To some, playing Italy can be a boring experience. The map’s starting position, ease of neutral supply centres (how often does she take Greece in 1901?) and general run of play can spoil the experience and love of the game of Diplomacy. So I wanted to make this Italy article really special. To give my favourite of all the Great Powers any justice requires contributions from some guest writers. And so I give my greatest of thanks to those truly great players who helped with this article. Thank you guys. Because with their input I hope you will see Italy in a different light, and will probably want to “try new things” the next time you are lucky enough to be allocated Italy. In my first “random draw” game as Italy I groaned with dissatisfaction. So trust me when saying that I really understand why some players hate Italy. But there really is no need to!
The opportunities with Italy are endless, but typical move trees are regularly repeated.
As John Wilman wrote (“Watch Your Back!” DipZine 1979): “Italy is like the Cindarella of the Diplomacy board, in so much that you are always waiting to be invited to the ball.”
What he meant by this is that Italy can sometimes be left on the shelf with four centres (home + Tunis) and to get beyond this stale situation requires invitation and assistance.
Personally, I believe Italy is like a game of poker; chance the cards, make your own luck, test the water from time to time, and go all in (ooh-er, Cinders) when you’re ready.
The Contributing Writers
Wanting this article on Italy to be amazing, I invited some of the World’s greatest f-t-f players to help with a personal contribution. With their advice you will hear how “not” to play Italy, and how to play her well. Some innovative ideas around Piedmont, when to stab / grab 18, stealing Trieste and … what Italy article would be complete without “le petit train”?
As per olden days, anything in [brackets] is written / edited by myself. On with the show …
How (not) to play Italy? When Toby asked me to write some words for his article “Italy for experts”, I first went to look on the World Diplomacy Database to see if my stats with Italy are as bad as I remember them to be. And they are! Italy is my worst country by far, even if I enjoy playing it. So half-jokingly, I told Toby I could only write on how “not” to play Italy. And Toby answered that it was a great idea! I guess the same way he tells a newbie that playing the Yorkshire pudding is a great opening especially in an important game where Toby is playing Russia… Anyway here I go.
Rule #1 can also be called the 4-unit curse. Italy easily gets stuck at 4 centers. You get TUN and then what? How many games your center count goes 3-4-4-3-3-2-1-0-0-0 ? Italy is not easy to play as a “wait-and-see” country. This is maybe why I have bad results. I like wait and see countries where you pick an ally according to what has been happening around you. With Italy, it is often a recipe for disaster.
Rule #2 relates to the number of games in which I picked a target early and went all against it, and usually it does not work. You send everything at Turkey and then you get French fleets in the Med or an Austrian stab in TYR. By the time you get SMY, it is too late. Similarly, you send everything against France only to see Turkish fleets disturb your coordination just before you crush the line. Attacking Austria often works but then you realize that Turkey and Russia are getting most of the centers.
Rule #3 is related to rule #2. Very often, an early attack does not work because the target can easily defend for a while and often chooses to defend against the first country that attacked (that would be you). A successful Italy is an Italy that gets centers from a country that is almost happy that you get them.
I know that something went right when I hear “Better you get Spain than this English traitor that went to the channel in S01.” or “They are playing a juggernaut from 1901. Nothing I could do. Why don’t you take TRI and GRE and make sure they don’t win the game.” So with Italy, pick a target and convince everyone else to attack it before you do. You will be able to pick the scraps…
Just to finish. Some sound advice I gathered from pretty good players.
Gwen Maggi: “A good Turkey is a dead Turkey. With Italy never attack France. Kill Turkey!”
Doug Moore: “With Italy, I always attack France. The Lepanto does not work. You have to attack France”
I don’t remember who, but I like the advice: “Italy wins when it has become Austria with fleets, so at some point you need to attack Austria”. I told you Toby that I don’t know what to do with Italy…
[Nicolas, a fantastic start to this Italy article. Thank you so much. No matter what Nicolas says, the WDC winner of 2006 and EDC winner of 2012 is always a very dangerous guy ☺]
Hi guys, I have been asked writing a few words on this opening, ”Le Petit Train“. I shall do my best. [As you can see, I have not edited Cyrille’s words, punctuation or grammar!]
First of all, the origin (if I can say, I am certain it had been played hundreds of times before by other players ;-) of this opening is probably closely linked, if not to C-Diplo, at least to the short games which we use to play in France (usually 7 years, sometimes 8 and even sometimes 6 when we had to leave the room before a given time ;-) ). Because of this, the way of playing the countries change. It is especially true with Italy, which is a country that usually can wait and see before taking any direction. Such short game obliges to make fast decision if one wants to top the board. [Exactly – “fast decision if one wants to top the board”. Perfect analysis from Cyrille.]
I remember I played it first in the second tournament I played, the first that I won. I had maybe played just five Diplomacy games before, so had no idea at all about the strategies at Diplomacy. I also knew nobody in the hobby by then and funnily my German player was Pascal Montagna (it was in 1993 so he was not yet a World Champion). I couldn’t remember who the other players were… until five minutes ago where I saw on the [Toby: ha ha ha ha!] WDD that actually the Austrian player was… Tanguy Le Dantec (Toby can tell you about him ;-) ). [No Cyrille, not this time … I let you continue your wonderful words …]
So basically I was with my Italy wondering what to do with my units. I didn’t want to play against Turkey (too slow, especially at this time where I had no experience of patience in this game ;-) ) and wanted to keep my options open, waiting –but not too long, patience was not in my dictionary at that time– to see what would happen with my two neighbors – France and Austria. I also didn’t want to weaken them, especially I wanted to help France, and I wanted to slow the more experienced player in Germany.
So Nap-Ion-Tun was clearly decided. With the armies, I hesitated, probably didn’t say anything to my neighbors committing myself, and finally opened Tyrolia followed by Venice. Of course both Germany and Austria were unhappy, but actually they were not attacked and didn’t lose anything against me. I, then, didn’t want to take the guess on Austria, but decided to prove my trustworthiness…
I said to my neighbors that my moves were not directed against them, while pushing diplomatically R and T to attack Austria, and played neutral again… which means I just moved Tyr - Boh and Ven - Tyr… and built A Ven.
Once again, both Germany and Austria yielded, and I once again told them separately that I was aiming at the other guy. At this time I was easily selling bullshit to my neighbors (now I think the goal is more to convince them w/o lying ;-) )… So Austria was not doing well, but I told him it was just his fault, he shouldn’t have defended against me because I always said that I was not willing to go against him ;-) To be honest, I don’t remember what I was doing with my fleet, but it is likely I went to Ion, as I know for sure that my next move was to crush Austria, also supporting Turkey and Russia against him.
I had slowed enough Germany with my opening as well, and I remember I topped this board by far, as my previous one and then won the tournament.
Well, this is it, very little to say indeed. Just that at least the first move Ven - Tyr is actually always one that I am considering, as it allows finally to have a lot of diplomacy… suddenly all the people who ignored you want to speak with you… and this is indeed the fun of the game, isn’t it? The second move (Tyr - Boh followed by Ven - Tyr) is more original, I must say, and it will really depend on the board allocation and the openings.
The second time I played, it was at an EDC I think, the one I won in 1997, and Gihan was in Austria. Just the look on his face made the move worth to having been made… And as I won again, I can only be happy with that. Since then, and with the titles I won, the view the other players had on me changed, and this forced me (at least I felt it) to change my game, and to always be more accurate on what I give for information. So I think I have really seldom done it since then.
[These ‘slug’ cartoons used to be a regular and popular feature in Vick’s zine of the day, A Little Original Sin. Many hobby characters were featured, with Cyrille always wearing the crown of course. And they often ended with the words “mine all mine”. Lol, finally true!]
So I give you one heuristic: "Determine as quickly as possible if Austria is ally material. If he isn't, have him for breakfast, even if it's risky. With Italy, shake things up or die trying."
Just to be sure: you have the permission to put my name under it! [Sorry to disappoint you, Julian. Your name is on top.]
It's been a long time since I played FTF Diplomacy in any serious tournament. Still Toby asked me for opinions about playing Italy. I'm flattered of course. But perhaps the evolution of playing styles have rendered my comments archaic and irrelevant but still, this is what you get from a Swede living in exile in Åland. BTW, living in Åland (autonomous region within Finland) makes me soon a Finnish citizen. It would be fun to one day re-open my Diplomacy career, now under Finnish banners...Toby, is there some special prize for someone who wins the WDC twice for two different countries? ☺
Anyway, Italy is a hugely underestimated power to play. Sure, you can win with many powers but generally Italy is considered a bad roll of the die. Contrary to popular belief Italy is a good country both in the short term "c-diplo-ish" game and the long term standard game. Let me elaborate a little.
In a short term game Italy doesn't grow too fast. Sure that's somewhat a limiter, but it has also an upside. Grow too fast in the beginning of the game and people will turn against you. I have played games as France or Russia where I have actively been trying NOT to grow, and even asked people to attack me or promised them a bounce in Galicia and not gone there myself. That makes people think you're under attack and they don't bother so much about your doings. Italy has this built-in. Another good thing with Italy is that Italy can almost always influence the board balance. France getting too big? Send a unit to Pie or lend Munich a support from Tyrolia. Turkey growing? Help Russia a little into Munich. Or move away from France so that England might feel French pressure which relieves pressure on Russia in the north and voila Turkey has some Russian resistance. You get the point.
In a long term game Italy is perhaps not the most likely to win, but I find it easy to be part of a stalemate with Italy. If you expand east, then you will probably be part of the alliance that later stops France from entering the Med. If you expand west, then maybe you will be the one holding Por+Spa forever. Of course, if you expand well you might instead be the one breaking all stalemates since you are almost already on both sides of them.
My favourite strategy as Italy is to bond with Austria as long as possible. Never attack Austria unless you think you take all or almost all from him/her very quickly. Otherwise you end up with a pissed Austria and a juggernaut rolling on you. In a long game a perfect development would be to have Turkey build no fleets, attack Turkey with Austria and then stab Austria together with Russia. Unfortunately this is very obvious, so you need to come up with something else. You need to make sure Russia and Turkey never are really allied. It can be okay if they together help you take out Austria, but ONLY if you are 100% that one of them will join you after the massacre. If you are not, then help Austria survive and try everything you can to make R/T stab each other. As always, no rule without exception. Perhaps if Austria is a really bad player it might not be worth helping him/her because s/he will screw up the plan anyway by not understanding the different defensive tricks one might come up with. I almost never attack France seriously until later in the game. If you play the diplomacy well you make sure France is somewhat open at a later stage, either because a sudden attack by an ally or because of overstretching while trying to land in England. Ideally France has taken one center and have two units in England when you slide into Mid.
In a short game the strategy would be totally different. Play safe, keep still, powergame to make sure no-one grows more than 1-2 centers. Then at the right time, stab the neighbour of your choice so you get up to 8-ish centers and win the game. It can be noted that it might be worth it to make really bad moves to prove to your neighbour that you're a nice guy. Up until 1906-1907 your priority is to make a neighbour trust you and be vulnerable at exactly that time. That's almost all you have to do. If he's open for a stab in 1903, don't do it. 1904? No. 1905? Yes if you can take like three centers and at least two more next year.
Tactics is not my best quality. That's why I suck at online diplomacy. But talking and talking and talking and judging people's intents, that is how I win games. No surprise then that Italy is a country I like to play. It's there in my top three with Germany and Austria.
[WDC2001. “Piedmont Paranoia” in S1901 with Brian as Italy (to my France) in the pre-final round. Brian won, got to the final, and was ultimately “voted” into WDC 2nd place.]
“That's the fun part Toby! I never told anybody that I would move to Piedmont. Yet, you asked me on four separate occasions if I was going there - and at least four others asked me if I was going there..... The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world he didn't exist! .... As for looking up dip - I'm heading to my first FtF tourney in a decade Manorcon 2015 - it would be remiss not to prepare ☺”
Opening 1: “Little Train 2.0”
You have already heard of the “little train”, and the strength offered by three armies in Boh / Tyr / Ven in Winter 1901. The biggest problem with this opening is how weak you are to a naval power. All Austria needs to do is to slow you down until the shark jumps in. This version is meant to improve the opening by reaching the same position, but with an additional army.
Ven → Tyr → Boh, Nap → Ion → Tun, Rom → Ven → Pie → Tyr (alternatively Rom → Apu → Ven depending on how much surprise factor you want to throw in and how confident you are); and of course French A Mar → Pie → Tyr. Build: F Nap.
Come on, don't tell me you cannot make any industrious France dream with such an original position? Regardless of the rest of his position, all France needs is to agree on the usual DMZ Bur & Eng (not the toughest) and then open to Gascony. And from there, the 2 of you can cooperate against both Germany AND in Austria. With a bit of skill you can even convince him to build 2 armies to make sure he can support the move Mar – Bur in S’1902.
The General Plan:
Same as Little Train, but with a way better position long term.
Opening 2: “The catapult”
This one is more on the casual / funny side. After 1901 you'll have to improvise. Still, with the correct surprise factor, you can get in for a really fun game (maybe Austria won't find it that fun though). [T.H. : so you already have Goffie’s attention!]
Ven → Pie → Tyr, Rom → Ven → s Pie – Tyr, Nap → Ion → Tun and of course German A Mun → Tyr → Ven (retreat in the hole). Build : F Nap. [T.H. The “hole”?? … I think I can smell it.]
Another very easy sell to any Germany who is bored and confident he has sorted out the northern position. You tell him he'll get a build and from there promising more centers if he can send a second unit, or protecting his army if he can't.
The General Plan:
Make it work and laugh loudly. Then improvise ^^.
It is important Austria does not see it coming otherwise a simple Ser / Vie bounce in Trieste neutralize it. So you should imply Germany was supposed to open to Bur and stabbed and on his side Germany could ask for help against you.
Opening 3 : “The Trieste Gambit”
This one is my favourite Italian opening, or, to be more precise, my favorite Austrian opening. The only drawback is that most Austrians don't realize how Austrian-friendly it is until they've seen it at least once. It is a very popular one in France since I introduced it, but outside the French borders, it is more difficult to sell.
Ven → Tyr → Tri (or alternatively Ven → hold → Tri if that helps your diplomacy)
Option A (anti-Turkish): Rom → Apu → Tun, Nap → Ion → c Apu – Tun
Option B (anti-French): Rom → Apu → Ven, Nap → Ion → Tun
The Builds: Always (It is essential to your diplomacy and long term plan): F Rom, F Nap
You have to be straightforward to Austria and explain him what you intend to do. Namely borrow Trieste from him in exchange of building a 3rd fleet AND a long term alliance pact.
It is important you get his permission AND you explain him you'll get the center ONLY in Fall not to threaten him in Spring. It is important also for the Diplomacy not to open Tyr/Ven which is too aggressive and less flexible.
Part of the negotiation could also be that in case you stab, he'll see it coming from far, especially if you build anything else than 2 fleets and he can make sure to make you pay (believe me it is a very good selling point).
On the contrary if you hold true to him, you'll both have earned mutual confidence and good position (it is important to temper aggressive diplomacy with positive). To any Austria who has played it before, the resulting position is self-explanatory: an Italy with three fleets can't perform any relevant attack against Austria. On the contrary, you have the means to jump in France OR to go deep in Turkey while still deterring France to jump in your back.
The General Plan:
The position is both good for you and very flexible. You can crack Turkey in its nuts (and that is generally my favorite option). You can also attack France, but in that case make sure you have back-up from Germany and/or England (possibly both). Having 3 fleets allows you to really commit to a plan and still have a rear guard for the other side. Make sure to imply the A Trieste is now Austrian, but he should not take it back before you get more centers elsewhere. It can move in Tyr, support Ser or even (if Austria really trusts you) in Alb where it can be convoyed.
A stab is always a possibility, but it is generally not a good idea until the money time. [lol, “the money time”]. The main drawback of this alliance is that it is TOO austrian friendly: most of the time, if the two of you do well, he'll have the upper hand because he has more armies.
An intelligent Austrian will try to persuade you to both have the same number of SCs ... counting Trieste as yours (that's a center he can take back when he wants).
So you should make sure to trade it back as soon as possible, and to reach a more manageable situation like all three Turkish centers for you and the Balkans for Austria (that's 7/7 with a more balanced situation).
[Toby Harris: Yann, these three ideas are totally awesome and “Creatively Yann”, surely leaving any victim “comfortably numb”. Highly effective even against formidable opposition. I genuinely thoroughly enjoyed reading every word of your article, adding only maps (and descriptions of the position) for some visual clarity. The World of Diplomacy already knows that Yann has a uniquely innovative style, and this masterpiece of an article proves it. During my earliest game recollection of playing Yann, even then he said “how about this idea?”. It was an unusual idea, but with longer term greater effect. Yann is a true master.]
Finito? No, Toby has a lot more to teach us about his Italian campaigns with some of the best experts by his side. Let's reserve this for the next issue to give us some respite to absorb –and apply– all or at least some of what we just learned here.
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.