This is the third and final installment in a series of articles I have written for the DipPouch ‘Zine concerning the play of France in the 1900 variant. The first article looked at a worst case scenario: in one particular game France actually lost a supply center (SC) in the first game year while its three immediate neighbors and enemies, Britain, Germany, and Italy, combined for a whopping nine (!!!) builds. France’s first game year was such a catastrophe that it prompted the GM to write to me and express his concerns about 1900‘s play balance. The gist of that first article was my attempt to show that the President could not have played more poorly if he had been deliberately trying to have the other Powers eliminate France as quickly as possible, which, as came out after the game, was indeed his goal after he saw that his British ally had betrayed him in the first game-turn. The second article began by examining 1900‘s overall play balance and comparing it to Classic’s play balance. I then focused on France. The data I presented clearly showed that 1900’s France has a much lower success rate than its Classic counterpart. Francophiles everywhere might have become despondent over the Third Republic’s prospects after reviewing the data I provided. The intent of this article is to give future Presidents hope by going over some very basic things they can do to further the French cause.
Before I get started, I want to ensure everyone understands that there is no magic formula that will guarantee French success any more than there is a sure way to take the other Great Powers in 1900 to victory. First and foremost, the key to success in 1900, as in Classic and any other Diplomacy variant, is a good grasp of tactics and strategy, and solid negotiations that persuade other players to act in concert with your own agendas. In the Gamers’ Guide to 1900, I borrowed a quote from D.J. Goodspeed’s excellent book The German Wars: 1914-1945. Goodspeed commented that “The historian is almost tempted to conclude that between 1890 and 1914 France possessed the only really skillful diplomats in Europe.” There is no doubt in my mind that the President will have to work just as hard as his or her historical counterparts did to give the Third Republic its best chance of succeeding in the cutthroat environment that the 1900 variant presents.
So, without any further ado, let us address those items that should occupy the President’s attention as he or she starts a 1900 game.
Take care of business in the Western Triangle. I have mentioned elsewhere that Classic’s basic dynamic focuses on the interrelations within two triangles: E/F/G and A/R/T. Italy interacts with both triangles, but is not truly a part of either. 1900’s basic dynamic is different. It consists of two overlapping and unequal quadrangles: B/F/G/I and A/G/R/T. What makes these quadrangles unequal is that two members in each quadrangle, B/I in the west and G/T in the east, have little or no ability to support or attack each other in the early going.
Despite the different dynamic, the fact remains that the equivalent of Classic’s western triangle, B/F/G, still exists in 1900. Though relations with Italy are extremely important to the decision makers in Paris, I want to focus on the Third Republic’s relations with Britain and Germany first because success within the B/F/G triangle is paramount. Just as in Classic, the absolute, most important, “cannot fail” mission for any President at game-start is to ensure France is not the odd power out (OPO) in the western triangle. If France faces a B/G at game-start, its chances for success are severely impaired. This is true even if the President can count on the Pope’s friendship because Italy is simply not well positioned to assist France against B/G. Indeed, just the opposite is true: Italy is supremely well positioned to jump on the pile when France starts to falter under the B/G assault.
If the President can secure an alliance with Britain or Germany (or both!), a world of possibilities opens up. At worst, the OPO in the west, Britain or Germany, allies with Italy and the west stalemates until an eastern Power intervenes. At best, France and its ally quickly overwhelm the OPO. If this occurs, France can continue working with its ally to move eastward (usually in conjunction with an eastern Power) or begin working with Italy (and usually an eastern Power) against its former ally. Of course, the President must once again ensure that France is not the OPO in the new western triangle consisting of France, Britain or Germany, and Italy, but the overall French position is likely to be stronger than it was at game- start because:
What are French chances of avoiding the dreaded OPO role within the western triangle? If the western triangle was perfectly balanced, we would expect a B/F or an F/G to emerge approximately two games out of three in a large number of games. Of course, the western triangle is not perfectly balanced. Given this, the President must strive to ensure the Prime Minister and Kaiser believe it is to their advantage to ally with France instead of attack France. I will not go into the pros and cons of B/F and F/G here, as they are covered in detail in the Gamers’ Guide to 1900. Instead I will simply say that the President should have no trouble making a strong case for France.
Neutralize Italy. The general perception amongst the 1900 community is that Italy’s orientation is westward and that France and Italy are exponentially more likely to come to blows than they are to cooperate. A quick examination of the results of the two hundred thirty-one completed games that I have recorded as of the writing of this article appears to support this position. Consider:
These numbers do not tell the whole story, however.
So what can we take from all of the above? I would sum it up as follows:
Trying to balance the demands created by an alliance with Britain or Germany with a sincere desire to maintain benign neutrality or an alliance with Italy will likely force the President to face decisions at game-start that would challenge a Solomon.
Throughout the negotiations with Britain and Germany, the President must carefully weigh the risks of keeping the Pope “in the loop.” Maintaining an open and ongoing dialog with Rome may build trust and cement a relationship, but it might reveal plans that Paris intended to keep secret. The opposite scenarios are equally plausible. Being tight-lipped with Rome may prevent vital French intelligence from leaking, but it could result in growing Italian suspicions and mistrust over the President’s intentions. It is admittedly a tough call, but that is why Presidents are paid the big bucks.
Always keep in mind, though, that relations with Italy are secondary to cementing an alliance with either Britain or Germany. If Franco-Italian hostility is the price the President must pay to secure that all important alliance with the British or Germans, then hostility it must be. If war with Italy is inevitable, the President can take some comfort in knowing that B/F or F/G can take actions that will place the Pope on his back foot at game-start and lessen the impact of the inevitable Italian riposte.
Avoid the “African Trap.” I mentioned in my last article that French prospects for early builds look good at first glance (+2 38.0%, +3 18.2%), but we must keep in mind that one of these builds usually comes from an SC Armée d'Afrique captured in North Africa. Algeria is not a French home SC, which means the resulting build must appear in Metropolitan France. This creates the generally untenable position where France has to defend two North African SCs with only one unit. I say this position is “generally untenable” because France will frequently find itself fighting Britain and/or Italy. Both of these Great Powers will have naval units in the vicinity of French North Africa that can seize the SC Armée d'Afrique does not protect. This might mean that the President has to remove a unit from Metropolitan France when the loss of even a single unit could be critical. Even worse from a French perspective, Britain and particularly Italy can use the build they got from capturing a French North African SC to reinforce their Mediterranean position and eventually overpower Armée d’Afrique. If the President removed Armée d’Afrique after losing the first North African SC to avoid stripping units from the front in France, the easy capture of the second North African SC could prove the beginning of the end.
The above paragraph may lead some to believe that I advocate France passing up the opportunity to get an easy build by taking Morocco or Tripolitania. This is not the case, though I do believe using Armée d’Afrique to gain a build should be more calculated and less a reflex action. What do I mean by “calculated”? I primarily mean that the President must appreciate that his or her hold on SCs in French North Africa is tenuous at game-start and that he or she should plan accordingly. Let us explore the options the President has.
An alliance with Britain immediately strengthens the French position in North Africa, as the British can immediately provide the Mediterranean flotilla to keep the Regina Marina at bay. I have seen many games in which Britain and France hold all four of the SCs on the North African coast. I still believe the President must be wary of overextending Armée d’Afrique to avoid making French possessions in Africa look like an easy target for a British stab, but this becomes a matter of risk management.
Alliance with Britain certainly facilitates the President’s efforts to either to reinforce the French position in North Africa or pull out entirely.
Consider that France opens with F Brest to Mid-Atlantic Ocean in approximately 58.5% of its games. Somewhat to my surprise, F Mid-Atlantic Ocean seems to end up in Iberia (usually Portugal) the vast majority of the time. If the President and Prime Minister agree to split the Mediterranean, it makes sense to me to move F Mid-Atlantic Ocean to Morocco. From there, the President can move the French fleet into the Mediterranean itself. Having a La Royale unit sitting in the Western Mediterranean Sea makes the French position in western North Africa and Iberia much more secure defensively, especially if Italy is hostile, as Italy is likely to be in this particular scenario. It also gives France more offensive flexibility because the fleet can move eastward in tandem with Armée d’Afrique or convoy the army to the European continent, perhaps Italy itself.
If the President wants to keep his options open with regard to Italy or he believes abandoning North Africa will cement an alliance with Britain by providing promises of territorial gain and reducing the inherent conflict that exists in an Anglo-French alliance, he or she might suggest that Britain take control of French North Africa. B/F can easily contrive to give Britain a commanding position in the Mediterranean by having Britain’s F Gibraltar move to Western Mediterranean in Spring ‘00, while Armée d'Afrique moves from Algeria to Morocco. In Fall ’00, Britain takes Algeria, while Armée d’Afrique holds. Though France does not get a build out of this unit shuffling, there are some advantages to consider:
What if Britain is not friendly at game-start? One thing the President can do to mitigate against Rome teaming up with London is to tell the Pope that France recognizes Italy’s inherent interests in Switzerland and the Mediterranean. To demonstrate his or her good intentions towards Italy, the President will move Armée d’Afrique west and out of Africa as quickly as the situation allows. The President would then attempt to move Armée d’Afrique to Morocco and ultimately Iberia in the manner I described earlier. With French promises that it will surrender Algeria and Morocco peacefully, Rome may be much more inclined to bank these builds and pursue its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Though France stands to gain little materially from such an arrangement, the diplomatic capital France potentially gains in Rome might come in handy when British and Italian units start co-mingling in Mare Nostrum. If Britain grabs Morocco and Algeria for itself, the Pope might view the British capture of SCs he was counting on as sufficient justification for war with Albion.
I realize my suggestion that the President consider abandoning North Africa is a slap in the face to French elan, but I will go back to something I stated earlier. The French position in North Africa is tenuous at game-start. It may be wiser for the President to follow a Bismarkian Realpolitik approach than trundle down a path that satisfies French pride, but accomplishes little else.
Do not ignore the East. I will not spend a lot of time on this topic because any advice I offer here strikes me as self-evident. It only takes a quick look at the map to confirm that France has virtually no direct contact with Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey at game-start, while its western rivals all pose a potential threat to at least two of their eastern neighbors. This fact of geography allows the President to talk with Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Constantinople on good terms and in equal measure, and to offer itself as a good partner in a potential triple alliance.
If alliance with Britain appears promising and war with the Second Reich seems probable, France should help broker an alliance between Austria-Hungary and Russia. The merits of a game-start A/R against Germany is a topic I intend to discuss in a future article, but it will suffice to say here that seeing red and white blocks moving west (A Vienna to Bohemia, A Trieste to Tyrolia, and A Warsaw to Silesia) will likely throw cold water on any German attack on the Third Republic.
If, on the other hand, alliance with Germany seems in the offing and relations with Britain are chilly, Paris should use whatever influence it has in St. Petersburg and Constantinople to encourage Russo- Turkish cooperation. In particular is should suggest an aggressive opening against Britain. A Russian opening of A Moscow to St. Petersburg and a Turkish opening of A Damascus to Palestine are likely to cause the Prime Minister to break out into a cold sweat, particularly if he or she used the Blitz in Spring ’00 (F London to English Channel, F Edinburgh to North Sea, F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean, and F Gibraltar S F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean).
If Italy seems unreceptive to French overtures, Paris should work to bring Austria-Hungary and Turkey together against the common Italian foe. The Sultan should need little encouragement to curb Italian growth, as overall Italian success often comes at Turkey’s expense. In particular, the President should encourage the Sultan to open A Constantinople to Macedonia instead of to Bulgaria. This makes the Italian conquest of Greece far less certain (and is really a better opening for the Sultan in any case). As for Austria-Hungary, it is highly unlikely the President will be able to convince the Archduke to open with A Trieste to Venetia (it has happened only seven times in the games I have recorded) even though such an opening is not without promise for Austria-Hungary. If a game-start attack on Italy is not in Vienna’s plans, the Archduke might be persuaded to look west in 1901 if the first game year went well from his perspective. The panic an Austro-Hungarian thrust into Italy might create in Rome may cause the Pope to be much less belligerent towards his French neighbor.
In summary, let me underscore the fact that 1900’s France is the weak sister in the west. This reality actually mirrors the historical situation that existed at the dawn of the 20th century. Given the relative frailty of the French position at game-start, it does no good for the President to act the bully, to be intransigent, or to make threats. Instead, the President must be the consummate diplomat. He or she must talk to everyone and quickly get a good read on everyone’s mood. The President must also be active, pragmatic, and flexible, as the road to mid-game and possible victory is seldom straight or easy. The simple truth is that France is quite capable of earning a share of a draw or claiming a solo outright. To do so, however, it must survive the game’s early turns. My hope is that I have given future Presidents some insights that will allow them to take Marianne to the victory ball after the fighting stops.
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