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Book Review: “The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp – Chapter 7: Turkey

Book cover for Richard Sharp's The Game of Diplomacy showing the title and a portion of the Diplomacy board

“The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp has been one of the most influential strategy books I have read about the game of Diplomacy. Written in 1978, this book was one of the first of its kind and helped me develop a passion for the more academic/theoretical side of Diplomacy strategy. Much of this book’s content is based on the records and meta from the 1970s postal hobby and does not always translate to the modern game. However, it is still useful as a foundation for Diplomacy strategic theory. 

This is a series of posts designed to encourage conversation regarding the book, similar to a book club. To facilitate conversation, I have created a post per chapter to allow Weasels to read and discuss the chapter’s content. 

I dislike playing Turkey in face-to-face Diplomacy. In the postal game, on the other hand, I absolutely loathe it.

Turkey

In Chapter 7, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of Turkey. Richard describes playing Turkey as “claustrophobic, inflexible and frustrating.” Clearly Turkey is not a taste that Richard has acquired. Personally, I enjoy playing Turkey. It isn’t my favorite power, but it’s always held a soft spot in my heart because it was my Power of choice when I was first learning the game. For more discussion about playing Turkey check out the Wise Old Weasel

I remember a friend telling me of a nightmare he had had, in which he was shut up alone with an unreliable ball-point pen, a pad of absorbent paper and a supply of weak instant coffee, and asked to write 5,000 words on Turkish opening theory.

Openings

Regardless of how one feels about playing Turkey, one must agree with Richard’s assessment that “no country has less choice in the opening.” Aside from some edge cases involving Russian and Turkish shenanigans, the only real choice Turkey needs to make in its opening is what to do with the army in Smyrna. 

What is particularly entertaining to me is that it appears the 1970’s postal hobby preferred the Sundstrom opening (which Richard calls the Russian Attack), sending Smyrna to Armenia as the “standard” opening. At the time this article was written, Richard describes sending Smyrna to Constantinople (which Richard calls the Russian Defense) as an opening that is “gaining in popularity nowdays.” He wasn’t wrong. Outside of the Weasels club, the Armenian opening is rarely seen in the modern hobby. 

Discussion of Turkish openings in a “Sundstrom opening is normal” meta is fascinating. Richard indicates that in his club, this opening would generate Austrian hostility because Austrian players in his club felt that Turkey would be too powerful if they were successful. In our club, the tendency seems to be for Austria to team up with Turkey to take out Russia quickly, or for Russia and Turkey to come to an agreement and convoy the army out of Armenia. Of course, this is the same meta where early game Italian and Austrian conflict was the norm, and it seems Russia tended to open North more frequently than we see in Weasel club play. It is also very telling that Richard names the opening Russian Attack. It is apparent that Richard never had a chance to sit down and discuss the opening with Matt Sundstrom who will be happy to explain how the opening does not necessarily need to be anti-Russian. 

 

Friends? What friends?

Friends and Enemies

Richard loathes playing Turkey. His views on Turkish diplomacy are fatalistic and extremely limiting. He values the Juggernaut alliance between Russia and Turkey but doesn’t believe Turkey can beat Russia in the long game. He doesn’t see any chance at a long term Austria / Turkish or Italian / Turkish alliance. I feel like his perspective is extremely impatient and doesn’t play to Turkey’s strengths. It’s likely Turkey just isn’t the best power for Richard’s personal play style. 

One must also remember Richard’s meta is postal games. His focus appears to primarily be on whether or not Turkey can solo. With Weasel club scoring heavily rewarding board tops, the dynamic between all of Turkey’s neighbors shifts and like fellow corner power England, Turkey is in great position to snipe a few centers to pull off a board top at the end of the game. 

A country for tenacious, uncommunicative, unambitious tacticians, Turkey bores me to death.

Summary

In my opinion, Richard hates playing Turkey because his playstyle doesn’t appear to be very patient. When describing Turkish strategy, Windy City Weasel Club founder Jim O’Kelley said “At some point, the Westerners will come East, and when that happens, your game will open up. Wait for it.” In my opinion, this is the single most important piece of advice for playing Turkey and a perspective I just don’t see in Richard’s book. Richard is correct that Turkey won’t be the first choice for an ally from most of their neighbors. However, unlike most other powers, Turkey doesn’t need an ally in the early game. Turkey just needs to remain viable until the mid-game and then good things will happen. 

 

More from this series...

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Find out more about an upcoming event or article, talk smack before a game, brag about your board top, or most likely, ask what on earth your fellow Weasels were thinking!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Chris Kelly

    I guess we have the author’s distaste for playing Turkey to thank here, but this is a much sharper (no pun intended) and more concise piece than his chapter on Russia. I agree with you that the solo-or-bust mindset imposed on Sharp by the scoring/conventions of Diplomacy when he wrote this, and his personal inclination toward impatience, are key factors in his anti-Turkish bias. (Very savvy quote from Jim O’Kelley, too.)

    Saying that “Turkey doesn’t need an ally in the early game” may be a bit of an overstatement, though, because it’s not uncommon for Turkey’s neighbors to gang up on him/her specifically in order to make sure that Turkey isn’t viable when the midgame comes.

  2. Mike Morrison

    I would be remiss in not mentioning that Turkey has more options in the beginning than you think. I remember doing pretty okay with a move to both Armenia and Smyrna in S01 one game. I believe it was Nate Cockerill in Russia. The game was at his house anyway. I probably told him I was bouncing him in Black before the move. It worked better than any alliance agreement ever would have. I give you, that’s a limited use option.

  3. Bryan Pravel

    I completely agree there are some fun ways for Russia and Turkey to work together out of the gate, but imho those are low percentage plays. You need the right mix of personalities to make something like that work. When it does, it’s loads of fun for the R/T and really boring for the I/A who has to lock things down and hope someone in the R/T gets frustrated and stabs.

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