by Stephen Knewtson

Machiavelli, the Game of Princes

In my opinion, of the manifold Diplomacy variants, Machiavelli is the best, and one of the best wargames, period. I believe that when you examine what it is that makes Diplomacy a fun and exciting hobby, it is not a boardgame at all: it is the original role-playing game. And what period could be more fun in which to role-play than Renaissance Italy? Few games are as endowed with as much historical atmosphere, excitement and drama as Machiavelli. This is not Diplomacy with a different map. It is a full color recreation of the turbulent struggles of the Italian Renaissance complete with mercenaries, magnificent cities, assassins, sieges and disasters. It is accessible to any gamer, but for those who wish to ride in the saddle of Sir John Hawkwood, count gold with the Medicis, or plot with Francesco Sforza, Machiavelli is a sumptuous experience.

Color Map

(Click map for a full-size view in a separate window)

The purpose of this article is to prepare a Judge-competent pedestrian Diplomacy player for his or her first Machiavelli match, using all the advanced features of the 1st edition, including money and disasters. After reading this article you will be all set to join a Machiavelli game, and play convincingly enough for other players to think you actually have read the rules, which you can do later. What follow is an abstract of what you need with some tips, and some hard-to-find proper Judge syntax. Go ahead and join the game queue now, don't wait!

First Things First

Use the Automated Mapper

A lot of you will are already familiar with the Alan Tésio automated mapping utility here. If you are not familiar, then get used to this page, because hand-plotting Machiavelli turn results is for masochists only! You can download a current map or the history of the game in any format you like.

Print the Rules to pdf

Get the rules for Machiavelli here. Print them to a pdf file. I like having them in pdf format because it allows you find every instance of a search term and browse quickly, something you are going to want to do. I've done the same thing for the Judge Users Manual. My Apple-Mac preview utility gives a wonderful table of all instances of a keyword in context in handy clickable window, allowing me to find execrable Judge-syntax entries instantly; shameless Mac plug.

Read the game listing

Read the game listing! This is important because all or only some of the features of Machiavelli may be in use. It is also possible that the game is Mach2, which uses 2nd edition rules of Machiavelli, and a modified map. If you have questions or reservations then the time to deal with them is before powers are assigned. So read your game listing carefully and contact the GM if you need guidance.

Machiavelli vs. Diplomacy

How does Machiavelli compare with Diplomacy? Machiavelli uses the same mechanics, but expands them in to add new dimensions to the game, not just a different map. In addition to armies and fleets there are garrisons. Units are more dynamic, having the ability to convert from fleet to army, or vice versa. There are three seasons of movement instead of two. Instead of static builds, money is used, and players draw income. Players have a handy line of credit, allowing much more flexibility. This you'll need, because the other features are disasters such as plague and famine, and let's not forget about bribery… yes, in this milieu — much as in real life — money is influence. But it is still Diplomacy! Ultimate success is still a function of your ability to negotiate. What is really different is that there are more dimensions, more options, and so, much more room for dedicated Diplomacy players to display their talents.

Power Codes

These are the codes the Judge uses for the major powers of the game. Notice that Florence and Milan deviate from the initial-letter pattern. If you are having trouble signing on then this might be your problem.

Judge CodePower
PThe Papacy

Note that the codes for Florence and Milan are different from the initial letters! So be careful when you are sending press.

Sequence of Play

Machiavelli uses three movement phases per build phase. Thus, each year in Machiavelli looks like this:

  1. Spring Campaign
  2. Summer Campaign
  3. Fall Campaign
  4. Build (Winter)

Realize that control of regions is adjudicated every movement season. Income is calculated at the end of Fall.

You can look up the complete sequence of play in the rules file, but here are the important things you need to keep in mind:

  • First, each campaign you can perform banking. When banking you can pay down your current loan and make credit available to borrow before the bank collects the remainder of the load. This is very important to know when refinancing your debt!

  • Second, know that there is no borrowing phase during the adjustment (Winter) phase. If you want money to build or maintain, then the Fall expense phase is the last chance to borrow for building.

  • Thirdly, plague effects are applied at the end of spring. Plague 'happens' in the Summer, but before orders are written, so you will see the effects of plague in the Spring results. Thus if you are plague averse, you need to keep plague in mind when planning Spring movement.

Income and Finances

Machiavelli is income based. Instead of getting builds for centers, you pay for your forces. You can also choose to save money in your treasury, borrow money from the bank, or spend money on bribes. Income comes from the areas you control.

Table 1: Income Sources
Province*1 ducat
City**1 ducat
Major City**2 - 3 ducats, as noted on board
Fleet (if in a sea area)1 ducat (piracy)
Variable***See table 2
*Provinces struck by famine do not produce income. Famine is denoted in Judge results with a % symbol.
**Cities that are being sieged do not produce income.
***Variable income is awarded to each power. Each power has an independent function, so see the rules file for details. The important thing to know is that you keep your variable income unless all of your home regions are conquered. The only exception to this is Genoa, which is neutral. Genoa's income transfers with control of Genoa. This table gives you the idea of how much income you can expect, and your opponents can expect.

Table 2: Incomes of Major Cities
(rounded down)


Machiavelli allows players to borrow money form the bank. But be careful! Defaulting has consequences.

The syntax for making and paying loans is given in this table:

Table 3: Bank Command Syntax
Syntax for Borrowing:Syntax to cancel a loan
(prior to execution)
Borrow n ducats for 1 year
Borrow n ducats for 2 years
Borrow 0 ducats for 1 year
Borrow 0 ducats for 2 years
Syntax to pay BankSyntax to give money to another player
Pay n ducats to bank
Pay 0 ducats to bank
Pay n ducats to [Power]
Pay 0 ducats to [Power]

Useful hint: Can you pay your debts? During the income phase you need to look ahead and see what loans are due the next year in order to reserve enough cash. The minimum amount of income and credit you need to pay any one loan is equal to the total interest you owe plus at least half of the principal. Thus if you have a total debt of 25+13 in principal and interest, you will need to dedicate 26 ducats to service debt that year, not 38. This will leave you with a 12 ducat loan, which you might take as 12+6, due in two years. It will also create 13 ducats credit you can borrow the immediate next turn. It will take a little experience to learn to manage your finances. Good players track the finances of their opponents as well.

Bribes and Expenses

Machiavelli has the added dimension of bribery. Bribes allow you to remove your opponents units or buy them outright. There are also other expenses such as rebellion and assassination that give the game more action.

  • To bribe another unit, you must have a unit of your own next to it. (Adjacency)

  • You can pay for as many as four bribes, which are identified in your orders as expenses.

  • A bribe is successful as long as the amount is equal to or greater than the bribe cost after any counter-bribes are deducted.

  • Only the largest bribe is considered, and all other bribes are lost. If no one bribe is larger than the others, all bribes are wasted.

  • Units in major cities, those with additional income e.g. Genoa, cost double.

  • Citizens militias and Elite professionals cost double to bribe, and quadrupled in major cities.

Table 4: Bribes in Order of Expense
Bribing a Committed (another player's) Army, Fleet, or Garrison
Expense 1: (18+3n) ducats buy 18 ducats buy A Tur
Expense 1: (12+3n) ducats disband 12 ducats disband A Flo
If you buy a unit, submit orders for it as an ordinary unit. If you are bribing a special unit, be aware that you are limited to disbanding it if you already have a special unit of your own.
Rebellions (These cannot be counter-bribed)
Expense 1: (15+3n) ducats cause rebellion [prov]15 ducats cause rebellion Tun
Expense 1: (9+3n) ducats cause rebellion [prov]9 ducats cause rebellion Tnt
The effect of rebellions are described in the Rebellion section. The first bribe causes a player's home territory to rebel against the player. The second bribe causes a conquered province to rebel against its current owner, including any home provinces of yours that someone else has conquered.
Converting Garrisons
Expense 1: (9+3n) ducats garrison to autonomous [prov]9 ducats garrison to autonomous Mon
Expense 1: (9+3n) ducats buy g [auton. garrison]9 ducats buy g Mon
A committed garrison is converted by the first bribe to an autonomous garrison. The second order commits an autonomous garrison to you. Remember to submit an order for it.
Disbanding an Autonomous Garrison
Expense 1: (6+3n) ducats disband g [auton. garrison]6 ducats disband g Sav
Expense 1: (3+3n) counter-bribe [A/F/G] [prov]3 ducats counter-bribe G Sav
Counter-bribes are done in 3 ducat increments. A sufficient counter-bribe will cancel the effect of any of the above bribes, sufficient being at least one 3 ducat increment greater than the largest bribe directed against a unit. Exception: Rebellions cannot be counter-bribed.

Effects of Rebellion

Rebellions cause a player's province, and possible city, to turn against them. The effects are:

  • A player cannot retreat into a province in rebellion against that player.

  • If there is an un-garrisoned fortified city in an province which has rebelled, the city will also rebel, and can only be removed by siege or pacification. It is not possible for the affected player to convert rebelling units in the city.

  • The affected player cannot build new unit in rebelling provinces.

  • Cities and provinces that are rebelling do not produce income, although one may produce income independent of rebellion in the other.

  • 1 point of support is provided to movement into the province for one unit not belonging to the affected player. If more than one unit competes for the point of support, the support is lost.

  • If a unit friendly to the rebellion enters the province, the rebellion is liberated and removed.

  • If a unit hostile to the rebellion (the province's owning player) enters the province, the unit must hold for one turn to remove the rebellion.

  • Alternatively, the hostile player may pay 12 ducats to pacify the rebellion.

Table 5: Pacify Rebellion
Expense 1: 12 ducats rebellion [prov]

Elite Units

Machiavelli allows each player to build an elite unit with special abilities. Only one such unit is allowed per power. The proper syntax for elite builds is given in this table:

Table 6: Proper Syntax for Elite Builds
Build SyntaxCostSpecial Ability
build elite mercenary [army/fleet/garrison] [prov]

Example: build elite mercenary army Nap

6 ducatsElite mercenaries have an attack strength of 2; however, they lend only 1 point when supporting, and are bribed at normal costs.
build militia [army/fleet/garrison] [prov]

Example: build militia army Nap

6 ducatsCitizen militia is an ordinary strength unit, but costs double to bribe. E.g. it would cost 24 ducats minimum to disband.
build elite professional [army/fleet/garrison] [prov]

Example: build elite professional army Nap

9 ducatsElite professionals are both double strength, and cost double to bribe.


There are two kinds of disaster in regular Machiavelli: plague and famine. Both can be very distressing, especially to new players.


Plague eliminates all units in the region it strikes. As mentioned in the Sequence of Play section, Plague strikes before the Summer movement, after Spring movement is resolved. Plague eliminates all units in the regions it affects. Depending on the year, there may be no plague, a single column or single row on the plague table, or both a column and a row.

The most important thing to remember about plague is that it comes in fixed patterns, i.e. all the regions in the row or column that is randomly selected. As a result you should pay attention to the patterns and not the probabilities. You can try to stack all your units on the 2 row, because that seems like the stochastically intelligent thing to do; but you'll really be in the pot if a 2 is actually rolled, and sometimes it is.

The counter-intuitive strategy is to share the same probabilities as your immediate opponents, that is, put your units on the same numbers they're putting theirs. Why? Because this way it is less likely you will get a pattern that eliminates your units while leaving theirs. You might get lucky and keep yours, while they lose theirs, but given that you will have more than one neighbor, the odds are less than even this will happen. By using a 'me too' approach you will always be no worse off than your neighbors.


Famine strikes at the end of Summer movement before the Build phase. Famine prevents the afflicted province from producing income. If it strikes a home province, it also prevents you from building a unit in that region. Lastly, if your unit ends Spring movement in a famine struck province, it is eliminated unless that region has had a famine relief paid for it. This must be done with the Spring orders. It is important to remember this when planning, because you may find yourself retreating to a famine-struck province!

Table 7: Famine Relief
Expense 1: 3 ducats famine relief [prov]


A garrison is a unit dedicated to a fortified city. Garrisons cannot be dislodged like ordinary units: instead they must be sieged. Garrisons may convert into armies or fleets. A conversion order is treated like ordinary movement into a province and may be bounced or supported, but a garrison under siege is prohibited from converting. Garrisons being seiged also do not provide income. Seiges require two seasons to complete. If the unit conducting the siege is dislodged, the siege fails. Commands relating to Garrisons are summarized in this table:

Table 8: Garrison Commands
G [prov] convert to fleet *3 ducats counter-bribe G Sav
G [prov] convert to armyG Tur convert to army
A [prov] convert to garrisonA Mil convert to garrison
A [prov] besiege G [prov]A Mil besiege G Mil
*Order converts garrison to fleet only if the garrison is in a port (Anchor symbol on map).

Hint: Garrisons can be converted to autonomous garrisons by bribery.


The last feature of the game is probably the least understood and most misused. Assassination in Machiavelli does not eliminate a player. Each player begins with one assassination chit for each other player, and is limited to one attempt, unless a chit is transferred. Assassination attempts do not succeed automatically, except for those of the Bank when a player defaults on a loan. The attempt costs a minimum of 12 ducats, and as much as 36 ducats. For each 12 ducats spent, a player increases the chance of success by 1/6th of a point. Thus, a 36 ducat attempt has a 1 in 2 chance of success. The effects of assassination are:

  • The units of the affected player are put in disorder, and all orders become holds for one season.

  • Normal control resumes the next season.

  • When the bank assassinates a defaulting player, all expenses are lost.

  • Some provinces will rebel based on a die roll for each province:

    Home province with a unit:Rebels on a 1
    Home province, no unit:Rebels on a 1 or 2
    Conquered province with a unit:Rebels on a 3 or less
    Conquered province, no unit:Rebels on a 5 or less

Table 9: Assassination Commands
Expense 1: (12/24/36) ducats assassinate [power]Expense 1: 36 ducats assassinate papacy
To transfer a chit:
give [power] to [ power]
give milan to papacy

Hint: When should you attempt an assassination? The bigger they are, the harder they fall. With assassination, the more provinces a player controls, the more rebellions the player will have to deal with. Remember that both cities and provinces rebel. Assassination is a good ploy to reverse fast-growing players, especially if they have a lot of debt.

Final Word

There is a lot to assimilate, or it seems that way. If you use this article as your cheat-sheet the play should be quite straightforward and easy to catch on. If you prefer feel free to join a game as an observer. Watching a year or two of play in a game should give you a good idea of the tempo and dynamics. Also remember that almost all of the features of Machiavelli are independent of one another. That is, a game can be played without money, or with money but without assassination, etc. If you feel strongly about a feature, contact the GM before powers are assigned, or request a different game. My own feeling is that all of the features make the milieu come to life and give the game drama. Drama is what keeps people playing.

Thanks go to Kevin Burt, Nicholas Holford, Terje Maloy and Bob Snyder for contributing comments to this article.
Stephen Knewtson

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