Situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Italy has the
fragility of Austria but without the potential for explosive growth.
Building momentum is a tricky exercise for Italy with diplomacy
being your keenest weapon.
Italy has fewer supply centers within its recognized sphere of influence than most powers. Like Turkey and England, Italy can only be sure of four centers.
A Rom - Apu
A Ven - Tyr
F Nap - Ion
The most discussed of Italy's openings, the Lepanto allows Italy to get into position against Turkey very quickly. The army in Tyrolia has leverage on Munich or can be used to assist Austria on the Russian front.
The Fall move would see Army Apulia convoy into Tunis, followed by a fleet build in Naples. The next spring would see F Ion - Emed, F Nap - Ion. Fall 02 would allow Italy to convoy A Tun - Syria.
A variation on this opening is to have Austria support a convoy into Greece in fall 01. This is a good move but doesn't allow Italy to project naval power as quickly.
A Rom - Apu
A Ven - Tri
F Nap - Ion
If relations with Austria are good, the move of A Venice - Trieste (and then to Serbia or Albania) provides the opportunity to get another army into the balkans very quickly. It is an unusual move but it may catch Turkey by surprise as he would not know Turkey was the target until fall.
Alternatively A Ven could borrow Trieste whilst F Ion moves to Emed or the Aegean.
A Rom - Tus
A Ven - Pie
F Nap - Tys
You would need good reason to attack France so early. Doing so will leave your back exposed to Turkey/Austria and will focus French efforts on the med when they would normally be elswhere.
A Rom - Ven
A Ven - Tyr
F Nap - Ion
A successful stab on Austria is nearly always fatal. The big question is who benefits from the demise of Austria. Russia and Turkey are well positioned to reap most of the rewards, so your diplomacy should be focused on extra committments from you ally (R or T). If you aren't allied with Russia or Turkey (allying with both is foolhardy as Italy will be Turkey's next target) then you must have Austria as a friend.
With 4 units, Italy can defend itself, and do nothing else. An
Italy stuck at 4 units may find itself hanging on until either
Turkey builds three fleets or a Western naval power enters the
Med. No fun.
With a second build Italy can safely take the offensive.
Austria & France
A lot of people say that Italy is foolish to attack France or Austria right off the bat, but just because it is foolish doesn't mean you shouldn't get something from Austria and France for not attacking them. As Italy can prosper if no one power or alliance gets big fast, what Italy needs early on is intelligence into the forming alliance structures. Italy should recognize its ability to act as a counterbalance without sacrificing its security. So, offer France a non-aggression pact when it most needs it, Spring 1901, but insist that France share what it knows about the forming alliance structures.
Russia is a common ally for Italy. Russia/Italy is a good counter to Austria/Turkey. As Italy and Russia don't come into contact in the intial years, the extent of your relationship with the Tsar can be hidden from Austria and Turkey. This allows Italy to ally with Austria and Russia to eliminate Turkey, and once Turkey is on the ropes, Russia and Italy can polish of Austria. (Nice game isn't it ;)
Allying with Turkey only makes sense if Turkey is willing to be a land based power (ie only one fleet). Any Turkish fleets are a threat to Italy. If the Sultan has naval power he can be expected to use it and Italy is invariably a target.
Russia and Turkey
The R/T alliance is probably the most dreaded in the game. Your first diplomatic goal is to prevent an R/T alliance forming. If Russia and Turkey do get together, Italy and Austria will need to work closely together to withstand the blast.
Italy can interfere against the Western powers by supporting or attacking Munich or by entering Piedmont. If RT look like they might steamroll Italy, Italy can threaten to help a Western alliance finish off France or Germany to counter the Juggernaut. Italy's nightmare is a France-German alliance, especially where Russia is busy in the south. A two-power alliance is unlikely to be sufficient to stop a France-Germany alliance, but an AIR or IRT alliance can kill Turkey, (or Austria) faster than they can kill England.
If the war in the East has gone well, Italy must consider getting
fleets into the atlantic before France can lock up the area. If
France holds the Mid-Atlantic, Italy can be locked in the med
Italy is one of the most defensible countries on the board. I have lost Naples and Rome to Turkey, but held on with Venice, Trieste, Marseilles and Spain, recovered both only to be attacked from the north to lose Venice and Trieste, but the attack bogged down both times because unlike most other powers, the loss of one home center doesn't necessarily compromise Italy's defenses.
Unlike the Witches, Italy is diplomaticly defensible as well. An FG or AR alliance can kill a witch, and nobody can do anything to stop it. Italy can always make sure that it is in _somebody's_ interest that Italy survive.