by Chris Dziedzic

When we look at the play history of 1900, one thing that is readily discernable is the frequency of conflict between France and Italy. Baron Powell, the designer of 1900, spoke of this in the Gamers' Guide to 1900, commenting that Italy's natural orientation in the variant is not eastward, but westward, for improved play balance. A combination of map changes increases the probability of warfare between the President and the Pope at game start. However, bloodshed between these two should not be "considered inevitable". Looking at the starting position in Diplomacy, the Italians and Austrians have arguably a more tense relationship based upon contiguous home supply centers in Trieste and Venice. The A/I alliance, despite this inherent tension, is frequently played and has proven effective in Diplomacy. Regardless of the play history trends, I submit that an F/I alliance in 1900 can be just as effective as any other, and that players of the light blue and green pieces should seriously consider this diplomatic combination.

There are certainly historical justifications for an F/I alliance. Starting as early as 1896, French and Italian leaders sought to defuse the tensions between their two nations that inspired Italy to seek friendship with Germany and Austria-Hungary inside the Triple Alliance. This process started with Italian recognition of the French occupation of Tunis. Then, in 1900 and 1902, France and Italy reach a series of agreements concerning the Mediterranean. France recognized Italy's claim to Tripolitania, and Italy reciprocated by recognizing France's right to Morocco. Those agreements progressed from requiring prior notice to act upon those respective claims, to a blanket recognition no longer requiring notification. By the time of the Algeciras Conference in 1906 at the culmination of the First Moroccan Crisis, Italy was firmly siding with France against Germany, causing the Triple Alliance to become moot, continuing only through diplomatic inertia. Eventually, the lessening tensions between France and Italy, as opposed to the rising friction between Austria-Hungary and Italy, led to Italy's intervention in World War I on the side of the Allies.

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Given the historical realism such an alliance would mimic, why should players consider establishing an F/I alliance? Reflect upon these observations:

For starters, take a look at the map used in 1900. If you were to draw a line through the map from the southwest corner to the northeast corner - dividing the map into two equal parts - it does a good job of delineating spheres of expansion and conquest between France and Italy. Italy is a power in the south and east, based upon the Mediterranean Sea, while France dominates the north and west focusing on the littoral areas around the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. Few bilateral partnerships are as easily suggested by a casual view of the map. [See Figure 1.]

Fig. 1

1900 Map split SW to NE

The 1900 map divided along the SW-NE axis. Metropolitan
France is colored light blue, while Italy is colored green.
(Click to show full-size version in separate window)

Split by the line from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the map, we see the supply centers are also roughly divided into equal parts. On the northwest, or French, side of the axis are sixteen supply centers. Portugal, Spain, Brest, Paris, Marseilles, London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belgium, Netherlands, Kiel, Berlin, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and St. Petersburg. On the southeast or Italian side of the line are also sixteen supply centers. Milan, Rome, Naples, Vienna, Trieste, Budapest, Tripolitania, Egypt, Constantinople, Ankara, Damascus, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Sevastopol. There are also seven liminal supply centers that do not easily fall into either half: Morocco, Algeria, Switzerland, Cologne, Munich, Warsaw, and Moscow. Notice now neatly the coastal centers around the Mediterranean generally fall on the Italian side, while those fronting the Atlantic or the Baltic are within the French sphere. This leaves a handful of supply centers that are either landlocked or bicoastal. The ownership of this handful of supply centers can be allocated as necessary to allow flexibility as the two powers strive to maintain parity for a stable working relationship. [See Figure 2.]

Fig. 2

French and Italian spheres

The 1900 map delineating a French sphere of growth
in light blue and an Italian sphere of growth in green..
(Click to show full-size version in separate window)

Admittedly a little explanation is required for some of the delineations shown in Figure 2. First, I put Marseilles firmly in the French orbit, despite its solely Mediterranean front, because players cannot reasonably be expected to cede a home supply center to an ally. Conversely, I placed Algeria in the liminal grouping because while it is a French supply center at game start, it is not a true home supply center because it cannot be used as a build site. The President may be much more willing to consider the trading away of this supply center to an Italian ally as part of a larger agreement. Lastly, I placed Spain in the French sphere of interest despite its bicoastal topography and straddling of the SW-NE axis. Why? Paris is going to be uncomfortable with Italian control of that Iberian supply center given that it cuts metropolitan France off from Portugal and would give Italy an opportunity to launch a pincer attack on southern France.

Another reason to explore the possibilities of a Franco-Italian alliance is that such an alliance offers some significant tactical and strategic opportunities. Within such a framework, France and Italy each have a secure flank as they expand outward from, in effect, a single cozy corner position. Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) recognized this corner position on the European land mass comprising France, Italy and Iberia and christened it the Latin Peninsula in his work Democratic Ideals and Reality (pp.31-35). These two powers can expand into the distinct naval theaters of the Atlantic/Baltic for France and the Mediterranean for Italy without coming into conflict. They can also easily cooperate in the center of the board as they develop their landward offensives eastward across the German and Alpine neck of the Latin Peninsula into Europe as a whole.

It is also be worth discussing that the two main targets against which an F/I can work together are Britain and Germany; arguably the two biggest heavies of 1900. If it is clear that there is a B/G alliance in the works, a counter F/I alliance suddenly becomes a natural response within the western quadrangle. These B/G alliances are not uncommon, and one of the reasons they frequently prove successful is the inability or unwillingness of the Pope and the President to shelf their differences early enough for common defense. Of course, a French alliance with either Britain or Germany in the early going still appears critical. France does not want to be the odd power out in the western triangle and have to fight B/G at game-start. Even with Italian support or benign neutrality, that may be too tough a chore for the leaders in Paris.

One final reason why the leaders of France and Italy should consider using this approach in a 1900 game is because of its novelty. Using an unorthodox approach is frequently a key to being successful. Constantly relying on conventional alliance patterns will not always be successful, particularly if the intended victims suspect that those alliance patterns will emerge at the start of a game. An F/I alliance represents an alternative to such conventional play. As mentioned earlier, F/I alliances have not been common in 1900 games played to date. Play history instead shows frequent early warfare between the two powers. Given this, the appearance on a Franco-Italian alliance could take the other Powers by surprise since they will be looking for other alliance patterns and might be unwitting fodder for some well-executed early stabs.

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In fairness, let's discuss how an F/I alliance is not simply a walk in the park.

As mentioned earlier, Baron Powell, the variant designer, describes a number of map-related changes he made in developing 1900 to purposefully increase the chance of conflict between France and Italy in the Gamers' Guide to 1900:

  1. First, France and Italy must deal with the allocation of Switzerland, a new neutral supply center, which touches home supply centers in each Great Power. [See red in Figure 3.]

  2. Second, the elimination of Tuscany means that Italy's A Rome can be moved directly to Piedmont, and thus is one tempo closer to France. [See yellow in Figure 3.]

  3. To the southwest, the boundaries of the Tyrrhenian Sea have been redrawn so that it extends further west and touches the new French supply center, Algeria, in Africa. Again one of Italy's starting units, F Naples, is tempi closer to a French supply center. [See blue in Figure 3.]

Fig. 3

Sources of FI friction

The 1900 map highlighting the changes to the map from standard
Diplomacy that increase tension between France and Italy.

How do these two powers going about defusing these tensions inherent in the variant design?

  1. Perhaps the first test of F/I solidarity will be over which of the two powers gains control of Switzerland at game-start. Disagreement over this issue can cause a Franco-Italian agreement to fall apart before it even gets started. I agree with the comments in the Gamers' Guide to 1900, "In my mind, any French accommodation with Italy would have to involve the President's acceptance of the Pope's 'just claim' to Switzerland and even possible support into the neutral supply center". France has to be aware of the fact that it suffers from the perception that it is sitting on top of a gold mine of supply centers in Iberia and North Africa in the southwest portion of the map. Italian players will see Spain and Portugal as the natural French gains that they are in Diplomacy, forgetting or discounting the British fleet in Gibraltar that will contest France for those supply centers. They see Belgium and consider it in play for France, oblivious to the fact that it is now a safe German build. They spot the abundance in North Africa within striking distance of Army Algeria, but fail to see the power Britain can project into the region. Italy is therefore going to view Switzerland as part of its fair share of the first year conquests. Italy has fewer neutrals available in the first year to generate builds. The only other neutrals that Popes can reach in the first year are Tripolitania which can be contested by both Britain and France, and Greece, which can be contested by Turkey. Given these prevalent views of the map, France should renounce any claims to Switzerland, and hope to win goodwill from the Pope and start a strong partnership. France may even be asked to use its starting Army in Marseilles to support the Italians into Switzerland if the Germans are expected to make a play for that neutral as well. Germany opens to Switzerland 41.5% of the time in Spring '00. This is by far the most popular opening for A Munich. In return, Italy must be prepared to use its army in Switzerland to support French attacks on German positions in the center of the map. Imagine the Italian army in Switzerland as a hinge, on which the French armies pivot clockwise in to Alsace and Munich. As the game progresses and Italy makes further gains in the southern portions of the map, Switzerland falls into the liminal category and can be negotiated for final ownership. Keep in mind, however, that Switzerland is a center of action and will remain so for some time, so Italy may not be free to move its army in Switzerland anywhere else for a few seasons so as to return that supply center to the liminal category.

  2. The elimination of Tuscany means that Italy's home supply center Rome and France's home supply center Marseilles are separated by only a single buffer province of Piedmont. In games o standard Diplomacy, France and Italy often consider a demilitarization of Piedmont. The map changes in 1900 makes this demilitarized zone in Piedmont a paramount concern for both parties from the game start. Generally, an F/I alliance will have to be very conscious of demilitarized zones and both negotiate them carefully and adhere to them scrupulously. It is important to provide mutual security without unduly compromising the offensive potential discussed elsewhere. Piedmont is an example of one such crucial demilitarized zone. It gives a level of protection to both Rome and Marseilles, but does not hamper offensive operations north and east across the landmass of Europe from the Latin Peninsula.

  3. The extension of the Tyrrhenian Sea so that it is contiguous with a starting French supply center, Algeria, may be less a concern than it first appears. To open the game, it should not be difficult for the Italian player to decide to open his fleet in Naples to the Ionian Sea. This opening move is not only preeminent in practice, being used over 95% of the time, but it is solid in underlying theory, as it allows the Italian fleet to play for either Greece or Tripolitania in the Fall 1900 season. As the game progresses, Algeria loses its importance to its initial owner, France. It is not a home supply center and no French units can be built there. The President is less encumbered to trade way this province as part of a larger settlement. That is why I earlier included Algeria as one of those liminal supply centers that can be used to balance growth between the two powers.

There are additional sources of friction between these two powers to address. One example is the Suez Canal Rule. The Suez Canal Rule allows for fleet movement between Egypt and Hejaz and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, replicating the strategic impact of the Suez Canal and the circumnavigation of Africa. This means that Egypt is actually within France's reach when it has a fleet stationed in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, and an Italian fleet in Egypt or Hejaz could slip into the French soft spot of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. One solution to this conundrum is for Italy to commit to using only armies to occupy Egypt and Hejaz en route to turning the southern and eastern flanks of the map. The French do not have to fear an Italian fleet stabbing into their soft spot, the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. In return, the French can promise to not station a fleet in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean permanently and use the English Channel for the northern development of new fleets built at Brest as soon as practicable.

One other issue to be addressed by the President and the Pope is the disposition of Tripolitania. I have already written at length of the impacts of Tripolitania on the diplomatic dynamics in 1900 in the Spring 2007 Retreat issue of The Diplomatic Pouch 'Zine, Tripolitania in 1900: The Keystone to North Africa. This neutral supply center has high percentage of initial Italian ownership, over 50% in the games of this variant finished to date. In contrast, France finishes a distant third in comparative initial ownership of Tripolitania. I believe that it may be in France's best interest to use Tripolitania primarily as another concession to the Italian player and not as an opportunity for first year expansion. One option is for France can move its Army Algeria to a province contiguous to Tripolitania in order to support an Italian unit in against possible British opposition. If that is the plan, the French player should always choose a move to Southern Algeria over a move to Tunisia. As Baron Powell pointed out in the Fall 2002 Retreat issue of The Diplomatic Pouch 'Zine 1900: France , the move to Southern Algeria is the better alternative because it still allows the French player the flexibility to influence events in neighboring Morocco, while the move to Tunisia does not. Italy has a couple of ways in which it can take Tripolitania. It can choose to act either with a fleet or with a convoyed army. I have maintained elsewhere that it is preferable for Italy to take Tripolitania with an army. The transient withdrawal of a unit from the Ionian Sea, even for one season, loses the Pope influence over Macedonia, Greece, the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, by convoying an army, Italy immediately has a second unit at the point of attack for an effective campaign eastward across the North Africa to turn the southern flank of the Turkish position.

Franco-Italian tensions can usually be kept low as long as parity between the two great powers is maintained. As in any dual alliance, if either France or Italy feels that only one of them is truly reaping the benefits of the alliance, the chances of the alliance breaking down are much higher. The good news here is that the arrangement of supply centers between France and Italy facilitates the goal of maintaining F/I parity. The liminal supply centers discussed earlier in the article - Morocco and Algeria along the North African littoral, and the landlocked supply centers Switzerland, Cologne, Munich, Warsaw, and Moscow - can easily be swapped back and forth as needed to keep France and Italy in relative size balance.

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The implications of F/I as a straight dual alliance, as opposed to it being two-thirds of a larger triple alliance, should be discussed in some detail. In 1900, the victory conditions are such that a dual alliance cannot achieve a 2-way draw by force alone. This situation was created deliberately by the variant designer in an attempt to encourage more solos.

Given the victory conditions, the President and Pope must consider their end-game options. These include relying on a concession by the surviving powers, looking for an acceptable partner or partners for inclusion in a larger draw, or competing with their dual alliance partner for the solo victory via stab or race. Relying on a concession by the other powers may be a long shot, but it does happen on occasion as some players are willing to acknowledge that they didn't "earn" a piece of the draw or they are anxious to move on to other, new contests.

More likely, however, F/I will either have to compete between themselves or find a third partner to resolve the game. Assuming France and Italy are committed to the end, the President and Pope could easily consider themselves as the “hard core" of any larger alliance that forms. If they cannot identify a worthy partner immediately, F/I still can be pursued. This is because the strengths of an F/I standing by itself is striking and, with that strength openly displayed, it is possible that a third party will come along on their own initiative to be included in a larger triple alliance as the game progresses.

I am a firm believer that any alliance can work if the players involved are creative and flexible enough to find solutions so that it can work. Still, it is obvious that some triple alliances are easier to start and to maintain than others. Examining the strengths and weaknesses of each of the other powers as a possible third partner for F/I yields the following:

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In summary, the Franco-Italian alliance can be a useful combination. Looking at prevailing convention wisdom among 1900 players, the F/I alliance is consistently underrated. The tactical possibilities and long-term strategic advantages are greater than most players seem to realize, in spite of any difficulties in initiating it. By itself, it is quite defensively powerful in the cozy corner position of Mackinder's Latin Peninsula and, if played smartly, can gain an upper hand in the game. In a well-coordinated triple alliance with another power, F/I may be hard to stop.

The author would like to thank Michael Bridges, Chris McInerney, Baron Powell, Charles Roburn and Greg Whitney for their suggestions and contributions.

Chris Dziedzic

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