Gunboat Strategy: France

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President Eden
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Gunboat Strategy: France

#1 Post by President Eden » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:11 am

Second thread in a series.

England

I consider France to be the strongest country in gunboat. France enjoys two advantages that no one else can claim together:

(1) Great defensive capabilities
(2) Build sites close to the stalemate line

(1) is vital to success in any gunboat game. The countries which can't claim those capabilities must adjust their play to account for their starting vulnerability. Starting off with a good defensive position is like starting the game with part of it already won.

(2) is the key to victory. France and Russia are generally considered the two most powerful countries in Classic Diplomacy (regardless of variant) in large part because of this offensive positioning, which gives them an above-average shot at converting a good midgame position into a solo win.

France, like Italy and Turkey, and to a lesser extent Austria and England, has strong defensive capabilities which give it a good shot at surviving the earlygame and getting into the middlegame with a strong position. France, like Russia and Germany, has excellent building sites, which reduce the deployment time of newly-built units to relevant fronts for trying to convert a good middlegame position into a solo win.

France is the only country that combines both of these features, which makes it the best country in gunboat.


Especially in higher-level play, though, this tends to paint a giant bulls'-eye on France. England and Germany, though wary of each other as potential rivals in Scandinavia, are constantly on the lookout for a strong French start, and Italy, the eternal opportunist, will take any realistic chance to steal the rightful French clay of Marseilles and Iberia. Weakness invites death.

The first priority of any French player in gunboat should be to show the other players that you are up to the task of marshaling France's significant defensive advantages to full capacity.
France can fairly leisurely attack whomever it wants if it can successfully ward off any glancing blows from its neighbors first, as France's defensive position already incentivizes its neighbors to look elsewhere for early expansion: expansion which will likely commit the neighbors to a significant conflict which leaves them open to attack from an uncommitted French player. This fate befalls England pretty frequently, for example, where England's Scandinavian ambitions often get rewarded by French fleets "backdooring" England by moving from Mid-Atlantic Ocean to Irish Sea or North Atlantic Ocean on the exact turn that English ships move into Barents Sea or Skaggerack to press an advantage.
But the capacity to do this depends upon preserving your territorial integrity against any possible challenges in 1901. Good players who roll one of the countries neighboring France are acutely aware of France's potential to dominate a game. England and Italy, in particular, can secure all of their "reasonable" 1901 SC targets without committing all of their units, and it's pretty common to see at least one of them use the leftover unit to harass France by occupying border provinces (English Channel and Piedmont) and threatening attacks on France's home centers. Germany rarely tries for Burgundy in S1901, because it has a stake in too many neutrals and because of a certain meta trend (see below), but a foreign unit entering Burgundy is substantially more disastrous than one entering the Channel or Piedmont, so care should be taken against that possibility as well.


In higher-level play, by far the most common opening is the Maginot Defense:

F Brest -> Mid-Atlantic Ocean
A Paris -> Burgundy
A Marseilles S A Paris -> Burgundy

This opening checks off a couple of boxes:
  • If no one has threatened you in S1901, you're adjacent to both your Iberian centers and Belgium
  • Adventurous German players who try to move to Burgundy in S1901 get maximally punished for it
  • Any Italian move to Piedmont can be answered by covering Marseilles with Burgundy without deferring the capture of either Iberian center
This opening is quite good and I think is the main reason why Germany rarely even bothers opening to Burgundy. France preserves an offensive option against Germany if that's desired, and Germany does have a difficult question to answer about covering Munich (German players usually don't, but choosing not to cover risks disaster). Italian harassment is checked without having to play mindgames with your unit in Marseilles/Spain, as can happen with some other openings.

This opening is weak to English Channel openings from England, though. It's rather difficult for France to move the fleet in Mid-Atlantic Ocean back to cover Brest in A1901, because if England doesn't try to capture Brest in A1901, France loses a lot of tempo relative to England; France will effectively have "wasted" the entire first year with that fleet, while England will get two moves to try to obtain an advantageous position. Also, covering Brest is pretty disastrous if it means France has to build a fleet in Marseilles (or possibly not at all, if France also had to cover Marseilles). I don't see a great fix to this from this opening, but I'm also not sure what the alternatives are.


I'll open the floor here. Are there any interesting openings you like as France in gunboat? What do you like to do about the possibilities of attack from your neighbors? How do you like to approach Belgium?

Claesar
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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#2 Post by Claesar » Thu Feb 01, 2018 7:40 am

I like the Maginot opening, but you should defintely consider
Zig:
F Brest -> Mid-Atlantic Ocean
A Paris -> Gascony
A Marseilles -> Burgundy

-or-

Zag:
F Brest -> Mid-Atlantic Ocean
A Paris -> Burgundy
A Marseilles -> Gascony

(I don't know the official names)
A_Tin_Can argued in favour of Zag in the 2016 SoW, if I remember correctly.

Both of these allow you to cover Brest with an army instead of the fleet. In case of a bounce in Burgundy, it won't even cost you a centre, unless you self-bounce Brest to allow a build there. That'll teach England for entering the Channel..

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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#3 Post by Mercy » Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:16 am

I am very inexperienced at gunboat, so what I say is not based on experience, but I think that the Zig/Zag openings Claesar mentions (I use his terminology here) is better than the Maginot opening in high level gunboat games.

Suppose that Germany does not move to Burgundy. Then the only difference between the Maginot opening and the Zig/Zag opening is that you will have an army in Gascony instead of in Marseilles. Like Claesar mentioned, this is desirable if England opens to English Channel, since you will then be able to cover Brest with an army (maybe you could even self-bounce there)! Therefore, if you think it is significantly more likely for England to open to the English Channel than for Germany to open to Burgundy (which seems to be the case in high level games), this should be the desirable opening.

Also, notice that if Italy opens to Piedmond, an army in Gascony is in no way worse than an army in Marseilles. (In fact, if you have an army in Gascony instead of in Marseilles, you have an extra option: you could grab 1 Iberian supply center with your fleet, block Germany in Belgium, and have a build in Marseilles in the case that Italy attacks it.)

If Germany opens to Burgundy, then the Zig/Zag opening is a lot less desirable of course, though you still won't let Germany in.

President Eden
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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#4 Post by President Eden » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:11 am

Gascony hadn’t occurred to me. I dig it.

One opening that TheJok3r and I were discussing earlier is a “Northern” Opening that puts armies in Picardy and Burgundy. I think it’s very solid if you get pressured in S1901 but might be playing with fire if you don’t. If you’re pressured, you have Picardy bluffing cover on Brest and Burgundy bluffing cover on Marseilles. If you aren’t then you have to try to force Belgium to get +2 which could ruffle some feathers.

I think leaving the army adjacent to Brest is a critical piece of the puzzle. England has such an awesome set of continuations if you can only cover Brest with the fleet. They get a lot worse if you can represent a blocker for Brest AND have the fleet go for a supply center.
I think Marseilles to Burgundy + Paris to Gascony is a little better than the reverse. Gascony can cover any supply center Paris could, and Marseilles borders a neutral supply center while Paris does not. I doubt it has any actual applications though.

I do think both openings are better than the Maginot.

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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#5 Post by Claesar » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:52 am

Picardy+Burgundy is very interesting indeed. The upside is highest, as you can force Belgium which will be more difficult later. You can always pick up Spain/Port later. I've been hesitant to try it though. If France already has a target on them due to their initial strength, opening aggressively towards Belgium (which is often hotly contested) sounds like running into the no man's land armed with nothing but flippers.

Well, I suppose you have more equipped than flippers so perhaps I should try it a couple of times. Or try to find some games in which Francce tried it. See how they fared.

In the dark, I'd say the Northern opening is the most powerful for sure.

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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#6 Post by swordsman3003 » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:41 pm

If I knew NOTHING about the metagame I was in, I would open:
Bre>MAO
Par>Bur
Mar:S:Par>Bur

I would make this opening because it is the strongest defensive posture, and I cannot simply assume that Germany will not open to Burgundy (in my opinion, new players love to make that opening). Furthermore, many English players are (in my opinion) naive and don't open to English Channel in the vain hope of alliance with France (or out of greed because it looks like all the neutral centers are to the east).

If I understood that I was playing a high-level game with experienced players, I would assume that Germany has ruled out opening to Burgundy and open with:
Brest>MAO
Par>Gas
Mar>Bur
I agree that this is the best defensive posture when Germany is assumed not to open to Burgundy. Furthermore, experienced players understand that England should not play to take Belgium, Holland, or Denmark in 1901, and should consider France a big threat from the start and so are a little more likely to open to the channel (in my estimation).

I would use Paris to get Gascony instead of Marseilles, because if I do somehow get bounced by Germany, I'd rather have my army stuck in Marseilles than in Paris.

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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#7 Post by Claesar » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:56 pm

If you're really concerned about England and not much else, you can always go for this:
Bre>MAO
Par>Bur
Mar>Bur

Everyone will think you're an idiot, but you take Spain and Portugal while covering Brest with an army. England will probably bounce you out, which is great, because you appear to be an easy target. You showed them though!

President Eden
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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#8 Post by President Eden » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:45 pm

Would y’all give any consideration to France opening to the Channel?

I’m not entirely sure why I rule it out intuitively but I do. I guess it’s the Iberian centers and the need to collect them without compromising land defenses (which you have to do to pick both up while opening north). You’re bypassing one of them to open to the Channel, but that is undoubtedly the best answer to an English move there.

Similar thought with Piedmont (bouncing there and getting Spain next turn is great), but that one is more obviously a problem since you don’t have ANY natural continuation if you get there. At least the Channel lets you try for Belgium.

President Eden
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Re: Gunboat Strategy: France

#9 Post by President Eden » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:46 pm

Claesar wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:56 pm
If you're really concerned about England and not much else, you can always go for this:
Bre>MAO
Par>Bur
Mar>Bur

Everyone will think you're an idiot, but you take Spain and Portugal while covering Brest with an army. England will probably bounce you out, which is great, because you appear to be an easy target. You showed them though!
This isn’t too bad if Italy doesn’t move to Piedmont but pretty disastrous if he does. I like this spot quite a bit if we are safe from that exact opening for whatever reason though.

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