When the Iron Curtain Falls:
Maintaining the Mass Alliance

John Pearson

If it's not virtually unheard of, it's definitely taboo - diplomats form ranks behind a common cause and pledge themselves to the utter eradication of another power from the beginning! The notion of a rock-solid alliance, above all pleas, threats, and negotiations, seems to run contrary to the very ethos of Diplomacy, in which, if one can't beat one's allies, he can certainly deceive them. But however dirty a trick in this game of dirty tricks, such an alliance was initiated. In a situation like this, where few players are likely to have experience, some thoughtful consideration may provide insight.

The game in question was played sans-Judge via e-mail (white press only) with some friends of mine whom I had taught to play. We had decided to try again some three or four months after our previous game, which had ended due to waning interest. This turned out to play a crucial role in the alliances that were to form, as well as giving me two hard-and-fast rules for games played with the same group: never be "the guy who knows what he's doing," and forget the last game. Not everyone, it seems, had hit upon these rules, and that led to a hairy situation.

Two days into preliminary negotiations, I had heard from two independent sources that the Russian, without correspondence, had declared me, as England, his mortal enemy. As novices to the game, my friends and I tend to stab at inopportune moments, but another diplomat had initiated war without negotiation, which was an opportunity too good to pass up. A Russian grudge against England is not necessarily the kiss of death in any game, but a crucial part of my plan was the acquisition of Scandinavian land, and though I didn't expect to see the Czar in London, he would prove a terrible nuisance.

Within another two days, I had managed to convince Turkey, France (my ally), Italy (who was so scared of immediate elimination that he was to become the vulture/bootlicker of the early game), and Austria to ally against Russia and Germany, the newcomer to the group. This, however, was not as difficult as one would expect. Again, former relationships played too large a role: Russia had gained a despised position in the previous game as the Austria who benefited from our inexperience and poor coordination, an easy mark for vengeance. The strategy would be simple: I, along with France, would establish a stable line across Nor, Nth, Nwg, Bel, and Bur; Italy would move through Tyr to threaten southern Germany while Austria would thrust into the Russo-German DMZ; and Turkey would open with F Ank-Bla, A Con-Bul, A Smy-Arm.

By now, those of you with any experience are ready to point out the gaping holes in the Master Plan. After all, no mass alliance lasts long enough to completely decimate two powers without developing serious flaws, but I had good reason to believe it would work. As mentioned before, little propaganda was needed to demonize the Russian as a bloodthirsty barbarian, and painting the unknown German as a tactical genius proved less difficult still. Moreover, the alliance offered spoils to all, keeping everyone at least temporarily happy. By the time territory ran out in the south, I hoped to have Swe, Den, and StP.

The last link in the chain was coordination: the Balkans would have to be neutralized as a volatile political situation if anything was to be accomplished in the south. Pushing my role as concerned ally, to its limit, I hoped to arrange a partition which would keep the volatile Austrian from sinking his teeth into the Turk (my favorite power and thus, puppet project). I advised the Turk to push for Bul and Gre, but also to accept Rum and Bul if things got tense. However, the Austrian, whose computer decided to mimic a stroke, was incommunicado just long enough to make last-minute orders a necessity.

Spring 01 was a mixed bag. France executed Bre-Pic, Par-Bur, and Mar-Spa as planned, while I opened with the Churchill (Liv-Edi, Edi-Nwg, and Lon-Nth). Germany was orthodox with Mun-Ruh and Ber-Kie, but forced guesswork with Kie-Hel, Russia was a predictable Mos-StP, StP-Gob, Sev-Bla, and War-Gal. The latter of these were bounced as planned, but the Turk confusedly ordered Con H and Smy-Arm. Austria took Serbia and sailed to Albania, showing his hand. Fall resulted in France gaining Bel, Germany Hol and Den, Turkey Con, Italy Tun, but the Austrian decided on Rum and Gre. I gained Nwy, but this was a given. It was Russia that worried me. The Russian took Swe but luckily missed the StP-Fin move which would have allowed him a StP build and three units against me in 02. Turkey prepared for a Sev assault, and the alliance, despite delays, was holding.

It was Winter before signs of trouble showed. After berating Italy for his reluctance to attack Mun from Tyr, he again swore allegiance to The Cause, but both he and Turkey received curt letters from Austria soon thereafter requesting their prompt withdrawal from his territory. An Italian withdrawal from Tyr would merely be counterproductive, but it seemed the Austrian had become convinced that the Balkan states should be his alone! The situation had transformed in a matter of a day from the marching hordes of a massive alliance to a collection of nervous monarchs standing on the brink of a real war. The last thing I needed was a southern war, and everyone I could muster was attempting to convince the power-drunk Austrian that five centers does not an empire make. It became evident that the Austrian suffered not only from a manifest destiny complex, but a paranoia (above and beyond Diplomacy caliber) that had convinced him of an impending Italy-Turkey assault and his position of primary risk in the war.

Truthfully, playing Diplomacy with closed ranks isn't exciting, but it's a fleeting phenomenon. Mass alliances only last when everyone stays happy, and that never lasts for long. I was preparing for the possibility of a four-power assault on Russia and Germany while Turkey and Italy fended off a maverick Austria when my "friend" behind the Iron Curtain dropped me a copy of a note he had received, a note from Austria:

Hey, I know we have not been allies in the past or very good ones at that, but any help would be greatly appreciated.

John Pearson

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