Too many people give up on Italy as a very bad country to draw. I am not so sure. The first big advantage is that nobody in their right mind will make Italy their number one target, because they have other more pressing problems of a "two against one" nature. This means that lots of people will be grateful to accept some help from Italy. Italy can oblige as long as there is something in it for him!
A look at the Diplomacy board should tell any player of Italy that Turkey and France will be his major threats in the middle game, and therefore he (she) should do whatever is possible to eliminate them in the opening! Rather optimistic you say? Well, look at the west and the east separately.
In the West, England, France and Germany are all trying to make a two-on-one alliance. None of the three can be certain whether their diplomatic skills have been successful in securing an ally, but if Italy states (quite bluntly) to Germany that he is going straight for France and he says the same to England, then there is a high probability that England and Germany will choose to make France the odd man out, and ally with each other — which is a very strong alliance in any case. You can even talk of a solid three-way alliance to oppose the inevitable alliance that emerges in the east regardless of which two countries it is made up of.
You agree that you will move to Piedmont, Germany moves to Burgundy, and England moves to the English Channel — You all tell France that you will do no such thing, and in Germany’s case he should try to get France to agree to Army Paris to Picardy in return for Army Munich to Ruhr — and as early as Autumn 1901 France is in dire trouble because each of his forces has a home supply centre to defend, and he may well end up with a net build of zero. France will not survive this first year disaster, and Italy should try to make Marseilles, Spain and Portugal his centres as his part of the deal on the basis that Germany gets Paris, Belgium, Holland and Denmark and England gets Brest, Norway, Sweden and St Petersburg. Seven for each country! I have to stress that once you have stated that France is your target the other two would be very foolish to go against you because a "two against two" battle will only favour those in the east.
So, what do you do in the east? My view is that you do the same sort of diplomacy. Tell Austria, who is surely your friend to begin with, that you will do some sort of attack on Turkey (Maybe a Lepanto). The same story will go to Russia with a "promise" that once Turkey is gone the two of you carve up Austria. To make sure that Russia agrees, it is a good ploy to assure him that coming second is your ambition "because you have a much more powerful country" (etc.). A small but important point is that you tell Austria and Russia to keep out of Galicia. The logic is clear: if either goes in, it causes distrust and weakens your alliance.
The opening moves for Italy are:
This move for Piedmont is a 50-50 guess, but in the two games that I have played the French player went for a "Marseilles stand-off" both times!
Build a fleet in Naples. (Ask Austria NOT to put any reinforcements in Trieste, and assure him that your alliance with him lasts until he builds a fleet in Trieste!!)
The best approach in 1902 (assuming that all went according to plan in 1901) is that you agree to support the Austrian fleet from Greece to the Aegean, and if he moves an army from Serbia to Greece and Budapest to Serbia then Bulgaria is his in the Fall. You therefore keep your fleet in the Ionian Sea (which I feel is your permanent insurance against a stab later on), your fleet in Naples goes West to the Tyrrhenian Sea. If Germany did get to Burgundy but not to Paris, ask for his support into Marseilles in return for almost any favour that he wants in return! You can (probably) point out that he has five or six forces to your four etc.
In the Fall of 1902, the Fleet in the Tyrrhenian Sea goes west to either West Med or Gulf of Lyon, depending on whether or not you have got Marseilles, and the fleet in the Ionian Sea either tries again to get Greece into the Aegean or, if it made it in the Spring, you go for the East Med.
You may not have gained any more supply centres, but if all your diplomatic magic is working (which it should be because England, Germany, Austria and Russia are all doing ok) you have a very good chance of picking up centres in 1903 (Spain, Portugal and Smyrna being prime targets)
How you play from here on is obviously down to how well the other four "survivors" are playing, My experience is that once France and Turkey are gone, Russia is very vulnerable to a Germany-England attack in the Warsaw/St Pete areas, and usually loses Rumania to the Austrians. If this is the way it is going, make sure you get your share of Turkey (preferably all of it)
So that is it. You now have a better than one in four chance of winning outright!
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