by Mark Fassio

Mark Fassio examines the advantages of a three-way alliance between Austria, Germany, and Russia in this reprint from Diplomacy World #65. By that time, Mark was already a well-known hobby figure who had been playing for over fifteen years, and that certainly shows in his expert grasp of the strategic, tactical, and diplomatic factors involved in the game in general, and in this arrangement in particular!

The historic "Dreikaiserbund" (Three Emperors' League) that was a cornerstone of Bismarck's diplomatic strategy from 1873 to 1887, interrupted between 1878 and 1881 due to events in the Balkans. Does this alliance offer the same advantages in Diplomacy from 1901 onward? Read on to find out!

For those of you who were academic nerdballs in school (and here I include myself), you probably remember the "Three Emperor's League", formed in 1881 between Russia, Austria and Germany. This alliance, a Bismarck creation, was designed to safeguard Germany's borders while keeping all the "big name" monarchs from becoming too chummy with France. The alliance lasted until 1887, when differences in politics led to the lapse of the treaty. (That's another strategy and tactics article for later…)

By now, most of you non-nerdballs are saying, "So what's your point, Faz?" Well, gentle reader, here's the deal: You, the sly Archduke (or Kaiser, or Tsar) can lead your country to diplomatic and military greatness using the same treaty — without wasting six years like the real guys did!

Let's face it: every Dip game has the "basic alliances" which pop up, due primarily to geography. This is a natural occurrence, mirroring real-life. The spice of the game is in managing to come up with snazzy openings, unique alliances, and other such machinations that catch the Average Joe unawares. The Dreikaiserbund can be such a beast. And for all you "solo-win" zealots who think this is some sort of "three-way forever" draw idea, guess again. The DK (let's shorten the name for simplicity) should be used as a quick setup, say three or four game-years, to maximize each Emperor's gains in the early game while allowing for (ahem) flexibility later.

A typical opening move might show:

Germany: A Mun-Tyl
A Ber-Kie
F Kie-Den
Austria: A Vie-Tri (or support German A Mun- Tyl)
F Tri-Alb
A Bud-Ser
Russia: F Sev-Bla
A War-Ukr
A Mos-Stp
F S tp- Bot

To anyone with an IQ higher than toast (about 50% of the current US population), this opening move should cause some disquiet, given the implications. Germany, after all, usually doesn't mess with Italian gambits (especially with possible Austrian support); Russia normally blocks any Austrian move via Galicia rather than the less careful move to Ukraine; and the anti-English opening to St Pete is obvious. Only Austria maintains any illusion of non-involvement (especially if A Mun-Tyl is left to fend for itself.)

Obviously, the effectiveness of these opening moves will vary depending on what permutations the other four powers did for their opening moves. So rather than second-guess everyone's options, let's assume some "normal" opening moves for the others:

Turkey F Ank-Bla
A Con-Bul
A Smy-Con
Italy A Ven-Tyl
A Rom-Ven
F Nap-Ion
England F Lon-Nth
F Edi-Nwg
A Lpl-Yor
France A Mar H
A Par-Pic

In Fall 1901, we could conceivably see something like:

Germany: F Den H
A Kie-Hol
A Tyl S Austrian A Tri-Ven
(or A Tyl-Pie for the daring)
Austria: A Tri-Ven
F Alb-Gre
A Ser S F Alb-Gre
Russia: F Sev-Rum
A Ukr S F Sev-Rum
A Stp- Nwy (or Fin)
F Bot-Swe

If the Goddess of Victory is smiling down on the three emperors, then each will probably gain two in the fall (Austria perhaps three, Russia maybe one; but we're all equal here, right?)

In Winter 1901 you build according to the threat. Russia could build either a fleet or an army Stp (to maximize the capture of Nwy in 02) or a fleet Sev to gain control of Bla (while sending Ukr-Sev in Spring '02 and then to Armenia in such a dispersed strategy, will simply have to "go with the flow". His two builds should probably be a I-and-1 mixture (F Kie, A Mun). Then he should team up in joint actions with the Tsar around Swe/ Den while holding his gains (and shooting for Bel) in 1902. (Here's where the "daring" idea of Tyl-Pie comes into play. If Italy thinks there will be a squeeze play on Ven in Fall '01, then likely Rom will support Ven to prevent its loss. The German thus slides down to Pie while Austria sends Tri-Tyl, freeing Tri for a fleet build in '02. You then have three vs. Ven in Spring 1902, or Austria has two vs. it, while Germany can use Pie to help raise cain vs. France. The possibilities are endless.

The advantages of the alliance are obvious: Turkey is muzzled right off the bat. Depending on the Geman's moves, Italy is also in the same situation. And each nation can help the other two with supports in 1901 (if need be) and beyond, albeit necessitating some changes in advance for the armies.

In 1902 you merely continue your advances from the previous year. Bla should fall, as well as Bul, with the Turkish heartland threatened in 1903. Italy builds from Tun, but after that, zippo. And if the west reacts with a united front, France must sail through his ally Italy to get at you with fleets. Norway becomes Russian (allowing for F StP[nc] later), and Germany has a good shot at helping subdue England and isolating France.

The dangers to a DK area also are obvious: Germany is the one who risks the most, as an E/F can cause some serious grief to him early on if they get wise or can coordinate (hence the stress on an "early game" advance for the three emperors, before the board gels upon perception of the threat). In mid-game Russia faces a strong Austrian with lots of Balkan armies, which will cause some tension, although some can be funneled vs. Italy and northward to help Germany defend (if need be) from Boh and Tyl. And the Austrian may also find himself "surrounded by friends" later in the game, with narrow advance frontages through Italy (hence the recommendation for fleets, to let steam off for all concerned). Again however, these are worries, and the whole idea is two-fold:

  1. Isolate France by weakening any of her potential allies (and this is done with the neutering of Italy, Turkey, and England);

  2. Do a quick blitz on a couple of countries (Turkey and Italy), thus growing quickly and allowing for maximum concentration against the remaining E/F (and you'll probably see a strong France, with a weak England as a flank guard).

Who benefits in a DK? In the long run, probably Russia and/ or Austria most of all. Those two countries see their natural foes (T and I) neutralized and probably killed off early, thus allowing them a growth potential. Germany is probably by now beset upon by a hostile western partnership, and the aforementioned growing (greedy) "pals" in his rear. A good German player, however, can probably plan for short-term gain, then seek out Russian help in turning on Austria (or vice versa) while offering an olive branch to England in the hopes of forming some mid-game insurance later on. (Remember, few of Germany's moves in the opening sequence need to be anti-England, although the potential is there). Victory (solo or otherwise) will go to the biggest schemer and the quickest gainer, methinks; the glory is accessible to any and all. Whoever plays Germany should have massive doses of testosterone and a calculating eye for politics; Don Knotts look-alikes need not apply.

What must be done for the DK to succeed? Immediate smoke-screening of the enemy is priority one. The German should invoke another 19th century treaty (the "Triple Alliance" of A/G/I) and try to snooker Italy into going to Pie in 1901 "in conjunction with his attack into Bur". (This doesn't make getting into Ven any easier, but it creates unnecessary friction between F& I.) Germany can thus pretend to be the champion of France while he "invades Tyl" to help the beleaguered Frenchman — all the more so if the Kaiser negotiates a DMZ treaty with France and doesn't fear a Bur move. In fact, the whole anti-French thing doesn't manifest itself until the German wants it to — after all, in 1901 , well… that opens up easier pickings on Nor in '01 and lets E/F fight themselves while Germany gets courted by both sides. He gets his early gains, the partnership of R/A , and doesn't tip his hand until 1902 or later! So there's some consolations for being the gambling German under a Dreikaiserbund.

In closing, you may be wondering if I ever tried such a scheme; truth is, I can't remember. I do know that I had a bodaciously good (game winning) G/R at one time, and that Austria was around (early on) working with Russia. But, you can't look for past successes and failures; each game (and the people in them) are different. This option could bring smashing successes or utter ruin, depending on the game. And isn't that what the game is all about?

Mark Fassio,
c/o the Editor

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