by Noel Weer
The importance of the first year of a Diplomacy game is all too often overstated. It is also far too often understated. There is rarely a point in a game that is so fluid, wide open, and rife with possibility. Every player is in the hunt, all the vacate territories are calling out to be conquered, and every player is still smiling quietly at all the others.
My Opening Theories are quite generic. They form the basis of all my Diplomacy play at the outset of a game, regardless of the particular country I may control. I will cover country specific issues in later discussions. These may seem fairly basic to more advanced players; but, remember this makes them no less true and no less worth remembering or being reminded about. Besides, everyone has to start somewhere.
...Stable Approaches to the First Year
1 Avoid confrontation, if at all possible 2 Plan for minimum expansion 3 Talk to everyone 4 Avoid committment/play the field
Now I will work a bit to detail the essentials of these ideas. Each following item corresponds numerically to the previous list.
1 If in the first year you manage to alienate your neighbor, you can pretty much count on him being particularly distrustful or antagonistic for the remainder of the game. Think about it. If someone attacked you right away, proving himself to be aggressive, would you treat him as anything but an enemy? Probably not. Expect the same from him.
2 Each player should be reasonably assured of gaining at least one build at the end of the first year. You should plan to be absolutely sure that this includes you. With some countries you could take chances and go for 3 builds, but only if you know that you will not be stopped from getting any builds as a result. There is nothing worse than going for the big build bonanza in 1901, and having all your neighbors do the math and attack/block you in the Fall of 01. So, plan for 1 build and if more come then quietly celebrate your good fortune.
3 Anywhere you look for Diplomacy advice you will see this mentioned. This should tell you how important it really is. At no other time is it more important to speak to each and every player in the game. Speak to everyone. Feel out their motives, plans, and short term goals. (Their long term goal goes without saying.) Detailed negotiations and promises are not the point. If they become the end result, in a year or so, fine; but, you are talking simply to be talking. Put on your friendly face. And you must extend the hand of friendship and communication as rapidly as possible to each and every player. Just because you are England and the Turkish player seems so far away does not mean that you snub him. The benefits of simply including your distant powers early may result in a gem of intelligence at a key moment later. Or, he may take offense at having been left out when you clearly spoke to each of his near neighbors and begin spreading seeds of ill repute among your near neighbors.
4 You do not offer marriage on your first date. You do not enter into a grand, binding treaty to conquer the world hand-in-hand with another power during any turn-date that has the number 01 in it. This relates directly back to #3, but is well worth emphasizing.
In review, I have discussed the my first year concepts. Quietly gather your 1 or 2 builds. Talk everyone's ears off and get a feel for the players. But basically get ready for the action to begin.