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Cold War Strategy and Resources
Overview of Cold War
by umbletheheep

In 2015, a new variant was made available on vDiplomacy. The Cold War variant was unique in that it was one of the few variants designed for just 2 players. While 1v1 games on the Classic map have been played since Diplomacy first came out, Allan Calhamer optimized the map for 7 players.

Firehawk and Safari, Cold War’s designers, described the variant this way:
  • The Cold War variant is set just two years before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and explores the potential conflict between the world's two great superpowers at that time, NATO and the USSR. First and foremost, however, Cold War is a one on one variant designed to be as entertaining and as balanced as possible. 
They succeeded in these goals, and Cold War quickly become the most played variant in Diplomacy. Besides vDiplomacy, you can also play this variant on the Conspiracy and Diplicity platforms. As of July 2020, it has been played in over 20,000 game on Conspiracy far outpacing any other variant.

While there isn’t a ton of “diplomacy” in the game itself (besides taunting your opponent), it is a great variant to play to develop your tactics and learn the game. To play Cold War well requires the ability to put together strong attacks as well as defend with the least units possible. This requires creativity and the ability to anticipate your opponents moves. All of these skills are valuable for Classic Diplomacy especially in developing strong midgame play. At times it can come down to a 50/50 guess that determines the game’s outcome. While that can be frustrating, Cold War is still very balanced, and the better player usually wins out.

Cold War has become the most popular variant, but there is very little that has been written about it. The Briefing aims to fix that with articles and podcasts below to help beginners as well as veterans to improve their game.
Cold War Openings
by Coffee and Keyboards
London—North Sea
Australia—West Pacific
New York—Midwest/Quebec
Los Angeles—West Canada
Paris—West Germany

This is considered to be the most popular and most common NATO opening in both high-skill play and amongst the newer players. It has a simple, direct opening tactic that does not allow risks in any region. The Greece bounce of the fleets is usually followed up by going to Eastern Mediterranean, in preparation for an important army-build in Istanbul. The West Pacific movement is met with capturing Japan, which is considered as an optimal outpost for the fleet to use in the following years. North Sea is used in an attempt to secure Sweden. The two American armies and Paris simply take the nearby neutral centers.

Leningrad—Baltic Sea
Moscow—East Germany
Vladivostok—North Korea
Havana—Caribbean Sea

This is the most used opening variation of USSR, as it has the least amount of risks involved. The fleet in the south coast of Leningrad is used to try and take Sweden. The Albania fleet moves to Greece in order to bounce the NATO fleet trying to get there as well, followed up by moving to the Ionian Sea in the fall. The army in Moscow moves to East Germany and holds the supply center for builds. Vladivostok will simply take Seoul, which is the only available neutral center within the vicinity. The army in Shanghai will travel to Bangladesh in order to take India, which will pave the way towards Iran in the future. The lone fleet in the Caribbean will take Panama easily.

Opening variations:

Variation #1 - London—Norwegian Sea (NATO)
This opening variation is often used as a gambit centered around Leningrad, as it threatens taking the center. It is a 50/50 chance on whether it will be taken or not. In the mind of the USSR player, the problem with trying to defend it is that if the attempt was not bounced, then USSR loses the option of building a unit there and preventing the much-needed and much-popular north coast Leningrad fleet build. 
Furthermore, if the same is faced by using the army, then NATO has the option of taking East Germany for themselves. Successfully taking Leningrad is a bigger problem, as the additional unit build by NATO may well result in a slow but sure victory. Additionally, self-bouncing may be countered by supporting the move with the Norwegian Sea fleet. Arguably, USSR’s best choice is to take with the army, secure Sweden for themselves, and attempt to reclaim East Germany somewhere in the future by building an army in Albania and Moscow. 

However, losing the gambit must also be taken account into by the NATO player as it risks losing Sweden and putting them into an awkward position. Once USSR manages to build a fleet in the northern coast of Leningrad, the power of the fleet in Norwegian sea is significantly weakened. It even poses a few problems as the USSR fleet in Sweden can prevent NATO from coming to the North Sea.

In a different variation follow-up, NATO may attempt to go to the Arctic Ocean instead for a direct convoy from the army in Alaska. The armies located there may be a problem for NATO, as it is not threatening any USSR centers, and may not threaten any USSR centers at all unless convoyed. Convoying these armies may be considered as making full use of them. Whether it would be in Urals to help the efforts in Europe, or in Siberia to pressure Vladivostok or Shanghai, the army may serve a better purpose in those locations.

Variation #2 - Istanbul—Eastern Mediterranean/Albania—Ionian Sea
The reason why Greece is a common target by players in the Spring is because it adheres to both the allied and enemy home center. It is somewhat of a gamble if one slips in there while the other moves to the sea. There have been several occasions where the defender would move back from the sea and to their home center. 
If the other player predicts this, they can move to the sea, preventing the enemy from building in the home center, and preventing them from taking an African neutral center (Egypt for NATO; Tunisia for USSR). 

Alternately, if the unit in Greece predicts wrong, moves to the sea, but sees the enemy go for the neutral center instead of their home center, it will put them in a slight disadvantage in numbers. Another situation that may occur is directly going for the home center by the attacker. This may be fatal in NATO’s case, as it is vital to build an army in Istanbul in the following year. However, if the units bounce, then it is somewhat unclear for the two of them and the gambit ensues in next year. Even after builds are all said and done, it still begs the question of what the unit in Greece will do. Will it move back to their own sea? Perhaps to the enemy sea? Sometimes, it simply attempts to attack the home center again. Most skilled players don’t want to risk such a thing and overthink a situation, and most agree that a Greece bounce will be in both of their interests.

Variation #3 - Australia—Indian Ocean (NATO)
This opening variation is arguably as viable as the West Pacific movement. However, both variations have a surprising amount of difference in playstyle in the following years. This opening is usually met with a bounce on that location. Because of that, both sides get 1 less build in that year, which may dictate how the game flows. NATO usually does the following builds: Fleet London; Army Istanbul; Fleet New York; and Fleet Australia. Losing one of these builds have different consequences, which are as follows: 
  1. They weaken their hold on the European sea.
  2. They lose the threat of moving an army down to Ukraine and breathe down on USSR’s neck.
  3. They lose the chance to take Brazil easily.
  4. They weaken their hold in Asia.
  5. They have to give up an area around the map, but also forces USSR to do the same thing.
  6. Additionally, not allowing USSR into India means that they cannot go for Iran next year with the army, while still having the option of moving to Indonesia to strengthen their Asian region.
Variation #4 - Saigon Opening (USSR)
This movement is in an attempt to go for Saigon instead of India. However, it has been considered inferior and has been refuted by my own experiences playing the game. A reason for its inferiority is the lack of options of neutral centers to be taken in the Asian region in the following years. India is part of the pathway towards Iran, and it is a road that can only be crossed by an army. 
An army build in Shanghai just to take India would mean two things: The army in Saigon will only be rendered useless, as now its only task is to defend Shanghai, which will be rendered more useless if the NATO player decides not to attack it. 

A possible upside to this movement is that an accompanying fleet build in Shanghai may help in order to convoy the army to the Philippines or Indonesia, risking builds deficit in an attempt to push a positional advantage. However, while such movements may be favorable, it is worth noting that a fleet in Indonesia is infinitely more useful than army, as it can do everything an army does and more from there.
Cold War Midgame Strategy
by umbletheheep
Most Cold War games end by 1965. Because of this, it can feel like there is no midgame at all. Yet, elite players understand that isn’t true, and these principles become even more important for games that push into the 6+ year territory. Here are some principles that I think are very helpful for Cold War. 
Understand Geography

Every Cold War supply center is located on a coast except for Moscow. This means fleets are even more useful in this variant than Classic. 
I have often ended a game having built only 1 army and 10 fleets. While an army build may make sense for a 1 year attack it quickly becomes apparent how limiting it is in a variant that requires you to move your forces into different theatres quickly.

There are 4 main battle points where the game is won or lost: Southeast Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and North America. I’ve ordered these from most important to the least. The reason being that when one conquers Southeast Asia they can usually send most of their attacking forces to other theatres. If you’ve done that, you will usually win the game shortly. I’ve lost all of Europe in two high profile games and still come back to win because I prioritized Southeast Asia. This is because Southeast Asia is much easier to defend than Europe.

There is also a general path to victory for both powers. USSR is the power that I believe can win the quickest in the hands of an elite player. The Soviets have a lot of different attack points and in the hands of a creative player can overwhelm the more plodding pace of NATO. NATO is slightly stronger in the long game though. This is because the North American centers are easier to lockdown and defend. In a long game, I think NATO’s win chances are better but that requires a very patient player who slowly suffocates the life out of the USSR: a true Cold War strategy. 

The scales of Cold War can be tipped in a single move. Every adjustment phase you must determine what you are willing to abandon and what you will attack. This is especially true if you are down a unit or two. I often sacrifice centers or abandon whole theatres. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just scramble to keep yourself from falling further behind. 
This is why creativity is so important in Cold War. After 1961, no game is the same. The best players are able to put together compelling attacks and completely change the conflict. A well timed destroy and rebuild can change the entire landscape. This is why I try to be very careful with dislodging a unit. You never know where it will be rebuilt.

You must find where your opponent is weak and attack them there. While mid-tier players hope for cheap tricks in 1961 to win them the game, your best players play a relatively safe 2 years to open up the map for them to do their real damage. I’m perfectly fine with going down a build at the end of 1961 so I don’t risk going down two when the payoff would only be going up one.

You also need to have flexibility with dealing with nuisances. I remember one tournament game, I was focusing 4 fleets to try to eliminate 1 fleet when it finally dawned on me to send my other 3 fleets to another location and just trade centers with that 1 fleet. The game was won soon after. It’s easy to get fixated on a plan, but there’s lots of ways to win a game.

Cold War is an exciting game because of the balance of the map along with the ability to quickly shift attack points. It’s attracted some of the best tacticians because of it. An understanding of the geography of the map along with the flexibility to put together creative attacks will help propel you to your well-deserved win.
Interview with Cold War Champions umbletheheep and bsiper.
Other Cold War Resources

For more in-depth strategy content, read the strategy article by:

The Statistics Handbook for the Nexus Cold War Tournament, Season 3 contains all the stats from the third Cold War tournament at Nexus. Thanks to Babbo Natale for putting it together.
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