(A Rom – Apu; A Ven h; F Nap – Ion.)
The Lepanto is arguably the best-known opening in Diplomacy, defined by (A Rom – Apu, F Nap – Ion) or (A Rom – Nap, F Nap – Ion)(known derisively as the Lesspanto). With a storied history and strong tactical credential the family makes up over 40% of Italian openings. The Classic Lepanto, distinguished by (A Ven h), is the most popular of the family, occurring in 19.1% of games. This makes it the second-most popular Italian opening and the 11th overall.
Conceptually, the whole family rests on the idea of Apulia being convoyed to Tunis in the Fall, thus leaving the fleet in the Ionian Sea in a superior position. Most often this is the utilised in an attack against Turkey, with a number of continuations in combination with Austria leading to solid results.
Criticisms of the opening are that it reduces Italy’s options to only one and that the army can become stranded and useless in Tunis. Both are legitimate considerations. The secondary impact of this is that a wise Turkish player can see what is coming, and is likely to build fleets to counter the telegraphed attack. While this is not enough to defend indefinitely, it does mean that against good players the Lepanto tends to be a slow, patient game that requires expert management of relations with both Austria and France.
Writing about the Lepanto in The Hoosier Archives, Edi Birsan kicked things off with this summary of the first move:
The Spring 1901 moves for Italy should not reveal an open bias toward Austria and should indicate instead a kind of calm wait-and-see attitude. Thus, the Spring should see the Italians moving Fleet Naples to the Ionian sea, Army Rome to Apulia and Army Venice holding. This position gives the Italians a secure position in case of Austrian or French threats. Note that the Italians can support themselves in Venice from Apulia if a threat does materialise. Hopefully, the French will be involved in the West and the Austrians will be moving to Albania with their fleet and occupying Serbia.
Seven years later the principles outlined in Birsan’s seminal article hadn’t changed much, with Richard Sharp writing:
In considering the other popular Italian openings, we come up against a recurrent problem: the many stand-off possibilities in Tyrolia and Trieste mean that openings which appear different are really not so. The official second-choice opening is A(Ven) stands, A(Rom)-Apu, F(Nap)-IOS, with a frequency of seventeen per cent; but this is effectively identical to the variation in which A(Rom) goes to Naples. As the intention is a convoy to Tunis, the only difference between the two occurs when Austria attacks Italy, as now A(Nap) cannot support Venice. And no doubt a large proportion of the A(Ven)-Tri versions can also be regarded as identical, with an agreed stand-off in Trieste.
All these can be loosely grouped together as versions of the Lepanto Opening, which overall is probably the most popular system for Italy. I prefer to call it a system rather than an opening, as the same result can be achieved in a variety of ways.
He goes on to all-but repeat the strategies behind the idea laid out in the original article. In this he is not alone, with the Player’s Guide, Gamer’s Guide, and numerous other strategy articles considering the strengths and weaknesses of the Lepanto to be a closed case from the early 1970s through to the late 1990s. The player’s guide is indicitive of the sentiment:
This is the so-called Lepanto opening, designed to carry Italian power into the east rapidly. This was the first opening ever to be discussed in depth in an article. Edi Birsan’s work on the subject is still considered a model effort.
The very ubiquity of the opening prompts a timely note that the Lepanto is only an opening, and not a holistic strategy. Rod Walker delivers this in his article in The General:
In any game Italy is forced to make all sorts of difficult strategic choices. The 1901 moves for the Lepanto mean that Italy has made a choice to concentrate on the east rather than the west. Having made that choice, Italy must now make several others. Will he pursue the Lepanto and seek to eliminate Turkey or will he stab Austria? If Turkey is eliminated, will he then go after Russia, stab Austria, or turn west? Will he try for the eastern “Grand Slam” of eliminating Turkey, Austria and Russia?
The Lepanto Opening must, thus, always be seen only as a beginning for which there is to be a definite end. Even as he convoys his army to Tunis, the Italian player must be looking east, or west, or to defeat.
Modern theory finds weaknesses in the inflexibility of the Lepanto opening. While the principle of Turkish defences has always been solid they had relied on the Spring 1901 move of F Ank – Con which in turn weakened Turkey against Russia. In recent times, the alternative defence of placing an army in Smyrna or Syria has been a more effective deterrent.
This still doesn’t prevent the Lepanto family of openings being one of the most effective attacks against Turkey, but it does mean that Italy is slowed down and needs to find alternate sources of growth, otherwise by the time they are picking up centres in Turkey their allies are likely to be far advanced on them. This has led to preference for the more active A Ven – Tyl or A Ven – Pie, and even the arranged ceding of Trieste to Italy on loan.
The risk of the army in Tunis being stranded there is also considered a downside to the opening, though it is seen in some circles as a good sentry against French aggression the lack of offensive potential is generally agreed to make it a sub-optimal position. This is especially the case where a second build is not forthcoming, as it leave the Italian home centres very feebly defended.
The Lepanto opening is not going away any time soon, but it is also no longer the go-to opening for Italy. The dominance it held through much of the 1970s and 1980s has receded and this classic version is probably considered the least effective of the four serious options for army Venice.
There aren’t many continuations of this opening, as the plan is laid out in full for 1901. The ones of note broadly look at Venice as the point of difference, either due to the need to defend it or what move it can usefully make:
- The Classic Lepanto Convoy (A Apu – Tun; A Ven h; F Ion c Apu – Tun.)
- The Delayed Key Lepanto (A Apu – Tun; A Ven – Tri; F Ion c Apu – Tun.)
- The Delayed Innsbruck Lepanto (A Apu – Tun; A Ven – Tyl; F Ion c Apu – Tun.)
- The Delayed Milanese Lepanto (A Apu – Tun; A Ven – Pie; F Ion c Apu – Tun.)
- The Classic Lepanto Defence (A Apu s Ven; A Ven h; F Ion – Tun.)
- The Albanian Double-Cross (A Apu – Alb; A Ven – Tri; F Ion C Apu – Alb.)
- The Aegean Attack (A Apu h; A Ven – Tri; F Ion – Aeg.)
- The Grecian Revenge Attack (A Apu s Ven; A Ven h; F Ion – Gre.)
- The Maltese Falcon (A Apu h; A Ven h; F Ion – Eas.)