The Caesar Opening

by Edi Birsan

In a recent Diplomacy Face to Face tournament, an upcoming young player did everything he could as Italy to convince my Austria that I should give him Trieste so that he could build two fleets to attack France. The classic flaw in the approach was that there was absolutely nothing in it for Austria and, in fact, it meant giving Italy Trieste would weaken Austria and exchange a potential Austrian army for an Italian fleet, with no other strategically or diplomatically useful compensation. Additionally, knowing that he had already agreed with the French to bounce, or make an attack that he knows he won't win, in Piedmont added an element of incredulousness to the plan. Diplomatically, there were no indications that Russia and Turkey would be fighting and, in fact, they had agreed to leave the Black Sea open without any talk of attacking the other. Nevertheless, youth sometimes persists in casting its own illusions around itself and its would-be targets.

Openings do not exist as a strict tactical exercise. They rest within a strategic plan and a diplomatic framework that must be aligned to make everything work. One of the basic problems with new players is that they ignore those dynamics when they decide on their opening moves and thus will take, for example, a Lepanto approach (going out to Tunis with an army and then heading for the Eastern Med trying to invade Turkey) when Austria is NOT on board and there are serious worries about time constraints and Russian intentions.

Inspired by these issues, and having just reviewed the history of the Roman expansion into and through Gaul by Caesar and other Romans, here is a full plan for a rather unusual and mutually dangerous opening for the Austrians and the Italians to accomplish Caesar's Western March. Oddly enough, or if this was not scary enough, this plan can work also in one of the most rare triple alliances on the board: Italy-Austria-Turkey (abbreviated I-A-T, more on that later).

Diplomatic background

To make this strategy successful it is absolutely critical that Italy and Austria trust each other enough that they are willing to try to pull this off. Two experts playing the alliance against a group of mixed veterans and average players is the best background for the play styles that will be needed. Lacking equal expert status then, the Austrian in particular needs to have the highest diplomatic skill for his anticipated dealings with Turkey and Russia.

The Italian-Austrian negotiations need to go along the lines of a focus on working together throughout the game with the goal being to support each other in the rough spots that the alliance may come up against. In the early period the discussions need to be clear on an appreciation for the mutual dangers involved in this so that each player can make a judgment of the other's veracity and intent in keeping to the master plan.

Further, the relations between the three western powers have to be brought up to a level of chaos. Minimally, Germany opening against France directly into Burgundy either as part of the Spring 01 attack or at the least as part of a Fall 01 follow through. England being in the Channel with hostile intent can also replace the German role in the west. The English player should be of the 'vulture' type or the game setting in a tournament should be one that encourages stabs for one center and the breakdown of any long term alliance approach. Both England and France going after France is ideal but an England that is involved in the North/Scandinavia can also be made to work out for the Italians.

In the east, Turkey needs to be engaged with the Russians. Going to Armenia and bouncing in the Black Sea may appear ideal, but as you want the Turks to build an army and go slow, then having them move from Smyrna to Constantinople is probably the real ideal. Slipping into the Black Sea with Russia moving to Rumania may be tempting if there is an I-A-T triple alliance, but a slow deliberate moving Turkey is much better for this plan than an explosive one from an Italian perspective.

The Italian Turkish negotiation has to be very clear on the issue of no fleet in the Med. It also has to be clear that each of them has to be in a counter alliance against the Austrians should they become too large or overly greedy. This will encourage the Turk to go along with the attack on the Russians and may lull them to sleep as the real threat grows from the Italian-Austrian alliance. However, just in case the Austrian does become uncooperative, this would at least lay the foundation for the Italians to make a diplomatic realignment with the Turks before it becomes a totally Austrian-controlled game.

Russia needs to be a reactive player in that he is willing to switch sides, and be encouraged or even directed to change his role in the balance of power as the game shifts from the opening plans. This will be critical to the Austrians if they plan to dominate the East as Italy goes to dominate the west. Furthermore the Russian needs to be convinced to avoid going to Galicia and that it is a De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) as this will allow the Austrians to shift to the south with their armies in the Fall. The Austrian-Italian negotiations with the Russians may include tipping him that the Turks are moving full on him. This may be best delivered by the Italian whose opening after all is to the West in the Spring and who can use the attack on Austria's Trieste in the Fall as a diplomatic wedge to see what he can get from the Turk later. Remember it is best not to lie, but it is better yet to plan how to deliver and who to deliver the truth.

The integration of the Austrian fleet in the western campaign and the Italian army in the northern or eastern campaign also opens up a lot of diplomatic options for causing chaos amongst the remaining players as time goes on and for causing the alliance to be considered as less dangerously linked than it is. Strategic Concept:

The idea is to destroy France in the West and get allied fleets into the Mid-Atlantic as soon as possible. Russia is to be weakened in the East by the Turkish attack, so that the Austrian has the option to put the game into the middle period, by turning on the Turks and bringing the Russian on board (after his southern fleet and Rumania have been lost), so that the Russians become the northern fleet builder and secondary alliance member (alias puppet).

This will tip the western front wars combined with the fleets breaking through the Mid-Atlantic. Russia could also provide the one or two critical armies in the center when the Austrians join in a mass attack on Germany from the east and the Italians move through France to the lowlands and then to England (just as Caesar did).

Strategically, the Turks can be brought in by the Italians as a triple alliance (an unknowing client state), being sold on the idea of building armies with the classic division of efforts of Fleet (Italy) versus Army (Turkey) powers, and that, in the middle game, the Austrians will be between them. This of course gives the Italians a flexible fallback plan if the relations with Austria are not as smooth as hoped. However, this is what the superior diplomatic skills of the Austrian player are relied on to prevent.


Overview: The Italians give up the idea of going to Tunis in order to get a fleet into the Gulf of Lyon in the Fall of 1901. This is why the Italians get Trieste. Also, in the Fall of 01, the Austrians move their fleet to the Ionian Sea and shift their armies to the south. The Austrian fleet then goes from there to Tunis to make up for the loss of Trieste and becomes the third alliance fleet able to force the Western Med in the Fall of 02, under most circumstances. Additionally as the alliance advances, the Austrian fleet becomes a vital support unit and an alliance insurer just as the Italian army in the East moves up along the German border to the Russian front doing more or less the same sort of thing.

Options: Italy must be in Piedmont in the Spring and has to decide how to play the Fall 01 response to the French opening, depending on what it is. With full hope of getting Trieste, Italy can (if the French are in both Spain and Burgundy) support Spain's move to Marseilles in the Fall of 01 for the hysterical pulled offsides trick to defeat a self-bounce.

If the German is in Burgundy in Spring 01, the Italians could support the Germans into Marseilles with the knowledge that he will be ejected by the Italians in the next move, or he could try for two builds and go for Marseilles himself. If Italy gets two builds then he builds Fleet Rome and Fleet Naples and plays Fleet Rome to Tuscany in the Spring of 1902.

The Details

Spring 1901
Austria: Fleet Trieste to Albania, Army Vienna to Trieste/Budapest, Army Budapest to Serbia
Italy: Fleet Naples to Tyrrhenian, Army Rome to Venice, Army Venice to Piedmont

Fall 01
Austria: Fleet Albania to Ionian, Army Trieste/Budapest-Serbia, Army Serbia to Greece
Italy: Fleet Tyrrhenian to Gulf of Lyon, Army Venice to Trieste, Army Piedmont (deals with Marseilles however)

Winter 01
Austria: Build Army Budapest
Italy: Build Fleet Naples

Spring 02
Austria: Armies Greece/Serbia/Budapest deal with the East, Fleet Ionian to Tunis
Italy: Fleet Naples to Tyrrhenian, Fleet Lyon/Army Piedmont deal with Marseilles

Fall 02
Austria: Fleet Tunis support Fleet Tyrrhenian to Western Med

The Dangers

There are mutual periods of danger here. At the first step, the Italians in Fall of 01 could go to Tunis and take Trieste, moving Piedmont to Tyrolia. However, this would be done at the expense of having to face the Austrians in the Ionian Sea with an army potentially in Greece that could be convoyed into Apulia and other places. Likewise, the Turk, who was on board at the start, has to be clued in that if the Italians double cross the Triple alliance then they have to build a fleet in Smyrna and move so that if the Austrians land an army in Apulia or are bounced out of the Ionian Sea they can follow up. There is also a danger that Turkey will go vulture on Austria rather than balance the power relations; this is another reason why Austria has to have a high diplomatic skill.

The second critical phase is the Spring of 02 when the Austrians can deliver a devastating stab on the Italians by convoying Army Greece to Naples and moving on Trieste, as the Italians move Army Trieste to Tyrolia. This has the potential to cripple the Italians, but again, the Turk can play the critical balance role, moving on Greece from Bulgaria and trying to cut a deal with the Russians for peace against an explosive Austrian set of gains. This is also where the fact of a 'reliant' Austrian player is critical to the survival of Italy.

The third period of danger is when Austria must decide either to make this a real Triple alliance with Turkey, swinging north and around to Germany (which might work best in a tournament game that ends in 1907-09), or as the likely preferred plan, to attack Turkey while Russia is still around and will become the secondary ally of the Austrians. Good or bad timing by the Austrians and Italy will drive the outcome of this strategy.

The fourth period of danger is the transition in the west. The Austrians need to avoid having their fleet stuck in a front line corner for too long, such as North Africa, and tempt the Italians to stab as the West collapses faster than the East. The Italians may be getting substantially more builds than the Austrian, in which case the Austrians have to retake Trieste to even things out; this returns the border to an occupied zone of tension.

Most critically for the Italians, they can never allow the Austrians to retrograde their fleet back to the Ionian Sea, as this sets up a potential to lose all of Italy in a single blow in the mid-game. Italy should try to contribute one fleet to the East, more for their own safety than for the speeding up of the elimination of Turkey.

Maybe because of the dangers and the unusual aspects of the opening and its restrictive diplomatic framework, Caesar's March may be as rare as the original brilliant campaign in Gaul, but there you have it, one more opening for the arsenal.

Edi Birsan
([email protected])

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