Diplomacy: the Greek opening for Italy

I’m playing Italy once more in a postal game with hellishly long deadlines. It’s 1901 spring now, and it’ll be a week before the year is out. I’m going to time-delay this post until later in case my fellow players read it and get any ideas about my play. Not saying that I’ll use this, but I might.

The actual topic here is to describe a pretty nice Italian opening strategy that I’ve tried out a few times over time. The basic concept is to take Greece and then proceed flexibly to gnaw both Austria and Turkey as the situation warrants, including an especially sweet double-stab against Turkey. I don’t know if it has an actual name out there somewhere, so I’ll just call it the “Greek opening” for reasons that’ll become obvious.

Italy in Greece

Italy has a dearth of feasible early targets on the Calhamer board; only Tunis is an obvious Italian gain during the first year. However, I myself greatly prefer the less certain early gain of Greece. Although Greece is just as far from the Italian Naples as Tunis, it’s also available to others – both Turkey and most especially Austria have some claim to this SC. A further problem is the fact that Italy can’t take both the certain Tunis and uncertain Greece during the same year, meaning that going for Greece early is an uncertain choice that might end up with you gaining no build at all.

I find that for me the benefits of taking Greece outweight the risks half of the time, mostly depending on the temperaments of my fellow players. Specifically, we have to remember the strategic constraints Italy operates under: Italy has to gain growth without causing the demise of Austria (and a power vacuum quickly filled by the eastern Powers, leading to a deadly Turkish offensive on Italy), she has to kill or stunt Turkey somehow (due to the fatal attraction the two have when it comes to fleet building) and she has to avoid getting into a protracted eastern war that motivates France to stab her in the back. One approach in doing all this is to get clever with armies in Central Europe, while the other is to take Greece and get into a position where you can effectively influence the events going on between Austria and Turkey.

Note that Tunis is always available for later, nobody else is going to pick it up.

How to get Greece

The key dictum I have for taking Greece is this: once you’ve moved the no-brainer Nap-Ion in spring, talk with your neighbours in Austria and Turkey; if they both want to support you into Greece, as sometimes happens, go for it. Even if one of them was bullshitting, the support from the other is enough to get you through. If only one of them promises you support, going for Greece immediately seems like too much of a risk; take Tunis and wait until next year.

The important practical point in the fall of -01 is that if Austria moved sanely, he’ll already have a fleet in Alb and an army in Ser, giving him a supported claim to Greece. The only reason for him not to take it in that situation is if he has something even better to do with the Serbian army, such as supporting A Gal into Rumania. You might consider developing a working relationship with Austria, such a good relationship that it allows you to take Greece with Austrian support even when Austria could claim it for himself. Also, it’s surprising how often Austria plays insane moves like Tri-Ven as opening; if that’s what you have (and you didn’t lose Venice), the Austrian might support you into Greece just to have your army in there ready to help against the Turk.

The key is, of course, to convince Austria and Turkey to support you into Greece. Assuming the Austrian is not entirely wedded to the idea of supporting himself in there, you have good chances: an Italo-Austrian alliance against Turkey is an accepted idea, at least around here, and it’s a fact that Austria can’t afford an Italian war (a sane Austria, at least). Meanwhile, Turkey could find a convincing Italy a better visitor in Greece than Austria would be; Italy would be a good ally next year. Specifically, you can promise the Austrian that you’ll attack Bulgaria from Greece in -02 as an Austrian ally, with the goal of overrunning the eastern Powers. With Turkey you can promise a support for Bul-Ser in -02, which is also entirely Macchiavellian and believable, at least if you’re the Turk and don’t understand that we want to keep Austria alive to prevent a Juggernaut.

After getting Greece

This is the beautiful part: once it’s -02 spring and you’re in Greece, you get to choose your allies. Both Turkey and Austria think that you’re an ally or hope that you’ll be an ally, and you haven’t made any promises that would’ve contradicted your actual moves, so your credibility is high on both parts. What’s more important, if you’ve worked together with Austria so far, you have a pretty good move for suckering Turkey and dealing a serious blow on your most deadly enemy, the Sultan.

The key is that nobody is in a war yet, but it’s pretty obvious that this is going to change right now. You offer the Turk a support into Serbia, while the Austrian offers him a support into Greece or Rumania. Both of these offers can be rationalized, and both of them are such that the Turk should at least pretend to accept the offer. I would obviously make the Bul-Ser support out of gratitude for Turkish support to Greece last turn, while the Austrian would support the Turk as an ally againts Russia or Italy. No reason for the Turk to refuse, right?

The problem from the Turkish viewpoint is that moving from Bulgaria means that he can’t support himself in place with the other army. Where is the Turkish fleet? If it’s in the Black Sea, odds are that the Turk will gladly take Austrian support in taking Rumania (figuring that the Austrian + his own fleet is enough to propel the army through to Rumania). If the fleet is not in the Black Sea, then it’s likely in Constantinople, meaning that it can’t support Bulgaria any better than an army could.

The Turk is faced with two excellent and credible offers of alliance, both of which allow him to take his second army out of Anatolia and into the Balkans. The savvy player will suspect these offers, but will he have the balls to turn down both and just sit in defense when he has no reason to suspect firm coordination between Austria and Italy, and when his own second army is still stuck useless in Constantinople?

Assuming you choose to go with it, you can move Gre-Bul while Austria moves his fleet to Greece and Turkey makes some failing move against whatever. The Turkish army gets destroyed in the spring, you get into position in Bulgaria, you have a firm relationship with Austria (or you stab him for Trieste, perhaps) and your two fleets are well on their way to the Turkish backwaters. In the fall the Austrian can move Gre-Aeg, while your Bulgarian army supports him to Rumania. The outcome is that at the beginning of -03 Austria and Italy control the entire Balkan area, with Italy in Greece and Bulgaria, Austria in Serbia and Rumania. An entirely reasonable and hopeful Turkish opening has turned into a nightmare defense.


The optimal final position of this opening involves utter destruction of Turkey and a victorious Italo-Austrian alliance with a dominant Italy landing a Lepanto attack in Turkey in -03. Of course this is a pipe dream at a table you don’t control completely, so luckily the Greek opening is pretty flexible: you’ll have an army hanging around in Italy that you can use for a surprise stab against Austria, for instance. Or you can land that army in Greece instead of Anatolia and use the weakened Turk as a puppet; once he loses that Bulgarian army in the -02 spring attack, he should by rights be scared as hell. A lot depends on what Russia does, while the rest is up to the Austrian’s attitude. The Italian ideal scenario has Russia attack Austria in -03, when Italy has a believable Lepanto going. This will keep the Austrian occupied and allow the Italian to build a lead by taking Tunis and some Turkish SC to complement Greece and Bulgaria; builds can then be used to strangle the Austrian, who presumably won’t be too belligerent about the Italian as long as the full force of the Russian empire is on him. The Russian might also want to get into the Turkish split, but he should be easy enough to redirect by telling him that he can take Austrian SCs such as Rumania, while Italy takes Anatolia entire. It’s not inconseivable for Italy to make Russia a partner of some sort after Turkey and Austria are history, even.

I don’t know if I’ll get to play this thing this time around, but if I can get both the Turk and the Austrian to OK my entrance to Greece in -01, I’ll definitely do it. I’ll know by the time this’ll be published, of course…


4 Responses to “Diplomacy: the Greek opening for Italy”

  1. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    As an after-action report, the game in question is now in the fall of -03. I did play the Greek opening, although it didn’t perform quite to spec; the opening is at its best if the Russian can keep up, and in this case that was not to be – he lost Warsaw in the first year, and the rest was just as bad for him.

    The game is chronicled at Story Games, in case the reader is interested. I’m doing moderately well despite the theoretical set-backs.

  2. Haipperi Says:

    Nice opening, and it gives a chance to deny Turkish first year build.

    Still, if playing Austria, I would always demand Italian fleet in Greece and order:

    F Alb S F Ion-Gre
    A Ser-Gre

    Supposing Turkey stays neutral or tries to move to Greece, Italy will only get Greece with fleet. Convoying attempt results bounce.

    Italian fleet in Greece can only act against Turkey, but army can do some serious damage to Austria.

    • Bill Vallortazzi Says:

      I love this opening, but as an Italian, I just can’t fathom this working if Austria-Hungary has the army in Serbia and the fleet in Albania. It is in Austria’s best interests to get two gains, so why risk getting none when it is so easy for Austria to get two? If i was playing Italy here, I would take my sure gain in Tunis instead.

  3. Michael Sullivan Says:

    I don’t agree with the characterization of “Tri-Ven” as insane. It’s a strong counter against the standard Italian attack on Austria of Ven-Tyr, Rom-Ven.

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