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Playing Germany -- To Be Kaiser or Bismark
by Edi Birsan

Part One: Diplomacy and Strategy

Germany represents one of the more flexible powers in Diplomacy when it comes to player styles. If you like to start out with an in Blitzing attack or a wait and see attitude there are plenty of options for the Germans. You have close neighbors that can be used to cancel each other out by diplomacy or overrun by mass grand alliances and pounded into dust in the early phases. Germany also sits right on the critical centers needed for any central stalemate line and provides the perfect launching platform to forge East over the classic 17=17 line from Spain to St. Petersburg. Germany has it all and often the greed of its neighbors bring about those who would take it all from you.

The Opening

The early moves are more than just who goes where and what you hope for. It is an involved multi step dance with plenty of room for twists and turns as well as stepping on toes. The negotiation techniques below are broken up into different categories but as you get practice you will blend them into a single stream of consciousness patter that will blend into your own personal style of play. However, for analytical purposes I have taken them as separate items so that you can appreciate the wonderful weave of the threads of negotiations/strategy/tactics to make the tapestry of a well played Diplomacy game.

The Initial pre-Spring 1901 German Diplomacy:
The basics:
Regardless of the eventual plans that you want to spin, there are just certain absolute basic things you want to learn from your opening negotiations aside from the classic aspects of players (Note in some of the action descriptions there may be reference to Openings by name. I will provide a brief description at the end via footnotes and give you some links to them for further study.):

  1. Who knows who from prior games and what do they think of them?
  2. Who is new/experienced/veteran/elite?
  3. How do they approach the game (is it part of a tournament or social or anything that affects their concept of achievement)?
  4. How do they like to play their country: do they give themselves a pre-existing prejudicial approach to play?
  5. Who sees the games in terms of long-term alliances or balance of power switching… do they consider Diplomacy a game of betrayal or a game of trust?


  1. Are they realistically interested in going to the Channel?
  2. What is the view of Belgium?
  3. Interested in going North against Russia?
  4. Are the Russians talking about bouncing in the Black Sea?


  1. Are they realistically interested in going to the Channel?
  2. Interested in pushing a ‘Sea Lion’ against England?
  3. What is the view towards Burgundy as a Demilitarized zone?
  4. What is the view of Belgium?
  5. What have they agreed with Italy on Piedmont and do they think that the Italians are going to Tyrolia?


  1. Are they interested in going to Piedmont and have they heard from the English on this point? If they are interested are they interested in the ‘Western Lepanto’ where they also go to Tyn and Tuscany and then convoy to Tunis. Or are they gamblers and want to try a Ceaser Opening where they go Fleet Tyn to Gulf of Lyon in the Fall and gamble on taking Marseilles or Trieste for a build?
  2. Are they interested in going to Tyrolia and Venice with their armies for an attack on Austria?
  3. Are they opening to Ionian and Apulia? This might be more delicately determined by simply asking if they intend to take Tunis with an army.
  4. Do they know if Austria has agreed to a bounce in Galicia? Would it change anything for them if they knew that Austria was going to bounce? This line of approach brings out the Italians viewpoint a little more diplomatically.
  5. Do they know if the Russians and the Turks have agreed to a bounce in the Black Sea?


  1. Do they know what is happening with Italy in Tyrolia?
  2. Is there a bounce in Galicia?
  3. What have they heard from Turkey on the Black Sea?
  4. Is a Russian-Turkish alliance something that they see as happening?
  5. Are they inclined to make a big push against Russia?


  1. Are they going to Galicia and do they think it is going to be a bounce?
  2. What is happening in the Black Sea?
  3. Are they interested in moving Army Moscow to St. Petersburg?
  4. Are they interested in building Fleet St. Petersburg North Coast? Sometimes the Russians will offer to build the fleet if they get Sweden.
  5. What have they heard from France or England on the issue of the English Channel?Especially any interest from the French on going there. Note the methodology of building up a web of confirming stories from others.
  6. Is Italy interested in going to open to Trieste? This is needed so you can assess the potential for Italy to be in Tyrolia.


  1. Is he going to open to the Black Sea and move strong on Russia?
  2. Has he heard of Italy going west?
  3. What does he think the Austrians will be doing?
  4. Does he believe that Russia will bounce in Galicia with the Austrians or is likely to move Army Moscow to St. Petersburg?

Notice in the basic information set, there is more to learn from the players for Russia, Italy and Austria than there is from the English and the French. That is because the English and French will be more tied up with immediate plans as they relate to you and may be more inclined to be cautious or out right lie. That is why it is important to communicate with the total board so you can pick up echoes of what is going on in your own back yard. Then, with the basic information in mind of what is happening around you create an integrated plan with some strategic ideas and then direct the negotiations in the west rather than just be subject of their plans.

Strategic Overview

Germany is considered one of the three central powers the others being Italy and Austria. Think of the powers as aligned visually like this:

Rn= Russia North
Rs= Russia South

Let us take a look at what happens to the relationship map for each of the main attack focuses initiated by the Germans and what situation would best compliment that approach. Remember that strategy in this case is simply looking at the game independent of personalities or personal achievement goals and is concerned only in understanding power balances and future geo-political goals.

Vs. France
An Opening attack on France is done typically with England and maybe with Italy also. Russia is left alone in the north and with a German-English alliance will be more inclined to move on the allies if possible to balance out the western shift. The Germans want the Russians to take a Northern reprisal if at all so as to weaken the English while the Germans can avoid a dual front active war. If the war with France goes well, and after all why start it if you are not going to do well, Germany is immediately confronted with the fact of being between England and Russia in the north and England and Italy in the South. It is for that reason that the Germans will often look to support the Turks in the corner diplomatically or even with an army to poke at Tyrolia/Silesia since a viable Turkey is a real counter weight to an active anti German Italy or Russia.

VS France and Russia
At times the Germans will engage in a double front war playing the major part in the war against one and using a minor force against the other. This more often than not a strategic problem for the average German ‘Kaiser’ approach for the simple reason that what you are doing is knocking out both of the counter balances against a strong England which is then sitting in the corner while the rest of the world is on the other side of Germany. Look at the relationship web and you see that if you quickly kill the F-Rn where is England going to go? Some veteran and most elite players can pull this double front effort off by relying on their ‘Bismarck’ skills and timing but it is often a very difficult dance to pull off. This is one of the reasons for the high value of England coming out on top of the E-G alliance.

Vs. England
Typically when Germany goes after England it is with the help of the French and sometimes with the help of both the French and the Russians. When this is the course of action great care must be taken of what the Eastern side of the board is doing. A potential major disaster can be planted if there is a long term Russian-Turkish alliance since what happens is that the growth of the Russians in the north and the Turks in the south puts the Germans squarely in the target zone of a strong France acting with the R-T. The ideal situation is where there is a Turkish-Italian alliance situation where the Turks are moving on the Russians fairly early and the Italians are setting up the Austrians by feinting an attack on Turkey with the idea of a switch in 1902-3. This presents the Germans with a field of options after the English are crushed with the potential to clean up a weakened Russia in the north as the French become engaged in the Mediterranean with the Italians leaving the Germans with the options to go after France, then penetrate the Austrian stalemate line. The major thing when going after England is to keep an eye on the relative growth rates with France and Russia. Be very careful before building a third fleet that you are not overly exposed to a land attack from the east.

The greatest danger to an eary English campaign is the existence of the Eastern Triple alliance called A-I-R (Austria-Italy-Russia) since on a moments notice that grouping can plunge into Germany with 4 armies hitting Tyrolia, Bohemia, Sileisa and Prussia as well adding insult to injury by coming down from Sweden to the Baltic and maybe even shifting a unit in Norway to either Sweden or down to Skag in a follow on attack if the Russians were invited to participate in the attack on England.

Therefore from a strategic point of view an attack on England is best complimented by a case where Austria and Turkey are engaged against Russia or secondarily when it is Italy and Russia engaged against Austria with Turkey as a secondary tacit ally or as a would be vulture in the South East Corner.

Vs. Russia with England
This is sometimes the most popular German strategic approach of going north with England while the Austrians and the Turks eat up the Russians in the South. While Russia dies quickly, too quickly in fact, it leaves as the big question what is France doing and where is Austria going to go after Russia? The ideal situation here is for the French to be staging attacks on the English while there is a wishy washy Italy that goes back and forth between threatening to go to the Western Med or the Eastern Med. The other problem of going north with England is that England gets strong and if it has diplomatic superior position or skills relative to the French and the Austrians, the northern victory could be short.

Vs. North Russia
The limited war against Russia in the north that has as its goal the taking of first Sweden and then St. Petersburg from the Russians as a springboard against the English in Norway is a tempting and difficult task that requires on being able to punch towards Warsaw and then swing around it to the north, get Russia to make peace and become a counter balance between Turkey and Austria while it gives up the north. Then the Germans have accomplished one large strategic goal of reaching a corner position with Russia-south pointed away and the western front a position where England is between France and Germany. The Germans then continue to sweep the west jumping across the central stalemate line to take Warsaw/Moscow or push into Austria as part of a southern hook swing through Tyrolia to Piedmont for the final push on France.

Vs. The South: Austria or Italy
Germany going south early is seen the least of any of its strategic options but it is not one without strategic support. By now you should be able to look at the relationship map and see that the instant problem is that England and France are sitting behind you and the Russians are also left to their own devices. The strategic challenge of going south is that real objective of the Germans is to secure a position across the central stalemate line and to take a major diplomatic hand in the shaping of the relations between Austria-Italy-Turkey while keeping a slow force ratio to the effort. Causing chaos in the south will take a minimal amount of force from the German side, maybe two units at the most and allow for the Germans to restructure their relations in the west and north to comply with the best options from the south. So you should conclude that from a strategic side this options works well with…come on it is obvious: The Western Triple Alliance where France is going into the Med and England is going North against Russia. Or alternatively where it is England vs. France since those two powers are containing themselves in a balanced fight.

Strategic Triple Tricks and Treats

The Western Triple
The classic triple alliance Germany winds up in more than any other: is The Western Triple with England and France. In the classic set of moves the English and the Germans open against the Russians while the French move to the Mediterranean. With a chaotic diplomatic situation in the East and South because of personalities or ignorance of consequences the Western Triple has been very successful in a sweep. However with success comes another classic problem: the mass stab of Germany by England and France. More Germans are destroyed in the break up of the Western Triple than either of the other two parties. The reason of this from a strategic side can be easily seen by looking at the strategic relationship web: With Russia going down quickly and France digging through the Med with its fleets, that leaves the French armies and the entire might of the English behind the Germans. Germany meanwhile is totally committed to a front line position against the East with a battle line drawn from Tyrolia-Bohemia-Slesia-Galicia etc. As such Germany has the most exposure from behind from a stab and the most number of units committed to pushing the alliance forward in the East so that when things go bad they realty go BAD.

The German counter in the collapse of the Western Triple is to either direct the collapse at England with France before the English can strike, or to convince the English (with French diplomatic help) to defer builds and create a large empty zone along the North Sea/Norway so that England is committed to having fleets only in the Norwegian and the Barents so as to shuttle army after army into St. Petersburg as the staging area for going to Moscow, Ukraine, Sevas, Rumania etc.

In the Western Triple collapse, the option of directing it against the French with the English may be diplomatically attractive but carries with it a fundamental strategic problem that after the French are weakened or destroyed Germany is now even more exposed to an English attack since Germany’s front line position against the East is now longer and the English are even more intertwined in the West with units on the German back door. This is to say that while it is possible to pull off this approach (as is most things in Diplomacy when you have a superior negotiation relationship) it has a definite higher risk should you wind up in a more of a Kaiser role than a Bismarck role.

The Northern Triple Threat: E-F-R
Of all the dangers to Germany in the world of triple threats this is the most common for it to fall to. However the obvious strategic weakness of the attack is the great potential for the division of the allies because they are creating a situation where England is between France and Russia while Russia is between England and the growing dominate power in the south be it Austria or Turkey. Germany has limited but nevertheless some effective diplomatic avenues to approach the strategic problem.

The Southern Triple Threat: E-F-I
The Southern triple threat is the most common threat that Germans face. It is less deadly than the Northern Triple because of the weakness of the danger from the Italians who will suddenly realize at sometime that they are not exactly gaining a stronger strategic position by sticking their heads between the West and the East. Most of the time the Germans are facing this situation from a failure of their own diplomacy or the emotional response of the Italians driving them forward to do something ‘cute’ or as a personal fear attack on the German without any real strategic basis. There can be one for the Italians, but it takes a rare combination of an excellent diplomat and an excellent strategist with a sense of timing for the Italians to profit from this sort of attack. (By now you should be able to see that the Italians to profit from this have to be thinking that they are going to fall on the French quickly as Germany is weakened or dieing and that it needs the Austrians to be a bulwark against the Turks with the Russians.)

The Killer Triple Threat: A-I-R
Of all the opposing triples, the Germans have the least success in fending off the AIR attack because the diplomatic responses are limited and each of the three powers can provide a small contribution to the attack that still allows the participants to have enough units to enforce a sense of security and trust. The AIR attack also drives very quickly on the German homeland with forces in the Tyr-Boh-Sil-Pru line so that only way to halt them causes the Germans to back up on their own home supply centers. This causes ‘allied creep’ where your allies turn to you and say ‘for the good of the alliance we need to get another unit on the line and since you have no place to build then we need to take the gain.’ Strategically the German needs to concentrate to stalemate the corners of the AIR attack and then show the Austrians to strategic advantage of moving typically on the Russians so that the Austrians and the Germans can race to a corner then turn west together as the Austrians go for the Italians and the Germans go for the English with France as a tacit ally in the new evolving triple alliance.

The Central Triple: Dreams of the Paranoid Triple
The Germans can at times try to make a triple with Italy and Austria, this works ideally when both England and France and Russia and Turkey are at war. So that means that the Paranoid Central powers hide their alliance within a greater 5 power alliance opening against the Witches ((killing England and Turkey)) or the Bitches ((France and Mother Russia)). Then after the respective corners are eliminated the central triple work on the remaining two powers. The advantage of this is that in the final stage there are no stalemate lines. The disadvantage is that this strategic structure can be easily manipulated against the Germans since no matter which combination of pairs are eliminated the Germans will have an extended border with Austria who will have a ton of armies that may be a little to eager to walk into Munich.

Remember that diplomatic relations will provide opportunities to explore one of the INITIAL strategic approaches. The strategic approach will allow you to employ one of the tactical opening options to optimal success. However, as we go over the openings in the next article you may find that some of them allow for a multiplicity of strategic approaches though some harder than others.


Related Links
Diplomacy: Getting Started
Diplomacy: Read the Pieces, Read the Positions, Read the Players
Diplomacy: Lies/Truth/Trust/Betrayal
Diplomacy Product Information

Edi Birsan is considered the first Diplomacy world champion for his win in 1971BC, the first championship invitational game. He has won numerous championship games since then in North America and worldwide and is universally considered one of the game's top players. More importantly, he has striven tirelessly for over three decades to promote Diplomacy play in all its forms, at all levels, all around the world.

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