Leader at 1901: Prime Minister Giuseppe Saracco (to February 15) and Prime Minister Giuseppe Zanardelli
Neighbors: France, Germany, Austria, and Turkey
Home supply centers: Rome, Venice, Naples
Italy is often considered as one of the weaker countries because it has minimal access to neutral supply centers; it can only reach Serbia, Greece, and Tunisia in the first year, it must choose between the latter two, and the first one is not only Austria's only guaranteed center but it also requires Austria to give that center up. Italy cannot get off to a rapid start without attacking its neighbors in 1901. Fortunately for Italy, it can often be the catalyst of a massive invasion of any one of those neighbors, and in the short term often profits from three such invasions (Germany being the only one in which Italy is likely to get the short end of the stick right off the bat.) Italy's second problem, though, is that in the long term it often gets picked off after catalyzing the invasions, because it never manages to consolidate its position diplomatically, tactically and strategically, and its former friends decide to continue expansion without it.
The primary challenge to Italian supremacy, then, is the difficulty involved in making allies for the long term; it takes a player of sound tactical skill, honed persuasive abilities, and keen strategic vision to excel as Italy, even moreso than the other powers. Most Diplomacy players fail to conduct the nuanced diplomacy needed to secure allies for the long term, or fail to see the strategic picture correctly, or otherwise flop in tactics during the opening round of invasions and fail to make any substantial progress in the first place, and so Italy has developed a reputation for weakness. For a player with all of the talents needed to excel, however, the Italian position is one of the best in the game: extremely easy to defend by land, available oceans for the kind of naval supremacy any winning power (not named Austria) must develop, home centers placed near several stalemate lines for quick reinforcement (on defense) or sudden breaches (on offense), and several small knots of easily-defended centers which can be seized in the initial strike and converted to a strong power base through the middle and end games (southern Balkans, Turkey, Iberia). The trick is to get the alliances needed to seize one or more of these knots in the beginning and then maintain the alliances needed to secure them until Italy is ready for a winning push.
Italy can open against any four of its neighbors, though which neighbors can be targeted first can also be narrowed down without much trouble. Germany is highly impractical as the only efficient means of accessing the country is through its home center in Munich; ignoring Munich, it takes the Italian armies two years to get in position to take Berlin, and Munich is nearly impossible to hold from the south, let alone converted to a strong base of operations. The remaining three neighbors are more reasonable options for the initial strike: Austria can be hit through the Tyrolean corridor or surprised with convoys into the southern Balkan region, Turkey can be hit with a Lepanto opening, and Italy can often profit from an Anglo-German-spearheaded assault on France.
18 Center GoalEdit
Italy has one of the most diverse sets of winning centers. The only truly sure things for Italy are that it will hold Venice, Rome, Naples, and Tunisia in any winning line. The most common winning set contains Italy, Austria, Tunisia, Iberia, Marseilles, Balkans, Turkey, and Sevastopol for a winning 18.
The realm of reasonable expansion for Italy likely extends to England in the north; most excursions to the British Isles occur as isolated lone-raider fleets swiping Liverpool coming out of the Middle Atlantic Ocean, though in a lasting alliance with Austria which sees Italy going France first, Italy could reasonably secure the whole island as part of a campaign through France and England into Germany or even Scandinavia. In the east, Italy can reach as deep into Russian lands as Warsaw and Moscow, though St. Petersburg is fairly unlikely (unless a raider fleet managed to sneak through into the Atlantic to Barents Sea). That one can even discuss the possibility of Italy capturing St. Petersburg by moving armies into Moscow and fleets into Barents Sea illustrates the point: Italy has a reasonable (though unlikely) shot at ANY center on the board, a feat shared by no other power sans Russia and perhaps Germany.
There are a few sets of 18 which make the most logical sense, however, depending on Italy's focus in the game. Western: Italy, Tunisia, England, France, Iberia, Lowlands, Munich, Norway, Denmark, Kiel Southern: Italy, Tunisia, Austria, Balkans, Turkey, Sevastopol, Marseilles, Iberia Eastern: Italy, Tunisia, Austria, Balkans, Turkey, Russia (or Russia-minus-St. Petersburg + Munich, Berlin, Marseilles, or Spain) Austrian: Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Iberia, France, England, Belgium, Trieste
Western series indicates an Italian in a game-long alliance with Austria wherein Italy starts by opening against France, and continues focusing on the west to achieve victory. Eastern series indicates an Italian in a game-long alliance with France wherein Italy focuses its entire efforts in the east, only grabbing a western center for #18. Southern series is probably the most common and indicates a balanced Italian approach, where the western trio of Marseilles+Iberia is most likely claimed during a middle game push before France can turn into the Mediterranean. The Austrian series indicates a near-game-long alliance with Austria which started with a Lepanto; Greece is probably taken by stab, Trieste definitely by stab, both coming near the end as Italy pushes for a solo after securing the limits of reasonable western expansion without Austrian help.
In short, Italy's 18 center goal is incredibly diverse and allows for quite a bit of flexibility in picking a target. This flexibility is a counterbalance to its lack of neutral centers, and must be exploited to the fullest if Italy has a serious hope of winning.
As mentioned before, Italy needs to focus on diplomacy above all other powers. The first step is to see where the winds are blowing regarding France, Austria, and Turkey; it's incredibly unlikely that all three of these powers are going to avoid being targeted first, and so Italy can figure out which one is most liable to being attacked and join in. All the while, care should be taken to avoid being the next one on anyone's list, and so Italy needs to foster strong relations with all the other powers to keep things mixed up across the board. Italy wants to see England and Germany attack France first, without a doubt, so that Italy can turn east and seek its opening centers elsewhere (if opportunity beckons) or seek them from France in a three-power pileup. In the east, Italy needs to foster an airtight alliance with Russia and steer the east toward a three-way invasion of Austria or Turkey; this will inevitably leave a survivor between Russia and Italy, perfect for the next partition. If Italy is looking west first, then Italy should want to see a Russia-Austria alliance against Turkey, because Austria-Turkey is disastrous for Italy, and because Russia-Turkey will lead to Turkey outracing Italy in the contest to build a navy and either Russia excelling too much (by way of a good stab) or almost certainly elimination by Turkey.
Italy's fleet usually heads to ION, so his main choice is where to put the army in VEN. It can head north--to TYR, either to grab MUN from Germany or to attack Austria, hold its position, or head west towards France.
A VEN - TYR: Tyrolian OpeningEdit
Opening to Tyrolia usually means an early Italian attack on Austria, a popular and strong strategy.
A ROM - VEN: The Obriani AttackEdit
The most popular opening for Italy, this opening gives Italy a great shot at two builds, TUN and an Austrian center or MUN. Although the attack on Austria is quick and often deadly, an Italian attack on Germany through MUN has become more popular, with the northern army bothering the Western Triple, conquering a center every now and then, until Italy can muster enough troops to turn west in force.
A ROM - APU: The Tyrolian LepantoEdit
The opening advocated by Leif Bergman in his article on Italy, Go Fasta Go Fasta, it is extremely powerful and duplicitous. It requires incredibly strong diplomatic skill to pull off, but if the opening works, Italy can take TUN or convince Turkey to help him into GRE, and grab TRI, VIE, or MUN with his army in TYR.
A VEN - PIE: Alpine OpeningsEdit
The attack on France is generally quite weak--even if Italy manages to grab MAR in 1901, he is unlikely to keep it. France and Italy are natural allies, as they extend their territorial reach towards Russia.
A ROM - APU: The Alpine LepantoEdit
A hopeful opening--if Italy can enlist German and English support, the attack can dismantle France very quickly. This is a big if, and is usually used only as part of the Triple Alliance.
A ROM - VEN: The Alpine ChickenEdit
Named because it often indicates an Italian desire to attack Austria without showing his hand immediately by stepping into TYR, the move is often followed by A VEN - TRI, A PIE - TYR, giving Italy a position against Austria.
A VEN H or A VEN - TRI and A ROM - APU: The LepantoEdit
One of the most popular opening strategies for Italy is alliance with Austria. The border region of TYR-TRI-VEN is kept clear - usually by a constant bounce between TRI and VEN.