Diplomacy Convoys: As Good As They Look?

By Jeff Breidenstein

Originally appearing in Diplomacy World #56

 One of the more popular moves in Diplomacy is the convoy, which uses a fleet to transport an army across one or more sea/ocean spaces. The convoy's main advantage is that the army can move more than one space in a season. Although it is a far-reaching move, there are a number of disadvantages associated with it. Keep in mind that this applies only to the regular Diplomacy convoy and not to the Piggy-Back Convoy (which is also known as the Abstraction Convoy) that is used a number of Diplomacy variants.

 In his book The Gamers Guide To Diplomacy (which he wrote for The Avalon Hill Game Company in 1978), Rod Walker has this to say about the convoy:

 "The convoy is the most powerful move in DIPLOMACY. Even the threat of it is likely to send an enemy into fits. Depending on circumstances the convoyed attack's power is derived from one or more of four factors: (1) it provides rapid reinforcement, (2) it is flexible, (3) it may be unexpected, and (4) it is more secure."

He then goes on to describe each of these four factors in greater detail.

However, in his review of The Gamers Guide To Diplomacy in his magazine Diplomacy Digest (issue 15/16, 1980), Mark Berch has this to say about Rod's view of the convoy:

"Unfortunately, Rod's bias has gotten the better of him again. As he considers it the most powerful move in Diplomacy', he certainly isn't going to tell you any of the drawbacks, is he? He won't, but I will:

1. The convoy ties up extra units. Even an unsupported convoy uses two pieces at the very least. A long convoy that fails is a grievous waste of resources. Even if it succeeds, movement to the front of the fleets is delayed. Thus, in 1972CR, Doug Beyerlein convoyed A Con-Spa, and as a result, at least two fleets never got to the front.

2. For multi-fleet convoys, the move previous to the convoyed move can be harmed. During the move in which the last fleets are positioned, the others will often be restricted in what they can do, for fear of stepping out of position.

3. Security can actually be less. A fleet that is convoying might be supporting another fleet instead."

I happen to agree with Mark Berch: the convoy is not as powerful as it would seem. However, let us look at some examples of the convoy first:

EXAMPLE 1 England

A Edi – Nwy, F Nwg C A Edi -- Nwy

This, of course, is the use of a convoy to move an army from one land area to another via the seas. The convoy is vital to both England (who cannot truly invade the continent without it) and Italy (who cannot obtain Tun without either a convoy or the garrisoning of a fleet there).

EXAMPLE 2 France

A Mar – Smy, F Lyo C A Mar – Smy, F Tyr C A Mar – Smy, F Ion C A Mar -- Smy

France is at war with Russia, and has occupied Turkey. This is an example of using the convoy to move newly-built armies to the front. If the army moved overland (via Italy and Austria), this move would take 3-4 years (or more if actively opposed), as opposed to a single season with the convoy.

EXAMPLE 3 France

A Spa – Bre, F Mid CA Spa -- Bre

Germany

F Eng – Mid, A Bur -- Pic

In this example, Germany has tried to cover both bases. If Fre F Mid moves to Bre (the obvious move), then Ger F Eng takes Mid (and supports A Pic into Bre the next season). If Fre F Mid holds to keep Ger F Eng in place, then Ger A Bur --) Pic means that Bre will more than likely fall the next season. But, by using the convoy, an army is placed into Bre that otherwise would have to have been built there, and the German moves fail to operate as planned.

As I see it, these are the only 3 situations where the use of a convoy is vital:

1) The "Continent-to-Continent" Convoy: Used to convoy armies to from England or North Africa. This is the only way for armies to get there.

2) The "Distant-Front" Convoy: Used where the active front is distant from the homeland, and a convoy is necessary to bring these new armies up to the front more quickly than an overland route.

3) The "Protection" Convoy: Used to bring up an army quickly to defend a certain province where one cannot be built and otherwise none would be available in time.

However, there are other situations where a convoy can be useful:

a) The "Accidental" Convoy: Used when your fleets are in just the right position for a convoy where one was not originally planned. If the enemy does not notice, great surprise can be achieved.

b) The "Keep-Em-Guessing" Convoy: Used simply as a lark to keep the enemy (and possibly your allies, as well) from guessing your true intentions. If done often enough, opponents may come to expect a convoy, and you may be able to get around their defenses. However, overuse of this can cause you more trouble than you cause others.

ROD VS. MARK

Both Rod Walker and Mark Berch make some interesting comments about the convoy. Let's take Rod's views first:

(1) It provides rapid reinforcement - No arguments here, as the army can (theoretically) move from one end of the board to the other in one season. But unless you can get your fleets into position this doesn't mean a thing.

(2) It is flexible - Yes, but only to a degree. Since you must usually plan ahead in order to have fleets in position for a convoy, it is not something you can just go ahead and do. Under Flexibility, Rod says that ... "Convoys keep the enemy guessing. The fleet which can convoy an army to a space can itself attack the same space if it does not convoy. This ability to play three roles (attack or convoy or support) gives the fleet its great flexibility." However, what Rod fails to tell you is that you can do only one of those things (or move, instead) at a time. This means that additional support is needed if you attempt  a convoy in the face of the enemy. He also says ... "Another element of the flexibility inherent in the convoyed attack is the rapidity with which it can be developed." In certain cases this is true, but it is very difficult to do so later in the game when there are more fleets roaming around the board.

(3) It may be unexpected - True, but after being burned by unexpected convoys in past games I now usually keep an eye out for these. And if your opponents are keeping a watch for a convoy they have a tendency to either not work as well as planned or not work at all.

(4) It is more secure - False. A fleet that is convoying cannot support, and this is the heart of the matter: a fleet can convoy OR support but NOT both. Each convoying fleet cannot move that turn, and (if they  are already in position) even be forced to remain where they are for fear of losing their position. Unless your fleets are in a position where the enemy cannot dislodge them, you stand a good chance of having  your convoy disrupted.

Now, let's look at Mark Berch's views:

1. The convoy ties up extra units - True, and since each fleet involved can only convoy or hold until the move is completed, their impact. on the board can be negligible until the convoy is completed.

2. For multi-fleet convoys, the move previous to the convoyed move can be harmed - The awful specter of the convoy, in that after all your work setting up the necessary fleets one is dislodged by the enemy. Since any fleets involved in convoying cannot support each other, just 2 enemy fleets can disrupt the convoy (unless you have additional fleets supporting the convoying fleets, in which case the entire convoy becomes a logistical nightmare).

3. Security can actually be less - True. This not only refers to the fact that a fleet can only do one thing (move, convoy, or support) at a time, but that: a) the enemy may take advantage of the convoy to either dislodge your convoying fleet or move around it; or b) by moving or supporting the fleet instead of convoying you might achieve the same goal just as quickly, (or with an acceptable delay) and with less chance of something going wrong.

THE RIGHTS AND WRONGS OF CONVOYS

Too many people attempt to use a convoy at the wrong time for the wrong reason. There are several "nevers" that should be kept in mind when you are attempting to convoy:

1) Never convoy if another equally good alternative is available (unless, of course, you believe in the "Keep-Em-Guessing" Convoy).

2) Never convoy if the enemy is in a position to disrupt the convoy by the dislodgement of one or more of your fleets (unless you feel that you either have surprise or that something else can be gained by doing it) .

3) Never use more than one or (at most) two fleets in a convoy unless absolutely necessary.

4) Never keep trying season after season to get one or more fleets into position for a long convoy. Fleets that keep making the same unsuccessful move over and over tend to tip your hand, especially if  any other of your other fleets in the area simply remain in position.

Avoiding these things can help in making a convoy succeed.

Alternatively (for the defense), keep an eye out for any possible convoy by the enemy, especially if there are one or more of the following:

1) Any fleet adjacent to a coast, especially where a convoy to this area can be useful.

2) Two or more fleets together anywhere on the board, and especially when near or next to a coast.

3) A fleet next to an army where that army can be convoyed without leaving the vacant space open to an immediate attack.

4) A fleet next to one of its' coastal home Build Centers (especially in Fall, setting up for a Spring convoy).

A multinational convoy is always possible in a game, especially where one of the nations convoying is an "ally" setting you up for a stab.  There is little one can do about this except for keeping your eye open to treachery.

I hope that this article helps you to accurately weigh the pros and cons of convoying, and hopefully you’ll never again fall prey to the "surprise" convoy!



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