By General John McCausland
From Diplomacy World #51
Italy is the least understood of all the Great Powers in Diplomacy. There are several reasons for this. The greatest is that Italy is neither in the eastern nor the western part of the map, but some place in between. It looks like she should be a sea power since its land mass extends out into the Mediterranean, but Italy still starts with only one fleet and two armies. Historically, Italy has always been a weak sister in Europe, and people tend to forget that this is not history.
While there are many reasons for Italy being ranked only sixth in the Dragons Tooth Rating System (only above lowly Austria), there are several players that manage to do well with Italy every time that they play it. The most well known of these is Kathy Byrne Caruso, who has such a good reputation as Italy that a variant called “The Five Italies" is subtitled ''Kathy’s Variant." While Kathy gets most of the hype, there are other players who have a lot of success with Italy. The major reason for their success is that they tend to be "go-getters,” rather than “wait-and-see" players. They have also realized that Italy has more options available to than than any other country on the board.
The major psychological factor that holds back most people when they play Italy is the historical record. However, it must be realized that history is not repeated in this game. Italy has full control of the Mediterranean the beginning of the game. All the British fleets are gone (and will not appear for a long time, if ever), the French are only in the Atlantic, and Austria, Russia, and Turkey are locked in backwater areas. Italy has free reign to move her sea power wherever she wishes.
The location of Italy bothers many players. Should they be concerned with what happens in the east or the west? Who should they attack? While this does present a perplexing problem, it is also a blessing. Italy is the only country on the board that can attack every other power. How is this possible? Let me show you.
An Italian attack on Austria is the most obvious first opponent. However, this is usually the worst thing that Italy could do. Austria serves as a wonderful buffer between Russia and usually draws most of Turkey’s attention as well. If Russia and Turkey are concentrating on Austria, they have usually forgotten about Italy. This allows more freedom of movement, plus Austria is usually willing to give support when faced with a Russian/Turkish alliance. The only hope to prevent this is to arrange with Russia for a combined attack on Turkey once Austria has been eliminated.
France is a good target in the early part of the game. She can be attacked by both land and sea. There are two good potential allies in England and Germany, neither of which can threaten you very much. The major problem is that France should pick up at least two new centers in the first year, and so she may be difficult to defeat, and impossible if none of the proposed alliance materialize. An advantage to this scenario is that it gives Italy an entrance into the Atlantic.
Turkey is probably the best target for the Italians in the first year. There are many reasons for this. First, they are your major threat to supremacy in the Mediterranean. Only Turkey can build two Mediterranean fleets in one season. Secondly, you can attack their vulnerable southern areas by sea; while the Russians and Austrians take the more difficult land and Black Sea approaches. Thirdly, you can bottle up the Russian fleets In the Black Sea and start to surround Austria for a mid-game stab. An attack on Turkey also means that once you finish that campaign, your new builds are close to the new front; whether that is in Austria or France; while the units in Turkey can finish mopping up or hit Austria from the other side.
England is not an
obvious opponent, but it has been done with great success. The goal here is not so much to defeat
England, but rather to treat this as a side show to pick up a few extra centers
while your main campaign occurs in the eastern area as was described above. This can only be performed with French
help, but if they agree, Italy usually gets more than the put into it. It also has the added advantage that
when the time is right (about the time the eastern campaign is finishing up),
you are now positioned on two sides of France.
Germany is a popular enemy for novices when they play Italy. It does not look like an obvious enemy, but yet Munich is only two moves away and can therefore be captured in the first year. Novices tend to think that a move to Tyrolia looks like an attack on Austria and that the Germans will ignore that unit. Usually they do, Italy moves more units north to help retain and expand their holdings, leaving very little at home. Austria and France then close in, and an army in Berlin may be the last Italian center. A second, though less popular scenario, is a 1901 capture of Munich and then a three pronged attack on France (from the sea, and from the land via Piedmont and Munich). These attacks must be carried out with care, else too many units end up too far away from home to help out in case of a stab.
Russia is the most difficult country for the Italian player to attack. It can only be attempted with a very trustworthy and reliable Austrian ally. Since it takes such a long time for Italian armies to reach Russian soil, and fleets are useless, there must be a second opponent. This is usually Turkey, since Austria may be convinced to join in. An attack on France would be suicidal since your armies are heading north and not in position to thwart French land attacks. If the campaign is successful, Russia and Turkey should be eliminated while you are now positioned on three sides of Austria.
As you can see, there are many options for an adventurous Italian player. All of the campaigns I have described are viable and will give gains that can be protected and used to great advantage in the mid-game. The major point the Italian must remember is that to win they must be aggressive. There is only one free center for than to collect, everything else must be earned. With good solid play, and effective diplomacy, a victory or at least a draw is always possible.