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Armageddon in Austria


Guy Thomas


The Church Mouse #25 (Feb 1985)


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In The Church Mouse No.24 Keith Pottage asked for an article on why Austria should not be demolished by her neighbours in the early seasons of a game of Diplomacy. As someone who has won with Italy by tramping all over Austria from the outset, I hereby volunteer my own opinions.

The short answer is that it cannot possibly be wise for Italy, Russia and Turkey to attack Austria at once, simply because one of them must end up by being strategically outmanoeuvred and therefore end up a comparative loser. If poor Austria is ganged up on by all three, at least one is a fool or a lunatic. No player is closer to victory simply through having disposed of one opponent; he is indeed further from victory if he has in the process allowed his three equally weak neighbours of Spring 1901 to becomes two strong neighbours by, say, Fall 1904. When one player realises that he has been outmanoeuvred (or taken for a ride) he must strive to keep Austria alive as a buffer state against the expansion of his neighbours.

On the other hand of course, one of the aggressors may well be a comparative winner vis-à-vis his fellow assassins. The Austrian problem is that he appears to be an easy kill to his neighbours, each of whom imagines himself as the major beneficiary of the carve-up. This is a false illusion common in inexperienced players and some seasoned campaigners.

Who are the prospective winners and losers? I offer my own opinions as a gross generalisation only.

Italy is definitely a winner, even though the most obvious of attacks is going out of fashion somewhat. Italian prospects for expansion are slim from the start and if Austria is allowed to flourish she becomes a major power on the Italian doorstep. Who else can Italy attack given that France has an 18 months warning of an attack before it arrives, and when the celebrated Lepanto employs three units in an over-stretched gambit which leaves Venice vulnerable? The fifth Italian centre must be Trieste or Vienna. It goes without saying that such a policy, besides being dangerous and running the risk of being bogged down by a solid defence, must be handled with great care to ensure that others do not profit more than Italy himself. This is best done by attempting to push the Austrian units towards Turkey and Russia, repatriating them in the Balkans. This is much better than the extinction of Austria which must entail Turkish gains.

Turkey is also a potential winner in the Austro-Hungarian downfall, especially in as much as Serbia is the crucial gateway to rapid expansion, and to Rumania. But Turkey should also seek to preserve Austrian units to block Italian expansion, for a third Italian fleet effectively stymies any prospects for Turkish Mediterranean power, by making the Ionian Sea a fortress. The proximity of the Balkan supply centres and their close-knit nature, may enable Turkey to make gains by opportunistic sorties, rather than an all-out attack on Austria, such as that required by Italy. Turkey must take care, for the demise of Austria may leave him cornered by two strong powers and unable to escape; the Turks are better served by trying to force their way northwards out of their corner, for which Austrian help may be vital.

Russia is the key to Austrian fortunes in the early part of the game, and must take the blame and accept the dire consequences of allowing Austria to go under. Unlike Turkey and Italy, he cannot allow this to happen. A strong Italy is not too much of a danger, but his scourge in the long-run is Turkey. Turkey must be kept bottled-up in the Balkans while Russia gains his strength; Austria is the cork. Russia is over-stretched at first, with four units and four immediate neighbours (in which I include England), and so to attack Austria can be suicidal. In the event of the dreaded carve-up, Russia will invariably come off worst, with perhaps one centre only to show for his efforts, and that short lived. Russia must protect and support Austria until he is stronger than any of his southern neighbours. He cannot hope to hold Austria until he has defeated the Turks; he cannot defeat the Turks if he allows them to expand in the early years, because he cannot then outflank them.

If Austria is demolished early on, it is the fault of at least one of his neighbours who mistakenly assumes that a centre gained, and a power destroyed, is to his advantage, when he has in fact contributed to the long-term demolition of his own strategic position. This guilty party who should have kept Austria afloat, but failed to do so, is usually Russia.