Encircled – the Austria-Hungary Story

Italy or Austria-Hungary?  Which would you rather avoid the most?

There are some scoring systems which modify points earned in a game (I say ‘earned’ rather than ‘won’ because, for some bizarre reason, many scoring systems award points for other outcomes rather than a win or a draw) by weighting scores based on which powers you played.  Some powers get a weighting of less than one, Italy and Austria get a weighting of more than one.

This is simply because Italy and Austria tend to win fewer games than other powers.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Geography is one of them.



Austria-Hungary is encircled.  To her north, there’s Germany; to the north-east, Russia; to the west, Italy; to the south-east, Turkey.  It is only to the south that Austria has some breathing room, with the Balkan neutrals waiting.  However, there is something false about even this.  While Austria can capture Albania and Serbia with impunity, Turkey will sit in Bulgaria, Russia can gain Rumania and Greece is a difficult take for anyone.

The reality is that Austria needs a strong diplomat in control… and needs to take chances.  Without this, it is far too easy to wrap her up and deal with her at the other players’ pleasure.


Despite the fact that the Habsburg (or Hapsburg) Empire, the political entity that became the Dual Monarchy or Austria-Hungary in Diplomacy, was one of the longest lasting empires in Europe, Austria (to apply the common name used in Diplomacy) never established a military dominance over Europe.

This doesn’t bode well for the player unlucky enough to draw Austria in Dip.  If the geography wasn’t bad enough, the history is worse… isn’t it?

Well, perhaps not.  The lack of military dominance is less important, as far as Austria is concerned, than the political dominance the Habsburgs established.  There were times when the Habsburgs were clearly the dominant force across Europe and further.

Historically, the Habsburgs were at their strongest when the house ruled Spain.  Between the Austrian dominions and the Spanish Empire, Europe was dominated by the Habsburgs.  In the post-Napoleonic era, the Habsburg Empire (now ruled by the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, as the pure line had died out in 1780) controlled Albania, Serbia and most of Rumania, as well as Italy.  In the latter, the control was political rather than military in the south but the control was real, nonetheless.

And, right up until the emergence of Prussia under Bismarck, the Austrians were the power in Germany.


Throughout history the biggest challenge to the Habsburgs came from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey in Dip).  There were times when the Islamic power was literally knocking on the gates of Vienna.  This should tell you something.

The problem Austria has is that she needs to isolate her enemies.  When Turkey was weakest, Austria was strongest.  Turkey has a historic and natural enemy in Russia; in Dip, Austria needs to foster that enmity… not least because a Russo-Turkish alliance will crush her.

The Juggernaut is so-called because it can roll over the Dip board.  The first target is Austria.  The nearest and easiest SCs are there, once the Balkans have been won.  In terms of self-preservation, Austria can never allow a Juggernaut to form.

Then there is the Russo-Italian alliance, the Wintergreen.  While Russia/Turkey sweeps in from the east, Russia/Italy sandwiches Austria, north-east and south-west.  Should Galicia and Tyrolia be invaded at the same time, Austria has immense problems.

This indicates Russia is Austria’s main threat, and she may be.  But Russia should be easily dealt with.  She is spread thinly with a huge frontier and concerns both in the north and the south.  Black Sea, Armenia, Galicia, Rumania, Silesia, Prussia – all can be occupied by other powers in Spring 1901.  That doesn’t include Norway and the Barents Sea, which can be occupied by England in Fall 1901.

On the other hand, for Austria to muster this kind of assault on Russia, she needs the active involvement of three other powers – Turkey, Germany and England – and the passivity of Italy.  Hard?  Oh, yes.

The truth is that Turkey is also a major problem.  While the Turkey of Diplomacy is at the least powerful that she ever was in Europe up until that point in the history, the fact remains that when Turkey (or the Ottoman Empire) is strong, Austria is weak.

So, Austria needs to maintain weak neighbours to her east.  Both Russia and Turkey need to be stymied.  And yet, the biggest imminent threat is neither of these: it is Italy.

There is a unique situation between Austria and Italy: the Trieste/Venice border.  Nowhere else on the board do two home SCs directly border each other.  Should Italy’s army abandon Venice, Austria’s fleet can move in; should Austria’s fleet abandon Trieste, Italy’s army can occupy the space.

Hence, the Lepanto.  This is often thought of as an alliance but it isn’t one.  The Lepanto is an opening, one in which Austria and Italy ally, yes, but where they move in conjunction to attack, principally, Turkey.  There are also variations – the Blue Water Lepanto, the Key Lepanto and, most unfortunately for Austria, the Stab Lepanto.  This indicates that the Austro-Italian alliance – the Adriatic Alliance – is a key player in the game, whether to Austria’s good or otherwise.

There is a lot written about playing Austria simply because there is such a challenge to playing her well.  There are a lot of different opinions.  So let’s start with the common point: Austria can’t be played defensively.  But, how do you play her offensively? 

The answer is to survive before anything else.  If Austria is faced with any anti-Austrian alliance, she is doomed.  It doesn’t matter which alliance it is, as long as it includes two of her neighbours, she has problems.  She therefore needs to ensure that her neighbours are divided.


Let’s start with the easy option.  Germany and Austria need each other.  Germany’s interests are in the north, whether the pure NWT zone, Scandinavia or Prussia/Silesia.  Austria’s interests are in the south.  There is no need to move against each other.

Yet, if both are to move freely, they need to know that the other isn’t going to do something unnecessary.  So Austria and Germany usually build at least a NAP (non-aggression pact).  However, Austria would like more.

Germany is in a great position for Austria.  Austria has a number of weak points and I’ve mentioned them above: Venice/Trieste, Galicia – but also Tyrolia and (to a more unusual extent) Bohemia.  In Galicia, the threat is Russian.  Germany can threaten to keep Russia from Sweden if she occupies Galicia in S01.

This used to be a common occurrence.  While it is perhaps less of a threat, as Germany more often moves to Denmark in S01 and Den-Swe in F01, regardless, it can still be a tool for Austria.


The Trieste/Venice border is a major problem for both Austria and Italy.  The Lepanto – or some variation of it – may be part of the solution, which is the Adriatic Alliance.  This is a simple solution but one which fails so often because of the amount of trust it involves.

The best way forward for Austria is an Adriatic Alliance with Italy without any complicated Lepantoesque arrangements.  The point is, Italy and Austria perform worst of all the powers – why not leave each other alone at the start?

You won’t always come across an Italy that is sensible enough to try to find common ground with Austria at the start of the game, but if you do, grab the chance.  You’re already exerting diplomatic control over Italy!


Galicia is Austria and Russia’s Burgundy.  Austria can force her way in, should she want to, in the same way France can force her way into Burgundy; if left undefended, Russia can occupy it and threaten two Austrian SCs just as if Germany’s A(Mun) moved to Burgundy.

The difference is that if Germany moves into Burgundy, there is little doubt that Germany is aggressive towards France, whereas if Russia moves to Galicia she could be seeking to occupy Rumania; it could be that she needs three units bordering Rumania to take it (or feels she does – perception is reality).

Still, what Austria would be happy with a Russian army sitting in Galicia in F01?  Only an Austria with a cast iron Potemkin Alliance (A/R).

The question is, can Austria count on the solidity of a Potemkin Alliance?  Well, perhaps she has to.

Austria can’t afford an enemy in Russia… unless she is confident in Russia being isolated.  If she can count on Turkish aggression towards Russia and Italian passivity, then Russia can be left to stew.

Still, Galicia is a major problem for both Austria and Russia.  Should Russia gain Galicia, Austria has to defend both Vienna and Budapest for, if either falls, Russia is in the heart of Austria-Hungary.  If Austria occupies Galicia, she can strike against Warsaw, threatening only Moscow further.

A Russian army in Galicia is more useful, in many circumstances, than an Austrian army in Galicia.  While a DMZ (demilitarised zone) is preferable, perhaps a bounce in Galicia is the only way for Austria.  And yet, such a thing would indicate a lack of trust between A/R that others can build upon.

Isolate Russia.


There are the Balkans between Austria-Hungary and Turkey.  Austria should have Serbia, Turkey should have Bulgaria in 1902.  Suddenly, Austria and Turkey are bordering each other.

Turkey needs to be weakened and isolated.  An Austrian (preferably) or Italian presence in Greece in 1902 would give Turkey pause for thought.  While an Unholy Alliance (I/T) would be catastrophic for Austria, it is unlikely to last; unfortunately, it is likely to last until Austria is defeated.  Only then will there be no further requirement for the two to be allied.

Turkey really oughtn’t to be happy in a Juggernaut; it is most likely to result in a stronger position for Russia than for Turkey.  On the other hand, Turkey is unlikely to lose the game if such an alliance is formed provided she manages it well.

Still, Austria doesn’t want a strong Turkey.  A strong Turkey means a weak Austria.  So, again, Turkey needs to be isolated.  Get Turkey and Russia fighting and Austria can prosper.

Austrian Expansion

It is surprisingly difficult to find 18 SCs Austria needs to win.  If she gains control over the areas of Europe she historically held, she doesn’t win.  The Balkans (even including Bulgaria), all of Italy and all of Germany provide only 13 SCs.  If she has defeated Italy, it is likely that she has gained Tunis too, making 14.  She also needs Russian and Turkish SCs, especially if we take Kiel away as being less likely.

Can Austria control all of Turkey?  Well, if she can get Warsaw and Sevastopol, perhaps.  Then again, if she has those two, why not Moscow too?  That may mean Tunis isn’t as important as it might be…

The question is as much about whether Austria needs a maritime presence.  She does.  Assuming that she can – eventually – control Italy, she will need a Mediterranean presence to defend these SCs – from either France or Turkey.

I said right at the beginning that Austria needs to be played aggressively; that this aggression needs to be built on survival, and that she needs a strong diplomat.  The fact that she also has to search for 18 SCs means that she needs to be flexible.  This doesn’t mean opportunism, in that she should jump at every chance, but that she should change her plans to take future opportunities into consideration and to create future opportunities.

Austria can win the game just as well as any other power.  She just needs to be handled with more care than is absolutely necessary for other powers.


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