Avalon Hill's latest commercial variant on Diplomacy - the other one was Machiavelli - looks a lot more promising than most variants that I have seen. The £44.99 price tag is a rip-off, so I waited until I had accrued enough Virgin Megastore vouchers from work incentives to buy it. There have been a few minor reviews of the game already, but as a seasoned Diplomacy player I want to give my first impression of the game without even playing it! Just by looking at the map one can get a feel of what the best strategies are and which are the most important areas.
My immediate impression is that there are far too many unnecessary provinces, which means that trying to keep your Empire neatly compact and yet expanding at the same time is almost impossible. Put too much emphasis on one front and the 'back door' will be open to attacks from not one, but two or three other Empires! Only Japan and to a lesser extent the Dutch, can claim to have good board-edge positions. On the map as it comes in the game Sakhalin is an island surrounded by the Okhotsk Sea which means if you put a unit in there you can never be eliminated! This, to me, is very much against the whole point of the game, there should be no 'safe havens' giving everyone the chance to be eliminated!! I suggest the Sea of Japan should border Sakhalin so move the borderline to join Vladivostok and Sakhalin. Frankly, without this "correction" I doubt if I would wish to play the game at all.
Two-thirds of supply centres are located in the eastern half of the map making that side much more important. The main centres of conflict would probably be the Burma region and the Korean peninsular, there seems to be no pivotal centre on the board such as Munich on the standard board. Most stalemate lines revolve around Munich, but it is hard to see where they would occur on this board. It very much depends on the victory criteria used (16, 24 or 30 centres).
Here I have given a brief synopsis for each country on how I see their strengths and weaknesses.
British: Starts with 6 units, more than anyone else, but they are very spread out. India is the hub of the British Empire with fleets scattered in Aden, Singapore and Hong Kong. Aden has no immediate enemies and is used to prevent Turkish expansion, surely. Expanding with single units out of Singapore and Hong Kong is not going to be easy as the French, Dutch and Chinese will certainly not allow it! The British will probably start well, but likely to get bogged down on too many fronts. Best allies are probably the Dutch and Turks as they can do the most immediate damage.
China: Starts with no fleets!! A bit like Austria on the standard board, potentially very powerful but surrounded by lots of enemies. A good Diplomat's Empire. Looks all too easy to send off armies into all corners of the board fragmenting and weakening the Empire. The crucial home centres of Manchuria, Peking and Shanghai will be under threat almost straight away from Russia and Japan. Having to cover these centres could present build space problems. Japan could be an ideal ally as he has the fleets and you have the armies, but it's a bit like Austria and Turkey in the standard game, Japan's expansion is limited if China is not on the hit list. If Japan is likely to be aggressive you need fleets and friends!
Dutch: Looks to have a slow but sure build-up potential with few enemies that can really hurt you. Very definitely a naval power which could mean going through the whole game without building a single army, and still win!! No obvious allies but, as the rulebook suggests, a pact with Japan could sweep westwards juggernaut fashion. The British could be useful if you are going to stick to the eastern half of the board, but an anti-British campaign would be helped if the French were your allies.
French: How can the French ever win? They start on three supply centres more or less in the centre of the board and will meet opposition whichever way they move. Possibly the easiest country to eliminate, they remind me of Florence in Machiavelli if you were to play the game without the financial rules. I have to be convinced that they are not there just to make up the numbers. Tough one to play, almost impossible to win - ally with anyone you can. Your one strength is to be the spoiler, and to take advantage of that.
Japan: A comfortable edge-of-board position makes Japan look like one of the strongest Empires on the board. Its fleet strength should dominate the eastern seas but will have to watch the Dutch. Japan's major route of expansion looks like being through China, but as in real life, they can get bogged down slugging it out with the yellow pieces if no-one is willing to help. Preventing fleets builds by Russia and China should be a high priority. Any good alliance should benefit Japan.
Russia: As with the standard game Russia has to fight on two fronts, but here the units are much further apart. The Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) rule helps to cut the gap down. The fleet starting in Port Arthur is the only naval resistance that the Japanese have to contend with so it is vital to keep it alive. If you lose your fleet and Vladivostok your eastern campaign and likelihood of winning the game is probably over, unless you have had huge successes in the west. Here Turkey is the only immediate threat and not very threatening at that. Expansion is a problem, all the juicy areas are too far away so you have to trudge through masses of centreless provinces to get at them. Best ally would be China, I reckon; and at least a non-aggression pact with Turkey. An alliance with Britain could help to eliminate Turkey and divide the western half of the board between you.
Turkey: Dodgy position. Too few centres within easy reach in order to keep in touch with the leaders. You will end up fighting the British in the Iran/Karachi area for sure and probably lose! Grabbing Egypt should be a goal as this allows you to send fleets to the east via the centre-rich sub-continent of India. China could be a useful ally against either Russia or the British, all the other Empires will be too far away to help directly.
Reprinted from Spring Offensive 34