacy, you need to look beyond the next few yearsí centres and see the endgame. Stabs, however tactically pretty, need to lead to wins, not just taking you from 8 to 11 to 13 centres.
Thatís what this stab does. Step back a moment. England has clearly the best position on the board, so how do they leverage this to turn it into an 18?
Well, on this board England almost certainly wonít get Por, Spa, or Mar. France can defend them until Italy takes them off her (or forever). Letís assume England gains everything else in the West (Lon, Lpl, Edi, Par, Bre, Bel, Hol, Kie, Ber, Mun, Swe, Nwy, Den, StP), making 14. Itís not unreasonable to see this, though Munich is a tough ask. To get these 13/14 centres, this stab is superb and all but assures them. But where are the next 4? Mos and War are not enough. Thatís dubious, and still only 16. Sev? Vie?
If you stabbed France, you just got a 13-16 centre England, but threw away any hope of an 18. This is why you shouldnít stab. Not because you donít gain enough centres; not because you donít cripple your opponent; and not because itís a mean thing to do. Because you just ruled out winning the game.
Englandís 18 on this board is still possible (not likely, but then 18s never are ) but only if France brings down the stalemate line. Once France takes Tunis, and can force Piedmont and Austria loses Munich, there is a genuine pressure situation on for Austria to hold the line with Russia, even if Italy is on-side. Thereís a stray Turk… And the East has the wrong units.
Best play says it is possible to hold the stalemate line — it can be done, but Iíll leave it to you to figure out (Assume this game is EFT v RAI and see if you can find RAIís guaranteed stalemate). The point is — itís very hard and if the position slips at all, the line can come crashing down.
If it does, Enlgand now gains access to the centres she needs to get to 18. With work, an English army in Galicia is possible, and this army helps other armies into Vie, then Bud. From that position it is possible to envisage an English 18, and once you are in that position, then is the time to stab France. Even if you donít get Brest and Paris, you can now pick up Rum, Tri, or Sev — your options have expanded to needing 2 centres from 5 possible — far better odds than 4 from 0.
So, if you want to win, the correct move above is to get your armies into Northern Russia as rapidly as you can. Breakdown the stalemate line. Then, once you have leveraged open the shot at winning, itís time to find the tactical stab. Strategy first; then tactical.
Remember, also, that not stabbing is a diplomatic tool. After you donít stab, itís worth considering telling the player you didnít stab how you didnít stab them. Itís an effective disarming tool against many players; having said that strategy always trumps tactics it is also important to remember that all elements of the game interact with each other.
The stab is the most powerful tool of the tactical arsenal, but only when you see it as a tool to achieve your strategic objectives will you go from intermediate stabs that look good to seeing the stabs that genuinely lead you to game winning positions.
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