Monday, January 9, 2012

The Juggernaut

Dear friends,

And now, in the name of a better, more informed game, I am about to do something extremely un-strategic.

As I said earlier, the game has entered an important crossroads. The Russian-Turkish alliance, operating at full steam, has incredibly important ramifications for the future of the entire board. I encourage you all to see what the veterans of the game have said about this particular alliance: no other alliance in Diplomacy is as important or as feared. Ignore what these scholars and veterans have to say at your own peril.

I hesitate to send this to you, because there is one nation that traditionally benefits tremendously from a Russo-Turkish alliance: France. So I was tempted to stay quiet until now. However, with Russia breaking into Scandinavia and the two of them potentially taking out Austria-Hungary, a board unfamiliar with what will happen next will quickly become a train wreck.

Do with this as you will...

President Paul of France

The Juggernaut - or, the Ramifications of the Russo-Turkish Alliance

  • It was not always thus. The Russo-Turkish alliance used to be frequently seen, and well deserved its names, ‘Juggernaut’ or ‘Steamroller’. Once established, it was simply unstoppable. The reason is easily seen: freed of the threat of attack from Turkey, Russia at once becomes as powerful as any two other countries; freed of the need to attack the mighty northern neighbour, Turkey has only one direction to go in, and can throw everything into the westward drive with single-minded violence. But the overwhelming strength of the Juggernaut is also its critical weakness: Austria’s bleats for assistance are sympathetically heard from Marseilles to Edinburgh, and whatever Austria asks will be done (or should be). If the Juggernaut is met vigorously from the outset, it can be held.
-The Game of Diplomacy, Richard Sharp (1978), Chapter 6

*    I have played many games in a juggernaut, though as Turkey I do prefer to ally with Austria, destroy Russia and then I always have the option to stab Austria or go round and attack other players... I think Turkey gets the bad hand if they are in the Juggernaut, as it will probably only gain 1 SC first year and if lucky two in the next. Russia can grow more quickly if no one notices the Juggernaut early on, and can go on for the victory. 

*    The Juggernaut is weak if it's caught early enough--that is, before Austria falls. Trouble is, global coordinated effort is required to put the brakes on it. I've seen too many Italys try to grab a piece of Austria instead of allying in the face of a juggernaut, and ensuring doom for the rest of the board. Likewise, too many western powers waiting too long to sort out their own local territorial squabbles before turning to face the bigger threat. 

That said, I'd expect most successful Juggernauts to end up as Russian victories...

*   Once a Juggernaut gets started, it's incredibly difficult to stop.

*   For Russia it's a great deal. I really don't see what's in it for Turkey, though. There's so much more potential for quick growth in the north, while the Russian southern fleet makes a stab relatively easy (in the game mentioned above I moved to BLA in about 1904 with Turkey's permission, since the loss of Ser meant that Rum was at more risk than I wanted -- I stayed there until the end of the game, using it for the final convoy into Ank). I can't think of conditions under which I would be prepared to accept a juggernaut as Turkey, except as a ruse to take the Black Sea in combination with a move to Armenia in spring 1901.

*   When I describe a Juggernaut, I loosely use the the term "steamrolling", as the expansion of Russia and Turkey are not only fast, but also speeding up as they go along. This "steamroll" only happens when little resistance is met, and it will be a fast and powerful "steamroll" as well, since sometimes contries do not ally together only because someone "thinks" a Juggernaut is coming. If you can keep Austria and Italy fighting, the "Steamroller" just keeps picking up speed--even a year or two is enough to make the advance irreversible and unstoppable.

--Various veterans of postal Diplomacy, compiled commentary on the Juggernaut on the Diplomacy list-serv, 1992-2001

The Steamroller or Juggernaut
Most postal Diplomacy players come to grips with the concept of the Juggernaut fairly early on in their careers - the notion that a strong Russo-Turkish alliance can just steam-roller over the rest of the board, crushing all beneath their wheels. I suspect that true Juggernauts are far and few between, in that they often break down early in the game if the going gets tough, but the mythology lingers on.  
It is true that if Russia and Turkey can reach a true accord then they have a lot of potential because they can control two of the four corner positions on the board, which means that instead of operating on the usual expanding balloon sort of strategy, they can just march across the board in a single line. In particular, co-operation against Austria can reap quick rewards, especially if Italy has been unwise enough to attack Austria as well. 

But it need not be so: any alliance can be stopped. First, it is imperative that any western power suspecting the emergence of a Juggernaut can get Italy on side. If Italy assists (directly or indirectly) with the partition of Austria then she will release the centres that the Juggernaut needs to gain momentum. Even if Italy has attacked Austria from Spring 1901, both should be prepared to bury the hatchet if a Juggernaut is on the cards. Of course it may be very hard to persuade Italy of the sense of such a course of action, as Italy no doubt believes that she has a firm alliance with Russia and that they will both move on Turkey once Austria is dealt with - though in practice Russia may be quite content for Turkey and Italy to face each other while Russia seeks gains elsewhere.  

One question worth asking about Juggernauts is “What is in it for Turkey?” Good question. Unless the Italian player is an idiot, a Juggernaut is almost certainly going to favour Russia - who will slip the knife in when Turkey is over-stretched and claim an outright win. Similarly, Turkey must be content with second place or he must stab Russia at the optimum moment. Neither player can afford to leave his back door open.
The Juggernaut remains a fearsome alliance, but not a very fashionable one. It requires mutual trust early on (something Diplomacy players are not very good at), but once established can do very well indeed, because to be stopped the other players have to take a long-term view (something else Diplomacy players are not very good at!).

Stephen Agar, Reprinted from Spring Offensive No.42

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