Basics of Austria: Dodging Bullets in 1901

It’s been a while since I’ve done a review post, and I’ve been meaning to do one of FloridaMan’s YouTube videos for a while now. So here is his take on Austrian opening moves.

Austria-Hungary is notoriously difficult to play. I know a lot of people like playing Austria, either because of the challenge or because they’re nuttier than a bag of monkey nuts in a crate of monkey nuts.

FloridaMan makes this point (not the being nutty one) early in his video. He says it’s the most likely of the powers to lose in the Early Game. This seems to be pretty accurate to me. Austria is surrounded by Italy, Germany, Russia and, with a bit of geographical licence, Turkey. I know, I know, Turkey doesn’t border Austria but they’re going to be neighbours in Fall 1901, with Turkey moving A Con-Bul in S01 and Austria either A Bud-Ser or A Bud-Rum.

He does go on to say that it is one of only two powers that can be attacked in Spring 1901. I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘attacked’ but this might be a little misleading.

Any power can be attacked in Spring 1901 if you take the broadest view that any power can see aggressive moves made against them. Should Turkey order A Smy-Arm, for instance, I think Russia could pretty legitimately see that as an attack.

That’s perhaps a little too broad, though. However, given that Germany could order A Mun-Bur, and that Burgundy is in France, I think that would constitute an attack. Similar to this are the French order of A Mar-Pie (attacking Italy), Italy ordering A Ven-Tyl (attacking Austria), and Russia ordering A War-Gal (in Austria) or A War-Pru/Sil in Germany.

What FloridaMan means is that Austria is one of the two powers that can see one of their home SCs invaded in 1901, the other being Italy. This is due to the infamous Venice/Trieste border, as these are home SCs for Austria-Hungary and Italy respectively. No other power can be subjected to potentially having a home SC invaded in S01.

So, well, I take the point. And even if you accept A Mun-Bur by Germany is an attack on France, or A War-Pru/Sil is an attack on Germany, that still means that only four powers can face a homeland invasion in S01, so it’s a bit of a mute point.

FloridaMan states that Austria’s first problem – I’d say only problem – at the start of the game is that one or more of their neighbours will attack them. FlordiaMan says you need to have a friendly or neutral relationship with one or more of these neighbours, which I think understates things a little.

For me, Austria needs to have a friendly or neutral relationship with 3 of their neighbours. You can survive an aggressive opening from one of these if the others are aimed elsewhere. Even Italy, with what would otherwise be a devastating move of A Ven-Tri succeeding, meaning that you’re likely to lose one SC to them at best, Austria can survive if Russia, Turkey and Germany aren’t interested in attacking you.

Whatever happens, FloridaMan has highlighted, very early on in his video, the two major objectives of Austrian play at the start of the game: survival and survival. Survival by putting a lot of effort into your diplomacy with your neighbours, and survival by defending (dodging bullets) while also looking to grow.

For Austria, having a neighbour act with aggressive passivity can be the key. Germany is the perfect example of this.

By “aggressive passivity” I mean warning the other’s neighbours that, if they attack the other power, you’ll take steps to help your partner out. Usually, with regard to this, it is Germany that warns Russia about attacking Austria. This is often along the lines of: “If you move to Galicia, I’ll prevent you taking Sweden.”

It could also be Austria warning Russia about moving to Prussia or Silesia and that, if you think that is happening, you’ll move to Galicia. That doesn’t work quite as well for Austria, on the face of it, as it perhaps encourages Russia to order A War-Gal! What else is that army going to do?

I have to say that, when playing Germany I rarely make such a provocative suggestion to Russia, and when playing Russia I think I’ve only received it once (so I launched an eastern strike against Germany). It may be that this is something that was popular in the past but that this has waned slightly in the modern game.

FloridaMan points out, though, that German non-aggression isn’t something to count on. He says that the common “meta in many Diplomacy communities is for people to dog pile on Austria.” It is, although Germany participating in this is rare. Germany has their focus on Scandinavia and the Low Countries rather than Tyrolia or Bohemia. It’s even more profitable for Germany to attack Russia than Austria.

Still, FloridaMan’s point is a good one. Don’t rely on German neutrality – make it part of your diplomatic efforts. If nothing else, it gives you a specific topic of conversation with Germany in the Early Game and that is half the battle of establishing communication: finding something specific to talk about.

The fact that a lot of players will see attacking Austria as a positive thing if they draw Italy, Russia or Turkey means that some players may already have decided on a plan of action before even talking to you. This makes getting enough powers to be at least neutral towards you is a problem. The only answer to this is diplomacy, even if that doesn’t result in an alliance or stated neutrality from your neighbours.

FloridaMan points out, again correctly in my opinion, that it is only when you’re communicating with players that you can at least get a feel for what they’re going to do. If someone is ambiguous or vague on the areas that concern Austria, then you need to make sure you’re anticipating an attack. FloridaMan’s example is if Russia doesn’t commit not to order the A War-Gal. If Russia is vague about this, then protect Galicia.

FloridaMan states that many people find it more difficult to tell an out-and-out lie than they do to be ambiguous about their intentions. For myself, I’m not so sure; I think it’s about avoiding lying either because lying is a bad thing in Diplomacy (don’t set yourself up as a confirmed liar), or that being vague about your choices is more effective as it allows you to point out that you didn’t actually say you wouldn’t do what you did.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that, if you’re unsure of what someone is going to do, based on what they’ve told you, then – as Austria, certainly – it’s better to prevent an attack than to risk not being attacked.

This is difficult to do if you’re unsure about Russian and Italian intentions, though, which is something that FloridaMan doesn’t really cover. If you think Russia may order A War-Gal, and you’re wary of Italy moving their Venetian army to either Tyrolia or Trieste, then you have a difficult choice: Do you defend against both, which might mean you struggle to get a good start, or do you risk an attack from one of them?

OK. Let’s look at how Austria-Hungary should deal with their neighbours, according to FloridaMan.

Germany

Be the best friend Germany could hope for.

FloridaMan says there’s little incentive for Germany to be aggressively passive towards Russia. He mentions two options: Germany threatening to stop Russia taking Sweden or moving an army to Prussia and Silesia (where it borders Warsaw).

Well, I don’t agree completely. The latter, physically threatening Warsaw, is the less likely of the two. Unless Germany is in a Western Triple alliance with France and England, then threatening Warsaw is simply opening their western borders to attack. And, frankly, if Germany is risking survival enough to go with a WT, then why not go all-out with a full-on attack on Russia?

Threatening Sweden, though, is easy enough. F Kie-Den in S01 gives Germany the final say on whether Russia can take Sweden in F01 and, what’s more, it’s a pretty common move. There is some evidence that the popularity of blocking Russia getting Sweden is fading a little, but it’s still very definitely a regular thing to see F Kie-Den.

What FloridaMan says, though, is that Austria should be offering eternal friendship (to which Germany should simply think: ‘pfft, yeh, OK;’ and offering to help Germany in the later stages of the game, and the earlier the better. And this is very solid advice. It doesn’t cost Austria anything, after all.

Italy

FloridaMan says that dealing with Italy is the “trickiest challenge” facing Austria in 1901. I’m not sure I totally agree. I think dealing with Russia and Turkey is just as tricky. What I would say is that, because Italy is a very clear and obvious threat, it is perhaps the first principle of Austrian diplomacy to gain Italian friendship or neutrality.

FloridaMan says there are two ways to deal with Italy: get them onside or take measures to prevent Italy attacking you. Ignore the threat, he says, and Italy could easily gain control of one or two Austrian SCs by the end of 1901… and have them permanently.

He’s possibly right, although I think Russia is just as big a threat, and just as capable of crippling Austria, as Italy. For me, if Russia gets into Galicia, Austria could well be just as doomed as if Italy were to hold Trieste and/or take Vienna by Winter 01. Why? Well, Russia could get into either Vienna or Budapest from Galicia, of course, but – more importantly – having a Russian army in Galicia means Austria has to defend VIenna or Budapest and it invites Italy to grab a good opportunity by allying with Russia against you.

If you feel you can trust Italy, FloridaMan says, an effective opening is the Key Lepanto with Italy. This is where Italy orders A Ven-Tri, apparently stabbing Austria, but then orders A Tri-Ser in F01, putting the Austro-Italian alliance on the front foot against Turkey.

The problem is that the Key Lepanto can very easily become the Stab Lepanto, when Italy stays in Trieste or, indeed, decides to order A Tri-Vie/Bud and (if they also ordered A Rom-Ven in S01) A Ven-Tri. If something like this happens, Austria is very often stuffed. So you need to only do this if you truly believe Italy is your friend. For me, if Italy offers the Key Lepanto as part of an Adriatic Alliance with you, back away from it. Slowly… or in a zig-zag pattern.

Russia

Is Russia moving to Galicia? There are three possible answers:

  • Russia says they’re moving A War-Gal. It’s nice if they say this – at least you know what’s coming! You may even agree to let the move happen, although, well, you know Vienna and Budapest are right next door, right? A Vie-Gal is still a good move as part of an agreed bounce.
  • Russia says they’re not moving to Galicia. Again, nice if they’re telling you this in a believable way and them moving as they’re promising seems to make sense in the wider context.
  • Russia is vague about what A(War) is doing. Not good. Seriously. If Russia won’t commit to either of the two above, then you should assume A Vie-Gal is going to be needed.

FloridaMan doesn’t say this (as I said above, he’s more worried about the threat from Italy) but I believe Russia is the bigger threat. Whether Russia allies with Italy or Turkey, the chances are that Austrian SCs are the easiest option for Russian growth in the south. Mathematically (for what it’s worth) that’s a 2/3 probability that Russia will ally against you.

Later in the video, FloridaMan points out that the most common opening for Austria is the Balkan Defence Opening: F Tri-Alb, A Bud-Ser, A Vie-Gal (what the Library of Diplomacy Openings calls the “Balkan Gambit, Galician Variation”). Why? Because Austria has a good chance of gaining Serbia and Greece and A Vie-Gal defends Galicia from Russia.

Common openings are not necessarily the best options for any power, and Austria-Hungary has as wide a set of opening options as any power, right up there with France, Germany and Russia. However, this opening is defensive and progressive in one, which makes it a fair option. If Italy decides to open with A Ven-Tri (and especially if they also order A Rom-Ven) you could be in trouble, of course, which just goes to show that the only ‘good’ opening is one which fits the circumstances!

Turkey

Turkey isn’t the immediate threat Russia and Italy are, so Austria-Hungary should probably approach things differently with them. As FloridaMan says, Turkey doesn’t have to be openly hostile to anyone in 1901, so it can be difficult to get a good read on what they intend in S01.

It also means that Austria should perhaps be a little firmer with what you want Turkey to do. FloridaMan says he always tries to get Turkey to move aggressively towards Russia, such as ordering A Smy-Arm in S01. If Turkey’s prepared to do this, then the chances are they’re going to be friendly.

Perhaps. A sneaky Turkey would agree to this and still attack Austria by occupying the Black Sea (S01 F Ank-BLA) and convoying the army in Armenia to the Balkans. This requires Russia to go along with this set of openly anti-Russian moves, though and, well, if Russia is prepared to go with that, they’re nuttier than a bag of monkey nuts in a crate of monkey nuts stored in the Monkey Nuts warehouse.

FloridaMan says he will usually try to “sweeten the pot” for Turkey by offering to support them into Rumania, help them get Sevastopol or give them Greece if they will move A Smy-Arm in S01. This makes sense, although it should really be supporting them into Rumania or helping them take Sevastopol. If Turkey wants Greece, this suggests that they want to move against Italy, it means they’re willing to prevent Austrian growth as the price for aggression against Russia. And, well, if they want to attack Italy, how useful are they going to be as an ally against Russia?

FloridaMan seems to contradict himself when he’s talking about Turkey, though. He’s said that Turkey doesn’t need to be aggressive towards any power in S01, and they don’t. But he goes on to say that, if Turkey won’t order A Smy-Arm, they’re not to be trusted.

His basis for the latter statement is sound. Either Turkey is more interested in a Russo-Turkish alliance (the fearsome Juggernaut) or they are playing the waiting game, looking to see which power emerges as the potential winner in an Austro-Russian conflict and then joining that side.

However, if Turkey won’t do as Austria ideally wants them to do, then he says this is a problem. You need one or two from Turkey, Russia or Italy, he says, to be on your side if you’re going to succeed. Again, fair enough.

What he discounts completely, though, is that Turkey doesn’t need to be openly aggressive towards anyone in 1901 and, if they don’t need to do that, why would they do that?

FloridaMan’s take is that Turkey should make this move to show that they mean what they say to you, that they are prepared to ally with you against Russia. From the POV of Austria-Hungary, fair enough; it ignores Turkey’s point of view, though, and if you’re not prepared to consider another player’s POV in Diplomacy then you’re not going to do spectacularly well in the game.

Still, FloridaMan is portraying Austria’s take on openings, here, so I guess his reading of this, while playing Austria, is – again – fair enough. For me, though, if Turkey won’t commit to this move, whether they assert their friendship towards you or not, this should be taken in the context of what they actually do. It will tell you a lot about how Turkey is playing the game, and that in itself is incredibly useful.

Moves

When FloridaMan goes on to look at what Austria-Hungary will typically do, he states that the Balkan Defence Opening (mentioned above) is a strong opening. If you bounce Russia from Galicia, job done. And, if you get into Galicia, then you have a bargaining chip with Russia. If this can be used as a way to get Russia onside against Turkey, all the better.

Ideally, it seems that FloridaMan wants a Russo-Turkish war, and this makes a lot of sense. Certainly, anything that stops a Juggernaut rolling through Austria, the obvious first casualty of this alliance, is positive. And it gives Austria a side to join against the other.

Again, for the reasons stated, this makes complete sense. For me, the better of these two options is the Peppermint (Austro-Russian) alliance as this allows Austria to take the majority of the Balkans (while Russia takes most of Turkey) and will mean Russia has to betray the alliance if they are to progress in the south.

The Austurk (Austro-Turkish) alliance is much less defined. Southern Russia (Sevastopol, Warsaw and Moscow) becomes Austrian and Turkish. But where does Turkey go then? Do they work with you against Italy? Probably. But then? Well, it’s usually easier for Turkey to attack Austria than the other way around.

Despite him saying that Italy is the more tricky power for Austria-Hungary to deal with, FloridaMan says he usually assumes he will need to defend Galicia rather than Trieste/Tyrolia if there’s nothing clear about what 1901 will bring. For me, this should be the provisional attitude anyway, so I completely agree with this.

FloridaMan has a number of videos on Diplomacy “Basics” and they’re well worth the watch. Give them a looksee.

Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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