The Power of the Purse

Spending So There's No Tomorrow

By Bruce Duewer

Part V in a Series on Machiavelli

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:

  1. If your target has a bunch of units in famined areas in spring, you can do a lot more damage assassinating them now than at any other time during the year. The freezing of their units will cause them a lot of extra pain when it really means the units are dead.
  2. If your target has a lot of units in garrison form, you might want to wait for the garrisons to convert before sending an assassin. When the rebellions are assigned, they can't affect cities with garrisons in them. The biggest long-term piece of damage that assassination does to a player is to turn their cities against them -- the province rebellions are not nearly as damaging.
  3. If you need more assassination chits, ask around. If a player is big enough to be worth assassinating, they probably made some enemies. Don't forget the eliminated players. Assassination chit transfers are asynchronous, so you can gather them between seasons if necessary.
  4. Take advantage of the season's freeze to kick some units around. Things that have been solidly supported won't be during just this one season. Yes, you might leave yourself open relying on the assassination, but if you weren't about to lose anyway if it didn't work you wouldn't be doing an assassination attempt.

Buy A Unit

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:

  1. When possible, pick a target who can't counterbribe. If this is not possible, pick the unit that your victim is not expecting you to buy. You're spending a lot of money, you don't want to lose it.
  2. When in doubt, overbribe. You may waste some money, but not as much money as would be wasted if the bribe fails.
  3. Remember that garrisons in major cities cost twice as much to bribe. So do professionals and citizens. Don't even think about buying a citizen's garrison in Venice; go win the game with your 72d instead.
  4. Look at the other bribe types first and make sure you can't do the job cheaper.
  5. One truly nifty trick is to buy a fleet and use it to convoy one of your units forward; this can really crack an opponent's defenses wide open if done properly.
  6. Unless you can take advantage of famine, wait until after Spring to buy a unit that won't end the turn at sea, so you don't get damaged by plague.
  7. Before you decide to buy that special unit, make sure you don't already have one. You aren't allowed to have more than one at once.

Kill 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.

Rebellions -- Making and Breaking

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:

  1. Rebellions are not very useful against areas with Garrisons in them; they are not even possible against the city of Venice if it is occupied by an Army or Fleet since there is no province there.
  2. Home areas are more expensive to put in rebellion.

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.

Garrison Games

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.

Famine Relief

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.

Next Time

My next installment will deal with how to run an endgame defense in a game with no stalemate lines. I might throw in some other things. I need to reread my past articles and see if there are any glaring holes -- feel free to e-mail me if there is an issue you want addressed.

Bruce Duewer

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