Strategic Diplomacy (Part 4) – Italy

by Harry Drews

Italy is the country that probably would be voted “least likely to succeed” most often. I suppose people groan or curse when they are given Italy as their assignment because this idea that Italy is a “loser” has become fixed in many minds. On the contrary, I feel that Italy presents one of the most interesting challenges on the board and when progressive strategies are circulated amongst the players it will be found that Italy will do much better. Now I only write from the bit of experience I have gathered but I don’t think enough people play Italy sufficiently aggressively. Imaginative openings for Italy have been discovered; the Key and Lepanto for example. To win, what remains is to carry this initial momentum on and over your neighbours, one by one.

There are two approaches in existence for a strategy as Italy. First, there is the “ho-hum” or “bide your time” approach. Italy is the sole country which does not have to commit herself early in the game. A player can capture Tunis and then wait for a likely turn of events, say in 1903 or 1904. Move in at that point and pick up enough of the pieces for third place or so, Needless to say, I find little merit in this approach.

The second approach is the “do something, do anything, but at least try it” school of thought. All that is left is to find the best route to eighteen centres. What are the reasonable limits of expansion? This is difficult in Italy’s case, but let’s arbitrarily draw a line from Edinburgh to Ankara. Twenty-four centres lie within these limits and they can be extended even further. For example, if you can take Rumania and Ankara you can take Sevastapol and so on. What enormous potential! The problems are two-fold: How to get the ball rolling and to avoid a two-front war.

Let us make two general statements which will apply to most games. One, Italy will win or lose the game in the east. Two, a strong France and victorious Italy are mutually exclusive. Together with the two problems listed in the last paragraph, the course of action becomes clear. Negotiate a non-agression pact with France and move immediately on the east. The reasons: 1) opportunity in the east beckons only once, at the start of the game when no strong Power has emerged; 2) an attack on France is always difficult, try to postpone it. An early attack on France will only succeed if England and Germany are participating. If’ this is the case then it must follow that a) Scandinavia is neutralised, b) either Austria or Turkey is being destroyed in the south, c) Germany will find it most profitable to remain allied with England after France is gone and attack Russia next, d) Italy will be squeezed out of any. French holdings, and e) Italy will be stabbed by Austria or Turkey. A much better alternative for Italy is not to attack France until France has either almost succumbed to an attack from England and/or Germany, or on the contrary is poised on the verge of a breakthrough against say, England. This moment will come in every game. If Italy has moved swiftly in the east then she can take full advantage. Never, but never, should Italy attack France when France can commit five units without interference solely to the defence against Italy. I will admit that there is potential in the west. The move there should not be made early because there is not a game winning number of centres in the west, and when you do look back east, the door will have been bolted or else a hatchet will be coming for the spot where your unprotected back was.

In the east it’s the old story of attacking either Austria or Turkey, then attacking the survivor or Russia, then finally attacking the last survivor or France. There are two beautiful alliances available to Italy: with Austria or with Russia. A point to be made about Austria is that Italy should be actively pro-Austria or anti-Austria but never neutral. Alliance with Austria has the disadvantage that either you or Austria will usually have to stab to get eighteen centres. Also, Austria often will dominate this alliance. Alliance with Russia is one of the most underrated and probably one of the most productive of’ any on the board. Both Italy and Russia are so versatile and so evenly matched when allied that it can be agreed upon at the start that there will be a friendly yet competitive race to see who gets eighteen centres first. Of course the option for Italy to stab Russia if Russia is edging ahead still remains.

Let us examine each of Turkey, Austria and Russia in turn as potential alliance material. Turkey is helpful as a means of destroying Austria with or without Russian help. Austria can never withstand an early two or three-way blitz. That happens after Austria is gone? If we assume that Turkey goes on to attack Russia then Italy may get the three Austrian centres and possibly Serbia out of the deal. Italy has no outlet to the north. It will take at least four units to garrison the eastern approaches to Italy to ensure that Turkey will fail in her inevitable stab. Is there anything left over with which to at tack France? Very little, and we are not planning on a lucky break in the west where Italy can waltz in without opposition.

The initial turns of an alliance with Austria or Russia might look very much the same. This is the swamp Turkey ploy and this is an advantage for Italy. Italy must be sure to lodge at least two units in Turkey, if the alliance is with Austria then Italy must claim all three Turkish centres as a base of operations from which to stab Austria or keep a wary eye on the Empire. If Italy is allied with Russia then they will eventually come in useful as a trade with Russia to establish a stab-proof holding, or to keep any errant Russian fleets out of the Mediterranean, or to launch an attack on Russia. If a long-term alliance with Russia is in the cards then hit Austria first. Italy will get the initial gains, and a nice flow to Turkey will be established. Russia is left with a slight disadvantage and will have to make the initial moves against Turkey. This should guarantee Italy at least five of the nine available centres.

Alliance with Turkey confers little or no advantage on Italy. A long-term alliance with Austria is inefficient. There are all those units left sitting in the east while Italy must use new builds to attack France. It would seen alliance with Russia is best because 1) Italy gains the most centres of any plan in the east, 2) the Russian presence in the north-west can be used to draw off units that would move towards Italy in other circumstances, and 3) if necessary, Italy can stab Russia in one continuous wave.

The versatility and potential of Italy should make for many interesting games. It does require a bit more diplomatic legwork and thinking to win, but is that not what the game is all about? 

Reprinted from Paroxysm 6 (May 1975)