AUSTRIA FOR EXPERTS
by Toby Harris
After the Worldwide acceptance of the internet, the hobby’s postal dip zines declined faster than a K-Pg extinction. Not that I am so bothered about the end of an era, but in the transition to new communication methods the Diplomacy hobby did throw a couple of babies out with the bathwater. For example, every good postal Dip zine would include regular strategy articles. Such as a “how to play …[country]” or “know your enemy”, or “How to improve ze 50/50 Guess”. (and the 50/50 guess has its own story).
We now live in an age where there are very few new players, and indeed most have at least 10 - 20 years’ experience. So an article entitled “A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Turkey” (with the sage advice of recommending A(Con) - Bul in Spring 1901) would most likely have the Fozzie author pelted off stage with tomatoes.
The positive side of the internet however is that everyone is free to write what they want, and share their opinions and experiences. So although there is no definitive timescale for this, I hope to write an expert’s guide to playing each country over the coming months …or decades. Not just with tips and positional targets for each stage of developing your Great Power, but also with some of the basic classical lingo by way of a refresh to those who may have skipped the basics in their early years.
And the images shown in all articles will be with my “Olde Faithful” Diplomacy board, purchased for £5 after the UK NDC of 1999 and embossed on gold letters (mmm, goooooold!). These were good old sets and I love their raw design.
Starting as we always do in the English hobby, with Austria …
There is No Right or Wrong
This is the first thing to understand. Not just about Austria, but as any country in Diplomacy. If you play the “best” moves every turn then you will probably be eliminated. The reason is that one (relatively basic) way of playing Diplomacy is to always ask yourself “what is that player’s ‘best’ move? And what is this player’s best move?” etc. And then just make your own moves to counter those best moves. A better player will already know this and make the moves which counter those counter moves …and then the thought-spiral begins.
So these articles will never tell you the best moves. But they will give suggestions as to the best goals and positions to aim for. And this is a very different concept.
The First Move — The Hedgehog?
Too many early postal Dip zine articles focussed on survival in Spring 1901. If you want to merely survive then you have probably come to the wrong web page.
Oh … you have Andrew Goff as Italy and Cedrille threatening a Juggernaut? Ok, perhaps “Spring 1901 survival” needs to be covered.
If Diplomatic suggestions fail then Tri-Ven, Vie-Gal, Bud-Ser will assure you a guaranteed build (unless Germany moves Mun-Boh). In extreme situations I would entertain this “Hedgehog” opening, as it was traditionally named. Some even called it the Galician Hedgehog. Either way it spikes out in all directions by way of defence.
And perhaps the aforementioned suite of neighbours would give me cause to consider this opening. Yes, you must survive 1901 intact to stand any realistic chance of grabbing a table-topping position (or an 18) at the end.
If this is your opening, never be duped by Turkey into a bounce in Greece in the Fall. Otherwise you will take Greece as Turkey has a free ride into Bul & Ser for two builds. If in doubt, order Ser-Bul and turn that prickly hedgehog of yours into a porcupine. Nobody should be upset with a paranoid Austria fighting off the vultures. Not that lies ever help, but for a 1901 Austria …survival is worth more than the truth.
And finally regards the Hedgehog opening, F(Tri) must move to Albania in Fall 1901, so that you can secure Greece in 1902. How you choose to move A(Vie) (which presumably bounced in Gal) is another matter — work with Italy or Russia. Or tell Itally you will be covering Trieste regardless and then bounce Gal. Doesn’t really matter: F(Tri) - Alb in Fall 1901 is the key move.
Lepanto & Key Lepanto
The Lepanto is basic; Italians hold in Venice, convoy to Tunis, build F(Nap), move to ION & EMS and convoy to Syria in Fall 1902. Meanwhile Austria keeps pressure on areas like Gal / Rum / Bul etc. All rather basic stuff, but we do see it in many (or even most) games.
More creative is the Key Lepanto, named after creator Andy Key, which in itself has a few variances. So let’s dive in with the most powerful of all. Unfortunately (with the Italy / Austria alliance) … power costs. i.e., the more effective the move, the more essential the trust and the more costly it becomes if that trust becomes broken. So here it is:
As Austria, you need to convince Turkey after the Spring that you have just been stabbed for Trieste. And that he should bounce Russia from both BLA & Rum in the fall. If he can be suitably persuaded then 1901 (after the builds) should end something like this:
You then just follow guaranteed moves. Such as supporting the Austrian fleet to EMS, following up to ION. A Turkish centre or two will be plucked in the Fall, with the rest of the booty to follow. The only two rules here are (a) don’t lose Gal to Russia and (b) play “fair shares” with Italy … stay on roughly equal centres throughout your alliance.
Long term this is a good path to take. However, a super-dangerous Turkey will order Bul-Ser in Fall 1901. Turkish Bul-Ser kills all Lepanto variations which involve Italy moving Tri-Ser in the Fall. So I will not dwell on this variant too much.
Working With Turkey
An alliance with Turkey is actually the easiest of all to make work. Austria builds armies, Turkey fleets — we all know that part. And the interesting starts, such as Bud-Rum which then supports Turkish A(Arm) - Sev. It’s a great alliance structure in principal, and I am a big fan (when playing either country). Going back to the Manorcon 1980’s and early 1990’s, these alliances were all the rage. The late (and very great) Bob Kendrick played Austria in an A/T alliance regularly, and it was very rare any Turkey would get the better of him in a mid-game stab. And that’s the point. Don’t lose ground by moving everything north. Do that and you’re dead! Turkey will always be that thorn in the side, but it is a manageable issue if you work together and keep two armies covering your homeground. Or … to get every single Turkish army well away from the Balkans. It is do-able, but requires trust and a long-term agreed goal based on pure honesty.
All being well, you can be in this positon in Spring or Fall 1902;
Lots of ideas from here — the alliance is well underway. Perhaps suggest that Turkey convoys to Apulia, and the F(Gre) supports F(ION) to ensure the convoying F(ION) is not dislodged. If Italy moves to Nap then Turkey gets his convoy. Either way, any support Italy can give to Venice is cut … and Hey Presto! The Russian stand-off is a temporary classic situation. And even when that falls, Turkey can only take Moscow. So you may be wise to consider Turkey “breaking through” in Italy as a precedence. Give Turkey every help to get those fleets through the Med !!Working With Russia
Spring 1901 is a time of trust. How many times (forget you are playing Austria for just one moment) have you approached a player in S1901 in a game and heard them say: “I just want to start slowly, don’t want to attack anybody …”? Often? Most of the time? Almost always? Ok, play on this — it is a weapon.
You could (for example) say the following to Russia in Spring 1901 … “Ok, I will stick my dick in the guillotine and trust you. I will not move to Galicia. We both have so many more interesting things to do anyway. Can we trust each other to keep Gal a DMZ?”
Russia has many more interesting things to do with the army in Warsaw anyway. Silesia (for example) usually has a 50/50 on Ber/Mun, and spices up the game massively! Ok, so it’s not so pleasantly spicy for Germany, but that’s not your problem … is it?
A more placid Russia may wish to consolidate: just now imagine yourself as Russia where you are 100% certain Austria will not move to Gal. What would you do? There are many choices; a stab (War-Gal) is just one of many choices, but not necessarily the most attractive. Why upset Austria when you can get a better start with other combinations?
So I love the Galicia DMZ. It works well for both Austria and Russia. And it gives your Austria an option on covering Trieste … just in case he happens to be Australian.
When playing Austria, this is a dream Spring 1901 opening. But what to do now?
Is there such a thing as a normal game? It becomes VERY hard to write a good mid-game strategy article for any country unless every move combination is considered. So, back to the beginning; there is no right or wrong, and every move can be thwarted.
Beck to 1997 and forward to 2015 …
What is this from WDC 1997? 4th place with 137 points, being less-worthy than the crown-grabbing Cyrille on a meagre 97 points? Ok, we already had that “chat”. Indeed, shortly after this tournament I played in a ‘friendly’ email game with Vick Hall and Cyrille. Vick’s propaganda opening to Cyrille in that game was something like; “Toby thinks you are an unworthy WDC winner, in getting less points but still grabbing your precious crown”.
Ok, perhaps not the exact words, but worthiness certainly came into it.
The top 3 places (in this tournament) were reserved for the top table, and I never got there from R1-R4 scores. But in R5 I was Austria. “Best Austria” in fact. It was the only 18 of ’97.
WDC 2015 (round 3) also gave me a favourable Austria. Was 18 in 1907 possible? Yes, definitely. Was it probable? No. An 18 is never probable. The 18 above in 1997 was not probable either. I will come back to that — some luck and (more importantly) some serious propaganda is required to get 18 in 1907. But this year I had another crack at it. A soft end-game was agreed; at that stage a place in the final was my only priority, and I didn’t want to enter the final as the ruthless bastard who had stabbed to get there. 18 was unnecessary.
This 2015 WDC game is quite relevant because the “shape” of my mid-game Austria was the same as in 1997. Yes, it was exactly the same. There are only two units that matter …
A(Tri)-Alb in Spring 1902 is usually an easy thing to do. So, just do it. The mistake that most players make is to “move” the army. Don’t move it. Never! There is one exception only, which I will come back to.
Getting into Aegean is easier than you think. Just ask the Italian F(ION) for support, under promise that you will support their F(ION) - EMS and onto Smy afterwards. Or dupe Turkey somehow. You will get there — one way or another.
And once you are in Aegean … Don’t move it. Never!
Heard that before? Ok, see the map again. This is it. It is so simple:
When to Move?
Ok, here are some obvious “DO NOT” moves …
The only time to move F(AEG) is to ION.
And … only if a stab on Italy becomes the right thing to do.
And only ever move A(Alb) if it can convoy to Apu or Nap.
… which means that F(AEG) is already in ION!
Alb & AEG … always my targets as Austria. If you cannot get both then get one. Alb (for example) deters Italy from an attempted convoy out of boredom. Just sit there and relax.
The End Game
Your end-game position will vary massively according to which countries you allied with or attacked in the early game. Furthermore, there are two end-game targets; the first is to be thinking about the 18 centres, which (almost always) comes with the tournament’s “Best Austria” prize and a treasured place in history that you have achieved a perfect score. Even if you miss the 18 by a couple of dots, you at least had a go — the more times you try for an 18 the closer your chances of one day achieving it.
The second end-game target is to top the board, and this can be with anything from (realistically) 8 centres upwards. This goal requires a slightly different strategy; control instead of greed.
Actually there is a third end-game target; reducing the number of other players in the final draw. Being in the only 7-way-draw of WDC 2014, I am probably the least qualified player in the World to comment on how to reduce draws to two or three survivors.
So let’s start with the 18 centres; everybody loves the shriek of “Dix-huiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”
With the exception of an infinite-length (or at least 1912) game, getting 18 centres with Turkey as your ally (or even alive) is near impossible. So I believe that in a 1907 - 1908 length game, to ally with Turkey means that you are accepting from the start that there is no chance of 18 and are instead playing just to top the table at game-end. No shame in this; it is an equally viable end-game result, and nobody realistically ‘expects’ to get an outright win by 1907 before the game has begun.
And that means to get 18 centres your early ally is Italy or Russia (or both), and Turkey the first victim. You already know your target: Albania & Aegean. Don’t worry about getting your share of Turkish centres; A(Alb) & F(AEG) is reward enough, and the centres will inevitably follow. Bulgaria at least.
As the life departs from Turkey’s final centre, you will be talking to both Italy & Russia about the next campaign. Typically it will involve Italy heading towards France, Russia towards England and yourself towards Germany. Whilst all the while the southern position remains in a state of fair balance. And this is where you must plan carefully …
Working with Italy
To stab Russia, you need armies to move to Rumania and Galicia to begin with. Galicia is easy enough; you can get there from Bohemia. i.e., long after you have made your move against Germany. But Rumania requires an army from the Bud / Ser / Bul region. So if you have already moved everything north too quickly, you will never get another crack at stabbing Russia. You will also most likely need Italy’s help against Russia in the Turkish homeland. There is no point taking Rumania & Galicia if Russia has safely annexed the entire Turkish region. So here are two positions to aim for if you work with Italy:
If you get this right, Russia will be ripped apart from the insides, with Italy heading towards France at the same time. It is a very short step from here to this position:
To wrap things up from this position to a chance of 18 …
Invite Italy to move F(Smy) to EMS, to “help pull through” your armies in order to take Ankara. His fleet can do nothing, so an army is needed in Smyrna. Your fleet remains in AEG (don’t forget this — this golden rule never changes!) by supporting Con-Smy or Bul - Con. And you invite Italy back into Smy when you support Smy-Ank thereafter.
Meanwhile you work with Italy against Moscow, and push any new builds into the appropriately named Barren Zone. I haven’t heard this term for many years, but it describes the Tyr / Boh / Sil / Pru region which is barren of any centres.
Once you have this position, you can take out Italy’s units in Russia & Turkey and (hopefully) move F(AEG) - ION all at the same time.
Now all this does assume a fairly gullible Italy. Some will want an extra unit in the Turkish region, or may well cover ION at all times. But once Russia is all but eliminated in the South, there are still six or seven viable Austrian units verses Italy in the East. And no Italy can withstand the Austrian onslaught when it eventually comes.
If you time this right, France will be guarding and/or re-taking Spain & Marseilles at just the right time, leaving Italy back where she started … home centres + Tunis!
This should leave you with 13 centres: Home, Turkey, 3 Russia and the Balkans.
The grab for 18 comes from all 4 remaining Italian centres (a race with a “damaged” France), for which you will probably need a second
fleet, and a grab at Mun and/or Ber.
Now I never said this was easy or guaranteed. But it is your best chance, and possible.
Working with Russia
Hopefully there will not be too much melodrama as Turkey is slain from your three-way with Russia & Italy. You know the kind of thing … like the hydra’s tail (“Jason & The Argonauts”) having one final rattle as life departs.
The key to the stab on Italy is the “free ride” into Venice. Often your Austria will have kept Trieste vacant all game (by way of a goodwill gesture to Italy), so the way around this free passage to Venice is when you push into the Barren Zone, making sure that you take Tyrolia. Either way, you take Venice by a walk-in or via a supported attack from the Tyr / Tri move combo.
And that has to coincide with AEG-ION (time to move this fleet at last) AND Russian cooperation over relieving Italy of his ill-gotten gain of Smyrna.
In simple terms: do not just stick the knife in, give it a twist as well!
The important thing is that as Italy loses Venice & Smyrna, they make no further gains against France, meaning they have to disband one or two units. The important thing about any stab is the wonderful “gift” of disbands for your victim.
On many occasions, when you take Venice (if a gift, rather than a supported attack), you have the free passage to Rome straight afterwards, and a grab at convoying Alb to Naples or Apulia as well. Alb? Yes … didn’t I tell you to keep this army there all game? Well, now it is time to move it. It has served you well this far, but now its raison d’etre has come alive.
Stabbing Italy should be a quick process. If timed correctly, and with the right propaganda lie at the right moment, you can have them down to one centre (or eliminated) within just two to three moves!
No matter how you do this, taking an 18 however will require a stab on Russia at some point. So you will need to keep a beady eye on the key centres & provinces; how to slip into Rumania & Galicia, and how to annexe Turkey. Once Russia loses their foothold in Turkey, Armenia is just one step away and everything as far As Moscow can become your by the end game.
18 or a Few Centres Short?
Unfortunately, an 18 centre win is usually not in your control when playing Austria. This typically depends on the competence of the others playing E/F/G. That’s because you will need one of Mar, Spa, Mun, Ber or StP to take an 18. And long before you get there, the others should smell a possible 18 and take the right steps to stop it.
What you can do however is increase your chances. And this is where Diplomacy (rather than strategy) comes in. Many players struggle when their supply centres get above ten centres. So many units to write! Mustn’t miss-order! Take it nice and easy. As soon as the new position is announced each season, write down every unit you have. Before you do any Diplomacy. Just write down where they are, check them and then start the diploming.
This process will not only help you to avoid a miss-order when it comes to writing down your orders, but it will save you time as you approach the deadline and act as a pointer throughout your diplomacy sessions.
Secondly, you must talk with every player every season. More important now than ever! What you are looking for is the weak link. The one player who is perhaps the least happy with the resistance against you — they are the one receiving the least from the arrangement, or have the most potential by doing something different. Quite often this will be England. Stuck behind the stalemate line, with many centres (such as Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Brest etc) wide open for the taking.
To suggest that they “grab what they can for themselves” in this day and age is perhaps a little amateurish. Take it slowly. Firstly work them towards a “position”, so that their units are well poised to make a huge stab if they wanted to. This is rather like Spring 1901 when you want Germany to bounce Russia from Sweden; don’t be so bullish as to ask for it. Just ask Germany to open to Denmark to keep their options open for the Fall. Most Germany’s will go along with that much at least. Then they have the possibility to make the bounce in the Fall should the move take their fancy.
So what you are asking for here is that England keeps fleets in key spaces, such as ENG & NTH. Eventually (and hopefully) there will be far too many goodies open to England for them to resist. But as a final sweetener, ask England what you must do in order that they make the stab. And then honour this promise. All being well it is a race to 18 that you cannot lose. Once relations in the north have broken down, the stalemate line falls.
After Turkey, I believe Austria is the 6th hardest country to get an 18 with. And there are lots of reasons for this. Firstly, the northern countries have an easier quest for an 18 than those in the South. For example, Tunis is easier to take from the north than Marseilles or Spain is from the South. And Italy has ten times the potential of an 18 than Austria, being so much closer to those stalemate line centres from the start of the game. And it is so difficult to get that 2nd or 3rd fleet for Austria; and when it is built, Trieste is a million miles from Marseilles anyway. So in reality, Austria’s 18 often doesn’t come with the help or benefit of any additional fleets. I never built a 2nd fleet at WDC 1997; it was an army grab at Mun / Ber in the end which swung it.
The other plan to get to 18 is via what I would only describe as the crazy long term alliance. Working with any one or two neighbours (and it really doesn’t matter which), and pushing way beyond the stalemate line before any stab is made. These alliances end in an 18 far more frequently, but are better suited to the 1912+ games, which are unheard of outside mainland Europe. So game length will play a massive part in the strategy you take towards the 18 centres.
So the key to playing Austria remains the stationary army in Albania in Spring 1902, and the fleet in AEG as soon as is feasible. The power of these two units is massive.
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