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 because
- 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 1901.
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 them.
- 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 is credible.
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 with Italy):
- 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 run.
- 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 time.
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.