There are many ways to play Diplomacy and it's new variant Colonial Diplomacy. Heavy tactics, heavy strategy, heavy dipping and any combination of the three. But, if you find that your game tends to go towards Heavy Strategy, have I got a country for you!
Each country in Colonial Diplomacy starts with very different positions, and, therefore, very different immediate concerns. They are not all the same size. They do not have the same opportunity for growth. Many are immediately thrust into a hot bed of controversy. But unlike any of the other nations, Japan can actually think about what its game plan is going to be. Japan starts with 4 centers with nothing but beautiful water all around. No one can get to her without a concerted effort, and every attempt to do so is telegraphed well in advance. So sit back. Put up your feet up. Relax. You've got time to think about what you want to do. And as the world becomes smaller with each passing turn, you have time to change your mind.
An overstatement for sure, but not far from the truth. Japan starts as a middle power with 3 fleets and 1 army. Three countries have more units than her. Three have fewer. But she doesn't have to worry about the entire board, as Britain and Russia do. And she is not land locked, as China is, so the extra unit can be used any way that she chooses. As Japan, your main decision is going to be do you get involved in the battle for Seoul and Fusan, or do you send your fleets south to get the lion's share of open centers in Formosa, Manila, Cebu, and Davao. It is not an easy decision. You will more than likely want to do both. So let's look at each option individually. Then we can mix and match, and hopefully come up with a strong opening.
The Philippine Opening
"I've talked to everyone. Russia and China are going to be at each others throats. Holland is worried about Britain, and France doesn't have a clue. It's everything I could have hoped for!" If you ever start the 1870 turn with these thoughts, this opening could give you a giant step on all the other players. The key, of course, is Russia and China. If they are going to be fighting to the death, you can swoop south and pick up two centers before anyone knows what is going on. I want to call this a "closed door" opening, because your views towards Russia and China are at best neutral, and your initial involvement will be totally nil.
1870 - F Ota-Os; F Kyu-Ecs; F Tok-Up; A Kyo-Kyu
1872 - F Os-Sak; F Esc C A Kyu-For; A Kyu-For; F Up-Mp
Sak may be red on the map, but it belongs to Japan. No matter what opening you choose, something has to go to Os in 1870 and Sak in 1872. If you find that For is being challenged, try to talk your way through taking it without a support. (This is diplomacy, after all.) But if you can not take the chance, support the convoy from Up. The important thing is to get the two builds. Your second goal is to slip as far as you can into the Pacific spaces. Build? Two fleets, Kyu and Kyo.
1874 - F Mp C A For-Cebu; A For-Cebu; F Ecs-For; F Kyu-Ecs; F Kyo-Up; F Sak-Os
At first glance, you may think I am being whimsical with my suggested moves for 1874, but I am not. Again, I believe that a strategy has to be backed up by diplomacy, and that the strategy has to be flexible enough to adjust to the tone of the diplomacy taking place. For the above moves to work, you need a good relationship with Britain. Only Britain can get to Formosa and Cebu as quickly as you, and then only if Hong Kong is abandoned. If you want Cebu badly enough, you should be able to get it even with a naked convoy.
From this position, you have an excellent chance to take Mna from Mp for two more builds. If you have been lucky enough to not be pulled into the affairs of the mainland, now is the time to open your eyes. You have ignored Russia and China long enough, and you can not afford to let either of them get the upper hand. Pick one and use the other. And never give up your base in the Philippines.
The Open Door Opening
"I've talked to everyone. Russia and China are going to be at each others throats. ..." Isn't strategizing wonderful! Everything is the same, it's just that this time around you have this unquenchable desire to convoy, convoy, convoy. Well if that is what you want, let's get to it. Whether you are going to be pro-Chinese or pro-Russian, the opening is the same, and that is the beauty of it. You won't be committed one way or the other until 1874.
1870 - F Ota-Soj; F Kyu-Ys; F Tok-Os; A Kyo H
The F Tok-Os is mandatory, as is A Kyo H. If Ota moves to Soj, something has to move to Os. Don't forget, Sak is yours. Don't miss the only sure build you have. By moving Kyo to Aki, you open only one additional option (F Os C A Aki-Sak, followed by F Os C A Sak-Vla). Although this would probably be fun to play, I think it limits your ability to play the Chinese and the Russians for the best offer, and they will offer.
1872 - F Ys C A Kyo-Fus; F Soj S A Kyo-Fus; A Kyo-Fus; F Os-Sak
At this point, you have gained two centers, and have not moved in anyway against Russia or China. During those two turns, your diplomacy should have generated a number of options. Now you can pick the best one and build accordingly. If you choose to play the pro-Russian variant, you will want to convoy into mainland China, either Sha or Nan. If you choose the pro-Chinese variant, you will want to convoy into Vla and Seo. In fact, the question of Seo possession can be address in 1872. I used A Kyo-Fus only because neither Russia nor China should protest your desire to occupy it. But you may be able to get both of them to concede Seo to you in 1872 in return for your support against the other. Remember, right now they both need you. So use it and them to your best advantage.
Unlike the Philippine Opening, where you ignored everything else until 1878, with either Open Door option, you will have to address the south with your builds. Because of this, you may decide to build fleets in 1872 and postpone the army builds until 1876. You have already given up Cebu to either Holland or Britain, and a single fleet may have trouble taking Formosa. So building a second fleet in 1872 can not be ignored. But remember that you have committed to a mainland game. Get Formosa, build a defensive line, and then press your advantage by getting as many armies as you can onto the mainland.
Attacking China will give you more growth opportunities, but attacking Russia may be easier to pull off. If you were able to take Seo instead of Fus, then moving to Fus may buy you more time to make a decision. Stall if you must, but don't be surprised if you begin to be pressured by your want to be allies to get off the fence. In any case, it's still your choice. Go for the gold!
The Open Door Philippine Opening
What is that saying? "Compromise is the spice of life." What ever it is, that is the basis of this opening. "Jeez, I really want Fus, and For, and Sak. And I can't ignore two of the major powers of the game from turn one. And I can't pretend that everyone and his cousin isn't racing for the Philippines. Gawd! What can I do?"
If you can't choose between one of the two openings described above, don't. Heck, your Japan. You really can have it all. Well, at least you can try for it. I have only seen two games of Colonial Diplomacy played, and in both cases Japan has opened with three builds. Now I acknowledge that two games is not a great sample, but it does show that it can be done. And I wouldn't be surprised to find that the only time it fails is when Russia and China decide to work together instead of against each other. That will happen once in a while, but more often than not, they will be at each others throat. The challenge is not can Japan get three builds. The challenge is can your diplomacy keep R/C from forming.
1870 - F Ota-Soj; F Tok-Os; F Kyu-Up; A Kyo-Aki
1872 - F Soj C A Aki-Fus; A Aki-Fus; F Os-Sak; F Up-For
Moving the fleet to Up or Ecs is up to you. I prefer Up only so the option can be investigated of bypassing For and moving instead to Mp. Getting to Cebu first is very important, and you may decide that the delayed build is worth the prize. One thing that every country has to look at in this game is the value of racing to the furthest center and then back filling the bypassed centers in the next few turns. In Diplomacy, the open centers are fewer and closer to one or another of the playing countries. So, this option just isn't available. In fact, if it were attempted, the stranded and unsupported unit would almost always be forced to retreat in the very next cycle of turns. In Colonial Diplomacy, the opposite seems to be true. Because of the number of open centers and their distance from other playing countries, a single unit can take and hold a distant center beyond the first two cycles of turns. This then becomes an important issue of your strategy. Can you stretch your lines or must you play closer to the breast?.The A Kyo-Aki should be considered mandatory. By moving to Aki, you are adding options for 1872. The threat of F Os C A Aki-Vla with support from Soj, is very real. It is important that Ys is not entered by Russia. Also, you will want assurances that you will be allowed to enter Fus. If friendly negotiations can not bring you to these agreements, then the threat of the other may soften a staunch Russian stance.
So there you have it. Three different openings with options galore even after you have chosen one of them. What more could the strategist in all of us ask for? OK, time to get off your duff and put your plan into action!
Mike Oliveri is a new contributor to Diplomacy World. He's also a card shark.