Lecture #7: Strategy: Geography is Destiny? 1 of 2


Back in lecture #1, I wrote, “The key relationships at the start are dictated by geography; the powers nearest to you will be most critical in the opening.” The next strategy lectures (this one and another later on) revisit the concept of the effect of geography on the game in more detail.

The powers are often analyzed based where they sit among two “triangles”,
the western triangle: England-France-Germany, and
the eastern triangle: Austria-Russia-Turkey.

Italy, and to a lesser extent Russia, are swing powers that have a foot in both spheres. Italy, outside of either triangle, can choose which to address first. Russia, while firmly in the east, starts with fleet StP, a unit that that can only be used in the west.

Most games evolve with each of the two triangles breaking into 2 v 1 conflicts in the opening. Why does this happen? The answer lies in the interplay of geography and diplomacy.

First, the central powers of Germany & Austria, usually decide that war in the opening between them is suicidal, making all too possible a devastating 2-front war should the powers on the edge of the board choose to take advantage. Instead, they “put their backs to each other” and face the edge. By doing so, they create a wall in the middle of the board that separates the east and west.

Second, the corner powers of England and Turkey are much more prone to grow through one of the powers in their triangle, and this in turn focuses the attention of ALL three powers in each triangle on one another. It doesn’t necessarily make E & T targets in their triangles, but it makes resolving relationships within the triangles a priority for the participants.

Finally, as I mentioned in that first lecture, 2-way alliances are the most common because they are the simplest form of cooperation. It is natural for a 2-way alliance to gang up on the third member of their triangle, the odd power out.

Of course there can be exceptions; France can pursue a Mediterranean strategy, Russia or England can pursue a northern strategy, and Austria can look west just as Germany can look east. Such strategies however are not usually successful without a diplomatic framework that resolves the applicable triangle, so that the power does not become the target of the other two. In addition, some triple alliances may upset the resolution of the triangles, but the fact that they are harder to create and sustain diplomatically, makes them less common.

What do you do with this insight? Ask yourself, how has your triangle evolved? Are you on the larger or smaller side of a 2 v 1 conflict? If you are on the smaller/losing side, what are you going to do diplomatically to change that? If you are on the winning side, is your triangle resolving faster than the other? If not, what are you going to do to address a potential threat from the other side of the board? If so, how are you going to take advantage of it? These are some of the principle effects geography should have on your strategic thinking.


Some players feel that geography favors certain alliances or creates certain enemies. You definitely get that impression from a great number of the country-specific strategy articles that are out there.

Personally, I am in the camp that any combination of powers can work together with good diplomacy. In short, relationships can trump geography. However, when you are in a game, the biases that players bring to the power they are playing is part of the diplomatic framework that you need to figure out as you develop your strategy. You will not be successful in forming an alliance with a player that is convinced that geography dictates your two powers must fight.


The creator of Diplomacy, Allan Calhamer wrote an article describing the effect geography on the game including diagram that came to be known as a “Calhamer network.”


Figure 2 shows the two triangles I have described above. Figure 6 adds an additional connection (Italy-Turkey) which most players today acknowledge as important (it wasn’t always so in the beginning of the hobby.)

Richard Sharp literally wrote the book on the game, The Game of Diplomacy. Sharp was a big player and publisher in the early days of the postal hobby. I do not agree with everything he writes (and it is said that Sharp himself changed his mind about some of the opinions expressed in the book), however, he is widely read so you should be aware of him. His views on the German-Austrian relationship, and his strategy for them which he dubbed “Anschluss”, have been very influential.


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