We finally get to the article everyone has been waiting for -- how to spend your money on bribes. Time and again, I've counseled against doing this, but I'm sure no one really listened. It's one of those things you need to learn from experience. It's one of those things I haven't completely learned myself. I'll start with most powerful looking but least useful bribe types and work down to the ones that the good players use a lot.
A successful assassination can really hurt a power badly. You freeze all their units for a season, put a bunch of their provinces into rebellion, and get to kick them around for a season. Great deal, huh? Well, don't forget that you only get a one in six chance of success for every twelve ducats spent. To get a 50% chance of success, you need to spend enough that you could have bought two units, or disbanded three! And you can only spend up to 36d on one attempt, so you can't spend more to guarantee success. Plus, every time you make an attempt you burn an assassination chit. Really, the only time I use this expense is when absolutely nothing else will do the job. For example, one time I was playing Florence I had all my units bought, disbanded, or destroyed by plague during the first season! The only possible way to defend myself was successful assassination -- I had no units, so no adjacent units. And that defense would have only worked for a season anyway, even if my roll had not failed.
But I see you are not dissuaded. You feel that the potential gains outweigh the costs, and you have to give it a try. Well, here are some things to consider to maximize your chances:
This is the second most expensive thing you can do. It's a bit more sure than assassination, though you need to be careful not to be counterbribed. A well-placed unit purchase can be quite destructive. Sometimes, it's even worthwhile, if a gem such as Genoa is available, or you can remove an opponent from the game. One classic example of this is the old first turn kill of Florence by the Papacy, which is to buy Florence and order it to Pisa, while disbanding Arezzo and moving in with Perugia. This while moving Bologna to Pistoia to make sure you get control of the home area, and praing that Florence didn't take my normal precaution of simply ordering Pisa to hold, or of counterbribing.
So anyway, factors to consider in buying a unit:
Okay, so technically some other bribes are more expensive, but this is another of those open-ended bribes that you need to worry about counterbribing, so I'll handle it here. Most of what I said for buying units applies here too, except of course that killing a unit is more often used as a defensive than as an offensive tactic. Get as much good as you can out of it; if you focus on units that you know will be planning to sit still, it's more likely you can advance. For example, if you know that a fleet will be attempting to convoy an army, and you disband it, you make the army's move wasted as well, and you have a good chance of advancing into the sea zone.
One frequent use for disbands is to deal with a unit that's running around in your backfield that you really need to get rid of. It may be capable of throwing support breaks that ruin your offensive, or you might have a building bottleneck that prevents you from tracking it down the old-fashioned way. It may be sitting in a province outside one of your major cities and you need to remove it before it can become a garrison. Or you might be trying to finish off a home area set. In any case, disbands do have a place, though you may be surprised to find that you can take care of some of these problems less expensively.
Now things start to get interesting.
You probably don't want to spend the cash to start a rebellion in a home area (it costs 15d) very often, but a normal rebellion costs a paltry 9d. This is less than a disband, and even more importantly cannot be counterbribed. A city with a rebellion in it cannot be retreated into, or converted into. A rebellion gives you an extra support. This adds up to being able to destroy units cheaply in many situations.
Here's an example. You have an army in Provence. Your enemy (who does not control the French rolls) has an army in Marseilles. You need Marseilles. Obviously, you're not going to get there very quickly by conventional means. Or even if you can get there by conventional means (your unit is elite, or you have a fleet in WGL) you know he can just retreat to garrison form and drag things out, which you can't afford because it is critical that you use Marseilles for a build next season, or to complete a home area set.
You could use a disband bribe. It would work if not counterbribed. But it would cost more money than simply putting Marseilles in rebellion. That would give you the extra support to get into the province, and it denies the retreat to garrison form option, so the defending unit would be destroyed by your advance. And the rebellion is liberated as you enter, so it doesn't cause you any troubles.
Here's a second example. You want to take Genoa. Your opponent has an army there, and is probably going to convert it and bring another army into the area. In this case, simply disbanding the army won't do the job for you -- you'd still bounce the new one moving in. But if you put Genoa in rebellion (note that Genoa is not a home area for this purpose), then you get the support you need to move in, and both the conversion and the move in by the other unit fail. The unit that was there may survive the retreat, but you achieved the important part -- you secured Genoa's five ducat (or greater) income for the coming year, and removed it from your opponent. Effectively at a cost of nine, you made a net difference of at least ten in treasuries; even without other considerations, this transaction was profitable!
The two main things to keep in mind about rebellions are:
And of course, there is also getting rid of rebellions to consider. This costs 12d. It isn't often that you need to do this instead of the cheaper approach of assigning a unit to the job, but sometimes you're short on units, and badly need a home city available to build the next season. And for some reason you have plenty of cash (unusual, in that if a home city is in rebellion against you it's usually because you got assassinated recently). And you don't want to just wait until next year to spend 18d to buy an enemy unit (since the opponent spends three to maintain, you don't actually save a net three like you might think you do; you just save having to send a unit to deal with the rebellion). Anyway, you get the idea.
There are a number of bribes for dealing with garrisons and their autonomous status (or lack thereof). These are generally cheaper than normal bribes, and as such can provide useful services. For example, if you want to spend money early to get more units and conquer cities, buying an autonomous garrison isn't a bad way to go. If you want to conquer Genoa without the siege, 12d will do it against the initial autonomous garrison. These are the obvious and reasonable ways to use these types of bribes.
Where they become really cool offensive tools is in their less obvious uses. Your opponent may have taken the suggestion to use garrisons defensively (in my last article) to heart. Well, you can get those garrisons out of his control at 9d each, changing them to autonomous. Sure, you don't get the city either, but they happen to be sitting in his home city, you might just be able to eliminate him this way -- then siege the garrisons at your leisure. If your opponent is using a port to produce fleets or armies, changing his garrison to autonomous costs him over a year's use -- the season he takes to realize he needs to set up a siege, maybe a season to move a unit in, and then the two seasons to perform the siege. Finally, he must convert the sieging unit into garrison form to get back to where he was before you interfered. It can be a real drag to be on the receiving end of such an effort.
Now we come to the cheapest way to advance: simply pay off a famine in an area you want, and move into it. This doesn't work so well if your opponent has decided to bite the bullet and pay as well, staying there. But many times players will simply step off the famined areas, and move back in in the summer. You can really disrupt a line by moving forward unexpectedly. Similarly, spending famine relief while you're in an area from which you can do an unexpected support cut can allow for an nice spring offensive.
Never forget you can counterbribe. If you are the sort of player who would not usually counterbribe, and tattooing a reminder on your hand doesn't do the job, then remind the other players instead by counterbribing from time to time when there isn't a necessary reason to do so, and at least they'll spend a bunch when they do bribe you to overcome your tendency to counterbribe.
Most players won't heed my warnings earlier in the article and will go for the obvious units, and the obvious ways to do things. Until you realize you are facing a wiser opponent, take advantage of this fact, and hurt his pocket badly.
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.