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Book Review: “The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp – Chapter 10: France

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. 

France’s obvious advantages are better exploited in face-to-face play, where I suspect France probably wins more games than anyone else.

France

In Chapter 10, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of France. Richard describes France as a powerful and forgiving Great Power and that it is the best of the Great Powers for new players. Few players in any club that I have been involved with (both online or in person) would disagree. Among experienced players, France may not actually be more powerful, but it certainly is one of the easiest to succeed with. For more discussion about playing France check out the Wise Old Weasel

I can best summarize France’s opening strategy by use of a local expres­sion: embarras de richesse.

Openings

On the topic of openings, Richard says “I reckon France has the biggest field of choice of any country; certainly no French opening is overwhelmingly popular, and there are few virtual duplicates…”.  This flexibility is part of what makes France such a great starting country for new players. 

The most common French opening among both the Weasels and Richard’s 1970’s postal club is the Maginot Opening where France supports Paris to Burgundy. Richard doesn’t appear to love this opening as he prefers the German alliance to the English and feels the move to Burgundy makes that more difficult. He likes another common Weasel opening, the Picardy Opening where France moves Paris to Picardy, even less. Of the Mid-Atlantic openings, his preference is the Burgundy Opening where Paris moves to Burgundy but does not support himself in. I believe his club’s local meta influences his preferences and weirdly, it seems to be Russia that causes the biggest change compared with the current Weasel meta. It goes something like this:

  1. France should arrange a bounce with Germany in Burgundy. If Germany bounces, It’s good for Germany because he stays in Munich and can help protect his best friend Austria from the stabby Italian. See the German and Austrian chapters for more about this theory. If Germany doesn’t bounce, France is in Burgundy and you didn’t upset the German because you gave them a heads up.  
  2.  Russia might open North and can bounce England out of Norway. If this happens *and* neither France or Germany can stop England from taking Belgium, England will be more likely to take the easy build and from that position, it’s easier for England to work against Germany than against France. 

That is a *lot* of ifs, and in the current Weasel meta, it is extremely unlikely that all of that happens. 

Richard also likes the Gascony Opening as an anti-English opening. I’ve played this opening a few times and don’t hate it, but in our club’s meta I feel like it’s showing your hand a bit. In my experience the only thing that Gascony opening does better than other choices is an English attack and I think our players are experienced enough to recognize this. Speaking of English attacks, Richard does not prefer the English Channel openings for France unless there is a Sealion (I’m not sure this vocabulary existed in Richard’s era).  

France’s position on the Diplomacy board gives him unusual freedom of choice in the matter of alliances.

Friends and Enemies

Richard shows a strong preference for allying with Germany over England (it’s sort of a similar argument to “kill Turkey first”) but rightly points out that the alliance with England often works in France’s favor, particularly if England gets entangled in the north with Russia and Germany. 

With the other Great Powers, it really feels like Richard prefers players to commit to bold choices. It’s interesting that with France he praises the Power’s flexibility and encourages a “wait and see” attitude. The reality is that France really is unique in that it can work with either of its neighbors and doesn’t need to make the first move. 

I agree with Richard that France prefers Russian success. In the Weasel meta, Russian and French success is strongly correlated. 

In my experience France doesn’t want to attack Italy early, but it’s almost inevitable they will fight. Richard offers sage advice when he says “…relations with Italy are delicate: you want him to do badly but survive, always a difficult thing to arrange.” You can work together with either Austria or Turkey against Italy but if you aren’t careful they can bottle you up.

The ability to play non-noncommittally in the opening without incurring any disadvantage in doing so is a great asset...

Summary

While I may differ when it comes down to specific preferred openings, on the whole I tend to agree with Richard’s assessment about France. It’s greatest power is its flexibility, followed closely by it’s fantastic defensive position. Club veteran Jake Trotta once said “If France does not die, they have a good chance to win. If France does not die and plays a mediocre game, they have a great chance to win.” I do not believe France is any more powerful than any other of the Great Powers, but it’s definitely easier to win with. 

More from this series...

Join the discussion!

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 One Comment

  1. Chris Kelly

    There seems to be a rare logic gap in Sharp’s analysis here. In this chapter, he writes: “ It is of little benefit to Germany to sneak into Burgundy in this way, as he merely creates tension on the border without giving himself a very good chance of a successful attack on a French centre.”

    But here’s what he says in the chapter for Germany: “In Burgundy, the southern German army can do everything it could do in Ruhr, and more; it threatens Paris and Marseilles while not relinquishing its influence on Belgium. In combination with an English move to the Channel it constitutes a devastating attack on France…”

    I’m more inclined to agree with the latter analysis. And particularly since Sharp is downright nonchalant about letting England take the Channel, you’d think he would be less half-hearted about the need to cover Burgundy. (If that combination of moves is “devastating,” you’d better make sure to block at least one of them!).

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