Super-Alliances in the Modern Variant

Theo Kermanidis

According to the only available dictionary I can muster late at night while working on an important deadline at work:

Super- prefix. over, above, on top of quality, or degree; surpassing all or most others of its kind...

You get the general idea, but in case you were wondering, I was referencing the Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

"So how does this apply to alliances and Diplomacy?" you so casually ask. Well, the concept is not unique to Diplomacy players. What about my important deadline here at the office, for instance? My boss would argue (quite convincingly) that it should surpass in importance many other things, such as, for example, writing this article.

Cast your mind to the days when you got an adrenaline rush from Standard Diplomacy. Arguably certain combinations of powers under certain conditions always seemed able to gain the upper hand and dictate proceedings in particular regions of the map, quickly expanding their spheres of influence to other regions of the map. To illustrate this concept, visualize the following combinations of powers:

Certainly there are many examples of super-alliances in Standard Diplomacy each with their relative merits; both advantages and disadvantages. This article intends to open discussions and extend the concept to a popular variant of Diplomacy, namely the Modern Variant.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to expand the definition of a super-alliance and include the definition that the powers, when combined, can mutually trust each other. I hear laughter in the background, and I see a few wide grins in the foreground. Hmmm.... Oh yeah! now I know who the obvious stabbers are....

Oh by the way, the reason for this is that I wanted to keep the article short.

To kick off the idea of a super-alliance I am going to discuss the relative merits of my favorite super-alliance in the Modern Variant...

Turkey and Egypt

The best way to view this alliance between two potential bitter rivals is that the two powers combined can have the same advantage that Turkey enjoys in Standard Diplomacy: occupation of a defensible corner of the map.

Wereas in Standard Diplomacy there is no scope for Turkey to expand into the corner of the map to gain any builds, in Modern there are definite growth prospects for both powers into the corner of the map, not only gaining valuable builds but also regional security.

Maybe this super-alliance should yield a new power with a name like Tukypt, or Egkey. Hmmm.... there is a thought.


Let's take a quick look at the geography in the vicinity, first, of Turkey. Within one move of Turkey are three neutral SC's: Iran, Georgia, and Bulgaria. Within two moves are ten SC's: Alexandria (Egypt), Cairo (Egypt), Israel (neutral), Saudi Arabia (neutral), Rostov (Russia), Sevastopol (Ukraine), Odessa (Ukraine), Moldavia (neutral), Serbia (neutral), and Greece (neutral).

And now a quick look at the geography of the immediate region of Egypt. Within one move of Egypt there is one neutral SC (Israel). Within two moves are four SC's; Libya (neutral), Izmir (Turkey), Adana (Turkey), and Saudi Arabia (neutral).

Initial Conquests

The most obvious possible expansion opportunities for the two powers without doubt be centered on the neutral SC's in the immediate vicinity.

In the case of Turkey there is more of a choice because of the superior number of possible SC's that are available to the power. It is expected and given that Bulgaria will be an obvious first build for Turkey. The remaining choices will be dependent on movements made by other powers, but possible choices will be Greece, Georgia (with cooperation in striking a deal with Ukraine or alternatively by force with support from an army in Armenia), or Iran.

In the case of Egypt the choices are limited but certainly less influenced by neighboring powers. Remember there is no ill-will between our super-alliance partners, Turkey and Egypt. The possible 1995 builds are Libya, Israel and Saudi Arabia. For Example:

Spring 1995
(The "Ottoman Push" -- a name I made up)
A Ist - Bul
F Izm - Aeg
A Ada - Irn
F Ank - Geo
(The Sphinx - Naval Variant)
A Asw - Cai
F Ale - LBN
F Cai - Red
Fall 1995
A Bul H
F Aeg - Gre
A Izrn H
F Ank - Geo
A Cai - Isr
F LBN - Lib
F RED - Sau

The most likely result will be three builds apiece.

Expansion Opportunities

For any power to grow, obviously there will need to be avenues for expansion. The issue is somewhat complicated when taking an alley into account. (An "alley" being an avenue that exists through an ally's territory or holdings, or even one which forces the ally to unnaturally restrain his size to allow a growth path.)

For alliances to work best, this issue is resolved by having expansion opportunities in different directions. with clear lines of movement so as units don't interfere with one another between the two allies. To illustrate this issue in the more familiar standard Diplomacy, a Russia/Turkey Juggernaut can steamroll through Europe primarily dividing the map in two with Russia concentrating in the northern regions, Turkey in the Mediterranean regions.

In certain circumstances, this issue can be best resolved by one power becoming a naval dominant power, while the partnering power becomes a land dominant power. A rationale behind this is, that one power's weakness is the another power's strength and vice-versa. This avoids most problems regarding trust, and in particular any build that is not in accordance with the agreement is certainly an early enough warning sign for problems in the alliance. I thought I saies this was to be a perfect alliance, though. Didn't I?

Obviously then, the best arrangement is to have the best of both worlds, and certainly this is viable when considering both Turkey and Egypt.

Apart from the Black Sea, the Turkish north, west, and east is mainly land. Turkey will serve a good candidate for a land-dominant power.

To the west of Egypt, apart from the African coast, is mainly the Mediterranean Sea, to the east is land. Because we are giving the title of land power to Turkey it stands to reason that Egypt should be the naval dominant power.

Having decided on the force complement, the expansion opportunities for the respective powers will be the north and the Balkans for Turkey, and the Mediterranean for Egypt.

Now at first look, the obvious quantity of SC's available in the Balkans seems like an unfair mix for the two respective powers; however, the fact remains that Italy, Poland, Germany, and Ukraine also will want to stake their claim to the same region at some point during the game, which will retard the advances of Turkey to sufficiently balance the progress of our two partners.

Egypt's progress west in the Mediterranean will obviously be initially opposed by Italy, and secondly by Spain or possibly another dominant power in that region.

That is essentially another major criteria for a super-alliance to work: balance! If one power grows faster than another, then (other than true altruistic reasons, which -- let's admit -- are few and far between in our community), there will be no real reason to maintain the super-alliance, and the result will be the inevitable stab. Hey there's that word again... snigger, snigger.

External Threats

For now we will push aside the issue of hostilities between Turkey and Egypt and concentrate on the external threats to this super-alliance. I did say I wanted to keep the article short.

Bordering the Black Sea to Turkey's immediate north is Ukraine and Russia. To the west on the other side of the Balkan peninsula is Italy. As for Egypt, the main threats are Italy to the west and further abroad are Spain, Britain, and France.

Internal Threats

The stab.

Hah! Got you!!! You thought I wasn't going to mention it. Consider yourself stabbed, non-mortally!!

Well, I got you again!! Because I am really not going to talk about stabbing, but what I wanted to point out are the obvious DMZ's that a lesson in geography can provide for our ever-friendly pair.

On the map, if we draw a line (with a little kink) between the Aegean Sea and the Arabian Sea, we have essentially six provinces that provide a natural DMZ line between the two super-allied powers (the other provinces being Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Syria, Iraq. and the Persian Gulf). This gives a natural dividing line which the two powers can both honor to keep the peace.

You will notice that there are no SC's owned by one of the super-allied powers that immediately border any SC owned by the another. This avoids another major stumbling block between allies.

Strategies and Tactics

Divide and Conquer the Remainder

Napoleon put it to great effect in many of his campaigns, and was able to conquer much of Europe by defeating armies superior in size to his own. The principle is quite simple, divide the opposing army into two, defeat one half swiftly and decisively and bring your army to bear on the remaining half of your enemy.

Having said all that, this comparison has very little to do with what I intended to discuss, or has it? I don't know, or do I? Are you confused! See, I have now effectively divided your attention between two whatever...

Really what I wanted to say is merely a matter of general principle for super-alliances of the kind I have been outlining in this article. Divide the initial SC's between the allied powers, and drive on and conquer the remaining SC's. It is that simple, but not really... there I go again... third base. Hey!

Remember this is a super-alliance, and at every stage of the game you have to look for opportunities to divide the SC's and drive on to conquer the remaining SC's. Keep repeating this process over and over...

"Why, pray tell?" I hear you ask. "Balance, balance, balance," is my divinely inspired answer.

Seek Help then Shoot the Messenger

Don't ever, ever, ever, ever be under the assumption once you have formed a super-alliance as with Turkey and Egypt that you cannot form alliances with other powers, even on an individual basis from time to time, during the course of the game.

A super-alliance does not necessarily have to imply that it is an exclusive club between participating powers. A good illustration of this point in the Egypt/Turkey super-alliance is for Turkey to seek help from Ukraine to gain Georgia at the start of the game, in exchange for supporting Ukraine to gain Rostov.

There is nothing wrong with such arrangements, and certainly it helps much in the diplomatic effort.

Oh, before I forget, shoot the messenger is simply a referral to the fact that at some stage you will need to attack the power that helped you... "But that is morally wrong!" I hear from the gentlemen in the back row. Morals, what morals... that is another story. (And there is obviously good reason why the gentleman is seated in the back.)

The Belly Dance

This is one of my favorite ploys... oops! I am giving secrets away. Enough said. No, I don't mean that I dress up in loose clothing and wiggle my belly about, when I am playing Diplomacy or otherwise; I am referring to a tactical deception employed to fool another or other powers concerning the real objectives of the maneuvering.

"Why belly dancing?" you may ask. Well, its has its origins somewhere in the middle east, specifically where is not important for the article! But suffice it to say that I am breaking one of the basic tenets of DMZ's, "Though shall not enter into a DMZ, unless you intend to stab..."

Now let's back track a bit, and assume that Turkey and Egypt made an announcement to the remaining powers in the Modern Variant along the lines of "We are going to belly dance....", the reaction will be simply, laughter... However if Turkey and Egypt made the announcement, "We are forming a super-alliance", then it will be taken a little more seriously. Do you think other powers will be sympathetic to any Egyptian or Turkish cause? Of course, the answer is, "Nooooo!"

The same applies if the remaining powers simply notice that there has been no skirmish between Turkey and Egypt. The same seriousness and suspicions will be given to the issue, unless the likes of Italy, Russia, Ukraine, et al. were caught napping.... Well, in that case, they get what they deserve.

Lets get back to the belly dancing... (by the way listen to track four of Loreena McKennitt's new CD "The Book of Secrets", and let me know if you feel like belly dancing. Its a great track on a great CD. -- free plug).

Obviously, part of the diplomacy package the two partners present to the other powers may need to include some form of border dispute or skirmish ... a belly dance! The primary objective here is to give the immediate perception to another power that your attention and focus is elsewhere, and let him draw the wrong conclusions. For example, Italy could be convinced (wrongly) by a Turkish feint into the DMZ that westward expansion by Egypt is kept in check. Powers to the north may falsely sense opportunities now that Turkey may need to concentrate south on Egypt and must thus end his expansion to the north. They may then (hopefully) let up on their defenses in the region, particularly the Balkans, and concentrate elsewhere, such as to the west.

This normally can be employed at the start of most games, or at any stage in the game, with a clash over the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Obviously, both Turkey and Egypt would have a vested interest to seek occupancy of this important territory, as two home SC's border it for each power.

There are also rich possibilities for this to occur in a normally hotly contested region of the neutral SC's in the middle-east during the course of the game.

For example, on a Fall turn, Egypt could move an army from Israel into Jordan. The Egyptian move can be perceived as harmless as it is on Egypt's side of the DMZ. But the motive behind the move can be most anything -- most anything (as anti-Turk as need be) that will be believed by the other powers.

In the ensuing Spring turn, the super-allies could behave as follows: Turkey could move A Irn-Irk with support from A Ada, and Egypt could send A Jor-Irk and F Sau-PER.

A rush to the frontier across two DMZ provinces by Egypt, countered by a supported attack by Turkey. The Egyptian army remains in Jordan.

In the Fall, Turkey returns A Irk-Irn with support from A Ada, and Egypt moves F Per-Sau and A Jor-Irk.

Essentially, this establishes a potential see-saw battle between the two powers, much like the belly does when it sways to and... err... enough about that...

Because the two opposing powers clash in only this region, there is little chance for immediate outside influence, and this can become a useful diplomatic tool to employ.

The Wrap Up

Well, this about wraps it up for this my first article. I hope at least that I have embedded a seed of thought as to a possible diplomatic weapon in the Modern Variant. I would be interested in feedback, and examples from readers from any Modern game they have played and particularly so if they have participated in such a super-alliance.

By all means this is not an exhaustive authoritative account of the Egypt/Turkey super-alliance. There are many questions to ask and seek answers for:

The Modern Variant certainly provides a richness in tactical and strategic possibilities, and to include everything in one article would be a major undertaking. Should a follow up article be required on this specific super-alliance, by all means it will be forthcoming. Did I just make a promise??? Uh oh, I hope Manus wasn't listening.

I will also welcome comments from players with their experiences in other super-alliances, such as:

At least I hope you were entertained... 'cause while you were laughing.... heh heh heh....

Never forget to count your sheep ... er, I mean your SC's.

Theo Kermanidis
([email protected])

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