Payola Diplomacy

Manus Hand

"Politics were so very simple,
just so long as a man believed no one,
double-crossed everyone, kept a full treasury,
and inveigled others into doing the dirty work."

Rules to Payola Diplomacy

1. Introduction
2. Accounts
3. Offer Sheets
4. Acceptance Lists
5. Order Determination
6. Variations
7. Appendices

Bernard Cornwell never played Payola Diplomacy, but you sure wouldn't know it by reading the above quote, taken from his Sharpe's Revenge. The Payola variant, developed by John Woolley and myself, adds Cornwell's "treasury" to the arsenals of Diplomacy's combatant nations, and the result is an addicting game with no stalemate lines, multiple levels of intrigue, and in which even the closest of allies can be actively working against each other from the first turn until the bitter end.

Since its introduction into the play-by-email hobby, Payola has quickly grown into an accepted and respected variant, with a great many devoted players.

This article discusses Payola Diplomacy in depth by annotating (using hotlinks) the formal rules of the variant. In this way, the rules of the game may be read (and printed, etc.) without intrusion by these annotations, and yet the reasoning behind each rule, examples of play, anecdotes from actual games, and other interesting tidbits contained in the annotations are always available. A further reading of the rules may be necessary to provide context for some of the annotations, so it is suggested that the annotations only be perused after the complete rules have been read.

Be sure to also check out the other way-cool appendices, including some further reflections on the game and on other contemplated variants.

You can look at the status of any active Payola game at the Payola Place Website, where you'll also find all completed games archived for your entertainment and education.

1. Introduction
1.1 Scope

Payola Diplomacy is played on a normal Diplomacy board, using the standard Diplomacy rules except as amended herein.

The Payola concept is also easily applied to other games; application of Payola to other Diplomacy variants is discussed in Section 6 of these rules.

1.2 Deviations

The modifications that are made to the standard game are summarized below:

  1. The play of the game cannot be accomplished without a GameMaster. Strictly, this is only the case in face-to-face games, since in an Internet game, a computer adjudicator serves the purpose of this extra human.
  2. Each player has a bank account, the balance of which is maintained and adjusted by the GameMaster (or computer adjudicator). Rules regarding these accounts are contained in Section 2 of these rules.
  3. In each Movement phase, rather than issuing an order for each of his or her units, each player uses the money in this account to make offers to the various units on the board. These offers will be used to determine the order that shall be issued by each unit — each unit will always issue the order for which it was offered the most money, regardless of the origin of the offer(s) given in exchange for the issuance of this order. Rules regarding offers are given in Section 3 of these rules.
  4. To assist in determining the order that will be issued to a player's unit in case of a high-bid tie, each player also maintains an "acceptance list". Rules regarding acceptance lists are given in Section 4 of these rules.
  5. The GameMaster (or computer adjudicator) will issue all movement phase orders (for all units) after determining these orders (from the offers made by all players). Rules governing the determination of orders are contained in Section 5 of these rules. Note, however, that each player shall have complete and solitary control of his units and their orders during Retreat and Adjustment phases.
2. Accounts
2.1 Income

Before every Spring movement phase, each power on the board receives — added to its bank account — a number of "silver pieces" (abbreviated AgP). This income is termed "taxes" received from each owned supply center, and the total amount of this income is therefore based on the number of supply centers controlled by the power.

The number of silver pieces awarded for the first supply center owned by a player is one fewer than the number of supply centers that defines the victory condition of the game. Thus, for the standard map, with a victory condition of 18 supply centers, an owner of one supply center receives 17 AgP of annual income.

On the principle that bureaucratic costs rise as government expands, the total net tax income is a simple decreasing sequence: while the first supply center owned by a power will generate an income of 17 silver pieces, the second will add 16 silver pieces, the third will add 15, the fourth 14, etc., etc. The table below shows the annual tax revenue received by powers of each size, when using the standard map and victory condition:

Annual Income in Games Having a Victory Condition of 18 Supply Centers
Supply Center Count 12 34 56 78 910 1112 1314 1516 17
Annual Tax Income (AgP) 1733 4862 7587 98108 117125 132138 143147 150152 153

Thus, at the beginning of a standard game, each power starts off with a bank balance of 48 silver pieces, except Russia, which starts with 62 AgP. This money is disbursed to the players by the GameMaster.

2.2 Expenditures

Before each movement phase, each power may offer money to any or all of the units on the board. The GameMaster determines (from all offers made to each unit, and using the methods specified in these rules) what order each unit will issue, and the GameMaster is then responsible for issuing all these orders. All powers who offered money for any order that is issued will have the offered amount subtracted from their account at that time.

2.3 Transfers

Players may transfer any amount of money from their account into the account of any other player, including that of any eliminated player, by requesting of the GameMaster that such a transfer be made.

2.4 Eliminated Players

Eliminated players (that is, players owning no supply centers) may continue to use any money remaining in their account to influence the remainder of the game, but if an eliminated player resigns his position, any money remaining in his treasury is forefeited.

2.5 Administration

The GameMaster shall be responsible for accurately maintaining the balance of each power's account, making it available to its owning player on request, and reporting it to that player every time it changes.

No information concerning account balance or account activity shall be revealed by the GameMaster to any player other than the owner of the account.

3. Offer Sheets
3.1 Offers

During a movement phase, rather than submitting the order to be issued for each of their own units, each player submits a single "offer sheet". An "offer sheet" contains a series of offers, each of which is made to a specific single unit and given on a separate line of text. In its simplest form, an offer is a monetary amount followed by a colon and the unit and order for which the amount is bring offered. For example, an offer of four silver pieces if the army in London is ordered to move to Yorkshire is given as:

4 : A LON - YOR

Using a number of optional modifiers, an offer can be much more involved than the simple example above. This is illustrated by the example below:

4*5#2 + 5*10#3 + 6#1 > A LON - YOR | S F EDI - YOR | S F NTH - YOR

The complete description of an offer format follows. An offer consists, in this order, of:

  1. Optionally, a repetition count. This is a positive number — followed by an asterisk (*) — that indicates how many times in succession the offer will be repeated. Repetition is a convenient shorthand to assist a player in scaled offer reduction.
  2. A monetary amount. This is any non-negative number (including zero) of whole silver pieces. Note, however, that if the offer is being made to a unit that is not owned by the offering player, the amount must be positive (in other words, zero silver piece offers to foreign units are not allowed).
  3. Optionally, a hash sign (#) followed by a plateau amount to be used for this offer. As discussed in Rule 5.5, offers made by the players may need to be reduced automatically to avoid overexpenditure. However, an offer may be set to reduce no lower than a specific plateau amount, and then to remain at that amount as long as possible (decreasing again, eventually to zero if need be, only when all offers have reached their plateau and overexpenditure still exists). If no hash sign is given in an offer, the plateau amount to which it will reduce is zero. If a hash sign is given with no amount following it, the plateau amount is the same as the ful amount of the offer (no reductions until all bids reach their plateau).
  4. Optionally, a plus-sign (+) followed by another monetaty amount (with optional repetition count and plateau amount). This may be done any number of times in succession. For example, 4*3 + 2*4#2 + 1 is a series of three amounts given using this technique.
  5. A symbol indicating the type of the offer. The five offer types are described below:
    SymbolOffer TypeDescription
    : (colon)Direct A direct offer is a promise to pay the specified amount if (and only if) the unit in the offer issues the order (or any one of the orders, if a vertical bar appears in the offer) that is mentioned in the offer.
    ! (exclamation point)Negative A negative offer is considered, during order determination, to be a zero silver piece direct offer for the unit for HOLD (note that the prohibition against issuing zero silver piece offers to foreign units does not apply to this "generated" direct offer). Additionally, the negative offer constitutes a promise to pay the indicated amount if the unit issues any order that is not mentioned in the offer.
    > (greater-than sign)MoveA move offer is treated as the equivalent direct offer, but additionally constitutes a promise to pay the indicated amount if the unit issues any move order (that is, any order that is not a HOLD, SUPPORT, or CONVOY) that is not mentioned in the offer.
    @ (commercial at sign)HoldA hold offer is treated as the equivalent direct offer, but additionally constitutes a promise to pay the indicated amount if the unit issues any non-move order (that is, any HOLD, SUPPORT, or CONVOY order) that is not mentioned in the offer.
    & (ampersand)GiftA gift offer treated as the equivalent direct offer, but additionally constitutes a promise to pay the indicated amount if the unit issues any order (any order at all) that is not mentioned in the offer.
  6. The unit — any unit, of any nationality, anywhere on the board — to which the offer is being made.
  7. A valid, legal order that could be issued to that unit.
  8. Optionally, a vertical bar (|) character, followed by another order (only the order part, not a repetition of the unit description) that could be issued to that unit. There is no limit to the number of orders that may thus be listed in a single offer but no two of these orders may be identical.
3.2 Multiple Offers
and Orders

A player may make any number of different offers to each unit in an offer sheet.

Using the vertical bar to separate them, any number of orders to the same unit may be given in a single offer. In all but negative offers, such multiple orders are essentially equivalent to each order appearing by itself, in sequence, in a separate direct offer. In the case of negative offers, multiple orders separated by vertical bars impose further restrictions on the promise to pay — to wit, if any of the listed orders is issued, the amount will not be paid.

3.3 Offers Required

Each uneliminated player must submit an offer sheet containing at least one offer before the GameMaster will determine and process orders.

If, for any specific movement phase, a player does not issue any offer to one of his own units, a zero silver piece direct offer from that player for the unit to HOLD is entered for that player by the GameMaster before processing offers.

3.4 Savings Requests

A savings request is not an offer, but it is submitted with the player's offer sheet. It consists in its entirety of a non-negative amount followed by a dollar-sign ($). The function of a savings request is to cause the given number of silver pieces in the player's treasury to be "held back" in savings, and not to be made available for use in any offers. That is, the sum total of all savings requests in a player's offer sheet will be the guaranteed minimum balance in the player's treasury after all the amounts of all accepted offers have been paid.

Savings requests are specific to the offer sheet with which they were submitted; like offers, they do not persist from turn to turn. Players must re-submit new savings requests with each turn's offer sheet.

Note that it is not an error if the total of all savings requests exceeds a player's current balance; if this is the case at the time offers are processed, any player having requested more savings than are possible will be considered as having requested to expend no money (and will be left with his full account balance).

3.5 Commentary

Players may include comments in their offer sheet. This is done by using a percent sign (%), either on its own line or at the end of a line containing an offer or savings request, after which all text until the end of a line is considered to be commentary. Typically this is done by players to record money management and campaign planning notes for their own use (although if offer sheets are published during or after the game, these comments will of course be exposed to all).

3.6 Publication

Until the conclusion of the game, the GameMaster shall not reveal any data concerning any player's offers to any other player.

After the end of the game, this information is made publicly available, and all offers made by every player on every turn are made public. (In this way, the honesty of a GameMaster can be somewhat audited.)

4. Acceptance Lists
4.1 Acceptability of
Different Currency

In addition to the players' "offer sheets", the GameMaster will also maintain a separate "acceptance list" for each player. An acceptance list is simply an ordered list of every power in the game (including the power submitting the list, and including any eliminated powers). During the game, the GameMaster shall not reveal the acceptance list of any power to any other power.

If ever a player's unit would receive the same amount of money for issuing any one of two or more different orders, and no other order would pay as much, the player's acceptance list is consulted to decide which order the unit will issue. The use of acceptance lists to make this determination is described in full in Section 5 of these rules.

A power specifies its acceptance list to the GameMaster on a single line of text containing the word "ACCEPT" followed by the single-character abbreviations, in any order of the player's choosing, for each of every power in the game (including any eliminated powers). A player may omit one or more of the other powers from his acceptance list if and only if the acceptance list contains exactly one question-mark. That question-mark represents a list of all of the omitted powers; the specific sequence of these powers will be determined randomly every time the adjudication of a movement phase begins.

The first power listed in an acceptance list is the power which — in the eyes of all units owned by the power submitting the list — is considered to offer the most preferred currency. Subsequent powers in the acceptance list are considered to offer less and less preferred currency, descending in preference until the final power listed (which is deemed to hold the currency least preferred by the units that are owned by the list submitter).

4.2 Acceptance Lists Required

An acceptance list must always be on record for each power.

Each power begins the game with an acceptance list consisting of its own abbreviation followed by a question-mark (indicating that its own currency takes precedence over that of all other powers, which are randomly ordered). That is, the German acceptance list, unless changed by the player, will be "G?".

4.3 Acceptance Lists Persist

Unlike offer sheets, which must be submitted anew with each movement phase, acceptance lists persist from turn to turn. A power may modify his acceptance list at any time. It remains unchanged and will be used for all movement phases after its submission until such time as the player submits another acceptance list, which then completely replaces the earlier list.

4.4 Eliminated and
Unplayed Powers

The acceptance lists for eliminated powers are ignored and unused.

Acceptance lists are also not used for powers that are not being played (so-called "dummy powers"). Instead, any monetary tie that would need to be broken to determine the order to be issued to a dummy unit is resolved by having the unit accept its own default offer to HOLD, and reporting (if need be) to the players that it did so in response to an offer or offers totalling one silver piece greater than the (tied for) highest total offer that the unit actually received.

4.5 Publication

At the conclusion of the game, the acceptance list that was used for each player during the processing of each turn is published along with the list of offer sheets (see rule 3.5).

5. Order Determination
5.1 Determination by
Total Bribes

When all offer sheets have been submitted, all non-direct offers are converted by the GameMaster to direct offers as described in Rule 3.1. The direct offers then are used to form the complete list of the different orders from which each unit can choose. All money offered by all players for each of these separate orders — including any money offered in negative offers for which the order meets the stated requirements — is then totalled, giving the total bribe for each order. If, of the potential orders for a given unit, the total bribe for one of these is higher than the total bribe for any and every single one of the others, this is the order that the unit will issue.

5.2 Determination by
Acceptance Rank

If no single order has a higher total bribe amount than do any of the other potential orders for that unit, the decision as to which of those orders involved in the tie will be issued for the unit is made using the acceptance list of the power that owns the unit in question. The offer made by the power that, among all those powers to have submitted offers for the competing orders, is listed earliest in this acceptance list, will be accepted; that is, the order for which that power made an offer will be issued.

5.3 Determination by

If the earliest power (in acceptance list order) that made an offer to a unit in tied orders has made an offer for two or more of these competing orders, the order that will be issued is the order that, among these, appeared earliest in this power's offer sheet (note that each negative offer is considered to appear immediately below the direct offer to HOLD that is "built" from this offer, as described in Rule 3.1).

5.4 Determination by
Further Acceptance Rank

If two or more competing orders have (as the earliest listed offer submitted by the power described in Rule 5.3) the same negative offer, then the next power down the unit's acceptance list that offered to contribute to any of the orders under consideration is consulted. Using this other power, Rules 5.2 and 5.3 are applied again (as would be this current rule if necessary; that is, if the situation described herein is true for the newly considered power as well, a power even further down the acceptance list must be consulted). This procedure does guarantee that a unique order will be chosen.

5.5 Overexpenditures

The amount a player can offer is not limited by his account balance. However, player expenditures are. Once the order for every unit is determined (using the process described in Rules 5.1 through 5.4), the total expenditure for each player is calculated. If any player would pay more money than he currently has available in his account (honoring any savings request he has made), every single one of the offers made by each such "would-be-overdrawn" player is reduced by a single silver piece (except those offers that are already at zero). (However, note that offers with specified plateau amounts are not reduced beyond that amount unless it is the case that every offer has already reached its plateau and overexpenditure still exists.) After these reductions, all the units which were subjects of these offers "re-decide" all over again which order each will issue. If the same situation occurs again, this procedure is repeated (subtracting yet another silver piece from the offers of the "would-be-overdrawn" player or players), until no player would end up with a balance less than either their requested savings amount (if any), or zero.

Note that although the amount of a player's offer may be reduced to zero, the fact that the player had made the offer is still considered for the purposes of determining the order to be issued in the case of a tie, according to sections 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4.

While all of a player's offers are subject to reduction when the player is in this situation, any savings requests that were listed in the player's offer sheet are not reduced.

5.6 Balance Adjustments

When orders are determined, all money offered for each order being issued is subtracted from the accounts of those players who offered money for that order. Money offered for orders that are not issued stays in the players' bank accounts.

5.7 Publication

When orders are issued, the GameMaster shall report the following information to each player (and only to that player):

  1. the order to be issued by each of the player's own units,
  2. the amount of the total bribe (nothing, however, about the offer or offers that created this bribe) that was accepted by each of the player's own units,
  3. a list of the orders for which the player had an accepted offer (including the amount paid by each such offer),
  4. the total amount of money expended by the player, and finally,
  5. the new balance in the player's account.
6. Variations

The variants listed below are the major variants that are currently supported by the Payola adjudication code. Each of these variants includes a number of distinct elements which could be used separately. For example, the capability to specify different income contribution for each specific supply center is mentioned as being used in the Exchange variant — this capability can be used in any Payola game set up to allow this.

6.1. Payola Classic

The game may be played under the original rules to the variant, which would mean the following changes to the rules above:

Rule 2.1 Powers receive seven silver pieces per year per supply center controlled. (Income is not on the diminishing returns scale described in rule 2.1.)
Rule 3.1 item 1 Repetition counts are not allowed.
item 2 Zero silver piece offers to foreign units are allowed.
item 3 Plateau amounts are not allowed.
item 4 Augmentation (+) is not allowed.
item 5 The only legal separator in an order is the colon (:).
item 8 The use of the vertical bar (|) to permit multiple orders to appear in an offer is not allowed.
Rule 3.1 Only direct offers are accepted. All other offer types are invalid.
Rule 3.2 Multiple offers to the same unit are not permitted, and therefore, combining multiple offers to the same unit using the vertical bar syntax is also not permitted.
Rule 3.4 Savings requests are not permitted.
Rule 5.3 This rule is unnecessary, given the above changes.
Rule 5.4 This rule is unnecessary, given the above changes.

6.2 Application to Map Variants

The Payola system is easily applied to map variants such as Loeb-9, Youngstown, Colonial, etc., etc. The only necessary modification to the rules is that the amount of tax income per supply center is adjusted so that the amount gained from the first center is one silver piece fewer than the number of supply centers that is the variant's victory criteria, and subsequent centers then follow the same "one silver piece less" tax pattern.

In variants in which any power begins a game owning no supply centers but with one or more unit on the board (such as in the Void variant), such a player will receive as his initial funds one-half of the amount that the power would have received had each unit been supported by an owned supply center.

6.3 Tin Cup Diplomacy

Payola Diplomacy is combined with the Blind variant by making the following four changes or additions to the rules above. This variant is called Tin Cup Diplomacy because it is blind with money, much like a street-corner pencil salesman.

Rule 1.1 The usual rules of the Blind variant apply and govern which portions of the board each player can "see" in the results of a game phase delivered to that player.
Rule 3.1 item 6 If a player makes an offer to a non-existent unit (which would be forbidden by this point of the rule), the GameMaster will not report this fact to that player (nor to any other player). All such offers are simply ignored, but may be revealed by the GameMaster at the conclusion of the game.
item 7 Likewise, if a power makes an offer that mentions any unit that does not exist (which would be forbidden by this point of the rule — for example, an offer to an existing unit to support a unit that does not exist), this offer will be similarly ignored.
Rule 5.7 item 3 In the informational message delivered by the GameMaster concerning the results of each movement phase, players are only told the specific amount of that player's money that was paid to each unit, and the nationality of each such unit, but are not told the order that the unit will issue in return for this compensation.

6.4 eBayola

In this variant, suggested by Payola co-creator John Woolley on 3 August 2005, the total cost of a successful total bribe is reduced (if possible) to one silver piece more than the highest non-winning total bribe. Any resulting cost savings for the contributor(s) to the winning total bribe are awarded to the contributing powers according to their position in the acceptance list of the unit's owner. There are a couple of interesting twists, but that's the basic idea.

6.5 Loyal Units

Payola can be played with each human player's own units being loyal (and ordered as in standard Diplomacy, immune to monetary offers), but with units of unplayed (DUMMY) powers being ordered per these Payola rules. This is not only useful as a technique when the required number of human players for a game cannot be gathered, but also in variants in which neutral supply centers (Belgium, Greece, et al.) are provided with units.

6.6 Alternate Income Schemes

The income scheme outlined by these rules (that is, 17 AgP for the first supply center, 16 for the next one, etc.) can be modified to be any different (fixed, decreasing, increasing, capped) scheme, and income can be distributed more often than once a year.

6.7 Zero Sum Payola

In Zero Sum Payola, developed by Michael Schmahl, there is a fixed amount of money in the world. Contrast this with standard Payola, in which new money is printed each year for taxpayers to contribute to their governments. Zero Sum Payola uses the standard Payola rules with the following modifications:

  1. Each power begins the game with a treasury containing 10 silver pieces for each owned supply center.
  2. Powers do not receive tax income. Instead, money is transferred as follows:
    • The amount of money that was paid by successful offers made to the units of each power during any particular game year is deposited into the account of that power at the conclusion of the Fall turn.
    • When a neutral supply center is first captured, the power that occupies it is awarded a one-time 10 silver piece bonus.
    • When an owned supply center changes hands, the new owner receives an amount of money from the treasury of the former owner. This amount of money is the total treasury of the disenfranchised power divided by the number of supply centers owned by that power at the beginning of the game year, rounded down.
6.8 Exchange Payola

Exchange Payola, created by Bruce Duewer, disassociates players from the powers on the game map. Each player is instead an independent investor who can purchase stock in any of the powers on the board. One player is periodically elected by stockholders to serve as CEO of each power; that player controls the power's treasury, sets the worth (in silver pieces) of each of the supply centers that are owned by that power, and issues dividends to its stockholders. Each power's CEO also enters offers for his power. (Investors may also use their own private treasuries to make offers to the units on the map, of course.) A Pouch Zine article discusses the variant in more detail.

7. Appendices
7.1 Annotations

The complete set of annotations on these rules covers everything from the history of the variant to practical examples of game play.

7.2 Rules to Payola Classic

With the original rules of the variant, Payola Diplomacy was first presented to the world with more than a touch of humor.

7.3 Thoughts On Play

Here are presented some random notes on the game, strategies, tactics, and metrics that have been discovered.

7.4 Unfinished Variations

The variations discussed in Section 6 are but a few of the many that have been conceived. Some of the others are as yet but a set of gestating or differently matured ideas and/or are as yet untested.

Manus Hand

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the mail address above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.