Why Aren't You Playing Payola?

by José Torres

How many times have you sat down to play a brand new game of Diplomacy wondering what new experiences will be in store, only to find boring, cliché openings like:

Spring 1901
Fall 1901
England: F Edi-NTH
England: A Lvp-Wal
England: F Lon-ENG
France: A Par-Pic
France: F Bre-MAO
England: F NTH-Edi
England: A Wal-ENG-Bre (void)
England: F ENG C A Pic-Lon
France: A Pic-ENG-Lon

I'll bet you're thinking, "Yeah, right." Or, "That's impossible!" Or, "Not in a million years would that ever happen in a Diplomacy game!" But you'd be wrong. So now you're asking, "Well, I guess that English fellow must be a total newbie." Well, I suppose that's possible, but usually even newbies aren't that self-destructive. No, this is not the handiwork of a newbie. It is the work of the universal lubricant: money.

In case you decided to read this article without even knowing what it's about, and for whatever silly reason, you haven't read (or even skimmed) the rules to Payola, here is a clue for you. In Payola Diplomacy, instead of submitting orders, each player submits an offer list, which is a list of orders for various units (of any nationality), with each order specifying an amount of money that the player offers to pay to that unit if it issues that order. The offer lists of every player are combined, and each unit issues the order that will pay it the most money, no matter where the money came from. In Payola, your financial income is based on the number of centers you own. More centers, more money.

If Diplomacy is the best thing since sliced bread -- and it is -- then Payola is the best thing since, well, sliced bread and pats of butter. If Diplomacy is the Venus De Milo in a museum, then Payola is the Venus De Milo with her arms still attached.

Tragically, though, Payola is woefully underplayed, and this article is my attempt not only to explain this tragedy, but try to correct it. The Pouch's Web and e-mail based adjudication system, the DPjudge (USDP) is the only judge on which Payola games are run. At the time of this writing, it has run or is running over 70 Payola games.

Certainly, there are other variants that are played even less, such as Hide-The-Hamster Diplomacy. But those variants are obscure, pointless, and infinitely less fun than Payola -- especially if you're the hamster. Honestly, this is agonizing! It's time for all diplomats to descend on USDP and play Payola. How can this be accomplished? Unfortunately, unlike in Payola, graft won't solve this problem.

I have always been an idealist. I can solve the world's problems. Really, I can. So this situation truly causes my heart to cry out in anguish of the injustice, and it motivates me to try to deduce probable explanations, and to completely and totally dedicate myself to this worthy and noble endeavor, without sleeping or eating or consuming caffeinated beverages or practicing good hygiene for at least a good ten or fifteen minutes -- or maybe even until until I finish writing this article. Yes, for the remainder of this article, I do solemnly swear that:

"I will find all the fallacious reasons why Dippers don't play Payola, and debunk them one by one until, by default, I have proved that everyone should play Payola. While accomplishing this task, I will shun sleep, food, caffeinated beverages, and personal hygiene, and if I end up tired, hungry, thirsty, and smelly from the effort, well, then maybe I'll change my mind."

Well, I asked myself, "Self, what is the most basic reason why more people don't play Payola?" Well, put that way, the answer to my question seems obvious. You need to play Diplomacy to play Payola. Most people don't play Diplomacy. Therefore, most people don't play Payola. Duh. But why? Why don't more people play Diplomacy? Well, the answer seems to be way beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that they are moronic mouth-breathers, uninspiring simpletons, and direct descendants of the people depicted in the classic movie Deliverance.

This is not good. I've gotten virtually nowhere, but my pledge to avoid personal hygiene is already making itself known, leading to a circumstance that makes me wonder if I will even have time to finish my thoughts on the subject at hand. You see, my wonderful wife has already classified me as a disadvantaged minority (the hygienically challenged) and she is already of the opinion that I should learn to embrace my limitations by launching a new career in which my handicap will not only not hinder my growth but be seen as a badge of honor, such as in the demanding and exciting field of lawn grooming and maintenance, and "why don't you start practicing on our weed infested overgrown yard?"

"Yes, love, as soon as I finish this article." Well, that puts the heat on. I must accomplish my mission with urgency, and relieve my wife of her olfactory burden. Okay, what is the most obvious reason why more Diplomacy players don't play Payola?

Hmmm. This is puzzling. The fundamentals of Payola Diplomacy are the same as the fundamentals of standard Diplomacy, so that does not seem to be an issue. For example, Payola does not modify the map, but rather, like Diplomacy itself, can be played on any number of the different variant maps. So the map cannot be an issue. The negotiation requirement cannot be an issue, because negotiation is what Dippers literally do for fun. Gosh, that makes Diplomacy players almost lawyer-like! Ewww! Press setting preferences cannot be an issue, because Payola can be played with any press setting. The movement and unit mechanics cannot be an issue, because they are exactly the same as in standard Diplomacy. The move, support, and convoy orders and resolution are exactly the same. Wow. I am stumped.

Hmm, all of this hard work is making me sweat. And sweating...well, let's just say that it is not helping the hygiene situation. But I think I realize my mistake. I'd been going about this backwards -- giving reasons why Payola is easy for Dippers to pick up! I need to search harder. I need to be like Winnie-the-Pooh and go to my thinking spot. Think. Think. Think-Think. Well, let's see. Payola is just like standard Diplomacy, except for honey. Oh, bother! I mean money!

So it must be the money that has kept Payola's growth slow.

But that doesn't make sense either. Can anyone show me a person -- Diplomacy player or not -- who doesn't like money? Personally, I've never seen one. Does such a person exist? If one did, I'd be happy to relieve them of their hated currency. Just being a good citizen and all. Bill Gates, the Catholic Church, governments around the globe -- all have tons of cash, and all still want more. Nope, it's not the money.

Maybe the issue is how to spend the money. Yes, maybe that is it. I hear that in marriage, the main subjects that couples fight over are money, sex, and religion. (Here in my house, lawnwork and attention to hygiene are up there too.) Rich or poor, it is not how much you have, it is how you spend it.

"Maybe one of the reasons why Dippers don't learn how to play Payola is because they either don't know how to spend Payola money, or they are intimidated by the (perceived, but not actual) complexity of writing Payola offers...."

Yes, maybe some potential Payolaphiles have held back from playing because of confusion about how to write offers. But to be honest, that is a weak excuse. When I sat down to submit my very first Payola unit-bribe offers (you don't order a unit in Payola -- you offer it money to do your bidding), I must admit I was as dumbfounded as anyone. But I did it. And then it all became clear. To submit offers, I developed a little procedure, and in hopes of convincing all the poor readers out there who haven't yet played Payola that it's not brain surgery, I present:

A Payola Newbie's Offer Writing Procedure
  1. Pick the most important unit on the map. This unit could be yours or it could be anyone else's.
  2. Write the order you'd most like to see this unit carry out. This can be any order, especially orders that are unthinkable in vanilla Dip, like supporting or convoying enemy units into home centers. Worry about the money later.
  3. On the next line, write a backup order, if any. Important units almost always get backups. Any number of backups orders are possible (and wise!). For example, if it is important to you that the army in Munich stays in place to be able to receive support, your order and its backup orders might be A Mun S A Hol-Ruh, A Mun S A Kie-Ruh, A Mun S A Ruh-Bur, and A Mun Hold. To keep yourself organized, you'll want to keep all orders for a given unit grouped together.
  4. Do the same for the rest of the important units, in order. It helps to write the orders for the most important ones first to help prioritize your spending, because frankly, you can never afford to pay to control all of them. (And what fun would it be if you could?)
  5. If you haven't already, finish by creating orders for your own units.
  6. Use the 25% Spring, 75% Fall guideline to limit your total spending for the phase. Your money needs to last you two phases -- Spring movement and Fall movement (retreat and adjustment phases cost no money). You won't get more money until after Winter Adjustments, so don't spend it all in the Spring. Payola players have seemed to collectively decide on a relatively standard pattern of spending. Offer about a quarter of your total treasury in Springtime bribes, and then offer three-quarters or so of the remainder in your Falltime bribes.
  7. As a guide, distribute your money in roughly equal shares to the important units To add money to the orders you wrote, just put the bribe amount and a colon in front of the order, like so: 2: A Mun H. There are other symbols besides the colon; these symbols do things like offer to pay for any hold order, or any move order, and so forth. But for now, the simple colon (direct bribe) is sufficient.
  8. For backup orders, you can feel free to put the same value for you did for your first-choice order. You will not get charged twice, because the unit can only issue one order, and therefore won't be accepting more than one of your bribes.
  9. "Sanity check" your orders. Make sure you're not putting money down on any order you would not be willing to pay for.
  10. Click "Submit" and hope for the best. Ain't Dip great?

"Yes, love?"
"You stink. And the lawn is not getting any shorter. The weeds are not pulling themselves."
"Yes, dear, as soon as I am done saving the world."

So...back to business. Why don't more Dippers play Payola? Obviously, it's not rocket science. Hmmm. Perhaps the reason is that players are ignorant of both the quality and quantity of documentation about Payola.

I don't think that's it either, though. Ignorance is a completely inadequate excuse for not playing any kind of Diplomacy, because The Pouch is an excellent source of information about Diplomacy, the hobby, and how to play all aspects of The Game. There is information on openings, information on endings, information on middles. There is information on alliances and grand alliances. Stalemate lines. Even the famed "North Sea to Picardy" move (which is not possible in Payola, but perhaps should be). There is information on player psychological profiles, and there is information on Payola. Plenty of it, in fact. See?

In fact, not a single person ever sat down with me and said, "Let me teach you how to play Payola." Nope. I just went to Payola Place, found myself engrossed in all of the above articles, found myself a game to JOIN, added myself to the Payola mailing list, and considered myself a Payolaphile.

But really, as excellent and valuable as they are (and they are), it is actually not really necessary to read all of those articles to get started. Well, you might finish reading this one, at least (because you're this far already). Personally, I chose to read all of them for a couple of reasons: I read owner's manuals from cover to cover (hey, at least my VCR doesn't flash 12:00 like it does for 90% of the world), and, after reading just the literal rules, I didn't have a clue as to what strategy to pursue to keep from getting my ass kicked. Is it because I am not as think as people dumb I am? Or just because I was worried about overspending? Suffice it to say I needed help, but to be honest, I should have just joined a Payola newbie game and had fun figuring it out for myself.

Well, maybe I am done with my quest. My wife seems to think I should be, whether I am or not. Maybe I have shown why more Dippers don't play Payola. Yes, maybe they're just not smart enough. Maybe that's it. Maybe in all of the thousands of Dippers out there, maybe there are only a couple hundred or so who are smart enough to figure out how to play Payola. Heaven forbid, we would not want uneducated, uncouth, underachievers playing Payola, giving their countries up for cheap, now would we? No, never. We would not want to have any "easy pickings" squaring off against us in the next Payola match.

"Maybe you just have to be smart to play Payola.
Dumb people, stop reading.
Smart people, please continue."

As I've explained earlier, in Payola all units on the board put their services for sale at auction to the highest bid. (Not necessarily the highest single bidder, but the highest total bid, which may be a collection of funds offered by more than one player for the same order.) This means that you can lose control of your very own units. And if you are a control freak, this may not be for you. It may cause you to go into fits of rage and put your fist through your monitor screen, and if you do so, The Pouch Legal Department insists that the following disclaimer be added to this article:

"In no way does this article or The Pouch endorse the insertion of fists, elbows, foreheads, or other bodily extremities into monitor screens. Please do so only on the recommendation of your physician."

On the flip-side, Payola gives you the opportunity to control your enemies' units also. Which is, well, addictive.

"Hello. My name is José, and I am a bribe-a-holic."
..."Hi, José!"

You could argue, "In standard Diplomacy, you can already 'control' your opponents' units through guile and wit, so the ability to bribe an opponents' unit is virtually worthless." But if you made this argument, you'd probably be wearing a pink-polka-dotted muumuu with thigh-high black leather boots and ten-gallon black Stetson hat with the words, "Living Brain Donor" on the front and "Space for Rent" on the back. Well, maybe I went too far with the muumuu, but you get the idea. No amount of guile or wit is going to convince an opponent to use his own units to support you while you completely eliminate him. Payola gives you options you never had before. Yes, you can still try to persuade your fellow competitors to move this way and that. In addition, you can work to persuade them to spend some of their money to help move your units (thus saving yourself the money you need to stab them later) or to help move some of your supposedly common enemies' units as your alliance needs. So Payola actually adds to the elements of negotiation and persuasion in the game.

And of course, you can also (as we saw at the beginning of this article) use an enemy's own units against him. Or you can bribe his neighbors' units into offensive positions on his border, and provide him enormous sympathy while painting the neighbor as a salacious aggressor. Or you can start a war between your neighbors, and offer sympathy (and well-placed bribes) to both sides while they waste their money fighting the war you started between them. The only limits in Payola are one's own creativity.

Hmmm. The thought of having your own units disobey your wishes does make things rather complicated. It makes it hard to predict what units will do because they violate the accepted and predictable norms of vanilla Diplomacy. In standard Diplomacy, it is a given that a unit that can provide a necessary and uncuttable support will indeed provide that support. It is predictable that a unit located on a supply center, surrounded by two hostile units, and with no available supports, will most likely be dislodged. It is a given that the units anchoring a stalemate line will sit still and predictably maintain that stalemate line against a power that has seventeen units. But is all of this true of Payola? Nope. Payola allows for no routine, no predictability, and no muumuus, either.

In Payola, one can conduct a major offensive with just one unsupported unit. Or defend his centers without a unit at all! All you have to do is bounce a fellow out or pay him to move him away. This is foreign to the uninitiated. Why? Because it is a whole new paradigm.

Fair warning. I'm about to start waxing philosophical. I get that way when I haven't showered. A paradigm, you see, is a view of the world, which humans use as a guideline to govern how they interact with that world. It is not necessarily applicable to the world as it really is, only as people perceive it. If you update your view of the world in advance of the rest of society, you may be presented with the opportunity to exploit that difference, and in so doing, achieve a radical, fundamental breakthrough. History is rife with thousands of paradigm shifts, which today we take for granted. The Chinese invented an explosive powder hundreds of years before it was used to propel a small projectile out of a metal tube. Once gunpowder's main application changed from fireworks to lead-slug propellant, the conduct of war went through a fundamental change, because it made the previously dominant stone castles and knights in armor pointless. Once airplanes became capable of carting people from place to place, the dominant mode of travel changed from boat and rail to plane. Once Henry Ford invented the assembly line, the dominant way to manufacture goods went through a fundamental change, because specialization of jobs on an assembly line multiplied throughput and productivity by five to ten times greater than previously possible. Once Hormel realized that something that can almost pass for meat could be mass-produced even though there's no actual animal called a "spam," -- well, we won't go there.

Okay, enough real-world history and philosophy. The point is that Payola requires just such a paradigm shift. And well, maybe that's the problem. People can often be stubborn, and cling to what is familiar, simply because, well, it is familiar. No one can prove to me that the sun will rise tomorrow, yet we all expect it to, simply because it has every day before. So I cling to that (and really, on that one, I can't think of a better alternative paradigm). Someday, the sun will not "rise." God forbid this will be anytime soon, because it is hard to play Diplomacy in the dark.

"Honey - do you know who died?"
"No, who?"
"No, dear, I'm asking you."
"Why would you ask that?"
"How else can you explain that stench?"
"But honey, I'm almost done!"

In standard Diplomacy, the stalemate line practically forces one to concentrate on a given geographical area to win. It is virtually unthinkable for Turkey to ever possess Edinburgh, for example, or any other center that requires a northern fleet to keep. Furthermore, if you are not blessed by being able to build on both sides of the stalemate line (France, Russia), you must typically own all the centers on your side of the line to win. Thus, as a function of geography, you must eventually turn on all of your neighbors, and you are generally no threat to the distant powers until you threaten to solo. In the presence of these largely geographical forces (see The Pouch Zine article "Geography is Destiny"), one can say that your friends and your enemies are generally forced upon you, and it is simply a matter of choice as to who is first on the list.

In Payola, one can claim and "permanently" possess any center on the board, regardless of intervening geography or powers. To be able to claim it, you only need to wander or march a unit to within striking distance, and then arrange for any units in the way to decide to move out of the way and let you walk in. Some may even decide to support you in. And you don't even need your own fleet to attack England -- anyone's fleet will do, including the English fleets if you like, and these are usually in ample supply. Finally, to keep that far-off center, you don't need tons of units to garrison the center. You don't even need a single unit to garrison it. You just need some money and a good budget. Oh, and a little diplomacy never hurt, either.

Since you can realistically claim any of the 34 centres as your winning 18, the geographical forces that shackle the diplomatic goings on in standard Diplomacy are removed or at least greatly diminished. The decisions governing who your friends are, who your enemies are, and which centers you're targeting long-term are almost completely unconstrained. Thus, in Payola, your neighbors are not necessarily your enemies. Nor are they necessarily your friends. In fact the whole paradigm of friend or enemy is really useless. One could argue that all the players are "your friends" and all are "your enemies" and all of them are "your targets." Even if you are England and you are eliminated by French units, there is nothing saying that the French units weren't only doing what German money was used to pay them to do, despite all of France's best efforts to pay his men enough to stop attaking you. Given enough skill, one can diplomatically be "friends" with all powers on the board at all times, while militarily taking centers from any and all of them. In fact, the whole concept of being "at war" with a nation in Payola is antiquated and pointless. And that is a hell of a paradigm shift. As long there is another player in the game, there is a power that can and probably will spend money against you, in theory raising your expenditure to acquire new centers or to keep the ones you have.

Can it be that the paradigm shift is too big? Too revolutionary? Do most players want to have a defined enemy? Is it that not being able to be sure of your ally, even when his own moves prove friendly, is too scary? I suppose that's okay, but only if you're a newbie. In fact, it is my (unsupported) thesis (really I'm just reading between the lines of great Pouch authors and calling it my own) that loyalty to an ally out of a sense of security is a newbie style of play, and demonstrates unwillingness on the part of the clinger to "go it alone." How many games have you seen where a rough newbie player picks an ally and sticks with him and sticks with him and sticks with him, sometimes to his own detriment (because he gets nailed, or because he does not nail the guy he's partnering with when he surely could have, and by so doing, could have had a good to decent shot at a solo).

One of the reasons why Payola would not appeal to this type of player (a true newbie or a fawning carebear) is because they haven't made a more fundamental paradigm shift -- one that says that Diplomacy is really a game of one-on-six). Not only are these players not likely to grasp the geographical freedom of Payola's paradigm shift, they probably don't have enough Diplomacy experience to "go it alone" and fully experience the lessons, the true art of the stab, the constant vigilance and suspicion, that is the point of Diplomacy in the first place.

In his fundamental article, "What's Your Point?" Paul Windsor defines four predominant playing styles, two of which he calls the "Classicist" and the "Romantic." The Classical style player "feels naked and alone when not in an alliance," and typically is not comfortable as the early leader. The Romantic style is almost unconcerned about alliances but is absolutely focused on getting a solo, and any result other than a solo victory is virtually pointless to them.

Paul claims (and I agree with him) that the Classical style dominates play on the judges. If that is true, and if I am correct that the Classical players have not made the major paradigm shift that Diplomacy -- not Payola, but Diplomacy itself -- requires, then that is one good reason why more Dippers don't play Payola, which requires a further paradigm shift by introducing even more insecurity into the inter-player relationships. Pure Classicists would probably hate it. No natural allies, no common enemy. Your ally could stab you and you'd never know that it was he who did so, and that would drive a Classicist nuts. Players who fit the classic playing style because they love to master the tactics of the game may first be taken aback by the lack of direct control over their units' actions. In Payola, the best-laid tactical plans can often go awry if the funding of even one unit is inadequate to carry out the plan. These players may feel under-equipped and may even have a sense of their own inadequacy to slug out a tactical war in Payola.

However, Romantics should think they've died and gone to heaven. Quite a few Payola games end in solo victories. No one knows how much to trust any other player, because you never know when a guy is spending money to attack you (with his own units or with others). You can only make educated guesses, by having an idea of what the other player's income has been, where his units are, and where the centers he owns are. Wonderful.

Come to think of it, another of Paul's "player types," the "Deviate" (who just plain loves to lie for the thrill of it) should also love Payola, because he can spin more lies than you can shake a stick at. It is much harder to prove lies in Payola than in standard Diplomacy, and it is much harder for other players to organize alliances against a "Deviate" who has offended a number of players on the board, even if his "deviance" is somehow exposed.

The final player type, the "Club Player" should appreciate Payola because, by their social nature, and the geographically unconstrained nature of Payola, these players get to interact at the deepest tactical and strategic levels of the game, with all of the players of the game at all times. As the Turk, it is often to your benefit to have England open to the north, putting pressure on Russia. Turkey often will suggest such a thing to England, but the discussions between these faroff powers often are brief and end there. In Payola, the discussion can be backed up with money -- "I will contribute five silver pieces to you if you move to the Barents; in return, can you help me with some of your money to make sure that Austria vacates Serbia and my Bulgaria army gets in there?" (Of course, at the same time, this same Turk can be secretly contributing silver to send the French fleet into the Irish Sea, but hey, that's another story.)

So as far as I can tell, the only playing style that may not be predisposed to love Payola as much as they love their mother is the Classical one. But even that's not a certainty. There are features in Payola that appeal greatly to players who fit in all four styles.

Have I convinced myself that only experienced players should play Payola? It is not that Payola requires advanced thinking (to play Payola, one requires only a pulse), but perhaps succeeding at Payola requires advanced thinking? It requires an open mind and the willingness and ability to undergo a paradigm shift or two into the deeper depths of the Diplomacy game-play experience.

But should you lack these capabilities, does that mean you will get wiped off the map? No, probably not. Play and find out what I mean. Even if you don't know what you're doing, you will most likely still stick around long enough to learn your first few lessons. In fact, good players tend to keep newbies in the game, just to increase confusion. So, it is not like the complexity of Payola will keep you from enjoying your first game. On the contrary, it will actually help you learn it. New Payola players can learn it easily, and they invariably fall in love with the game.

"Maybe one of the reasons why more Dippers don't play Payola is for lack of newbie Payola games.
Well, no problem there, I'll start one right now on the DPjudge.
Or maybe it is because Internet sales of pink polka-dotted muumuus have been skyrocketing lately.
I'd better name the game 'nomuumuu'.
[Wow! 'nomuumuu' filled fast! I'm creating 'nomuutwo' now!]
And maybe one of the best reasons left why more Dippers don't play Payola is
because no one has said to them, 'Play Payola! You will love it!'
So I will: "Play Payola, damn it! You will love it!"

Note from the publisher: José wrote what I hope is a pretty effective advertisement for Payola players here. Yes, the DPjudge is now moving forward in its plan to conquer the world, and new DPjudges will soon be popping up to join the two public DPjudges now in service. At the moment, though, the USDP judge is the one and only place for Payola play. I hope you take José's advice and stop by to play.

José Torres

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