Switzerland is the point around which central Europe pivots. It acts as an anchor for France, Germany, and Italy. Without it, those countries would be adrift in the resulting morass. If Switzerland were a normal province, each of those countries would immediately have a potentially new enemy or an increased likelihood of attack by an existing potential enemy. The decision to include Switzerland as a province and make it impassable colors every aspect of French, German, and Italian relations.
Consider the following table:
|Western||Austria, Germany, England|
What we see is that the perimeter powers (Turkey, Russia, and England) with their natural map edge anchors have only two fronts, with only three potential enemies or allies (Russia has four but is compensated by getting the extra starting unit). Austria has four (!) fronts and four potential enemies and no anchors but also has immediate access to the four Balkan SC's. Germany also has four fronts with four potential enemies but can be sure of one (and often two) of the Denmark and Lowland SC's France has three fronts with three potential allies but usually has the luxury of tapping the Iberian SC's. Weak sister Italy has only two fronts with three potential enemies but has only the Tunis SC as a lock. Note again, how Switzerland acts as an anchor for Germany, France, and Italy. All in all, this represents a fairly equitable situation, with Italy getting the slightly short end of the stick.
Now, make a tiny little change to the map...just a little one...make Switzerland a normally passable province. What happens? Disaster for France and Germany, that's what. Each is burdened with a new front or an expanded existing front and, thus, a new or empowered potential enemy. Italy suffers, too, but perhaps not as much.
For France, Italy now has the potential to attack by land from the south (through both Piedmont and Switzerland) instead of just by sea, and, all of a sudden, Italy has more options than stabbing Austria or doing a Lepanto. Worse yet, Germany can now bring three units to bear on Burgundy (Ruhr, Munich, and Switzerland), which means continued French possession of Belgium is not likely.
For Italy, the Paris army is no longer a distant friend since it can be assisting the Marseilles army in an attack on Piedmont as soon as Spring 1902. And, disastrously, Germany is now a real threat to aid France or Austria in Italian conquest since he now has a wider direct route to the peninsula from Munich.
For Germany, the converse of both of the above is true. France can vie for possession of Switzerland in 1901 and, if he enlists Italian or Austrian aid, can seriously threaten Munich regardless of German supports.
Strangely enough, though Italy is also threatened by a newly passable Switzerland, he is also emboldened. Since Switzerland doesn't border any Italian SC's but does abut those of both France and Germany, Italy would become the de facto power broker in the arena. Better yet, in order for him to protect his own interests in the eyes of France and Germany, he has a completely legitimate reason for entering Piedmont or, with Austria's approval, Tyrolia. Ultimately, Italy receives more of a boon than a bane from this change.
France would be significantly hindered by the change and would be much more difficult to play. No longer could France safely assume a neutral neighbor in Italy and focus his efforts and attention primarily on England and Germany. Nor could France count on being able to take both of the Iberian SC's easily since the Marseilles army might never be able to head west. France becomes a much weaker power as a result of this change.
Germany, however, suffers the most. He ends up with five fronts and five potential enemies. Worse yet, the change strongly encourages France to ally with England against Germany, not to mention the fact that Italy and Austria now have some incentive to head north together as well. In my estimation, Germany would in all likelihood become unplayable if Switzerland were passable.
I hope I've made it clear that, though Switzerland appears to be a lowly little province that you can't even get to from here, in fact, it plays a pivotal (yes...pun intended) role in the balance of the standard game. However, you don't have to take my word for it. You can check it out for yourself. Grab a history from any judge games playing Vince Mous' Modern variant. Though the map is very, very different, the central European region is close enough to the standard map to illustrate my point. I've played or observed several Modern games and, in every one, Italy, France, and Germany have become entangled in and around Switzerland. The temptation is just too great. (This is no criticism of the Modern variant, by the way...the other map changes balance this effect to make it a very enjoyable variant.)
'Til next time.
The Big Dipper
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