Switzerland in the 1900 Variant

By B.M. Powell

From the designer: While GMing 1900 000329, the Italian player, Stephen Miller, provided me with a copy of a note he had sent to the French player.  In that note, Stephen discussed how making Switzerland accessible changed the dynamics of the game considerably.  I thought Stephen�s note was extremely insightful and I asked him if he would be interested in expanding it into a full-fledged article for the Gamers� Guide to 1900 that I was in the process of putting together.  Since Stephen is arguably the most methodical and analytical player I have ever encountered, as well as a superb tactician and strategist, I could not think of a better choice to explain the subtle nuances surrounding the opening of Switzerland. Stephen agreed to write the article and sent me a draft shortly after his game ended (I should mention that Stephen claimed Italy�s first 1900 solo in that game).  Unfortunately, his draft arrived too late to be included in the first edition to the Gamers� Guide that I published in December 2000.  Also, Stephen�s article focused primarily on the impact of Switzerland on Italy, his favorite Great Power, and I knew I would want to say more about France and Germany before I included the article in the Gamers� Guide.  Because of this, Stephen�s work sat in my �things to do� pile for many months.

Stephen�s article might have remained buried indefinitely, but events conspired to bring it back to the surface.  While organizing a new 1900 game, I got involved in a rather spirited debate with a potential player, Charles Feaux de la Croix, about the merits of an open Switzerland.  I found myself quoting from Stephen�s article shamelessly.  Eventually, I sent the entire article to Charles and to all of the other players scheduled to participate in the upcoming game.  Not surprisingly, the comments I received on the article were very positive.  At the same time, Colin Nash was putting together a 1900 web site and wanted to post all of the 1900-related material I had on that site.  Together, these events told me that it was time to get going and to make my editorial changes to Stephen�s original composition.  The end result combining Stephen�s thoughts with my own is provided below.  Enjoy!

Perhaps no other single aspect of 1900 has elicited as many negative comments as my decision to turn Switzerland into both a passable space and a supply center (SC).  Almost universally, the critics decry the great powers� potential to violate Swiss neutrality.  Their logic generally goes as follows: Switzerland was neutral at the turn of the century, the Swiss more than any other people accept the policy of neutrality as a way of life, and the other powers of Europe have respected Swiss neutrality for two centuries.  "Not even Hitler invaded Switzerland," is a common remark.While these arguments are undeniably true, I believe they overlook several key points:

  • History provides us with several examples of armies using the passes through the Swiss Alps to conduct offensive operations.  No doubt one of the reasons the Swiss developed the formidable infantry for which they were long famous was to deter foreign troops from entering Swiss territory.  The vaunted Swiss infantry was insufficient, though, to prevent the Austrians, the French, and even the Russians from using the Swiss passes during the Napoleonic Wars.  Switzerland, as the Helvetic Republic, was little more than a French puppet state during the majority of the Napoleonic period.  This is an important consideration.  The historic framework of 1900 is set at a time that is less than a century removed from when Switzerland was just another small state to be trampled over by the Great Powers.

  • The fact that Switzerland�s boundaries have not been violated since the days of Napoleon does not mean that they could not have been had the situation merited it.  As the Swiss themselves realize, there is no impenetrable barrier around their nation (though being located in a formidable mountain range certainly doesn�t hurt).  Certainly if a neighboring Great Power had felt the rewards of invading Switzerland were worth the risks, the notion of �inviolate Swiss neutrality� would not have meant much.  Germany�s willingness to overrun neutral Belgium during WWI, as part of an offensive into France, and neutral Denmark and Norway twenty-five years later, to protect German interests in Scandinavia, amply demonstrate this point.  It�s worth noting that France�s infamous Plan 17 allowed for the possibility of a German invasion via Switzerland

The Swiss were fortunate for over a century in that there was no need for an invader to make the arduous journey across their lands.  For much of the early 19th century, the Austrians and French could avoid the Swiss Alps and use far easier routes to get into Germany and Italy.  Later, after Germany and Italy were established as nation states, there was never a question of Germany attacking south into Italy or Italy crossing the mountains to attack Germany.  Entering the 20th century, Switzerland�s position became much more precarious.  The Swiss used a combination of tactics to remain outside of the conflicts that surrounded their nation.  In addition to abiding by a policy of strict neutrality, these tactics included pursuing an active diplomatic program, offering significant economic inducements to forestall invasion, and maintaining a formidable military, at least for a small state, to deter aggression.  The fact that Switzerland was on a full war footing during both World Wars is, in my opinion, telling. Curiously, while many bemoan the concept of Switzerland being turned into a SC, no one seems the least bit perturbed by Sweden being just another prize for the British, Germans, and Russians to fight over.  Neutrality has been as much a cornerstone of Swedish policy since the Napoleonic period as it has been for Switzerland and it has been over two centuries since an "uninvited" foreign army has crossed the Swedish border.  What makes Swiss neutrality sacrosanct when Swedish neutrality is so easily shrugged off?  My guess is that Diplomacy players have simply come to accept Allan Calhamer�s impassable Switzerland as being �inherently� correct when, in fact, it is merely a parameter he established to make the game play like he wanted it to.

There�s no need to go into much depth concerning the role of Switzerland in Diplomacy.  It is very much at the center of the map and several stalemate lines converge upon it.  Being impassable, Switzerland serves as a superb defensive barrier between France, Germany, and Italy.  Invaders must follow an axis of advance that goes around Switzerland when attacking a neighbor.  Knowing this, the defender can often concentrate its forces appropriately and keep the attacker at bay.  This is especially true for Italy, which, as a sage player once remarked, is basically an island with land approaches.  The flip side, of course, is that Switzerland is an offensive barrier.  The effect of this barrier on Italy is particularly severe.  Switzerland makes Italian expansion north or west extremely difficult, even if Italy is allied with another power.  Further, Italy�s ability to provide direct support to either France or Germany in the early going is greatly handicapped.  Italy�s relative offensive inflexibility and its limitations as an ally in the early stages of a game serve to constrain Italian options.  This in turn reduces Italy�s diplomatic clout and contributes directly to the phenomenon described in Chapter 6 in which Italy is relegated to the margins of the two great triangles (A/R/T and E/F/G).

Given that an impassable Switzerland facilitates the formation of undesirable stalemate lines and hampers Italian play, it seemed to me that making Switzerland passable might have several positive effects.Of course, the idea of a passable Switzerland is not new.  It is, in fact, an integral part of the Milan variant (as are a few other ideas that were incorporated into 1900).  In his article "New Improved Diplomacy?" that appeared in issue #80 of Diplomacy World, Stephen Agar discussed the pros and cons of opening Switzerland in some depth.  In the end, Stephen believed that Switzerland should be made passable.  His justifications included providing a focus for actions involving Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, and Italy; eliminating established stalemate lines; enhancing east-west conflict; and removing the "Piedmont Bottleneck."  These were all objectives I supported enthusiastically.However, Stephen also felt that Switzerland should not be a SC because it would force France and Germany (and presumably Italy) into conflict right at game-start.  Here, Stephen and I disagreed.  How can wealthy Switzerland not be a SC when comparative backwaters like Serbia and Bulgaria are?  More to the point, we all know that Austria-Hungary and Italy are not "forced" into conflict by having home SCs that actually touch.  If this is true, why must two Great Powers fight because one of them controls a SC that is adjacent to a home SC belonging to the other?  The solution is clearly a matter for the diplomats to sort out. Given that Switzerland is both a passable space and a SC in 1900, what are the impacts?  Actually, they are quite profound.

Switzerland in 1900 is still at, or at least very near, the center of the map.  While it�s true that Switzerland no longer anchors any known stalemate lines, it remains within two spaces of twelve other SCs.  Nearly one-third of the SCs in 1900 are included in a two-space radius centered on Switzerland!  By contrast, only eight SCs, or about one-fifth of the total, are within two spaces of Budapest.  Obviously, effective control of Switzerland early in the game provides the controlling power with a key strategic asset for both offensive and defensive purposes.  As I�ll discuss further on, though, "effective control" of Switzerland involves more than simply occupying it.

Perhaps the most significant impact of the open Switzerland of 1900 is that it reduces the roles played by the triangles and forces players to consider new strategic options.  It does so by facilitating, rather than blocking, diplomatic interaction between Italy and its neighbors in the west.  Italy must immediately become involved in negotiations with both France and Germany over control of Switzerland and the consequences of that control.  Indeed, the very fact that Italy is an integral (rather than marginal) player in a new diplomatic triangle is a gain for Italy in that these negotiations can easily broaden into alliance talks with either neighbor.

At this point, I must mention that it can be argued convincingly that Switzerland really creates a new diplomatic quadrangle instead of a triangle.  The redrawn map and changes to its starting forces allow Austria-Hungary to order A Vienna to Tyrolia in Spring �00.  With an army in Tyrolia, the Dual Monarchy instantly gains a voice in western affairs in general and in the Switzerland conundrum specifically.  Despite this, I still prefer to view the dynamics around Switzerland as a triangle involving France, Germany, and Italy.  I feel this way for the following reasons:

  • Unlike France, Germany, and Italy, Austria-Hungary can choose to remain aloof from the game-start negotiations concerning Switzerland without jeopardizing its immediate future.  This is largely because Switzerland does not border an Austro-Hungarian home SC.  More often than not, I suspect the Archduke will consider resolution of the Switzerland question as a western matter, choose to look east initially, and use A Vienna accordingly.  Even if the Archduke would like to meddle in western affairs, relations with Russia may prohibit him from doing so.

  • Austria-Hungary cannot move directly into Switzerland in Spring �00 like France, Germany, and Italy can.  Additionally, it cannot bring a second unit into the equation without violating the territory of its neighbors and/or seriously jeopardizing its position in the east.  This being the case, the Dual Monarchy is extremely unlikely to gain Switzerland for itself early in the game.  Even if it did, it would have a great deal of trouble holding on to it.

  • A Vienna to Tyrolia may not signal Austro-Hungarian interest in getting involved in Swiss negotiations as much as it might reflect concern over German and/or Italian intentions.  While Switzerland might not be of particular interest to the Dual Monarchy in the early going, keeping Tyrolia vacant or occupied by an Austro-Hungarian army certainly is.

Thus, while the Archduke may make himself a player in Swiss affairs, his motivation for doing so and the results he hopes to achieve are almost surely going to differ from the motivating factors and expectations of the President, Kaiser, and Pope.

If we accept that Switzerland creates a new diplomatic triangle, F/G/I, we must also accept that this triangle has uneven legs.  France, Germany, and Italy each have a home SC adjacent to Switzerland and each can arrange to have two units next to Switzerland after the Spring �00 moves.  There are, however, three important considerations that will make the leaders in Paris, Berlin, and Rome look at the Swiss situation differently. The first consideration is the priority each Power assigns to the occupation of Switzerland as a means to stimulate growth. Most Popes playing 1900 will be well aware of Italy�s "whipping boy" status in Diplomacy.  With this humiliation in mind, they will tend to view Switzerland as being Italy�s fair share in the new division of neutrals.  After all, France still has access to Spain and Portugal, and can now claim Morocco, while Germany is "virtually assured" of gaining Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands.  Italy can only claim Tripolitania, and both Britain and France can contest possession of that SC.  A typical Pope may view French or German designs on Switzerland as nothing more than testimony to their greed.  This perspective, if it exists, is certain to color Italian negotiations.  The neighbor, France or Germany, that is willing to give Italy its �due� without quibbling may be well on its way toward establishing an alliance with Rome.

While Italy is often viewed as being SC-poor, Germany faces the opposite problem.  Because the Reich starts with four closely grouped units and can reasonably expect to build three more units in Winter �00, Germany must deal with the never welcome perception that it is the dreaded �early leader.�  Given this, the Kaiser is probably going to be less interested in claiming Switzerland right away than his counterparts in Paris or Rome might be.  In fact, the acquisition of a fourth SC in �00 may actually make all but the most daring or ruthless Kaisers a bit squeamish.  Unlike the President or Pope, the Kaiser is likely to approach Switzerland as a diplomatic coin he can spend to acquire an ally in either Paris or Rome through offers of German support into the space.  This does not mean, however, that the Kaiser should write off annexation of Switzerland.  Both France and Italy might be willing to let Germany occupy Switzerland if it will lead to an alliance with the Reich.  This is particularly true if relations between Paris and Rome are acrimonious or either nation feels threatened by Britain.

France is in a difficult position.  The President must deal with the perception, exacerbated by the results of countless Diplomacy games, that France is sitting on top of a small gold mine of SCs in Iberia and North Africa.  It might not take much to convince any of the Third Republic�s neighbors that �powerful� France might become a true monster if it gets Switzerland in addition to its �normal share� of neutrals.  While there may be truth to this Francophobic scenario, it must also be conceded that France faces many challenges in 1900 that don�t exist in Diplomacy.  The British fleet in Gibraltar is likely to put a damper on French plans for Iberia and North Africa whether Britain is a French ally or foe.  Further, the President must live with the reality that he has very powerful neighbors.  When the British leviathan and the German behemoth are sitting on the doorstep of Metropolitan France, the prospect of getting only one or two builds might be a trifle frightening to the folks in Paris.  On top of this, Italy now has the wherewithal to make life difficult for the Third Republic.  Under these circumstances, Presidents may be forgiven for believing that France has a much greater need for the build available in Switzerland than the Italians do. The second consideration is the risk or difficulty involved in putting armies into position to either take Switzerland or prevent it from being taken.

At first glance, Italy appears to have few problems engaging its two armies in the conquest of Switzerland and considerable incentive to do so.  By sending A Rome and A Milan north, the Pope gives Italy its best chance to take Switzerland by force and has units positioned to defend Italy against Austro-Hungarian or French aggression.  Exactly how A Rome and A Milan are ordered will depend on the Pope�s best guess regarding the President�s and Kaiser�s plans. While moving both Italian armies northward may appear like the natural thing to do, there are tradeoffs the Pope must mull over.  Perhaps the most significant is that such an opening is likely to heighten tensions with France.  Any Italian move into Piedmont is sure to be greeted with alarm in Paris.  Once blows are struck, Italy may find itself engaged in a difficult and distracting war that prevents it from being able to sufficiently curb Austro-Hungarian or Turkish expansion westward.  Also, it is worth remembering that, if A Rome heads north in the Spring, it cannot be convoyed to Africa or Greece in the Fall.  Italy must then "waste" a turn bringing a newly constructed unit to bear.  This seemingly small delay might prove decisive in the extremely competitive race to establish control of the Mediterranean, which, unlike central Europe, should be Italy�s primary area of interest at game-start.

The President can easily arrange to have two units bordering Switzerland entering Fall �00 and he will probably do so if he senses trouble on his eastern border.  However, it is both riskier and costlier for the Third Republic to commit two units to Switzerland than it is for Italy.  Much more so than either Germany or Italy, France has to consider what the British may be up to at game-start.  Each French unit invested in Switzerland is one less unit that can be positioned to participate in the conquest of Iberia or defend against an all-out British blitz (i.e., F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean supported by F Gibraltar).  If the President is particularly intransigent in his negotiations over Switzerland, it could signal that he believes he has a friend in London.

Unlike France or Italy, Germany is generally moving out of its way to deploy two units to the Swiss front.  Doing so diminishes the Reich�s chances of claiming Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands in Fall '00 against British and/or French resistance.  The exception to the rule is if Germany is invited by France or Italy to move A Munich to Switzerland in Spring �00.  Such an invitation would most likely be made in return for support into Piedmont or Marseilles in the Fall.  In such a scenario, A Berlin to Munich makes perfect sense.  With Switzerland in the bank, the Reich can grab the neutral in �01 that he didn�t claim in �00.  While it might seem far-fetched to some players that either France or Italy would be willing to let powerful Germany into Switzerland, the reality is that German friendship at game-start may be of critical importance to Paris or Rome depending on their relationship with each other and with Britain.

The third consideration is the threat perceived by each Power in having one of its neighbors control Switzerland.Looking at this from Italy�s perspective, having a hostile France occupy Switzerland is a scarier prospect than having a hostile Germany there.  This is because France can use its position in Switzerland to put tremendous pressure on Italy�s northern defenses.  If Marseilles is open in Winter �00 for a fleet build, Italy�s very survival might be at stake.  Germany�s ability to take the war to Italy is far more limited.  For starters, Austria-Hungary is unlikely to willingly allow German troops to pass through Tyrolia on their way into the Italian Peninsula.  Even if the Germans do take this route, the Italians can make a purely overland invasion very slow going.  The Kaiser might reasonably expect to capture Milan, but that�s probably all of Italy he�ll be able to secure before being stopped, either by Italian units or by the units of other Powers who have taken advantage of Italy�s plight to grab Rome and Naples for themselves.Likewise, the Kaiser would probably rather see a hostile Italy occupy Switzerland than a hostile France. French occupation of Switzerland places pressure on Munich and Alsace, and thereby on Belgium, if Germany controls it.  While Germany will likely have the resources to keep France out of German territory in the short run, the situation is clearly unfavorable and, if not corrected, is likely to jeopardize Germany�s long term success and even it�s viability.  Italy, or the other hand, is much less threatening.  The Dual Monarchy is just as likely to take a dim view of Italian armies marching through Tyrolia as it would German armies.  Perhaps more important, Italy is, at least initially, a Mediterranean Power, not a Continental one.  Generally, Italy should avoid Continental battles where possible.  Clearly, if the Reich has the forces at its disposal to keep France at bay, it will have even less trouble with the Italians.  Investing in the armies needed to march north into the Fatherland just detracts from Italy�s naval power while playing to the strengths of its rivals.  If, in the early going, Italy tries to expand its Swiss bridgehead into central Europe, it is likely to find itself caught in a quagmire.

If occupation of Switzerland by a hostile France represents a serious threat to both Germany and Italy, it stands to reason that the opposite is also true: occupation of Switzerland by a hostile Germany or Italy represents a serious threat to France.  If Germany occupies Switzerland, it gains a tactical advantage in any struggle for control of Burgundy.  German control of Burgundy renders the French position desperate.  Likewise, Italian occupation of Switzerland makes French control of Marseilles problematic.

The fall of Marseilles effectively cuts France off from its North African territories and threatens French interests in Iberia.  Obviously, France can ill afford to have any hostile Power place an army in Switzerland.  At the same time, the President needs to ensure Germany and Italy don�t find common cause in preventing France from getting Switzerland.  While this certainly appears to be a diplomatic challenge of the first order, the solution seems self-evident.  If the President doesn�t think his claims to Switzerland will be supported, then he will probably have to swallow his pride and "generously" agree to support the claims of the power most willing to work with France.This leads us directly to the final aspect of the Swiss Triangle that makes it so fascinating.  Switzerland can typically be occupied and held only if two of the three Powers involved agree on its disposition.  This means that usually there will be one power holding Switzerland, one Power assisting in the occupation, and one "odd Power out" (OPO).  The OPO has every incentive to try to convince the Power assisting in the occupation to switch sides and can offer Switzerland itself as an incentive to do so.  The assisting Power will have not only Switzerland, but its own security concerns to motivate it to switch sides.  Until one of the three members of the triangle actually falls, this dynamic will continue to exist.

As the game moves through mid-game and into endgame, there is likely to be a build-up of forces around Switzerland.  As noted earlier, almost one-third of the 39 total SCs in 1900 are near Switzerland.  Ironically, this actually tends to reduce the importance of Switzerland over time.  Seven territories border Switzerland and fourteen other land spaces border those seven.  As the build-up of forces around Switzerland develops, the resulting tactical situations become so complex that Switzerland itself declines in relative importance.  The more powerful and better-positioned army will more than likely gain Switzerland on its way to victory; it will not necessarily be more powerful and better positioned because it holds Switzerland.What does all this mean for the French, German, and Italian players?

First and most obviously, each should approach the Swiss situation with caution.  While Switzerland is important, the game will neither be won nor lost by Switzerland alone. Next, if an unfavorable situation develops, the player controlling the OPO should not respond by cutting off diplomatic relations with his neighbors.  Instead, he should remember that the Swiss situation is inherently unstable in the early going.  This year�s winner could very well be next year�s loser.  Patience and diplomatic flexibility must be exercised.  France, in particular, absolutely must avoid burning any bridges over Switzerland.Finally, a player should use the Swiss situation to test his neighbors, while keeping in mind that those same neighbors are likely using it to test him.  With a little diplomatic skill, a player should be able to find out a lot about the diplomatic style and strategic plans of the other members of the Swiss Triangle.  This can not only give a player early warning of a hostile neighbor or alliance, but also enable him to determine just how trustworthy his neighbors are.  It might be prudent to be relatively straightforward about policy concerning Switzerland.  Given the instability of the Swiss situation, telling an early lie to gain what may prove to be a temporary advantage is probably not a wise move and straight talk early on can build a reputation that could be quite useful later in the game.

B.M. Powell
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