by Bruce Duewer & Sergio Lidsell

Editor's Note: This article was initially written by Bruce and has been revised and partially expanded and rewritten by Sergio Lidsell.

Time for the fifth installment of the new guide to Machiavelli play. This time we will consider the key element for advanced Machiavelli play: Money! Without a good grasp of how to use money to support your units and for tactical tricks, the less a chance you stand to win.

So what’s the deal with these "ducats" anyway? What happened to the "one SC, one unit" approach of standard? Well, in some senses it's still pretty similar. Instead of counting SC’s, you need to control enough cities and provinces to supply the right amount to keep a normal unit going. So you will mostly be in good shape by following a completely conventional strategy. (We have simplified a little and by assuming that variable income and famine losses are equal.)

But there are two profound opportunities that the ducat system gives you:

  1. You can save money for future needs rather than doing your builds immediately.
  2. You can use money for other things besides standard units: bribes, assassinations and special units.

In this article we will focus on basic money management and unit support. In the forthcoming article ”Tactical toys for young tyrant” (in the Spring 2014 Movement issue at the end of March) we’ll take a closer look at bribes, assassinations and special units and other useful topics.

The better you do your money management, the more freedom you have to explore the other aspects of cash, or to flood the board with conventional units, whichever you prefer. In a sense, if you need what I say after this paragraph, you've already failed to exercise the best form of money management — avoiding loans completely. Don't get me wrong — I wind up borrowing money in most of my games. But it's never something I'm happy about.

The Bank and Borrowing

The game Bank is a very useful and dangerous institution. The ability to spend an additional 25 ducats at will at the beginning of the game is a strong temptation that you must resist want to resist, unless you find yourself with your back against the wall, or have opportunity to gain massive beneficial changes in the strategic situation (i.e., gain another home area). The most important questions that you have to ask yourself before borrowing are:

  1. Will you make sound tactical and strategic gains?
  2. Will you gain more ducats within 2-3 years than what the loan and interest cost you? Especially if the tactical and strategic gains are small.
  3. Will the enemy be inclined to retaliate by borrowing 25 ducats in an attempt to get back to you? Do not make your money usage be like the proverbial one center stab in standard dip that gains you an implacable enemy for the rest of the game.
  4. Will you risk bankruptcy? Can you in that case plan for it (“the duck of death”) as to minimize losses?
  5. Have you factored in famine and plague effects? An ill-timed famine or plague could totally offset any gains you made and even drive you into bankruptcy.
  6. Finally, always remember to take into account the diplomatic and strategic implications. I.e., if you increase your potential income will your neighbours be less friendly, and perhaps join in an eliminate the leader coalition. I.e. will your action cause another player to gain rather than you?

In our opinion, it is much better to save up money for the first few years, if you can handle the diplomatic situation well enough to allow this. Especially as you will be more resilient to average famine and plague the longer into the game you are.

The bank allows you to borrow 25d in principal, with no limit on how much you owe in interest. There is no limit in the number of loans you can have except as limited by the max principal amount, and the fact that the longest loan term is two years. The interest cost is 20% per year rounded up for a 1-year loan, and 50% for a 2-year loan. It may thus appear that a 2 year is a bad idea, but due to the wonders of compounding, two 1 year loans have an effective rate of 44%, which is a pretty small difference compared to other concerns. "What other concerns?" you may ask. Well, read on.

The Joys of Round Numbers

If you want to borrow a certain sum, a tactical concern is the amount of additional interest you pay due to rounding. Each ducat counts. For example, if you wish to borrow 11d, the two obvious ways to do it are:

borrow 11d for 1 year


borrow 11d for 2 years

In the first case, your loan will cost 3d in interest, and if you renew the loan at the end of the year for a second year, your total interest comes to 6d. In the second case, you owe 6d of interest at the end of two years. Notice that the interest is fixed so you will not gain anything by paying off your loan early (except perhaps psychological effect of looking rich to your enemies). In either case, you would have 6d to pay off at the end of two years. So is there a better way? Sure is! The wise tyrant will split his loan:

borrow 5d for 1 year
borrow 6d for 2 years

In this case, the loan has 1d interest the first year on the first loan, and if renewed cost an additional 1d the next year. That is the interest would amount to 5d in two years, effectively saving one ducat compared to the first scenario.

For bigger loans, the savings can be greater. Say you need 18d to buy a unit, make it 10d for 1 year and 8d for 2 years. You get a nice symmetry in owing 12d at each repayment point, and your interest costs are 6 total if you repay at that point, compared with 18+4d for 1 year, or 18+9 for 2 years. (And if you can repay 22d after one year you usually won’t need a loan anyway, unless it will give you the road to the win.)

And a final consideration. If you are borrowing anyway, and you don't make it all the way to an appropriate multiple, borrow up to the multiple anyway. You're already paying for use of the money, so why not keep it in your pocket? It may come in handy for refinancing, or for keeping your units alive if fate turns against you.

The moral: If nothing else prevents you, you should borrow money for 1 year in multiples of 5, and for two years in multiples of two.

Time is Slipping Away

The timing of payments of various sorts is critical, and demands close attention. During each season (Spring, Summer, and Fall) the following monetary actions may occur before expense and movement resolution:

  1. Transfers of cash between players and paying the bank. (Only players with no outstanding loans may give money to another player.)
  2. Borrowing ducats from the Bank.
  3. Expense orders.
  4. Bank collects defaulting loans.
  5. Bank assassinates players that could not pay the bank.

The order is very important. The fact that one can transfer some cash to the bank before borrowing, means you can pay back part of a loan on the very same season it is due, and then borrow the rest of the money needed to pay the loan. When step four occurs, the bank collects that money.

Note that if you've arranged another country to send you some cash to help out, this (in theory) occurs simultaneous to other transfers, so the money is useful for expenses and bank collections, but not for voluntary payments to the bank (step one above).

Interesting and Duly Important

When you repay a loan, you pay interest before principal (unless you repay the entire loan). Loans due at the same season are lumped together. So if one year you borrow 4d for 2 years, and the next year you borrow 5d for 1 year, you wind up owing 9d+3 at the due date.

Now if need a new loan in order to repay the old loan, and have used up all of your principal, how much do you need to have on hand in step one? It's not the obvious 3 as that would allow you to borrow only 3d more (25-3=22) in step two. And as you still have 9d+0 still to pay in step 4 you would bankrupt.

You need to be able to pay at least 6d to the bank in step one (you have still 6d+0 to pay) as that will permit you to borrow 6 more as you would know have 6d available, before reaching your limit (25-6=19), in step two. In you only intend to renewing the loan for one more years you may want to consider to pay 7 ducats to the bank as that would save 1d in interest. 6d for one year costs 2d, while 5 cost 1d. For a two year renewal the cost is the same for 5 or 6 ducats.

Moderation in all Dings

It's definitively a heck of a lot easier to repay a lot of small loans than one big loan. For example, if someone has borrowed the full 25d, and wants to keep the loan, paying their interest costs each year, consider two basic possibilities. You could have it all in one big loan due in a season, or spread it out in prudent increments. Unless you have a huge ducat inflow it is usually better to spread the amount you have to pay over the year.

An Example:

Debts: 5d+1 in spring, 12d + 3 in Summer, 6d+3 in Fall, 2d+1 in Spring the following year
Treasury: 13d after builds, 0d available to borrow

This tyrant chooses to get right to work. In spring, he transfers all his cash to the bank. The tyrant has plenty of cash to make it through the year, so figures to set up a nice smooth future debt schedule and borrows 5d for 1 year. This changes the state to:

Debts: 8d + 0 in Summer, 6d+3 in Fall, 7d+2 Spring next year
Treasury: 5d, 4d still available to borrow

Now it's summer. The tyrant continues the nice simple repayment schedule. He pays all his cash to the bank, and borrows another 5. The bank collects 3d of that cash.

Debts: 6d+3 in Fall, 7d+2 Spring next year, 5d+1 Summer next
Treasury: 2d, 7d still available to borrow

Fall at last, the messier month, but he's still in good shape. Pay the cash to the bank, and borrow 5d for the next year, and 2 for 2 years. The bank collects this 7d, and he goes into the next year with the following situation:

Debts: 7d+2 Spring , 5d+1 Summer next, 5d+1 Fall, 2d+1 next Fall
Treasury: Yearly income, 6d available to borrow

Note that when he started the year with 13d, there was 7d in interest due in the year, and there is now 6d more available to borrow. When you're planning a year, this is a good sanity check.

The Duck of Death

If you need more money than you can ever hope to pay, at least do your best to control the circumstances of your own assassination to your advantage (well, at least less disadvantage). This is one of those cases where you ignore most of the rest of what I said, and get a 2 year loan for 25d, buying you as much time as possible to do whatever you need to do with the cash. Or a 1d for 1 year, with the rest for two years, so that you can change your mind up until you throw away the 2d you save to pay that loan the season before it's due. This way, everyone has to guess just when you're going to die. Even better, if you've got a series of tiny loans lined up over the course of the next few years, and one big one, you have a big selection of the day of your death, and people can't position to take full advantage of the timing. Of course, if you DON'T want to die earlier, you need to keep financing those loans while waiting for the big one. Another reason for having a string of smaller loans is of course the chance of a miracle leading to you not getting killed.

In one of my (Bruce) games I did the megaloan since I figured I was doomed; my ally did the same. After his assassination and the next income, his income plus mine was enough to keep me from dying when he transferred me a bunch of cash. If I'd used a spread out loan instead of a pay once loan, my resurrection would have been a lot less painful. We went on to overrun the board, and I eventually won. As the extra cash effectively came out of my ally's pocket, he might have contributed to my eventual edge over him. But that wasn't my intent at the time, and it was a close thing, so I'd not advice trying this sort of thing on purpose (for one thing, allies willing to send you lots of money rather than stabbing at such a juncture are not plentiful).

So now, you have chosen the date of your death and will be assassinated. Your units will all hold and stand around like statues. Dice will be rolled to determine which of your areas goes into rebellion. Any of your units under siege will die. Any sieges you are performing will be broken. You will take no actions at all in that phase. Do not pass GO. Do not… well, you get the idea. So how do you prepare for this? By planning your builds well.

Most important of all is to build garrisons in any city you own, beginning with major cities and proceeding to the tactically most important. City rebellions are a pain to remove and cost a lot in lost income, so that is why you go there first. Because no matter how the rebellion rolls go, it is impossible for a rebellion to occur in a garrisoned city. And as an additional bonus: if the province is rebelling you need only convert to an army in the turn following the assassination and the hold the following season to remove that rebellion.

Having done that, build as many army or fleet units as you physically can. Don't bother to have units in provinces that have famine, unless an ally will pay the relief. When you die, you lose all cash, so there is no point in saving it up. If you forget to build units, try at least to direct some bribe against your enemies in the seasons before you get assassinated or pay for famine relief if that is the tactically better choice (usually is as it is cheaper).

After your death, if you've got an ally you can trust, use them to remove your rebellions. One of their armies, and one of yours, play follow the leader through your areas in rebellion. Of course, make sure you don't give your ally an opportunity to take you out in the process.

Next Time

In my next installment, I will explore additional options in basic tactics afforded by the Machiavelli variant. Special units, garrisons, and coastal convoys will be discussed, along with whatever else I'm in the mood to rant about.

Bruce Duewer
or Sergio Lidsell

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