This article is reprinted from Diplomacy World #58, which came out in mid-1990. Although Larry Botimer is the author, the article is listed as "Kathy's Korner #155" — perhaps it was a reprint even in DW! In any case, we present it here again for our readers' interest and edification. Enjoy!
Recently, someone got a gamestart with me and drew Italy. He started out immediately wailing about how he hated to play that country and felt that he disliked the game already. Others have mentioned a similar distaste for playing Italy as well, bemoaning how poorly they play when stuck with the "odd man out" problem which confronts the modern Roman Empire. In some cases, I can sympathise with the player since Italy does tend to curb their creative (dot-grabbing) genius and it's extremely rare that Italy gets three builds in 1901. I've only seen it twice and both times the Italian suffered severely for his effrontery. Dip players are so accustomed to the same old bland game openings that when something unusual happens like that everyone starts telling everyone else "to watch out for Italy because he got three builds" and they band together to crush the aberration. The same thing never happens when France or Germany manages to slide into Belgium for the third build, but that's because somehow it doesn't seem so abnormal. And yet I'd be a lot more worried about either of those two starting 1902 with six units than I would about a six center Italy.
The real inhibiting factor in playing Italy for a good aggressive player is the nasty problem of not being able to finish off a 1901 stab. All three of the potential victims possess the disconcerting ability to take the knife out of their own back and turn around and stick it squarely in the Italian player's guts. The result generally is that those two players stand there face-to-face bleeding to death all over each other, while the other players grin and go about their business. This is a highly unsatis¬factory state of affairs, and is compounded by the fact that any attempt at a brutally effective 1902 stab is going to be limited by the lack of units available for use against the three same neighbors and the fact that they generally got their two builds to Italy's one in the previous winter. So a 1902 stab is generally going to be one of those "excuse me" stabs, or an attempt to maintain the balance of power on one side of the board. No one who plays an aggressive game like the latter because they generally don't offer much in the way of exciting play and usually tie Italy to a defensive posture. So the options in 1902 and 1903 revolve around Italy finding a powerful ally interested in helping Italy become a major factor in the game, with perhaps a two-way draw in the works. Italy almost always has to find this ally among one of the corner powers for this to be effective. The problem is that usually everyone on the board has something they'd like Italy to do to help them, but Italy's reward for doing so is the promise of future considerations. It usually turns out that they can tell Italy "tough luck" and not fear Italian vengeance when the time comes to follow through on their promise.
This is the main pain for Italian players — the lack of effective alliance options. Most Italian players end up in a "scavenger" role to get their builds and wind up using the threat of helping one side get past the Italian stalemate line to keep the other in line and insure survival. The option of, say, a Russo-Italian alliance in mid-game usually winds up with the Italian being a junior partner and hoping the Russian doesn't simply take the win rather than wait for Italy to catch up for the two-way.
Essentially the only solution I've found to the problem of playing Italy, other than to play the straight Austrian-Italian alliance, is to create an effective alliance by surprising people with an option of the weak 1901 stab, or to negotiate a solid, behind the scenes, game long alliance with one of the corner powers starting in Spring 1901. One option that works real well is the Marseilles stab of France which turns into a French-Italian alliance. A lot of people have seen the "stab" of Austria or Germany by Italy which results in the two of them teaming up in 1902 against an unsuspecting third country, but the ordinary French-Italian alliance is rare enough that the option often is really effective. The Italian army in Marseilles is able to act just as if it was a French one while French Army Spain moves to Gascony to join the other one in securing the line of resistance. The key, of course, is that Germany finds himself facing a strange combination if the Italian moves Tyrolia-Bohemia and Venice-Tyrolia. It doesn't matter how well he's gotten himself into position against the French — those Italian armies turn his flank. The Italian trades Marseilles for Munich and solidifies the alliance's position in the middle of the board and works its way into the midgame with its pieces all placed to be effective. I really like the French-Italian alliance in the midgame because the alliance's units face their natural opponents. The French fleets face England and the Italian's fleets face Turkey's; while the armies face Germany and Austria respectively. If Italy has been real cute and negotiated with the Russians for one of those behind the scene alliances; then the game is over at that point. But the real key for any Italian alliances is to realize the limitations of your position and not to try to make too much of a grab for the gusto at the gamestart. In case you are wondering what I mean, let me spell it out for you. Don't go for the third build in 1901 by moving Venice-Trieste instead of Venice-Tyrolia. And don't get sneaky with France by going for a finishing blow in 1902. Trading long term goals for the short term gratification of dot snatching doesn't work for Italy, unless you run into an NMR. Later on all those Eastern dots will go to Italy since France will be foreclosed from reaching them. That's another reason I like the French-Italian alliance for Italy, just count the dots available to the two powers by natural progression across the board! That should appeal to the more dot-hungry types among you.
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