Pitt Crandlemire


The Payola Variant -- Put Up or Shut Up

This issue, I'm going to continue examining interesting variants which are implemented on the Internet judges (or, if not fully implemented, at least supported in some fashion). One of the newest, and most enjoyable, variants is Payola. I had the good fortune to playtest this "pay for play" variant in the eponymous game 'payola' on the USEF judge, and I am also GMing the ongoing game 'arnold' on the same judge. The variant has been revised and updated several times since its inception and is now very robust. Payola can be implemented as an adjunct to any other variant; one of the best (though most demanding on the GM) is the Tin Can variant combining the Blind variant with Payola. You haven't lived until you've tried to bribe units you can't see and aren't even sure exist...

The single focal point for all Payola games is the Website Payola Place (part of The Pouch's Web- and Email-based DPjudge).

(Disclaimer: neither the fact that Payola is the brainchild of this publication's august editor nor the fact that I owe him large sums of money and he recently sent a few "friends" to visit me at my home has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that I'm discussing Payola or any nice comments I might make...honest.)


The basic thrust of the Payola variant is simple: you have to bribe units to perform actions. If yours is the highest bribe, the unit will perform the order you give. If you bid too low, you lose control of the unit. You can make offers to any unit on the board; yours as well as your allies' and enemies'. By the same token, they can make offers to yours with results that may not be pleasing to you... The bribing process only applies to movement phases. Retreats and adjustments are handled in the normal fashion.


Your bribes are made in silver pieces (AgP) and come from the bank account maintained for you by the GM. You accrue monies to your account by virtue of the supply centers you own. Deposits are made to your account once a year, after the Winter Adjustment phase. There are two sub-variants of Payola which determine how money is accrued. In the original, Fixed Income sub-variant, you earn 7 AgP for each SC you own. In the newer (and more common) Diminishing Returns sub-variant, you earn 17 AgP for your first SC, 16 for the second, 15 for the third, and so on. Thus, in the Fixed Income sub-variant, England starts with 21 AgP, while he'd start with 48 AgP in the Diminishing Returns sub-variant. However, as England grows to, for example, 10 SC's in the Fixed Income sub-variant, he grows at a steady 7 AgP per SC rate for a total of 70 AgP income, while he'd receive proportionately less per SC in the Diminishing Returns sub-variant, receiving a total of 125 AgP at 10 SC's.


Now that you have money, you have to spend it in order to make more money. The neat trick of the Payola variant is that you get to bribe your opponents' units, too. Or, at least you get to try...

In the original variant, bribes were simple -- I'll pay you this much to do this order. That worked well enough but it was somewhat limited. So, Manus spake and lo! different types of bribes were bestowed upon us. Now we could really get tricky. The format of the bribe offer is:

<Amount of AgP> <Bribe Type identifier> <Order>
The various types of bribes are:

Order Resolution

Okay, so now you know how to earn money and how to spend it. How do the units decide what to do? Simple. Bribe offers are submitted as press to the GM and he runs them through an adjudication program. The adjudicator compares all offers, combines multiple offers from different players for the same order (e.g. if France and England both offer F ENG 6 AgP to move to NTH, the total offer is 12 AgP), determines which offers are the highest, and then issues appropriate orders to the units. These orders are sent to the judge and processed as normal (keep in mind that just because a unit accepts an offer to perform a certain order doesn't mean that the order will succeed when all orders are processed -- in the example above, F ENG may try to go to NTH but it could still bounce with another unit trying to go there). This process of sending offers to the GM as press and running them through the adjudicator is being automated and will soon (we hope) be handled directly by the judge.

The above is a brief overview of the Payola variant, and while it covers the essential points, the interested reader is encouraged to take a look at the official rules of the variant, which were published in the Winter 1995 Adjustment issue of the Zine.

Strategy Tips

Now that the mechanics of the variant are clear (they are clear, right?), I'm sure you're all waiting with bated breath (and, phew!, some of you should change the bait!) for ideas on How to Baffle your Enemies and Impress your Allies (tm). Well, far be it from me to disappoint you. Keep in mind, however, that Payola is a relatively new variant and I make no claims to an exhaustive analysis. Anyway, here goes.

What's the Point of all Those Different Types of Bribes?

The Affirmative bribe is simple and straightforward. It works best when there is only one thing you want a unit to do and you are sure you have enough cash to make it happen. It is the most commonly used bribe, both for your units and those of your opponents.

Affirmative Bribe Example
England5 : F ENG H
France2 : F ENG - LON
Germany2 : F ENG - LON

England's greater expenditure on the affirmative bribe ensures that F ENG will hold.

The Negative bribe is also simple and straightforward. It is used when you don't care what a unit does as long as it doesn't do the one thing that will mess up your plans. It works best when the unit you're trying to bribe is also likely to be offered multiple bribes from other players, ensuring that your negative bribe will be enough to put one of those over the top.

Negative Bribe Example
England5 : F NTH - ENG
6 ! F BRE - ENG
France8 : F BRE - ENG
Germany3 : F BRE S A BEL - PIC

England's negative bribe to F BRE was sufficient to ensure that Germany's offer succeeded even though England may have had no idea what Germany's order was.

The Move bribe is a bit more complicated but not extremely so. It is used primarily when you want to prevent a unit from holding, convoying, giving support, or receiving support. If you have a wish to invade an occupied space, bribing the unit which is currently there to move out (allowing you to move in without support) is an effective tack. Again, this bribe type is most effective when the unit you're bribing is likely to be receiving multiple offers and yours works to favor the bribe type you want.

Move Bribe Example
England4 > F ENG - BRE
France8 : F ENG C A BRE - LON
Germany5 : F ENG - MAO

England's move bribe was sufficient to ensure that ENG did not convoy BRE - LON. It did not succeed in ordering ENG - BRE, however, since Germany's was an affirmative type offer for ENG - MAO, which was the order that F ENG would have received. Also, note that England would have failed in stopping the convoy if Germany had instead offered 4 : F ENG S A BEL - PIC since that would not have been a movement offer by Germany.

The Hold bribe is sort of like the move bribe, except in reverse. It is used when you don't care what the unit does so long as it doesn't move. There are times when you very much need a unit to stay where it is, either to gain control of a supply center, hold a line, or to receive support. As with negative and move bribes, it works best when the unit is receiving multiple conflicting offers and your hold bribe is designed to favor the success of the bribe type you desire.

Hold Bribe Example
England4 @ F ENG - BRE
France8 : F ENG - LON
Germany5 : F ENG S A PIC - BRE

England's hold bribe coupled with Germany's support bribe ensure that ENG does not move to LON. Since Germany's bribe will earn the unit nine pieces of silver and England's would earn it only four, ENG will be supporting PIC to BRE. Note, however, that even if England's offer had been for a greater amount than Germany's offer individually, ENG would still end up supporting PIC to BRE since the affirmative bribe offered by Germany does not add its amount to any order other than the offer listed, but the hold bribe does.

The Gift bribe, at first glance, appears to be sort of silly and have no practical use. However, in reality, it functions as a proxy order and can be extremely useful in no-press games or in any game where proxy is not otherwise enabled.

Gift Bribe Example
England2 : F BRE - PIC
France1 * F BRE - ENG
Germany2 : F BRE - MAO

Both the English and the German offer have a total value of 3 AgP (since the French silver piece will be given no matter what), so what will F BRE do? Well, that depends on how the owner of the fleet in Brest (let's say it's France) set his "acceptance list." And what is an acceptance list? Each player must submit a acceptance list at the start of the game and may update it at any time. The acceptance list is submitted in the same format as a SET PREFERENCE command, and it is used to break ties on offers. If France's acceptance list was set to FEGIATR, England's offer would take preference over Germany's and the unit will be ordered to move to Picardy.

But How Much Should I Spend?

Yeah, I know, you've got all this money and great plans for spending it, but you don't know how much to spend now and how much to save for later. If you spend too much now, you'll end up with too little at crunch time. If you spend too little now, you'll have lots later but nothing useful to spend it on. In order to decide how to spend, you need to keep two things in mind.

First, you and everybody else will be getting more money each year or, rather, you will if you still hold any SC's. Thus, your primary goal is still the same -- get those SC's. If you save 5 AgP's this year but fail to get the extra SC that would have earned you an additional 10 AgP's, you haven't spent wisely. When in doubt about spending a few extra AgP's, ask yourself if spending them will take or protect an SC. If so, spend them.

Second, the amount of money in circulation. You can never know exactly how much money is in circulation except prior to the first turn. However, if you pay close attention to how much you have to spend in order to successfully bribe your own units, how your attempted bribes of other units are accepted or rejected, and how much others spend to bribe your units, you can get a very good sense of how much your opponents are spending every turn. This, in turn, gives you an idea of total cash still in circulation, as well as the current bid break points.

Expenditure Example
You started last turn with...40 AgP
For your own three units, you bid an average of...5 AgP
For your own units, your success was...2 out of 3
For two opposing units, you bid an average of...5 AgP
For opposing units, your success was...1 out of 2
Money paid by other(s) to your rebellious unit was....7 AgP
So you offered a total of....25 AgP
And ended up spending....15 AgP

From this, you can reasonably determine that

A general rule of thumb in the early game is to spend everything you have, every year. This is particularly important when lots of unclaimed SC's are up for grabs and will probably be cheaper to get than when they are owned by someone else. A corollary to this rule is to spend half of everything you have in the Spring, and half in the Fall. One common error is to spend just a little in the Spring with the intention of spending big in the Fall. The problem with this is that you can't spend usefully in the Fall if you're not in a position to take any SC's. Spring phase is actually more critical than Fall because you must have a dominant position after the Spring in order to be effective in taking SC's in the Fall.

Overspending (or Living Happily Beyond Your Means)

One interesting rule which is very important to note: you are allowed to make bribe offers for more than the amount you have in the bank. The reason for doing this is to allow you to anticipate the fact that some of your bribes may be too low to be accepted. If you bid too low on one bribe, all of the funds targeted for that bribe will sit idle during that phase. On the other hand, if you assume that some bribes will fail and you feel able to guess the amount of those which will fail (if not the specific offers), you can still make large bribes for all units to ensure that those that succeed will be the highest bid. For example, examine these two different sets of English offers:

English account balance: 21 AgP
Offer Set 1Offer Set 2
6 : F ENG - NTH
5 : F HEL H
5 : F WAL - ENG
7 : F ENG - NTH
7 : F HEL H
7 : F WAL - ENG

In the first example, England has spent exactly what he has in his account. If all of his offers are the highest bids, he's in good shape. However, if one of them fails, he has lost the use of those funds for that turn and, since he didn't allocate extra funds for the other offers, he increases the chances that they will also be too low and will fail, as well.

In the second example, England has overspent, assuming that one of his offers will fail. If he's right that exactly one of them is doomed to failure, he still uses all of his available funds and is more likely to be the high bidder on the other offers since he has spent more on them. Unfortunately, if he's wrong and all of his offers are accepted, he will overdraw his account and all offers will be reduced one silver piece at a time until they are low enough to not overdraw his account. In this case, his offers would first be reduced from 7 AgP each to 6 AgP each, and then all the units would look again to decide if this is still the best offer on the table. If so, the Englishman would still overdraw his account (paying four bribes of six silver pieces each), so they would all be reduced yet again, now down to five silver pieces each. All offers are reduced equally, not just enough of them to get below your bank balance; that's the penalty for guessing wrong.

The Power of One

Have you ever found yourself wishing in a standard game that you could control just one of your enemy's units? Just make that one unit do your bidding because it would bollix up all his plans? Well, in Payola you can do just that. This one factor changes the entire strategic concept of the game. It is critically important that you consider this point when planning your offense and defense. For example, examine the following position:

Normally, Russia would be in a world of hurt, but in Payola, all the Russian player needs to do is control the German A SIL. If he is able to get that unit to HOLD, none of Germany's other armies are going anywhere. Better yet, if Russia can be sure he controls SIL, he also need only control F LVN, not A WAR. If A SIL and F LVN both HOLD, then A WAR can roam without concern for Warsaw's safety.

Germany, on the other hand, must not only control SIL, he must also control WAR and BER. Although his position is tactically superior, the mercenary effect of bribes in Payola puts him at a significant strategic disadvantage. He'll need a large bank account to roll over Russia from this position.

Two interesting side-effects develop from the ability to control key opposing units (and your opponents' ability to control yours). Let's take a look at these.

First, since your own units can be used against your interests if you don't control them, it is often wise to waive builds. If a new unit will not immediately assist in gaining and holding SC's and if its presence could be used to block your desired movements, don't build it. For example, examine the following position:

If Turkey has a build pending, he should waive it. If we assume that he desires to take Sevastopol, any build in Ankara (his only available home SC) could be used against him by blocking SMY - ARM. If he builds in Ankara, he needs to control both SMY and ANK to ensure he gets ARM. If he waives the build, he needs to control only one unit to achieve the same goal. Since he'll be trying to control the units from the same limited supply of funds and since the extra unit doesn't really help him take or defend an SC, he can save money by waiving the build so that he doesn't have to spend to control the extra unit.

Second, there are no stalemate lines in Payola. Since any unit will act on the highest bid, no unit can be trusted to hold a stalemate line. The net result of this effect is that Payola games are much more likely to end in solo victories. [Editor's note: at the time of this writing, every Payola game ever played has ended in a solo victory.]


Well, there you have it. A (not so) brief and (not so) thorough examination of the Payola variant. In case my fondness for the variant hasn't been made clear yet, let me tell you that I've been playing in at least one Payola variant game ever since the variant's inception. I've yet to hear any significant negative feedback and I've noted that most players who try it once will return for further Payola games at the first opportunity. I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

'Til next time, I remain,

Pitt Crandlemire
The Big Dipper
([email protected])

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