The Hedgehog

by Richard Sharp

One long ago morning, standing outside the East India Arms in Fenchurch Street and discussing the imbecility of most Diplomacy players, Tony Bull and I discovered that we had both, independently, invented the same new opening for Austria. I had gone one better and also given it a name, the Hedgehog. Time passed, and still passes, and I have never since drawn Austria in a postal game; but I see from the latest openings survey (1901 and all that issue 62) that the hedgehog has now been tried three times (in 313 games), while the Southern hedgehog, which I now believe to be superior, has had four outings. I’d be interested to here form players how they fared (it would take far too long to trace the games). The Hedgehog is F(Tri)-Ven, A(Vie)-Gal, A(Bud)-Rum; the Southern hedgehog substitutes A(Bud)-Ser, but is otherwise the same.

It’s simple, really. Austria’s first duty is to defend himself: Austria has by far the worst record for early departures from a game, yet quite a presentable overall performance. And I can see why: having been assailed in both my games as Austria by A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Rom)-Ven, A(War)-Gal, A(Con)-Bul, I resolved never thus to be caught with my pants down again. I undeniably emerged unscathed both times, but that was due to a dropout Italy in one case and a grossly inept Russia in the other; the sensation at the time was one of utter hopelessness, and very unpleasant too.

By far the most popular Austrian opening is the fatuous A(Vie)-Tri, F(Tri)-Alb, A(Bud)-Ser. Why fatuous? because it lets Russia into Galicia, and defends against the less likely of the two possible Italian attacks. (in the same 313 games Italy moved toTyrolia 88 times, Trieste only 59… and how many of the 59 were the idiotic Key Lepanto, I wonder? Yet Austria moved to Trieste or stood in it 144 times!) If Italy goes A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Rom)-Ven Austria’s move to Tri has been a complete waste of time; he would be no worse off in Vienna, and better off in Vienna after a stand-off in Galicia.

Unfortunately, to defend Tyrolia Austria has to leave Galicia, or order the Great Northern Hedgehog (F(Tri)-Ven, A(Vie)-Tyr, A(Bud)-Gal, never tried and quite right too). This doesn’t really solve the Tyr/Gal problem, and is disastrous against A(Ven)-Tri, A(War)-Gal. So defending Tyr is unsound unless you can be sure Russia won’t go to Gal.

The true Hedgehog is perfectly sound defensively. Against the most feared Italian attack it splits the armies, and can be followed by any number of 100% defences of Tri and vie, especially the infuriating F(Tri) S ITALIAN A(Tyr)-Ven, A(Vie)-Tyr, which should raise a laugh. But A(Bud)-Rum in this context, could land you in a spot of bother. If it fails, as it will 555 of the time, and Turkey moves to Bul, as he will 99.04% of the time (the other 0.96% being NMRs), you face the horrific prospect of A(Bul)-Ser, giving you no build at all – and you’ve made a present of Greece to the Italians, who can keep Tunis on ice for later. If A(Bud)-Rum succeeds things are better, though Italy still keeps Greece; now at least there’s a likelihood of Russo-Turkish discord, and with a bit of luck they may both support you in Rum. But the odds are bad.

A(Bud)-Ser, the Southern Hedgehog, is much safer. You are now 100% sure of a build, and how many other Austrian openings will give you that assurance against any defence? You have the choice of A(Ser)-Gre, A(Ser)-Bul and A(Ser) does this or that in Rum, according to where you think the next biscuit is coming from. To look further, let’s consider the main combinations of the events affecting you: (1) Italy tried for Tri; (2) Italy tried for Tyr, Ven; (3) Italy went to Tyr but not Ven; (4) Russia moved for Gal; (5) Russia didn’t ditto; (6) Russia and Turkey seem pally; (7) they don’t.

2, 4, 6 – you’re in trouble… but how much worse it would have been! Best bet is make friends with Russia and order F(Tri) S ITALIAN A(Tyr)-Ven; A(Ser) S RUSSIAN F(Rum)-Bul ec, builds A(Bud) and hope for the best. 2, 5, 6 – not very likely. You have to judge from Russia’s attitude whether to go for Warsaw (heh-heh) or protect Vie, generally favouring the latter.

2, 4, 7 – better! Now Russia’s in trouble. Play off both ends against the middle with an excellent chance of getting a second build from Bul or Rum.

2, 5, 7 – better still. A variety of safe, progressive options.

1, any – all the same as above but better: you have interesting extra options now, such as F(Tri)-ADS, A(Vie)-Tri, build F(Tri) – not often but when things look right. If in Galicia you have Russia really worried, since you don’t need to defend Vienna. 3, any – Won’t happen often, but fun when it does! You can afford to stand in Ven making loud braying noises while Italy wonders what the hell to do next.

Obviously, as always, the tactical finesses are dependent on the diplomacy, and the above is open to many variations. me, I’m convinced, because the opening guarantees Austrian survival until 1903, which allows time to sow discord among the enemy. And if, as you should, you enlist the help of one German army (which will be willingly given by any intelligent Germany) you have nothing to fear.

First published in Dolchstoss No.47 (November 1976)