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Book Review: “The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp – Chapter 8: Austria

Book cover for Richard Sharp's The Game of Diplomacy showing the title and a portion of the Diplomacy board

“The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp has been one of the most influential strategy books I have read about the game of Diplomacy. Written in 1978, this book was one of the first of its kind and helped me develop a passion for the more academic/theoretical side of Diplomacy strategy. Much of this book’s content is based on the records and meta from the 1970s postal hobby and does not always translate to the modern game. However, it is still useful as a foundation for Diplomacy strategic theory. 

This is a series of posts designed to encourage conversation regarding the book, similar to a book club. To facilitate conversation, I have created a post per chapter to allow Weasels to read and discuss the chapter’s content. 

I enjoy playing Austria, more perhaps than any other country but Germany.

Austria

In Chapter 8, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of Austria. Like Richard, Austria is one of my favorite powers because you typically either do very well or are eliminated early. It’s also a power that thrives on negotiation which is the portion of the game that I enjoy most. For more discussion about playing Austria check out the Wise Old Weasel

The best Austrian opening, in my view, is the Southern Hedgehog, a modified version of the Hedgehog proper.

Openings

By the end of the 1970s, several named Diplomacy openings had already been popularized. The main family of openings Richard discusses are the “Balkan Gambit” and “Hedgehog” openings, both of which are still widely used today. 

It’s fascinating to me to read Richard’s thoughts on Austrian openings. It’s immediately apparent that Austrian openings in particular are heavily influenced by the local meta within the club you are playing in. From what I gather, it appears the Italian players in his club’s hobby tended to be a bit stabby in the early game, so the Austrian players tended to cover Trieste from the Italian instead of moving to Galicia. He even comments how the Galician move was becoming more popular, so it may very well be that this was the start of a shift in the overall meta for Austrian openings. In our club (and in my experience, within the current face-to-face tournament meta), we tend to view early conflict between Austria and Italy as poor for both powers in the long run and as a result, Austrian players tend to risk leaving Trieste open in 1901.   

Richard is responsible for naming the “Hedgehog” family of openings so it should come as no surprise that he prefers the Southern version of this opening. Again, I believe his preference for this opening was heavily influenced by a still developing meta that had not yet realized the downside of early A/I conflict. That being said, I agree with Richard there is some merit to this opening, particularly in Gunboat play, in an environment where you are unsure about the local meta, or if you suspect the Italian player will be making an early attack against you.

Your strategy should always be to embroil the two giants, Russia and Turkey, in early and lasting conflict.

Friends and Enemies

Richard helped popularize the Diplomatic theory of “Anschluss” which essentially encourages Austria and Germany to work together at the start of the game because their success tends to be strongly correlated. Statistically this has been true in every club that I have been a member of and is also true within Weasel club play. That being said, I am not as sure some of the specifics that Richard recommends are appropriate within the Weasel club meta. For example, Richard strongly advocates for Germany to order Munich to hold in S1901 in case Italy moves to Tyrolia. Richard believes that “Italy’s best chance is to attack Austria if he thinks he can get away with it” which is simply not in line with the Weasel meta. Because Italy is much less likely to move to Tyrolia against Austria in S1901, the hold in Munich isn’t as important to Austria in Weasel club play. That being said, I agree that Germany and Austria should work together in the early game and Italy needs to know that Germany will come to Austria’s aid if there is an early attack on Austria. The Central Triple is still an extremely strong alliance and in my opinion, doesn’t get enough love from the Weasels.

 From a high level I completely agree with Richard that Austria wants Russia or Turkey to fight each other. If Russia and Turkey ally in the early game, Austria must do everything it can to work with Italy to stop the Juggernaut and wait for opportunities in the midgame when Italy moves to stop France or Russia moves to stop England or Germany. In both cases, a frustrated junior partner between Turkey or Russia may be willing to work with you, particularly if Turkey feel stuck in a box. 

Never forget: if Italy thinks there is any chance of attacking you successfully, he will go for it.

Summary

The primary difference between Richard’s thoughts and my own experiences within the Weasel meta is around Italy.  Club veteran Chris Kelly wrote that “Italy can take Austrian centers early on, but it can’t hold them.” I don’t think the 1970s postal meta had come to this conclusion yet, so much of Richard’s advice regarding Italy seems almost paranoid when compared with how our club plays the game. With this exception, much of what Richard suggests regarding Austrian alliances is still true within the modern meta. 

 

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