Some Thoughts on No Press Opening Theory

(or Why is Italy Always Such a Jerk?)

Mike Yatchman

Brief Introduction

I have been playing Diplomacy for a number of years now. First, face to face, then press via email and lastly no-press via email. The no-press game does offer a number of great advantages -- most notably the incredible speed of the game. I don't have to spend the huge time commitment in negotiating the various relationships with the other players, but this does drastically change the game. Where before I could cultivate a relationship and somewhat affect the course of the game, now it is but merely random chance... will he attack or not?

I will boast here that in my press games I have had some very lucky successes, far exceeding (by two to three times) the one in seven chance of a solo win one would hope for! But this hasn't held in my no-press experience -- I'm a virgin! -- No solo wins in no-press games, not even a draw.

In writing this I'm hoping to crystallize my thoughts on this quandary (that is, why I suck at no-press!) and just make some stupid unsubstantiated remarks about no-press Diplomacy.

My main premise is that "Italy is always a major jerk!"

Why I Don't Know What I'm Talking About

I've actually been basing my opening moves on the theory presented in the canonical guide, The Gamers Guide To Diplomacy, from Avalon Hill. Well, in no-press all of those thoughts are pretty much meaningless! I have been thinking that if I did the Anti-German moves as England then France would realize that and make buds with me - but from my experience this isn't the case.

I'll go into my new emerging thought process below by stating my basic premises and then segment the discussion into the West, the East, and Italy. Mostly because this partitioning makes sense and because "Italy is always a major jerk."

My Basic Premises

Alliances in no-press are very hard to cultivate, much shorter lived, and not nearly as tactically effective compared to press games. As such, I think a solid strategic start is much more important. In a press game, if you do have a working alliance you can often recover from an early stumble. In no-press if you show any sign of weakness everyone will jump on you like vultures! Thus, I think the focus of the opening should be on retaining control of those few key strategic spaces surrounding your country.

The West


Norway is almost always a freebie in 1901, so attempting anything else is fraught with unwarranted risk. Convoy the army there -- its a no brainer.

The key space is NTH, but that can't come into play for the opening. The key strategic space for the opening is ENG -- the channel. Let's get tactical: If France moves to the channel and I don't I'm screwed! If I bounce -- well I was right in not trusting him! And if I succeed I have the chance to take Brest and really do some damage! Hmmm ... seems pretty simple -- the only way I end up on the short end is by not moving to the channel!

Moving to the channel will likely destroy any chance of working with France -- unless of course you bounce in which case the mutual admiration may allow other factors to come into play.

In summary for Spring, 1901:

F LON-ENG (a MUST move!)


Germany is somewhat buffered from the east -- so any attack from that direction (i.e. Russia) will have to be telegraphed. Further, in a no-press game the threat of a direct assault from the east or south is pretty much nonexistent, since they have to really expose themselves and the predatory nature of no-press makes that quite foolish.

So the key spaces of PRU, SIL, and BOH don't come into play in the opening. I'll mention TYR briefly below. Likewise RUH and BAL although of ultimate importance are not a factor in 1901.

The key space in the opening is BUR! You know France can't let you have it, so just take the bounce and work from there. If you do happen to end up in BUR then you have more of a quandary. But a nice quandary!

TYR is a bit of an anomaly. If you do see Italy proposing a Lepanto to Austria there is a good chance he'll end up in TYR. Assuming the bounce in BUR -- no problem, just hold. If you happened to end up in BUR, cover MUN. There is nothing worse than a rogue Italian army wandering around up north! Italy has so few early opportunities elsewhere its amusing to watch his army wander -- unless its in your home centers. Regarding F KIE and A BER, I would definitely have my eyes on DEN and HOL in 1901. Which ends up where is somewhat a matter of style, but having the unit in DEN in Fall 1901 to give the option of bouncing the Russian Fleet's move of BOT-SWE is a very nice option to have. To bounce or not depends largely on the dynamics going on elsewhere on the continent.

In summary for Spring, 1901:

There is no substitute.


Normally a pretty safe country to play. But with the distrusting vulturous nature of no-press, France often finds England and Germany heading to the key spaces of ENG and BUR. The importance of these moves has been discussed from their points of view above. These moves can easily make France the odd man out -- not a good place to be! Given that, how can France do anything else but cover those spaces?

Alas, even with the high probability of ENG and BUR being attacked I'm still in a quandary about the move of BRE-ENG. You can always cover BRE in the fall, and with England's slow developing nature, he can't amass a huge assault on you in short order. The really annoying move from England would be ENG-MAO, but again with only one build its more of an annoyance than a killer threat. Further, if England does focus on you, he's likely to get much resistance up in Scandinavia and at this point in the game no one can sustain two fronts successfully.

In summary for Spring 1901:

A PAR-BUR (a must move!)
A MAR-SPA (need that build)
F BRE-ENG or MAO (toss a coin).

The East


The no-brainer move is F STP-BOT, unless you are an idiot or want to portray yourself as such. The Black Sea issues remain the same and are even worse in no-press. Since there are no diplomatic ways to resolve them. So, you have to bounce in BLA!

The key strategic spaces for the opening are BLA and GAL. You already know you are bouncing in BLA, so only GAL is undecided. It makes no sense to make a full blown Scandinavian attack in no-press. You pass up all the potential supply centers down in the Balkans and it is just too slow going up there. Further, the all too common Italian stab of Austria gives the opportunity for some quick gains, which is something you don't want to miss. Additionally, you know the Austrian's are nervous about a Russian move down south so VIE-GAL is almost a certainty! How can he let us in to a space bordering on two home centers? And you REALLY don't want an Austrian Army in GAL! So WAR-GAL is a must!

The swing unit comes down to MOS here. One possibility is MOS-STP and make a Scandinavian assault! Upon seeing this Germany might be inclined to let F BOT-SWE work depending on the dynamics and knowing it will give England fits! The other possibility is MOS-UKR. This more solidly secures the attack in the Balkans. If WAR-GAL bounced you can support it now or take the stab at RUM to bounce T A BUL-RUM. An other possibility would be MOS-SEV with the faint hope that SEV-BLA will work and A SEV-ANK in the fall will give Turkey fits. It's just too ridiculous to assume Turkey will let you into the Black Sea! If he did, he's offering a huge settlement to the Black Sea debate and giving a big sign of working together! Given that, do you want to go right at him? (maybe!)

I have purposefully not even brought up lines such as: WAR-SIL, MOS-WAR -- the all out attack on Germany. While such moves are interesting, and can be very effective in press games, they rarely are effective in no-press. The predatory nature of no-press just makes you too vulnerable to try such moves. For example, upon seeing these moves you are certain to be bounced out of SWE and likely to be bounced out of RUM and lose BLA! Without a pre-negotiated alliances such risks are just fool hardy!

In summary for Spring, 1901:



So isolated here in your corner of the world. Of course, BLA is the space of dispute and of critical strategic importance. There is no real alternative but to bounce, unless maybe you are (unrealistically) hopefully optimistic about securing a Russian alliance. This is much more likely to happen due to events out of your control (e.g. Italy stabbing Austria), where both you & Russia can reap some of the harvest. So just bounce in BLA!

CON-BUL is an absolute no brainer here. If you move elsewhere and F STP/SC doesn't move to BOT, you deserve to be allies & soul-mates! In the fall, you can bounce Austria out of Greece or Russia out of Rumania depending on the dynamics of the game.

The swing move here is SMY. If you want to go all out against the Russian then SMY-ANK is the call. But given the slow developing nature of Turkey and this being no-press there is no reasonable need for that move at this point. Move SMY-CON and follow into BUL into the fall.

In summary for Spring, 1901:

There is no substitute.


You sit on the edge of all of those centers! And all of those enemies! But, the big worry is the Italian stab. As foolhardy as it is, it happens all too often. Still if Italy is stupid enough to go at you, you can respond with sufficient strength to make sure he doesn't succeed ... and that Russia and Turkey are the real benefactors! On the bright side, you stand a reasonable chance of outlasting Italy and you can gain some satisfaction upon his demise! Oh, and when the stab occurs sign up in the Diplomacy Game Queue and make sure to change your 'set preference' so you don't end up with Austria next game!

Okay, getting back to the opening, lets assume a sane Italy. Given this, there really is no substitute for the classic opening of TRI-ALB, and BUD-SER. Also knowing the Russians' thought process, VIE-GAL is the obvious move. Even just the threat of having a Russian army in GAL makes a compelling argument for this move. Yet, an interesting alternative is VIE-BUD which offers some interesting possibilities if the Russian is dumb enough to not move WAR-GAL. Interesting, yes, but hoping for Italy not too stab and Russia not to move to GAL seems a bit much to hope for. While you are at it buy some Lottery tickets!

In summary for Spring, 1901:

No real substitute!


Italy and Austria are tied by the cord. They can cause major damage to each other, yet to prosper early they must respect each others homes. All too often I see an anxious Italy decide to go for the apparent quick gains by heading toward Austria! This is, of course, total foolishness! Any near term gains will be lost in the not too distant future as Turkey and Russia become allied to cherry pick the centers that Austria gives up. This is the only sure way to get Russia and Turkey into an early alliance!

The Austrian stab of Italy never happens as Austria will be giving away centers as fast as he could hope to gain them!

Conclusion, work with Austria -- you have no other viable alternative! Go slow, as you must convoy the army to Tunis in the fall. Take the one build and see what's going on elsewhere. The only unit of debate is A VEN. I favor A VEN-TYR, if only because it signals the classic Lepanto opening. Still this will perk up Germany's and Austria's attention - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The another option is A VEN-PIE. But is it really worth annoying France here immediately? The answer being a resounding no! The potential for gains against France rely on England and Germany having coordinated a campaign against France. If that does occur, you have a great opportunity to change direction and cherry pick much of the gains! Telegraphing by moving to PIE will only annoy France. You are much better off having him enraged with England and France. Thus, wanting you to reap the bounty rather than his enemies! The last alternative is A VEN H, but that shows a distrust of Austria, which you clearly don't want to signal.

In summary for Spring, 1901:

The Lepanto -- no substitute.


Well, I guess I should get back to my original motivation for writing this brief article -- "Why is Italy always such a jerk?!" After going through this exercise, the reason has crystallized in my mind! But alas, time is short, so I'll have to save that for another time!

Mike Yatchman

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.