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Least Favored Nations - Italian Openings in Diplomacy

by Douglas Kent

You’re all set to go. This is it, the Diplomacy gamestart you’ve been waiting for. Gone are the haunting memories of your last game, where that bastard France convoyed into your England’s London in 1902 and set off your rapid demise. Between that, and Russia supporting himself into Norway, you were lucky to make it to 1904. Well, not this time. You’ve got your map board ready, your opening emails pre-written and needing only minor modification, your mental card catalog of strategies indexed and prepared. You sit, waiting for the game start announcement to arrive in your inbox.

Oh, look, you’ve got mail! Your mouse hovers over the subject line in anxious anticipation. You click, and wait as the message opens.

Suddenly, your entire body slumps in the chair and a huge sigh can be heard by anyone within a three-mile radius. You’re doomed: you’ve drawn Italy. Might as well start writing your end-game excuses now, right?

We’ve all been there, believe me. Italy is probably the most difficult nation on the Diplomacy board to master. True, it doesn’t generally suffer immediate dissection the way Austria sometimes does, swarmed by three neighbors before you can say “F Trieste to Albania.” But the narrow routes out of its territory, as well as only having one neutral supply center within its grasp in 1901 commonly considered fair game (Greece having been claimed by either Turkey or Austria), keep Italy’s rate of growth limited early in the game. To make matters worse, by the time you’ve gotten a second build and started to devise a plan of attack on a neighbor other than Austria, you often have a fortified France of Turkey (or both) hungrily eyeing your dots like Pac Man after taking a few bong hits.

So what is a Diplomacy player to do? In my experience, the key to Italian success lies in thinking outside the box. Aside from the obvious anti-Austrian opening of A Ven-Tri, A Rom-Ven, let’s take a look at some of the other options available to the Italian in Spring 1901.

The Hammer: A Ven-Pie, A Rom-Ven, F Nap-Tyn (or F Nap-Ion). This is the most neutral of the Italian openings, in that you can easily defend your actions to both Austria and France. You’ve stayed within your borders, attacked nobody, and at the same time if Austria tries a move on Ven (or France a rare march into Pie) you’ve successfully bounced either move without incident. In this scenario you have plenty of options left for Fall 1901 if your moves succeeded, and if not you know from which side the attack is coming from. In the meantime, Tunis is yours and your first build can be determined by the results of the Fall move. Even if Austria has gone all-out, ordering A Vie-Tyr and F Tri to Ven or Adr in the Spring, you are able to direct two units to defend Venice in the Fall.

The Lepanto: F Nap-Ion, A Rom-Apu, A Ven H. This opening is the classic anti-Turkish Lepanto, but only if in the Fall we see the A Apu convoyed to Tunis. Otherwise it protects the Italian against immediate Austrian aggression (the A Apu available to support A Ven if necessary in the Fall) while displaying pro-French inclinations. I’ve used this opening both as anti-Turkish, or on occasion as an arranged opening when allied WITH Turkey to hide my true intentions. Then, if the Austrian is convinced by my Spring orders to leave himself open, in the Fall I slide into Trieste. Once in a while the Italian may choose to skip the Tunis build in 1901 here if he is sure of the taking of Trieste. In that case he would either convoy into Greece with Turkish support, or even perhaps convoy into Albania to set up a very powerful invasion force for 1902.

The Sneak: A Ven-Tyr, A Rom-Ven, F Nap-Ion. This is a rather common opening, generally used as blatantly anti-Austrian. You’re left with two units bordering on Trieste, allowing for a supported attack in the Fall. If Austria tries to get cute and order F Tri-Ven, you’ve denied him the center. And if it looks like there will be a full-scale battle for Trieste, you have the option of trying to sail into Greece in the Fall with or without Turkish support. However, one strategy I like to employ every now and then is arranging this opening with Austria in advance. Especially in the face of a suspected F/G alliance, the idea is to make the board believe you and Austria are at war. Then in the Fall you try the sneak, ordering A Tyr-Mun and A Ven-Tyr. If you’ve convinced Russia to help out, you can see a rapid collapse of the German interior.

The Piedmont Shuffle: A Ven-Pie, F Nap-Ion, A Rom-Apu. This is an odd opening I played recently, for a change of pace. The plan was for a central A/G/I alliance. I didn’t want to order A Ven H because it would signal distrust of my Austrian neighbor, so instead I vacated the center for a quick vacation in the Piedmont mountains. The A Apu/F Ion combination left my options open for the Fall turn. I could go Lepanto with a convoy to Tunis, defend myself if Austria tried to stab me, or leave it for future use. In the Fall I chose to convoy to Tunis, while at the same time making use of the “fake arranged bounce” in Mar; France and I agreed to bounce there for defensive purposes, and instead I held, denying him the use of that SC as a build location. I wasn’t planning on attacking France, and in fact never did. This particular strategy requires quite a bit of Diplomacy on the part of the Italian player. But I did find the opening interesting nonetheless.

Look, I’m no expert…I’ve never had a solo win as Italy. And there are other openings available to Italy. Hopefully this brief article will simply get you thinking about the different possibilities, instead of falling into a routine of the same Italian openings over and over again. I’d love to hear comments, or better yet, why don’t YOU write up some of your own ideas for an article? Now THAT would be thinking outside of the box, wouldn’t it?