Payola Diplomacy

Manus Hand

"Politics were so very simple,
just so long as a man believed no one,
double-crossed everyone, kept a full treasury,
and inveigled others into doing the dirty work."

Bernard Cornwell never played Payola Diplomacy, but you sure wouldn't know it by reading the above quote, taken from his Sharpe's Revenge. The Payola variant, developed by John Woolley and myself, adds Cornwell's "treasury" to the arsenals of Diplomacy's combatant nations, and the result is an addicting game with no stalemate lines, multiple levels of intrigue, and in which even the closest of allies can be actively working against each other from the first turn until the bitter end.

Since its introduction into the play-by-email hobby, Payola has quickly grown into an accepted and respected variant, with a great many devoted players.

This article discusses Payola Diplomacy in depth by annotating (using hotlinks) the formal rules of the variant. In this way, the rules of the game may be read (and printed, etc.) without intrusion by these annotations, and yet the reasoning behind each rule, examples of play, anecdotes from actual games, and other interesting tidbits contained in the annotations are always available. A further reading of the rules may be necessary to provide context for some of the annotations, so it is suggested that the annotations only be perused after the complete rules have been read.

Be sure to also check out the other way-cool appendices, including some further reflections on the game and on other contemplated variants.

You can look at the status of any active Payola game at the Payola Place Website, where you'll also find all completed games archived for your entertainment and education.

Rules to Payola Diplomacy

1. Introduction
2. Accounts
3. Offers
4. Acceptance Lists
5. Orders
6. Variations
7. Appendices

1. Introduction

1.1 Scope

Payola Diplomacy is played on a normal Diplomacy board, using the standard Diplomacy rules except as amended herein.

The Payola concept is also easily applied to other games; application of Payola to other Diplomacy variants is discussed in Section 6 of these rules.

1.2 Deviations

The modifications that are made to the standard game are summarized below:

  1. The play of the game cannot be accomplished without a GameMaster. Strictly, this is only the case in face-to-face games, since in an Internet game, a computer adjudicator serves the purpose of this extra human. Face-to-face games may also be conducted without an adjudicator, but only by sacrificing the important secrecy of the players' bribe offers, as described below.
  2. Each player has a bank account, the balance of which is maintained and adjusted by the GameMaster (or computer judge). Rules regarding these accounts are contained in Section 2 of these rules.
  3. Rather than giving orders for each of hir units, the players use the monies in their accounts at each turn to offer bribes to the various units on the board. These bribes will be used to determine the order that shall be issued by each unit — each unit will always issue the order for which it was offered the most money, regardless of the origin of the bribe(s) for this order. Rules regarding bribes are given in Section 3 of these rules.
  4. To assist in determining the order that will be issued to a player's unit in case of a high-bid tie, each player also maintains an "acceptance list." Rules regarding acceptance lists are given in Section 4 of these rules.
  5. The GameMaster (or computer judge) will issue all movement phase orders (for all units) after determining these orders (from the bribes offered by all players). Rules governing these determinations are contained in Section 5 of these rules. Note, however, that each player shall have complete and solitary control of his units and their orders during retreat and adjustment phases.

2. Accounts

2.1 Income

Before every Spring movement phase, each power on the board receives — added to its bank account — a number of "silver pieces" (abbreviated AgP). This income is termed "taxes" received from each owned supply center, and the total amount of this income is therefore based on the number of supply centers controlled by the power. On the principle that bureaucratic overhead costs rise as government expands, the total net tax income is a simple decreasing sequence: the first supply center owned by a power will generate an income of 17 silver pieces, the second will add 16 silver pieces, the third will add 15, the fourth 14, etc., etc. The table below shows the annual tax revenue received by powers of each size:

Supply Center Count 12 34 56 78 9
Annual Tax Income 1733 4862 7587 98108 117

Supply Center Count 10 1112 1314 1516 17
Annual Tax Income 125 132138 143147 150152 153AgP

Thus, at the beginning of the game, every power starts off with a bank balance of 48 silver pieces, except Russia, which starts with 62. This money is disbursed to the players by the GameMaster.

Any power that begins a game owning no supply centers but with one or more unit on the board (such as in the Void variant) will receive as initial funds one-half of the amount that the power would have received had each unit been supported by an owned supply center.

2.2 Expenditures

Before each movement phase, each power may offer money in the form of bribes to any or all of the units on the board. The GameMaster determines (from all offers made to each unit, and using the methods specified in these rules) what order each unit will issue, and the GameMaster is then responsible for issuing all these orders. All powers who offered money for any order that is issued will have the offered amount subtracted from their account at that time.

2.3 Transfers

Players may transfer any amount of money from their account into the account of any other player, including that of any eliminated player, by requesting of the GameMaster that such a transfer be made.

2.4 Elimination

Eliminated players (that is, players owning no supply centers) may continue to use any money remaining in their account to influence the remainder of the game, but if an eliminated player resigns his position, any money remaining in his treasury is forefeited.

2.5 Administration

The GameMaster shall be responsible for accurately maintaining the balance of each power's account, making it available to its owning player on request, and reporting it to that player every time it changes.

No information concerning account balance or account activity shall be revealed by the GameMaster to any player other than the owner of the account.

3. Offers

3.1 Offer Sheets

During a movement phase, rather than submitting the order to be issued for each of their own units, each player submits a single "offer sheet." An "offer sheet" contains a series of bribe offers, each of which is made to a specific single unit and given on a separate line of text. An offer consists, in order, of:

  1. Optionally, a repetition count. This is a positive number -- followed by an asterisk (*) — that indicates how many times in succession the offer will be repeated. Repetition is a convenient shorthand to assist a player in scaled offer reduction.
  2. A bribe amount. This is any non-negative number (including zero) of whole silver pieces. Note, however, that if the bribe is being offered to a unit that is not owned by the offering player, the bribe amount must be positive (in other words, zero silver piece offers to foreign units are not allowed).
  3. Optionally, a plateau amount to be used for this bribe. As discussed in Rule 5.5, offers made by the players may need to be reduced automatically to avoid overexpenditure. However, a bribe may be set to reduce no lower than a specific plateau amount, and then to remain at that amount as long as possible (decreasing again, eventually to zero if need be, only when all bribes have reached their plateau and overexpenditure still exists). This is done by giving a pound sign (#) followed by the plateau amount. If no pound sign is given in a bribe, the plateau amount to which it will reduce is zero. If a pound sign is given with no amount following it, the plateau amount is the same as the bribe amount (no reductions until all bids reach their plateau).
  4. Optionally, by using a plus-sign (+), other bribe amounts (with optional repetition counts and plateau amounts) may be given. This is known as "augmentation". For example, 4*3 + 2*4#2 is a series of two bribe amounts given using this technique.
  5. A single character indicating the type of the offer. The six valid offer types (each is described in full in Rule 3.2) are designated using the colon (:), ampersand (&), at-sign (@), exclamation point (!), greater-than (>), and dollar-sign ($) characters. If the character is a dollar-sign, the offer ends at this point; otherwise, it continues.
  6. The unit — any unit, of any nationality, anywhere on the board — to which the bribe is being offered.
  7. A valid, legal order that could be issued to that unit.
  8. Optionally, a vertical bar (|) character, followed by another order (only the order part, not a repetition of the unit description) that could be issued to that unit. There is no limit to the number of orders that may thus be listed in a single offer but no two of these orders may be identical.

3.2 Offer Types

Based on the character appearing after the bribe amount in an offer (see Rule 3.1, item 5), the offer is one of the six "offer types." These types are described below.

Direct Bribe

A direct bribe offer is recognized by the appearance of a colon character after the bribe amount in an offer. A direct bribe offer is a promise to pay the bribe amount if (and only if) the unit in the offer issues the order (or any one of the orders, if a vertical bar appears in the offer) that is mentioned in the offer.

Negative Bribe

A negative bribe offer is recognized by the appearance of an exclamation point character after the bribe amount in an offer. A negative bribe offer is converted by the GameMaster into a zero silver piece direct bribe offer for the unit for HOLD. Additionally, the negative bribe offer constitutes a promise to pay the indicated bribe amount if the unit issues any order that is not the order (or, if vertical bars are used, any order that is not any of the orders) mentioned in the offer.

Move Bribe

A move bribe offer is recognized by the appearance of a greater-than character after the bribe amount in an offer. A move bribe offer is converted into a direct bribe offer for the unit to perform the order (or orders) given in the move bribe offer. Additionally, the move bribe offer constitutes a promise to pay the indicated bribe amount if the unit issues any move order (that is, any order that is not a HOLD, SUPPORT, or CONVOY) that is not mentioned in the offer.

Hold Bribe

A hold bribe offer is recognized by the appearance of an at-sign character after the bribe amount in an offer. A hold bribe offer is converted into a direct bribe offer for the unit to perform the order (or orders) given in the hold bribe offer. Additionally, the hold bribe offer constitutes a promise to pay the indicated bribe amount if the unit issues any non-move order (that is, any HOLD, SUPPORT, or CONVOY order) that is not mentioned in the offer.

Gift Bribe

A gift bribe offer is recognized by the appearance of an ampersand after the bribe amount in an offer. A gift bribe offer is converted into a direct bribe offer to perform the order (or orders) given in the gift bribe offer. Additionally, the gift bribe offer constitutes a promise to pay the indicated bribe amount if the unit issues any order (any order at all) not mentioned in the offer.

Savings Request

A savings request is not a bribe, but it appears in the player's offer list. It is recognized by the appearance of a dollar-sign after the monetary amount in an offer. The function of a savings request (which contains nothing more than the amount and the dollar-sign character) is to cause the given number of silver pieces in the player's treasury to be "held back" in savings, and not to be made available for use in any bribes. Basically, the sum total of all savings requests in a player's offer sheet will be the guaranteed minimum balance in the player's treasury after all bribes have been paid.

3.3 Multiple Offers and Orders

A player may make any number of different offers to each unit in an offer sheet.

Using the vertical bar to separate them, any number of orders to the same unit may be given in a single offer. In all but negative bribe offers, such multiple orders are equivalent to each order after the first appearing by itself, in sequence, as a separate direct bribe offer. In the case of negative bribe offers, multiple orders separated by vertical bars impose further restrictions on the promise to pay — to wit, if any of the listed orders is issued, the bribe will not be paid.

3.4 Offers Required

Each uneliminated player must submit an offer sheet containing at least one offer before the GameMaster will determine and process orders.

If, for any specific movement phase, a player does not issue any offer to one of his own units, a zero silver piece direct bribe offer from that player for the unit to HOLD is entered for that player by the GameMaster before processing offers.

3.5 Publication

At the conclusion of the game, the GameMaster shall make available to all players every offer made by all players at every turn. Until that time, the GameMaster shall not reveal any data concerning any player's offers to any other player.

4. Acceptance Lists

4.1 Acceptability of Different Currency

In addition to "offer sheets," the GameMaster will also maintain a separate "acceptance list" for each player. An acceptance list is simply an ordered list of every power in the game (including the power submitting the list, and including any eliminated powers). During the game, the GameMaster shall not reveal the acceptance list of any power to any other power.

If ever a player's unit would receive the same amount of money for issuing any one of two or more different orders, and no other order would pay as much, the player's acceptance list is consulted to decide which order the unit will issue. The use of acceptance lists to make this determination is described in full in Section 5 of these rules.

A power specifies its acceptance list to the GameMaster on a single line of text containing the word "ACCEPT" followed by the single-character abbreviations, in any order of the player's choosing, for each of every power in the game (including any eliminated powers). A player may omit one or more of the other powers from his acceptance list if and only if the acceptance list contains exactly one question-mark. That question-mark represents a list of all of the omitted powers; the specific sequence of these powers will be determined randomly every time the adjudication of a movement phase begins.

The first power listed in an acceptance list is the power which — in the eyes of all units owned by the power submitting the list — is considered to offer the most preferred currency. Subsequent powers in the acceptance list are considered to offer less and less preferred currency, descending in preference until the final power listed (which is deemed to hold the currency least preferred by the units that are owned by the list submitter).

4.2 Acceptance Lists Required

An acceptance list must always be on record for each power.

Each power begins the game with an acceptance list containing its own abbreviation followed by a question-mark (indicating that its own currency takes precedence over that of all other powers, which are randomly ordered).

A power may modify his acceptance list at any time. It remains unchanged and will be used for all movement phases after its submission until such time as the player submits another acceptance list, which shall then completely replace the earlier list.

4.3 Eliminated and Unplayed Powers

The acceptance lists for eliminated powers are ignored and unused.

Acceptance lists are also not used for powers that are not being played (so-called "dummy powers"). Instead, any monetary tie that would need to be broken to determine the order to be issued to a dummy unit is resolved by having the unit accept its own default offer to HOLD, and reporting (if need be) to the players that it did so in response to a bribe or bribes totalling one silver piece greater than the highest total bribe offer that the unit actually received.

5. Orders

5.1 Determination by Total Bribes

When all offer sheets have been submitted, all non-direct bribe offers are converted by the GameMaster to direct bribe offers as described in Rule 3.2. The direct bribe offers then are used to form the complete list of the different orders from which each unit can choose. All money offered by all players for each of these separate orders — including any money offered in negative bribe offers for which the order meets the stated requirements — is then totalled, giving the total bribe for each order. If, of the potential orders for a given unit, the total bribe for one of these is higher than the total bribe for any and every single one of the others, this is the order that the unit will issue.

5.2 Determination by Acceptance Rank

If no single order has a higher total bribe amount than do any of the other potential orders for that unit, the decision as to which of those orders involved in the tie will be issued for the unit is made using the acceptance list of the power that owns the unit in question. The bribe offered by the power that, among all those powers to have submitted offers for the competing orders, is listed earliest in this acceptance list, will be accepted; that is, the order for which that power offered a bribe will be issued.

5.3 Determination by Sequence

If the earliest power (in acceptance list order) that offered a bribe to a unit in competing orders has offered a bribe for two or more of these competing offers, the order that will be issued is the order that, among these, appeared earliest in this power's offer sheet (note that each negative bribe offer is considered to appear immediately below the direct bribe offer to HOLD that is "built" from this offer, as described in Rule 3.2).

5.4 Determination by Further Acceptance Rank

If two or more competing orders have (as the earliest listed offer submitted by the power described in Rule 5.3) the same negative bribe offer, then the next power down the unit's acceptance list that offered to contribute to any of the orders under consideration is consulted. Using this other power, Rules 5.2 and 5.3 are applied again (as would be this current rule if necessary; that is, if the situation described herein is true for the newly considered power as well, a power even further down the acceptance list must be consulted). This procedure does guarantee that a unique order will be chosen.

5.5 Overexpenditures

The amount a player can offer is not limited by his account balance. However, player expenditures are. Once the order for every unit is determined (using the process described in Rules 5.1 through 5.4), the total expenditure for each player is calculated. If any player would pay more money than he currently has available in his account (honoring any savings request he has made), every single one of the offers made by each such "would-be-overdrawn" player is reduced by a single silver piece. (However, note that bribes with specified plateau amounts are not reduced beyond that amount unless it is the case that every bribe has already reached its plateau and overexpenditure still exists.) After these reductions, all the units that were subjects of these offers "re-decide" all over again which order each will issue. If the same situation occurs again, this procedure is repeated (subtracting yet another silver piece from the offers of such player or players), until no player would end up with a negative balance.

Note that although a player's bribe may be reduced to zero, the fact that the player had made the offer is still considered for the purposes of determining the order to be issued in the case of a tie, according to sections 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4.

Note that although all of a player's bribe offers are subject to reduction when the player is in this situation, any savings requests that were listed in the player's offer sheet are not reduced.

5.6 Balance Adjustments

When orders are determined, all money offered for each order being issued is subtracted from the accounts of those players who offered money for that order. Money offered for orders that are not issued stays in the players' bank accounts.

5.7 Information Revealed

When orders are issued, the GameMaster shall report the following information to each player:

  1. the order to be issued by each of the player's own units,
  2. the amount of the total bribe (nothing, however, about the origin or origins of the funds) that was accepted by each of the player's own units,
  3. a list of the orders for which the player had an accepted bribe (including the amount of each such bribe),
  4. the total amount of money expended by the player, and finally,
  5. the new balance in the player's account.

6. Variations

The variants listed below are the major variants that are currently supported by the Payola adjudication code. Each of these variants includes a number of distinct elements which could be used separately. For example, the capability to specify different values for separate supply centers is mentioned as being used in the Exchange variant — this capability can be used in any Payola game set up to allow this.

6.1. Payola Classic

The game may be played under the original rules to the variant, which would mean the following six changes to the rules above:

Rule 2.1
Powers receive seven silver pieces per year per supply center controlled. (Income is not on the diminishing returns scale described in rule 2.1.)
Rule 3.1
item 1
Repetition counts are not allowed.
item 2
Zero silver piece offers to foreign units are allowed.
item 3
Plateau amounts are not allowed.
item 4
Augmentation (+) is not allowed.
item 5
The only legal separator in an order is the colon (:).
item 8
The use of the vertical bar (|) to permit multiple orders to appear in an offer is not allowed.
Rule 3.2
Only direct bribe offers (colon offers) are accepted. All other bribe types are invalid.
Rule 3.3
Multiple offers to the same unit are not permitted, and therefore, combining multiple offers to the same unit using the vertical bar syntax is also not permitted.
Rule 5.3
This rule is unnecessary, given the above changes.
Rule 5.4
This rule is unnecessary, given the above changes.

6.2 Application to Map Variants

The Payola system is easily applied to map variants such as Loeb-9, Youngstown, Colonial, etc., etc. The only necessary modification to the rules is that the amount of tax income per supply center is adjusted so that the amount gained from the first center is one silver piece fewer than the number of supply centers that is the variant's victory criteria, and subsequent centers then follow the same "one silver piece less" tax pattern.

6.3 Tin Cup Diplomacy

Payola Diplomacy is combined with the Blind variant by making the following four changes or additions to the rules above. This variant is called Tin Cup Diplomacy because it is blind with money, much like a street-corner pencil salesman.

Rule 1.1
The usual rules of the Blind variant apply and govern which portions of the board each player can "see" in the results of a game phase delivered to that player.
Rule 3.1, item 6
If a player offers a bribe to a non-existent unit (which would be forbidden by this point of the rule), the GameMaster will not report this fact to that player (nor to any other player). All such bribes are simply ignored, but may be revealed by the GameMaster at the conclusion of the game.
Rule 3.1, item 7
Likewise, if a power offers a bribe that mentions any unit that does not exist (which would be forbidden by this point of the rule — for example, an offer to an existing unit to support a unit that does not exist), this offer will be similarly ignored.
Rule 5.7, item 3
In the informational message delivered by the GameMaster before adjudication of each movement phase, players are only told the specific amount of that player's money that was paid to each unit, and the nationality of each such unit, but are not told the order that the unit will issue in return for this compensation.

6.4 eBayola

In this variant, suggested by Payola co-creator John Woolley on 3 August 2005, the total cost of a successful bribe is reduced (if possible) to one silver piece more than the highest non-winning bribe. Any resulting cost savings for the contributor(s) to the winning bribe are awarded to the contributing powers according to their position in the acceptance list of the bribed unit. There are a couple of interesting twists, but that's the basic idea.

6.5 Unbribeable Units

Payola can be played with each human player's own units being loyal (and ordered as in standard Diplomacy), but with units of unplayed (DUMMY) powers being bribeable per these Payola rules. This is not only useful as a technique when the required number of human players for a game cannot be gathered, but also in variants in which neutral supply centers (Belgium, Greece, et al.) are provided with units.

6.6 Alternate Income Schemes

The income scheme outlined by these rules (that is, 17 AgP for the first supply center, 16 for the next one, etc.) can be modified to be any different (fixed, decreasing, increasing, capped) scheme, and income can be distributed more often than once a year.

6.7 Zero Sum Payola

In Zero Sum Payola, developed by Michael Schmahl, there is a fixed amount of money in the world. Contrast this with standard Payola, in which new money is printed each year for taxpayers to contribute to their governments. Zero Sum Payola uses the standard Payola rules with the following modifications:

  1. Each power begins the game with a treasury containing 10 silver pieces for each owned supply center.
  2. Powers do not receive tax income. Instead, money is transferred as follows:
    • The amount of money that was paid as bribes to the units of each power during any particular gameyear is deposited into the account of that power at the conclusion of the Fall turn.
    • When a neutral supply center is first captured, the power that occupies it is awarded a one-time 10 silver piece bonus.
    • When an owned supply center changes hands, the new owner receives an amount of money from the treasury of the former owner. This amount of money is the total treasury of the disenfranchised power divided by the number of supply centers owned by that power at the beginning of the gameyear, rounded down.

6.8 Exchange Payola

Exchange Payola, created by Bruce Duewer, disassociates players from the powers on the game map. Each player is instead an independent investor who can purchase stock in any of the powers on the board. One player is periodically elected by stockholders to serve as CEO of each power; that player controls the power's treasury, sets the worth (in silver pieces) of each of the supply centers that are owned by that power, and issues dividends to its stockholders. Each power's CEO also enters bribe offers for his power. (Investors may also use their own private treasuries to bribe units, of course.) A Pouch Zine article discusses the variant in more detail.

7. Appendices

7.1 Annotations

The complete set of annotations on these rules covers everything from the history of the variant to practical examples of game play.

7.2 Rules to Payola Classic

With the original rules of the variant, Payola Diplomacy was first presented to the world with more than a touch of humor.

7.3 Thoughts On Play

Here are presented some random notes on the game, strategies, tactics, and metrics that have been discovered.

7.4 Unfinished Variations

The variations discussed in Section 6 are but a few of the many that have been conceived. Some of the others are as yet but a set of gestating or differently matured ideas and/or are as yet untested.

Manus Hand

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