by Nick Higgins

This is the second article in our series on two-SC Great Powers in the Ambition & Empire variant, which was featured last issue. If you are unfamiliar with the variant, we recommend that you start with the first article, which includes an introduction explaining the variant (as well as a beautiful map!), and several useful links to the rules and designers' notes.

In this article, Nick discusses approaches for playing the Ottoman Empire. Be warned; the Turkey of Ambition & Empire is very different from what you may be used to in standard Diplomacy!

In the tactical discussions, you may want to refer to the A&E map, which differs considerably from the standard Diplomacy map. Click here to display the A&E map in a separate window. Also, be sure to see the companion article on the development of Turkey in A&E that also appears in this issue.

While one could make an argument for Spain, I believe that Turkey has the strongest starting position of any of the two supply center Great Powers, and I would even prefer Turkey to larger powers like Prussia or France. Due to its distance from the other Great Powers, Turkey has the best defensive position of any player in the game, with correspondingly weak offensive potential.

Turkey at game start

Turkey at game start

Analyzing Turkey's relationships collectively, Turkey typically faces no immediate threats. Everybody either seeks Turkish help, or is satisfied to see Turkey move in a different direction. This dynamic provides Turkey with great strategic freedom. The usual Turkish approach is to be patient, and expand slowly from a stable position while avoiding direct confrontation. An intriguing alternative approach is to be aggressive, as there is virtually no negative consequence even for a reckless, failed attack.

The first goal is obtaining an elusive third supply center. This is a more difficult obstacle than it appears at first glance, and requires a thoughtful approach from the Sultan. Turkey must consider its mid-game strategy from the start, as it is difficult to shift units from one front to another. The biggest challenge is to avoid stagnation, as Turkey tends to max out around 5-6 SCs.

This article will first analyze three special issues that Sultans should consider. Then, the article will analyze four potential strategies for Turkey.


Diplomacy Points Rules

The Sultan, more than any other player, must pay special attention to the Religious Rule section of the Diplomacy Point rules. As the only Muslim Great Power, these rules greatly impact Turkish strategy. Here are the relevant rules:

  • The Papal States may only be ordered to hold or support a unit belonging to a Catholic state (i.e. Austria, France, Poland & Saxony, Spain, Tuscany, Two Sicilies, and the Republic of Venice)

  • A Muslim minor power (i.e. Algiers, Crimea, Morocco, and Tunis) may not be ordered to support an attack by a Christian Great Power into a space that is occupied by a Muslim unit (i.e. a unit of the Ottoman Empire or one of the Muslim minor powers) at the start of a turn

  • A Christian minor power may not be ordered to support an attack by the Ottoman Empire into a space that is occupied by a Christian unit (a unit of any Great Power or minor power not listed as a "Muslim unit" above) at the start of a turn

One negative consequence of these rules is that a Turkish conquest of Italy is very difficult, as no neutral unit in Italy can support a Turkish attack. On the plus side, there are some Diplomacy Point tricks that Turkish players can take advantage of. The Muslim Minor Powers cannot be used to support attacks on Turkish units. Therefore, from a defensive perspective, a Muslim Minor Power is almost as effective as a Turkish unit, so Turkish players should consider using units such as F Algiers or A Crimea as defensive bulwarks. For example, a Turkish unit in Tunis can only be dislodged by an attack from Western Mediterranean and Ionian Sea combined with the enemy overriding Turkish DP efforts to have F Algiers support the unit in Tunis. This Turkish unit in Tunis can also maintain the unit in Algiers almost indefinitely by supporting its defense, as the opponents would need control of Morocco, Western Mediterranean, and the Ionian Sea (used to cut Tunis) to take Algiers.

Aside from the special exceptions to the DP rules, there are two DP situations that the Sultan should be cognizant of. First, Austrian expansion in Italy can effectively be paralyzed by the combination of French armies and intelligent use of DPs. With Austria representing one of Turkey's two major long-term foes, the Sultan should consider providing silent DP support to a willing Roi de France in order to shackle Vienna. Second, Turkish players should be wary of having their move to take Tunis in F'1763 thwarted by opposing DPs. In particular, Spain and Russia are often left with idle DPs in F'1763 that are not immediately needed for their own tactics. Consequently, the Sultan should work diligently to secure additional DP support for the capture of Tunis, as Turkey's two DPs may not be sufficient.


Lithuania: The North Sea of Eastern Europe

Like the North Sea in standard Diplomacy, Lithuania is a massively important strategic space on the map that borders many supply centers. Much as England views the North Sea in the standard game, Russia tends to view Lithuania as a non-negotiable line of defense, as it borders two of Russia's three home supply centers. Both Prussia and Poland & Saxony also are likely to view control of Lithuania as important, since it borders a home SC belonging to each of them. While Russia, Prussia, and Poland & Saxony will likely expend a great deal of diplomatic and tactical effort fighting over Lithuania, it is important to note that Lithuania has limited value as an offensive position. The result is that war in Eastern Europe tends to be protracted, with supply center captures coming only after years of patient maneuvering.

This is a great position for Turkey. One option is to try to maintain the stalemate by aiding the weaker (usually non-Russian) side, while simultaneously maneuvering to pick up Crimea as well. A Polish or Prussian army in Lithuania effectively ties down two Russian armies, which must defend Moscow and Kiev. Generally, a stalemate leaves Turkey free to advance on other fronts, such as the Mediterranean. Another option for Turkey is to break the stalemate, and demand a generous share of the spoils. A Turkish army in Kazan (against Russia) or Wallachia (against everyone) is an extremely valuable ally in an Eastern European war.


Prussia and Poland & Saxony: A Match Made in Constantinople

The interlocking positions of Prussia and Poland & Saxony present an unusual diplomatic challenge. At first glance, this appears to be a peripheral concern for Turkey. However, the dynamic between these two Powers is the most important on the board for the Sultan. Turkey's primary threats are Russia and Austria. If Prussia and Poland & Saxony are skilled players who are able to form a functioning alliance, then their combined strength will serve as a powerful check on both Austrian and Russian growth. When Prussia and Poland & Saxony fight, this war will consume most of their attention and energy, and they will be unavailable as partners in Turkish schemes. Each will seek help from outside powers, particularly Austria and Russia, who will then expand their influence in Eastern Europe.

Right from the start, the Turkish player should seek to establish good relations with both the Prussian and Polish players, and offer Turkish diplomatic assistance as a friendly, neutral party that can broker peace. Present arguments for why they are better off as allies than enemies, and present creative ways that they can make the arrangement work. Unfortunately, sometimes one of the parties (usually Prussia) decides there isn't room in Central Europe for both of them. In this case, it is in Turkey's interest that the war is finished as quickly as possible, which usually means that Turkey should take Prussia's side. In this scenario, provide Prussia with Diplomacy Point support whenever possible to assist Prussia in capturing nearby minor powers or key strategic spaces. Prussia will need an ally (either Russia or Austria) to annihilate Poland & Saxony swiftly, so Turkey should enable this by making their benevolent neutrality very clear to the parties, so that Austria/Russia is not concerned about getting stabbed.


Standard Strategy "The Nibbler"

In all 5 games using the final map of Ambition & Empire, the Turkish player has opened with F Constantinople Ionian Sea and A Ankara Constantinople. In Fall 1763, the general idea is to go for Tunis with the fleet, and move the army to Wallachia, where it is in position to either go for Crimea, influence the Eastern European war over Lithuania, or go for Budapest. In the medium term, the Sultan seeks to avoid making any fierce enemies while opportunistically grabbing SCs wherever they present themselves. This strategy can be quite effective, as the Sultan can fly under the radar, and scoop up a few supply centers before anybody really notices.

This strategy has potential pitfalls though. The first danger is early stagnation. What if another power (likely Spain or Russia) uses their DPs to thwart the Turkish conquest of Tunis in Fall 1763? Turkey is left without a build, and a Spanish or British fleet potentially could complicate the situation in North Africa in 1764. Nothing is easy for the army, either. Capturing Crimea usually requires the support of a Prussian or Polish army in Lithuania. However, gaining control of Lithuania is very difficult, and then this army will almost inevitably be attacked every turn, meaning that any support is cut. The alternative is to depend on Russian support into Crimea, but this is unlikely. Of the 5 games, 3 Sultans were stuck on only 3 SCs at the end of the second year, highlighting the possibility of slow early growth.

The second, more important danger is long term stagnation. The four SCs that are two tempi from Turkey's home SCs are Tunis, Two Sicilies, Budapest, and Crimea. None of them border each other or Turkey's home SCs, so it is difficult for Turkey to build a dense mass of SCs, and Turkish units will be stretched over a long battle line in the mid-game. All of these SCs likely need to remain garrisoned, as they are in very active areas of the board, but do not have the corresponding offensive advantage of bordering multiple SCs. Finally, it is difficult to move units from one front to another, both because of distance and because fleets are little help in Eastern Europe and armies are little help in the Mediterranean. "Nibbling" at the nearby supply centers can leave Turkey in a position that is both offensively and defensively weak with multiple isolated units.

The Nibbler strategy has been used by all four Sultans (one game is still in progress), with the result that three of the four Sultans stalled out at six or less supply centers, and were reduced to peripheral figures that were either eliminated or not included in the final victory coalition. On the other hand, the third Sultan (Karsten Nitsch) was able to nibble his way to twelve SCs and a share of the victory, despite stalling out in both the early game (Tunis was denied in Fall 1763, and Karsten only had 3 SCs at the end of 1764) and middle game (he only had 5 SCs at the end of 1770, which is eight game years into the game). His success was achieved finally by conquering Austria, with the bulk of Turkey's final seven SCs captured in the Italy/Austria area. While this represents an impressive display of Diplomatic skill by Karsten, it unfortunately does not provide a formula for Turkish success.

The remainder of this article will outline some alternative strategies that the Sultan may wish to consider.

Alternate Strategy #1:
"The Turkish Hordes"

This strategy involves targeting Russia, with the long-term goal of seizing Crimea, Moscow, and Kiev. One option is to work together in a patient coalition with both Prussia and Poland & Saxony plus Sweden, and dismantle Russia. The key here would be to build armies at every opportunity, such that eventually Turkey can stab their former allies, and take advantage of the precarious defensive position that Prussian/Polish-Saxon armies would have in Moscow and Kiev. Even if Prussia and Poland & Saxony are consumed in war, Sweden alone can be a sufficient ally to attack Russia, with the caveat that Denmark-Norway has been neutralized somehow. Provide DP help to Sweden for F Courland support F Stockholm to Gulf of Bothnia, and the Swedes should be able to capture St Petersburg within a couple of years. With the Russians distracted in the north, Turkey can capture the Crimea, and build another army to send north against Russia. Alliance with Stockholm alone carries the additional advantage that the Swedes will not haggle as hard over Kiev or Moscow.

The Sultan needs to consider where to send F Constantinople in S'1763. The safer approach is to send the fleet west to capture Tunis and hopefully Algiers later, and use these gains to fuel army builds. A riskier approach is to send F Constantinople to the Black Sea. This fleet can support the movements of the Turkish army, such as to Kazan and eventually to Crimea. This eliminates the need to depend on the support of a Prussian/Polish-Saxon army in Lithuania, or a Russian army. Furthermore, the convoying ability of the fleet in the Black Sea provides great tactical flexibility. For example, in F'1763, the predictable move would be for the Sultan to support the movement of the army, but the Sultan could surprise the Tsar with a convoy (such as from Constantinople to Kazan). Later, when Turkey gets army builds, these armies can be convoyed directly to the battle front. Also, if Crimea is the first SC that Turkey captures, then it becomes a Turkish home SC, and armies can be built in Crimea itself. Obviously, this Black Sea approach has the major downside of forgoing any gains in the Med and leaving a vacuum there, but has some significant offensive advantages in an anti-Russian war.

The Sultan also needs to consider where to send A Ankara in 1763, as both Wallachia and Kazan present intriguing options. An army in Wallachia can either attack Crimea, or support allies in Lithuania. It provides a better defensive position against any armies wandering south into the Balkans, while opening up an opportunity for mischief by sneaking into Budapest. While the argument for Wallachia is very strong, the aggressive player in me believes that the argument for Kazan is even stronger. An army in Kazan represents a crippling blow to Russia's defensive position. Not only can A Kazan attack Moscow, Kiev, and Crimea, but even if Russia can force A Kazan to retreat, then A Kazan can sustain pressure on Russia by retreating to Novgorod or Zaparozh'ye. If Russia faces pressure from anyone else, then the Tsar will find it extremely difficult to spare two units to dislodge A Kazan without losing ground on other fronts. Consider also that both the Turkish fleet in the Black Sea, a Swedish army in Novgorod, and the neutral army in Crimea (using DPs) can support an attack on Kazan in F'1763, making this a very difficult move for Russia to counter.

If the Hordes strategy is successful, it puts Turkey in a very strong position in the mid-game. This represents an excellent defensive position, with Turkey's gains consolidated into a relatively dense concentration of SCs. Furthermore, Turkey's defensive position is strengthened greatly by the elimination of Russia. Switching gears, a Turkish horde based in Russia has many good options for expansion. If they were not captured earlier, Moscow and Kiev are obvious targets. The trio of Courland, Koenigsberg, and Warsaw is also inviting. Most importantly, Turkey gains greater capability to attack Austria. This large army — combined with one or two fleets — potentially can deliver a death blow to an Archduke that often is bogged down in Alpine trench warfare with the French by mid-game.

Alternate Strategy #2:
"Avenging the Defeats of 1529 and 1683"

These defeats were both at Vienna, and represented the high water mark of Ottoman expansion in Europe. The foundation of this strategy is forming a broad anti-Austrian alliance that will lead to the containment and then dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire. A critical element of the strategy is speed, with immediate implementation being necessary to prevent Austria from reaching the 6-8 SCs that is typical at the end of 1764 (year 2). The neutralization of Austria presents an opportunity for Turkish expansion in the Adriatic Sea area and Budapest. The elimination of Austria removes one of the two major threats to Turkey in the game, and likely ensures that no enemy fleets will be built on the Adriatic (I must qualify this statement, because of one game in which a Vienna-built Polish-Saxon armada conquered Constantinople!).

Even more than the previous strategy, it is necessary to enlist both Prussia and Poland & Saxony as allies. Poland & Saxony has the greatest capacity to put pressure on Austria's northern flank, and the Polish-Saxons must be at peace with Prussia to apply this pressure effectively. France is a vital ally as well; in fact, France nearly always ends up conflicting with Austria over the Alpine and Italian area. An anti-Austrian coalition should consider not including France in their diplomacy directly, as France will likely act as an effective ally regardless of whether action is coordinated with Versailles. The advantages (marginally more efficient coordination of orders and DPs) should be weighed against the disadvantages (loose lips sink ships). At the opposite end of the spectrum, Turkey could implement this strategy with France as their lone ally. It would require patience, but Austria can likely be isolated, and the combination of French and Turkish units and Diplomacy Points would eventually wear down the Habsburgs. Generally, it is necessary to neutralize Russia and Spain in some fashion, either through alliances, neutrality agreements, or engineering distractions on other fronts (e.g. Swedish, British).

Tactically speaking, the most interesting option is to move F Constantinople to the Adriatic Sea in S'1763, with A Ankara trailing into Constantinople. Austria cannot defend against this move, and this puts immediate pressure on Vienna and Venice. The army in Constantinople can move to Wallachia, or it can be convoyed to Croatia or even directly to Vienna. This tactic clearly works best when paired with Polish-Saxon (or Prussian) armies attacking from Baden-Wuerttemberg, Galicia, or Bohemia, in which case Vienna and Budapest would fall within a couple of years. A more cautious option would be to take Tunis in year 1 and then, after moving the army to Bosnia or Wallachia in F'1763, build another unit in Constantinople to send to the Austrian front. If the Sultan is even considering attacking Austria in the early game, or if the Sublime Porte cannot find a better cause to donate their DPs to, then the Sultan should contemplate using their DPs (possibly in coordination with France) to stall Austria's moves in S'1763.

A final important issue for the anti-Austrian strategy is the long-term implications of the supply center division. Letting Poland & Saxony have Vienna makes sense if it is the bait in a Turkish trap to later stab the Polish-Saxons and take Vienna. Otherwise, it cuts off Turkish progress into Italy and the Alps. If the Sultan's ultimate goal in attacking Austria is possession of the Adriatic supply centers, then the Sultan should insist on Vienna as his prize. In fact, the Sultan can even consider offering both Vienna AND Budapest to the Polish-Saxons, as long as Turkey can gain Venice and a vital army foothold on the Italian peninsula. This could work by Turkey first gaining Vienna, and then a Polish-Saxon army can trail into Vienna after Turkey takes Venice. On the other hand, if the Austrian campaign is of secondary importance, then gaining Budapest cheaply is certainly worthwhile.

Alternate Strategy #3:
"Master of the Maghreb"

At game start, the Mediterranean is a power vacuum. It contains only three fleets (Turkish F Constantinople, Spanish F Barcelona, British F Gibraltar), and the British cannot directly build any more there. This strategy seeks to fill this void with Turkish fleets. A complementary strategy is to engineer the demise of Spain. Because taking Tunis is absolutely vital in F'1763 for this strategy, the Sultan should avoid making enemies (who might use their DPs to block you), and freely offer up Turkish DPs in S'1763 in exchange for assistance in F'1763. In the middle game, Turkey is then in a fairly strong position to attack either Britain (which likely owns Portugal, Morocco, etc), France, or Austria, depending on the situation. Russia must be neutralized for this strategy to work.

One interesting tactic that has not yet been utilized is to convoy the Turkish army into Tunis in Fall 1763. The advantages are that this leaves Tunis garrisoned, the army in Tunis can attack Algiers on its own (using Moroccan support from DPs), the Ionian Sea fleet is freed for action in the Mediterranean (instead of often being forced to garrison Tunis), Constantinople is freed for a fleet build, and there is already a fleet in the Ionian Sea that can support F Constantinople into the Adriatic Sea if necessary. A debatable advantage is that convoying this army is a clear signal to Russia that the Sublime Porte desires peaceful relations with the Bear. The disadvantages are that the Turkish homeland is left more vulnerable, and a fleet in Tunis could be helpful for supporting a Turkish fleet into Western Mediterranean. The ideal situation is to end 1764 (game year 2) with Tunis, Two Sicilies, and Algiers in Turkish possession, and Tunis (now Turkey's third home SC) freed for a fleet build.

This strategy runs into some problems in the long term. There are far more land spaces bordering the Western Med than sea spaces (11 land vs 3 sea). Necessarily, many of these land spaces are only bordered by one sea space. Therefore, even if Turkey can establish naval dominance in the Western Mediterranean, it is difficult to convert this dominance into easy supply center gains. This could be mitigated somewhat if Turkey could break out into the Atlantic more easily, but emerging through the Straits of Gibraltar is nearly impossible. Still, control of North Africa and the Italian boot are major prizes, and the builds here can fuel progress on other fronts. Full commitment to the naval strategy (i.e. convoying the army to Tunis) has a risk/reward tradeoff that is worth serious consideration for aggressive Sultans.

Which Alternate Strategy is Best?

This is a difficult question to answer, as none of the alternate strategies has been tried yet in a game. As always in Diplomacy, one's actions are constrained by the other players on the board. If nobody else is interested in an attack on either Russia or Austria, then I would prefer the Mediterranean strategy over "the Nibbler." If a large coalition including France, Poland-Saxony, and Prussia can be constructed, then the anti-Austrian strategy is possible. However, it is quite difficult to coordinate action on such a large scale, and it becomes awkward for Turkey when it comes to dividing the spoils. Ultimately, my preferred strategy is the Hordes strategy, particularly if Sweden is ready to attack Russia immediately. Russia is weakest in the early game, as their defensive position is quite vulnerable in both Lithuania and Kazan. If the Sultan takes over Crimea, Moscow, and Kiev, then Turkey becomes a one-man Juggernaut with great potential to strike west into Central Europe. Additionally, this represents a very defensively stable position, as the "back door" in the Caucasus is now closed off for both the home Turkish and formerly Russian SCs. With this region secured, the fleet in the Black Sea can be redeployed to the Mediterranean, displaying how the "isolated garrisons" problem of the "Nibbler" strategy has been averted.



This article began by noting how Turkish players have tended to stagnate during the middle game in previous games of the Ambition & Empire variant. A common thread in all three of the alternate strategies presented is that they emphasize creating a critical mass of Turkish units in one area, rather than attempting to "nibble" at multiple areas. This results from non-conventional deployment of the starting units, such as moving the fleet to the Black Sea or Adriatic Sea, or convoying the army to Tunis. Some Sultans view their distant position as an excuse to be less active diplomatically, but as outlined in this article, literally every power on the board can be a useful ally to Turkey even during the first year. Turkish players instead should try to shape the board from their protected corner position, always keeping in mind their long-term strategy.

Nick Higgins

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