I received a note in February 2014 from the GM of a 1900 game on DPJudge who was alarmed by what he had witnessed at the conclusion of the Fall ’00 turn. The GM’s note read as follows:
Wow. Is this good? "Let's kill France" become an immediate NINE builds for the BiG alliance with a remove for France? Dang. I know 1900 has high marks for map balance but… is this an issue to be looked into?
Good question. Any time we see such lopsided results, it is probably worthwhile to ask what happened. Let us take a moment now to examine the situation that existed at the conclusion of the Spring ’00, what actually took place during the Fall ’00 turn, and what the President could have done during the Fall ’00 turn to mitigate the catastrophe the GM described from befalling the Third Republic.
Even without the ability to eavesdrop in on the negotiations between Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, two things appear obvious.
First, it seems abundantly clear that Britain and Germany in particular, and most likely Italy too, each took an anti-French stance to open the game. Britain simply does not open F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean and F Gibraltar S F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean unless the Prime Minister has decided that France is the enemy. Likewise, Germany does not open to Alsace unless the Kaiser plans to move aggressively against France. With Italy, the movement of A Rome usually signals the Pope’s intentions. If A Rome heads north to Piedmont, as it did in this contest, it generally signals that F/I relations are unclear at best or openly hostile at worst.
Before I continue, I want to take a moment to look at Germany’s opening moves. I will confess that I find them a bit puzzling. A Berlin to Kiel is no surprise at all. In the two hundred twenty eight 1900 games I have recorded to date, Germany makes this move 74.1% of the time. Likewise, A Munich to Alsace makes sense if the plan is to execute an overwhelming assault on France right out of the gates. This is because A Alsace threatens Burgundy, a space so critical to France that the President cannot avoid responding to the danger. A Alsace also gives the Kaiser the ability to work with both the German army in Belgium and the Italian army in Switzerland. Except there is no German army in Belgium! Instead, that army is sitting in Netherlands. The question that comes to mind is “Why?” A Cologne to Netherlands is not unheard of. Kaisers have used it 18.0% of the time. The problem with sending the good soldiers of Cologne to admire the lovely Dutch tulips is that this order is not nearly as strong as A Cologne to Belgium. Moving F Kiel to Helgoland Bight is nothing short of bizarre. In fact, this is the first time that any Kaiser has used this opening in any of the 1900 games I have records of. The most common opening for F Kiel by far (79.8%) is to set sail for Denmark, as doing so gives Germany a sure build and provides the Kaiser with a huge bargaining chip to play in his talks with the Tsar.
The second obvious conclusion from the Spring ’00 turn is that the President believed France had an alliance with the Britain and that war with Italy was imminent. Three of the President’s four opening moves support this conclusion.
For starters, A Marseilles advanced into Piedmont. Given that the Pope orders A Piedmont to Rome 48.9% of the time and that this opening often serves as a precursor to an Italian attack on Marseilles during the Fall ’00 turn, I am a little surprised that Presidents do not take the extremely effective expedient of ordering A Marseilles to Piedmont more often. When the President uses it, A Marseilles to Piedmont guarantees that Italy will not be able to take Marseilles on its own in Fall ’00. The only way for Italy to take Marseilles in Fall ’00 is for the Pope to have A Milan support the move to Piedmont to defeat the French invasion and let Germany take Switzerland so that Italian A Piedmont can have support when moving to Marseilles. Understandably, most Popes are loath to let their large and powerful neighbor to the north take Switzerland. Doing so raises the very real prospect that Italy will not gain a single build during the Winter ’00 turn. Rather than put Italy on its back foot right out of the gates, Presidents use A Marseilles to Piedmont only 8.4% of the time and they use the equally anti-Italian A Marseilles to Switzerland only 22.0% of the time. By far, the most popular use of A Marseilles is for an invasion of Spain (53.3%). Given France’s and Italy’s rather dismal record of cooperation in 1900 contests, I find the predominance of this rather trusting opening interesting. Rather than get too far off track, however, I will save this discussion for the next article.
While A Marseilles to Piedmont does not say much about France’s relations with Britain, the same cannot be said of A Algeria to Tunisia. I will admit I am not a huge fan of this opening. I prefer A Algeria to Southern Algeria, as this move allows the President to potentially influence what takes place in both Morocco and Tripolitania. To date, most Presidents have shown that they too prefer to head south rather than east, if only by a narrow margin (18.1% versus 16.7%). The most popular opening for A Algeria is to send the soldiers west to Morocco. Presidents do this in 57.3% of all games. Given that the President in this game did not go for either Morocco, which usually signals bad or ambiguous relations between Britain and France, or Southern Algeria, a move that might send the message to London that Paris is hedging its bets, I feel confident in concluding that the President believed his rear areas were secure from British depredations.
The movement of F Brest to Picardy further reinforces this conclusion. There can be no mistaking the message this move sends to Berlin. France has it eyes on Belgium, a supply center that Germany claims as its own in 1900 games (and with good reason, as the Reich claims Belgium first in 75.4% of 1900 games played versus only 16.7% for France and 6.67% for Britain).
The three moves I discuss above are all in keeping with a B/F alliance against G/I. The anomaly in my mind is A Paris to Gascony. Though I believe this is generally a very strong opening for France, it strikes me as out of place if the President believes Britain is his staunch ally, as the other moves suggest, and G/I are the targeted foes. I would have anticipated A Paris to Burgundy, a move Presidents make 48.5% of the time. Given the actual Spring ’00 German and Italian moves, and the British moves the President most likely expected (F London to North Sea, F Edinburgh to Norwegian Sea, and F Egypt to Cyrenaica) a French army in Burgundy would have given B/F an advantage over G/I. This is because B/F would have three builds in the bank (i.e., Morocco and Norway to Britain, Tripolitania to France) while G/I would only have one sure build (for German occupation of Netherlands). Belgium, Denmark, and Switzerland would all be in play and the burden of guessing correctly would fall on G/I instead of B/F. With the French army sitting in far-away Gascony, Switzerland falls squarely into Italy’s hands and German prospects for getting two builds for taking two out of Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands improve.
Sadly for France, the British prove duplicitous. Thus France faces the situation depicted in the Spring ’00 map shown earlier.
Unfortunately for Frenchmen everywhere, the President’s response to this crisis is so stunningly awful, so overwhelmingly inept, that one is forced to wonder if he was on the British payroll.
In a word, yuk! The situation depicted in the Fall ’00 map above is every bit as terrible as the game’s GM describes. Britain gains four supply centers (Brest, Morocco, Norway, and Portugal), Germany gains three (Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands), Italy gains two (Greece and Switzerland), and France loses one (Brest). That is nine total builds for B/G/I (though Britain must defer one build) and one disband for France. To the surprise of no one I am sure, France was gone by Fall ’01. I doubt anyone lamented its passing.
Of course, it need not and should not have gone this way. Let us examine the French response move by move and compare what the President did do with what he could have done.
Actual move: A Tunisia to Algeria.
Why, we must ask, did the President order this? The Algerian SC was absolutely safe from both Britain and Italy, and a lone army in Algeria was unlikely to accomplish anything. I think it would have been far more productive to stick to what was probably the original plan and move the army to Tripolitania. The result could only have been positive. If Italy had moved F Ionian Sea to Tripolitania instead of moving it to Greece, the French and Italian units would have bounced and Italy would have only gotten one build instead of two. With Italy going to Greece, as it did, France would have claimed a supply center. Even better, the French army would have been closer to Egypt than any British or Italian unit. Depending on what the Ottomans built, the French Armée d'Afrique might have been able to make a successful dash to the Land of the Pharaohs and strike a blow to the British Leviathan.
Actual move: A Gascony to Paris.
I mentioned earlier how I would have expected A Paris to move to Burgundy in Spring ’00 so that it could contribute forcefully to a campaign against G/I. Had Britain been a loyal French ally, I feel that A Paris to Gascony would have been an error. As it turns out, though, having the army in Gascony positioned it in a place where it would have been far more useful against B/G/I than A Burgundy would have been. Consider:
The bottom line is that any of the above options promised to accomplish more than doubling back to the City of Lights would accomplish. Moving A Gascony to Paris was effectively pointless.
Actual move: F Picardy H
This is arguably the most pathetic and puzzling response to B/G/I aggression that one could possibly imagine.
I stated earlier that I would have expected the Kaiser to use A Alsace to support A Netherlands to Belgium. Because the Kaiser chose to use A Alsace to invade Burgundy, France moving F Picardy to Belgium would have kept Belgium neutral and denied Germany a build. The fact that the President did not gamble on the Kaiser taking some risk does not surprise me, however. This is because France had a 100% guaranteed move that would have kept the British out of Brest: F Picardy to Brest supported by A Gascony. It is at this point that the President’s ability to read between the lines of what the other players are saying to divine their true intentions becomes critical in determining whether to take risk or go with the sure thing. If the President is a gambler, he may roll the dice on the Prime Minister realizing the futility of attacking Brest and using F Mid-Atlantic Ocean to capture a supply center in Iberia. This would allow the President to use A Gascony in any of the other ways I listed earlier. If things had broken perfectly for France, F Picardy would have bounced F English Channel out of Brest and A Gascony would be in Spain (see the Winter ’00 map above). Fundamental to any success against Britain, though, is actually moving F Picardy to Brest in the first place. Why this did not happen is anyone’s guess.
In summary, the President played the Fall ’00 turn like he was in a hurry to be eliminated. Given the actual British, German, and Italian moves, France should have limited Britain to three builds (for Morocco, Norway, and Portugal), while Germany and Italy got three and two builds respectively (Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands for Germany; Greece and Switzerland for Italy). France itself should have gotten one build for Tripolitania. This changes the score from B/G/I +9 and France -1 to B/G/I +8 and France +1, a swing of three units. With daring and luck, France might have gotten a second build by claiming Spain. Though the odds remain long (B/G/I’s nineteen units against France’s six units), a six unit France still has options that are simply not available to a three unit France.
Even if we agree that the President in this particular game did not respond optimally (to be kind) to the situation he found himself in after the Spring ’00 turn, the question remains whether or not I went too far in emasculating France when I designed 1900. I think this is a topic worth discussing and I hope to do so in the next issue of the DipPouch ‘Zine.
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