ITALY BY EXPERTS, PART 2
Compiled by Toby Harris
Having covered the foreign tongued experts of the old continent in part 1, we turn our attention now to the anglophonic world.
Making This Italy Article “Extra” Special
I have written articles on playing each country before, culminating in my historic postal DipZine (“Smodnoc”)’s celebratory 50th issue in May 1993. For that particular issue I planned all along to make the Italy article one of the zine’s centre pieces, and a copy of it remains visible on the internet.
Check out the reasoning behind when to build a fleet in Venice – it’s still good. Indeed, I doubt many of our greats will give good reason for building a fleet in Venice! Because that article was so well received historically, I wanted to improve upon it here.
I am not a regular character and could not write “seven Bibles” – one for each country. But do check out that link above on playing Italy – it covered a lot of ideas. And do heed the ideas of the WDC greats in this article, because there is more yet to come. Much more.
As per olden days, anything in [brackets] is written / edited by myself. On with the show …
F Nap – Ion; A Ven – Tri; A Rom – Ven
I will come to Yoffy in just a moment … just in case you were wondering. But this is all about the direct assault on Austria: Nap-ION, Rom-Ven, Ven-Tri.
Truth is, how could anybody compete with that masterpiece of an article from Yann in the last few pages? So I figured it was best to play good host and take the comedown myself, rather than let some “unsuspecting newbie past WDC winner” [lol] fill the next gap.
The truth is that I love this opening, and know from personal experience on the receiving end as Austria (WDC 2008) that Andrew “Goffie” does too. We are not alone. I am going from memory now, but after the first WDC in 1988 my team captain (Brian Frew) who played Austria wrote something along these lines by way of a post-WDC write-up;
“Not sure whether or not I could trust Italy (Dane Maslen), I told him that I would open with the Hedgehog (Tri-Ven, Vie-Gal, Bud-Ser). Just as well, because Dane later confessed that he would have been into Trieste like a shot had I moved south with the fleet!”
The next convention I saw Dane and asked him about this move (Ven-Tri). He replied: “If you know Trieste will be left open, … it’s a gift.”
The logic is simple. Once in Trieste, it is near impossible for Austria to dislodge you in the Fall (or a retreat to Vie/Bud) so you get up to 5 centres in 1901. And the follow-up of Rom-Ven-Tyr is likely to be successful too. With a new army in Venice (as well as a F(Nap)), Italy starts 1902 in a very good position. All you need do from here is invite the others to join in …
If you get really ballsy with this opening, asking Russia to hold in Warsaw in Spring 1901 means that Austria’s Vie-Gal succeeds. That leaves your new A(Tri) a 50/50 on Bud/Vie in the fall, so you can try for a second centre with Rom-Ven-Tri by way of follow-up.
Tyrolia is usually the best final destination for your a(Rom) in Fall 1901 though; most Austrians should order Ser-Tri in Fall 1901 to bounce you, also meaning that you don’t get to build a new army in Venice, so any new army remains bottled up in your Italian peninsula.
I guess this is the question to ask; just how lucky do you feel … punk? Some of it is indeed a 50/50 guess. So here is a quote from Cyrille Sevin which explains 50/50 guesses perfectly; “There are GOOD 50/50 guesses, and there are 50/50 guesses that are not so good”
There are a lot of ways to attack Austria as Italy, but by far the best one is the all-out assault. The trade-off is that if it fails, it tends to fail spectacularly. [Indeed, Andrew?]
Italy’s great advantage in Diplomacy is that it can control the speed of the game. The idea of this blatant attack is to ramp the speed up as high as possible, starting a race with you in first position and hopefully no one else even noticing the race is on!
The bad news is that if you get bounced then you’ve still created the race and you’ve lost any hope of gaining enough tempo to be in the lead. Do not do this opening unless you are very sure that you will walk into Trieste. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: bouncing in Trieste is a disaster for Italy. So, given the risk, why do it?
The opening cripples Austria and the objective is for you to be playing as both Austria and Italy by 1903. Speed is everything in this strategy. Key to this is the Fall 1901 follow-up of A Ven – Tyl. This is because for the plan to work you must build another army in Venice or you are not going fast enough. [Love it – as you say, it must work though.]
It doesn’t matter if you get kicked out of Trieste as there will always be an open centre for you to retreat to. In fact, you want this to happen since then Austria is wasting even more units. One suggestion is Tri – Ser with (TUR) Bul - Gre as this is very attractive to most Turkeys and leaves Austria build-less.
In Spring 1902, you force Trieste up to Vienna, and in fall you should force Venice into Trieste and hold Vienna – building another army. You can also have fleets in Albania and Ionian or may even support a Turkish fleet to Greece (a fleet will only get in his way when it comes to Serbia later on).
Diplomatically, you need to play Russia and Turkey off against each other. Working with Turkey (“You attack Russia, I’ll attack Austria”) is most common, but anything that gets the job done is fine.
This is the strategic vision for this game – by Fall 1903 you’ll have all the five traditional “Austrian” centres and can play as if you were Austria – roll into the Balkans, flank against Turkey, or just keep those armies moving North to Russia.
Speed is everything. Absolutely everything. As soon as the rest of the board realizes what is going on, your progress will slow dramatically. If that is in Spring 1901 with a Trieste bounce, then you’re in trouble. If it’s in Spring 1906 after you’ve taken all of Turkey as well, then you are guaranteed 15. And any later than that…
The core of it is:
I did also fib... [Ven - Tyl - Vie] + [Rom - Ven - Tri] is better, but no Austrian is that stupid.
[Andrew, thank you so much for this. Actually, this is my favourite opening as Italy also, but I so rarely ply it now. My best ever results as Italy (i.e., the 18’s) have mostly come via this opening also. It is so fast and potent. But when it goes wrong it’s a disaster. Unless you're Goffie. Andrew has a masterful talent for diversion for sure!]
Not so fast – not done with Goffie yet. Truth is that I really love the Ven-Tri opening as much as he does, but we are also agreed in that there’s a time and a place for everything. There are two conditions to make it go wrong…
There was a phase in the 1990’s where I had a killer reputation as Italy; in another postal game, Harry Bond was playing Austria and his opening letter to me read “Toby Harris as Italy? I want my mummy!”. Harry’s words stopped any early shenanigans – chances of entering Trieste were close to zero, so why waste the goodwill early on a limp chance?
I saw Harry the following year at Manorcon – in a dress, with long hair and breast implants plus a name badge which read “Sandra Bond”. She was quite the talk of the event. In days gone by, where such operations were more “new” in concept to the average board gamer than they were to the more liberated characters such as
With typical Scouse (Liverpool) wit, James Hardy quipped that (s)he would now slide down the bannister quicker. And I will (for once) refrain from stating how he ended this sentence.
So although I truly love the Goffie opening, with Dane’s “it’s a gift” comment and all, it is only good when they don’t see you coming. So this is actually a great move for a less experienced player to spring on a grand master. If you want to scalp a big head then this is probably the way to do it. Just say you will hold in Venice, let the “master” trust you and then you have your position. But just beware – masters are good defenders of Austria too.
Yoffy was a puppet master. Search Wiki/Google for him, along with the keyword “fingerbobs”. And the hobby only has one true Yoffy where Italy is concerned … Cyrille Sevin. Don’t get me wrong, there are many others in this class, but Cyrille made famous the Tyrolia (rather than Trieste) options for Austria. And he backed this opening up with an entire cornucopia of options. Flexible, defensive, aggressive and always looking like his “weak” Italy will very soon become a “dominant” Italy. Ven-Tyr every time.
Since we don't know much about each other, I would like to start telling you a bit about me and my history with the game. I started playing Diplomacy in college in 1973. [1973?! That pre-dates me … and The Stranglers, Doc!]
Continuing...By the time I graduated in '77, I fell in love with the game, but wasn't very good. Sadly after graduating college, I could never find enough people to play and wouldn't play again for about 25 years, when I found the game online. I played on some of the judges and must admit I am a better online player. More opportunity to talk and think. It is a very different game.
I found out that people were playing in tourneys in '07 and went to my first tourney (the WDC) that year. I don't play anymore other than in tourneys and you can count the number of tourneys in which I've played on your fingers and toes and still have a foot free to kick a football [lol]. I am, consequently, not a very experienced player.
This is why I have so enjoyed reading your articles. It is giving me a very different way to look at the game. I have always considered Dip a game of alliance building, which is much more true in the online game. I am beginning to change my game, but it is taking time. In the interim, I have won only one tourney, but it was a good one to win!!!
Oh right. We were supposed to be talking about Italy. Like Toby - and perhaps you - Italy is my favorite country to play, although not my best country. There are two reasons I like Italy. Firstly, it is the country that decides the direction of the game. In most games, there are two theatres, EFG in the North and ART in the South. Italy can go in either direction, controlling the paradigm of the game right from the start. Only R playing a Northern or Southern strategy can affect the game in a similar manner, although nowhere as dramatically. And in the States, I have rarely seen people play a Northern strategy as R. So my first decision as Italy is whether to go East or West. Much depends upon who is playing and, especially, how much I trust the person playing AH so I can go West. I always enjoy the EI strategy to attack France, really the only good way to successfully attack F at the start of the game. The EGI triple can be very strong, with Italy often continuing on to England upon the fall of France. In one of two games I even soloed as Italy, it was done in this manner, ending with home, Tun, UK, Iberia, France, Bel, Mun, Hol and Tri, Vie and Smy.
If concentrating on the East, there are so many interesting options. As you mentioned in your article on F, the IF alliance is very fun to play. I usually set it up in the beginning and have it come to life in the midgame, although early support into Mun from Bur for Tyr is a fun early-game opening. I remember once at a WDC, I was Italy and Lester was F. We set up the midgame IF early on and we were rolling, until I got bogged down in the Balkans and he kept moving forward. He soloed and I couldn't stop him. Oh well.
If I am concentrating on the Eastern alliances, my favorite is IR. I like to open Ven-Tri or Tyr and Rom-Ven. Fleet goes to Tun in the fall, hoping to get two builds for an army and a fleet. And this set of moves still leaves the option open for an IT alliance, if R is not in as good a position as T. Always like to keep options open.
That is the second thing I like about Italy. As Italy, you are rarely if ever a target in the early years, giving you options available to jump sides with no one really knowing. You can be almost everyone's friend until you attack. No other nation really has that option.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Looking forward to your article.
[Many thanks Doc. Every child goes into a sweet shoppe and says “I will have one of those, one of those, point, point”. But your 18 is a really unusual and very special selection of sweets!]
Waffling back-and-forth as Italy is an easy way to waste an afternoon of Diplomacy. We've all seen or experienced the game-ending two-centre Italy that never grows beyond the initial build in 1901. Don't be that Italy; you're better than that. I believe in you. Shoot!
Be an active negotiator to find a target, then attack. Early momentum can deliver you the board top. I cannot tell you the best way to negotiate -- that's unique to each person. I cannot tell you whom to attack -- your negotiations with the entire board will determine a target. Committing a few units one way then another way will not net you progress. Shoot!
[Awesome! Says it all.]
The "conventional wisdom" on playing Italy in the States has certainly changed over the years. When I first joined the hobby in the mid-80s, the major concern for the Italy player was how to work with Austria to stop the dreaded RT "steamroller" in the opening and midgame stages. In my experience this led to lots of Lepanto openings and even Key Lepantos. It was frankly seen by some as "bad form" to plow right into Austria early on, because it was seen as so dangerous for Italy's long-term health.
I think several years later the mood changed a little, as hobby writers began to point out that if Italy wanted to get 18 centers, that was very hard to accomplish by playing balance of power, hanging around the edges of the fight, and getting centers here and there with an Austrian ally. The RT began to fall out of favor as well, because the signs of that alliance caused such consternation on the rest of the board (how many Sev-Con Shuffles do we see nowadays?), so that meant that the raison d'etre for the nearly automatic AI was no longer there. In the tournament I run, I began to see many more early attacks by Italy against Austria, for example, as well as a decent number of Munich Gambits, where the extra Italian army is sent into Tyrolia to cause trouble for the western powers rather than hanging out in places like Piedmont or Venice or Trieste.
Now I would argue that the pendulum has swung back the other way again. I think experienced Italy players still often plow into Austria early on, while the mid-range or novice players tend to just go for Tunis and see what happens under the theory that the RT is still the major threat.
My own view is that the early attack on Austria is fairly dangerous. However, it is also by far the easiest way for Italy to get big enough fast enough to become a major factor in the endgame. Occasionally you can do this by an early attack west if the other western guys are flailing on France as well, but it is darn hard to become big enough to matter quickly by doing a Lepanto opening against the Turks. Sure, sometimes you have to play along with this at least for a while, but long term the Balkan Knot of centers needs to be the Italian path to victory.
I am one of the lucky ones … to be able to write an article describing my “favourite” Italy game, like there was a choice. Actually there are many to choose from.
I learned to play Italy the Hard Way … mis-ordering F(Tun) – ION in Spring 1901 at the first World Dipcon. Ok, so I got an equal top of the board in that game, but a no-build Italy in 1901 is a scary place to be when there are three French fleets headed your way.
But my real lesson playing Italy was two years before – Midcon 1986, during a friendly game.
The Midcon 1986 “Friendly”
I don’t remember every player in this game (it was after the Saturday’s main game and just a friendly) but can name a few; John Colledge, Brian Frew, Julian Shepley, John Wilman. Names I refer to from time to time. John Colledge will be at EDC Manorcon in July, and Brian Frew was at the last UK EDC. We drew countries “out of the hat” and when given Italy it was clear I was unhappy. Worse still … I mis-orded my bog-standard 1901 build (+ F(Tun) ??!!).
My entire attitude towards Italy changed during this game, and it is best to switch to Brian’s post-game write up in his zine of the day (“Veni Vidi Vici”) which read something like this:
The highlight of the game came when Toby, after trying to build a fleet in Tunis in 1901 (the lad was a bit jaded), recovered in 1903 by being supported into Con by Austria, supported into Bul by Russia and helped himself to Trieste. Nice one!
I have never re-quoted this paragraph before. It was something I “just kept” as a fond memory. And the whole point is not about me; it is to ask yourself how would you feel if you despised playing Italy, mis-ordered your 1901 build and then this happened? Suddenly the country springs to life. And that’s how I felt at the time, why I love Italy (and always will) and why you should never give up when playing Italy. In all truth, the others all wanted to help me after such a bad start, and most got punished for their kindness …. (wicked grin).
Maybe Italy is the Cinderella … but a Cinders in high-heeled boots who knows how to kick?
The “Midcon Friendly” was surely a fun game to remember, and as it was nearly 30 years ago the fact I still recall the details puts it up there with my favourites. In fact this was my third favourite game as Italy of all time. Not just the moves, but Brian Frew’s write up … “helped here by Austria, helped there by Turkey … and helped himself to Trieste”.
In Diplomacy terms, being helped once is great, being helped twice is better … but helping yourself as well is as good as it gets.
Watching others as Italy (and helping them to screw things up for themselves) was fun over the years too; by getting to know Italy well you can appreciate that (as France for Example) supporting Italy into all the German home centres is NOT a good thing for Italy. It’s good for France though, as happened in the last game at Yorkshire Dipcon. But this doesn’t really count as Italy though, so moving onto my second favourite game as Italy …
In those days of Manorcon it was just your single best score that counted. Crazy system you may think, but perfectly logical when you consider that some players only played in the Saturday team round. That gave everyone a chance, and the more serious Dip players an extra chance from their second game. This was one of my earliest Cartel experiences, working with France (Vick Hall) and racing for the 18 in our own directions.
Russia (Neil Kendrick, now based down under) got into an "unusual" position whereby he had lost all of his home centres but still had several units in other centres. Four units to be precise. So I went hell for leather supporting Neil into everything possible. I got him up to 9 centres at one point … still with no home centres of his own. Yep, you got it … he could never build. How can four weedy units cover nine luscious centres? I mopped up with 18.
For the record, Vick got an 18 in another round of that tournament, so finished third. Shaun Derrick also got an 18 and finished second. But Phil Day (WDC 1 winner) got one 18 and a “politely turned down second 18, in the interest of fair play” (another story) and took the crown. For my sins, I also got 18, but was 4th. After winning Manorcon the two previous years, an 18 this time was a great result.
But my favourite Italy of all time was at WDC 2004; Manorcon again.
Best to start with the accolade; it was a WDC of course, and the 17-centre game won me “Best Italy”, which was also presented by old timer Richard Walkerdine – originator of the WDC idea. When Richard gave me that certificate I really felt some energy like I had never felt before at the game. Perhaps because I was one of the few (or only) award winners he remembered from old, but he made this moment feel special. Okay, let’s not ham it up … say some facts. As he gave me the certificate he said “keep going Toby – you’ll do it”. I don’t think he said that to any of the others (Lol, yeah, I get it … none of them were called Toby). Seriously though, Richard Walkerdine often sat with me for dinner, whilst others avoided and thought and whispered "Who's the Punk-looking character with spikey red hair?". I got to know him well during the years of Manorcon and he is a sorely missed character from our hobby.
So that was enough to make it my favourite game of all time, but the game itself was to be treasured also. Gwen Maggi was quite new back then and played France. We agreed on a Cartel … you go your way, I’ll go mine. It worked really well. Actually it worked better for me than for Gwen. I was headed towards 18, with Gwen 14 or 15 maximum. The cork in my bottle was Dan Lester’s Russia.
In those days Gwen was quite aggressive in his style, and it was a hot July afternoon. Tempers were running high. Dan Lester was indeed the charming, well-spoken guy we all know and love, having already eaten dictionary-pie for lunch and thesaurus pudding for dessert. But today he was beaten on all counts; I was piling in from the South and Gwen “steaming” at him from the North. Gwen was way too inexperienced in this game to see the real danger, so full credit goes to Dan Lester in taking at least ten minutes of every Diplomacy session to explain the benefits of a stalemate line. In fact Dan was awesome, and I do not believe many other players could possibly have had his nasal stamina on this day to contain an overpowering Gwen.
I got to 17, the line was held and the three of us shook hands.
Needless to say, Gwen has improved massively (in all areas) since this game. But it is a game to remember for all; we all did great. Gwen as a beginner, Dan as a stale-mate-liner and myself to get the 17-centre best Italy, awarded by Richard Walkerdine who is sadly no longer with us. These days can never come again, so now they are just memories.
Un invito Italiano
English always stick together? After WDC 2017 in Oxford, I would like to invite every Italian who comes in Marco Ferrari’s car (btw his car is NOT a Ferrari ☺) to stay at my house over the Sunday night for a meal, the whole night and some games. My wife loves Italian people. I love them too, as well as playing the country of Italy in Diplomacy. Oxford is 90 minutes from my house. You will get a great curry, play games with my children, be stabbed by them (of course!), have somewhere to sleep and then depart any time on Monday that is good for you, after breakfast. An English breakfast for all.
No matter how many teams, or how many players there are in a team, I would also like to join the Italians for a team at WDC 2017. The Italians are great hosts of everything, and have welcomed Europe and the World so much. So, Italy and Italians, please accept me in your team for WDC 2017. As a player – a “foot soldier” – not a captain.
… at least then there will be a round when I do not get stabbed by Davide ☺.
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