Payola Diplomacy

Thoughts On Play

In addition to the scattered strategies presented throughout the annotations, here are some random observations on the play of Payola Diplomacy. Payola allows a meaningful cooperation of any two (or more) powers at any time. England and Russia can ally against Italy in 1902, if they want, and do him real hurts. Turkey, France, and Austria can join up to make England's life difficult from the very beginning. In exploring these possibilities and playing the game, there are a lot of nuances to be explored, and here I present only a few.

Spending Patterns

The most common money management strategy for the Payola player is to bid defensively in the Spring, and then -- seeing what your position is after the Spring -- more heavily in the Fall. Since income occurs only once a year, you quickly learn that you do not want to leave yourself without sufficient Falltime money to cover your own supply centers or to complete an assault to gain one or more new centers. To illustrate this, I have chronicled the percentage of money spent in each season of a particular game. This is presented in the table below.

Expenditures in a Typical Payola Game
Spring Money
Fall Money
190135092 (26.3%)258176 (68.2%)268 (76.6%)
1902554161 (29.0%)393206 (52.4%)367 (66.2%)
1903679119 (17.5%)560341 (60.9%)460 (67.7%)
1904713200 (28.1%)513314 (61.2%)510 (71.0%)
1905674178 (26.4%)496253 (51.0%)431 (63.9%)
1906718210 (29.2%)508300 (59.1%)510 (71.0%)
1907662161 (24.3%)501259 (51.7%)420 (63.4%)
1908678175 (25.8%)503276 (54.9%)451 (66.5%)
1909639240 (37.6%)399256 (64.2%)496 (77.6%)
191055978 (14.0%)481327 (68.0%)405 (72.5%)

From the above table, it becomes apparent that the common practice is to spend less than half of one's reserve in the Spring, and then more than half of the remainder in the Fall. In fact, the table contains no Spring season in which more than 50% of the available money was spent, and no Fall season in which less than 50% of the available money was spent. Of course, when offers are made, it is difficult to forecast exact spending; only the spending ceiling can be set. If we assume that expenditures in both seasons amount to a similar precentage of this ceiling, though, the fact that this money management scheme is a conscious one becomes clear. Indeed, this pattern of spending is also apparent from individually submitted offer sheets.

One Reason to Deviate

The normal spending pattern is tried and true, but this is not to say that there are not sound reasons to use other patterns. To illustrate this, here is an anecdote from one of the games I Mastered.

A player who had gained a strong advantage over the other players on the board, reaching 14 centers or so, sumbitted a Springtime offer sheet that stabbed his one remaining ally but that was virtually guaranteed to cause an outflow of far greater than half the balance in his considerable bank account. Curious as to why this player chose to deviate from the normal light Spring/heavy Fall spending pattern which had gotten him so far, I inquired (after the processing of the Spring moves that impoverished him) as to his reasoning. His response was enlightening, revealing a novel tactic that I had not previously considered. I paraphrase it below.

Perhaps I overspent -- I have no way of knowing. Of course I wish I had more money, but my Spring strategy was to win every single one of my offers no matter the cost, pushing myself as far forward as I could, and into as many SC's as possible. I wasn't really interested in keeping them in the Fall (though if I do, all the better). Rather, I was more interested in making the (surely united after this last move!) opposition spend together in the Fall, hopefully a ton of cash, which will all go only to push me back to where I was before this year. With their treasuries drained, then, my hope is to rely on the weight of my year-end income to get me a solo next year with the typical conservative Spring, heavy-spending Fall cycle.
This is an excellent and very valid strategy, a nuance I never thought about, and it shows how other considerations can determine spending patterns.

The Payola Endgame

If you're playing Payola Diplomacy, you can throw your stalemate line references out the window. Think about it.

France and Germany are eliminated and England has taken St. Petersburg, so no one but England can build a northern fleet. Now he sets up fleets in Portugal, the Mid-Atlantic, the Channel, Norway, Denmark, and St. Pete. In a standard game, you can't touch him. He can HOLD and SUPPORT until kingdom come. He has guaranteed himself a part of any draw.

Not in a Payola game. In a Payola game, it takes more than just orders to hold this stalemate line -- it takes money. On every turn, the line stands a chance of breaking down. Denmark could suddenly step aside and allow the Austrian to enter Scandinavia. The St. Pete fleet could decide to sail the Barents rather than accept Norwegian support. The Portuguese fleet might leave Lisbon, tempted by Italian lira.

In fact, every turn in which this traditional stalemate line does hold fast means that the money supply of the English player dwindles while that of his foes doesn't, and this makes it that much easier for the opposition to break the line on the next turn.

Do stalemate lines exist at all in Payola? I am tempted to say that they don't. However, I do wonder if they can arise under certain economic conditions. Consider the situation described above (where England has blocked Portugal, Denmark, and St. Petersburg) and assume that it takes every bit of money that England has to outbid the constant efforts to break this line. Consider also that England is offering money to each of the enemy units (money that is not accepted, but that drives up the prices that the opposition must pay to hold their side of the line -- for example, he is successfully ordering Den-Kie while unsuccessfully bribing the Austrian army in Kiel and the Italian fleet in Spain to step aside). Finally, consider that because of these English bribes, the opposition coalition is therefore spending 100% of its money to keep its side of the line (Kiel and Spain) from slipping.

If either side lowered their bids by one silver piece to any unit, the line would break down, allowing the opposition to advance (or allowing the opposition to save money for use in the next year, and this would tip the scales by then allowing a key bid to be raised). Assuming that such a situation is reached -- and that all parties realize that such a situation is reached -- then a true stalemate situation would exist and a draw would need to be declared. I contend that it would be mighty difficult for such a situation to arise, and that it would be even more difficult for it to be noticed by any of the players if it did.

For this reason, my initial thoughts were that every Payola game should end in a solo victory and that I, as a GameMaster, would only accept this result. However, stalemates, as we all know, are not the only -- and not even the most common -- reason for which draws are declared. More common is the situation in which three or more players can each find themselves afraid that someone other than himself can win on the coming turn, and so decide for their own sakes to call a draw. For example, two players in a game could each control 16 SC's, with a third power, pinned between these powers, controlling the other two centers. This third power could broadcast a call for a three-way draw, since each of the other powers could be afraid that the two centers owned by the small power could fall into the hands of the other large power, giving that player the solo victory.

In a standard game, these same two large powers could -- if they'd properly positioned themselves -- be set up such that each of the two would safely capture one of the small power's centers, to end the game in a two-way draw. In Payola, the money in the small power's account (and, indeed, in any eliminated players' accounts) is a wildcard that makes this tactic much more risky and difficult.

It would seem from this discussion that Payola games are most likely to end in solo victories, and least likely to end in two-way draws.

Leaving Yourself Open

Payola games can provide at least some metric as to how tightly an alliance binds. For example, if the French player promises England that he will offer some money on a certain English order, the English player has some chance to test the fulfillment of this promise. If the order is issued and the only money spent for it is English, the English player will know it and will be able to point out to the French that he has welched on his promise. Similarly, if a different order is issued for that unit, and at an expense only slightly higher than the price offered by England for the wanted order, the duplicity of the French can also be deduced.

From this, we can see that the ability to find an ally who will agree to coordinate bribes on one's own units is to find a reliable ally. In the same vein, it becomes apparent that promises to coordinate bribes should only be made when the consequences of failure to follow-through have been considered (and/or planned).

Working at a Disadvantage?

The so-called witches of Diplomacy -- England and Turkey -- would appear to be disadvantaged by Payola. England can be kept from building in 1901 simply by successfully bribing his two fleets to stay home in the Spring. The power or combination of powers that managed this feat would then be able to ignore England in the Fall and spend money elsewhere, confident that England is crippled. Similarly, the trip from Constantinople to Bulgaria, which is so important to Turkey not only at the beginning of the game but throughout it, can be foiled with a single bribe, and Turkey can find himself with a lot of trouble and no room to maneuver.

Additionally, Italy could be stunted in growth by some malicious Spring 1901 bribery. By keeping the Italian fleet off the water, Tunis cannot be taken. Indeed, by bribing Naples to HOLD and Venice to move to Tuscany (unopposed by Rome), the Italian is guaranteed not to build in 1901.

One would think that France and Germany (and/or Russia) would instinctively combine in 1901 to bribe the English fleets to HOLD, that Russia and Austria would find good cause to pool their resources to keep Constantinople (and therefore the rest of the Turkish units) locked in Asia, and that France and Austria might wish to shut Naples and Venice in. In every one of the actual games played so far, however, none of these 1901 crippling actions were undertaken (or if they were, they were unsuccessful).

My belief, then, is that this initial perception that these powers are easy victims is a false one. It may be true, though, that they are forced to either conduct some inspired diplomacy or else to work together to avoid the fates outlined for them above. Perhaps, however, the simple greatness of the game of Diplomacy is what has kept these crippling actions from taking place. For every action, after all, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Just as it would seem to be in France and Russia's best interest to keep the English fleets on the island in Spring 1901, it would likely be in Italy and Austria's best interest to assist in getting the Edinburgh fleet to sail. After all, Italy usually does not look kindly on the early exit of England at the hands of France -- who, then, would attack the Frenchman from the rear when he turns south?

Of Mice And Men

In Payola, there are a multitude of ways in which the best laid plans can go awry. A unit that you're counting on to provide a key support could be bribed away from you. Worse yet, all the supports are there, but the moving unit has been bribed not to use them.

Perhaps the most difficult move in Payola Diplomacy is the convoy. To successfully pull off a convoy, a minimum of two bribes must go through (as opposed to one for other moves). This would seem to compound the perceived (though apparently non-existant) disadvantage of the English player, who relies on the convoy more than does any other player.

Additionally, you must not discount the possibility that your moves will not just fail, but that they will turn against you. Just ask any English player who has offered to pay his North Sea fleet to carry his army to Norway but instead saw it decide to convoy an invading German army into London.

For a number of reasons, the units of any particular power in a Payola game tend, I believe, to spread themselves out more than they do in standard Diplomacy. In standard Diplomacy, the norm is to maintain all your units, if not adjacent to each other, then within spitting distance. In Payola, it is not uncommon that units from more than one nation will tend to roam far behind or far in front of the lines, either purposely or accidentally (as a by-product of the war).

All this truly makes for an interesting game, even to watch. I am often struck with the feeling, when looking at maps of Payola games -- with the failed supports, the missed convoys, the unexpectedly routed units and the dramatic turns of fortune -- that they resemble actual real-world war maps much more than do standard Diplomacy games.


A very interesting statistic for a Payola GameMaster to keep is "overage." Define "overage" as any money spent that didn't affect the outcome of the move. For example, if a unit receives two offers, one for five silver pieces and the other for three silver pieces, then the person offering the five silver pieces could instead have offered four silver pieces (or even three if the acceptance list for the unit would break a tie in his favor), meaning this player had an overage of one (or two) for this offer. Now obviously, a country should try to reduce overage as much as possible, but the players don't have any good way to know how much overage they have! Consider this overage calculation from Spring, 1901 of a Payola game.


Note that all of Germany's (modest) spending was overage; that almost three fourths of Russia's spending was; and that fully 63% of the total money spent was spent unnecessarily.

The players themselves, however, do not know what their overage is, and so their adjustments may be made incorrectly. Consider what the players would know after the above move.

ExpenditureAmount Bid

Austria, England, and Germany had around half their offers taken -- they will likely feel they should raise a bit. France and Italy had every offer accepted -- they will think they bid a bit too high. But from the overage chart, we see that while France will be correct to lower his bids (overage 8 of 10 spent), Italy would be wrong (4 of 12).

It is interesting to watch, as a GameMaster, adjustments made by the players to their overage as the game proceeds. This can show how adept each player is becoming at determining the "going" prices for various units.

There are a million ways to think about this data! Mastering Payola is great fun.

Lean, Mean, Fighting Machines

One tactic that is used far more often in Payola games than in standard games is the waived build. One way to think about this is to realize that every unit you build is one more unit that could be used against you. Sure, if the unit behaves itself, it can gain you supply centers, but just as often your own units can actually prove more bothersome to you than anything, and can actually show up as a hindrance rather than as a help.

Nothing is worse than having your attack go off perfectly except for one of your own uninvolved units, fouling the whole thing up by bouncing a key move of yours or by supporting the very enemy unit that you are attacking. It sure makes you wish you hadn't built that unit.

By maintaining fewer units on the board than the number of supply centers you control, you are also able to devote a greater amount of money to each of your own units. This becomes important, especially given the decreasing amount of income that each new supply center gained brings you.

As I mentioned above, the Payola game seems to me to even more closely resemble real-world war situations than does the standard game, and I feel that a fair number of waived builds is one more way in which this realism is enhanced. At the very least, the fact that Payola provides new and very legitimate reasons to consider build waiving makes the players' decisions that much broader, deeper, and more important. Perhaps it is this that provokes me to say that it more closely resembles real life.

Playing Possum

I have seen an interesting tactic employed in some Payola games, and that is to spend very minimally (if at all), allowing your units to be pushed around by other players while you save money.

Assuming you are on friendly terms with your neighbors, you can allow faroff powers to indicate how interested they are in attacking your neighbors by simply waiting to see how your own pieces are put to use. At that point, you can elect either to join the fray or to use your savings to protect your neighbor and expose his enemy.

An added -- perhaps accidental -- benefit of this tactic is that when no one has any interest in using your units, your units will likely HOLD turn after turn. Even this can be a plus, since many, if not all, players will misinterpret these HOLDs as expensive purchases by foreign powers. You will find that sympathy will pour out for your "failed plans," and that the players who truly have had units purchased out from under them will see you as a natural (and rich) ally to fight with them against those who oppose them.

To pull off this tactic as, say, Italy, perhaps it would be better not to apathetically let your units HOLD, but instead to make small offers for orders that any sensible Italian would not make (for example, Ven-Tus with Rom-Tus in Spring of 1901). This can make your units look bought off, something that can come in quite handy in alliance building. If these orders go through, you could then openly claim to have been bought-off, and petition all those who truly had rogue units to sympathize with you and chip in some dough for a joint endeavor.

This strategy can backfire too, of course. If everyone assumes that your nation is "bought," they could set out to find the bandwagon to jump on, thinking that you obviously have no friends so why bail water from a sinking ship. The fact that your treasury is probably undepleted will perhaps offset this risk.