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Is A/T Broken?

by Charles Roburn

As fans of Diplomacy, I'm sure we can all agree that part of its charm is the vast assortment of alliance combinations that can arise in the game. Age cannot wither this game, nor custom stale its infinite variety. The geopolitical realities of the board mean that some combinations are more likely than others, and players may have their own preferences when playing a given Power; but ultimately it's diplomacy and personal relationships that determine what happens. As a result, no long-term pairing of two Powers in an alliance is unworkable.


Except that in the time I've played Diplomacy, I have never seen a long-term alliance between Austria and Turkey in the standard game. Sure, I've seen them work together temporarily — usually against Russia, or a very large power occupying Russia — or to stave off another Power's solo at the end of the game. But I've never seen Austria and Turkey get together in a victorious game-long alliance from the very beginning.

If Austria and Turkey ally against Russia early on, one of them will almost certainly stab the other once the Tsar is defeated. If they are reluctantly forced together to stop-the-leader, they will either secure the stalemate line and go for the draw — or again stab one another once the danger is past. There just doesn't seem to be a way for them to work together in a lasting partnership. Admittedly my experience in Diplomacy is less than that of many; still, I don't think I'm alone in this observation.

And on some fundamental level, it just seems wrong. Diplomacy is a game of possibilities, and no alliance should be impossible. It's also unbalancing; if Austria and Turkey are inevitably destined to fight, that gives an unfair advantage to their neighbors.

So *are* they destined to fight?


Well, there are a few factors that generally lead Austria and Turkey into conflict:

Neutrals: The Balkans represent the largest single grouping of neutral supply centers on the map, and they're located right in between Austria and Turkey. So naturally they both head in that direction in the first year. And once started in one direction, it's easy to continue that way.

Overlap: When you count the nearest eighteen centers to each country's home SCs, there's a great deal of overlap between those needed by Austria, and those needed by Turkey. This naturally makes for a great deal of friction.

Lack of Turkish options: The overlap problem is even more pronounced because Turkey has nowhere else to go. The closest eighteen only just fall within a four-move radius of Turkey's home centers. In an AT alliance, the Sultan has to go even farther afield to find centers to make up for those he cedes to his ally.

Together, these reasons make a strong argument for the position that Austria and Turkey are going to have to fight each other, and that sooner rather than later.

And yet, there are other factors that should counter or mitigate these problems.


In spite of the natural friction between Austria and Turkey, they do have some powerful motivation to work together:

Fear of Russia: When you look at the distance between home centers, Russia is actually in a better position to invade Austria and Turkey than those two are to invade each other. Vienna and Budapest are within two moves of Warsaw, while all three Turkish home centers are that close to Sevastopol. For Turkey in particular, Russia is the only other Power able to sail a fleet on the key Black Sea space; and it also blocks Turkey's quickest route to a center on the other side of the main stalemate line (St Petersburg).

Fear of Italy: This other mutual neighbor can be a headache for both Austria and Turkey. The Venice/Trieste border is a constant worry for Austria, while Italy's natural naval bent can be a huge obstacle to Turkish ambitions. And when Italy works together with Russia — which is not uncommon — the IR alliance can crush first one and then the other between them.

The stalemate line: Both Austria and Turkey are on the same side of the main stalemate line. No Power can win without crossing that line, and it's generally a good idea to do so as early as possible. The more time AT spend fighting each other, the more difficult that becomes. If on the other hand they make peace and work together, they should be able to slam into Munich and Marseilles before the western Powers realize what's happening.

Inland boundaries: Inland boundaries are very useful in creating a demilitarized zone between allies, and AT should be able to use this fact to reduce tensions between them. Turkish fleets in Greece and Bulgaria offer no threat to Serbia, for example. Conversely, an Austrian army in Sevastopol can't sail onto the Black Sea; a single Turkish unit in Armenia will block its only route south.

Novelty: In the original Gamer’s Guide to Diplomacy, this was the one point listed in favour of an AT alliance. It’s so completely unexpected that it should take everyone by surprise, and leave them convinced that it can’t last. This can, of course, be a huge diplomatic advantage for the two allies.

These are all very fine in theory, but in practice they don't seem to offset the natural Austro-Turkish tendency to fight. But can they? Is there hope for a game-long AT alliance?

A Hopeful Model: England-Germany

When you think about it, England and Germany are in a roughly analogous position to Turkey and Austria. Like Turkey, England is a corner Power that must go a long way to reach eighteen centers; and like Austria, Germany is a central Power that stands in the way of England's shortest route to victory. Both of them can clash early on in the Low Countries and Scandinavia. And yet, the EG alliance is generally considered to be as workable as any other.

So it seems to me that a good place to start is by looking at the factors that make for a functional EG alliance, and try to adapt them to the Austro-Turkish situation.

1. Army/fleet division.

England is clearly a naval Power; Germany is more balanced, but more strongly oriented toward building armies. In AT, Austria is very clearly a land-based power while Turkey can afford to build either type of unit. So a successful AT alliance could have Austria focus on land, while Turkey builds only fleets. This should let the allies proceed with minimal fear of a stab, and make it easier to demilitarize areas by using inland borders.

2. Long-term prospects.

They say that in politics, it's important to have an enemy; and this is certainly true in Diplomacy. A mutual foe can be the glue that holds an alliance together.

England and Germany start off with two possible targets: France and Russia. Once the President and Tsar have been dealt with, they can work together against Italy, with Germany sending armies overland through Tyrolia to attack Venice, while England sends fleets around Gibraltar.

Similarly, Austria and Turkey can cooperate against Italy and Russia to begin with. Afterward they can focus on France, with Austria sending armies around Switzerland to hit Marseilles through northern Italy (and Munich!), while Turkey carries the naval war to Spain and the Mid-Atlantic.

3. Mutual understanding.

It's important for any alliance to make sure that each partner is treated fairly. This doesn't necessarily mean exact equality. In an EG alliance Germany may prosper more initially in terms of growth, but the Kaiser can also be attacked from more directions. Later on in the alliance, England may need to grow in order to build more fleets for use in the Mediterranean. As two very different countries, England and Germany must be able to appreciate each other's point of view.

Again, I think a similar principle applies with regard to Austria and Turkey. The AT relationship does face several difficulties, as I've listed above; it will take some work to overcome them. The alliance will have to balance Austria's need for security with Turkey's need to expand.

Making it Work

So what does all of this mean in practical terms? What do the Archduke and Sultan have to do in order to set up a firm alliance?

I'm afraid I can only speculate; I've never yet had a chance to try it myself with a willing partner. However, I would like to try it someday; and I've thought of a few points to start from based on the reasoning above.

As with an EG alliance, I think AT would have to be divided along fleet/army lines, with Austria providing the vast majority of land power, and Turkey providing the fleets. This is complicated by the fact that Turkey already starts with two armies, but I think that could be worked around. Perhaps one Turkish army can be sent north against Russia, or attacked and disbanded to permit construction of another fleet, while the other is used for convoys as Turkey heads west.

There is also the question of how to divide the Balkans. Greece falls naturally within Austria's sphere in 1901, but if Turkey is to follow a westward strategy, the Sultan may want to claim it, and certainly won't want the Austrian fleet there. Austria, on the other hand, will want Turkish help against Russia, but not want to see Turkish armies circling north. So it seems to me that one possibility would be to have the Austrian fleet act in the vanguard of the push through the Mediterranean, while a single Turkish army serves on the eastern front. This unit exchange may have some dangers; but if handled well it could help to stabilize the alliance. It could also lead to forward retreat attacks, where (for example) an Austrian fleet dislodged by Turkey gets a choice of retreats into Naples or Tunis after Italy has moved — the Blue Water Lepanto in reverse!

The flow of the game might involve the two allies splitting the Balkans between them in 1901, blitzing Russia in 1902-03 and Italy in 1903-05, and preparing for the strike into Germany and France thereafter. At this point the centers could be divided something like:

Austria: Vie, Bud, Tri, Ser, Rum, Mos, War, Ven, Mun

Turkey: Con, Ank, Smy, Bul, Gre, Nap, Rom, Sev, Tun,

Progress beyond this point could be difficult if a strong power or bloc has arisen in the western part of the board; with no northern fleets, AT will find it difficult to force their way through. Perhaps the best way to avoid such a blockade is to play on the novelty aspect of the AT alliance. Everybody knows that Austria and Turkey have to fight sooner rather than later, right? If the two allies can make everyone think that their alliance is liable to fall apart any second, the western Powers may be less vigilant about defending against it. Failing that, there may be a small power left in the north willing to act as a Janissary long enough for the Turkish fleet to sail past Gibraltar and/or Austrian armies to establish themselves on the northern coast.

It will be a challenge; but having seen games where EG ended on a 17/17 split, I cannot believe the same is impossible for AT.


I may be wrong, of course. It may be that these two Powers really do have irreconcilable differences. But I’m not prepared to accept that yet! It seems to me that there is indeed some common ground that can, with enough goodwill on both sides, lead to an alliance just as effective and prosperous as any other. After all, that is what the game is all about!

In the real world, the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires were indeed bitter enemies throughout most of their mutual centuries-long history. But at the end, in the Great War at the beginning of the twentieth century, they were on the same side.

So who knows? Perhaps now at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it’s time for them to start working together in the game of Diplomacy as well.