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The Qin was one of seven (yes, seven) "warring states" in China several hundred years B.C. During its rise to power, it often followed a policy of "ally with the three far states against the three near states."

Has anyone won (or lost) a game of Diplomacy using such a strategy? Does it work better using some countries than others (e.g. England, allied with Turkey, Austria-Hungary, and Italy against France, Germany, and Russia)? Or are there any good articles on such a strategy?

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    Being on the team of 4 in a 4vs3 certainly sounds like a good plan.. Not sure it deserves its own name though! – Nick May 15 '13 at 9:50
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    @NIck: 4 vs. 3. That's why the Qin won with it. But it is a sophisticated, complicated strategy fraught with pitfalls. Which is why the Qin made a name for themselves when it worked for them. I believe that's how CHINA got its name. – Tom Au May 15 '13 at 12:13
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I have a hard time seeing this being successful. The problem is that it doesn't mean much in the early game for England to be allied with Austria or Turkey. So effectively you'd be playing EI versus FG, while Austria and Turkey teamed up on Russia. The likely scenario is that the 2 v 2 battle doesn't go very far, and the 2 v 1 battle goes well, resulting in a stronger Austria and Turkey. At that point, Turkey pretty much has to attack Austria or Italy, and either way doesn't seem to bode well for England.

In general, having an ally across the board is nice, but it isn't a replacement for having an ally that you can coordinate with directly, especially in the early game. You'd need to look at it as more of a long-term alliance. Perhaps as England you coordinate with Austria, Turkey, and Italy, but you start by getting Germany to help you take apart France quickly (with Italy's help), then activate your cross-board alliance to take out Germany. It's debatable whether that really meets the criteria of a "Qin strategy" though.

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  • It's close enough. "Qin" preached a particular strategy but didn't follow it dogmatically. And that's probably the key. – Tom Au May 22 '13 at 1:46
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There are certain context for this strategy. Qin's strategy was only used for the major powers, any of which could crush others and were ready to do so. In general, there is great distrust among great powers, who cannot be permanent allies due to conflicts of major interests.

In that case, allying with your neighboring powers against farther powers is not a good strategy. Because first of all, maintaining interests faraway is costly; Even if you can afford it, neighboring powers would be threatened by the encirclement so that they alliance could not be genuine. Their betrayal could be deadly. Instead, working with farther powers is much easier. They have "common interests" (containing your neighboring powers who are more likely to threat their interests than you are) with you. Combined you are also in an advantageous strategic position. They can also be lured into an alliance by greed. The infamous example is the short alliance between Hitler and Stalin.

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In Diplomacy you are not playing countries; you are playing your opponents. There are tremendous advantages to allying with nearby countries; as there are tremendous advantages to allying with non-adjacent countries. Which is better in any particular game has more to do with the players, than the countries. That is why the difference between countries diminishes as the player quality increases.

In a really strong game I don't see any particular disadvantage to playing Italy or Germany, but in a weak game it is important to be Britain or Turkey.

Update:
Every country starts with three neighbors, except Italy and Russia who start with four. Anyone who starts by quickly making enemies of all neighbours is on he fast track to finish seventh. A strategy like the Qin strategy (which of course was also popularized by Machiavelli) only works for someone who is actually stronger than his collective neighbours, or can at least withstand them singlehanded. In Diplomacy, as in Survivor, you win by having more allies than our enemy does.

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  • This doesn't really seem to address the question at all. If you're saying that the question can't be answered, that probably makes more sense as a comment. – bwarner May 15 '13 at 15:33
  • @bwarner: It worked in "real life," which is why I asked if it might work in Diplomacy. But the connection might be hard to make on a gameboard. – Tom Au May 15 '13 at 15:59
  • @bwarner Yes it answers the question. Because it says you choose allies in diplomacy by player, not by "farthest 3". – John Robertson Feb 22 '14 at 7:03
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A "Qin" strategy is hard to implement, but makes sense conceptually. It is most useful in the middle game.

In the beginning, the board is divided into two parts, the northwest (England, France, Germany) and the southeast (Italy, Austria, Turkey). Russia straddles both parts.

In the opening, one country is eliminated from each of the two parts (in some cases, Russia is eliminated in place of another country from the second part). During that phase of the game, your most pressing concern is to ally with one country in your part of the board to eliminate the third.

If is after you have survived the first round that you start thinking about strategic considerations, like a Qin strategy.

Here is an "antagonism" table. (Positive numbers in Table 4 reflect antagonism, negative numbers reflect friendliness.) Note that the "friendliest" countries are those that are furthest away.

Take Turkey, for instance. It has high (positive) antagonism numbers toward Austria first and Italy second. It is (almost) neutral regarding Russia (low absolute positive value)and has "negative" numbers toward the three distant countries of England, France, and Germany.

Austria fears Turkey, Russia, and Italy in descending order, and like Turkey, is friendly with the three northwestern powers.

England's main fears are Germany and France, and it is friendly with the four non-western powers.

France fears England and Germany, and is friendly with the four non-western powers.

Germany's biggest fear is England, followed by France and Russia, and is friendly with Turkey, Italy, and to a lesser extent, Austria in the southeastern group.

Italy fears Turkey most, followed by Austria. It is often friendly with France (surprisingly) and is a natural ally of the three distant countries, England, Germany, and Russia.

Russia fears Austria first, Germany somewhat, is neutral toward Britain and Turkey, and friendly with France and Italy.

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