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Of Archdukes and Hedgehogs: A Look at Austrian Openings


David Smith


Diplomacy World No.71 (1993)


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Doing well with Austria is sort of like the weather - a lot of people talk about it, but no one actually does anything about it. Yes, I know the statistics: Austria is second in total wins in postal games to Russia. Just remember the flip side of that coin.

No country gets eliminated faster in Diplomacy than Franz Josef and friends. Survival is just not a word that one associates with Austria, and without. statistics at. my fingertips to back this up, I strongly suspect that Austria does much worse in face-to-face games. Of course, that could be said for Ger many as well; these two interior countries suffer from the time pressures of FTF, while poor Italy probably shows only a slight difference in postal and FTF results.

How many times have you seen Austria eliminated by Fall 1903? By Fall 1902, even? It happens too frequently, and when it does it is usually the result. of sledgehammer blows by Italy, Russia and Turkey, after which Russia and Italy turn on Turkey, or Russia and Turkey try to keep their juggernaut rolling. “If Austria can just hang on with three to five units for a couple of seasons...” We’ve all heard it, we’ve all wanted to believe it, but that is why I said that no one wants to do much about it.

Just recall how many Austrians open with A Vie-Bud, A Bud-Ser, and F Tri-Alb. Now, just assume cordial relations in Spring 1901 on all fronts; there is no "Anschluss” arranged with Germany, but neither Russia, Turkey nor Italy seems hostile, arrogant, too eager, or non-communicative - all. factors which shape our decisions. The southern opening above is just devastated by Italian A Ven-Tri and Russian A War-Gal. But it is immeasurably worse if Italy uses its best anti-Austrian opening: A Ven-Tyr and A Rom-Ven... and Austria has just bought the farm.

So, a number of Austrians, perceiving Italian treachery, move A Vie-Tri rather than A Vie-Bud. Yes, that saves Trieste from a quick thrust by A Ven, but is helpless in the face of Italy’s stronger Spring move to both Tyrolia and Venice. If Russia has thrown all its eggs in a southern basket, then the Russian fleet and A Ukr can take Rumania, while A Gal heads for Vienna or Budapest.

Suppose, then, we cut off that Russian A War-Gal by moving A Vie-Gal. Great, huh? Vienna and Budapest are saved from rampaging Russians. Not so fast; what if the move to Galicia succeeds? Then Italian armies in Tyrolia and Venice will probably force Trieste, and if you bought the Italian’s line about his planned attack on Munich and A Rom Ven as a defensive measure, then you as the Austrian might just lose two home centers to Italy... and gain eternal humiliation.

Let’s take care of the Italian, then, by moving A Vie-Tyr. You reason that against an all-out Italian attack you will bounce his A Ven and A Rom, while you remain in Vienna. If you have guessed correctly, you have still got to move to A Vie-Tri in the Fall, which, if it succeeds, leaves that Russian army in Galicia with its pick of Vienna or Budapest. And if your A Ser dares to rush back to Budapest for defense - what if it succeeds? Then Serbia is lost!

No, you would just have to move F Alb-Tri, while your armies in Vienna and Serbia stand each other off in Budapest to mitigate the damage - while looking foolish for having moved to Albania in the first place. Once that fleet reaches Albania, I believe it has to continue to Greece. Have you ever seen F Tri-Alb in the Spring while the Italian held in Venice, only to see the Austrian scurrying back with the fleet in the Fall to cover Trieste against an Italian stab? Sure you have, and why? It never should have headed southward in the first place. Worse yet, suppose your A Vie reaches Tyrolia with your fleet moving to Albania. While you are trying to explain your defensive measures to the Italian and German, which is possible, the Russian army in Galicia still licks its chops.

You seem what I’m leading to, don’t you? If a family relative is not playing Russia, Turkey or Italy, nor someone you are strongly allied to in a current or recent game, nor any similar circumstance which would lead us to unduly trust one of these three countries; then there is only one opening for Austria - the Southern Hedgehog. I first came across the terminology back in 1979 when I read about it in Richard Sharp’s 1978 publication, The Game of Diplomacy. This is a delightful book, I’m sure you will agree, but one that contains much that disagree with - and a great deal of advice that is simply bizarre.

But not the Hedgehog. He originally planned it as follows: A Vie-Gal, A Bud-Rum, and F Tri-Ven, but then modified it (rightfully so) by A Bud-Ser (the Southern Hedgehog) because possibly forfeiting Serbia in 1901, leading to a Turkish standoff from Bulgaria, was too much to bear.

These apparently wild, aggressive moves belie their defensive intent. The aggressive anti-Austrian Italian opening noted above is de-fanged by the standoff in Venice, while a standoff in Galicia saves the eastern frontier from Russian assault. But do not think of these moves as stabs - they should be announced to your opponents! Just be very frank about the whole thing - that your opening is defensive only, and arrange a standoff with them. In the face of your announced intentions, the Italian response will most likely be A Ven H (or A Ven - Tri), A Rom-Apu, and F Nap-Ion, with perhaps some variation if the Lepanto is in the works. In the east, you may find a Russian willing to let you into Galicia (not while I’m playing Russia, mind you) while he moves A War-Ukr with the understanding you will not interfere with his designs on Rumania. A standoff in Galicia saves you from a Russian attack and still will not ensure Russian success in Rumania, unless he has also moved A Mos-Ukr (and then Russia has to contend with the Turkish variable), resulting in a weakness in the north which, when he moves to rectify it in 1902, may bring on a clash with England and/or Germany.

The Southern Hedgehog will get you only one build, perhaps not ambitious enough for those Austrians who long for both Serbia and Greece. This opening, however, all other factors being equal, is the best possible one for Austria, and is one which will allow a wide range of options in the Winter 1901 negotiations. You have stabbed no one, you have turned Italy and perhaps Russia into channels marked by your buoys and not theirs, and you now have time to breathe and prepare to spin your web for the natural fly to your spider - Turkey. Austria will still be difficult to play, but richly rewarding as you have a chance at rapid expansion... if the fortunes of war and alliances are worked just right.

It may be going too far to say of any country in Diplomacy that the game is won or lost in 1901, but if it can be said, then Austria fits the bill. Abraham Lincoln once wrote that the substance of government is “to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.” In the world of Diplomacy, the Southern Hedgehog gives Austria that chance.