by Rich Armada
I. WHAT’S A POOR ARCHDUKE TO DO?
So, the fates have placed you in command of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and you’re shaking your head forlornly as you mutter to yourself: “I’m doomed!”
Well, that assessment may be a bit extreme, but disappointment over drawing Austria probably isn’t the most uncommon reaction known to the game of Diplomacy. I can recall some friends of my adolescence actually refusing to play in face-to-face games if they got “stuck with Austria.” I’d say, among the Great Powers on the board, Austria is the one most in need of a good PR campaign.
In some respects, this “Austrophobia” is understandable. Statistically speaking, Austria has a high mortality rate, and Diplomacy history is littered with the lifeless bodies of Archdukes who got steam-rolled almost immediately out of the starting gate. However, the statistics are also reported to place Austria as one of the countries with the highest win percentage. And this, I believe, is due to the fact that, once it gets rolling, Austria has some good things going for it.
II. PAL O’ MINE
Naturally, the most obvious disadvantage Austria has is its location — right smack in the center of the map. It’s awfully difficult to sit on the fence and play neutral when that fence runs right through what most of your neighbors view as the crossroads of the board. Therefore, the Austrian diplomat really has his work cut out for him.
As I see it, what puts Austria at a disadvantage geographically is the very thing which might actually help it get started diplomatically. The sheer vulnerability of Austria can make it seem one of the least threatening of countries and, therefore, one of the more probable alliances when the first round of negotiations begins. Neighboring Italy can usually stave off any immediate Austrian sneak attack. Turkey is buffered by the Balkans. The most Austria can do against Germany on the first turn is annoy it with a single army in Tyrolia (an unlikely place for an Austrian army to be in Fall 1901). And Russia, which I believe might have the most to fear from a hostile Austria, risks little more than the inability to capture Rumania which, in most cases, requires the Austrian to get Turkey’s cooperation. And, in that case, Turkey, with its back door entry to Sevastopol, may appear the more threatening of the two in the Czar’s eyes.
Add to that the fact that all of Austria’s neighbors know, if the Archduke doesn’t make a friend quick he’s a goner, and you’ve got the makings of a country that looks to some foreign ruler just right for enlisting into his master plan. Pretty soon, the offers start coming in: “Stick with me, pal o’ mine! We’re goin’ places!” (I use the expression “pal o’ mine” here because it’s the sort of thing the TV character Ralph Kramden used to say to his friend Norton on “The Honeymooners” when you knew Ralph really didn’t have Norton’s best interests at heart. The wise Archduke must weigh all offers of friendship carefully because, as sure as Turkey’s going to Bulgaria, there’s an excellent chance that some of these “pals” are packing knives.)
I’d recommend you offer any potential ally something that makes your friendship much more attractive than the tempting prospect of coming after you. If he’s offering what sounds like a fair plan, back it up. If he has no definite plan, offer one that promises a long-range pay-off for you both. Vague, wishy-washy suggestions of alliance may be acceptable for those who can watch for a few moves from the sides of the map. But, unless it’s lucky, a few turns may be all Austria survives without a definite course of action.
III. FIRST STOP, SERBIA
More often than not, Army BUD-SER is the first stop on Austria’s road to expansion. Serbia is the easiest uncontested supply center within reach, and its central location (adjacent to five other supply centers and unassailable by marauding fleets) makes it a good place from which to support other actions in and around the hotly contested Balkans. As an alternative, Army BUD-RUM is a strong anti-Russian first move, but you’d better have the complicity of Turkey or you could be in deep trouble come the Fall.
As for Fleet Trieste, unless you’re going to war immediately with Italy, there’s just no reason for it to move anywhere other than Albania. It gives you a shot at Greece or, at least, puts your fleet within striking range.
Army Vienna is always viewed as the “swing” unit. It’s where that army goes on its first move that determines how everyone else will view Austria. If it goes to Trieste or Tyrolia, it suggests distrust of Italy. If it’s ordered to Galicia or Budapest, Russia goes on immediate alert. If you have your suspicions about someone but don’t want to antagonize him unnecessarily, it might be wise to suggest a pre-arranged stand-off bounce involving Army Vienna. That strategy is not so aggressive, but in Spring 1901 Army Vienna is usually considered a defensive unit, anyway.
Unless you have a specific and mutually agreed-upon plan being enacted, there are two strategic locations I’d recommend you insist no foreign unit enter: Galicia and Tyrolia. Both are adjacent to two Austrian home supply centers, and a hostile army in either can put a severe crimp in Austrian plans as units go scurrying to cover up. Since both territories technically lie within the national borders of what is deemed on the map to be Austria-Hungary, it provides enough of a technicality to protest any attempted intrusion into those regions.
IV. A BOAT! A BOAT! MY KINGDOM FOR A BOAT!
To liberally adapt a joke from the repertoire of comedian Jackie Mason, there’s no bigger schnook on this earth than an Austrian on a boat. At least, as far as the game of Diplomacy is concerned, that’s usually the case — at least, during the early going, anyway. The reasons are more than obvious. Austria is the only Great Power with just one coastal home supply center, and that center is harbored so far up the Adriatic that it generally takes two moves just to get a fleet somewhere it can do you some good. So, a major naval campaign seems pretty pointless during the early years of the game. (Even if you are at war with one of the typical naval powerhouses of the Mediterranean — Italy or Turkey — chances are the other one will be your ally and that nation will insist that it control the seas while you patrol the land.)
While this may seem like a terrible hindrance to expansion (and it is), I believe the lack of home coastline also offers a defensive plus. Armies, alone, can’t always blast their way through a stalemate line without offshore help. In this case, there’s only so much offshore support an enemy can usher around Austrian home soil — and then only around Trieste. Additionally, it is no quicker for enemies to get their fleets into that harbored area than it is for Austrian fleets to get out. So, in that respect, Austrian home soil is somewhat protected from the gunboat ravages which can occur more easily to other countries. (Think about the fits just one Italian fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean can give to Turkey.)
V. WILKOMMEN, PAISANO
Austria and Italy share the distinction of being the only two countries on the board with home supply centers neighboring each other. That means, from the very start, there is a source of friction between these two countries. Even so, it is generally considered a good idea for these two to ally at the beginning of the game. The conventional wisdom (and I can’t dispute it) is that they can usually achieve a lot more working together than fighting each other. The Tyrolia-Venice bottleneck can get plugged up awfully quick, and then the two countries end up expending most of their resources just holding a stalemate line.
More often than not, when Italy and Austria go to war early, it’s the result of an ambitious Italy hoping to make a lucky guess. The problem with that strategy is that Italy is not in as good a position to take advantage of a weakened Austria as are Russia and Turkey, and, so, a Russo-Turkish alliance is likely to gobble up the greater share of supply centers before Italy can deploy enough units across the Adriatic to take control of the situation. If you’re Austria, it probably doesn’t hurt to point this out to an Italy who is openly hostile.
VI. NO MORE 90-POUND WEAKLING
If you, as Austria, have made good use of your diplomatic skills, allied yourself with useful allies, and profited along the way to the point of midgame, you may notice a miraculous change occur within your country. It has been my observation that, once Austria reaches the strength of six or seven supply centers, it no longer appears to be an easy mark for a marauding bully. In fact, because of its almost mandated land-based military needs, it often turns into the strongest land force on the board. That inland strength, combined with the cushion of “neutral zones” (Tyrolia, Bohemia, Galicia) ringing a compact homeland core, allows Austria to secure its borders with relatively few defensive units while radiating an expanding circle of offensive units. So, once it outgrows its gawky adolescence, Austria can turn into a force to be reckoned with.
At this point, you may be able to flex some muscle and bully or cajole smaller powers. However, the wise Archduke must still be cautious and not get overly greedy. You don’t want to incite an allied resistance against you. (After all, you’re still in the center of the map and you don’t want to get pinched.)
Some things to be thinking about in the midgame….
If either Italy or Turkey has been neutralized (and not necessarily eliminated), be wary of the other. It is the most likely time for a stab against Austria.
Be careful not to end up with your units in such an arrangement that they “trap” an ally by cutting off all paths of expansion for that country. That’s just another way of putting Austria in the middle of things. If that happens, I’d recommend doing some territory swapping to open things up.
Once the battle for the Balkans has been settled, try to negotiate a withdrawal of all units from that area. The less Austria has to worry about guarding its underbelly, the more it will be able to concentrate on other productive enterprises.
VII. SCHNITZEL ALL AROUND!
So, you’ve made it to the endgame and you’re going for the solo win, eh? Well, if you haven’t already gone to war with Italy (and Italy hasn’t been destroyed or beaten into submission), chances are you’re going to war with it now. And that means you’re going to need fleets — at least one in the Adriatic, for starters. Naturally, at this point, just the act of building a fleet in Trieste is going to tip the Italian that you’re planning a gondola ride in Venice. So, the sneakier you can be about this, the better.
Germany, which is often Austria’s best “neutral” friend throughout the game, isn’t likely to stand idly by, either — not if he’s still around. And, so, it becomes crucial for Austria to maintain control of Tyrolia and Galicia. Lose them to an unfriendly force from the north and it’s likely to put your expansion plans on immediate hold.
England and France — which may not have had much to do with Austria previously — can become the chief obstacles in the Mediterranean and Russian provinces (that is, if EF has been a successful alliance). It’s unlikely Austria will be able to beat EF on the seas. So, its best hope is a strong push through the interior of central Europe and Piedmont (once you’ve broken through to Italy).
Russia and Turkey, if either is around — and I’m assuming at least one is gone if Austria is going for a solo — must be neutralized immediately or Austria will find itself in the middle of a two-front war (which is the very thing you’ve been trying to avoid all along!).
And, if you do all that, you’re guaranteed to be serving Wiener Schnitzel in at least eighteen major centers of Europe, right? Well…er, uh….no. This is Diplomacy, after all, and there are so many variables and no guarantees. And, besides that, everything above is just one man’s opinions based his observations of the game. So, whether anything I’ve suggested is of any real value to future Archdukes may be just a matter of personal taste and playing style. Regardless, good luck and happy Diplomacy.