So, Why Italy?

By Toby Harris 

The majority of experienced players can perform well whichever country they choose to play. However, all players have their favourites and it is no secret that Italy is mine. Why? There arc two main contributory factors to this: 

1. Italy is the most unpopular country. The reason being that most players can only see as far as the 4th centre in Tunis, the drawn out Lepanto or the unsuccessful middle game after stabbing Austria. Given this, few players view Italy as any great threat. So, if you do get a reasonably good start as Italy, you are less likely to be noticed and, thus, ganged up on. 

2. Italy is second only to Russia when it comes to winning potential. It is my belief that all countries stand an equal chance of reaching, say, 15 centres. Getting 18 is another story. 

By going through each country’s potential of winning, the situation gets clearer. I shall start with Russia; being on both sides of the natural stalemate lines, Russia rarely (if ever) gets held to a draw unless she wants one; you either win or lose with this country and everyone should be able to see this after watching successful Russian play. This makes Russia a very attractive country to play but, unlike Italy, it doesn’t benefit from the ‘unfeared’ factor and makes an easy target. 

Italy needs the following Centres to win - Home, Tun, Austrian, Turkish, Balkans, Sev and three out of Mun, Por, Spa, Mar, Mos. War. The latter two, with good play, should fall to Italy in time (or at least one of them) leaving only Mar (and possibly Spa) as the required 18th. If the timing is right, these won’t he held from the north early enough. Turkey & Austria • both need exactly (the same centres as Italy except that they have further to travel in order to take Mar/Spa/Por! OK, so they are nearer to the Russian ones but the thing is that the Russian ones cannot be held so easily - whereas Mar, Spa and Por will be sealed by the time you get there in most games. 

England suffers a similar problem, along with France and Germany they all need centres south of (or on) the stalemate line, such as Tunis; a key Italian centre which goes further in Italy’s case to say that she often holds the key to the end of the game. Hence, in my opinion, only Russia and Italy stand any real chance of gaining an outright win against competent opposition. Coupled with this, Italy has a wonderful central starting position which also gains the benefit of a degree of safety, bettered only by the corner countries which win games only on rare occasions. 

With all this going for the country, it is only fair that she should only have one open build to her in the first game year. 

However, one shouldn’t he resigned to the fact that one build is the only option; indeed, last year I convinced Simon Devereux of the country’s potential and he put his name down for Italy in another zine. We wrote the initial correspondence together and discussed strategies. The result was 3 builds in 1901 and 3 more builds in 1902. 1 have lost track of the game since then (and understand Simon to be under pressure) but 9 centres after two years is some going. Incidentally, there were no NMRs and there were some rated players in the game, namely the Turk and Russian. Needless to say, Austria wasn’t that strong, but that shouldn’t ruin any of the glory. 


No matter what your intended opening, there are certain things which I ALWAYS say to the other players at the start of the game. Clearly, for example, if you intend to attack Austria in the first move, you don’t want him to know it (or any of the other players for that matter). 

So, here are my (summarised) recommended opening lines to the other countries (the waffly extra bits should be down to the individual). The lines printed in capitals are very important for a solid opening, as they have hidden meanings (in italics). 


- I won’t attack you in the first move.

- We should work together against Turkey and I will be looking to move to AEG/EMS in Spring 1902.


I WOULD HATE TO SEE YOU LET RUSSIA INTO GAL IN THE FIRST MOVE. Move A(Vie)-Gal, thus ensuring that it doesn’t Cover Trieste! 


- WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN OPENING TO THE CHANNEL IF I WERE TO OPEN TO PIE? Whether you actually open to Pie or not, if England opens to the Channel then (1) it will take France’s attentions off you and (2) it will strengthen Russia - your best friend and ally in the early stage of the game. 


- I would like to propose the usual DMZ in the arena Pie, GoL, WMS, NAf &TYS.

- I will not build F(Rom)

- I would find it easier to trust you if your fleet didn’t move to Spa sc in the Autumn.

- Please don’t build F(Mar)

- Have you considered opening to the Channel - I understand England is thinking of going there.

- I will be moving against either Austria or Turkey and feel you would get on well allying with either Germany or England against the other.

- It is in both our interests that Russia gets a good start - so we should both ask Germany not to stand him out of Sweden. 


I won’t open to Tyrolia.

It is in both our interests that Russia gets Sweden in Autumn 1901; I am sure he would be willing to build F(StP)nc if you asked him nicely. 


- It is in both our interests that we both do well in this game. Therefore I have asked Germany not to keep you out of Sweden in the Autumn. (Usually brings him around to your way of thinking with the first line)

- There are ten centres between us. I don’t care who gets which but how does 5 each sound? Always works a treat!

- For us to be able to work together, it is imperative that you don’t let Austria into Galicia or Turkey into the Black Sea. Implies they both intend to move there! 


- I would recommend that you don’t let Russia into the Black Sea

- How about moving A(Smy)-Arm with a view at aiming for Sev? 


So, what openings are there to choose from? In my opinion there are no less than SEVEN good openings, each with their own pros & cons. 

1. A(Ven)-Tri, A(Rom)-Ven, F(Nap)-ION 

My favourite. Well, let’s face it, if you are going to stick the knife in then you may as well give it a twist! The advantage of this opening is, quite simply, it is Italy’s best - but only if the moves succeed. Presuming they do then you are 99% certain of two builds and, if you have a pretty gullible Austria, there is every chance of three! 

Ideally, the Autumn moves should be for the fleet to take Tunis, A(Tri) S A(Ven)-Tyr (if necessary, retreat to any vacant Austrian supply centre). The builds are also straight forward: A(Ven), F(Nap) which will put you in good stead to gain mote centres off Austria next year. The bad thing about this move is if it doesn’t work you are up shit creek. Clearly Austria will not trust you for the rest of the game and your fleet must take Tunis, leaving you unable to make the Lepanto (convoy to Syria) in 1902. Hence, you are not much use as an ally to Austira. 

So, the simple lesson here is if you are certain of Trieste being vacant then take it. Otherwise forget this option. 

2. A(Ven)-Tri, A(Rom)-Apu, F(Nap)-ION 

Unfortunately most Austria’s do cover Trieste in the first move (well, they sure as hell do when I play Italy). Therefore, if you feel there is a good chance of taking Trieste in the first move (but don’t favour putting all of your eggs in one basket) then this is not a bad option. If the move fails you can fob Austria off with “well, we wouldn’t want everyone thinking we were allied right from the start, would we?” 

If it works, you have suddenly become the player everyone wants to talk to - Turkey may well want support to Serbia, Russia (if he is in Galicia) will want support to Bud or Vie. However you play it, there are plenty of options. The lovely thing about it is that even Austria could be your friend; he may offer you to move A(Tri) - Ser whilst he uses F(Alb) to support A(Ser) - Gre! 

This move, the key Lepanto, is perhaps a dodgy one these days - too many people know about it and it only takes Turkey to order A(Bul)-Ser to bugger it all up. Well, bugger it all up for Austria that is - imagine going along with Austria’s plan and being stuck in one of his centres; it would certainly be useful for 1902. 

Other options include convoying A(Apu) - Alb; giving up Tunis for later and building A(Ven) will place you in a commanding position for 1902. 

3. A(Ven) Stand, A(Rom)-Apu, F(Nap)-ION 

This is the Lepanto opening, which normally leads on to allying, with Austria, convoying A(Apu)-Tun, building F(Nap), moving the fleets to ION and EMS and finally the convoy from Tunis to Syria. 

Hmmm, some love it, some loathe it. Personally, I loathe it. Basically, I find it difficult to find enough trust in Austria not to order A(Vie)-Tyr (and support himself to Venice) in 1902; after all, if I was Austria, that is what I would be thinking of! 

However, if you can trust Austria then this is a good early strategy for Italy. It does mean that the 5th supply centre will take until 1903 to get, but after that the Turkish centres tend to fall quickly. Of course, no Italian opening is completely rigid and this one does allow for a convoy of A(Tun)-Alb in Spring 1902. 

4. A(Ven)-Apu, A(Rom)-Ven, F(Nap)-ION 

This is a novel variation of the Lepanto, opening and one that I am very fond of. 

I have never seen it done before and only recently tried it. The beauty of it is that these days it is very difficult to find an Austrian who will trust me. In this case, Austria’s opening line was: “I am opening with F(Tri)-Ven and nothing you say will change my mind, Harris.” Well, then appears to be no pleasing some folk; but the above moves were just the ticket. 

The result is that Venice remains vacant after Spring l901, leaving the paranoid AUSTRIA to move F(Tri)-Alb in the Autumn. Obviously, A(Rom) moves to Venice again - and Austria is forewarned of this so that his fleet is not tempted to attack Venice again. Your other Autumn moves should be to convoy A(Apu) - Tun. One thing this achieves is gaining Austria’s trust - without putting yourself out on a limb. For 1902, the same strategy as the Lepanto applies in that you can move in either direction against Austria or Turkey. 

There is one final twist, however, which made the opening appeal to me greatly; if Austria moves F(Tri)-Ven in the Autumn as well, then the choice of build should be F(Ven)! Now, how often do we see quality builds like these? Not often, I know, and not surprisingly either. But, on this occasion, it’s a beauty. In spring 1902, you have two options: 

A(Rom)- Ven, F(ION) S F(Ven)-ADS, or, if you can persuade Austria that you will be forcing ADS as indicated above (and you believe he won’t bother moving F(Tri) there on that basis) then: 

F(Ven)-ADS, A(Rom)-Ven, A(Tun)-Alb, F(ION) C A(Tun)-Alb. A very powerful combination of moves which should gain you a build of Trieste (with the possibility of Greece as an added bonus) for 1902. 

5. A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Rom)-Ven, F(Nap)-ION 

To all you disbelievers, I say to all and sundry that I don’t like this move; for starters, Austria believes you are going to attack him in the Autumn and will defend himself accordingly. OK, so you may get a build from it but Turkey and/or Russia will probably benefit more from the situation. However, a bad move in Diplomacy is only bad if it doesn’t achieve what you want it to achieve; I mean, Robin Levy opened with one game and gained three builds in 1901. So, it does have its pluses. 

One option worth considering by opening with this (which becomes a must if Austria stood off your A(Rom) by opening with F(Tri)-Ven is asking the French (if he is in Bur) for support to Munich. I would say that the majority of French players would be willing to oblige if you promise them support, in Spring 1902, for their A(Bur) Ruh. However, and funnily enough it was Robin again (as France this time) where I last saw this happen, not many France’s will be keen on the idea if they feel the Italian may repay this kindness by building two fleets and attack France with them. 

Even if France is not willing to oblige with the support (or is not in a position to) then it could still be worthwhile having a pop at Munich anyway.

Lastly, with this opening, if it looks as though there is little chance of either an Austrian or a German centre then it could be worth considering the Autumn moves of F(ION)-Tun, A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Tyr)-Boh and builds third army in Venice. Sooner or later, an Austrian centre (with good chances of a second one in the following season) will fall your way. 

6. A(Ven)-Pie, A(Rom)-Ven, F(Nap)-ION 

Of course, you must make an enemy sooner or later, so why not “do it to them before they can do it to you”? The thing I like about this opening (albeit not one I would like to try too often) is that it is flexible. A(Pie) will annoy France right from the start and it is important to either make up quickly (by moving A(Ven) S A(Pie)-Tyr) and heading against Austria or ensure France never stands a chance of gaining revenge. 

Any opening that involves moving to Pie should be backed up with an English move to ENC - this gives France greater worries to think about. Therefore, I would have to trust England from the off in order to make the move. Having said that, why should England lie if he agrees to move to ENG? Well, it would keep France occupied for one, although most of the time I would tend to accept what England has said. 

If France is to be the target then the autumn move poses a dilemma - do you go for Marseilles? No matter who the player, if France has armies in Bur & Spa then I would order A(Pie) S French A(Spa)-Mar, in the hope of seeing the French attempt a self stand-off there. Not only does this deny him one build (Spain) but it also ensures the angered French can not build their greatly needed F(Mar). 

Another case is when France has A(Pic), A(Mar) (the latter having just had a stand off in Bur with Germany). In this case you have nothing to lose by moving to Mar; If France moves to Spain (to gains build) then you have Mar, if he doesn’t then he has forfeited a build and, either way, Marseilles is covered so that a fleet cannot be constructed. 

There are many other combinations that could occur, but the best thing to bear in mind is that you want Marseilles to be covered after the Autumn move, so that a fleet cannot be built there. 

7. A(Ven)-Pie, A(Rom)-Ven, F(Nap)-TYS 

Similar to the above, with the same dilemma over Pie/Mar for the Autumn. One bonus here is that, if you can agree with Austria to move F(Tri)-Ven then you can use F(TYS) to convoy A(Rom) - Tun in the Autumn. This leaves your fleet one move away from GOL, so that Mar becomes an easier target for 1902. 

Caution should be taken so that the embarrassment of losing Venice to Austria in the first year does not take place! Simply by telling him that A(Rom) will be trying for Venice again should do the trick in justifying your reasons for wanting him to put the fleet in Albania. 


More often than not, builds come in the form of F(Nap). Rather boring, but one has to agree that Italy does need a second fleet. Most of the time this would be my first choice of build, with the exceptions outlined in the above opening strategies. However, where I feel many players slip up is with their belief that Italy is a naval power and subsequently make their second build (if and when they get one) another fleet. This is the same problem England his; it is armies which, will make the difference between a win and a draw. 

I would go as far as to say that I- would build fleets as my 1st, 4th, 7th builds etc. That is a ratio of two armies per fleet. If you always think “fleet, army, army” (with little deviation) then you won’t go far wrong. To win the game, you will need to push through Austria and into Russia. This will take heaps of armies. On the fleet side of things, the most you should need is two against Turkey (and into BLA) and three against France. Of course, if you take MAO it is a different story! 


So, it’s 1903 and you are up to six or seven centres, right? No? In that case, something has gone drastically wrong and I suspect you will never want to play this wretched country again. Perhaps there was something you missed? Did you use all of the opening lines to the other countries? You did? Ah, I know your problem - your name is Toby Harris and everyone has decided to stuff you! 

Ok, presuming you actually are on six (or seven) centres, then you should be in control of your home centres, Tunis and a combination similar to one of the three categories below: 

1. Mar, Spa (Por)

2. Tri, Vie/Bud/Ser (Vie/Bud/Ser)

3. Smy, Con, (Gre/Ank) 

What do you do now? Firstly, you will note that you haven’t quite finished polishing off one of your neighbours. Therefore it is very important that you let it be known to all of the other players that your sole intention is to ensure your victim is eliminated this season/year. Apart from the fact this nobody will have any cause to doubt you, it will strengthen your chances in a surprise attack on your second victim. Of course, you should still go through with eliminating your first victim, but you won’t need all 6 or 7 units to do it, leaving you with some spare ones to mount a new assault. Let’s take the three cases above and see what the best options are: 

1. Mar, Spa (Por) 

Ok, so you went for France and did reasonably well out of it. You should now be in control of (n.b.) THREE fleets, three (or four) armies. Who should the next victim be? This is actually a difficult one. 

If Russia is going reasonably well (hopefully better than you at this stage) you should agree with England that MAO is to be declared a DMZ leaving him to go for Russia and you to head against Turkey or Austria. If he falls for it then TAKE MAO. Once you have control of it, if you align your forces well enough you will be able to hold it. If the worst comes to the worst, losing MAO is as far as England can ever get. If the move works then it is so a bad idea to push further north into one of England’s three sea spaces. 

Probably the better option is to move on which ever is the weaker out of Turkey or Austria. As all of your forces are in the western half of the board, the attack you make will basically be of the same strategy as one of the opening moves above. As I say, the weaker country is likely to be the better target but your choice should be decided mainly on whichever move you think will succeed. 

2. Tri, Vie/Bud/Ser (Vie/Bud/Ser) 

Logically, you should be looking at whichever of the above centres you don’t own. If they are owned by Russia or Turkey then you will need to decide whether or not you can overpower them. If the answer is no then you have little choice but to try to tempt them against the other, with the lure that this is the direction you intend to go in. Making Turkey your next target should be no problem if Russia is willing to help. Simply restate your earlier sentence about each controlling five of the ten centres between you. This should ensure Greece falls fairly easily - support from Serbia (move A(Tri)-Alb to provide extra support if necessary) and take the centre with a fleet from ION, backing the sea space up with another fleet. It is all fairly simple from there; one fleet supports the other to AEG, then Bul sc etc. 

All the time, it is important to remember that you will, at some point, want ALL of the Austrian, Balkan AND Turkish centres. Clearly, Russia should never know of your greed, but by keeping at least two armies on Austrian soil at all times you should soon find your opening. 

Turkey only has to be down to two units for you to strike at Russia’s share of Austria - he won’t be suspecting it until Turkey is actually out, making the move that much more powerful. Most of the time you will find that, at this point, Russia’s forces are fairly weak around Austria because he has had to use them in the North or against Turkey. This will make your quest that much simpler. Following through is also important; don’t just stick with Vie and Bud support yourself to Gal in the following turn, with crucial areas (like Sil and Ukr) being the targets after that. The chances of Turkey and Russia allying to slop you are not too worrying after all, Russia was attacking Turkey himself! 

As soon as you have taken two builds at your second victim’s expense, head for Marseilles with your builds - A(Ven) - Pie, F(Nap)- TYS. 

3. Smy, Con (Gre/Ank) 

This position doesn’t necessarily require you to actually stab another player. Ideally, you should be looking for Austria to be in battle with Russia. If he is then you should not have too much difficulty in ensuring you have A(Smy) and F(Con). 

Support the fleet to Ank and stick another fleet in Con (with Austrian support from Bul). Two fleets there should have little difficulty in breaking into BLA (from the fleet in Ank) the following turn, followed up with A(Smy) - Arm. You now have Sev by the balls and are in a position to stab Austria. Of course, Austria may be well guarded but persuading him to move more forces against Russia should do the trick. 

The same attack as the opening moves will have a stronger effect If you can get an army convoyed to Greece. Better than attacking Ser or Bul, it can provide support for another army landing in Alb. 


Middle game strategies are always difficult to comment on, because of the infinite number of strategies. The end game, however, is simple. The centres listed on the first page of this article are your goal and it is no good walking towards them; you are now up against the clock. Everyone will be fully aware of the potential of a 12 - 14 centre Italy. 

In theory, you will now have everyone against you and desperately trying to stop you. It you haven’t then you are up against fools and have nothing to be proud about for getting this far in the first place! 

Just remember that Marseilles is easier to hold by your opponents than Moscow and Warsaw. Of course, they can all be held, but Marseilles requires less thought and coordination. There is also the bonus that if you take Marseilles then you stand a reasonable chance of taking Spain also, leaving only one of Mos/War as the 18th centre. Therefore, as soon as you have the spare units (certainly before you have taken the lead) it is advisable to head for Marseilles as hard as possible. More often than not it is the key to the game and your ticket to victory. 

Reprinted from Smodnoc No.50 (May 1993)


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