1900: The Franco-German Alliance

By  Chris Dziedzic & Bill Leake

Monsieur De Gaulle, please meet Herr Adenauer.  Europe is awaiting you.

Those who have played 1900 will be able to attest to a relatively small handful of alliance patterns that tend to reoccur. Some coalitions, like A-G-I and A-G-T, seem to align frequently. Part of this is because newer players to the variant often come to the game with the strategic assumptions of standard Diplomacy. Call it a �hangover effect.� France and Russia have fearsome reputations in standard Diplomacy, and that baggage often carries over to the 1900 variant. That is why many players are drawn quickly to reoccurring alliance patterns designed to counter strong French or Russian play, especially if those two powers are seen as behemoths from their record in standard Diplomacy. An A-G alliance in 1900 is much stronger than its counterpart in standard Diplomacy. That strength becomes even more overwhelming when Italy or Turkey are brought into the alliance to form a triple. Fortunately, as the number of 1900 games increases, the number of diplomatic options players explore also increases. One such option that should be strongly considered is the F-G alliance.

There are some historical realities behind an F-G alliance. It was only the German insistence upon the recognition of the borders of 1871 that prevented a possible F-G d�tente in the closing years of the 19th Century. No French government could survive the domestic outcry of forever forgoing the reclamation of Alsace-Lorraine. Even so, France and Germany did exhibit a large measure of cooperation in the late 1890's. Both France and Germany were resentful of British imperialism in Africa. France nearly went to war with Britain over the Fashoda Crisis in 1898. The Kaiser gave public moral support to the Boers during the Boer War of 1899-1902. France and Germany both intervened against Britain's ally Japan and its large demands of China in 1895 at the close of the Sino-Japanese War. France and Germany also were able to successfully press demands for ports and territories along the coast of China in 1898. The colonial foundation appears to be there for a larger set of commitments between these two.

Why consider an F-G alliance? There are a few reasons. First, to be a good player you should not only play the position on the map, but should also play your fellow diplomats. You should be aware of their personalities, their prior game experiences, and preconceived notions. Constantly relying upon the same alliance patterns will not always be successful. Sometimes specific alliance patterns will be unsuccessful if intended victims suspect that those certain standard alliance patterns will again emerge at the start of a game. If A-G-I and A-G-T alliances become too common, then Russian and French players will take counter measures from the start to frustrate the goals of those alliances, limiting their strengths. One could also presume (most likely accurately) that because an F-G alliance is not as common that it could take the initial victim(s) by surprise. If opposing players have not seen a successful F-G alliance yet, they might be unwitting fodder for some well-executed early stabs. Thus, sometimes using a novel approach is a key to being successful.

Second, F-G relations are not as tense at game-start as they are normally in standard Diplomacy. It is much easier in 1900 to establish a non-aggression pact between France and Germany than it is in standard Diplomacy. The neutral supply center in Belgium is now firmly within the German orbit at game-start, thus removing one significant source of F-G friction from standard Diplomacy. In standard Diplomacy, some argue that Germany can gain a significant chunk of the spoils (Belgium and Paris) in a war against France. This is much less true in 1900, when Belgium is already German regardless of relations with France. What does the German player hope to gain now? Paris? Instead, other powers such as Britain and Italy are better positioned to make the largest gains from an early fall of France. Possibly even more important for reduced F-G tensions, the dual provinces of Alsace and Burgundy offer significant buffer zones to quickly establish a large and easy DMZ between the two powers. This DMZ covering Alsace and Burgundy gives both a sense of security for many of their home supply centers (i.e. Paris and Marseilles, or Cologne and Munich), and also for a pair of the neutrals that the alliance should be able to quickly dominate (i.e. Belgium and Switzerland). Good fences often make good neighbors, and lowering fear is a main contributing factor in preventing alliance breakdown. With an F-G alliance, a significant stab typically takes two full seasons to execute, which helps keep both parties honest and gives both some security that they will each see a stab coming at them from a mile away. In many cases, the most that can be obtained from a stab when Alsace and Burgundy are kept empty is one SC. That hardly makes the stab worthwhile. This helps ensure that the alliance can remain stable. The reduced F-G tension in 1900 makes an alliance between those two a more viable option than might be the case in standard Diplomacy.

Third, The F-G alliance offers some differences and advantages over other dual alliance combinations in the western triangle. Viewed from Germany, a dual alliance with Britain can be very problematic, as is the case in standard Diplomacy. The numerous British fleets in northern waters, in Scandinavia, and even in northern Russia will have a much easier time stabbing Germany than a Germany limited in his fleet builds will have stabbing Britain or mounting a defense against a British stab. France, on the other hand, might actually have a harder time allying with Britain in 1900 than in standard Diplomacy. The British fleets deployed in Gibraltar and Egypt at game-start are going to threaten France's occupation of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Most French players are going to be reluctant to allow Britain to reinforce its position in the Mediterranean through the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Britain is not likely to write off those two units and the offensive potential that they hold. Alliances by either power with Britain will be difficult to implement and maintain. Allying with each other against Britain may be a better option for both France and Germany.

Fourth, the F-G alliance offers you some magnificent tactical and strategic advantages. These advantages include the ability to take out a dangerous rival in Britain very quickly. Britain poses a threat to each power at the game start, and a quick elimination of Britain removes the fear of encirclement and having to fight upon multiple fronts at one time from both the French and German leaders. Given Britain's strong defensive corner position, it is in France and Germany's best interest to tackle Britain earlier rather than later. France and Germany also possess a great ability to work together in the center of Europe without blocking each other's route of expansion. This includes not only the early conquest of Switzerland, but extends to a joint campaign throughout the Alps against Italian or later Austro-Hungarian resistance. Advancing through Milan to Vienna can be successfully accomplished without threatening the growth of either power. As far as other areas of growth, Scandinavia is typically a desired German sphere of expansion, with further moves either into Austria-Hungary or Russia on the horizon, while France is beckoned by the entire North Coast of Africa and is hoping to occupy much of Italy. By cooperating, France is neither cut off from the Mediterranean and North Africa, nor is Germany denied further growth in Scandinavia and the East. Also, the F-G alliance increases the potential for explosive growth for each. With Britain weakened and eliminated, both powers can concentrate both their new builds and their original units on a single front against a new enemy, helping to ensure rapid further gains. That allows both France and Germany to reposition themselves to drive east across the board in unison. This F-G pairing further allows for units to be quickly built and placed in nearly every area of the map. Neither the northern nor the southern portions of the map are difficult to be reached and influenced. Neither land nor water needs to be neglected. In summary, the F-G alliance offers some tactical and strategic options that give it unique strengths.

How does an F-G alliance best take advantage of its strengths in an early war against Britain? As Baron Powell laid out in the Diplomatic Pouch Fall 2002 Retreat Issue ("1900: France"), there are two potential scenarios. The first, and less complicated, is when France and Germany are allied against Britain, and Italy is neutral or friendly. The second, and more daunting, is when France and Germany are allied against Britain, but Italy is hostile. An important if not primary diplomatic goal in preparation for a war against Britain should be the prevention of that second scenario. One way to gain a tactical mastery over Britain is to scatter its fleets across the board thus deflecting its strength. Both France and Germany, while disguising their outright cooperation, should both negotiate with Britain to discourage a supported move into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Britain instead could be encouraged to maintain its fleets within the Mediterranean. An optimal move for F-G would be for Britain to order the fleet in Egypt to Cyrenaica and threaten Tripolitania. This achieves both the dispersal of the British fleets and sours B-I relations over the disposition of Tripolitania, thus delaying their effective cooperation and joint defense against the F-G alliance. When negotiating with Italy, France and Germany, once again obscuring their alliance, should encourage Italy to seek adventures in the east at the expense of Austria-Hungary, Turkey, or Britain. If engaged in other early conflicts, Italy will be less likely to intervene on Britain's aid in the developing western war.

These diplomatic initiatives to prevent the second scenario will not always be successful. Italy's orientation is shifted significantly to the west in 1900. France and Germany are less likely to be successful in encouraging eastern adventures than they would in standard Diplomacy. France, therefore, needs to be able to defend itself against a hostile Italy. Does this preclude F-G from operating against Britain? No. Maarten Oosten, in the Diplomatic Pouch Fall 1997 Movement Issue ("William and Mary or the Flemish Sealion"), developed a variation of the Sealion opening for France and Germany to use in standard Diplomacy specifically when faced with a diplomatic situation that included a hostile Italy:

Spring '01
Fall '01
France F Brest to English Channel
A Paris to Gascony
A Marseilles to Spain
F English Channel to Mid Atlantic Ocean
A Gascony to Marseilles
A Spain to Portugal
Germany F Kiel to Holland
A Berlin to Kiel
A Munich to Ruhr
F Holland to Belgium
A Kiel to Denmark
A Ruhr to Holland 

Taking Italy's more western orientation, since France is even more likely to face a hostile Italy in 1900 than in standard Diplomacy, any opening France considers needs to offer protection for Marseilles against a possible and even a likely Italian stab. The principles of Maarten Oosten's opening can be applied to France and Germany in 1900. In fact, in the DPJudge game 1900S, the French and German players made a series of opening moves that applied the principles of Maarten Oosten's opening to the 1900 game-start scenario:

Spring '00
Fall '00
France F Brest to English Channel *bounce* F Brest to Mid Atlantic Ocean
  A Paris to Gascony A Gascony to Spain
  A Marseilles to Spain A Spain to Portugal
  A Algeria to Morocco *bounce* A Algeria to Morocco *bounce*
Germany F Kiel to Netherlands
A Berlin to Kiel
A Cologne to Belgium
A Munich to Switzerland *bounce*
F Netherlands supports A Belgium
A Kiel to Denmark
A Belgium supports F Netherlands
A Munich supports Austrian A Tyrol to Switzerland

In both cases, the French open with F Brest to English Channel, A Paris to Gascony and A Marseilles to Spain. If Italy orders A Rome to Piedmont in the spring, the army in Gascony protects Marseilles against a potential Italian stab. In fact, it is arguable that the move to Gascony is stronger than the move to Burgundy that Baron Powell advocated in the Diplomatic Pouch Fall 2002 Retreat Issue ("1900: France"). The move to Burgundy might sour budding relations between F-G, while an army in Gascony can protect Marseilles just as well. The move to Gascony also offers France a further unit to advance into Spain in the fall (or support a renewed attack on Spain, if there was a bounce in the spring) if the feared Italian hostility did not manifest itself. Marseilles is protected from a supported Italian attack in fall by Germany's spring order of A Munich to Switzerland. The Germany army in Munich is available for this duty because the newly added army in Cologne can be used to take Belgium. In both the 1900S orders and Maarten Oosten's opening, Germany orders A Berlin to Kiel and F Kiel to Netherlands. This reduces G-R tensions over Sweden at game-start, while still allowing Germany to place pressure on the North Sea in the fall.

It is true that despite the advantages laid out above, there are still some potential sources of friction between France and Germany. This is not surprising given that France and Germany each have a different view of Europe. France's primary concern at game-start is likely to be the neutralization of Britain and Italy. Germany has to worry about the neutralization of Britain as well, but Germany must also deal with the eastern powers Austria-Hungary and Russia. It is possible that France might come to expect its German partner to take an extremely active role in the west, while Germany might expect France to carry the bulk of the workload against B-I while it commits some material to the East. There is also the issue of Switzerland. Often both powers will want to gain control over that neutral supply center at game-start. Tensions can remain low, however, as long as parity in strength and equity in the division of the conquered spoils is maintained. If either France or Germany feels that only one of them is truly reaping the benefits of the alliance, the chances of it breaking down are much higher. The arrangement of supply centers facilitates the goal of maintaining parity between the partners of an F-G alliance. Switzerland, Milan, the supply centers in the Low Countries, and the entire British Isles can be swapped back and forth to maintain parity in size as France and Germany advance across the map. Successful diplomacy can overcome whatever obstacles may arise.

Looking longer term at potential friction within the F-G alliance, Germany at some point will probably become primarily a land power. To protect itself from a French stab (if the third member of a triple alliance has not yet been found), it probably wants to sign up a player with fleets (e.g. Turkey). Otherwise, Germany may wish to persuade a southern player (e.g. Austria-Hungary) to develop naval power (or otherwise cause France to keep forces committed in Italy and/or North Africa) in order to keep France committed enough to other fronts to discourage a stab. Germany will likely have two or three fleets in the northern waters which it built to use against Britain and Russia. The Kaiser is going to want to keep those fleets and avoid disbanding them. A healthy armada could discourage a French stab, and fleets pulling garrison duty in some of the coastal supply centers release badly needed armies for use elsewhere. Additionally, even if France (and not Germany) controls Britain by this point, the North Sea and perhaps the English Channel should be added to the list of DMZed territories. This should give the Germans sufficient strategic flexibility to either race for the solo or to walk to the three-way draw.

France, on the other hand, constantly needs to worry about all those German armies, both the ones on garrison duty lurking just beyond whatever is established as a DMZ and the ones that make grinding but consistent progress in Austria-Hungary or Russia. Germany will probably top out at three fleets, whereas France will likely have at least five split between the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea zones. What few armies France has are likely deployed at this point in Italy and in North Africa. To avoid being shanghaied by a German stab, France needs to recruit a third partner (most likely Austria-Hungary or Turkey) and needs to try and occupy the bulk of the British Isles, from which point a single French fleet in the North Sea can neutralize several of those threatening German units.

The diplomatic options for an F-G alliance are varied. The implications of F-G as a straight dual alliance as opposed to it being two-thirds of a triple alliance need to be discussed. In the 1900 variant, with an odd number of supply centers, a dual alliance cannot force a two-way draw by force alone. They're much less stable than triple alliances that can force a three-way draw. The game designer, Baron Powell, purposely included this factor to preclude neat two-way draws. Instead, this forces the partners to look at other options. These include (1) relying upon a concession by the surviving powers, (2) looking for an acceptable partner(s) for a larger draw, or (3) stabbing their former ally for the solo victory. There are strong possibilities that other powers on the board would concede to a powerfully executed F-G alliance if an acceptable third partner is not found. Otherwise you can consider F-G simply to form the "hard core" of an alliance that reaches out to find a third leg of the stool. If you cannot get that leg identified immediately, however, do not jettison the F-G by itself. The power of an F-G standing by itself is impressive. With power displayed, it is possible that a third party will come begging to be included in the triple as time passes.

You need to remember that ANY triple alliance can work if the players involved are determined to see it work. Obviously, though, some alliances are simply easier to start and to maintain than others are. In considering a possible third partner for a triple alliance, let's look around the board, power by power:

  1. Britain -- The Western Triple is known from Standard Diplomacy. German players are often very reluctant to agree to a Western Triple for the long-term. Having Britain crouched on one's shoulders might be considered too dangerous. The numerous British fleets in northern waters, in Scandinavia, and even northern Russia will have a much easier time stabbing Germany than a Germany limited in his fleet builds will have stabbing Britain or defending itself against a British stab. From a French perspective, including Britain in the alliance early has large benefits -- it helps disentangle the Anglo-French forces -- which are somewhat jumbled at game-start, and properly played, gives France command of the all-important Mid Atlantic Ocean.

  2. Italy -- It would be a difficult power to include in a triple, either short or long-term, with France and Germany. France is likely to feel enclosed with two powers right on its borders. France will be concerned if Germany prevents its growth in the north and Italy precludes it from growing in the Mediterranean and North Africa. So Italy is mostly likely an early victim of the F-G.

  3. Russia -- As with Britain, it would be difficult to include this power in a game-long triple with France and Germany. Germany is likely to fear being sandwiched between a strong Russia and a strong France. Tensions between Germany and Russia could easily develop over the partition of the Scandinavian neutrals, the possible inclusion of Russia in a partition of the British Isles, and Russian advances into Austro-Hungarian territory at the expense of German growth. However, Russia is a useful early triple partner, as an initial partnership with Russia allows Germany (1) some freedom to help France finish off Italy, (2) to work with Russia against Austria-Hungary, and, even more importantly, (3) to jointly eliminate Britain as quickly as possible.

  4. Austria-Hungary -- Austria-Hungary could be a strong power to include in a game-long triple with France and Germany. Austria-Hungary can easily help in an attack on Russia and also can help in an attack on Italy. Austria-Hungary also allows for more immediate military impact on the Balkans and the extreme southeast corner of the map than France and Germany can muster on their own. Austria-Hungary is also located so that growth for all three powers can be maintained for some time without direct conflict over the spoils of war. The lack of immediate direct conflict also helps to ensure that none of the members of the triple feel an immediate fear of being sandwiched by the other two. In fact, you should look at the A-F-G triple as a much better option, in many cases, than the all-too-frequent A-G-I triple that crops up in 1900 games.

  5. Turkey -- Turkey could be a strong power to include in a long-term triple with France and Germany. Turkey doesn't have direct conflicts with either power at game-start. It is far enough removed from F-G that it will not come into direct conflict over centers until a few years into the game as the alliance advances further across the board. Also, as with the inclusion of Austria-Hungary, none of the powers should be too concerned with being sandwiched by the other two. The only real issue with Turkey is that it's somewhat difficult to execute an F-G-T triple effectively in the short term. If both Russia and Austria-Hungary attack Turkey in force, only Germany (and not France) is able to offer some help, and that of potentially limited effectiveness as Germany will most likely be involved elsewhere at that time as well.

If not an active participant in a triple, Turkey could be a useful element in the opening strategy of F-G. The Turkish army in Damascus could be used to threaten Egypt. This could tie down that eastern British fleet, or even force a British disband, if an attack on Egypt proved successful. Also, Turkey's active involvement in the Balkans can keep Austria-Hungary and Russia both focused on the southeast corner of the map. Obviously, F-G diplomacy should try to maintain a chaotic stalemate in that southeast corner of the board, and prevent any power or alliance of powers from achieving a significant early victory.

In summary, the F-G can be a masterful combination. It is powerful enough to quickly manhandle Britain by itself at game-start, and in tandem with an early triple entente with either Austria-Hungary, or Turkey, can quickly manhandle Britain AND another power simultaneously at game-start. Once Britain is reduced, this western Juggernaut starts to really roll!

The authors would like to thank Charles Feaux de la Croix, Aki Halme, Baron Powell and Charles Roburn for their suggestions and contributions.

Chris Dziedzic
([email protected])

Bill Leake
([email protected])

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