This is the fifth article in our series of strategy articles for the Ambition & Empire variant. If you are unfamiliar with the variant, we recommend that you start with the first article, which includes an introduction explaining the variant (as well as a beautiful map!), and several useful links to the rules and designers' notes. In the tactical discussions, you may want to refer to the A&E map, which differs considerably from the standard Diplomacy map. Click here to display the A&E map in a separate window.
The primary puzzle for any Archduke to solve is avoiding mid-game stagnation. Most Archdukes manage to be the early leader, due to their strong starting position and the wealth of neutral SCs in close proximity. However, Austria tends to stall after a couple years, with their growth first slowed and then often reversed. By the mid-game, the edge powers have typically resolved most of their conflicts, and are attracted by the big flabby SC-rich red target in the middle of the board. Avoiding this fate must be the driving force behind all Austrian actions.
The answer to this puzzle lies in Austria's relationship with Turkey. Turkey has the corner position that Austria lacks, and Austria can either steal it from Turkey, or co-opt it by working as one with Turkey. By the end of the first year (and preferably sooner), it is vital for Austria to determine whether they can form a game-long partnership with the Sultan, or whether Austria needs to form a one-man Holy League for a rematch from their 1683 tussle with the Turks.
The remainder of this article will discuss these two options in depth. The first section discusses alternative tactics for war against Turkey, while the second section discusses different ideas for a land-based Austria working with Turkey. The third section discusses other miscellaneous issues, and the fourth section looks at the history of Austrian players in Ambition & Empire.
Strategy 1: Holy War Sultan-Slayer
Why does Austria need to decide on war with Turkey before the end of 1763 (the first year)? Because there is only one Austrian port (Vienna) in which to build fleets. If Austria is going to commit to becoming a Mediterranean power, then they will need a bare minimum of two fleets. Acquiring this armada requires building fleets at every opportunity, including the first year, when Austria likely has the most freedom to build a fleet with multiple builds and Vienna open. Without fleets, Turkey cannot be challenged seriously by Austria, and so an early decision to not build fleets means that the Archduke has decided to accommodate Turkey in the Mediterranean for the rest of the game.
Aside from attacking Turkey, naval power is essential for Austrian hopes of dominating the Italian boot. First, naval assistance is necessary to take the Two Sicilies, and very helpful for taking the Papal States. Without naval power, Italy is a dead-end for Austria, as its armies are stuck there with no exit strategy due to the vulnerability of the Italian supply centers to naval attack. If Austria can pick these SCs up on the cheap, great, but it is not worthwhile to commit significant resources to Italy and then strand these armies on the peninsula without any naval support.
Turkey is like a pomegranate, with an impenetrable shell that requires a lot of work for a little reward. Turkish distance from other powers makes it difficult for Austria to attract allies. Other players may be willing to help on the periphery of Turkey's sphere of influence, such as Spain in North Africa or Russia in the Crimea. When it comes to the final assault on the Turkish motherland, the reward of one isolated SC in Ankara (for surely Austria will get Constantinople) is rarely enough incentive for other players to justify the multiple units and years required to penetrate chokepoints in the Ionian Sea or the Caucasus.
Therefore, the bulk of the forces for a Holy War against Turkey must come from the multi-ethnic populace of the Habsburg dominions. This has its advantages, as a victorious Austria can reap all of the spoils, and it can be easier to fight a war without the need for constant negotiation and coordination with potentially double-crossing allies. If Austria is waging war on its own, then the Archduke has the freedom to choose both the timing and the tactics of this war.
Looking first at the timing of the war, this is simple: the sooner the better. Austria starts off the game stronger than Turkey, and then this gap grows in the first year before closing as the game progresses. If Turkey is left alone to expand, its defensive position only becomes more difficult to break down, particularly as the Sultan builds fleets.
The greatest advantage that Austria has over Turkey is that Turkey is a very slow starter. Austria can strangle Turkey in the cradle by not allowing the Sultan to gain a third SC. The Sultan's two realistic options for a first build are the Crimea and Tunis. The Crimea is simplest to block: move A Budapest to Wallachia, and threaten Constantinople while supporting neutral A Crimea's defense (if necessary). Tunis can be prevented through the use of DPs. While the Sultan could outbid the Archduke for Algiers with the support of other countries, this should not happen. First, all you have to do is match the DPs supporting Turkey, since this means that Algiers will hold, and Austria has 3 DPs compared to Turkey's 2. Austria has much more to offer other powers in terms of support (e.g. the army in Austria Netherlands), and Spain is a natural ally with free DPs in F1763 who should be glad to see Turkey get stonewalled in Tunis. Turkey can offer nothing practical to other players, and only a far-sighted French player has strong reason to support Turkey at this point.
Once Turkey is contained to only their two starting SCs, then the war against Turkey is just a matter of pressure and time. Assuming that Austria has an army in Wallachia after 1763, then building a fleet in Vienna and an army in Budapest should provide sufficient firepower to take Constantinople in 1764. Another option is to sneak into Constantinople in 1763, by giving Turkey an excuse for moving A Budapest to Wallachia in S'1763, and then stabbing them in F'1763. A third option is a direct assault in 1763, using both A Vienna and A Budapest to get into Wallachia and Bosnia by F'1763. Look at this from Turkey's perspective, and you'll see that there's not much they can do about two determined Austrian armies charging at them right away. However, given that the tactical advantage gained compared to the first option is not that great, the Viennese army may be more valuable in other areas in 1763.
The major risk in an early attack on Turkey is leaving Austria's northern flank exposed to attack from Prussia or Poland & Saxony. The easiest solution is to win over Poland & Saxony as an ally. Poland desperately wants a reliable ally early in the game, and Austria is best positioned to serve that role. Austria has many carrots to dangle in front of the Poles, including support into Lithuania or Crimea, help (or neutrality) in a Polish-Prussian war, and support into Germanic SCs (e.g. BaW or HeW). Poland's 2 DPs can be helpful also. If you can push Poland to fight Russia, this is ideal, as a powerful Russia is the most formidable opponent for Austria in the mid-game under this strategy.
With the Sultan Slayer strategy, Austria's Alpine armies in the west should aim south into Italy while making the German SCs a secondary priority. This strategy will make Austria into a Mediterranean power with at least a couple fleets, and so the Italian SCs will be a defensible and logical part of the Austrian dominions. The French are the main threat in this area of the board, and so Austrian diplomats should encourage British and/or Spanish designs on looting the Louvre. The Austrian army in Austrian Netherlands can be a very helpful tool in these efforts.
If this strategy is successful, Austria will find herself in a perfect position by the end of 1765. The Habsburgs should have control of around 10 SCs — for example Vie, Bud, Con, Ank, 2Si, Pap, Tus, Ven, Mil, and Bav. With Turkey eliminated, Austria has a defensively sound corner position and is in complete control of the Eastern Mediterranean. Austria only needs around 5 more SCs to win, and can find these in three attractive areas: the Western Med, Germany, and Eastern Europe. If Austria's anti-French and anti-Russian schemes went according to plan, then the threat from these potential mid-game rivals should be reduced. The other players may still gang up on the "early leader" Austria in the mid-game, but now it will take an expertly coordinated defense to stop the Archduke on all fronts.
Strategy 2: Kebab Schnitzel, The Austro-Turkish Juggernaut
There is another strategy that can lead to mid-game Austrian success: an air-tight alliance with the Sultan. Austria promises to never build a fleet, in return for a Turkish promise to never build an army. Astute diplomats may be skeptical that the Turks will actually refrain from building armies. However, Austria only really needs to buy a few years of breathing space, and to give Turkey a big push into the Med. Once Turkey's unit composition is fleet-heavy and they need to defend vulnerable SCs in North Africa and Italy, then Turkey's ability to swing around and strike Austria will be limited, even if the Turks build an army or two later on.
While this strategy forgoes a wealth of potential SCs in the Med, there are more than enough SCs from Paris to Moscow that Austria can reach by land in order to win the game. The core idea is pretty simple: after the first year, Austria can have 7 armies wreaking havoc across Europe, and no other power can come close to matching this strength. Even a Habsburg ruler significantly less competent than Maria Theresa can convert this advantageous early position into at least 8 SCs by the end of 1765.
The difficult question is how to gain the last few SCs needed for victory once the entire board is put on "red alert" by the giant red Austrian blob in the middle of the board. My answer is to focus on Eastern Europe.
First, let's examine why the answer is NOT Western Europe. At first glance, Western Europe is more appealing, due to the vast number of neutral SCs in the northern corridor from Two Sicilies up through the United Provinces (a.k.a. the Netherlands). Theoretically, Austria could win the game by capturing the 10 neutrals in the region, plus poaching Saxony.
But there are logistical problems. It is quite difficult for Austria to advance north beyond Baden-Wurttemburg, due to the configuration of the board. Hesse-Westphalia borders on many SCs, and even if Austria can fight off the pack to seize control of HeW, this unit is usually useless for offensive operations as it is forced to garrison and defend HeW — plus it gets cut if it tries to provide support. Turning west to France and Iberia, nearly all of the map spaces here are coastal, which limits a land-bound Austria's access to these supply centers. Looking south to Italy, the lack of Austrian fleets makes it tough to expand here, and presumably at least some of these SCs are promised to your Turkish ally. The overall result in Western Europe is that Austria's growth as a land-based power is naturally constrained in an arc stretching from Bavaria through Savoy and the Papal States before finishing in Venice.
By contrast, Eastern Europe (defined here as the Prussian, Polish-Saxon, and Russian area) is a less dense area that allows more freedom for armies to roam. Initially, Eastern Europe is less appealing to the Archduke than Western Europe, because there are fewer SCs, and these are more challenging to capture because they are not neutral. However, one must take the long view, which is that these eastern SCs are easier to conquer than the ones beyond Austria's "natural limits" in the west. The best strategy for a land-based Austria solo victory is to capture the SCs within Austria's western "natural limits" (around 10 SCs), and then get the last 5 SCs in Eastern Europe.
This begs the question: which 5 SCs? There are two main options here: exploiting a Prussian-Polish war, or anti-Russian. With option 1, the Archduke stirs up trouble with his intertwined northern neighbors, and seeks to profit from the conflict. For example, Austria could gain Saxony by carving up Poland & Saxony with Prussia, and then follow this up with an attack on Prussia that targets Silesia, Berlin, and Warsaw. Under option 2, Austria quickly seeks to neutralize the biggest long-term threat in this region: Russia. Working with allies such as Poland & Saxony and Sweden, Austria contributes the Hungarian army and DPs to the Russian assault. Austria's logical reward is the Crimea, which is a very valuable tactical position for the midgame. After 3-4 years, the Austrian western units should have done their job and reached the "natural limits", and then Austria can make a run at the solo victory by stabbing the soft overextended Polish position and/or plunging the knife into the vulnerable Turkish home SCs.
Section 3: Other Topics
Austrian Netherlands: Austrian Netherlands poses a question to all Archdukes — namely, "What the heck do I do with this army?" One option is to simply abandon Austrian Netherlands, and bring this army closer to the Austrian motherland to a destination like Hesse-Westphalia or Switzerland. Because Austrian Netherlands is not a home SC, it is equally valuable as any other neutral SC, and there is little reason to be sentimental about holding on to that particular SC. Another idea is to use this army as a sacrificial pawn to shape the board. If moving this army to Burgundy or Picardy can motivate an attack on France, then it is surely worth the risk of losing ANe to make this happen. This army also can make its weight felt by supporting British or Polish-Saxon allies into Hesse-Westphalia or United Provinces (Netherlands).
Natural allies and enemies: It is always useful to identify these. Austria's natural enemies are France, Turkey, and Russia. By this, I mean that it is hard to imagine a long-term scenario where a powerful France/Turkey/Russia does not represent a major challenger with the ability to prevent an Austrian victory. Accordingly, Britain, Spain, and Sweden are natural allies that can serve as checks to French and Russian growth respectively. The expansion paths of these natural allies generally do not overlap with Austria's path to victory.
Bypass the easy builds: In the first year, Austria should go after more distant SCs like Papal States, Savoy, and Baden-Wurttemburg, and then "fill in the gaps" later. Supply centers like Venice and Bavaria are certain to fall into Austrian hands, barring total disaster. Rather than be content with these easy gains, it makes more sense to stake an early Habsburg claim to the supply centers that are likely to be contested later on.
Actual Archduke Results
In 5 games using the current iteration of the map, the Archduke has a mixed and interesting record. Three Austrian players reached a peak of 8-10 SCs before stalling, with two of those players later eliminated from the game. A fourth Archduke gained two SCs in the first year, lost Vienna and Budapest the following year to a Polish-Turkish alliance, and then died quickly afterwards. Our final Habsburg achieved remarkable success, winning the game in 1767 after only 5 game years.
So what wisdom can be gleaned from this experience? Let's look first at a couple of the Archdukes that stalled. In one game, Nathan Deily executed a land-based strategy where he largely ignored the German and Italian neutral SCs, and instead deployed units north in the Prussian/Polish theatre. At the end of 1765, Austria had 9 SCs, including Dresden, Berlin, and Breslau. However, France and Russia had grown very powerful by this point, and crushed the elongated and defensively weak Austria position between them, with Russia eventually winning the game. In hindsight, Austria could not pursue such a strategy without ensuring that at least one of France or Russia was weak by mid-game.
In another game, Jorge Saralegui helped coordinate an early attack on France, with Spain taking Marseille in 1763 and Savoy falling into Austrian hands. At this point, he built a fleet, signaling his intent to execute a "Sultan Slayer" strategy. Turkey gained Tunis in 1763, overcoming the 2 DPs of Austria's Spanish ally with the two Turkish DPs plus the vital assistance of one Swedish DP. The Habsburgs and Ottomans engaged in fierce war, with Austria nearly gaining the upper hand, but ultimately the help of Turkey's Polish ally resulted in the fall of Budapest, a stalemated war, and Austrian stagnation. With France and Russia subdued, Austria would have been in a great position to win in mid-game if they could have prevailed against Turkey, but it wasn't meant to be. Looking back, the key moment occurred in the first year, when that Swedish DP gave Turkey the first year build that the Turks needed to have enough strength to resist Austria.
Looking finally at the Austrian winner Denis Courbrasev, he started slow, gaining Venice and Bavaria while losing Milan to France in 1763. In 1764, a British-Spanish alliance savaged le Roi in France, and Austria took advantage by re-taking Milan and gaining Switzerland. At this point, Italy had been ignored, with Turkey focused on North Africa and the Crimea. Austria built 2 fleets over the next 2 years, and fought off weak Spanish/British resistance in gaining control over the entire peninsula. With Britain and Spain distracted by Sweden and Turkey respectively, Austria stabbed in British-held Paris and Spanish Madrid in the critical final year to reach 15 SCs. One may ask what the other players were doing while Austria waltzed to the win. Russia was destroyed by a Swedish-Turkish-Prussian alliance. Prussia valiantly tried to stop Austria in the last year, and seized Dresden from Austria but these efforts were too late. Turkey's behavior is less defensible, as the Sultan apparently had no objections to Austria's fleet builds, and then Turkey never pulled their units away from the North African and Russian theatres even in the last year when Austria clearly was trying for the solo.
Analyzing Denis's victory, one useful lesson is that France and Russia were both crushed. The resulting semi-vacuum in France opened a chance for Austria to obtain the last critical SCs beyond Austria's "natural limits" there. A powerful Tsar could have caused serious problems for Denis in the mid-game, but instead Prussian units tied down in the east could not swing around fast enough to stop Austria. Another major obstacle for Austria is to neutralize Turkey, and admittedly Denis was somewhat lucky here to have such a compliant ally in Istanbul, but any solo victory requires a dash of luck at some point.
My goal with this article was to provide two strategies that can avoid the Habsburg trap of mid-game stagnation: the Sultan Slayer strategy focused on the Mediterranean, and the Kebab Schnitzel strategy focused on Eastern Europe. An Austrian player must neutralize Turkey either by attacking or allying with them, thus securing a corner (or corner-like) position for Austria. Long-term, the greatest sources of threat and opportunity lie in France and Russia, and so Austria should plot the demise of this pair from the start of the game. Of course, every game has its own idiosyncrasies and dynamics, but following these general principles should put the Habsburgs in a good position to achieve the dominance of Europe that their preferred
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