The 1600 Variant


The 1600 map, by Tommy Larson

by Kininvie

"The 1600 variant poses interesting strategic problems. Largely because it demands that players look beyond their own immediate interests from the very beginning of the game" designed to inform and amuse those of us who like Diplomacy. It is aimed at new users and old pros alike, but is slanted towards users of

A strategic overview

Variant type: Historical. Europe
Special Rules, movement: None
Special Rules, map: Canals allow fleets in some inland home centres

‘1600’ is my favourite variant, and I consider the strategic problems it poses to players more interesting than the standard map. Largely this is because the dynamics demand that players look beyond their own immediate interests from the very beginning to understand and counter the threats that are likely to arise by mid game. This may mean that they have to modify the urge to strike up the most convenient alliances – those which will net them the most builds – in favour of achieving the kind of balanced power structure which will prevent them being overwhelmed in mid game and give the biggest advantage at the end.

‘600’ pits nine players together in a Europe which fairly accurately reflects the historical power balance at that date. The four corner powers of Russia, England, Spain and the Ottoman empire are handicapped at the outset, either by having fewer home SCs, or – in the case of Spain – by having centres awkwardly placed at a distance from the homeland, in Flanders and Naples.

There are additional problems to be solved from the start. Both Russia and Sweden are constrained in their ability to break into the open sea by having no access except through the easily-defended complex of Danish-controlled islands at the mouth of the Baltic. They are therefore vulnerable to English expansion in the north. Sweden furthermore has difficulty in finding initial builds, except by moving into the Russian heartlands – and since she outnumbers Russia, both locally and absolutely, the temptation is great, but she risks being vulnerable to an early Danish stab.

For the central powers of the Hapsburgs and the Poles, the problem is to avoid being partioned and destroyed by their neighbours. Both start with powerful concentrations of force, but face an immediate contest on two or more fronts. The Danes are advantageously placed for southward expansion, but have the three potentially hostile powers of England, Russia and Sweden at their rear. Since the greatest cluster of neutrals lies in the Germanic lands of central Europe, a race to snap them up is likely to embroil the central powers, including France, in a complex land battle – allowing Denmark or Sweden to grow at their expense and the Ottomans to set about dominating the Mediterranean.

England and France, whose initial instinct is often to combine to destroy Spain are most at risk of losing out in the middle game. For Spain is the only power at the start of the game that is capable of contesting the Mediterranean with the Turk. If the Ottomans are friendly with Russia or Poland, they can quickly achieve naval dominance if Spain is taken out early. Similarly, if England throws all her naval resources southwards, she becomes vulnerable to a Danish expansion into northen waters. Russia’s problem – assuming she survives initial Swedish or Ottoman aggression, is of being back marker in any eastern alliance, with the consequent problems of trust. Because of her crippling inability to get fleets into the open seas, she remains vulnerable to Anglo/Danish amphibious invasion in the north throughout the game. For Russia, Poland and Sweden alike, dominance of the Baltic is essential for westward expansion and the defence of the Prussian coastline. But this can only be achieved by laborious tactical play and deceptive strategies in the face of Danish ability to close down fleet movements.

The Spaniards have one of the hardest rows to hoe. Their remote home centres in Flanders and Rome are difficult to hold, and using them as bargaining chips to cement alliances is probably the best option. This leaves the Spanish with only two home centres to build in, however. If Spain can achieve an English alliance against France, this is probably her best bet, as the combined naval forces of the two powers should be able to hold the western approaches and contest the Mediterranean.

Like Sweden, England has a tough time generating builds, but unlike Sweden can usually afford to wait in a defensive position, and start expanding only once she perceives where advantage lies. An Anglo-Danish alliance can be massively powerful and hard to counter, and if there is a hint of one, France has to make peace on her Spanish and Hapsburg frontiers and strike hard for the northern European lowlands before Denmark can expand out of the bottleneck of the Baltic islands.

Good diplomacy is therefore crucial in playing this variant, and knowing what immediate sacrifices to make for the sake of later advantage is one of the determinants of success. "