Money Management in Machiavelli

by W. Narhi


I know this comes rather late, but I just read Bruce Duewer's articles on Machiavelli from back in 2000 (Editor note, these being [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]and [6]). A quick background on me: I have been playing Machiavelli since about 1982 and absolutely love the game. I am active online and play in the online/postal zine SOB. In reading Bruce's articles on the game, I see that he and I diverge quite a bit in style yet have many similarities. I agree with most of what he wrote. Our largest divergence in strategies is his attitude of money versus units which I strongly disagree with.

Bruce is a proponent of using your ducats to build more units instead of saving as much as you can. As a matter of fact, I have even been in a gunboat game where he was urging me to build more units instead of saving the ducats. At the end of this article you'll see how that ended up for us.

I think improper income control is the greatest folly of new and even experienced Machiavelli player. My first word of advice regarding money is similar to Bruce's: Never borrow money from the bank. Nothing is absolute, but I run my financial decisions like a banker. I look at Return on Investment (ROI). If my ROI for an expenditure says I break even within two years, I will seriously consider it. If not, I usually discard the idea. For example, if am thinking of bribing an army in Genoa to my side, it would cost me 18 ducats. Genoa itself is worth roughly 6 ducats per year. By itself, it may not be worth the expenditure unless I also gain significant position. Hopefully when I bribe the Genoa army it can also move somewhere to get more money. Let's assume on the turn it is bribed it can also move to Savoy which would add 2 ducats per year. That brings us to 8 ducats per year or 16 ducats in two years. That is pretty close to my 18 ducats bribe amount and much mor e attractive. Now, if I have to borrow that 18 ducats, that would mean I owe 27 ducats (standard two year loan). A simple bribe of Genoa does not make a good ROI in my opinion. I would need to get a lot more out of it to pull the trigger. Once I get filthy rich (40+ ducats) I start to loosen this rule.

I suggest avoiding borrowing except small amounts here and there. Let the foolish players borrow big in the first year or two and then watch as they struggle to pay back that debt. Rarely are early bribes worth it if you have to borrow large sums. Encourage other players to borrow. Encourage them to spend their money. You want to be in position as the only player who can borrow from the bank while sitting on a pile of ducats.

There is a time to borrow big. The first is when you need to do so as a last resort. If you are a small power about to be wiped out, borrow away. It probably won't help, but it can delay your demise long enough that another player may come to your rescue. A large loan to save your skin probably seals your fate as a minor power though. The other time to borrow big is when you can stick the knife in so well that you will conquer a nation. That is your goal in the early and mid-game. If I see a chance to borrow big and conquer a nation in one single turn, I will probably do it. You get the income from the conquered cities and provinces, you get the variable income, you get new cities to build from, and you then become practically impossible to eliminate as you now have many more home cities. Just be sure you have a reasonable chance of repaying the debt, otherwise the sharks will circle.

I think Bruce also minimizes the effectiveness of bribes. Buying or disbanding another's army is very effective. Done right, it will usually make him impotent for a turn as supports and moves that he was counting on now suddenly don't work. In essence, you get a free offensive against him. Make use of it. A bribe will generally put your opponent into a defensive mode for a couple of seasons so you can gain initiative.

Now we have arrived at the final and most important aspect of finances: Save. Scrimp as much as you can to build your war chest. Bruce thinks he would rather have units on the field. Ignore that, unless you are in a heated war with someone that requires it. Instead, take some chances and donít build as much. Even leave yourself a tad vulnerable to attack by allies and neutral players. Chances are they won't attack you. Why? Because the threat of money is a powerful disincentive. This is where I think Bruce vastly underestimates the power of money. If I am sitting on a pile of cash, other players will fear me. You think they will attack me knowing that the pile of cash can be directed at them? Hell no. Everyone sees that pile of cash and hopes and prays it will be used against someone else. Thus, even if they see you emerging as the leader, you can always count on most players to avoid actively facing you. They will hope that someone else will do so first and th at you will exhaust your cash on that opponent. If you have no loans out, and can still borrow up to 25 ducats, your cash pile looks even more threatening. Your enemies will bemoan how rich you are and how you are running away with the game, but I have never seen all the remaining powers cooperate to take you down. Instead, there will be at least one or two who will hold back in the hopes that your money is used against someone else. Once you spend that money, and/or borrow the 25 ducats, that threat evaporates and the other players will fall on you like ravenous dogs if you are the leader. Resist spending it even when you have it. The threat is worth so much more.

Again, if you want to excel at Machiavelli, follow all of Bruce's advice, except his advice about building units rather than saving. Instead, save your way to victory. Why should you trust me instead of Bruce? I did a quick search of the games we have been in together and I am 2-0 versus him. :)

W. Nahri
(c/o editor@diplom.org)

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