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Don't Ask: Opening Strategy for Italy


Mike Morris


Diplomacy World #78


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Statistics for games on CIS show that Italy has the the least wins, least shared draws and second to most eliminations (next to Austria) of any country. Drawing Italy therefore presents you with a major opportunity to demonstrate your greatness - it will take smooth tongued diplomacy, steel edged strategy and a modicum of luck - but Italy can definitely win the game, or at the very least share a two way draw!

Italy is a central power, like Germany, but unlike Germany, Italy has a paucity of centers available. While Germany can reach three neutral centers the first year, Italy can reach only Tunis. Centrality and limited early growth potential are therefore the determining factors of Italy's opening position. Italy is in the middle not only geographically, but also politically. The three western nations (England, France and Germany) can either form a western triple or team up two against the third. The eastern nations (Russia, Austria and Turkey) don't usually form a triple, but quite commonly two will ally against the third. This leaves Italy as the odd man out - not necessary for an early alliance, but also not necessary for any power's aggressive goals. Italy's one available neutral center can be taken without being contested, so an enemy needn't be made for this conquest.

This means that Italy will not often be an early target, often has the luxury of picking sides and can usually change sides fairly easily. The main long term strategic guideline for Italy is flexiblity. Along with flexiblity, patience is a necessary virtue. Italy is not in a very good position to gain much from an early war. Best to foment peace and bide your time. Of course some aggression is necessary, but it is best kept limited and controlled as much as possible. Italy's chance for greatness will most likely come in the mid-game, when it can be a significant power broker if it has remained viable.

With these principles in mind, peace with France and Germany is very important. Nothing much can be gained from an early attack on either. The necessary commitment of forces north or west leaves you extremely vulnerable to attacks from Austria and Turkey, the attack is very likely to be unsuccessful, and if you are successful you instill fear in Austria and Turkey and become an very attractive rallying point and target!

Keeping the mid game in mind, an alliance with Russia is an important goal. You might perhaps just agree to keep each other informed and wait for the appropriate time to act, maybe 1904 or 1905. Russia can also be an important ally in case Austria (or rarely, Germany) attempts an early blitz. While the novice Russian might enjoy seeing Austria or Germany moving west, the experienced Russian will see the long term potential of an Austria or Germany grown fat with Italian centers.

This leaves Austria or Turkey as early targets - even with a strategy of keeping a low profile you shouldn't just sit still! My preference is an alliance with Austria aiming at Turkey as the target, i.e. a Lepanto. A war with Austria can be successful, but if it isn't, you're dead. Austrians stabbed by Italians are quite often vengeful to the point of suicide. And for the war with Austria to be successful, you will see Turkey and Russia taking large chunks of Austria. Once T/R starts to roll, Italy is the inevitable next target. I would only attack Austria if: 1.the Austrian was demonstrably hostile, and 2. I had a solid agreement I felt I could depend on with either Russia or Turkey to attack the other once Austria was eliminated. All things being equal, Austria is Italy's best early alliance.

An alliance with Austria committed to an attack on Turkey is best pursued via the "Lepanto". The Lepanto opening is named after the "Gulf of Lepanto", which is an old name for the Gulf of Corinth, and which was the site of a naval battle in 1571 in which the European powers defeated Turkey. (The Gulf of Corinth is the body of water between mainland Greece and the very large peninsula just south of it, the Peloponnisos). The idea therefore is to stop Turkey in its tracks. The moves are:

Sp '01

   I: F Nap-Ion; A Rom-Apu.
   A: F Tri-Alb; A Bud-Ser.

Fl '01

   I: F Ion C A Apu-Tun; A Apu-Tun.
   A: F Alb-Gre; A Ser S F Alb-Gre.
   Italy builds F Nap.

Sp '02

   I: F Ion-Eas; F Nap-Ion.
   A: F Gre-Aeg.

In Fall '02 Italy convoys A Tun to Smy if Turkey has been completely blind or totally preoccupied with Russia, or convoys A Tun-Syr, or if F Gre didn't make it to Aeg, forces it. If Turkey built F Smy and bounced Italy in Eas, then Eas is taken. In any case the idea is to land an army on Asia minor ASAP. If Russia is at least neutral, this will work by 1903. If Russia cooperates and challenges Turkey in Bla, the 1902 timetable should hold.

The "disadvantage" of the Lepanto that is usually pointed to is that Italy has its forces strung out across the Med. These are the advantages as well. If Austria proves to be an unreliable ally, if Russia decides he must attack Austria, or if Turkey wants to cut a deal involving an attack on Russia while Italy attacks Austria, the potential for that attack is there. In 1902 F Ion-Aeg, F Tun-Ion will very likely give Italy Gre with Turkey's assistance. I would not advise this, however, unless Austria proved to be demonstrably unreliable. Following the Lepanto through is usually the best course. Italy's cut should be all three Turkish centers (or perhaps only Smy and Con if Russia is included in the deal). Austria gets Bul and of course peace and friendship with Italy!

These are the basic ideas with which I would enter the game as Italy. What you hear from everyone else, and what they subsequently do, will necessarily force modifications. But to begin with, I would of course write all powers early and often! This is even more important with Italy than any other country. Be a conduit of information - provided discreetly! Be everyone's friend (no one is your natural enemy, you can potentially help everyone, so endevor to do so).

A significant problem for Italy is a western triple (an England, France, Germany alliance). Do what you can to foment suspicion. Try to find out which personalities and gaming styles blend and encourage an alliance between those two against the other. It is not very important which two, just so long as you can encourage two of them to attack the other. Discuss strategies and compare notes with Russia. He is just as afraid of a western triple as you are. This is a good way to cement a long term alliance with Russia as well as prevent a western triple.

In terms of specific agreements, do whatever you can to put together a non agression pact with both France and Germany. Try to get Trl and Pie declared DMZs. Stick to it, at least until the mid game, when you are ready to move. You might also agree with France that you will not move a fleet to Tyl if he does not build a fleet in Mar, but that if he does, you will have to station a fleet in Tyl. If France does build a fleet in Mar, you will need to re-evaluate your plans and look at the possibility of a western triple.

Russia is your best potential ally if you are to win the game. You have no reason to be enemies to begin with, and every reason to be friends. Write often and cement the friendship. Coordinate your efforts regarding the western powers as well as Austria and Turkey. If Austria blitzes Russia unexpectedly, seriously consider an attack on Austria. If he is attacking Russia, he will not be able to help you against Turkey. And if he and Turkey are allied, you are the next target.

Try to put together a Lepanto with Austria. Austria is your best early ally, an alliance that will give you the staying power to become a power broker in the mid game. It is very difficult to win as Italy without stabbing Austria, but the stab has to be timed correctly, and usually it is done in conjunction with Russia, around 1905 or so.

Finally, Turkey. Turkey is your greatest threat. Austria risks suicide by attacking you. France has better pastures to plunder. But Turkey, with Austria's concurrence or after Austria's demise, can attack you with impunity. So be friendly with Turkey, learn what you can, encourage him to atttack Russia (never Austria), but don't trust him for a minute and keep your knife sharp!

If you have no reason to expect an immediate stab, the best opening moves are: F Nap-Ion, A Rom-Apu; A Ven H. A fleet in Ion sets up the Lepanto, allows you to convoy an army to Tun, and doesn't upset France as F Nap-Tyn would. An army in Apu can support Ven if Austria stabs by moving two units on Ven, and of course can still be convoyed to Tun. A Ven H is seen by some as a weak move, but I think it is preferable to any alternative. A Ven-Pie would upset France considerably, as would A Ven-Trl upset Austria and Germany. And there is no point in moving to Rom or Tus, so hold in Ven and let everyone think you're wishy-washy. It will do you well in the long run.

The early strategy is preferably a Lepanto. If Austria is totally uncooperative, work with Russia. If both Russia and Austria are hostile, work with Turkey. If all three of them are against you, throw yourself on the mercies of France and explain the extreme danger he will be facing soon! In the mid game, if Russia is a viable power, cooperate with him and stab when the two of you are in position to do so. If England and Germany have beaten up on France so that he is near death, take Mar and cut a deal with one against the other. In any case, remain flexible. You have the potential, if you've survived into the mid game, to side with any other power and help him do well. Make the proper choice, bide your time, and keep your knife sharp. An Italy with 6 or 7 centers in the mid game has already beaten the statistics. Keep you eye on the prize. With a modicum of luck you'll do very well.

{Mike Morris has been a familiar "face" on Compuserve for quite some time now.}