Of Archdukes and Hedgehogs:
A Look at Austrian Openings
by David Smith
Doing well with Austria is sort of like the weather - a lot of people talk
about it, but no one 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
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
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
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.
Reprinted from Diplomacy World No.71 (1993)