Italian Strategy

by Don Turnbull

I’m not giving away any secrets in saying that Italy is unpopular amongst Diplomacy players. Strong weather-beaten men have been seen to pale visibly on hearing the news that they hold the Grand Italian Design in their calloused hands. Even experienced players regard Italy as one of the biggest problems on the Diplomacy board, and statistics of completed games confirm the view that to gain victory with Italy is no bed of roses. To many players, drawing Italy implies leaving the game after relatively few game years — they have not seen the potential excitement of leading a weak country to victory, and I will ignore this depressing band. This article is written for those who are determined to make the best of a bad lot.

Italy is bounded in the north by impassable terrain and by two Great Powers — Austria and France — having greater growth potential. The defensive advantage provided by Switzerland should not be forgotten, of course, but those mountains really get in the way when Italian armies are trying to leave their homeland on the offensive. Italy’s development in the opening game is hampered by the fact that only one supply centre — Tunis — is readily available for a Winter 1901 build; her development in the middle game is hampered by the poor avenues for deployment in the north. If Italy survives into the end game, it is very likely that her allies will be stronger than she is.

Another curious situation: Italy is one of the few countries capable of building three fleets; yet naval power, in excess, is no use at all, and particularly in the opening. Granted, the Winter 1901 build should be a fleet at Naples; that said, howeverItaly really needs armies in the middle game, for reasons that should become apparent.

A pretty sad state of affairs. I hope I can bring some sun into the lives of players of Italy, though, with the warning that you will need all the guile and craft you can muster.

There are two obvious directions in which Italy can develop — towards France or towards Austria. To attack one means that a very firm understanding must be negotiated with the other. It’s no use turning one way, only to find that your nearest neighbour in the other direction has come in the back door while you were out. The alternatives are then:

1. Ally with England and/or Germany against France, making sure the Austrians are prepared to avoid the temptation of the Venice-Trieste border; or

2. Ally with Russia and/or Turkey against Austria, coming to terms with France about de-militarisation of Piedmont.

So much appears obvious. Yet an Italian would be asking for trouble by adopting either of these alternatives. Why? Well, who would be next on the menu in either case? Yes — Italy. As the weakest member of the alliance (and look at the centres likely to fall into Italian hands, compared with the rest), and the country lying in the path of natural ‘second-stage’ development, it would take a very astute Italy indeed to avoid being gobbled up. I might be tempted to ally with England and Germany against France, in the hope of diverting English troops northwards after France has fallen, but I wouldn’t bet my salary on this.

I’m afraid these ‘obvious’ solutions must be abandoned. An astute Italian will encourage the French player to attack either Germany or England, and the Austrian player to go for either Russia or Turkey. Speedy communications with France and Austria are vital.

It’s not a helluva lot of use my telling you what you can’t do, if I can’t suggest a better alternative. Let’s have a look at other countries, and their possibilities.

Russia? Italian troops must go via Austria or Turkey, and the players concerned won’t like that idea.

England? How to get there? Particularly without France getting suspicious.

Germany? See Russia — you must use Austrian territory.

Turkey? Ah — that’s better. It may seem a distant country, and a difficult country to attack. But look at the advantages. Control of the Mediterranean; a strong corner defensive position for the middle game; a realistic future, with Italian development in the south, out of the way of Austria’s northern advances; the possibility of outflanking Russia.

This strategy is, I am convinced, the only sane one for Italy to follow. Italy and Austria must work closely together, with their aim the conquest of Turkey. Russia could be invited to come in on the act, or could adopt a passive role in the south while making warlike noises in the north against Germany or England. France must be persuaded to go north against England or Germany.

Tactically, the co-operation between Italy and Austria, and the amount of trust implied, must be stronger than in any other alliance on the board. In some games the Austrian fleet has been sent to the south to work as an Italian fleet, while the Italian A(Ven) has worked as an Austrian army, moving into Tyrol in Spring 1901. If mutual trust is high, there’s a lot to be said for moving A(Ven) to Trieste in Spring 1901, on the understanding that it will continue its march towards Serbia or Albania in the Autumn. I need hardly add that such moves are risky; but, when playing Italy, you must learn to handle dynamite.

Greece is perhaps the first target; the usual Austrian advance into Serbia is to be expected by Turkey — not so expected is a move into Albania, threatening support into Greece. When this is backed up, in Spring 1902, by fleet movements towards the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Med., Turkey will be thoroughly alarmed. But by then it should be too late.

One delightful way of turning the Turkish flank is by convoy of the Tunis army, in Autumn 1902, to Syria; send the fleet to the Ionian in Spring 1901, use it to convoy an army to Tunis in the Autumn, and build another fleet in Naples; in Spring 1902 move to the Eastern Med and the Ionian, then use these fleets to convoy A(Tun) to Syria in the Autumn of 1902. Pretty alarming for the Turks, I can assure you — but if you have played your diplomatic cards right Turkey will not be able to call on Russia for help. Move an Austrian fleet into the Aegean in Spring 1903, and the fall of Turkey has begun.

Now, I’m not saying this is the only way to play Italy; I am saying, however, that it is the best to my way of thinking.

Italy’s opening moves are relatively easy. No-one will have failed to realise the strategic importance of the Ionian Sea —to move the fleet anywhere else would be crazy. The disposition of the armies depends to a great extent on the success of diplomatic dealings with Austria; if there is any suspicion, A(Ven) can stand in place, or move to Apulia; if there is really close cooperation, it could move to Tyrol or even Trieste, as explained above. The Rome army is perhaps the better one to convoy to Tunis; it can go either from Naples or Apulia. But leave Naples open for a fleet build in the Winter.

I am conscious of the fact that, in the small space of this article, I haven’t been able to do full justice to my argument for an anti-Turkey strategy. If there are gaps in the reasoning, my apologies. Remember if Italy has any advantage at all, it is a defensive one, and a good balance of forces follow as a result.

This article first appeared in the October 1972 edition of Games & Puzzles magazine
Supplied by Keith Hazelton