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Book Review: “The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp – Chapter 5: Germany

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 would rather play Germany than any other country on the board.

Germany

In Chapter 5, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of Germany. Richard clearly enjoys playing Germany, having far more success with this Power than I typically have. He describes Germany as a somewhat fluid power able to use its central location on the board to move where its opponents are weakest. For more discussion about playing Germany check out the Wise Old Weasel

The Anschluss is to my mind by far the best approach for Germany in a strong game. I would go so far as to say that it is obligatory.

Openings

Arguably, Richard Sharp’s greatest impact on the board game Diplomacy is his popularization of the “Anschluss” alliance between Germany and Austria. Richard recognized that Diplomacy is a balance of power game and that there is a strong correlation between German and Austrian success. I have found this to be true in both face-to-face and online play, across multiple clubs. It appears that in Richard’s meta, early game Italian and Austrian conflict was common so I feel he takes a stronger stance on German support for Austria than is necessary in the current Weasel meta. That being said, I agree with Richard’s theory that in the early game at least, Austria and Germany both tend to do better when they coordinate as if they were a single power and that it doesn’t hurt if the rest of the board knows about this arrangement. 

A direct result of Richard’s feelings regarding the Anschluss is that he has a strong preference for Germany holding the army in Munich or arranging a bounce with France in Burgandy. This enables Germany to apply pressure on Italy from Munich if the Italian attacks Austria. Personally I am not a fan of the hold in Munich, but I don’t hate the bounce in Burgandy. Even if France supports themselves in, it slows them down a bit.

One of my favorite descriptions of any opening is when Richard describes the “Barbarossa” opening as what to use “If your hatred of Russia is stronger than your desire to win.” 

The ideal position for Germany in about 1905 is to see the English in St Petersburg, the French in Liverpool, the Italians in Marseilles and the Germans everywhere else. Keep this pleasing picture in mind; frame it and hang it above your bed; it works.

Friends and Enemies

Outside of a strong belief that Austria and Germany should not fight (ever!), Richard seems to see positives and negatives to working with almost every other power on the board. I agree with Richard that early game conflict between Austria and Germany is horrible for both powers but as time progresses can see scenarios in which it makes sense for the two to attack each other. That being said, I am of the opinion that unless it’s towards the end of a time limited game and you’re just swiping for dots on the last turn, Austria and Germany attack each other more often than they should in Weasel club play. Crossing the stalemate line in the center of the board requires a huge investment in units with little economic gain. Doing so while you have neighbors at your back is an extremely dangerous decision. 

Richard appears much more willing to work with Russia in the early game than I am used to. His view seems to be that Germany needs the North Sea to win the game, and the English have what you need. In his opinion it’s better to encourage Russia (and France) to attack England in the early game, even at the expense of some Scandinavian centers as this increases your odds of getting control of the crucial North Sea. This is not an approach I have considered and since I am not a great German player, I’d be curious to get the opinion of others on this concept. 

On the flip side, Richard also says that in the long term, Russia is Germany’s biggest threat which is more inline with my personal experiences. I do agree with Richard that if there are signs of Turkish and Russian conflict, Russia should get Sweden. While Russia is definitely a long term threat, in the early game you don’t want England running away with Scandinavia so you don’t want Russia collapsing too quickly. My opinion is that Germany ultimately does want England in St. Petersburg but that the German wants it to take a really long time. 

No analysis of German play would be complete without a discussion of the Central Triple with Austria, Italy, and Germany which I am pleased to see Richard seems to be a big fan of. I have had the most success with Germany as part of this alliance and strongly encourage anyone who will listen to me regarding its merits. But again, this comes from someone who does not consider Germany their strongest power. 

 

 

Playing Germany is not easy: it requires skill and subtlety. But the time will come when you savor the marvelous sensation of being allied to everyone, dominating the play, knowing in almost every detail what each season’s moves will be before they happen.

Summary

Richard describes Germany as a power that thrives on chaos, pouncing when someone’s position inevitably weakens. At the same time, he describes a power that is always at risk because it always has neighbors behind its back. His advice implies a patient and scheming German. This is very different than the advice of club veteran Jake Trotta who states “Germany is arguably the most explosive country in the early game, and arguably the only country where you can easily get away with 3 01 builds.” Perhaps Germany’s greatest strength then is its flexibility, not only in its tactics, but also in its strategic options. 

 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Chris Kelly

    This chapter is one of my favorites in his book. I don’t agree with all of Sharp’s ideas, but he makes a great case against the typical opening of A Munich->Ruhr, asking what the point is: “Most players would agree that for Germany to get three builds in 1901 is to court hostility… Above all, do not be greedy about Belgium — disclaim all interest and try to make England and France fight over it. You’ll get it in the end anyway.” (I love that punch line – and will add that this is a diplomatic tactic Jake Trotta has mentioned here using to his advantage in one of his recent games.)

    The problem comes when you look at the other options for A Munich. If it bounces France in Burgundy, then unless it’s A Marseilles *and* France moves A Paris->Picardy, there is no fight over Belgium, because England can take it uncontested. If it holds while France moves to Burgundy, then its ability to intervene for or against Italy/Austria is limited. The same holds true if it moves to Tyrolia while France goes to Burgundy, with the added disadvantage that the presence of a German army in Tyrolia, bordering Italian and Austrian supply centers, may invite the kind of attention/conflict in that area of the board which Sharp claims he wants to deter.

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