by Alex Hartl

In most games Italy starts slow and never catches up to the other powers in the game. Many articles have been written on how Italy can keep up with her neighbors, and while the strategies contained therein do offer ways for Italy to prosper, the fact still remains that Italy rarely wins and even good players find it difficult for Italy to be even in a position to win. This article suggests that, rather than attempting to match the other powers on the board through accelerated conquests, Italy should try to hinder other powers as much as possible in an attempt to reduce their position to the same lowly status as Italy. In short, Italy should be a bad neighbor.

Conventional Diplomacy wisdom states that nations should avoid making enemies. Pursuing this wisdom, while sound for other countries, forfeits Italy’s one major advantage – Every other nation has bigger fish to fry than avenge itself upon a hostile Italy. Will an aggrieved France attack Italy before she has sorted out her situation with England and Germany? Will Austria or Turkey invade Italy if they haven’t settled affairs with each other and with Russia? The answer is probably not. Furthermore, the best way for Italy to avoid future trouble with her neighbors it to ensure that those neighbors do not have the strength to make trouble to begin with. If Italy manages to succeed in hobbling some of her neighbors, they will be a target to her other, more powerful, neighbors. Attacking Italy will probably be the last thing on their mind.

The most important neighbor that Italy should attempt to hinder is France. A strong France benefits Italy in no way. If Italy wishes to attack France she wants France as weak as possible. If Italy wishes to attack east, then the last thing Italy wants is a French fleet sliding into the Western Mediterranean and forcing Italy to turn around and defend Tunis and her homeland. In order to hinder France Italy must move Army Venice to Piedmont. Not doing so leaves France unmolested and more likely to obtain 2 or 3 builds in the first year. A unit in Piedmont has a small chance of gaining Marseilles for Italy, a somewhat larger chance of causing France to forfeit a build in Iberia in order to see to its defense and a good chance of preventing France from obtaining a third build at the end of the year.

The move to Piedmont is more effective when paired with an English opening to the channel. France will be annoyed with opposing units in either the channel or in Piedmont but will be alarmed with opposing units in both, and may unilaterally forego a build in order to defend home centers. Therefore convincing England to move to the channel is the most important Italian diplomatic goal of the first season. Fortunately there are strong arguments to be made for such a move and in past games I have had success in convincing England into the English Channel.

  • First, a move to the English Channel is a strong move anyway. Italy is not asking England to make any sacrifice with a channel opening.

  • Second, the move does not constitute an attack on France, does not promise future action and is often not even considered anti-French because England frequently uses the channel as leverage towards capturing Belgium. However, the move does represent a VIRTUAL attack on France. Even if England and Italy move no further against France, France may forgo capturing either Spain or Portugal in order to defend against the possibility of attack. It very rare in Diplomacy where players can damage other players without actually having to do anything hostile. Of course if England and Italy do wish to attack France they will be in a good position to do so.

  • Third, neither England or Italy wish to see France strong. Even if England wishes to ally with France, it is in her interest that France be the junior partner, because a strong France is the power that has the best chance of doing England in.

If the moves are successful, Italy will have reduced the number French builds and, hence, delayed French interference in her affairs by at least one year and may have gained Marseilles in the bargain if she is lucky. England will benefit similarly.

Moving against France does make Italy less capable of harming her eastern neighbors, Austria and Turkey. The inability to harm either Austria or Turkey in the first year is a minor problem because doing harm to one will probably result in the other nation becoming proportionately more powerful, which defeats the purpose of the BNP. Fortunately Austria and Turkey have no trouble harming each other without Italian help. The one thing the Italian player must not do is let Austria know that Italy is pushing the Army in Venice west. If Austria believes herself free from Italian interference she will stand a good chance of seizing Greece in 1901 which Italy would prefer to be neutral (although Austrian occupation of Greece is superior to a Turkish occupation).

Given the Italian move to Piedmont, Italy should move Army Rome to Venice because Austria sometimes moves Trieste to Venice. The move is not usually hostile but do not expect Austria to give Venice back should it succeed! The combination of moving Ven-Pie and Rom-Ven, is sufficiently passive to allow Austria to prevent rapid Turkish expansion yet allows Italy the ability to intervene against Austria in Fall 01 should Austria’s opening be too successful. The move also puts Italy in a position to achieve the trifecta of Marseilles, Trieste and Tunis. It probably won’t work, but as stated earlier, so what. The likelihood of meaningful retaliation is low given that in the early portion of the game given the other early game threats that Italy’s neighbors’ face. If however the move succeeds, Italy is in business.

Militarily, by pursuing the Bad Neighbor Policy (BNP) Italy can’t be much worse off at the end of 1901 than in a typical Diplomacy game. At worse she has 4 SC and has angered her neighbors which, as stated previously, really doesn’t put her in that bad of a situation. However by following the BNP there is a good chance that France will only have 4SC and that Austria and Turkey have only 4 as well. Furthermore there is a chance that Italy might have managed to grab Marseilles or Trieste as well. Yes, the odds of capturing either are small but the odds of Italy owning more than 4 SC at the end of 1901 are small no matter what the opening.

Diplomatically, the BNP will likely put Italy in a superior position at the end of 1901 than she otherwise would be. Nations do not often negotiate seriously with Italy for the simple reason that Italy has not much to offer. This will not be the case if the BNP has had even moderate success in 1901. Consider the middle case situation at the conclusion of 1901 where Italy has only 4SC, a unit in Piedmont and has succeeded in limiting France to 1 build. In a typical game, Germany, England and France may involve Italy in their negotiations but it is usually as a secondary consideration in their mutual intrigues. But with France with only 4 SC, an Italian army in Piedmont and the presumed willingness of the Italian player to use it, the stakes will be much higher and the negotiations more serious. France will be viewed by England and Germany as less of a partner and more of a target which makes Italian good will essential to all three of the western powers.

Any success in the west favors Italy in the east an Italy that does not need to worry about France is in a better position to deal with her eastern neighbors than one that does. Italy will be better able to mount a stronger attack or defense of Austria or have a more reasonable chance at mounting a sea assault on Turkey. This makes Italy a valuable partner for countries in the east especially if neither Austria or Turkey have emerged strong after 1901. Austria / Turkey may be more willing to seriously offer Italy possession of Greece (if only for the short term) in order to gain her favor which is a key position for Italy as puts her in an offensive rather than defensive position against either. Having a freer hand in the east also puts Italy at an advantage when dealing with Russia. Italian help can be an enormous asset or obstacle in Russia’s eastern strategy, and the more Italy can assist (or hinder) Russia the more likely Italy will be capable of steering Russia in the direction that best serves Italy’s interests.

A successful opening with the Bad Neighbor Policy will make Italy a player at the negotiation table. This is because Italy will be proportionately stronger by making her neighbors weaker. The combination of military balance and a demonstrated willingness to play aggressively will give Italy a more prominent role in the game. At the very least, pursuing the BNP will force the other powers to include Italy in their calculations, and opens up many possibilities in future turns that would not otherwise be present if Italy pursued a more conventional strategy.

I have personally used the BNP twice in high level games and have achieved an 8-center finish as part of a 4-way draw and a 9-center 2nd place finish (England won). For another country these results would not be worth writing an essay about, but for Italy it may be worthy of an opera. Aside from the objective result, pursuing the BNP was enjoyable because it made negotiating with Italy relevant in the outcome of both games, and there was far more interaction (and hence fun) than in other games where I drew Italy. While playing I was still hobbled by all of the geographic disadvantages inherent with playing Italy but I felt like I was playing France. At end of the day, most play Diplomacy for the enjoyment, and people should enjoy Diplomacy even if they are unfortunate enough to draw Italy. The Bad Neighbor Policy is not a magic bullet for Italy, but rather another option that an Italian player can use to mitigate Italy’s disadvantages.

Alex Hartl

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