“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.
In Chapter 6, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of Russia. Russia is my favorite power to play by far. It arguably has greater ability to influence both theaters than any other power, requires constant negotiations with other powers, and in my experience, is extremely resilient. For more discussion about playing Russia check out the Wise Old Weasel.
By the end of the 1970s, several named Diplomacy openings had already been popularized. Richard discuss (and names!) several of the openings in his book. There are a ton of openings for the Russian, but the primary openings Richard covers are the Southern Defense (most popular in his club and among the Weasels), Rumanian Opening, and his personal favorite, a Northern Opening he names the Octopus.
As with the openings for several other of the Great Powers, it is interesting to me how much Richard’s club Meta plays into the openings he recommends. He has a strong preference for a Northern opening combined with an alliance with Austria. Outside of this author, very few Weasels prefer the northern opening, partially I suspect because of our club’s propensity to have Turkey open to Armenia. What is particularly fascinating to me is that in Richard’s meta, Norway seems to be negotiable and Germany seems to encourage the Northern opening. In my experience Germany doesn’t love having that much Russian involvement in Scandinavia and England views it is as downright hostile.
Friends and Enemies
Richard’s opinions on Russian alliances are remarkably straightforward for a power with so many neighbors and options. He simplifies his theory towards Russian neighbors by saying “[Russia]can choose between two good potential allies, Austria and Italy.” He views Turkey and Germany as threats, and England as only partially useful as an ally. I find the hostility towards Turkey the most curious. Many find the “Juggernaut” to be one of the most powerful alliances in the game.
An area that we both agree on are that if Russia is viable entering the mid-game, they become one of the most dangerous powers on the game board.
There are a lot of similarities between how Richard Sharp plays Russia and my own experiences. We both love to play Russia. We both like the Northern opening. We both like the Wintergreen Italian / Russian alliance. However, despite these similarities there are significant differences in how we approach the game. I tend to play Russia much more patiently than Richard describes. Rather than dictating the tempo of the game, I prefer to play it slow in the early game and focus on position. I believe Russia’s most effective moves come in the mid-game when one theater begins to wrap up and the opposite theater must react. Many players feel differently, but very few feel differently that also strongly prefer the Northern Opening and early game Austria alliance. It makes me wonder if we will ever see a shift back to this sort of meta in the face-to-face hobby.