The phone rings.
‘Hallo?… Who?… Oh, Margot, hallo…. Well, I’d love to come round and look at your beer-mat collection, but I’m just going to start a game of Diplomacy…. Well, not for six or seven hours, probably, unless – hang on will you?… Hallo, you still there?… It’s all right, I’ve drawn Austria. I’ll be with you in twenty minutes….’
Exaggerated? Well, perhaps. But there is no doubt that drawing the red army out of the hat very often means the early bath. If Austria survives the early years, it is a better country than most; but it’s a big if.
I enjoy playing Austria, more perhaps than any other country but Germany. The two are very similar, requiring similar strategies to get the best out of them, but Germany does not have the fatal vulnerability to early attack that characterizes its southern neighbour. Some consider this weakness an advantage: Austria rarely offers the kind of lingering death that steals over those who draw Italy (or, in my case, Turkey). But it is disheartening if you’ve set aside a Saturday evening and travelled ten miles for a game to be eliminated in 1902 and spend the rest of the evening thumbing disconsolately through dog-eared back numbers of Playboy. Do not despair though: the Hedgehog and the Anschluss will give you a fair chance, and at least ensure that you leave a few bloody noses behind if you must succumb.
Hair-raising, is the word that springs to mind. Austria has three immediate neighbours, two of whom can be expected to have designs on Austrian territory more often than not; and beyond the thin barrier of the Balkans sits the arch-enemy. An Italian unit is waiting courteously on the door-step until your back is turned — a unit that has everything to gain and little to lose by moving in your direction. Perhaps worst of all, at the start of the game you have access to only one sea province, and that a dead end to which it is pointless to move; your solitary fleet would be far more useful as an army. The need to garrison home centres, especially Trieste, means that Austria constantly has to do without some or all of his builds; and building fleets in particular is terribly slow, and often entirely impossible.
Against this formidable array of drawbacks, you have two advantages: flexibility, from a diplomatic standipoint if not tactically; and Germany.
No great problem. Austria can reasonably hope (early survival permitting) to occupy the whole of the Balkans and Turkey for a ten-centre power base. The extra eight needed for victory are most likely to be the Italian trio, the Russian centres apart from St Petersburg, plus Munich and Tunis; the stalemate line will present the usual difficulties at the end, but Austria is certainly no worse off in this respect than most other countries.
Before considering individual openings, let’s get one thing clear: anything that doesn’t put a high premium on defence is useless. Austria’s record is entirely horrific. In 232 postal games, there are seventeen cases of a country being eliminated in 1902 — Austria sixteen times, Germany once. There are thirty-two Austrian eliminations in 1903 (next worst, surprisingly, Turkey with eight) and sixteen in 1904. Overall, then, one Austria in five is eliminated before spring 1904; and barely two in five survive to the end of the game. Yet in terms of victories, Austria’s record is respectable — fractionally under average, with thirty-three wins in the 230 games that have produced a winner, and lying third in the table, just behind Germany. The message is obvious: bother about survival first and foremost, then the winning chances will come.
I have long been convinced that the main reason for Austria’s regular debacles has been the use of an inadequate opening. The figures support this. Easily the most popular Austrian opening (nearly one-third of all games) has been the Trieste Variation of the Balkan Gambit: F(Tri)—Alb, A(Bud)— Ser, A(Vie)—Tri. I have no quarrel with the first two moves, which constitute what I call the Balkan Gambit — using ‘gambit’ in its precise sense of an opening which risks a loss in one area for a (presumably) compensating gain in another, rather than as a general synonym for ‘opening’ as is the slovenly habit nowadays. The moves to Serbia and Albania are intended to provide an almost certain lever for an attack on Greece; almost certain, in that Turkey and Italy can combine to prevent it, but it is not usually in the latter’s interests to do so. However, the Trieste Variation is grotesquely inadequate. Its ostensible purpose is to guard against a sly Italian move to Trieste. However, Italy moves to Tyrolia far more frequently than to Trieste! And of the occasions when Italy does attack Trieste, an unknown but substantial number are by pre-arrangement with Austria, either for a stand-off or for the Key Lepanto, of which more later. Moreover, an attack by Russia on Galicia is infinitely more dangerous, and occurs in well over half of all games. When the two invasions — Tyrolia and Galicia — are played simultaneously, the Trieste Variation is shown up for the pathetic, bumbling thing it is. Austria can do no better than try to make sure of Greece and take a wild gamble with A(Tri), trying to outguess Russia, with a certainty of losing one home centre, and a fifty-fifty chance of losing two. There is no better indictment of the opening than this: when Austria is actually confronted with the attack he has supposedly ‘guarded’ against, he can hardly do better than move the unit back where it came from!
Quite often, no doubt, the move is made as part of a prearranged standoff with Italy over Trieste; this, of course, is an open invitation to Italy to open A(Ven)—Tyr, A(Rom)—Ven, an attack which becomes enormously attractive as soon as it is certain to succeed.
If Italy attacks, the move is useless; if Italy goes the other way, the move will worry him, make him think about coming back, and be no use at all. Enough said.
The third-choice Austrian opening is at least more dynamic, though it shows an equal disregard for safety: this is the Budapest Variation, in which A(Vie) goes to Budapest instead of Trieste. This is the optimist’s choice, offering the best chance of three builds, as it leaves Austria with two units against Rumania in the autumn. It is occasionally used as part of a Key Lepanto, and is the nearest there is to a safe version of it. It may be sound, if, for instance, Turkey has promised to help Austria take Rumania; but in overall terms it is even weaker than the Trieste Variation, since it fails even in the one case where the latter succeeds — where Italy attacks with A(Ven)—Tri, A(Rom)—Ven. If Russia moves to Galicia as well, Austria may finish up buying his three Balkan neutrals at the cost of all three home centres, hardly a bargain.
Much better than either of the above, and growing rapidly in popularity as they decline, is the Galicia Variation of the Balkan Gambit, in which the Vienna army goes to Galicia. This is demonstrably better than the Budapest Variation, since if Russia doesn’t try for Galicia then Austria again has two armies against Rumania (with the additional chance of Warsaw), and if Russia does try for Galicia, then it’s a damned good job Austria did too! Like the Budapest Variation, it is only to be risked when you are reasonably sure Italy is not going to attack; it is seen at its worst when Italy moves to Trieste and Venice and the move to Galicia succeeds for now Austria has to guess right to avoid the humiliation of losing two home centres to Italy. However, if you are correct in your estimate that Italy is an idiot, this is a very good opening with excellent winning chances. Again, it may be the mark of the Key Lepanto (Suicide Variation).
Those three variations of the Balkan Gambit account for an amazing sixty-five per cent of all Austrian openings … yet another forty-one openings have been tried in postal play!
There are also, I regret to say, three more versions of the gambit: the Tyrolia, Vienna and Bohemia Variations, in that order of popularity, which have a combined frequency of one game in nine.
The Tyrolia Variation has the outstanding merit of being likely to achieve what it sets out to do — stopping Italy. But this is the only respect in which it is superior to the Trieste, unless you consider the ability to make a surprise attack on Germany an advantage. A major disadvantage is the lack of cover for Budapest if the move succeeds, so that this is the weakest of all the variations yet considered when it comes to a Russian invasion. It does cope with Italy quite well, though, even if he elects to move to Trieste (you can prevent him moving further with A(Tyr)—Tri/Ven). But I can’t really endorse it, except as part of a pre-arranged stand-off with Germany. That’s another matter.
The Vienna Variation, in which A(Vie) gives up the struggle and sits at home waiting to see who attacks what, is utterly futile … but infinitely better than the Bohemia Variation, in which Austria attacks the one country that can be absolutely relied upon to help him. The fact that nine people have seen fit to play this absurdity in postal games strikes me as remarkably sad.
The best Austrian opening, in my view, is the Southern Hedgehog, a modified version of the Hedgehog proper. Neither has proved very popular yet, though both are on the increase. I coined the name of ‘Hedgehog’ in 1975 for the moves F(Tri)—Ven, A(Vie)—Gal, A(Bud)—Rum — a quintessentially violent opening which gives complete protection against any attack by Russia or Italy. It is ferocious in appearance but cowardly at heart, hence the name. I became disenchanted with this original version, however, when experience proved that failure to occupy Serbia was too much of a drawback; if Russia or Turkey could be absolutely relied upon it worked well enough, but horrible things could happen. So I fell back, for most games, on the alternative version, with the Budapest army moving to Serbia instead of Rumania. This, I am convinced, is the goods; I play it almost all the time, and though my record as Austria is far from earth-shaking I am convinced that it would be a lot worse if I had played a different opening. At least I have not yet joined the ranks of those eliminated in 1902 or 1903.
It is important to go to Serbia, simply to stop Italy thinking he can get a free ride to Greece, and to dissuade Turkey from trying to sneak into Serbia in the autumn. The move to Galicia sorts Russia out, and the naval assault on Venice has the vital effect of splitting the Italian armies if he does try the popular A(Ven)—Tyr, A(Rom)—Ven. Leaving aside the minute possibility that a lunatic Germany will open to Bohemia or Tyrolia, this opening is a hundred per cent certain to gain a build for Austria in 1901; no other opening achieves this. (Apart from the Houseboat Variation, F(Tri) stands, which is really a weaker version of exactly the same idea, and is not recommended, because it is vulnerable to the most popular Italian attack. Surprisingly, this is the most popular member of the Hedgehog family, and the sixth most common of all Austrian openings, but to me it seems rather feeble. If you are going to rely on placating Italy, which is presumably the purpose of this embarrassing grovel, you may as well invite him in and have done with it.)
There are many minority openings Austria can try. I have some sympathy for those who think fleets belong in water, and accordingly start with F(Tri)— ADS; I would give this a try if I was sure Italy was starting with F(Nap)— TYS, as the chance of grabbing the Ionian would be too good to miss. But as a rule the move has all the drawbacks of the Balkan Gambit without the virtue of a double attack on Greece. A few eccentrics have tried the bloodcurdling A(Bud)—Gal, A(Vie)—Tri, which carries my emphasis on defence beyond all reason, abandoning the Balkans to Turkey for ever. Occasionally people support themselves to Trieste (incomprehensible) or Galicia (not much better, as the move to Galicia is best when it fails). Perhaps the plethora of oddball Austrian openings is the result of despair, a catalogue of wild attempts to do something, anything, which will catch ‘them’ off their guard. Paranoia, thy name is Austria!
A final word of advice on that unclassifiable Austrian opening, the Key Lepanto: ‘Don’t.’ This remarkable business will be discussed in the chapter on Italy — for him, it’s a good opening.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
Postal Diplomacy players in a big way of business get a lot of post — that’s what the attraction is, of course. I start off by sorting quickly through mine in search of the magazine announcing my latest gamestart. If I see my name and address printed alongside the word Austria, I take my coffee back upstairs and start composing a letter to Germany; the rest of the post can wait.
For a full discussion of the need for Germany and Austria to unite, see the references to the Anschluss in Chapter 5.
It is no exaggeration to say that Austria can rely on Germany a hundred per cent, unless Germany is mad. Some Germanys are just that, of course: in the sample of 313 games, eight moved to Tyrolia (though some of these would have been by arrangement with Austria — I vividly remember one that was, because I was playing Italy and suffered horribly). Four lunatics moved to Bohemia. But the great majority of players will see Germany’s early role as concerning only the west, and their attitude to Austria will be friendly enough.
It is up to Austria, though, to get the full, positive co-operation of Germany. Grovel, beg, buy him drinks, help him with his tax returns. That army of his in Munich is what you’re after — it can make all the difference between your going out in 1903 and surviving into the middle game. He doesn’t need it; you do.
There are two possible lines you can take. Provided you are intending to play one of the sensible openings, including a move to Galicia, it is enough to secure his promise that the army will remain in Munich until autumn 1901. Let’s say you open with the Southern Hedgehog, and Italy attacks with A(Ven)—Tyr, A(Rom)—Ven (stood off by your fleet move); while Russia has stood off your move to Galicia. At this point your moves are clear cut: you order F(Tri)—Ven, A(Vie) S GERMAN A(Mun)—Tyr, A(Ser)—Gre. Probably Italy makes sure of a build by moving F(ION)—Tun, but his position is uncomfortable. If he is really set upon the attack he retreats A(Tyr)—Boh and builds A(Ven), but with the aid of the vital German A(Tyr) you are in no difficulty ; more likely Italy will decide on a more prudent course of action, retreating A(Tyr)—Pie and building F(Nap).
The German assistance is even more valuable if you open with the popular Trieste Variation of the Balkan Gambit (as we’ve already seen this is weak, but no doubt it will remain popular — not everyone will read this book!). If you intend to do this, you should get some more positive aid from Germany in the diplomatic field: you need an assurance that he will open F(Kie)—Den, reserving the right to keep the Russians out of Sweden, and that he will use Sweden as a bribe to stop Russia moving to Galicia. I would say that unless you are sure Germany is going to take this line, you cannot afford to leave Galicia undefended in spring 1901. You might even induce Germany to open A(Mun)—Tyr, in which case of course Italy has no attack at all.
Let’s say it all goes wrong (which will happen sometimes): Russia moves to Galicia, Italy to Tyr and Ven, Germany simply stays in Mun. Things are bad — serves you right for your silly opening — but they would be a lot worse without Germany. He attacks Tyr and you order A(Tri)—Vie, A(Ser) S F(Alb)—Gre. There is no certainty of success, but you have a fair chance of getting two builds: the most likely way for inexperienced players to continue the attack is A(Tyr) S A(Ven)—Tri and A(Gal)—Vie. Vienna is a more likely target than Budapest because it can only be defended by the very committing A(Tri)—Vie, whereas Budapest can be guarded by the self-stand-off A(Tri)— Bud, A(Ser)—Bud. Italy may attack Trieste the other way — A(Ven) S A(Tyr)— Tn — in which case he will get in, but Germany will now be in Tyrolia, Italy’s forces are badly placed, and you can fight back in the spring.
So Germany, with timely military and diplomatic intervention, can give Austria greatly improved chances of surviving the early years, and it’s in his own interests. The alliance, once established, can last indefinitely: the only time that Germany and Austria need come to blows is when there is a strong Russia—Austria alliance that eliminates Turkey early on and then turns north, but the position of the stalemate line makes this an easy position for Germany to defend, and a more promising line for Austria may be to stab Russia and ally with Germany. Austria need virtually never fear an attack from Germany. I can remember one occasion when I felt forced to make this attack, but the circumstances were exceptional : it was a postal game in which Turkey had dropped out early, giving Austria a runaway gain of half a dozen centres in the Turkish area and offering me an unattractive prospect of being pinned between a massive Austria and my ‘ally’ England. This attack was a despairing one in a very ominous position, and it failed, as it was almost bound to, Austria eventually winning after careless play by me lost the potential stalemate. But in most cases Austria and Germany can pursue their quest for victory in opposite directions, without ever needing to attack one another.
Italy is the nearest and most dangerous of Austria’s neighbours. There is no question about it: Italy’s best chance is to attack Austria if he thinks he can get away with it. Unless you are sure that Italy is a really weak player, you simply cannot afford to adopt a placating approach: asking him to ‘demilitarize’ Tyrolia and move away from Venice in spring 1901 is tantamount to putting out the welcome mat and he will accept gravely, then move in. You must make it absolutely clear to him from the off that you are prepared for the worst; tell him you are going to order F(Tri)—Ven and point out that Germany is on your side and will rally round if there is any funny business in Tyrolia; ask Germany to confirm this emphatically, which he should be glad to do. Offer Italy a classical Lepanto attack on Turkey, with the alternative of an attack on France — if Germany is also prepared to consider an attack on France, this offers Italy a realistic chance ofdoing quite well without moving against Austria. But whatever you say, be firm — don’t let him talk you out of F(Tri)—Ven! It is not an attack: if he says it is, tell him not to be silly. (The Austrian attack on Italy is F(Tri)—ADS, A(Vie)—Tyr, A(Bud)— Tn, a sort of Italian version of the German suicide against Russia, the Barbarossa Opening. It is tried occasionally, with predictable results.)
Most of the time, determined plain speaking by you and Germany will deter Italy from an early attack. If you can once achieve this, relations should remain good for some time, especially if Italy goes west and a ~triple alliance’ pattern emerges — Austria almost always does well out of this. There will always be some tension over the border, inevitably, particularly if Austria starts building fleets in the middle game; it’s worth noting that Austria has an excellent excuse for building in Trieste, while Italy has none for building in Venice! Austria and Italy are in their different ways the weakest countries on the board, yet in tandem they become very formidable; I have recently completed a postal game as Austria that ended in a 17—17 draw with Italy.
Russia is a surprisingly good ally for Austria, especially if Austria feels outclassed and will be content with a fair result — a second place, or perhaps a four-way draw. The first hurdle to overcome is the Galicia situation in spring 1901: again I am a believer in moving to Galicia and telling Russia I intend to do so. It is, after all, Austrian soil! Like Italy, Russia will be very ready to attack you unless he knows for sure that he can’t get away with it; it’s up to you to convince him of that. He can afford to let you into Galicia, though it will cost him an anxious moment or two in autumn as he wonders whether to defend Warsaw or not.
Your strategy should always be to embroil the two giants, Russia and Turkey, in early and lasting conflict — they usually need little encouragement. Like Germany when he orchestrates the Anglo-Russian war in Scandinavia, you have tremendous scope for diplomatic ingenuity here: I have lasted until 1906 as a ‘neutral’ in this conflict, picking up any centres in the process that are normally regarded as Russian or Turkish by right. You can support one in the spring and the other in the autumn; you can resort to deliberate mis-ordering if you are really backed into a corner and forced to make a permanently committing move. Such oddities as ‘A(Ser) S TURKISH A(Rum)—Bul’ are commonly seen: you tell Russia that you wrote Turkish’ instead of ‘Russian’, you tell Turkey that you wrote ‘Rum—Bul’ instead of ‘Bul—Rum’. Probably neither of them believes you, but that doesn’t much matter; they can’t prove you did it on purpose, and they will still need you, being more afraid of each other than of you.
In the long run it will usually pay you to side with Russia rather than Turkey when you have to make the choice. If things have gone well for you, you should be in a strong enough position to make a stab by Russia unattractive; and he always has other directions in which to seek his eighteen centres, building fleets in St Petersburg and moving out against England and Germany. Turkey has no such option: the only time it is safe for Austria to come down on the Turkish side of the fence is in the rare case where he has managed to build several fleets — at least three, stationed perhaps in ION, ADS and Gre. This will be enough to convince Turkey that there is no future in a westward push, and force him to move north; but there can never be much prospect of a win for him in that, and he will become a mere stooge, waiting for you to stab him. As I say, this is a most unusual state of affairs, because of the extreme difficulty you will have in building fleets. You need Italy’s co-operation, and there is no earthly reason why he should give it, because he knows where those fleets are going to be used.
There is not much to be said about Turkey that hasn’t been said already. He is the enemy. Your survival is an obstacle to him; the seven centres of Austria and the Balkans are his power base, from which he sustains the long chain of fleets he must push into the west if he is going to look for victory. Give him nothing, and keep him fighting Russia — if they gang up on you, it’s time to reach for the train timetable. I have often seen novice Austrias fall for the line that Turkey is essentially a naval power, and so badly placed to attack an inland power like Austria. You can’t blame him for saying it, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe it. Certainly his first few builds, if he gets an easy ride against Russia, will be fleets in Smyrna, and Italy is likely to cop it before you do. But there will come a time when Turkey has fleets in the Eastern Med, Aegean and Ionian, and another in the Black Sea; suddenly he will start building armies which will come at you from three directions, through Bulgaria, Albania and by convoy into Rumania. Curtains. Let Turkey get a firm grip on Italy, and you’re finished.
Little need be said about relations with England and France. They both represent a threat to Germany, and hence indirectly a threat to you, though you would be glad enough to see England attacking Russia, or the rare spectacle of France attacking Italy. France is the bigger threat in the long run, as a successful France dominates the Mediterranean and will eventually over-run Italy and be able to come at you from the south. Yet another argument for the ‘Triple Alliance’ plan: the perfect position for Austria in the west is for France to attack England and for Germany and Italy together to attack France … with Italy not succeeding too well!
In conclusion, it’s clear that playing Austria is easy in one respect – your first objective, survival, is clear cut. In your early dealings with other countries you can and should take a stronger line than most of them can: you must make it clear to everyone that you are going to insure yourself against the obvious risks and that no one is going to talk you out of it. When Italy says to you, ‘Let’s both move away from this dangerous Ven—Tri frontier in spring 1901, and agree not to build there in future’, you just smile sweetly and say, ‘No dice.’ Never forget: if Italy thinks there is any chance of attacking you successfully, he will go for it.