(Happy as God in France)

par Christophe Barot

This article is reprinted from Diplomacy World #59, the Summer 1990 issue of Diplomacy World. It is part of a series by the author, and represents a pretty comprehensive approach to playing France in Diplomacy, as written by an actual French citizen! We hope you will enjoy it and find it useful in your attempts to spread Gallic civilization across the Diplomacy board.

France is a wonderful country for a novice; two guaranteed neutrals (Spain, Portugal) and a third (Belgium) more often than anybody else, naval building sites on two sea areas (Atlantic and Mediterranean), a good near-corner (SW) defensive position, a simple stategy (push forward) and few neighbours — a blessing that France shares with only two countries: England and Turkey. But France bears neither Turkey's locked situation nor England's limited expansion in the first turns. France's survival rate is excellent, and this country shares a lot of draws.

When it comes to outright wins, however, its performance remains good but not exceptional; and countries like Germany and Russia may be preferred. France has difficulties reaching the stalemate line, and sometimes spoils her strong hand by overconfidence. Central, more vulnerable, Powers are closer to the Stalemate line, and are THE Kingmakers — not France, who is "Un des Prétendants" to the Throne. Unbalanced builds and poor diplomacy can definitely wreck France's chances. Here are a few pieces of advice to help you to lead "Le plus Beau Pays du Monde au faite de la Gloire et de la Puissance".

"Europe will be Napoleon's, or the Cossack's"

Whatever you think of Napoleon, this program is good! The Tsar is by far your best potential ally. He is a flanking power, and as such, your "Allie de Revers". Just have him open north and deploy his power where you need his "Rouleau Compresseur"… against England and Germany. You have so much in common… two natural foes (E/G), who, when united (and this happens often enough), have nowhere else to expand except towards both of you. You and Russia want Italy heading East, against Austria and/or Turkey, sometimes Germany, not against you (leaving the Tsar alone against A/T, with northern trouble). Both of you want a mess in the Balkan mess; for if Russia is heading North, you don't want an early dominant power there (and moreover, chaos in the Balkans sticks Italy in the mud).

If you can't get that, you'd better each officially ally to one of the two other protagonists, namely Germany and England. The best and more natural configuration is usually (R)-G versus E-(F), but the reverse will work nearly as well. R/G vs E/F guarantees Sweden to Russia (for the first year), numerous German FLEETS (not armies), and an early war between Germany and Britain, which YOU and the Tsar will win! Then, the pressure could shift more easily toward your Russian ally, for you'll landlock your front more easily and usually get more fleets. If you've handled your now satellized previous or new ally (usually keep a satellite-two-or-three-centers Germany, or exceptionally an England who survives in Scandinavia) carefully, and the South remains messy, the game should be yours! A MOS-STP will weaken (and infuriate) England, so try to get it! If he doesn't , use Russia's northern weakness as a bait for the Brit; F NWG is perfect for a stab! But take care not (and never) to let the Tsar to crumble if Russia faces a strong country in the South too.

If it's the Tsar who emerges most powerful, you've the best boogeyman you could dream of! Speak about Russia's victory record, and have a "Holy Alliance" with everybody heading East. You too, who'll cross England, Germany, and Italy to "bring your help"… such a shame you forgot one unit on a crucial center, isn't it? Just don't forget to cross the stalemate first!

Perfidious Albion, that nation of shopkeepers

After the best choice, the worst. England is your worst potential enemy, and not a very useful ally. While it's possible that you can win with a poor English player striking his head against a Scandinavian wall of bricks, England is usually the country most apt to stab you while you're heading towards Austerlitz or some Mediterranean adventures. So it's usually better to deal with your main problem first.

To deal with it first doesn't mean to attack England flat out from the start. Of course, the Yorkshire (F LON-NTH, F EDI-NVN, A LPL­YOR) and Churchill (same, except A LPL-EDI) Openings are common enough to allow you in the English(?) Channel in Spring and a landing in Wales in Fall, but at a heavy price (only one build, and terrible risks elsewhere vs G/I). Better to let Britannia rule the northern and arctic waves, and stab her mercilessly when she's organizing her PQ17 to Murmansk!

The first step is to deter HER attack! Tell her you'll move to ENG or at least (if it really drives her bananas) PIC… nothing hostile, of course, you just want Belgium, or at least not her in Belgium. It's your share of the future spoils! You've thought about hers, of course. Scandinavian centers, and Holland, with your help! and even…

Then try to get her interested in a carving of Germany… Holland, Kiel, Berlin, Denmark, you'll be content with Munich, an inland center (if it looks TOO advantageous and makes her suspicious, claim Holland in the long run, and get it if you keep the alliance for longer than you intended). That's a bargain for her… and she'll get stabbed long before she gets them! Tell her about the Russia-Germany alliance threat (you've just arranged it), or perhaps German Isolation (with a novice or too greedy player). In the long term she'll get the whole of Scandinavia, including STP, and perhaps even Moscow too (and build fleets and land army towards you, and of course you'll let her do this… I've just bought a horse, she's on my balcony!). If this doesn't work, at least Russia will be her prime target!

Then head for Germany, either in earnest (take Munich or give it to the Italian, so you'd better play A MAR S A PAR-BUR); or try without success (A PAR-BUR, failing thanks to A MUN, don't forget to scream loudly against the "aggressive" German; or even MAR-BUR PAR=PIC, if you think the English are dumb!). It's better if your A MAR must take SPA in Autumn, for you're compelled to take POR with your fleet, which will be in good position to return to the Mid-Atlantic next spring, and then head back North (Irl or MAO). You can even go to Spain(sc) and build F BRE, "waiting for the Italian to turn his back" if the English player buys it.

What's important is that you'll stab him while he's embroiled North, putting your convoys in position in the Fall, when he doesn't have threatened centers nor expects a stab, and landing an Army next spring. He's ripe for a new Hastings then! Of course, prevent a F LPL build at all costs , making clear that such a build, obviously hostile, is an immediate Casus Belli.

Another possibility is to keep the pact with England and crush Italy (and Germany, but it usually favours the taking of centers by England, so better not have Germany surviving in the north). If he's not too bright or too busy, thanks to a good lasting R/G alliance, you can overwhelm Italy and break out towards Austria from all sides; this strategy can give the most smashing French victories… if only your English neighbour keeps quiet! So, if you can move towards him before he moves towards you, fine! But when/if in doubt, strike him first! He is THE Enemy!

Napoleon blew on Prussia, and Prussia simply ceased to exist

Germany is definitely another affair! You can easily block her, and England and Scandinavia are more natural expansion directions for her to get a safe corner position! England is a perpetual dagger in her back, Russia the big rival and target! You can always find partners to counter German: England, Russia, not too bright or original Italians, crazy Austrians, and just anybody in the middle or end-game, even the Turks. Germany is not the threat (you are her threat), as long as you don't let her sneak into Burgundy!

The strategy here depends more on the Kaiser's personality. You can attack him, but letting him know you have only a limited target, namely Munich. If he's attacked by all sides, he's likely to forgive your attack more easily, at least it's more expected (but don't tell him before it happens!) than England's or Italy's, and you can use him for your best profit.

You can ally with him against England. The configuration is such that you're likely to get more from your English attack than he does (and the English will be incensed by the German attack, too, hence additional possibilities). With a strong E/G war, it's a good bet to assume Russia will be powerful, and you'll perhaps not even have to turn against Germany then, keeping him as a buffer state to keep the Tsar at bay. Your policy will then vary according to the R/G strength ratio; just be sure that Russia can survive and that you've at least as good relationships with Germany as Russia has! If he's weak and/or friendly enough, Germany can even let you through Munich!

Or you can attack and destroy him first, taking on England second with Russian help. This policy allows an early Italian attack, and a quick taking of Munich. A MAR S A PAR-BUR, take Belgium (you can even cede Belgium to England first, then take it — with England's agreement — when England takes Holland… it'll usually cost England Norway, and a hard time in Scandinavia, if you manage it well), or even march directly to Ruhr if you can.

Then play what is called in France the "Triangle Infernal (Hellish triangle)": BEL+BUR take RUH (remember, England is cutting German suppott from NTH), RUH+BUR take MUN (quick) or RUH+BEL take HOL -BUR cuts MUN; then RUH+MUN take MUN -HOL cuts KIE (slower), then MUN+HOL+RUH take KIE (with sound HEL support, KIE can easily fall first, but this isn't usually in your interest). Then MUN+KIE take Berlin, and it's high time to turn against England (isn't a "Decree of Berlin" fine?).

If Russia or Austria intervene in favour of Germany, there's something wrong with your diplomacy or plans, andyou'd better USE Germany than destroy her thenæ if you still can, which you should also do if you need an early attack on England.

Whatever option you choose, you have little need to lie to Germany, and can afford frank and honest relationship with her — you don'tneed her death after all, at least not immediately — while handling England needs a lot more dishonesty.

Our wonderful Calvi naval base, aimed like a gun at Italy's heart!
— French politician, 1912

Here's the last (but not least) of your neighbours. There's no need to commit such a diplomatic blunder by issuing such unclever statements. Italy will be friendly and harmless enough in most cases. Just encourage him to play in the most usual trend and fashion: short-term, for centergrabbing, and a continental game. He decently can't get anything out of it, which is just fine for you.

Announce to him your first moves, usually A MAR S A PAR-BUR, with F BRE-MAO, in order to make clear that he can't get anything by attacking you (you'll usually be preaching the converted), and make things clearer by announcing that any gains made on you would be England's. He should be disgusted by the idea and let you alone for some time. On the bright side you'll listen to his center problems with sympathy and make proposals to solve them. There's such a goldmine in Austria, with a likely Russian help, and/or (according your plans for Germany) support him to Munich first, "as Austrian centers can't be guaranteed". For the remainder of the game, Austria and Turkey are a big enough expansion field.

With Italy neutral, you should go to your own plans. balanced builds (i.e don't forget fleets) should be deterrent enough. A cooperative attitude is even better. Germany (and likely Austria, who won't forget the threat posed by Tyrolian concentration) will be incensed by Italy's taking of Munich. Even a "stuck in the Austrian mud" Italy is good for you. You need an Italy keeping Turkey at bay (hopefully needing your valuable help… perhaps even taking Rome to deny it to the Turks and support F ITA NAP, for example), certainly not a victorious one becoming a naval monster and a Mediterranean threat or obstacle.

You can even help him, if Turkey is strong enough to keep him busy, to carve Austria and repel the Turks, get pass the Stalemate Line yourself, and then turn on him from all sides.

From a general point of view, most Italies should be happy enough to go East to make you happier. "Divide ut Imperes"! You want Italy to disrupt Central Powers solidarity, add to the Balkanic mess, limit Turkey (three concerns Russia is likely to share), become a continental power (and get conflicts with all the others: Austria, Germany, Russia), remaining a weak power ripe for the "Coup de Grace". In most games, your major ally for achieving these objectives may well be the Italian player himself.

Work at reducing the Hapsburg Dynasty's power.
— Richelieu

Reducing, not crushing! As Austria is usually weak, you'll not want her to disappear. She's a factor of stability in the Balkan balance; her mere existence is a nail in Turkey's foot, a hindrance to a Russian victory (what Italy could be for you in the Endgame). Here is a concern which can be a motive for closer ties with England and Germany (and help sever their ties with Italy).

Your aims and motives are a lot alike those for Italy. Austria is not really a threat, but is your usual middle and endgame target. You want her to keep Italy busy and the Balkans locked, but to leave her north uncovered, so you can later crush her where she is weak (North) and reap your 18th center. As long as you're not ready, her survival is in order. Just send the Italian to prevent her from getting too fat.

An other useful possibility is to send her against Italy. Then either let Italy manage it (badly), or carve up Italy, getting additional builds and a (hopefully) safe southern flank. Then go to your northern affairs while Austria is trying desperately to repel the Turks (and perhaps Russians too), and then come back and push. All of Italy should be yours, as Austria remains "the man in the middle" between you and the Turk, who'll always be Austria's prime and deathly threat. This scenario is also good for Russia, as Austria won't be in position to attack her and Turkey will be more tempted by an Austrian than a Russian attack; so it indirectly helps you in the north.

Just watch for two things: not to commit too much of your strength south too early (for the E/G threat is North); and watch out for a possible Austria-Turkey alliance. While rare and a near-suicide for the Austrian, its appearance requires that you take the right steps at once: warn the other players (especially the Brits) and immediately close the Med: MAO, SPA, MAR! A coordinated A/T attack on Italy and a secondary effort (even of only one of them) on Russia, or even Germany, is an unambiguous sign! Hopefully, Italy's agony should give you time enough to keep the stalemate line, at least your side of it.

Our French wines bring joy to the Sultan's heart.
— Voltaire

"If you've got the Frank as your friend, it means you haven't got him as your neighbour (Byzantine proverb, circa 800 A.D)". Here's another of your good friends… and he has so few of them! Your relationship could be very cordial, indeed, although you are not in position to cooperate militarily. He's Italy's bane; and your diplomacy, like his, will aim at an Austrian/Italian conflict. You're in position to influence him towards a Turkey/Russian truce (rather than peace, for you don't aim for a Russian victory, eh!). He'll attract Austrian, Italian, and even, in the Engame, Russian attention.

You want limited successes for him, at the expense of Austria and Italy rather than Russia. A too-powerful Turkey is dangerous for your interests, as it means a threat for Russia at an inappropriate time, and a contest for Italian and Austrian land and for Mediterranean Sea control. A dispatched Turkey means a free hand for these powers and the worst conditions for your Mediterranean struggle. Hopefully Turkey's configuration makes her "a hard nut to crack", while makingearly expansion for her difficult, especially when joined to the natural fright she inspires. If you can make her ally with Russia, either Italy will contain her and you'll arrive in Italy's back, or Turkey will take good care of Italy, and you'll gallantly "come to this later country's rescue".

It works especially well if you organize an early (but brief, or else Turkey will grow too strong) Italian-Austrian war. An unextricable situation in the Balkans and East Med; a Russian heading north, and the game can be yours!

A country's policy is her geography.
— Napoleon

While you deal with other countries, you mustn't forget your domestic problems and goals, which are:

  • Creating a general move Eastwards, in which you'll take part;

  • Get the right units at the right place. It shouldn't be difficult as your inner distances are short (your supply centers are separated by one space, at most, and your fleets can join the other port in three moves, via Mid-Atlantic and Spain(sc).

    For you this mainly means building the right units. Most French players indulge in "too many armies", that is, not enough fleets, which makes them an English puppet or forced ally, and hinders their Italian attack (the good ratio for a Blitz against Italy is at least two fleets — preferably three — and at most one army… what good is it to have A MAR waiting to follow A PIE to take Venice? If a second Army can come to help, it's more likely to come from Munich.). But if you don't build armies you will at worst be easy German prey, or at "best" landlocked, unable to take and pass through the key position of Munich, which means you can say goodbye to German and Austrian centers, Venice, and hence to the victory.

    France's historic dilemma was to have to struggle against both England (and sometimes Spain and Holland) at sea and Austria or Prussia (and sometimes Russia and Spain) on the land. She lost at sea while getting unoonclusive results on the continent in the end; so keep your builds balanced!

  • Balance your gains (and builds) and strategic position! Is Belgium worth letting a German Army into Burgundy? Is Spain or Portugal worth a Brit in the Mid-Atlantic? I doubt it, but a mere one build is something you hardly can afford!

  • Get to and past the stalemate line early! You can't overestimate the crucial importance of this!

A successful France's most natural gains are: France (3), Spain, Portugal, Belgium, i.e 6 centers without conflict, plus, usually, at least London and Liverpool, Munich and usually Holland, which makes 10 supply centers. The Italian campaign can give France the whole of Italy and Tunisia (4), while a further push in England can bring the remaining supply dot (Edinburgh), sometimes taken from Germany or Russia, which increases the supply net to 15. Kiel and even Berlin are usually within reach, which makes up a total of 17.

As usual, the 18th center is the most difficult, for your "Allies de revers" are now very powerful. Clearly you have to grab Denmark, Norway (if the Russian fleet is weak enough), Greece (assuming your Italian attack saved him just in time), or at least an Austrian center.

These are generally the best bet for the other possible targets will likely be strongly held by Russia or Turkey. But a too obvious last run for victory can give Austria and her foes time enough to settle their disputes and turn to block you.

So it sometimes pays to defer a stab until you hold the Ionian, have a "pied a terre" (foothold) in Scandinavia, or a large bit of Austrian soil.

None of this guarantees you a victory (you're never alone in the race), but with proper play and a lot of luck… at least you'll have a fun game and will be there up to the end, likely in a draw with Russia and Turkey (sometimes Austria or Italy instead) or a buffer Germany. What more could you ask for?

Christophe Barot
c/o The Editor

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.