Playing Italy, Part II
by Jake Orion
In the first half of Playing Italy, we
explored Italian geography and discussed in some detail basic Italian strategy
with respect to the French and the Turks. Now let's discuss basic Italian
strategy with respect to the Austrians.
Strategy Basics, Part II
The Austria-Hungary Empire is the most obvious prey for Italy
Austria can be attacked by Italian land forces relatively easily,
thus "solving" the Trieste-Venice relationship while
making it possible for Italy actively to utilize both army units.
By attacking Austria, Italy can simultaneously occupy the Ionian and use
that fleet for offensive purposes.
However, as glossed over earlier, there are a number of reasons as to why
attacking Austria can prove disastrous. The first of the reasons hinges on
geography. Specifically, if Italy does not get a foothold in Austrian
territory quickly, Austria is very capable of defending its borders, especially
on the Italian front. Austria has three supply centers surrounding Trieste and
two surrounding Vienna. Just a quick glimpse at the map should convince you
that all of these territories are likely to be occupied by Austrian units by
the end of 1901. Therefore if Italy cannot capture these territories by year
one, Italy has a handful of trouble.
A more important problem with a quick Italian slide east is the "homeland"
factor. Austria is certain to make a priority of defending its homeland more
so than its distant territories (e.g. Greece). Therefore, with the weak
southern defense Turkey has a virtual free shot at taking the coveted nation of
Greece. With that in mind, you can quickly see that the big wild card in the
Italian attack on Austria is really Turkey. Turkey has an excellent
opportunity to take the Ionian with Austria's help, or to work with Italy and
stroll up the Balkans. This is what makes the A-I conflict so troublesome.
Austria is very likely to offer Turkey assistance into the Ionian to avoid
being attacked on both sides. Therefore, all Turkey has to do is get two
fleets into the Med to be assured enough fire power to crack through the Ionian
defense and make gigantic gains against Italy. In short, Turkey often benefits
much more from A-I conflict than any other nation. Remember, we already have
established how Turkish strength often spells disaster for Italy by game's end.
This is the conundrum of attacking Austria in 1901.
Here are a few additional comments about a 1901 attack on Austria:
When Italy attacks Austria, Italy goes for Trieste and Vienna (usually in
that order). The common Spring 1901 attack moves are the double army slide to
Tyrolia/Venice or a double army slide to Trieste/Venice. Both of these moves
contain genuine risk. The slide into Trieste is basically a stab move. Once
Italy does such a thing, it has lost its credibility with Austria and has
committed itself to an all-out war. Please remember, first-year stabs are
difficult for the many reasons cited in my opening strategy articles and I do
not recommend them at all. Austria can be a very helpful ally to Italy. By
lunging into Trieste, Italy bears the risk of losing an ally capable of
protecting its backside.
If using your tongue as a weapon of deception exhilarates you and you do not
like the aforementioned reason I gave about not attacking Austria in the spring
of 1901, here are some military reasons. The move to Trieste/Venice can very
well fail. Austria often moves Vienna to Trieste, thus bouncing the attack and
putting Italy in a very difficult position. This logic is often what prompts
Italy to order Tyrolia/Venice instead. This move is nearly certain to work,
but now Italy is faced with a guessing game (in all likelihood) as to whether
to try for Vienna or Trieste. Italy may get a supply center, but it may not.
That's a difficult proposition when acknowledging how stymied Italy will
become if it cannot penetrate Austrian territory.
So what do we do with Austria if we do not attack it? A good question,
and not an easy one to answer. Italy's options for growth are limited
and that's perhaps the biggest reason why Italy proves to be the most
difficult country to play. Additionally, it's hard for A-I actively to help one
another in an offensive campaign. It is even more difficult for the two to
divide up the spoils when they do succeed. However, Austria is the perfect
buffer nation for Italy and vice versa. There is a lot to be said for that.
Good A-I relations give Italy the freedom to head east toward Turkey or west
into France. If those opportunities prove to be good ones, Italy will never
have the chance to pursue them if it has rashly attacked Austria in
Strategy Basics Summary: Italy is the hardest nation with which to win.
It's an inner power which gets only one token supply center. Worse still,
rapid growth for Italy is a near impossibility. The good news is that Italy
has three realistic opportunities for substantial growth. I have listed them
below along with some comments regarding possible problems implementing
Italy tries to conquer Vienna and Trieste with R-T, and asks Russia to
assist Italy against Turkey after the drubbing of Austria. Possible problem:
Turkey sides with Austria or R-T solidify their alliance and Italy gets
attacked after Austria is razed.
Italy lunges into France with G-E and tries to take Marseilles, Spain and
Portugal. Possible problems: France is able to make friends up north and
subsequently utilizes its firepower to counterattack. Turkey meanwhile builds
fleets and places Italy in a two-front war.
Austria offers Italy Greece. Russia joins Austria and Italy to
overwhelm Turkey. After the wreckage, Italy annexes Greece and Smyrna into its
empire (or does something similar). Possible problems: Russia sides with
Turkey and a stalemate develops, or Austria and Russia get the lion's share of
Turkey leaving Italy relatively weak in the shake-out phase.
All three of the aforementioned growth opportunities are real ones which
certainly can occur. Unfortunately, more often than not, it is difficult for
Italy to bring them to pass even when the Italian despot is an outstanding
negotiator. This is not to say that it is not worth trying to plead your case.
All that I am saying is that Italy lacks negotiating leverage.
If you acknowledge the fact that Italy really cannot grow quickly without a
lot of fortuitous events occurring simultaneously, it makes logical sense to
liberate Tunis and then, after 1901, to survey the Continent. Sure,
stabbing into Austria can be great, but it also greatly reduces the options
Italy has. Since I always look to create a situation where I can evaluate
every leader's character and intent, I never choose the path of stabbing into
Austria early. Instead, I opt to work my diplomatic skills and try to
negotiate an opportunity. As I have stated over and over, I like to work
negotiations and I like to see actions before I dedicate myself to a campaign.
Of course, I do not have my ambassadors stand around idly in the first year. I
always work especially hard to try to encourage both France and Turkey not to
build fleets in the Med. Usually that mission is concentrated on the Sultan's
empire. As I see it, one Turkish fleet in the Aegean is potential trouble
while two Turkish fleets in the Med is war.
On year two, I build a fleet in Naples and set my goals. Even if I am at
odds with Austria (which I very rarely am after the first year), I build a
fleet in Naples. I never build a third army (unless an agreement demands it)
because, regardless of where the potential fifth and sixth supply centers are
located, I would argue that a fleet can help get that center or assist in the
defense of the Ionian; basically, I promote a strong Med fleet presence. Next,
I actively look at which country I can move against. Italy cannot afford to
waste time meandering east and west. The key is to make a firm deal with your
allies and then to implement it quickly.
Because Italy is so weak offensively, I usually
look to jump in on a massacre if one exists. If E-G are heading into France, I
head west, if R-A are charging toward the witch of southeast (Turkey), I try to
get a piece of the take. My logic here is to get that fifth or sixth supply
center and become a formidable power able to control the Med and work for a
three-way victory. Despite what you hear, my friends, Italy does not get many
solos. You should just banish the solo thought, especially if your competition
The hardest decision for Italy comes when an R-T exists. Depending on the
activity of Turkey, you can either join the R-T by taking your piece of
Austria, or you can side with Austria and create a virtual stalemate in the
southeast. If Turkey sends its fleets into the Med, I always side with
Austria. If Turkey seems to be receptive toward not heading west (via the Med,
that is), or perhaps a stab between R-T looks possible, I usually take a risk
and launch my armies into Austria's western front. Italy is just too
difficult a country to play to afford the luxury of being conservative.
That brings me to my most important point. You have to take more risks when
playing Italy. If your forces welter around your homeland and wait for a sure
bet, you may live through the first few years, but you will be unable to
survive the shake-out phase. Therefore, if all else fails, Italy needs
seriously to consider some devious tactics to become a prominent power. Its
offense is just too weak to be able to make gains without committing a tawdry
act of deceit or two (assuming that Italy has no easy victim). This to me is
why Italy is so interesting to play tactically and diplomatically. For most
countries, you can make a strong ally and roll through the game quite
successfully without necessarily having to get dirty. However, in Italy's
case, those scenarios are quite rare. Hence, when I am Italy, I nearly always
have to bend my philosophical foundation in order to develop an Italian growth
strategy. I think that I will not further detail the art of being deceitful
since I have great faith that many of you out there practice it prolifically
and likely are masters of it already.
Just so you do not get depressed, always remember you can play Italy like a
champ and get rudely slaughtered. What's frustrating is that these scenarios
are very difficult to influence effectively as Italy. For example, if France
makes peace up north and attacks you, your chances to survive are near nil.
Similarly, if R-T stick together, and Turkey slides its fleets into the Med in
year one, Italy has a very small chance of making gains. That's why I say that
you have to take risks. Look carefully at the board and make offers
selectively to obtain that valuable fifth or sixth supply center. Here are a
few possible options you can implement to better your chances of getting an
opportunity if the more direct approaches fail (which happens all too often
Be extra generous so that you can set up the map to your liking. For
example, let Austria take all of the Balkans as opposed to pushing him to get
your share early (like Greece). You know that, in the future, Austria will
need your fleets against Turkey's homeland. What's important here is getting
Turkey out of the way. That will better your chances for growth in the long
Get an army into a position where it forces nations to work with you.
The best example of this is going to Tyrolia. If you are in Tyrolia (even if
you leave Venice open), Austria, Germany, and Russia suddenly become very
interested in talking to you in order to gain the influence over that army.
Note: putting an army in Albania or Piedmont has similar effects.
Attack or aggravate a nation (even if no gains are possible) while openly
acknowledging your activity. For example, launch a fleet into the Adriatic,
Western Med, or Eastern Med while simultaneously pleading with the nation to
reverse their activity. This is a desperate tactic, no doubt, but it serves a
purpose. It usually forces that nation to recognize you are going to heavily
impede its ability to grow unless it makes an arrangement with you. The most
effective case of this is against Turkey. If an R-T starts to makes gains in
Austria and Turkey is building fleets, you as Italy can put all your resources
into stopping Turkey's growth only. While doing this, you negotiate with
Turkey (in a friendly manner) for some agreeable arrangement. This is a more
desperate plan but it has some merit. The hope is to reverse the trend of war
to a situation where you stand some chance of surviving. If you do not do so,
you can be certain that the Sultan's fleets will attack you in due
In summary, Italy is a hard and often frustrating country to play. Solo
victories are almost impossible, and success often seems to hinge on other
decisions on which you will have little influence. You must do your best to
work your skills to create opportunities. Italian rulers who plow in one
direction and happen to survive are not great Diplomacy players so please do
not imitate their style. As stated in the opening paragraph -- determining a
player's true intent, making alliances with reliable neighbors, and working
the balance between establishing security and leveraging expansion are really
of paramount importance. Please never forget this. Judge yourself on the
opportunities you create through negotiation and on how well you worked your
decisions based on the Continent's disposition. Remember -- as Italy, you
usually have to take risks.