Today we continue with mid-game strategy, now from the perspective of the laggards – the 2 to 4 smallest powers coming out of the opening.
Since in Diplomacy all surviving powers share equally in a draw, smaller powers are always still fully in the game. Further, in a dynamic game, large swings in fortunes of powers are possible, which makes crawling up from the bottom in the opening to the top by the end-game very feasible.
In short: great players never stop competing whatever their position. They make the most of every situation, getting the best possible outcome.
Key strategic considerations for smaller powers in the mid-game:
* Use leverage if you have it. The smaller powers in the mid-game still face the same fundamental strategic constraint that greater numbers win, but by virtue of having less force themselves, they tend to have to react to the leading powers rather than getting to cut their own path. However, a small power can still have significant diplomatic leverage if his units can provide tactical advantage in a battle between two leaders. Use that leverage to find a path to the end-game.
* Obtain strategically significant position. Just as for the leaders, position increases in importance in the mid-game for the laggards. If you are not one of the top 3 powers on the board in the end-game, you are not likely to be included in a draw UNLESS you hold a position on a stalemate line that is necessary to stop a solo threat.
* End-game timing. Players must decide whether to play to win or to draw. While smaller powers can come from behind to win, it is not realistic in all circumstances. Which objective you take may impact whether you want to try to delay or accelerate the end-game.
If you are playing to win and are behind, you typically want to delay the end-game to have time to grow and get back into contention. That implies a strategy of playing against the largest power and shifting allegiances in a balance-of-power game, attempting to prevent solo threats from emerging. By contrast, if you are playing for a draw, you may need to accelerate the end-game provided you can obtain either the force or position needed to have a spot in a draw.
* Play as a vassal state. If all else fails – you are very small or nowhere near a relevant stalemate line – you can still extend your chances by choosing to play as a vassal for a larger power. Do whatever it takes to be useful. In the most extreme cases, you can exit your home SCs and serve as mercenary units to a larger power. You need time to work your way toward a strategically important position and so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance for an equal spot in the draw.
***** OPTIONAL READING *****
Many Diplomacy players, even at the intermediate level, do not know how to play from behind. The strategy to play for a draw is different than playing for a win and in some ways counter-intuitive. In the article linked below, Woo’s analysis of the strategic thinking required to get into a draw – if drawing is your objective – is dead on. (I am less a fan of his analysis of what it takes to win, so I attach it here rather than in the first mid-game lecture.)