One of the most unique things about playing the Russian in Diplomacy is that not only do you have an opportunity to effect the West or the East, you have no say in the manner of how you do. The dual fleets -- one in the Baltic, on in the Black -- lead to intervention that's as often harmful as helpful. So, the question rests -- how do you dispose of your armies to account for your dual involvement?
I contend that its best to pick one theater -- and hit it with all available force while securing the other with Diplomacy. This allows actual expansion opportunities instead of a slow tug of war on both sides of the board. And, in most every case, both armies are almost immediately useful. Let's examine the possibilities, depending on your target.
Austria: Probably the favorite first meal for a Russian bear coming out of hibernation, the Austrian attack can be carried out with either an Italian or Turkish ally. In either case, A Mos-Ukr and A War-Gal are almost automatics. F Sev-Rum is usually the move for the southern fleet, but I prefer F Sev-H for a couple of reasons.
First of all, an army in Rumania is extremely useful, much more so than a fleet. In a war with the Hapsburg would you rather control Bla or Ukr/Gal/Bud/Ser? I thought so. By leaving the fleet in Sev, you could still support A Ukr-Rum while allowing A Gal to try some fun stuff. But the Austrian always moves A Vie-Gal, you say? Try this tactic with the Italian: Get Italy to approach the Austrian suggesting this:
Austria: A Vie-Bud, A Bud-Ser, F Tri-Alb
Italy: A Ven-Trl, A Rom-Apu, F Nap-Ion
The plan being to pressure Rumania while covering all bases with Trl-Vie, Bud-Gal, should the evil Russian (you!) try something than this will happen in the fall:
Austria: A Bud-Vie
Italy: A Trl-Tri
Russia: A Gal-Bud, A Ukr-Rum, F Sev S A Ukr-Rum
Extremely nasty, isn't it? It also gets your armies next to each other and isolates the A Vie.
This is a is a lesson I learned, unfortunately, as the Austrian player. Kudos to Ken Kohn and Eric Aldridge for zinging me with it in conventional play. Playing off a strong R/T will make the Austrian more likely to band together for the Italian, as well as keeping the Black Sea clear. A Serbian or Viennese attack in 1902 suddenly becomes automatically successful, banning Turkish intervention.
Turkey: Russo-Turkish wars are difficult and usually net you little early on because the booty is split 2-3 ways. But if you have other reasons, you had better commit full-force. Objective one is to hold and keep the Black Sea, which means building F Sev in Winter 1901 if at all possible. So what needs to happen for that?
I prefer F Sev-Bla, A Mos-Sev, A War-Ukr. Here is the thinking: if F Sev-Bla goes, chances are that Armenia is clear as well. You can either try A Sev-Arm, F Bla S A Sev-Arm. Terribly effective. Or play it safe: A Sev-Rum, A Ukr S A Sev-Rum, F Bla S A Sev-Rum. Then build F Sev as soon as possible, and fill the gap with the Ukrainian or a newly-build A Mos, if you're lucky enough to get Sweden.
Actually luck has little to do with it. You need some pretty severe diplomacy to hold your northern position. But that's the second part to this strategy -- keep things in the west as confused as possible until you clear the east (it works exactly the same if you go north/west first). The way to slow things down is to get 2 players in the theater to go at it (I/A vs T or F/G vs E) while offering a little help or, especially against the Turk, non-intervention.
Nobody said this would be easy, but it's better to plead your case on one half of the board and over run the other half militarily than doing both verbal and tactical fencing in each. Now let's look at the northern attacks:
Germany: Attacks on Germany can be quick and devastating because you'll usually get a lot of help. The problem with this is, that more people who know, the better the chances someone will bet on. The spearhead of your attack is A War, fighting it out for either Pru or Sil. I say it all depends on what you think the German will do. If you believe your attack is a surprise, I prefer A War-Sil, A Mos-StP. If the British forbid StP, Lvn is an inferior substitute. Here is why:
If Germany opens F Kie-Den, their obvious fall move is F Den-Swe. If you move F Bot-Bal and A StP-Fin, he still gets only one Scandinavian build, you none, but now instead of threatening Swe was a unit or two, you have units on Swe, Den, Kie and Ber. Add a little pressure in the West and it is too much for the Kaiser to handle. If he moves F Kie-Hol, you have the option of convoying any army (as you could from Lvn) or moving F Bot-Swe, A StP-Fin. From there the Baltic is yours, or, with Detente with the Germans, a three unit attack on Norway in the Spring 1902 is possible. The advantage Lvn has over StP, besides not scaring the English, is moving A Lvn-Pru in Fall 1901, but since you'll build A War there isn't much point to the move.
What if the Germans are expecting an attack? Let the fleet go StP-Bot-Bal and use the armies in the spring as follows: A War-Pru, A Mos- War, and in the fall, A Pru S A War-Sil, A War-Sil. A sparring match, true, but how long will the British and French ignore an exposed German backside.
England: The English attack is really the only one that does not require both armies, with only one English territory (Nwy) handy. But don't let A War stray to far. A move to StP as a F StP(nc) vacates in Spring 1902 may be required.
As with the southern strategy, you need a two on one on one of your neighbors to keep you safe, either A/I versus T or I/T versus A. Shoot for the former, since a retreating Austrian in Galicia or (heaven forbid) the Ukraine can cause all sorts of trouble. In addition the Turks take longer to kill, thus giving you more time to consolidate your position.
So in summary, no matter who is your target:
1. Put all of your eggs in one basket (north or south) and go for fast gains so you can defend yourself.
2. Negotiate furiously in the theater you're largely ignoring.
3. Try to get your bored neighbors to attack a witch (England or Turkey).
Good luck to you and may your next game start be your borscht ever.
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