Overheard at the
Ministry of Finance

Metrics and Strategies For Payola Diplomacy

I. Property Values and Expansion Systems

Frank Mayer

Payola is a Diplomacy variant popular with a growing group of enthusiasts. In addition to the familiar military units, each player manages financial instruments (silver pieces) that are used to bid for control of units. As a player acquires more supply centres, he gains access to more silver pieces. As in other Diplomacy variants, a power wins when he controls a certain number of supply centres at the end of a Fall campaign. The complete, annotated Payola rules and a general introduction are available in an article in the Winter 1995 Adjustment issue of The Pouch.

The single focal point for all Payola games is the Website Payola Place (part of The Pouch's Web- and Email-based DPjudge).

[Check out the variants page in the Online Resources section as well. -Ed.]

Graduates of the Bill ("Okay, so I did inhale") Clinton School of Diplomacy

While each player is primarily concerned with moving his own units into supply centres (SC's), there are a variety of reasons why he might attempt to gain control of foreign units through a hostile bid. Hence, it sometimes occurs that field commanders disobey orders. To the observer, it may appear that the powers were acting "under the influence" to occasionally issue inconsistent or even self-destructive commands.

As a curious observer trying to penetrate the mysteries of Payola, I approached Manus Hand, creator and owner of the variant, asking whether I should be alert to the occurrences of any patterns. He responded typically: "How about together we look, and if we find some, I'll expect an article from you for The Zine." Since that time, we have made enough observations to support some guesses as to what those inebriated diplomats might be doing. Even if we don't reveal the secret of how to gain a solo in your next game of Payola, we hope that by presenting our results, we'll be offering some insights into typical strategies and their applicability.

We Hold This Truth to be Self-Evident: That all Supply Centres are not Created Equal

Our first observation was that average acquisition and maintenance cost differs by quite a bit from SC to SC. Trieste, for instance, is a border SC accessible to both fleets and armies. It has a central location in a region rich in SC's and has a large number of access paths. This practically guarantees a high level of contention. Ankara, on the other hand, is typically "behind the lines," and a successful attack on Ankara typically requires coordination of units (an even harder feat to accomplish in Payola than in standard Diplomacy). Is it any wonder then, that the average spending to control Ankara during the course of a game is typically lower than that for Trieste?

Numbers, Please!

Having made these observations and found plausible explanations for their occurrence, the next step was to quantify the results. What we were after was an answer to the question: how much would I typically expect to pay in order to gain and maintain control of a given SC? I am going to tell you about two attempts we made at this and what we learned in the process.

Our first attempt was a metric we called "Silver." This metric incorporated various aspects in assessing the value of given SC:

  1. whether it is could be reached by fleets only, armies only, or both fleets and armies
  2. how easy it is to access
  3. how rich a neighbourhood it was in
  4. whether it was a home SC or a neutral SC

The second criterion above -- "accessibility" -- incorporates the notions of centrality as well as connectivity. Thus Portugal, being in a corner with two neighbours, has a lower accessibility (in both respects) than Munich with its seven neighbours and central location.

The third criterion -- "neighbourhood richness" -- reflects the fact that areas rich in SC's would likely be more contentious as they would attract a large number of units.

"Silver" produced some interesting results that confirmed our observation that the spending varied significantly between SC's. For instance, between the cost of acquiring and maintaining the most and the least expensive SC's (Trieste and Portugal respectively), "Silver" predicted a ratio of 4.2:1. However, "Silver" led to some conclusions that seemed to be at variance with experience, notably that the German home SC's should be among the most expensive to hold.

Is this Silverware Pure or Just Plated?

That "Silver" predicted a high cost for maintaining the German SC's is not surprising. The German SC's are located in a fairly rich, central area with high connectivity. So why does Germany usually wind up with one of the larger treasuries in Payola?

I believe that the inadequacies of "Silver" arise from neglecting the fact that each power generates units at fixed home centres located in close proximity to each other. Although the operations of individual powers may be less localized than in standard Diplomacy, the fully distributed operations modelled by "Silver" remains inappropriate for Payola.

At this point it dawned on us that the best method for determining the average cost for acquiring and maintaining SC's would be to analyse the actual spending from the games played to date. So we started down this path only to learn that the task was more daunting than we thought. How can one tell, for example, whether a fleet moving from London to the English Channel is destined for nearby Belgium, distant Spain, or was simply ordered out to make room for an enemy convoy into London from Norway? Perhaps different powers representing varied intents were responsible for the move, or perhaps the fleet isn't headed for anywhere in particular, but was ordered to move simply to upset an alliance.

These difficulties were initially intimidating. We saw little hope of being able to sort out nebulous intents and despaired of our hope to create a simple program that could calculate centre values from the bid sheets. However, we continued despite these setbacks and eventually arrived at an empirical metric, called "Hand" (yes, Manus implemented it, but no, he didn't name it). The calculated "Hand Values" relate each supply centre with the percentage of total money spent in a game that was expended to take or hold that centre:

TRI:4.63% VIE:3.78% SER:3.19% LVP:2.48% KIE:1.91%
RUM:4.56% GRE:3.64% TUN:3.12% DEN:2.43% BER:1.87%
VEN:4.47% WAR:3.46% NOR:3.09% EDI:2.38% PAR:1.85%
SEV:4.38% MAR:3.43%   CON:2.14% HOL:1.79%
MUN:4.29% BRE:3.37% LON:2.94% SWE:2.13% ROM:1.76%
BEL:4.11% BUD:3.24% STP:2.73% NAP:2.06% POR:1.51%
SPA:3.92% BUL:3.23% SMY:2.55% MOS:2.05% ANK:1.42%

"Hand" was calculated by averaging data from each Payola game played to date. Just as each game has its own unique character, the degree of vigour with which the the ownership of each SC is contested varies from game to game as well as from season to season. Nevertheless, the geographic distribution of "Hand Values" has implications for the choices available to each power. In the remainder of this article, we shall seek to illustrate this by examining a "prototypical" Payola game in which the "Hand Values" apply.

Can We Afford It? What Happens When Rent Varies

Note that the SC's above the 3% threshold may in fact cost more in upkeep than they deliver in revenue. Without concerning ourselves overly much with the decreasing revenue scheme of Payola (wherein a power earns a diminishing value for each SC he takes), it follows that, with 34 SC's on the map, each SC pays out 1/34th of the total revenue each year (roughly 3%). Again, not getting too fussy, if we assume that by the end of the game everything that has been paid out has been spent, then the value attributed to the average SC should be 3% of the whole. Therefore, those SC's with "Hand Values" of less than 3% are net revenue generators, those SC's with values greater than 3% are net revenue consumers.

Another interesting comparison is Turkey's advantage over Austria. According to "Hand," while all of Turkey's home centres are in the "revenue generator" category, all of Austria's are in the "revenue consumer" category (meaning he typically must use his diplomatic wiles to seek out financial aid). In fact, the upkeep cost for the Turkish home centres is only roughly half that of the Austrian home centres. This corresponds with the experience of many an Austrian struggling to gain control of his disobedient units. Austria's predicament is well described in the Austrian End of Game statement of the game Dinero:

"...I spent the vast bulk of this game wondering what the heck was going on. Chaos as near as I could tell. My units never seemed to do anything at all, except for occasionally helping the enemy...."

The concerned player signed his statement with the eponym "the eternally confused."

A Payola sub-variant might choose to use some static or dynamic computation of "Hand" to establish a specific tax "payoff" for each SC, proportional to the values in this table. For example, the tax revenue generated by each might be set equal to ten times the figure shown (Trieste would generate 46 silver pieces, and Ankara only 14). This is currently being worked on and we might even see a test game someday.

Socialist Conspirators and Capitalist Exploiters

Closely connected with the concept of SC cost are two strategies frequently applied in Payola. The choice of which strategy is appropriate for each power follows from the character of the immediate vicinity of its home centres. I have named these strategies "socialism" and "capitalism," for reasons I now will describe.

Simply put, socialism is an adaptation chosen when the resources needed for growth are hard to come by and therefore in need of protection. Capitalism, on the other hand, is more appropriate when the focus of concern is on how to quickly acquire and exploit resources that are readily available. Socialism operates in static fields of endeavour where productivity depends on joint effort. Capitalism operates in new fields of endeavour where productivity critically depends upon the performance of a small number of creative individuals. Socialism is ready to accept some limitations in the performance of the most capable individuals and capitalism is ready to accept the full loss of the potential of a larger number of less capable individuals.

To make the concept clear, I have made a small table of comparisons:

  Capitalism Socialism
Goal Production The good life
Example Solution Private company markets oxygen substitute Government acts to protect rain forest
Business Success Criterion What's the bottom line? Was the customer satisfied?
Inner City Turbulent; violent crime Sidewalk cafe
Fundamental Human Right Free speech Individual dignity
Human Relations Openness Civility
Laws Promote Social mobility Social security

To see how this applies to Payola, consider two paradigms: Turkey and Germany.

Turkey benefits from its defensive position but suffers from limited access to resources. Turkey's corner location and the limited connectivity of its home centres makes it difficult to gain an involvement in remote areas. Turkey's growth path is to retain the SC's already in his possession and to slowly expand.

Turkey typically maintains his units in a cluster and limits the rate of advance at the front to avoid foreign penetration. Like a good socialist subsidising a dying industry, Turkey is willing to pay more in rent for certain SC's (including all the SC's within two moves journey of any of his home centres) than they typically deliver in revenue. He has means to do this because it allows him to book a good profit from his interior SC. In this respect, Turkey's position is analogous to that of a state monopolist. Furthermore, Turkey has little alternative to operation of these unprofitable resources near his homeland, as their control is necessary for his further expansion and self-preservation.

In contrast, Germany has excellent access to resources but is vulnerable from all sides. Munich, for instance, has seven immediate neighbours; is within two moves of nine neutral or foreign SC's, and is located midway between Edinburgh and Smyrna, Portugal and St. Petersburg.

Germany's growth path is to widely distribute his units, collect up-to-date information about the cost of operations in each region, and use his superior mobility to quickly redirect his units as appropriate. He might fully neglect his units located in less interesting theatres. Like a good capitalist, indifferent to the problems of a dying industry, Germany will accept the frequent loss of SC's. By abandoning resources that have become too expensive, he is better able to concentrate on acquisition of cheaper resources readily at hand, while effectively raising the operating costs of his competition. A successful Germany is opportunistic, changing his friends and enemies as often as is needed.

As a final illustration of these strategies, consider a map from the game Quisling, showing the capitalist and socialist strategies in action:

Example from the Ongoing Game Quisling.
Socialist Turkey in a typical rainbow cluster. Capitalist Germany (having just made retreats from St. Petersburg and Spain) has operations in all four corners of the map.

In order to grow along the socialist path, Turkey has been forced to abandon his initial position as a likely net earner. To see this, let us consider the "Hand Values" computed earlier. The average "Hand Value" of SC's currently in Turkish possession has grown (from its initial value of only 2.0%) to 3.2%, which is marginally above the break-even point. In this position, we might suppose that Turkey would do well to apply his financial reserves to quickly finance the next stage of growth.

At first glance, it might appear that the capitalist's ability to scout out and contest the lowest priced SC's would provide him with an advantage in earning potential. This seems to be confirmed in the illustrated case, in which Germany is in possession of SC's with an average "Hand Value" of 2.8%, very similar to his initial situation (which was 2.7%). However, we must consider that the SC's that are the least expensive to capture and hold are distributed throughout Europe and change constantly with the political situation. Therefore, the capitalist powers may need access to a hefty travel budget to fund long journeys not foreseen by "Hand." Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that the capitalist powers should abandon any pretension of long term planning and be ready to "go with the flow," so as to let other powers pay at least part of their fare. An excerpt from Germany's End of Game Statement in "Dinero" is enlightening (Germany won in 1910):

At one point, somebody gave my Munich army an involuntary shove into Burgundy .. so I launched a preemptive attack [on France].

When somebody sent my armies into Scandinavia, with Russia already weakened...I continued there, picking up SC's and their annual income whenever I could do so efficiently.

In conclusion, then, you can see that the Payola player can serve himself well by considering not only which path of expansion his power should most wisely pursue, but also the operating costs he can expect to incur during that expansion and how to modify and manage them.

Frank Mayer

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, click on the letter above. If that does not work, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.