by Bruce Duewer & Sergio Lidsell

How do you bribe? Yep, finally we’re going to talk about the hallmark of (advanced) Machiavelli — the use of bribes to get that edge that will make you solo win. Or, will you not? Time and again, we've counseled against doing this, but we’re sure no one really listened. It’s one of those things you need to learn from experience. We’ll begin with some general notes and then proceed with the most common expenses, while working our way to the game changing bribes. The article finishes off with a short refresher discussion on how to repay your loans.

An aside: In the old Pouch article Bruce had added the subtitle “spending so there is no tomorrow”, implying that most players — when they are done spending — have ruined their chances to win. I choose, a bit tongue in cheek, to reword it to reflect how planning for survival and expansion, after that great bribe you just ordered, seldom is at the top of the mind. The article has been extensively rewritten and expanded. The discussion on garrisons in the old version was subsumed into Part VI.

Bribes and expenses

Before we start discussing spending, let’s make this very clear: The rules make a clear distinction between bribes and (other) expenses. Only “bribes” may be counter-bribed. Orders concerning rebellions and assassinations cannot be counter-bribed. All this is clearly stated in the Classic Machiavelli rules, but, unfortunately, in the 1995 edition rules they dropped this clarification and assumed that it could be inferred from the rules as written. The Njudge supports the Classic rules. An expenses/bribe may be directed at a unit in an eligible province or against a power.

A fun fact is that no edition of the rules directly exempts famine relief from being counter-bribable. So if you want to play a really nervous FtF/non-automated game, go ahead and allow famine relief to be counter-bribed.

Multiple bribes and expenses against same unit or power

If multiple bribes are directed at the same unit, the largest bribe is the only one that succeeds. All smaller bribes are ignored and wasted. If there is a tie all bribes for that unit fail and are wasted.

In the case of multiple bribes the largest counter-bribe is subtracted from the largest bribe! All other counter-bribes fail and are wasted. If there is a tie all counter-bribes for that unit fail and are wasted.

In the 1995 edition, one bribe or counter-bribe will always succeed. A die of the player’s choice is rolled. The player with the highest roll (rolls may have to be repeated more than once) will get to perform his bribe, while all other bribes fail and are wasted.

If more than one assassination attempt is made against the same power, all attempts are performed and the worst outcomes are executed.

Regarding famine and rebellions, the rules give no help on what to do in case of multiple expenses directed to the same province. The following is recommended: if more than one famine relief is directed at the same province, the famine marker is removed but all excess expenses are wasted.

If more than one rebellion expense (either to cause or pacify) is directed at the same province, the order is executed but all excess expenses are wasted.

Adjacency or no adjacency — mass paranoia or not?

If you’ve carefully read the rules or the list of Njudge settings, you may have noticed that bribes can be directed to adjacent areas (adjacency) or any area on the board (no adjacency). The most common usage is to play with adjacency. In that case, you are only allowed to bribe enemy units in an area adjacent to one of your units.

But if you really want to have a really paranoid game, you should try to play with no adjacency. In that case, a bribe can be directed at any unit in any area of the board. France could for example begin by buying Tunis or Pisa or whatever he fancies. Venice would suddenly never be sure that the city of Venice was safe unless he put a garrison in it, which would effectively hamper Venice’s play — especially in Classic Machiavelli, where the added protection of the Lagoon gives Venice a great defensive advantage.

The game of bribe and counter-bribe

To bribe or not to bribe that is the question. Doo-be doo-be doo… OK, sorry about that; but this is really a tricky area. The main tip is to know thine enemy and thyself! Is the enemy prone to nervous counter-bribing? Can he afford to counter-bribe? Has he a reason to bribe? Can you afford to bribe? Do you have a reason to bribe?

The answer to all those questions should decide your game of bribes. The main goal of this game in the game is not to just aid your advance or defense, but to get your enemy to make unnecessary expenses and put him into debt!!! Yes, three exclamation marks! Because when you are in debt, you are not free anymore. You will be wasting money to repay that debt (more on that later).1

The inexperienced player sees ghosts everywhere, and may well start counter-bribing right and left. Use that, if you can afford it, by counter-bribing from time to time even when there isn't a reason to do so. Both implying you see ghosts and that you will pay more than the minimum bribe when you really do bribe. Thus, your enemies may spend a bunch when they actually do bribe you, to overcome your tendency to counter-bribe.

We’ll touch upon this again when discussing specific bribes.

Famines and famine relief

Playing with the famine rules means that each “winter” some areas are struck by famine. The effect is that any unit still in a famined area by the end of spring will be eliminated. So you are in a conundrum if the area affected contains a unit important for your defense or advance. How are you to prioritize your builds/maintenance expenses? Is it more important to build a new unit, or support another unit, or to keep the edge in that advance? Or will you indebt yourself to be able to do it all?

This is probably the most common expense you will consider not to pay. And we really cannot give any sure fire advice on when to spend for famine relief, as it all depends on your current board position and deals/alliances. However, before deciding consider the following advice:

  1. Do not stop a successful attack just to save 3 ducats.
  2. If defending, consider if those 3 ducats are better used to build a new unit rather than maintaining the famined unit.
  3. Will attacking the famined area give an edge to your advance? Many a time players will move out of famined areas and move back in the summer.
  4. Do not borrow unless it is critical for your win or survival to pay for that famine relief.
  5. Do not buy a famined unit unless you also buy famine relief. Or are sure the unit can move off.
  6. Be sure that you are not bounced back or forced to retreat into a famined area. And do of course consider if you can force an enemy unit into a famined area.

Buying a unit

This is the second most expensive thing you can do. A well-placed unit purchase can be quite destructive, though you need to be careful not to be counter-bribed. Sometimes, it's even worthwhile, if a gem such as Genoa (see discussion of Garrison basics in Part VI) is available, or if you can remove an opponent from the game. One classic example of this is the old First Turn Kill Florence move (and variants thereof) by the Papacy and the uncommon Rome Gambit by Florence (see the section on The Pope and Florence in Part III).

Things to consider when planning to buy a unit:

  1. First of all: don't even think about buying a Citizen's Militia garrison in Venice! go win the game with your 72d instead.
  2. Secondly, don’t go for the obvious units and the obvious ways to do things, if you can avoid it. The obvious way will get you counter-bribed.
  3. Look at the other bribe types first and make sure you can't do the job cheaper.
  4. Pick a target who can't be counter-bribe. (OK — this may not be possible most of the times, but if you do have the choice…)
  5. If possible, pick a unit that your victim is not expecting you to buy. You are spending a lot of money, you don't want to lose it.
  6. When in doubt or doing the obvious, over-bribe. You may waste some money, but not as much money as would be wasted if the bribe fails.
  7. Remember that garrisons in major cities cost twice as much to bribe. So do these special units: Elite Professionals and Citizen’s Militia.
  8. One truly nifty trick is to buy a fleet and use it to convoy one of your units forward; this can really crack an opponent's defenses wide open if done properly.
  9. Unless you can take advantage of famine, wait until after Spring to buy a unit that won't end the turn at sea, so you don't get damaged by plague.
  10. Before you decide to buy a special unit, make sure you don't already have one. You aren't allowed to have more than one. (Classic newbie mistake, this one.)

Disbanding (“killing”) a unit

This is a very interesting and often overlooked bribe. It costs only 12 ducats, so it is a lot cheaper than buying a unit, and can be quite as effective. It is especially useful to get rid of enemy units that are attacking you or rampaging behind your lines. It is also a cheap way to get rid of a unit supporting a unit that you are attacking. And, if you think your enemy will convoy an army you cannot defend against, it is a great way to break that convoy. Finally, it is the cheapest way to get rid of an army/fleet that you suspect will convert to garrison a major city. Otherwise, most of the considerations mentioned for buying apply.

Converting garrisons to autonomous

This is a great way to eliminate a country or ruin your enemy’s day. See the section on Garrison potshots in Part VI.

Making and breaking rebellions

Now things start to get interesting. Rebellions are useful to support you into a province, or to deny an enemy income or retreat into a city.

They are costly to cause, and you probably don't want to spend 15 ducats to start a rebellion in a home province unless going for the home run, but a normal rebellion costs a paltry 9 ducats. That is less than a disband! And, more importantly, rebellions cannot be counter-bribed. The only way to get rid of a rebellion is to put it down by holding for a full turn in the affected province or city or by spending 12 ducats to pacify.

For example, say that you need Marseilles, but you have only an army in Provence to grab it with; while your enemy has a fleet or army sitting in Marseilles. Most players would try to disband or buy and risk being counter-bribed and ending up besieging a garrison. The experienced players does instead spend 9 ducats to cause Marseille to rebel and support his unit into it. (N.B. this assumes that the enemy unit is not the power controlling France, otherwise you have to pay 15d.) Thus avoiding counter-bribes and a long tedious siege.

And another, perhaps more interesting, example: you want to take Genoa to gain its variable income roll. But your opponent has an army there, and, unless he’s stupid, he’s going to convert it into a garrison to ensure no other player easily grabs Genoa. The opponent is also very likely to support Genoa by moving another army into the province. The problem is you do not have 18 ducats lying about to spend and you sure as h**l do not want to borrow and get in debt. You could try to disband instead, but then you risk being counter-bribed, or just bouncing. So what does the wise player do? He causes a rebellion, ensuring he gets an automatic support into Genoa, no conversion to garrison, and saves a couple of much needed ducats. The beauty of this is that gaining Genoa province and city would guarantee you at least 5 ducats' income while denying your enemy 5 ducats (if you manage to hold on to it until the income phase).

And keep this in mind (yeah, it’s long!):

  1. Rebellions are pretty useless in provinces with garrisoned cities.
  2. Venice has no province to put a rebellion in on the 1995 edition map.
  3. Venice cannot be put in rebellion if any unit is present in it in Classic Machiavelli.
  4. Home provinces currently controlled by their owner cost 15 d to put in rebellion.
  5. On the nJudge a rebellion unit is placed in both city and province if the province is empty (also see Tech Note 1 below). In games following the official rules you must choose one.
  6. Only one (two on the nJudge) rebellion unit can be placed in a province/city, regardless of how many players make the expense (also see Tech Note 2 below).
  7. If you enter a province controlled by another power you get support from the rebel, after which the rebel unit will be removed from both city and province.
  8. However, if you control a rebelling city, you must besiege it or pay for its removal.
  9. You get only one support point on the Njudge, even if there is a rebellion in both province and city.
  10. In Classic Machiavelli and the Njudge, rebellion support is null and void if more than one power attacks the province. In 1995 Machiavelli, all attacking powers gain the support. This is a major difference, as it may save the affected unit in the former case. I do prefer the latter interpretation though, as it is more in the spirit of the idea of the rebellion.
  11. The “pacification train”. The cheapest and fastest way to remove rebellions is if you have a trusted ally who can enter the affected provinces with your unit in train. Do you trust your ally…?

Tech Note 1: Hypothetically, a situation could arise in the advanced game where two powers, one controlling the city and the other the province, have their units eliminated at the same time (due to famine or plague, or both players deciding to simultaneously disband their units) — leaving the province in dual control, but unoccupied. In that case there is a problem. The Njudge rules would mean that there would be rebels against A in the city and against B in the province. None of us know how this would play out on the Njudge, as we’ve yet not played in a game where this situation has come up. It could be that the province reverts to neutral or that the Njudge marks the rebellion as directed against only one of the players. Our recommendation in this case is to treat the province as neutral, and to have the rebel support all powers.

Tech note 2: In games following the official rules you will have another problem if two or more players decide to put a province with a city in rebellion. What are you to do if one player wants the rebellion in the province and the other in the city? Choose the “worst” option and put it inte the city? Throw a die and let fate decide. Sum all bribes for each choice and see which one is the highest? Do it the nJudge way? I would probably place it in the city, as is the most disadvantageous for the affected player. Whatever you choose, make sure you’ve all decide upon this before playing.


Ahh, feel yourself a real medieval monarch and send those assassins against your hated rivals. The dizzying, almost godly power that a successful assassination makes your grubby little hands feel. Soon you’ll be master of them all.2 "They're coming to take me away, ha ha, they're coming to take me away, ha ha”.3 Uhm, well, let’s cool down a bit…

A successful assassination can really, really hurt a power. All their units hold for a season, a bunch of their provinces are put into rebellion, and you get a full season to rampage unopposed through your enemy’s lands. Great deal, huh?

That is why you will do your best push your closest enemy into bankruptcy and help your enemy’s enemies avoid bankruptcy. It is much cheaper to let the bankers do the assassination, than to spend for an unsure assassination.

Just don't forget that you only get a one in six chance of success for every twelve ducats spent. To get a 50% chance of success, you need to spend so much, that you could have bought two units, or disbanded three! And, you can only spend up to 36 ducats on one attempt, so you can't spend more to guarantee success. Plus, every time you make an attempt you burn an assassination chit.

Thus paying for assassinations is something do when you are very sure no other player will benefit more than you! Unless, of course, you are going downhill and just want this last chance to get back at your nemesis. Really, the only time to use this expense is when absolutely nothing else will do the job.

But hey, what about using it for the end game? Won’t it guarantee my win or solo? Nope — it will only guarantee you spend 36 ducats. Ducats you may well have put to better use building units or disbanding key enemy units. A bunch of armies and fleets saturating your lands are usually a very efficient tactic to overrun your enemy or to defend with.

Still feel that the potential gains outweigh the costs? Still not dissuaded and are just itching to give it a try? Well, here are some more things to consider if you wish to to maximize your chances:

  1. If your target has a bunch of units in famined areas in spring, you can do a lot more damage assassinating the power now than at any other time of the year. The freezing of the target’s units will mean the famine units get eliminated… oh, what pain!
  2. If your target has a lot of garrisons, you should wait for the garrisons to convert to armies or fleets before sending in the assassins. As the biggest long-term damage that an assassination does to a player is to turn his cities against him — province rebellions are not nearly as damaging.
  3. If you need more assassination chits or are missing chits for your target power, ask around. If a player is big enough to be worth assassinating, they probably have made enemies. Don't forget to ask the eliminated players. Assassination chit transfers are immediate, so you can gather them between seasons if necessary.
  4. And, finally, be sure to be poised to take maximum advantage of any holds after a successful assassination. Yes, you might leave yourself open relying on the assassination, but the last thing you want is another player making bigger gains thanks to you.

Repaying loans and debt — avoiding bankruptcy and assassination

This is when the inexperienced player just quits the game in frustration. After having over-spent and seeing no future, the newbie just goes AWOL, much to the anger and disappointment of the other players. But, hey, you have not lost just because you are in debt! Careful planning and diplomacy can get you back on top. This is not Diplomacy where the only way is downhill once you stop growing apace with the other players. While winning in Diplomacy needs you to grow like a cancer, winning in Machiavelli can be done as an antibiotic; by slowly, slowly spreading and vanquishing the disease. OK sorry about this too, but just could not resist making this, uhm, comparison. ;-)

So back to business: how do you avoid bankruptcy after going on a spending spree in an attempt to kill your enemy? By retentively and conscientiously keeping track of your due dates and amounts to pay. To help you out Jon Ashman has built a small JavaScript loan repayment calculator published in the Pouch Spring 2014 Movement issue.

To get to the heart of loans and debts, read Part V.

Embracing debt — inviting bankruptcy and assassination

Yes, sometimes you will not be able to avoid bankruptcy. For a longer discussion on this topic see The Duck of Death in Part V. Yeah, Machiavelli players have no bad hair days, just bad debt days.


  1. So when president Andrew Jackson ran for president, he knew his enemy: banks and the national debt. He called it the national curse. He hated not just the federal debt. He hated debt at all. (Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, 2005). []
  2. “As a lobbyist, I was completely against term limits, … why? As a lobbyist, once you buy a congressional office, you don't have to re-buy that office in six years, right?” Jack Abramoff. (Which is why the Constitution sets term limits…) []
  3. 1966 record by Jerry Samuels, recorded under the name Napoleon XIV. Lots of covers by various artists. []

Bruce Duewer
or Sergio Lidsell

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