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Category: Variant

Variant Created by: Benjamin Hester



Variant Description:

Starting Positions

Italy - Forest Green, I
Greece - Blue, G
Austria-Hungary - Crimson, A
Serbia - Charcoal, S
Romania - Yellow, R
Bulgaria - Teal, B
The Ottoman Empire - Olive, T

Variant Rules

Balkans1860 Variant Rules, Revision 1. Homepage:

The Balkans 1860 variant is a historical transplant of Hasbro/Avalon Hill's Diplomacy to the Balkans region, (almost) historically accurate to the year 1860. The Balkans 1860 Variant conforms to the standard rules of Hasbro/Avalon Hill's Diplomacy in most every way, with the few exceptions listed below. The standard rules are NOT copied here, and all players of the Balkans 1860 Variant are assumed to own or expected to purchase the Rules of Diplomacy (or better yet, the full game) through Hasbro/AH, as I did.

Turns move from Spring to Fall just like standard Diplomacy, and the first turn is Spring 1860. Abbreviations are often not at all what you might expect them to be because of the significant number of provinces that share the same first three letters (i.e. Tirana/Tiraspol, Burgas/Burgas Bay, Salonika/Salzburg) Be sure to check the names feature on Realpolitik.

Palermo and Catanzaro are land contiguous, as are Bursa and Salonika, though they appear separated by water on the map. Both Armies and Fleets may cross from one of these territories directly to the other. Movement by fleets through the surrounding sea zones is unaffected. The "bridges" on the map indicate this movement. Istanbul is one single territory that lies on both sides of the Sea of Marmara. An army in Istanbul may move to Bursa, Edirne, and Salonika. A Fleet in Istanbul may move to Black Sea, Bosporus, Bursa, Edirne, Salonika, and the Sea of Marmara. Athens is a territory with a canal in it, the Corinth canal. It is not bi-coastal. The closest comparison to Standard is Kiel. Fleets and armies may move through Athens in any direction, but must stop in the territory of Athens. (i.e. F Gulf of Taranto to Saronic Gulf is *not* a valid order).

All other rules conform to Standard Diplomacy. 19 SCs = solo victory.


For those that have longed for an Austria position that isn’t burdened by 20-1 against odds, dreamed of leading the Greek rebellion against Ottoman domination, or yearned to try their hand as Garibaldi leading the Italian unification, the long-awaited hour is at hand. In Balkans1860, I invite the seasoned marshals of the WWI map to try their hand at changing the course of history and stabilizing the Balkans before WWI unfolds.

Balkans 1860 is a historical snapshot variant of southeastern Europe, roughly as it appeared in 1860. There are a few slight anomalies from any exact period in history, but then again, most such variants do have a few of these for the sake of gameplay, and this one is no exception. The map actually represents a 10 year spread between 1860 to 1870. I will spare you the laborious task of reading them all here; suffice it to say, I have done my best to reflect history accurately while creating a balanced and playable variant. The map, rules, Realpolitik files, and all other documentation needed to play can be found at

Whch brings us to an overview of the belligerents…

The snapshot of Italy in this variant is intended to capture the spirit of its formative stage, as Giuseppe Garibaldi led armies through the peninsula, occasionally restrained by the political considerations and edicts from Torino. Accordingly, Torino, Firenze, and Napoli are the starting Italian SCs, while the key centers of Roma, Venezia, and Palermo are vacant SCs, representing key hold outs that were not yet integrated into the Italian state (refer to the disclaimer above regarding the start year of the variant)

While they possess a beautiful edge position on this map (negating the historical influence of France and Spain), Italy nonetheless faces significant early threats from Austria-Hungary, Greece, and possibly Serbia in this variant. By design, both Austria-Hungary and Greece have the potential to contest Italy for SCs within their sphere of influence - Venezia and Palermo, respectively. Greece can even choose to force their way into Palermo in the first year if sufficient forces are dedicated to the effort, and Austria-Hungary can often seize superior positioning in the second year against Venezia if F Trieste moves out to the Gulf of Venezia. So Italian players must typically chose to negotiate a settlement on one of these fronts, and focus their attacks on the other - all the while maintaining a defense at home, as their peninsula is particularly vulnerable to invasion by convoys. An alliance of both Greece and Austria-Hungary to partition Italy is a particularly lethal combination, and sends the Italian scurrying over to the Serbian embassy for assistance.

In Balkans1860, Austria-Hungary is no longer the underdog position players loathe to play. Here, AH is a contender from the start, although they retain vulnerabilities on several fronts that Standard Diplomacy players will find familiar. AH's attentions in the first two game years are typically directed towards Italy and Serbia, her closest neighbours. Both have the potential of reaching AH home SCs in the first year, and an alliance of the two can lead to an early elimination for the AH player. Careful diplomacy is needed to ensure that never comes to pass.

Should the AH player navigate those stormy seas, they often find a Romanian ready to kick in their door from the east by the second or third year. But take heart - AH has ample growth opportunities, as Agram can be guaranteed against all but the most coordinated Italian/Serbian attacks, and Salzburg is also likely to fall under their sway. In rare circumstances, Kolosvar or Venezia can be captured, but such open aggression is not often rewarded, and such gains come at the expense of a defensible core position. Far better for AH to negotiate a stable alliance with one or two of Italy, Serbia, and Romania and focus their growth in that direction. Of all positions in Balkans1860, AH rewards the alliance player.

Serbia is reminiscent of Austria-Hungary in Standard Diplomacy in that they are vulnerable on almost all fronts, but begin the game in a veritable minefield of SCs as compensation. With sufficient negotiation, a three SC gain in the first year is not uncommon, but does require the Serb to tip his hand against either the Italians or the Greeks to find a new haven for F Cetinje. It is also not uncommon for the Serbs to come into direct contact with every player on the map in the first year, excluding only the Ottomans and maybe Italy, though in the latter case the two surely have much to discuss in negotiations.

Accordingly, the Serbs typically opt to expand slowly in all directions (Sarajevo to the west and Bitola or Tirana in the south) as they gauge the intentions of their rivals. Often, using F Cetinje to support a potential ally yields a higher payoff over the long term than a direct assault on Agram or Tirana - as it is usually not in the Serbs' best interests to see any one power dominate the seas.

Greece, like Italy, is displayed in its formative stages in Balkans1860. Here we see the rebellion of Kalamata, after it has spread north to Athens and Larisa. The Greek player is then faced with a choice to continue down the historical path and seize Salonika and Heraklion from the Ottoman domains, or perhaps turn west instead and claim Palermo as the start of an Italian invasion. North is also an option, and rich spoils await at Serb or Bulgarian expense, though I would counsel against neglecting both the Ottomans and the Italians for very long. Of all the positions, Greece is the most likely to find her fortunes at sea, and should consider building a heavy concentration of fleets accordingly.

Some special attention should be paid to the territory of Athens. It functions very similar to Kiel in Standard, in that I have included the Corinth Canal in this variant (somewhat anachronistically by about 30 years). For example, this means that a fleet could sequentially move from the Saronic Gulf to Athens to the Gulf of Taranto, and an army could likewise move from Agrinio to Athens to Patrai.

Now, we turn our attentions to Romania, another edge position powerhouse of the variant. Romania is alone on the map insofar as *none* of their potential gains in the first year can truly be guaranteed. That said, at the very least, Kolosvar usually falls under their sway in the first year, and Sevastopol is not uncommon either. From a strategic perspective, Romania is one of the three players involved in the Black Sea fight, and is typically the player most interested in dominating that region, as two of their home SCs lie along the coast.

This leads a Romanian player into an alliance with either the Ottomans or Bulgaria against the third party (and fervent efforts to ensure that they are not the third party.) Meanwhile, the majority of their spoils are to be found overland, and all three of AH, Serbia, and Bulgaria are valid targets, though Serbia is often spared due to Romanian fears of becoming sandwiched between AH and Bulgarian holdings.

Speaking of Bulgaria, we arrive at the most diplomatically intensive position on the map. It is imperative for Bulgaria to form an early alliance and overpower either Romania or the Ottomans as they attempt to fight their way to a corner position on the map. Early wars with Serbia or Greece are highly unadvisable, though some squabbling over borders with both is almost inevitable.

A Serb/Bulgarian/Greek triple is a potent alliance combination, similar to the Central Powers pact in Standard. A wise Bulgarian player would be careful not to reveal those intentions early however, as that would almost certainly prompt an Ottoman/Romanian counteralliance that can be fatal. Despite their vulnerabilities, the Bulgarians have rich prospects available both to the north and south if they are capable of forging the right alliances needed to exploit their enemies.

The Ottoman Empire shares a similar situation with Turkey in Standard. The Ottomans enjoy a very secure corner position, but extremely limited early growth opportunities. Salonika is the only reasonably guaranteed gain, though it is advisable to occupy with A Ankara if possible to retain options against either Bulgaria or Greece. Heraklion is a tempting target, but cannot be forcibly taken from the Greeks if both F Kal and F Ath are dedicated to the task.

Viable alliance options are available with both Greece and Bulgaria, and to an extent Romania as well, though this route is usually an act of desperation against Greek/Bulgarian attack. Achieving dominance in the Black Sea is desirable, though it can be just as effective to play off Bulgaria and Romania against one another indefinitely while rebuilding the Ottoman Mediterranean empire.

So I hope that this brief overview has whetted some appetites for a game, and that you enjoy the experience. If interested in playing or running a game of Balkans1860, please contact me at Screwtape777 AT gmail DOT com.

Thanks! B.

Benjamin Hester is the Diplomacy Variant Workshop ( list owner, and designer of the Sengoku, South American Supremacy, Dark Ages, and Balkans1860 variants.

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