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Subject: A Strategic Look at France rss

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Aaron Steward
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Reconnaissance

France is blessed with many geographic aspects that make it a flexible and resilient power in Diplomacy. Iberia rests behind it, giving France two builds to take at its leisure, as well as a southern port allowing it to place those builds on either side of the main stalemate line. Additionally, the geometry of Pic/Bur provide a narrow front to the east making an advance from Germany nearly impossible without assistance from the sea or the southern side of Switzerland.

To the north sits England in dangerous proximity, and of France's three neighbors each acting alone, England can do the most damage. Conversely, England also fears France for the same reason, and an alliance between the two powers can be a dangerous prospect indeed, sweeping east with good speed.

Germany lies to the northeast, and without help from England, neither will succeed in an attack against the other thanks to the narrow corridor that comprises their border. Although neither alone can match England's control of the sea, should France align itself with Germany, together they can carve out the northwest corner of the board for themselves before turning their attention back to the rest of the continent.

Italy borders on the southeast, bottle-necked between the Mediterranean and Switzerland. Should Italy attempt to advance past Pie, any army must continue on into Mar, though should France wish to break into the Italian mainland, Pie has many options for an army headed eastward. Both must cautiously guard their southern waters against the other, for a war between France and Italy will not be won on land but on the sea.

Marshaling for Victory

France has the potential to achieve victory quickly, relative to the other six powers in Diplomacy, second probably only to Russia. Victory for France will at least include its home centers, Iberia (Spa, Por), the Lowlands (Bel, Hol), Tun, and two from each of England, Germany, and Italy for a total of 14. The last four SCs can be found as far as Austria, Scandinavia, the Balkans, or even Turkey. Truly, France has many options available in the pursuit of victory.

While France may have an easier time crossing the main stalemate line than its neighbors, this comes at a price. Not only are minor stalemate lines abundant in the Mediterranean, but for France to fight on one side it must turn its back to the other. France must always keep the lines of communication open, else it find enemy armies crossing the border just as France has fully committed elsewhere.

First Strike

France's early fortunes will hang primarily on how well it fares within the Western Triangle comprised of itself, England, and Germany, though matters with Italy require a bit of attention as well. Por and Spa are all but guaranteed in the first year, and Bel is not out of the question either, though focusing efforts on the Lowlands will delay at least one build granted from Iberia. France can easily gain two builds in any combination of these three SCs unless it finds itself under attack from at least two of it neighbors and even then strong tactics may hold off any aggression through the first year so France can strike back in strength. This allows France some diplomatic flexibility in that it can usually wait out the first year before deciding on a course of action.

The largest tactical decision facing France immediately is where it wants its starting fleet positioned during the first adjustment phase. Very commonly, it'll land in Por while Spa is taken with an army and the other army patrols France's border. While convenient in the first year, getting the fleet back into action in defense or against France's first target will require one extra season. Alternatively, the fleet may sit in MAO or Spa(sc) over the winter. MAO is incredibly flexible and can coordinate with France's other units to protect Bre from English aggression while Spa(sc) is no more removed from the northern front than Por, though it has the added advantage of being one move faster should France wish to conduct action in the Mediterranean.

Option 1: Allying Germany and Attacking England

Should France and Germany join forces to eliminate England, France should hope to gain not only its first year builds, but three SCs from England itself. Usually, which SCs these are depends on who captured Bel, for if Germany took Bel, France should press its claim on the entire English island, though if Bel is English (or perhaps, already French) Edi can safely be awarded to Germany. Germany may not take kindly to being shorted in this manner, but an astute France will point out Germany's rightful claim to the entire Scandinavian peninsula (he does, after all, control both Den and Nor). Not only will this press the alliance's momentum eastward, but should occupy Germany should he devise any treacherous plots against France.

To protect the south, France should encourage Italy to sail east. Whether this means attacking Austria or Turkey is only dependent on the Russia-Turkey relationship. If Russia and Turkey are hostile then France cares not who Italy targets first, but if Russia and Turkey are allies, France must convince Italy to attack Turkey in defense of Austria. A quick Austrian exit benefits a secure Turkey much more than the centrally-located Italy, and France should touch on this point not only in self interest, but in the interest of Italy's survival as well.

Tactically, France must weigh the benefits of sailing into ENG immediately versus a more calm opening. Either a DMZ or bounce should be organized with Germany in Bur to secure the eastern border. Common openings are:

Bre-ENG
Par-Pic/Bur
Mar-Spa or S Par-Bur

These openings put immediate pressure on England, potentially threatening a convoy or a supported attack on Bel while Mar is free to pick up one of the Iberian SCs for a guaranteed build. There are other openings in the anti-English system, but these are probably the more common ones.

Bre-MAO
Par-Gas/Pic
Mar-Spa/Bur

These variations are used when France opts to begin an attack in the second year rather than the first. Both armies may march to the Iberian and allow the fleet to remain in MAO over the winter, or they may head toward Bel while the fleet picks up either Por or Spa for a build. Again, there are many more examples that fit this system and combined with France's flexibility, the campaign can easily change directions should the need arise.

Option 2: Allying England and Attacking Germany

If France decides to turn against Germany, it should lay claim to Bel and Mun without question, though even Kie or Hol could be negotiated. While France may not gain much from Germany itself, the burden can largely be left with England while France divides the rest of its attention elsewhere, either to prepare a stab against England once Germany is broken or to begin skirmishing against Italy.

Again, in this case France should push Italy east, though if Italy is to be the dessert after Germany is finished off, manipulation of Italy's plans are less crucial. Additionally, provoking Russia into escalating the action in the far north will not only draw off some of Germany's defenses, but may also draw England into a complicated melee in Scandinavia. Moving east through the Mediterranean may be a viable option depending on if Austria is fairing poorly, as well as if much of Germany is expected to fall into French hands. If either of those conditions are met, France should stay focused on the northeast.

Tactically, France should ensure that Germany does not enter Bur, nor does Germany take Bel for himself. Coordination with England is essential if France has any hope of making progress for himself in breaking through Germany's defenses. Some common openings are:

Bre-MAO
Par-Pic/Bur
Mar-Bur/Spa or S Par-Bur

These openings order a French army to Bur either with or without support. France may not only have a chance to take Bel, but threaten Mun as well. Do not be overzealous though, since Mun will be difficult to hold if Germany is still largely intact and will likely sacrifice France's chance at Bel in the first year. Still, if Mun is captured and immediately retaken by Germany, having a French army behind the German lines could be incredibly valuable.

Option 3: Attacking Italy

A less common but still viable option for France is to attack Italy first. In this case, all three western powers are on good terms and France doesn't wish to show the first sign of aggression and draw unwanted attention to himself. This approach will not bring as much early gains to France as would an attack against England or Germany, thus this approach is less frequently pursued. It should, however, bring the entire Italian homeland under French control and is easily defended against Austria or Turkey.

England and Germany should be encouraged to head off to Russia together, and England especially should be pushed to commit as fully as possible to balance France's equal commitment in the south. France must keep in mind that this three-way alliance can very easily evolve into an England-France alliance as they slowly wrap around the edges of Germany. Some common openings for an Italian campaign are:

Bre-MAO
Par-Bur/Gas
Mar-Spa/Pie

To maximize momentum against Italy, France should aim to land his fleet in either MAO or Spa(sc) by the end of the first year. Por is one season removed from any meaningful position in the Mediterranean, while the other options can quickly strike against Tun or TYS. Pie is a risky gambit, as it will not bring in a build on its own, but it is a nasty surprise and may bring about the defeat of Italy even faster should France outmaneuver Italy. Another consideration is to leave Mar open in the fall to allow a southern fleet to be built before Italy can prepare a strong defense.

Maintaining the Offensive

Approaching mid-game, France will hopefully find itself at about 8 SCs with one of its neighbors eliminated. Continuing on, France will easily see that initiating hostilities against either Russia or Turkey (depending on the direction of France's initial campaign) is largely unfeasible. This leaves France with the option to either take this time to engage Italy, if France's attentions remained in the west in the early-game, or to turn against one of (if not the only remaining) neighbor in the west.

Option 1: Attack Italy

Assuming France has teamed up with either England or Germany against the other, he may wish to expand in the south rather than turn against his original ally. In considering how plausible this possibility is, France must make a careful evaluation of Italy's position, for it will oftentimes affect France's success in the south more than France's own diplomacy will.

Due to Italy's rather unique location on the board, it's more difficult to predict the Italian position compared to more strategically-restricted nations like England or Turkey. Italy can reasonably spend the first four years attacking Austria, Turkey, or sitting close to home waiting for an opportunity.

Ideally, Italy will be fully embroiled in a fight against Turkey, a Lepanto stretching the Italian forces thin and deep into the southeast corner of the board. Should this situation arise, France can safely and easily send fleets into the Mediterranean. If Italy has made solid progress in attacking Austria, France may just as easily attack Italy itself, but this requires careful reading of the Russia-Turkey relationship. Removing Italy only to allow Turkey to succeed in a westward campaign will essentially stall France's progress at the elimination of Italy. Leaving behind a token defense force in Pic/Bur should prove enough of a deterrent when accompanied by light, frequent messages to any neighbors.

Tactically, the strongest approach may be to send an army into Pie during an autumn phase during a year when France can build a new fleet in Mar in the adjustment phase immediately after. Of course this is not necessary since a simple two fleet attack against Italy early on should have little trouble making progress. It may be wise to offer Ven to the Austrian, while France takes Rom, Nap, and Tun. Alleviating the tense Ven/Tri border in Austria's favor is a cheap and easy way to buy his allegiance, which may prove priceless when it comes time for France to begin its grab for victory.

Option 2: The Western Front

Concentrating on developments on the west of the stalemate line means taking gains that are more accessible from France's mainland, as well as increasing security from building a buffer between the frontlines and France's home SCs.

Option 2.A: Turning on the West

If France began by attacking Italy, it's likely that both England and Germany are still on the board and at decent strength. Whether or not this has been part of a three-way alliance, England and Germany may have started growing paranoid of each other. France will often be the deciding factor in the survival of this impending conflict, thanks to his border with the other two powers being the shortest of any between the three western countries.

Turning against Germany may be the faster of the two options since after the fall of Italy, France can now march around either side of Switzerland to reach Germany. England, likewise, will be lined all along the top of the board and can strike Germany from both the west and north. France must keep a couple things in mind, should this route be pursued:

1.) the border between England and France will grow much larger very quickly, and if relations with England aren't solid, France may find itself on the wrong side of new fleets moving into ENG. At the same time, England may not take kindly to French fleets sailing back into MAO, even in a defensive capacity.

2.) many of Germany's SCs are much more easily accessed from Scandinavia and the northern waters than they are from the south. This means England will probably gain more from the exchange unless France can manipulate a resurgence of Russia to tie down English units in the north.

Attacking England will be slower, but this situation can more easily be managed in France's favor. Re-positioning fleets from Italy to England won't catch even a novice England by surprise, but unless Germany and England have already started hostilities, France cannot wait for Germany to make the first move. As long as Germany doesn't come under heavy assault from Russia, even the help of one or two German fleets can ensure French victory over England. It may be wise, then, for Germany not to prevent Russian success in Scandinavia, for if Russia is blocked from any of the English prizes, he may take out his frustration on Germany, allowing England to defend against France without distraction.

France must delicately balance animosity between Russia and Germany without it resulting in conflict, and if successful, France can agree to any and all German demands against the Russian in exchange for complete French control of England itself. After all, how can France assist in the fight against Russia if German fleets are guarding their consolation prize of Edi?

Option 2.B: Consolidating the West

In the case that France has assisted in the destruction of one of his western neighbors, France may wish to consolidate the entire west of Europe for himself. Attacking Germany after the fall of England is fairly straight forward. Fleets, maintaining the momentum of sailing north can easily continue east, and promising Ber and one or two Scandinavian SCs to Russia will often put Germany in a hopelessly indefensible position. Bel and NTH will be critical territories in ensuring France reaches the German heartland before Russia.

Conversely, striking at England from the German interior is a delicate undertaking. France will likely not have built many fleets, and so must orchestrate not only a quick plan of attack, but must accompany this with assistance from Russia. All the while defending France's gains in Germany, either militarily or diplomatically, this juggling can very quickly spiral out of control.

Making the Final Push

After France finds itself at a dozen SCs or so, and eastern coalition (usually led by Russia) will begin coordinating to stymie the road to the 18th SC. Should England still be on the board (and has more than 2 or 3 units left), it warrants an incredible amount of France's attention. England will be the only power left on France's side of the stalemate line, and sitting on a dangerous position behind France's frontlines. Assuredly, Russia will promise anything and everything to England to set a stab in motion. Unfortunately, for France to counteract this, he'll need to turn a majority of units away from the east. In the case that an eastern power has matched France's growth thus far, arranging a counter-coalition against that nation may buy time for the English question to be settled.

Normally, France will have built a strong position along the west and either the north or south ends of the board. Diving into central Europe will yield larger gains than seeking to increase defensible positions along the edge of the board. The dominant surviving power of Germany, Austria, or Italy can be defeated even with only minor assistance from another eastern power. If not, France will have the opportunity to strike from either side of Switzerland and the stalemate line and may only need to wait out a slow grinding war of attrition to reach victory.

Parting Shots

France is an incredibly versatile and resilient nation in Diplomacy. It won't hurt to play into the mindset of peace and defense. Sooner or later, someone will call on France for help and once momentum is built, France's war machine is a difficult one to stop. France should not become so entangled with a land war that its navy is neglected. Fleets will be imperative in advancing the stable geography along the edges of the board as well as maintaining defense against English or Italian incursions.

Like Russia, France has an easy time crossing the stalemate line unless it waits until the endgame to do so. France should not be afraid to set the pace of the game, for excessive stagnation will benefit England much more.

Happy stabbing, and may the best man win.
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Alan Richbourg
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Way easily my favorite nation to play in Diplomacy. Turkey might be more powerful perhaps, but France is the most fun, imho.
 
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