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Book Review: “The Game of Diplomacy” by Richard Sharp – Chapter 9: Italy

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. 

Once Italy gets into a possible winning position, it is harder to stop than most. It's setting up the chances that's difficult.

Italy

In Chapter 9, Richard discusses his thoughts on playing the Great Power of Italy. Richard considers Italy to be at a disadvantage when compared to other powers. He offers statistics to back up this claim from several publications from his era. I am of the opinion this is directly related to the meta that Richard played in. In my experience with the Weasel meta and in recent face-to-face tournaments, Italy performs as well as its peers, particularly among top tier tournament players. I do agree that winning with Italy is not as straightforward as with some of the other powers. For more discussion about playing Italy check out the Wise Old Weasel

Italy is on record as having tried thirty-two different openings in British postal games. Considering Italy's highly inflexible opening position. this is remarkable; it is, however, a sign of despair rather than of genuine choice.

Openings

Richard starts his analysis on Italian openings with the most popular opening at the time: what he calls the Tyrolia Attack (now called the Bohemian Crusher). This is a strong example of Diplomacy’s “butterfly effect”. I suspect the opening’s popularity within his club was influenced by the popularity of Austria opening with Vienna to Trieste instead of Galicia (as is the norm in our club’s meta), which in turn was in response to the Italians of that era frequently dotting Austria for Trieste. This behavior made an early game Wintergreen alliance between Italy and Russia more attractive. In the Russia chapter, Richard writes that Russia won more games in his meta than any other power. I strongly believe the frequency of early game conflict between Austria and Italy contributed to this. In the words of club veteran Chris Kelly, my experience is that “Italy can take Austrian centers early on, but it can’t hold them.” 

I also enjoy reading articles so early in the hobby’s development because Richard can say things like “I  believe this is the opening I sneeringly characterized in an article as the Alpine Chicken, because it shows the desire to attack Austria unsupported by the  courage to go through with it.” I’ve known of the Alpine Chicken opening for the majority of my Diplomacy career and never realized Richard was teasing players for not being aggressive enough!

If Austria and Italy can find a way to neutralize the constant dangers of their common frontier - and it takes some doing - they can form a powerful team.

Friends and Enemies

With a few notable exceptions I tend to agree with much of what Richard writes regarding Italy’s relationships with the other Great Powers. The main differences of opinion are regarding Austria and Russia. The most interesting comment in this chapter to me is Richard’s statement that “Italy can expect to gain at least six centers from [the Italy / Russia alliance against Austria].” This has not at all been my experience and the only way I could possibly see this being true is if Russia opened to the North (which appears to be far more common in Richard’s meta than in our own). In my experience, Russia and Turkey usually get more of the Austrian centers if Italy attacks Austria out of the gate. At best, I can only see Italy getting four of the Austrian centers, and that’s assuming Russia refuses to work with Turkey. Richard makes the statement so strongly it makes me wonder what I am missing. 

 

Of all the countries on the Diplomacy board, Italy is the best suited to 'alliance play'.​

Summary

Richard ends his analysis of Italy by saying “I don’t enjoy ‘alliance play’ very much – any fool can keep an agreement, but it takes an artist to break one skillfully.” I find this statement particularly illuminating. I happen to love alliance play and Italy is among my favorite of the Great Powers to play. Club veteran Jake Trotta wrote that “I think the most reliable path to at-least-modest success as Italy is being a bit of a scavenger — holding back & taking time to see who’s fighting who, then jumping in at the right moment to pick off centers from whoever can least defend themselves.” I find great joy in this style of play. Make allies, work together, then stab whichever of them is weak or distracted. This is the Weasel way! 

Another positive for Italy within the Weasels club is that our scoring system heavily rewards board tops. Richard appears to have a “solo or bust” mentality. In our club a strong board top will result in high scores. This plays to Italy’s strengths. It is admittedly difficult to Solo with Italy, but once Italy picks up enough momentum. it’s a difficult power to stop. 

 

More from this series...

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Find out more about an upcoming event or article, talk smack before a game, brag about your board top, or most likely, ask what on earth your fellow Weasels were thinking!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Chris Kelly

    Your quote from Jake in the summary is actually by me. 🙂

  2. Mike Morrison

    I believe it was actually Chirs Kelly who once said, “Ah, but you sir are no Samuel Beckett! Good day!”

    To me! To me! I can’t imagine what he could have been referring to, actually.

  3. Cori Neslund

    Thank you for posting this! My Italy game is so weak, hopefully this will help! 😛

  4. Chris Kelly

    Great point about the “butterfly effect” – in Sharp’s universe of postal play, England has to attack France immediately to win, which leads to Russia going north more heavily, which leads to Italy gaining more from a Wintergreen alliance, etc. (With more current English players opening to the Channel these days, perhaps this is coming full circle!)

    I wonder if the current popularity of “Key Lepanto”-ish openings may lead to further refinements of Italian tactics in Spring 1901… if that army in Rome isn’t going to be convoyed to Tunis, why bother moving it to Apulia? But if it moves to Venice, how will Italy’s neighbors react to that (and, obviously, wherever A Venice goes)? Will that reaction distract from being able to pursue the Key Lepanto – or just help draw attention away from its development?

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