Starting Out – Diplomacy in 1901


OK, so 1901 (or, in some variants, the first year of action) is only the first year of the game. Make a mistake here and there is still time to correct it. Games are seldom completely won or lost in 1901. Fair enough, as far as it goes, but 1901 is your springboard into the game. It is the platform from which you will be building the grand strategy that will lead you to the end-game. As such, you need to know how to play it.

The Double-length First Deadline.

The first noticeable aspect of the game, once it starts, is that the Spring 1901 deadline is double the length of every other movement phase deadline. There’s a reason for that. When Allan B Calhamer designed the game, he wanted it to mimic, to some extent, the web of alliances that existed in pre-WWI Europe. This isn’t the place to go into these in detail; it is enough to say that many powers had bilateral as well as multi-lateral alliances and agreements, most of them secret and many of them conflicting. These alliances had roots that reached back into the 19th Century. In Dip, we don’t have that time frame. To create something similar, 1901 needs to be longer.

There is a practical reason, also. When the game starts you need to contact everyone else in the game, not just the powers next door. More on this below. If you tried to do this within the normal deadline, especially for a face-to-face (FTF) game (which is, after all, the game Calhamer wrote the rules for) you wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. In fact, in an FTF game, there is barely time for this anyway!

One criticism of the site’s double-length deadline is that it not only isn’t necessary but it diminishes the importance of later negotiations. Spring 1901 is double-length so why shouldn’t Fall 1901 be also? After all, in Spring 1901 nobody has done anything “on the board” whereas in Fall 1901 at least you have something to negotiate about!

The first thing to say in response is that, whilst a double-length deadline may seem to not be absolutely necessary for the online game (and I’m ignoring the fact that players may not be in the same or even near timezones and that this may lead to slower negotiations), that isn’t what we’re considering. Here, if not on every site, we apply the rules of Diplomacy; those rules state that the Spring 1901 deadline is double the length of other deadlines.

The second thing to say is that the double-length deadline is not necessarily about negotiating about units and orders. Whilst these early negotiations may have some part of the negotiations, they are not the key aspect, as I discuss below.

Spring 1901.

In the first turn, you know where everything and everyone is (again, I’m restricting my comments to the classic game, not variants). You may well approach the turn knowing exactly what you want to do with your orders. You may even put those orders straight into the game and THEN negotiate.

Another comment I recently read on Spring 1901 is that experienced players, in an FTF game, may not negotiate very much in 1901. If that is the case, they may well struggle against better players online! What I think the comment means is that they don’t negotiate their moves; they know what they’re going to do and do it.

This fits in with what I said above: you may well input orders and negotiate with other players from there. That’s fine – just don’t finalise! Spring 1901 is THE deadline to use to establish your presence in the game… and, as a result of your diplomacy, you may well wish to change your orders. So the key aspect of Spring 1901 is to use the deadline to its utmost:
1. Get on with your diplomacy. It is absolutely correct to concentrate diplomacy on your neighbours as a priority. They are the ones who will have a direct impact on your first year. They will threaten your security and even your SCs. Try to negotiate de-militarised zones (DMZs) and non-aggression pacts (NAPs) if not actual alliances. BUT don’t neglect the other powers. Spring 1901 is when you should be beginning to build the alliances you will need after the early game, when you are looking to expand beyond the local area and approach other options. At this time you will have defeated one of your neighbours (if not actually eliminated her) and will be looking at the other powers who have a direct impact upon your actions on the board. Use the deadline to establish yourself as a willing aide to the other players and to lay the foundations for the later stages of play.

2. Negotiate for later turns. In Spring 1901 the focus shouldn’t necessarily be upon your orders or the actions of your units, unless they will have a direct impact on a neighbour. Exceptions are between England and France over the Channel; between France and Germany over Burgundy; between France and Italy over Piedmont; between Italy and Austria over Venice/Trieste and Tyrolia (possibly including Germany); between Austria and Russia over Galicia, and between Russia and Turkey over Black Sea and possibly Armenia. Germany will also want to talk with her eastern and southern neighbours over the line of non-SC spaces along her borders with Russia, Austria and Italy.
However, even these areas should not be the ultimate focus. Negotiations about these should grow out of the negotiations about common goals and objectives. In fact these should themselves be the result of the main aspect of Spring 1901 diplomacy: establishing your presence. What you are trying to do is lay the foundations for future cooperation and expansion, from Fall 1901 onward. You want to appear the key ally the other player has or the helpful if distant friend to those who are not immediate neighbours. With your neighbours you definitely want to agree SC targets so that you don’t appear to threaten them.

3. Be positive. At this stage, saying no should be avoided. What you are striving for is to seem friendly, to be positive about the prospects for mutual progression and to be excited about the prospect of playing the game and, ideally, of playing it with the person you’re talking to. It’s the impression that counts at this point. If a player suggests something you don’t want to do or don’t want to happen, find another suggestion that has similar prospects. Saying “no” now runs the risk of the other player gaining the impression that you don’t want to work with him.

4. Be honest (or as honest as possible). At the end of the phase, you may well be targeting a player. This may be because diplomacy has gone distinctly better with others; it may be because you don’t feel you can work with him. That shouldn’t be communicated. What you SHOULD be doing is being honest about what you want from 1901. This, where it may cause a conflict of interest, can be softened but when your orders go through you will be able to point out that you mentioned it, at least! Certainly don’t lie for the sake of lying. Avoiding saying something is a compromise when you can’t see any other way forward.

5. Don’t play mind games. At this point, no matter what your opinion of mind games in Diplomacy, no matter how accomplished you are at them, don’t use them. Again, you want to appear trustworthy and solid. Whatever strategy you may utilise eventually, it shouldn’t be used in 1901. Concentrate on the positive impression instead.

6. Don’t mention the war. If you like, don’t negotiate about units and moves. Whether you have already decided what your orders are going to be or not; whether you have changed these orders or not; whether you decided to wait to get an impression of your neighbours before entering orders or not, these shouldn’t be a key part to your negotiations in 1901.
Your units are yours to do what you like with; your orders should be kept as secret as possible. Whilst you may agree to a DMZ in Burgundy, for instance, you don’t need to say what you’re doing with A(Mun). If France is trying to find out what A(Mun) is actually going to do either she doesn’t trust you, which has implications, or she is wanting information to barter elsewhere.
Another reason to not spend a lot of time discussing orders is that it is easy to get caught up with this. Tactical discussions can get very technical and there are more important things to discuss.

Spring 1901, then, is about creating the impression that you are honest, trustworthy, friendly, positive, enthusiastic and, basically, the best friend your opponents have in the whole of Europe. Anything that could diminish that impression is going to lessen the worth of these negotiations. Diplomacy in 1901 is about laying the first foundations for how the game is going to progress.

Fall 1901.

Diplomacy in Fall 1901 is bound to be different from that of Spring 1901. It is, for me, almost a half-way house between Spring 1901 and later turns, or a bridge between them.

The main difference between Fall and Spring 1901 is that, following the processing of orders, there are actions to discuss and negotiate over. In Spring 1901 you would have concentrated mainly on establishing yourself in the game, in Fall 1901 you will be bringing movements more into the process.

1. Continue to establish your presence. This should never really stop. You should continue to carry out diplomacy with all powers throughout the game. However, rather than simply establishing relations, it develops more and more into widening your Sphere of Influence.
In my thinking about Dip I have begun to differentiate between an Action Zone and a Sphere of Influence. Your Action Zone is the part of the board in which your units have a direct impact on the game. At this stage, 1901, this is small; later in the game it will (hopefully!) widen. Your Sphere of Influence covers your Action Zone, of course, but it is – or should be – wider. It should expand to, ultimately, incorporate the whole board to some degree.
Your Sphere of Influence is the areas of the board that you begin to exert your thoughts, opinions and advice over. This may not be helpful to the other powers, depending upon your strategy, but it is seen in the way you influence other players to act in a certain way. In 1901 you are simply beginning to build this. Later in the game you should see your influence having more effective results.
A Sphere of Influence is a complex thing and I don’t intend to go into it in great depth here. What I will say is that it takes a lot of work and that work is diplomatic. It is extremely important to maintain connections with all areas of the board.

2. Negotiate in more detail with your neighbours. As I’ve already said, you will now have actions and potential orders to discuss. You and your neighbours will see the moves already made. These need to be linked to what orders may be issued this turn. The likely areas of discussion include the maintaining or breaking of DMZ and, potentially, NAP agreements; the areas of the board where clashes may occur, and the immediate allocation of SCs. In other words the disposition of units. The chances are that you and your neighbours will need to try and reach agreement over who will get which SCs. This will probably have been breached in Spring 1901 but now it needs making concrete.
Some SCs are pretty much “naturals”. England has the right to expect to be in Norway, if she chooses. France has Spain and Portugal. Germany has Denmark and, in most circumstances, Holland. Italy has Tunis. Austria has Serbia. Turkey has Bulgaria. Russia… well, Russia has none that are certain; Rumania and Sweden are the closest she gets to this but both are also easily prevented. This is, of course, too simplistic: if Russia ordered Mos-StP, that may signal she is going to prevent England gaining Norway. England in North Sea can prevent Germany gaining Holland and, unless Germany ordered Kiel-Den, Denmark. France may be prevented from gaining Spain AND Portugal if Italy has moved to Piedmont or England to the Channel. However, unless Austria hadn’t moved into Serbia in Spring, Serbia should be secure; Turkey cannot be challenged in Bulgaria and Italy cannot be challenged in Tunis.
Other SCs are questionable and you will need some sort of agreement to capture these. Belgium is one: England, France and Germany will all have interest in having influence over who controls Belgium. Greece is open to challenge by Italy, Austria and Turkey. As previously mentioned, Russia may be challenged for Rumania, whether or not Sev-Rum was ordered in Spring; Sweden may also be prevented if Germany is in Denmark after Spring 1901.
Venice/Trieste is the one place on the board that sees a tension of home SCs from the very start of the game. It is rare that this tension can be dismissed in Fall 1901. Neither can really afford to lose her home SC to the other.
Diplomacy in Fall 1901 needs to settle the areas of conflict with regard to SCs. It is important, if not vital, to ensure that you gain at least one build in 1901. Make sure you achieve this.

3. Continue to negotiate for future turns. It becomes more complex as the number of possibilities increases as your Action Zone expands and as you consider the possibilities of future units. And it is more important in Fall 1901 to concentrate on immediate needs. However, making longer-term plans with other players establishes that you are committed to the game, which others will want to see, and that you are – apparently, at least – prepared to commit to an alliance with the power you are negotiating with. This accompanies (4) below and needs to be balanced with not over-committing to alliances and moves (see Throughout the Year below).
This includes aiming to identify more clearly common objectives. It doesn’t matter whether you intend to follow-up on these or not, whether you share the priorities of other players or not. What you want to do is establish reasons for the other player to work with you. This goes a long way to cementing the possible alliance between the two of you.

4. Continue to be positive. This becomes potentially more difficult with each turn that passes as players demonstrate on the board that they may not be as friendly as they seem. However, being positive still has the same impact throughout the game as described above, and especially so in Fall 1901. You still want players to feel that you are not going to be acting in a way that will damage their interests.

5. Discuss builds. In the FTF game and the rules players aren’t allowed to discuss retreats and builds in those phases. On PlayDip, you are. This isn’t because we don’t agree with the rule but because it is pretty much impossible to prevent it. The nature of web play is that each turn has a certain deadline and, within that deadline, players have time and opportunity to negotiate, so use it. If you don’t want to see a certain build, request that it doesn’t happen. Ideally, this process should begin in the movement phase but certainly don’t neglect it during the other phases of the turn.

6. Be wary of playing mind games. This is still important at this point. We are probably talking more about spreading rumours than trying to psych a player out. However, it is still a little early in the game to be misleading players with false rumours. You are still trying to establish yourself as someone who can be trusted. At this point, many players will still be talking to most of the players on the board. If you pass on false information, and the player discovers this, he will remember it. Later in the game, once players have decided that they “know” you, a discovery of false information will have a lesser impact upon their impression of you; established perspectives are difficult to break.

Fall 1901, then, has a widening range of topics for diplomacy. It is, however, still a turn to build upon what you have achieved in the Spring. In truth, much of what you were doing in Spring will continue, to some extent or another, throughout the game. The difference is that it will gradually be replaced by other aspects of the game. Fall 1901 begins this process and, so, bridges between the initial turn and the later turns.

Throughout the Year.

Aside from what has been mentioned above, there are perhaps two pieces of advice I would pass on that you need to keep in mind throughout the first year: don’t commit to any one alliance and don’t do anything that is going to break any potential alliance, if possible; secondly, balance aggression with caution.

These two aims are pretty much one and the same thing. The key is to be as flexible as possible. As with Spring 1901, there is a possibility that you will already have orders for Fall 1901 established in your head, although these are more likely to be changed by circumstances. However, what you need to keep in mind is that, until 1901 is complete, you will not have a clear idea of how the alliance structure in the game is developing. Any retreats and all builds need to be taken into account.

By the end of 1901 you should be able to begin to see which of your neighbours are going to be the best ally, based upon diplomacy and moves. Through 1901, though, committing to an alliance is dangerous: it leaves you open to an early betrayal. The ally you commit to may be preparing to move against you.

Alongside this is the objective of trying not to do anything that will signal aggression towards a player. This is more difficult; there is the likelihood that you can’t avoid this over the clash points discussed in Fall 1901 above – either you’ll antagonise an opponent over capturing the SC or over support for another player to capture it – or lack of support for this! Ideally, you should not be taking the SC unless you know you are going to succeed and if you are very sure of an ally. You should be trying to stay out of the argument over it.

If you can’t avoid this, then prepare the situation as part of your diplomacy. Lay the platform for the rational argument you will present for why you did what you did. And certainly have that argument ready to use! If you do antagonise a neighbour, this is going to force your hand when it comes to selecting an ally.

Throughout the whole game you need to balance aggression with caution. Being too aggressive, too expansionist, will present an opponent with the opportunity to stab you. Being too cautious will prevent you from making any progress. What you should be aiming to do is grow steadily each year. This has the added bonus of not setting off an alarm over your rapid growth amongst other players.

In 1901, what you absolutely don’t want to do is end the year without being able to effectively defend yourself against a possible attack. Of course, there may be a strategic reason to present an opponent with this opportunity – it might flush out her real intentions – and it may force the opponent’s hand, which helps you with another opponent. However, forcing an opponent’s hand, especially when it is turned against you, is also dangerous; should the other neighbour be in alliance with your opponent, you are in great difficulties.

1901 will set the tone for your game, certainly for the early game, and establish the platform from which to launch an effective campaign. At the end of it you should have achieved these objectives:
– to have established yourself in the game with all players;
– to have gained a stronger insight into which of your neighbours you should be allying with;
– to have gained at least one build;
– to be able to lay down a flexible strategy for progress through the next few years.
Ideally, you should also know which of the powers beyond your Action Zone are likely to make the best allies for later in the game.

The work you put into this year will produce the crop you yield in later years. The biggest mistake players make is to not put effort into diplomacy in 1901 and hence find themselves with limited options later on. Avoid it.

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