As was the case with the previous article on Austria-Hungary, much of the material in this article appears in the Gamers' Guide to 1900, which can be found in the variants section of the Dip Pouch's variants under 1900. I recommend that those of you familiar with the Gamers' Guide to 1900 proceed to the end of this article. There you will learn how Britain has performed in 1900 games to date. I hope you find this interesting. -- Baron
A convincing argument can be made that Britain was the most powerful nation on Earth as Victoria's reign drew to a close. While the British army was almost laughably small for a Great Power (Bismarck once commented that he would have the British army arrested if it invaded Germany), the British navy was absolutely supreme. This navy guarded the lifelines of an empire that stretched across the globe. It was this huge empire, and the relationship Britain enjoyed with it, that contributed so greatly to Britain's economic dominance of Europe through the 19th century.
All was not well in Britain, though. D.J. Goodspeed remarks in The German Wars, "as the century drew to a close, Britain suddenly felt a little chilly in the sunlight." Economically, the United States had already left Britain far behind. Germany was gaining rapidly and would soon overtake it. Politically, Britain was completely isolated. In the international crises that occurred at the end of the 19th century, Britain learned that it had no friends it could count on. Only the strength of the British navy provided any reassurance to a nation watching its once undisputed position being challenged.
Britain's strong, but no longer dominating position figured heavily in many of the decisions I made while transforming Diplomacy's England into 1900's Britain. I'll say up front that the final arrangement may trouble some people who are comfortable with Diplomacy's "business-as-usual," but I think the changes that impact on Britain are entirely justifiable from a historical perspective. More importantly, I feel Britain's unique circumstances contribute to 1900's play balance, as I'll soon explain.
England once had a fearsome reputation in Diplomacy. It became known as the Wicked Witch of the West because its corner position gave it impressive defensive strength (second only to Turkey) and its offensive potential was tremendous. Allied with either France or Germany, England could quickly sail to victory while its ally was still slogging its way across the continent. Should the ally balk at England's success, it was usually much easier for England to terminate the alliance and turn on the ally than vice-versa.
Of course, Diplomacy's Pax Britannica did not last forever. As Rod Walker points out in the original The Gamers' Guide to Diplomacy, England's initial success started to work against it (an example of the "Leader Syndrome") and it began to fare poorly (interestingly, at one time its record was particularly bad in U.K. postal games). Other players, sensing England's strength, would either gang up on it right away or demand stiff concessions to make the alliance "more equal."
Currently, England is no longer considered a superpower, but it isn't a doormat either. The game results shown provided in the introductory article indicate England is about average. Out of 3699 games studied, England won 300. This places it fifth, ahead of Austria-Hungary with 283 solos, but behind Germany with 325 solos. England drew 725 times and lost only 2674 times. Only France, with 746 draws and 2591 losses, fared better. England's Great Power Rating of 26.53 is slightly above average (25.71) and ranks fourth overall. These numbers might indicate that little needed to be fixed as far as England was concerned. I felt otherwise. If nothing else, the name of the Great Power needed to be changed from England to Britain.
When I first set about designing 1900, I hoped to level the playing field by improving the positions of Austria-Hungary and Italy, while simultaneously bringing France and Russia back to the pack. I thought I could accomplish both of these objectives by making Britain and Germany stronger. My "logic" was that both Britain and Germany tend to interact with France and Russia in the early going, but they seldom bother Austria-Hungary or Italy until later in the game. Distracted by a more powerful Britain and/or Germany, France and Russia would probably not be able to carry the war as effectively to Austria-Hungary and Italy. Added incentive for this course of action was the fact that making Britain and Germany stronger would more accurately reflect the actual balance of power at the turn of the century.
With this idea in mind, I began redesigning Britain and Germany. Germany turned out to be an easy fix and I'll address what was done to the Reich in a later article. In Britain's case, the "strengthening" was accomplished as follows:
I'll admit I was rather pleased with these changes. Unfortunately, I didn't get the results I hoped for. <sigh> So much for good intentions. The first 1900 playtest revealed some flaws with the initial design, particularly in regards to Britain. I had made Britain absolutely fearsome. Ably played by Scott Morris, Britain cruised to a distressingly easy victory. While Scott's superb diplomacy and tactical play were essential to Britain's tremendous success, it seemed obvious to me that major revisions were called for. But what to do?
Some fixes designed to make Britain less potent seemed self-evident:
These fixes did not seem sufficient, however, particularly since they did nothing to curb French power. The first 1900 playtest showed that France, far from being brought back to the pack, was stronger than ever (although not as powerful as Britain). Something was needed to rein France back in. As usual, I looked to history for an answer. What jumped out at me was the need for a set of conditions that would recreate the friction that traditionally existed between Britain and France. I reasoned that this friction would succeed in keeping both nations in check, as they would need to focus considerable attention on each other. Luckily, the first playtest revealed a possible solution.
During that first playtest, Eric Scheid (who played Austria-Hungary) suggested that a Gibraltar space be placed between Spain and Morocco (north to south) and the Western Mediterranean and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean (east to west). Eric's primary motive was to put an area of great strategic and historical importance on the map. I decided to take this suggestion a step further by having a British fleet start there. Not only would this replicate historical British control of Gibraltar and the entrance to the Mediterranean, it would also recreate some of the British/French friction I desired. A British unit would now sit directly in the middle of territories (Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Algiers) that all French Presidents naturally regard as being within France's sphere of influence.
The trouble was I didn't want Britain to start with five units. If F Gibraltar was going to be added, I felt one unit had to go to make room for it.
I decided that the unit in question was definitely not going to be F Egypt since it simply had too many things going in its favor.
Of the three units remaining, A Liverpool seemed the best candidate for elimination. True, the ability to land a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Norway or on the continent in '00 was taken away. I could live with this, though, given Britain's almost total reliance on the Royal Navy, its traditional disdain for its army, and the fact that Britain did not have a BEF capability at the turn of the century. Until 1900, the tiny British Army was used primarily to maintain a presence in Britain's far-flung colonial possessions. It was not until the years immediately preceding WWI that the vaunted BEF came into existence. My feelings were that sea power would suffice Britain initially. If the Prime Minister wanted armies, he could build them later in the game.
Interestingly, though A Liverpool is gone, Liverpool itself remains a SC. Gibraltar, on the other hand, is simply a British controlled space. This makes Britain unique among the Great Powers in that it is the only nation that does not have all of its at-start forces in provinces that are SCs.
The final disposition of the Britain's at-start fleets (London, Edinburgh, Gibraltar, and Egypt), besides being historically accurate, further increases the inherent friction between Britain and France.
At this time, it is probably best that I review the "Suez Canal Rules" since I have mentioned them several times already and they are absolutely critical to British play in 1900. Basically the rules go like this:
The Suez Canal Rules easily represent the greatest and most talked about changes from Diplomacy's standard rules. After considering several alternatives (e.g., eliminate movement between Egypt and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean entirely; eliminate movement between Egypt and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, but allow Britain to build in Egypt; allow Britain, but no one else, to move fleets between Egypt and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean), I still believe the current Suez Canal Rules represent the best arrangement. I feel this way for several reasons, but chief among them is that the Suez Canal Rules contribute to the friction between Britain and France that I find so desirable.
I have one last comment on Britain's at-start position. Even given the loss of A Liverpool, things are pretty much business as usual in and around the British Isles. While the boundaries are redrawn, the relationships between most of the spaces remain the same. What is different? First, Ireland is now playable. Second, movement directly between Ireland and Clyde is possible. This makes the western flank of the British Isles slightly more vulnerable, especially since Ireland now borders the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Making Britain's corner of the world a little less secure is, in my mind, probably a good thing.
Now that we've discussed how we got to Britain's at-start situation, the question that needs to be asked is this: what are Britain's options? Certainly, the Prime Minister has much to consider. In Diplomacy, England basically has three neighbors to worry about: France, Germany, and Russia. In 1900, Britain figures directly in the calculations of all of the Great Powers, with the possible exception of Austria-Hungary. Even relations with the Dual Monarchy cannot be ignored since Austria-Hungary and Britain may share common allies or opponents.
Personally, I think relations with France more than anything else will determine what Britain does.
If Britain's relations with France are cordial, the following strategy seems in order:
Given these combinations, Britain can usually acquire 2 SCs in '00 and 3 is not out of the question. If the moon and stars line up just right, Britain could even claim 4 SCs in '00! To make a B/F work, however, one (or both) of the allies will have to settle for a position it would probably rather not be in (as discussed earlier). This means a lot of trust and cooperation is required. This trust and cooperation may be in short supply as the game progresses. Also, the effort Britain and France put forth to get out of each other's way in '00 is sure to be noticed by the other Great Powers, particularly Germany and Italy. Without the element of surprise, it may be tough for B/F to get moving unless a third ally is involved.
If, on the other hand, Britain's relations with France are poor, the overall picture becomes much more complicated. Consider the following:
What if Britain's relations with both France and Germany are poor? Well, this certainly puts a damper on things, but there's no need for the Prime Minister to panic right away. Britain's defensive position is very strong. Even though Britain has only two units in the British Isles at game-start, Britain can easily prevent the loss of a home SC in '00. After the '00 builds, Britain is likely to have as many units in and around the British Isles as it has currently in Diplomacy. This being the case, the key to survival, quite naturally, will be the success of British diplomacy.
As can be seen, Britain can be a tough opponent to take on. Given this, I suspect someone is asking the million dollar question: what prevents Britain from forming a triple with France and Germany? Working together, the three nations can get 2-3 builds apiece with no trouble at all. With 19-21 of the 39 SCs under their control, the "Big 3" can easily sweep the board.
Well, maybe not.
Fortunately for Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, and Turkey, B/F/G does not occur as often as some might think it would and when it does take shape at game-start, it usually doesn't last long. I'll probably discuss this alliance in detail in a future article, but suffice it for now to say that there are several reasons why B/F/Gs have not dominated the action in 1900 to date. These reasons include personality conflicts between the Prime Minister, President, and Kaiser; unwillingness on the part of any one partner to accept a 3-way; difficulty in overcoming the considerable internal friction within B/F/G; and, particularly relevant for this article, Britain's superior position within the alliance. The simple fact is that B/F/G gives Britain such an advantage over its two partners that both of them would be justified in becoming suspicious immediately if the Prime Minister even suggests it.
Even while each member of the Big 3 is picking up its allotment of neutral SCs in '00, the Prime Minister will probably be negotiating with both partners to work out either a B/F versus Germany or B/G versus France. In the meantime, Britain, if alert, really has relatively little to fear from F/G treachery. This is because French and German units are not likely to be well positioned to attack Britain and getting them into position will probably be noticed in London well in advance of any Franco-German offensive. Additionally, Britain should be able to easily cultivate friends in Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia since those nations are potentially threatened most by French and German aggression. Finally, with French units tied up in the Mediterranean and a significant number of German units located deep in the east, both of Britain's "allies" will be extremely vulnerable to a British stab. Even better from the Prime Minister's point of view, Britain is likely to grab the lion's share of the spoils from the stab because of its position behind both France and Germany.
In summary, the differences between England in Diplomacy and Britain in 1900 are significant, as are the implications of these differences.
I've had some 1900 players rank Britain as the weakest Great Power on the map because they feel it is too spread out. I've had other players suggest that Britain, if properly played, should never lose. My own opinion is that Britain is a strong nation, much stronger than Diplomacy's England. Since Germany is also stronger, France remains a potentially dangerous adversary, and British interests are spread across the map, the Prime Minister will need to negotiate aggressively if Britain is to maintain its position as Europe's premier Power.
Now let's see how Britain has performed in the 1900 games played to date.
I'll start by once again cautioning against drawing any firm conclusions one way or the other regarding Britain's performance. The sample size is still too small to determine with any degree of confidence that Britain is better off or worse off in 1900 than in Diplomacy or that 1900's play balance is better or worse than Diplomacy's play balance.
The sample of 1900 games can be summarized as follows:
In the seventeen games that have been completed, Britain has two solos, five draws (one 2-way, one 3-way, two 4-ways, and a 5-way), seven survivals, and three eliminations. This ranks it second overall with a Great Power Rating (GPR) of 37.41. [NOTE: As discussed in the first article, an average Great Power has a GPR of 25.71.] Based on this record, one could claim that Britain has reemerged as the Wicked Witch of the West. Such a claim might be premature, however. If we remove the solo Britain claimed in the first playtest, a game in which the map presented Britain with favorable opportunities, Britain's GPR becomes a much less impressive 28.50. Even so, the numbers suggest that Britain is going to be a "player" in most games. It has been in more draws than any other Great Power (Germany is next with four). It has survived in more games than any Great Power except Germany, with which it is tied. It has been eliminated half as often as any other Great Power (Germany and Turkey are next with six eliminations). Britain, it would seem, is in most games for the long haul. This conclusion is reinforced when we look at competitive size comparisons.
Let's quickly recap what this statistic measures. I believe that once a Great Power attains a certain "threshold size," its ultimate success or failure becomes primarily a function of how well it is played and is not due to any liabilities or advantages conferred upon it by its starting position. Given this belief, I measure how often a particular Great Power reaches "competitive size" during the course of a particular game. In the case of Great Powers that start the game with 3 SCs, I felt that 7 SCs represented the appropriate competitive threshold, while 8 SCs represented the competitive threshold for Great Powers starting the game with 4 SCs. Further, if any Great Power reached 13+ SCs, it was considered "large." Being "large" meant that the Great Power had a reasonable chance of winning or participating in a draw. In the games that have been completed, the "average" Great Power reached competitive size 55% of the time and became large 21% of the time.
As it turns out, Britain reached competitive size (8+ SCs) in a whopping 76% of the games completed to date. It has gotten large (13+ SCs) in 24% of its games. Given these numbers, Britain's overall record is hardly surprising. This leads to the following question: why has Britain enjoyed such success? Based on my observations, the answer may be very simple. In games played to date, Britain has been the ally of choice in the west. Both B/F and B/G have been popular alliances. F/G, on the other hand, has been comparatively rare, though when it has formed, it has generally stymied British growth very effectively. Clearly if Britain has a powerful ally such as France or Germany at game-start, its prospects for success are excellent. It remains to be seen whether, in the long run, Britain will continue to enjoy "most favored nation" status in the west or F/G will gain in popularity.
BUILDS IN '00:
Here, I attempt to measure how quickly and consistently a particular Great Power "gets out of the blocks." In the twenty-eight games that have progressed to Fall '00, Britain has been held without any builds in '00 one time, has gotten one build in '00 eight times, two builds in '00 fifteen times, and three builds in '00 four times. Thus in 64% of its games, Britain has gotten at least two builds in the first game year. Unlike Austria-Hungary, however, starting out slowly has not necessarily been a problem for Britain. In the three games that have been completed in which Britain was held to only one build in '00, it reached competitive size (8+ SCs) in each case. Interestingly, Britain has been getting off to slower starts lately. In its last eleven game-starts it has been held to one build or no build six times. None of these eleven games have been completed yet, so it's hard to say what this means for Britain's overall record.
In Diplomacy, Norway is generally considered an English neutral. Additionally, England is a contender for first conquest of Belgium. In 1900, Norway continues to be a British SC, but Belgium is no longer a realistic possibility (at least not based on games played so far). Instead, Britain's focus is on other neutrals. Based on the games that have progressed far enough for the call to be made, Britain has been the first Great Power to claim seven different neutrals: Belgium, Morocco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Tripolitania. Each is discussed below:
The opening moves for twenty-seven games have been recorded (unfortunately, the records for the very first 1900 game were lost). Britain, perhaps more than any other Great Power, tends to signal its intentions very early. Generally, British openings are made either in alliance with France or in opposition to France.
F Gibraltar provides the Prime Minister with several options at game-start. It can guarantee British control of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean after Spring '00, attack a neutral directly in Spring '00, or stage to attack a SC in Fall '00. As seems to be the case with all British units, the success of failure of negotiations with France will normally dictate how F Gibraltar is used.
F Edinburgh's mission in life is to claim Norway in '00. Normally, this is not a problem since only Russia can oppose British occupation of Norway in the first game-year. Interestingly, A Moscow to St. Petersburg has become a more popular opening for Russia of late and has been used in 33% of the games recorded. If Russia's relations with Germany are good and Britain has opened F London to English Channel, the Prime Minister may be embarrassed by a bounce in Norway in Fall '00. This would certainly not go over well in Parliament!
That's it for now. In the next article, we'll look at France. Until then, Happy Stabbing!
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