What Every Young Tyrant Should Know

Bruce Duewer

Part II of a series on Machiavelli; this article deals with the implications of the initial setup

There are eight powers at the start of a game of Machiavelli. Just as in standard Diplomacy, there are certain conflicts that appear natural, and occur in many games. In Machiavelli, however, the pairings are more obvious and less matched. Instead of everyone worrying about a R/T alliance, they simply worry about Venice -- for as long as there is no organized resistance, Venice can win any war against his choice of neighbor, sometimes two neighbors. Also unlike standard, it is possible to lose on the very first turn of the game if you make a critical error. This article seeks to explain enough of this type of Machiavelli lore so that a new player can get through the opening phases of the game in one piece, and without accidentally creating a monster in the process. This is all knowledge with parallels to concepts and situations in standard Diplomacy, like knowing that A/I make good allies -- there are always exceptions, of course, but there is also the generally accepted base of knowledge.

One way to think of the Machiavelli powers is as a set of four groups of two. Generally, there is significant conflict the two powers in each group, although when differences are put aside each pair can act as a strong team. Indeed, it is the very strength available to that consolidated position that makes absorption of the other part of each group so tempting, and war so likely. Of course, there is much more to one's opening than this, but before one learns to multiply, one learns to add. Before one learns how to conquer Florence with Turkey, one needs to know how to do it with the Papacy.

Naples and Turkey

The first pair we look at is Naples and Turkey. These two powers together control half the fleets on the board at the start, and generally build more as quickly as possible. Barring outside intervention, the fight between these two powers is fairly balanced. Often it will come down to the relative tactical skills of the powers; sometimes a famine in a key city will give one power or the other the edge.

Alliance is made difficult by the division of the Turkish home area to two corners of the board, making guarding against a stab sometimes troublesome. If you're playing Turkey, watch out for famine or plague in Tunis -- you can lose your most lucrative city quickly if you only have one unit in the west and it gets killed there. Since Turkish units can't go anywhere else without going by Neopolitan home cities, Naples also worries about a Turkish stab.

Still, I've won games on both sides of an N/T alliance, and have have used an early N/T war to good effect as well. Just don't leave yourself too open, and be careful not to use your borrowing too early. While both powers have good long term chances if played carefully, getting too badly hurt in the early war can leave you vulnerable to players from other areas like Venice, France, or the Papacy. In fact, France can be invited in as kingmaker and take the kingdom if the battle is ugly enough and he has time to bring up enough force.

Milan and France

The second pair is Milan and France. These powers may appear not to be as likely to fight each other early on -- if you're playing France you definitely want to convince Milan that this is so! There is a rich clump of neutral supply centers between France and Milan, including the pseudo-nation of Genoa, which has a variable income attached to it. France starts weak but can grow explosively from his corner position using this clump of centers. Often one can secure Savoy/Turin, take Saluzzo at leisure, let someone (often Milan) do the work of laying seige to Genoa, then drive in when the time is right.

From Milan's point of view, the key here is to convince France that the sea is the way to go. A joint assault on Austria may appear tempting, but it just increases your long term vulnerability unless you have such a combination of luck and skill as to get the entire Austrian home area for yourself -- and even then you may be in trouble. If France gets the whole clump of neutral centers while you're taking Austria, France may still outclass you, especially with Venice as a neighbor with a wide border. So get France to go to sea, and make sure that Montferrat is yours and that you cover your french border adequately. France can do well at sea, and needs to maintain a sea presence as a screen if nothing else, so this is not an unreasonable thing to ask of him.

Venice and Austria

This looks like a massive mismatch in strength. It is. Austria as David can sometimes hit Goliath, but really, Austria needs to enlist help from the outside. Milan is a natural ally for Austria, and may be willing to send help out of self-interest. After all, Milan's worst nightmare is to have a large border with a Venice who has absorbed Austria. Turkey is another possibility -- that army in Albania can cause Venice fits, and if Turkey isn't in a deathmatch with Naples he can profit nicely from damaging Venice. He certainly doesn't want Austria to get swallowed.

The Papacy can be a big help as well in tying up Venetian forces, but is slower to cause real damage to Venice in most cases. His fleet in Ancona can limit Venetian logistical options at the beginning by bouncing in UAS a while, and he'll usually do this for his own defensive reasons. No one wants Venice too close to them. But the Pope has a lot of trouble taking more than Ferrara from Venice (who usually secures Ferrara at the start).

Venice, of course, wants to be on good relations with as many neighbors as possible, while eating the others. If the other players allow it, Austria makes an excellent target, providing Venice with a corner from which to work, with an excellent position for an assault on Milan if he chooses, with security for some neutrals, and with an excuse to build up forces. Venice can't be killed ever if he is careful, since his capital only borders one sea zone, and a garrison there cannot be defeated by conventional means, while requiring twice as much as a normal unit to disband. Of course, sometimes Venice will choose to be less than careful for a little while for the purposes of saving money, but if he has time he can always withdraw to the isle and live there comfortably off his variable rolls. If Venice has an elite professional garrison at home, he isn't going to be destroyed until the game is basically over anyway.

Of course, it is possible V/A will make peace, and in this case, Austria should insist on at least two of the neutrals available (Trent, Croatia, Carniola). Sure, Milan has some claim to Trent, but compared to his other concerns it's usually in his best interest to back Austria's claim. Even if at peace with Venice, I don't think Austria should attack Milan -- in this case the general wisdom from standard Diplomacy about A/I wars applies. In fact, there's not much for Austria to do in this case except keep an eye open for a good chance to invade France or send a risky expedition down to Turkey. The latter is likely to do more harm than good most of the time, unless an N/T alliance is in evidence.

The Pope and Florence

Now for the most bloody of pairs: P/L. You need to know the first turn takeout moves for killing Florence, just as every good Diplomacy player should know the Lepanto. If you're playing one of P/L, you need to know it much better than that. Here it is, minus the loans (since this will depend on starting cash):

This can not only kill Florence if he moves out of Pisa, but gives the Pope control of the home area since it takes Pistoia as well. Sure, the Pope sacrifices a lot of leverage over Ferrara/Mantua, but who cares? He instantly jumps ahead of even Venice in income.

Can you say "Early Leader Syndrome"? Well, yes, this could be a problem, but only if the board remains in a position to respond. If the Pope lays the proper diplomatic groundwork, he can hold off the reaction long enough to pay that debt. Of course, if Florence knows what is up, he can take precautions. Such as the oft-ignored Pisa Hold order. Or the more expensive large counterbribe to Florence or Arezzo. Florence has the advantage of a compact and wealthy nation -- if the Pope tries the knockout and fails, the Pope is in deep trouble. Florence can use some money to regain some lost territory and remove the Pope's means to pay the crushing debt.

Because of this, trying for the knockout is a dangerous move if Florence suspects anything. And a good Florence always suspects something. So the Pope and Florence will usually talk to each other friendly for a while, take precautions, and then one will jump on the other if they perceive a weakness.

Sometimes they actually manage to work together. Usually this involves the Pope helping check Venetian growth and trying to get the neutral block to the north, while Florence works to rule the seas. If they resist the temptation to fight long enough, th strategic importance of the units that the other is deploying actually decreases the chance of a stab. Since P/L are in the middle, such units sometimes hold the balance of power; and since a P/L alliance generally tends to provide a balance of power, this means that the pair can reach a point where even the ability to quickly swallow the other is unimportant since such an attack would help someone else more than it would help the person doing the swallowing.

Outside Your Area

So what should you do outside your own area? Well, everyone but Venice and perhaps France would prefer that Venice is contained. You might want to spend a little time diplomatically trying to encourage this. Remember: Venice can't be hurt too much at the start of the game. You want to make some friends everywhere, so do a lot of talking. Look for the powers who can most help you with your own situation. For example, France and Florence can swing the balance in a tough N/T war. Florence and the Pope can both be players in the Genoa game if they make it a priority in their opening. Generally, it is in your interest to develop slowly except where you are making gains, so keep that in mind. Don't neglect to consider the possibility that one or more pairs may put aside their problems -- make the proper contingency plans to so that you can form a large alliance against a group that comes after you, and be willing to join a group to help a friend. Pay attention to how things develop at sea, and don't use up your money too quickly.


In my next installment, I'll talk about the bank, basic financial strategy, and how to avoid premature assassination. I'll also talk about how to bend the odds in your favor if you know you will default.

Bruce Duewer

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