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Diplomacy: The Challenge of Playing Italy
Part 2: Italian Openings
by Edi E. Birsan

The strategic and diplomatic possibilities of Italy were discussed in part 1 of this article. In this installment, we run down Italian opening moves with brief notes on their use and abuse.

Austrian Attack: Trieste Dagger

A Venice to Trieste; A Rome to Venice; F Naples to Ionian

This is the classic grab into Austria. To make this work tactically, you want the Austrians to send Army Vienna to Galicia to bounce the Russians or, better yet, to actually move into Galicia. If you get into Trieste, the Austrians have a problem; if they dislodge you from Trieste in the Fall, you can usually retreat to an open Austrian center. That being the case, the best follow-up for Fall 01 is to not support yourself in Trieste because you will get a center anyway. Instead, move Venice to Tyrolia and use Trieste to get creative with the Turks in Serbia or the Russians elsewhere.

With your fleet going to Tunis, you can build Army Venice and Fleet Naples to further the campaign against the Austrians.

Depending on the actual moves of the Russians and Turks, a unique approach to the two builds is to make Fleet Venice and Army Rome, with the idea being that the Fleet goes to the Adriatic and the Roman army goes north to Venice.

The problem with this is that if the Austrians bounce you in Trieste, both armies wind up in place. I recommend that if you have any doubts, then play Fleet Naples to the Tyrrhenian. If the armies back up, you can convoy Rome to Tunis, make peace with the Austrians, and build Fleet Naples to move very effectively against the French or the Turks. If you have any doubts about your ability to befriend the Austrians, then do not convoy to Tunis because you may need the army for defense of the north.

Strategy: You want Russia and/or Turkey in conflict with Austria. You do not want Turkey moving Fleet Ankara to Constantinople.

Diplomacy: You must have a good relationship with the Russians because, if the Russians and the Turks become allies, they will attack you once they're finished with Austria.

Austrian Attack: Tyrolian Sweep

A Venice to Tyrolia, Army Rome to Venice, Fleet Naples to the Ionian

This is the most common opening attack against the Austrians. It is rarely blocked, whereas Austria will cover Trieste about 40% of the time. It has the possibility of being redirected against the Germans by A Tyrolia to Munich and A Venice to Tyrolia in the Fall. The Austrians, however, generally interpret it as a declaration of war. The success of this opening presents the Austrians with a force of two that can attack Trieste or a force of one that can attack Vienna. If the Russians are in Galicia and the Austrians moved Army Vienna to Trieste, then the Austrians can lose Vienna by force through A Tyrolia to Vienna supported by Russian Army Galicia (or the other way round, though no self-respecting Italian would support the Russians into Vienna unless Russia was not going to get either Rumania or Sweden and needed appeasement).

One danger in this opening is that if Russia and Austria bounce in Galicia, then the Austrians probably are in a position to order an Army to Vienna, a Fleet to Albania, and an Army to Serbia. This would then allow the Austrian to send Fleet Albania to Trieste with support from Vienna so that Italy could not capture any Austrian supply centers in 1901 while Austria still builds one new unit for either Serbia or Greece.

To summarize, if you expect an Austrian/Russian bounce in Galicia, then opt for the Trieste Dagger. If you think that the Russians are going to slip into Galicia unopposed and you believe they will work with you, then aim for Tyrolia and sweep around the Austrians to get your armies deep into the Austrian backfield.

Turkish Attack: The Lepanto

This is the most famous of all Diplomacy openings. It develops slowly but eventually it produces a flamboyant and crushing attack on Turkey. The classic sequence uses the southern Italian units and proceeds like this:

Spring 01: Army Rome to Apulia, Fleet Naples to the Ionian
Fall '01: Army Apulia to Tunis, Fleet Ionian convoys Army Apulia to Tunis
Winter '01: Build Fleet Naples
Spring 02: Fleet Naples to the Ionian, Fleet Ionian to the Eastern Mediterranean
Fall 02: Army Tunis to Syria convoyed by Fleet Ionian and Fleet Eastern Mediterranean.

The key factor in all of this is the diplomatic isolation of Turkey from Austria and Russia and absolute trust in the Austrians, because northern Italy will be exposed in 1902. Furthermore, the Italian player must have a burning desire to crusade against the Turks.

The Lepanto's innovation of taking Tunis with a convoyed army has spawned a whole series of Italian openings that build on that theme and then evolve in different directions. For example:

The Key Lepanto

Started by Jeff Key (hence the name), this opening has Italy move Army Venice to Trieste, with the Austrian's agreement ideally. Then the Italians proceed straight on to Serbia, sometimes supported by an Austrian Army Budapest while the Austrian army Serbia goes to Greece and the Austrian fleet moves out to the Ionian. The Italian fleet in the Ionian goes to either the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean and then, in Spring of '02 rather than Fall, the Italian army is convoyed to Syria or Smyna as appropriate. This takes tremendous trust between the Austrians and Italians. More than once the whole thing has been a smokescreen for an Italian attack against Austria (with the Italians holding in Trieste and still convoying to Tunis while a tipped-off Turkey moves to Greece to prevent the Austrians from building or being optimistic about the future).

The Blue Water Lepanto (EDIted version)

This is a risky Lepanto variation in which the Italians and the Austrians work up to an attack on Turkey by waging a fake war in the Ionain. The move sequence is:

Spring '01: F Naples-Ion, A Rome-Apulia, A Venice holds; F Trieste-Albania, A Budapest-Serbia, A Vienna-Budapest/Trieste
Fall '01: F Ionian-Tunis, Army Apulia-Venice, Army Venice-Tyrolia; F Albania-Ionian, Army Serbia-Greece, A Bud/Tri-Serbia
Winter '01: Italy builds F Naples, Austria builds two armies
Spring '02: A Venice-Apulia, Army Tyrolia-Venice/Munich/Bohemia, F Naples-Ionian supported by Fleet Tunis; F Ionian holds, Army Serbia-Bulgaria, A Greece supports army Serbia-Bulgaria, A Budapest Supports A Trieste-Serbia, A Vienna S Budapest
Retreat: The dislodged Austrians retreat to either the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean, depending on which is open and the success or failure of the surprise attack on Bulgaria.

This also allows the Austrians to react against the Italians in case of a double cross by moving to the Tyrhenian Sea and making a few other changes.

Blue Water Lepanto assumes that the Turks build a fleet in Smyrna and send it to either the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean because they don't suspect a sudden attack by Austria, who in turn should be playing up his role as a good ally to the Turks and cursing the Italians for moving to Tyrolia and Venice in the Fall of '01.

Lepanto: Albanian Jump

Another possibility from the Spring '01 position of Armies in Apulia and (for example) Trieste is the flipping of the Army from Apulia to Albania in the Fall of '01 with support from the army in Trieste. This leaves a fleet positioned in the Ionian and ready to seize Tunis in '02. It also gives Italy a powerful attack of two units against either Greece or Serbia. Or, as part of a mass deception, the Italians and Austrians could slingshoot the fleet in Spring '02 to the Eastern Mediterranean and backfill from Naples so that Albania gets convoyed to Syria.

Attacking France: The Western Lepanto

If things are satisfactory in the East and the Italians and Austrians trust one another, then the following is the western version of the Lepanto:

Spring '01: A Venice to Piedmont, A Rome to Tuscany, F Naples to Tyrhenian
Fall '01: A Tuscany to Tunis convoyed by F Tyrhenian, A Piedmont to Marseilles, etc.
Winter '01: Build Fleet Naples or Rome

During 1902, the Italians can jump into the Gulf of Lyon and North Africa and bring another fleet into the Tyrhenian. In the Fall they can choose between a supported attack on Marseilles or the Western Mediterranean. This is the fastest, direct, solo route into France.

Attacking France the Classic Alpine way

The most boring attack on France is the classic opening in which army Venice moves to Piedmont, Army Rome to Venice, and the Fleet moves to either sea before entering Tunis in the Fall.

A guess is made about whether the French are going to cover Marseilles or move into Spain and Burgundy. One delightful gamble is possible if the Italians suspect the French will try to defend Marseilles with a self-inflicted bounce (A Spain to Marseilles, A Burgundy to Marseilles). The Italian Army in Piedmont, instead of advancing, supports the French Army from Spain to Marseilles. The Italians don't get Marseilles but the French are pulled out of Spain and wind up with one less build and no chance to build a fleet in Marseilles (it's occupied by the Army that was supposed to capture Spain!).

Attacking France: Munich Gambit

This is an odd attack that sometimes appears in short, timed games where the Italians and Germans team up against the French. It involves the Italians moving army Venice to Tyrolia in Spring '01 and then going to Munich with German approval.

The Italians also take Tunis with a fleet and then, with two builds, build Fleet Rome and Fleet Naples.

In Fall '01, the Italians either order Munich to Burgundy or arrange with the Germans to be dislodged and retreat to Burgundy while the rest of their units flood westward with:

F Tunis-Western Med, F Rome-Tuscany (with an eye on Lyon), A Venice to Piedmont, F Naples to Tyrhenian Sea.

If the Italians get into Burgundy, they suddenly have a double-weight attack on Marseilles while their three fleets can force the Gulf of Lyon or make a run for the Mid-Atlantic with a fleet in reserve to back up the Western Mediterranean.

Italian Three-Fleet Openings with the Austrians

This rarely-used opening is (again) based on trust between the Italians and the Austrians, with the goal being to boost Italian sea power in the Mediterranean.

In the Spring of '01, Italy moves Army Venice to Trieste and with its other units sets up a convoy to Tunis or even moves a back-up army to Venice. In the Fall, the Austrians dislodge the Italians from Trieste and the Italians refuse to retreat. Combined with the build for Tunis, this allows the Italians to build two fleets, giving it three fleets and one army in the Spring of '02. With this force the Italians can sail west against France or east against Turkey (and in rare, strategic mega-alliances of five vs. two with the world gunning for both France and Turkey, they can do both).

Austrian Three-Army Opening with Italy

This is similar to the previous opening except that the Italians and the Austrians want to remove the pesky Austrian Fleet, freeing Austria to build a more useful army:

Spring '01: F Trieste to Venice, A Venice to Tyrolia/Piedmont, A Naples to Apulia
Fall '01: Italians attack Venice with support and the Austrians refuse to retreat the fleet

Italy vs. Germany: Oktoberfest

By moving from Venice to Tyrolia in Spring '01, Italy can attack Munich in Fall '01. Sometimes this is part of a massive Oktoberfest attack on Germany with Russia going to Silesia and France going to Burgundy. In nearly all cases it is the Italians who are offered Munich in Fall '01. The follow-up move of Army Venice to Tyrolia is needed if Italy intends to hold Munich. However, sending two armies northward tends to scare the pants off the Austrians, so the attack on Germany is often made by a single Italian army. With cooperation from allies there is a good chance for Italy to get Munich, but then what?

Without Italian support to count on, Munich cannot be held for long. For this reason, this opening depends on a very strong grasp of the strategic situation across the entire board good alliance prospects with England, because most often it will be the French taking aim at Italian-held Munich.

Triple Alliance Openings

The most popular triple alliance is the Western Triple -- England, France, and Germany -- in which France is forced south against Italy in Fall '01. This usually results in Fleet Mid-Atlantic moving to the Western Mediterranean, an ugly thing if you are Italy. The second most common triple is the AIRhead alliance of Austria, Italy, and Russia, whose objectives are Turkey and Germany.

The critical moves for Italy are to get to Tyrolia in Fall '01 and use two units against the Turks and two units against the west. Little explored, however, is the Mediterranean triple alliance (Italy, Austria, France, with Russia offering tacit approval). This alliance stuns Europe with the opening:

Italy: A Rome-Apulia, F Naples-Ionian, A Venice-Piedmont (Lepanto variant)
Austria: F Trieste-Albania, A Vienna-Tyrolia, A Budapest-Serbia
France: A Marseilles-Spain, A Paris-Burgundy, F Brest-Mid-Atlantic

In the Fall, France gives Marseilles to Italy, which then pushes its fleet into the Eastern Mediterranean or Aegean, with Austria back-filling to the Ionian. Austria makes the move for Munich and advances Serbia to Greece. The French put their fleet in Spain (SC) and the army marches through Spain to Portugal, while Army Burgundy makes a play for Belgium.

The idea is that the French will build a fleet in Brest (the English believe them to be at war with Italy and should allow this as a desperation measure). The Germans are not sure what is going on and the Turks are on their way down hill. In 1902, the Italians move from Marseilles to Burgundy to join in the attack on Germany while the French move to the Channel and the Mid-Atlantic so that in Fall '02 they can convoy Army Portugal to Wales, triggering the invasion of England.

This opening calls for maximum duplicity. In Spring '02, the Italians can contact the English and the Germans, claiming they are at war with France and trying to get information about French plans. Any useful information they gather, of course, is immediately passed on to their allies, the Austrians and the French.

France can contact Germany and claim that he is fighting the Italians and ask for details of the German plan, which are passed on to the Austrians. Then in Fall '02, when the French open their fight against the English, they still have done nothing hostile toward the Germans and can keep trying to work with them to 'liberate' Marseilles -- and in the process get information that will ensure Italy picks up a German supply center when France takes back Marseilles in '03 or '04.

As the scope of your diplomacy and strategic thinking expands, so will the opening schemes available to Italy. Playing Italy involves great risk but also great potential. Think in advance about what Italy has and what it can do, and the next time you draw Italy your reaction will be the same as mine -- What fun lies ahead!


Edi BirsanEdi Birsan is considered the first Diplomacy world champion for his win in 1971BC, the first championship invitational game. He has won numerous championship games since then in North America and worldwide and is universally considered one of the game's top players. More importantly, he has striven tirelessly for over three decades to promote Diplomacy play in all its forms, at all levels, all around the world.










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