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Subject: A Strategic Look at Italy rss

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Aaron Steward
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Reconnaissance

Italy may be one of the usually vulnerable central powers, but of it's internally-located neighbors Germany and Austria, it's the most defensible of the three. Switzerland creates narrow corridors at the base of the peninsula, and is otherwise surrounded by Mediterranean sea zones that it can easily occupy before any of the other nations along the southern coast of the board. Unlike the other six powers in Diplomacy, Italy doesn't fall squarely into either the west nor the east, despite it's location entirely on the eastern side of the stalemate line. Additionally, Tun is the only neutral SC available to Italy, and it doesn't provide a clear path of expansion like the other clusters of neutral SCs. Thus, Italy often begins the game slowly (too slowly for many players' taste) and must be vigilant for an opportunity to expand beyond 4 SCs.

In the west sits France who, though owns a southern port, begins with its lone fleet well out of harm's way through the first few seasons. The land border between them is the narrow Mar/Pie corridor, and an army placed there by either side will hold out indefinitely against the other unless naval support is present.

Germany rests in the north, with only Tyr separating their nearest home SCs. An early strike by one against the other will be short-lived unless as part of a concerted effort with other nations. Relations between them are usually cordial if not actively aligned together until the endgame rolls around.

Far to the east awaits Turkey, usually Italy's main rival for control of the Mediterranean waters. Novice players may think the location of Austria makes Italy and Turkey too distant for early aggression, but thanks to the infamous Lepanto opening (discussed later on), these two can find themselves locked in battle from the second year onward.

Careful Planning

Those familiar to Diplomacy are already aware that Austria hadn't yet been mentioned, and are also aware of the tense situation that faces the Italy-Austria relations. Austria lies directly to the east, and the Ven/Tri boundary is the only instance of home SCs of neighboring powers bordering directly. Such a volatile and unique situation deserves ample discussion in and of itself.

The diplomatic stance of these two are usually along one of two extremes: Italy diving into the Austrian heartland immediately and incessantly, or coordinating their efforts in a manner nearly unseen by any other pair of nations. Which of these approaches is taken is entirely in Italy's control, as Austria cannot realistically attack Italy without being himself swallowed up by Russia and Turkey, while Italy faces no such danger from France should he wish to initiate hostilities.

Because this relationship can have effects across the board, and since Italy is in the dominant position of this relationship, he can expect a number of messages inquiring about his intentions and shouldn't shy away from extorting bribes in exchange to ensure the elimination or security of Austria in the early game. While this wheeling and dealing may give Italy a diplomatic advantage, there is one major factor Italy must keep in mind before making his decision: the Russia-Turkey relations.

If Russia and Turkey are hostile, Italy has little to fear from an immediate strike against Austria. The Russian and Turkish forces may not chance creating a weak spot in their lines to take part in the partition of Austria, hopefully leaving the bulk of the Balkan peninsula free for capture by Italy.

However, should Russia and Turkey be friendly to each other, they will be more than happy to take their share of the Austrian SCs, and with that momentum can overrun a 6 SC Italy without too much trouble. In this case, not only should Italy assist in the defense of Austria out of self-preservation, but can leverage this to diplomatically enlarge his share of the eastern and/or Balkan SCs following the elimination of Turkey.

Marshaling for Victory

Italy's favorable defensive geography is also its biggest limiting factor in growth, and Italy's easiest route of expansion can often spell its own doom as touched on earlier. An Italian victory will come from dominance of the Mediterranean coast, and will usually include at least its home SCs, Tun, three of the Balkan SCs, the Turkish SCs, and at least two from each of France (including Iberia) and Austria. The last four SCs can be found deeper in France, Austria, or in southern Russia, though sometimes an SC or two can be taken from Germany toward the very end of the game.

It may seem like Italy's end-goal isn't as flexible as some of the other powers, the real strength of an Italian campaign is the flexibility Italy has in choosing the order of his targets. Italy's position to easily influence actions across the board also mean that Italy is never hurting for a friend to help with the elimination of a neighbor.

First Strike

Italy's attention in the first years is primarily occupied by the actions of the southern triangle, made up of itself, Austria, and Turkey, and as a balancing force for the eastern triangle of Austria, Turkey, and Russia. Occasionally, if the east half of the board is already developing in Italy's favor, he may turn west to take advantage of an opportunity in France. Tun is the lone uncontested SC that Italy can depend on in the first year, but good Italian play requires patience probably more than any other power on the board.

Tactically, Italy has little reason not to send his fleet into ION, but the location of the armies will often shape Italy's plans through the midgame. Pie can cheaply and easily put pressure on France, while Tyr may lend extra muscle for an attack on Austria or alternately can assist in Austria's defense against Russia more effectively than an army sitting in Ven.

Option 1: Attacking Austria

If Italy wishes to expand quickly in the early game, attacking Austria should yield at the very least Tri and a second SC either from the Balkans or Austria itself. There is little negotiation necessary to secure a partner in this endeavor though Russia is probably the best choice. This isn't saying much, however, for if Russia is marching west, it probably means a stable relationship with Turkey who will also be greedily poised to strike into Austria and thus not only cut down Italy's share of SCs, but put two growing neighbors on his new frontier.

Ideally, Austria should be on the sidelines of a Russia-Turkey war. The messier the better, in Italy's opinion. Even England and Germany could be courted to threaten Russia's north and draw off an army or two to entice Turkey to fully commit northward. This will isolate the Italy-Austria conflict, against which Austria cannot easily defend and a counter-attack into Italy is even more difficult.

Tactically, Italy's biggest decision will be whether to make an immediate strike into Tri, or to set up a supported attack from Ven/Tyr. Sometimes, Italy may even wait until the second year all the while constructing a line of armies from Ven to Boh for an incredibly concentrated attack from the north. Some common openings are:

Ven-Tri/Tyr
Rom-Ven
Nap-ION

These openings put two armies on Austria immediately in an attempt to prevent the Austrian from defending/retaking Tri. Though effective, it can easily be prevented by Austria ordering a unit into either Tyr or Ven, or in the case of Ven-Tri even Tri H can defend against this attack. This rather embarrassing setback not only reveals Italy's intentions, but gains no position against Austria and allows him to prepare a defense.

Ven-Pie
Rom-Ven
Nap-ION

This opening opts to feint against France in the spring before turning back eastward in the fall to make an attack against a hopefully now out-of-position Austria. The move to Pie may be part of a bargain to buy favor from either England or Germany in exchange for assistance later on. This sequence is also more difficult for the Austrian to foil, should he send an unit west in the spring, as Italy can either follow through on his original plan, or change tactics without anyone being the wiser.

Option 2: Attacking Turkey

An attack against Turkey, though not immediately apparent, can be an effective method of growth while simultaneously taking easily-defended SCs in a corner of the board. The Lepanto Opening (maybe the most notorious opening system in Diplomacy) is achieved by convoying an army to Tun in the first year, and following with a convoy into Syr or Smy in the second. This way Italy can very quickly project much of its strength far from home, concentrated on a narrow front on Turkey's south. Italy should take no less than two of Turkey's SCs, despite any Russian or Austrian claims otherwise, and can often take all three for himself before either of Turkey's neighbors can take advantage of the situation.

Austria should be courted for assistance in such an attack, and since France is almost invariably focused on the west, defense of the Italian homeland can easily be accomplished by the lone army left behind. Oftentimes, the home front is so quiet that Italy can send this guard army off on an expedition to steal Mar if France is falling quickly, or move into a forward position against Russia to help keep Austria in fighting shape until the defeat of Turkey. Such an attack can take two common forms:

Ven H/-Tyr
Rom-Apu
Nap-ION

This sets up the necessary convoy to Tun, while Ven's order is primarily dependent on how much trust has been built between Italy and Austria in pregame negotiations. Should the situation for a Lepanto not be favorable, Italy can very easily convoy into Gre or Alb in the second year to change his focus to an attack against Austria.

Ven-Tri
Rom-Apu
Nap-ION

This is an incredibly fun, though dangerous (for the Austrian, at least) variation called the Key Lepanto. Ven marches into Tri in what looks like an attack against Austria, but the real surprise is in the fall. Austria then supports the Italian army into Ser to bring all possible forces to bear on the Turkish front. Should everything go to plan, both Italy and Austria build two in the first year and effectively coordinate their efforts to provide a quick exit for Turkey.

As mentioned, this is an exceedingly dangerous maneuver for the Austrian. The move to Ser could be stopped by a Turkish move from Bul, provided there is no support or it gets cut by the Russian. Alternately, Italy could simply choose to remain in place! If Austria is unprepared, his position is now in shambles and Italy is in a dominant position over the Balkan peninsula. Obviously, there is very little risk to the Italian which can provide large gains with any outcome. Despite this, an Italy dead set on going through with this variation may very well end up promoting distrust with the Austrian, making cooperation quite tense.

Option 3: Attacking France

Every once in a while, Italy will be provided an opportunity to strike west without losing an opportunity to make easy gains in the east afterward. In an attack against France, Italy should claim both Mar and Spa. Hopefully this will allow Italy to also take Por without making a formal arrangement of its ownership with England. Many times, Italy will choose to order units straight into Pie and TYS, fully alerting France to his intentions. France can easily defend against Italy, instead awarding most of the French SCs to England and Germany.

Care must be taken that France is engaged with the other western powers before Italy commits to the attack. An army in Pie can still be useful, however, for if France is forced to cover Mar in the fall, Pie can support Spa-Mar to prevent France from standing himself off. This not only deprives France the chance to build a southern fleet after the first year, but will also deny him a build from Spa. Should this situation not appear, Pie can quietly retreat to Ven or Tyr to cast doubt on Italy's intentions until the offensive is taken.

Tactically, an attack against France is quite delicate. The distance to France is comparable to Italy's distance to Turkey, and as such an attack will take just as long to develop. Additionally, Italy lacks a direct ally like Austria in the example of a Lepanto. England and Germany will of course put added pressure on France, but greed will often cut direct coordination to a minimum. Some common openings are:

Ven-Pie
Rom H/-Nap
Nap-TYS

The opening has the advantage of being direct in its approach. It will build trust with Austria, as all the Italian units march away from the border, as well as put Turkey at ease knowing a Lepanto is not in the making. TYS can then continue on to GoL or WMS to either lend support into Mar or set up a convoy from Tun into Spa, respectively.

Ven-Pie/H
Rom-Ven/Apu
Nap-ION

The advantage of this opening lies in its flexibility and ambiguity. Should the attack on France continue, the fleet can move to Tun in the fall and WMS next spring. In conjunction with an army in Pie and a new fleet moving into TYS, Italian armies can convoy from the peninsula directly into Iberia while threatening to capture Mar. Alternately, Italy can change directions and follow through with a Lepanto or an attack on Austria without any time lost.

Maintaining the Offensive

After the elimination of Italy's first target, it should be sitting on 6 to 8 SCs, with the initially ignored theatre hopefully still in a relatively-balanced stalemate. Due to Italy's nature as somewhat of a geographic wildcard, his secondary targets are usually just whichever two of Italy's initial options are left on the board.

Option 1: Resolving the Austrian Issue

Should the tense border with Austria finally be too much to bear, an attack on Austria can be a relatively safe option for midgame expansion. If Italy had gained a couple SCs from France, holding off a combined Russia-Turkey offensive isn't as dangerous a proposition as it was in the beginning of the game. In the case Italy has just completed the elimination of Turkey, an Austrian attack is obviously a much easier task, as he will have a stable position on two sides of Austria and can quickly collapse around the Austrian forces.

In either situation, a little help from Russia is quite welcome, though Italy should be cautious not to award too many SCs to Russia for this assistance. Posing the offer as an unnecessary favor can put Russia in the mindset that any gains are more than would be earned if Italy took up the task alone, and may then not press for a large share. Again, Italy should be pushing England and Germany to escalate a conflict in the north to draw off any undue competition for Austrian SCs.

Tactically, a fleet in ADR and an army in Alb may be inconvenient to get into position, but will greatly pay off in easing the advances deep into the dense Balkan cluster of SCs. Ser, also, is a crucial position to take and hold early, even if it ends up cut off from friendly units, since it can provide support into five (!) adjacent SCs, leaving Vie as the only Austrian SC too distant for Ser to support against. As such, Vie should be the first SC offered up as a reward to whomever lends assistance in defeating Austria. Additionally, Russia should be offered to trade away Rum (should he control it) in exchange for Bud, preventing an Italian army from jutting out uncomfortably into the Russian line.

Option 2: Eliminating the Turkish Threat

By the time midgame arrives, Italy's main concern may be the growing Turkish threat to Italian control of the Mediterranean. If Italy attacked France at the beginning of the game, there may still be a chance to execute a late Lepanto, though if Turkey has sent a fleet into EMS, Italy will have to struggle for position off the Turkish coast. Austria, relieved that Italy had looked elsewhere for his initial gains, will be more than happy to lend assistance to Italy in eliminating their common foe. If Italy had attacked Austria first, the campaign against Turkey is a straightforward exercise in maintaining Italy's eastward momentum.

In what is now a recurring theme, Russia should be distracted enough that only minor help can be lent in the fight against Turkey. What Italy may consider, though, is if both Austria and Turkey are still on the board, Russia's nominal assistance could be directed against Austria. This not only keeps Russia from taking any of the Turkish SCs, but also forces Austria to divert armies to defense, further enlarging Italy's share of the southeast.

Tactically, AEG and Con are the vital points of a later Turkish attack. AEG can strike at two Turkish SCs (and two Balkan SCs, incidentally) while EMS only threatens Smy. Con, meanwhile prevents the Russian the opportunity to break out into the Mediterranean, as well as being well-positioned to coordinate with Italian armies in Turkey. Interestingly, an army in Con or Bul can only retreat to a territory containing an SC, so Italy should bear this in mind that a temporary loss of position will not spell doom for a dislodged army on the Turkish front.

Option 3: Securing the Iberian Front

Italy may find that time is running short for gains west of the stalemate line should he focus on easterly matters from the outset of the game. In this case, the western triangle has been bogged down in a slow battle while Italy's attention was focused on the destruction of an eastern neighbor (most commonly in this case, Turkey). Should Austria be Italy's first target, he will find it increasingly difficult to take his focus off of Turkey in all but the most extreme cases of Russia-Turkey conflicts.

Should France already be faltering at this point, Italy will likely have time to take no more than either Mar or Spa from France. Ideally, France and Germany will have just begun the assault of England, drawing off most of France's strength from the mainland. Germany, of course, will welcome the distraction of France which would certainly put more English SCs in German hands. To this end, it is unlikely, though possible, that Germany may aid the Italian breakthrough into Mar, after which Spa and Por will easily fall. This position provides Italy with a minor stalemate position at the mouth of the Mediterranean, as just a handful of units can stymie any attempt to take back the Iberian and break into the Mediterranean.

Tactically, a delayed attack against France is carried out in a similar manner to an initial foray into the west. Italy should by now have sufficient naval power to quickly swing westward and be in position to strike against Mar and Spa with little warning. Additionally, an opportunity to break into MAO should not be forsaken lightly, as it could provide the final SCs for an Italian victory from the far side of France or even England itself.

Making the Final Push

Once Italy has reached a dozen SCs or so, it may begin to encounter a coalition to prevent the solo victory. Should Austria have survived this far, Italy's chances of victory are all but assured, as it can be easily and safely destroyed by the surrounding Italian forces. Otherwise, Italy should strive to push northward in any and all possible avenues. The German SCs, for example, are easily contested and oftentimes provide the last-second stretch to victory.

Above all, Italy should ensure its complete dominance over the Mediterranean by either eliminating France and Turkey or whittling them down to SCs on the far side of the Iberian and Aegean bottlenecks to minimize their interference. Even in the face of an organized coalition against Italy, the territories not containing SCs (from Pie to Liv and Gal) provide an effective network that can be utilized by a shrewd Italy to grab those elusive 17th and 18th SCs.

Parting Shots

Italy, probably more than any other nation in Diplomacy, has little going in its favor geometrically and must compensate for this in its negotiations. Success is maximized when Italy can arrange for its conflicts to be isolated from the proceedings of the board at large, taking advantage of both its defensive position and ability to flexibly exert force in any direction with little warning.

Diplomatic ability will be tested to its extreme, and an Italy that finds itself diplomatically isolated will have little hope. Patience and opportunism are Italy's major strengths, unlike other powers that can rely on brute force or favorable geography. Statistically, Italy is the most difficult nation to achieve a solo victory, but each and every one is well-deserved and stands as a testament to its projection of influence across the board.

As always: happy stabbing, and may the best man win.
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Nick West
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Are we to assume you are to return to complete this analysis? As I wouldn't describe it as "a bit longer than the others" currently!
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Aaron Steward
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Fear not! The article is freshly finished for all to enjoy.
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Nick West
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Worth waiting for! Good stuff.

You know, of course, that you can save Geeklists for future publication. Assume the early debut was a slip of the mouse....
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Aaron Steward
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Yes, I'm aware of Geeklists, and no, posting it half-finished at first was not an accident. Like I'd said in the opening paragraph before it was finished that it was just a preview until the entire thing was completed.
 
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