Winter 1900 variation (rs35)
by John Norris
The Winter 1900 variation of Diplomacy offers an interesting alternative to the ordinary start. Instead of the standard allocation of units, with their conventional openings, players are given the freedom to choose builds for their home centers in Winter 1900.
The games begins with a Winter 1900 build season, in which players can choose their units to suit the strategy they have chosen in the initial diplomacy. Thus, for example, Russia and Turkey could agree that neither would build a fleet facing the Black Sea, as part of a 'juggernaut' alliance - either could stab the other by doing just that, of course! The only restriction on players' choice of builds is the obvious one that fleets cannot be build except in coastal centers.
The range of choice varies from country to country. Turkey, for example, can justify almost any combination of two armies and a fleet or vice versa. Austria, on the other hand, only has to choose between an army and a fleet in Trieste - but how crucial that choice can be! In fact, all seven countries have interesting new options in this variation.
Let's start with Turkey, one of the most boring countries in the conventional opening. The Winter 1900 variation gives Turkey a really interesting range of choice. Suppose that the initial diplomacy suggests you should move against Italy, to break out into the Mediterranean as quickly as possible. How about F Smy, F Con, A Ank? F Smy-Eas, F Con-Aeg, A Ank-Con will leave you poised to take Bulgaria and the Ionian Sea in Autumn 1901. Alternatively, perhaps Austria should be the target. F Smy, A Con, A Ank will take Bulgaria in the spring with good chances of Greece in the Autumn. Against Russia, F Con, F Ank, A Smy will take the Black Sea whatever he does, with a support to ensure the conquest of Bulgaria in the autumn.
Turkey has some more flexible options, too. F Smy, A Con, F Ank is perhaps the best. It offers Bulgaria in the spring, and a good chance of Greece in the autumn, and cover for the Black Sea. Another is the conventional A Smy, A Con, F Ank.
Russia has two units to choose, those in Sevastopol and St. Petersburg. The crucial choice is likely to be the one in the south. If Russia can forge an alliance with Turkey, then A Sev offers much better prospects than F Sev; F Sev can only go to Rumania, where it is of little use against Austria, but A Rum is a powerful threat westward. On the other hand, if Russia chooses A Sev and Turkey goes for the Black Sea, Russia is never going to make any progress against a Turkish attack. The Defense will have to remain just that.
The choice is St. Petersburg is also difficult. It may seem obvious to choose A Stp or F Stp (nc), to move to Norway in the spring. But suppose Germany builds F Ber as England heads south. Germany, not Russia, will control the Baltic region; he will secure Sweden, the Baltic itself, and probably Norway and the Gulf to follow. Russia's decision to grab Norway will have given Scandinavia to his greatest rival, Germany. In deciding which of the three possibilities to choose for St. Petersburg, Russia will need to assess German and English intentions very carefully.
Germany has to choose between armies and fleets in Kiel and Berlin. In practice, this comes down to a choice between F Ber and A Ber, for F Kie is almost always preferable to A Kie. F Ber offers a chance of the Baltic, or to get fleets into both Denmark and Holland, where they are preferable to armies. A Ber is better defensively. The key will be the intentions of Russia and Italy; if an army will be needed to help Austria, F Ber is probably the luxury you can't afford!
England's choice is very limited, F Lvp or A Lvp? It is also limiting, in that A Lvp commits you to the convoy east, now less likely to succeed than before, in Norway, and F Lvp is a declaration of war on France via the Mid-Atlantic! England is the one country that does suffer in the Winter 1900 variation, unless France is very weak. A possible compensation would be to build F Stp (sc), without freedom of choice there; that avoids strengthening Russia or Germany at England's expense in Scandinavia.
France has to choose between A Mar and F Mar, F Bre being preferred. A Mar is the defensive choice, for action against Germany, and if France plans to try for Belgium. F Mar is for the waiting game. A France with F Por and F Spa(sc), or better F Mid, F Por or Spa(sc) and A Spa or Por, and two builds in Winter 1901 is powerfully placed to strike either north towards England, or east at Italy.
Italy need not be covered here, for the choice of F Rom instead of A Rom leads simply to the well known variant F Rom Diplomacy. The key factor should be the likelihood of Turkish fleets in Constantinople and/or Smyrna.
Last we come to Austria, with that vital choice in Trieste. Much pushes you to the army, obviously stronger in defense and indeed the opening drive for the Balkan centers. But you should look further ahead too. The army is of immediate value, but Austria will never get very far without fleets, which are so hard to build. Can you afford to miss the opportunity of starting with one, and establishing it in Greece? It is a tricky decision.