Overheard at the
Having recently returned to the hobby, I am eager to make good on a long overdue commitment to continue publication of Overheard at the Ministry of Finance, a series of articles about the Payola hobby. Payola is a variation of Diplomacy with an extra layer inserted between the player and his units: Instead of issuing orders, players compete to bribe units of any flag during movement phases, with each unit's loyalty going to the highest bidder(s). Payola has been written about in this Zine before, and a link to a complete list of Payola articles are available in the Payola section of the DPJudge
Because players are no longer fully in control of their units, some of the most promising lines of play in Diplomacy are no longer viable in Payola while other possibilities with limited effectiveness in Diplomacy often promise good results in Payola. Not surprisingly, the unique flavor and relative prospects for each individual powers in Payola differs somewhat from the familiar pattern in Diplomacy. Payola is reasonably well balanced and offers a broad range of play options. Diplomats often find the variations within the familiar Diplomacy setting quite refreshing.
In this article I'd like to draw comparisons between Payola and Diplomacy with respect to three aspect: There are differences affecting play, best play alternatives, and the unique characteristics of each power. Views are based on my own empirical experience. Certainly there are players who would disagree on certain points. I suspect that experienced Payola players would agree on most points.
Differences Affecting Play
No Four Center Laggards
Diplomats are familiar with the fact that some countries usually get off to a slow start. Thus, Diplomacy's Turkey, Italy and England are typically limited to just a single build after 1901. Most times these powers find that their neighbors have already accessed and secured the potential fifth center by the Fall. Payola offers these powers new chances. Should any of these power emerge from S1901 well funded and with good position, they can enjoy reasonable chances of forcing a positive outcome of a fifth center.
Ruling the Waves - A Dubious Distinction?
In Diplomacy, an early issue for England and France or Turkey and Russia is the control of their critical interstitial waterways. If Turkey gains control of the Black Sea, for instance, he holds a distinct advantage over Russia. Newcomers to Payola often feel elated at their ability to force the issue. They can gain naval control simply by outbidding their opponent! However, in Payola it is rarely a sound idea to power one's way into the English Channel or the Black Sea. The next season will find you at a financial disadvantage, and that fickle captain of yours may embarrass you by accepting a higher offer than you can make to convoy foreign troops into sensitive home territory. Consequently, openings calling for a quick thrust into the Black Sea or the English Channel tend play a more limited role between top Payola players. Players more often content themselves to spending adequate sums to outfit their infantry for a possible crossing (i.e. Army Moscow to Sevastopol, Army Paris to Picardy, etc.) as well as setting a modest threshold to inhibit foreign occupation.
Keep it Simple!
Diplomats are familiar with a number of name openings (i.e. Sea Lion, Lepanto) which rely on massive use of sea power to make early inroads against well fortified adversaries. Such openings play a less prominent role in Payola. So early in the game players will lack the financial muscle to reliably execute multi-unit maneuvers. The Lepanto, for instance, requires Italy to double hop an army into Turkish territory. Turkey can throw a spanner in the works by subverting any one of three or four units, and Italy still has to foot the bill for the successful parts of the operation.
While fleets still play a significant role in Payola, they usually only become important from the mid-game on. Only at that point will it make sense for a successful power to begin building fleets with an eye on increasing his offensive mobility.
While the features above mainly affect opening behavior, the next characteristics have their biggest effect later in the game.
In Payola the published picture tells only part of the story. Players keep account balances and these balances remain hidden. Players can sometimes accumulate large reserves through patient saving, then abruptly expand in a 'Great Leap Forward'. It is quite normal for a Payola power to go from 12 to 18 centers in one brief year, a feat almost unheard of in Diplomacy.
How does one assay an opponent's financial strength? One could take stock of his military encounters. Unfortunately, moves do not reveal the intensity of engagements, and battles can be feigned to serve diplomatic purposes. A more reliable approach is to involve oneself diplomatically in all conflicts and supplement the harvested information with discreet use of financial probes. The information gathered on spending behavior also comes in handy in future military confrontations.
The presence of money in Payola affects play in other ways as well. A player need not confront an opponent militarily. Instead he can chose to resort to financial warfare. By encouraging creation of serious threats to an adversary's position, he can drain their account balance, weakening him for a fatal blow to be administered at the appropriate moment. In contrast to Diplomacy, he can pursue this policy in stealth, using third parties to raise challenges, or claiming that his own units were victim of third party machinations.
In Contrast to Diplomacy, Payola players can do rather well by doing absolutely nothing, which is a feature that has real appeal to the lazy. If a player creates a situation where his unit position appears to make hostile penetration difficult, he can take a conscious decision to wait out a season or more in order to save.
A Strategic Endeavor
Both Diplomacy and Payola call for talent at conducting local operations alongside skill at conceiving and implementing a grand plan. Payola heightens the importance of strategy, de-emphasizing the role of tactics as compared with Diplomacy:
From the late mid-game onward, an experienced diplomat is guided by awareness of stalemate lines. In Payola this aspect of play is completely missing. Payola has no stalemate lines; there is no counting the seasons to the erection of an impervious barrier. In Diplomacy, superior concentration of forces can count as an absolute advantage in a local engagement. In Payola the advantage conferred by a preponderance of units is relative and can be neutralized by superior spending.
In Diplomacy it can be useful to talk with all players. In Payola, broad communication is absolutely critical. Payola's bidding opens up the possibility of action at a distance. Whereas communication with distant powers in Diplomacy is mostly limited to supporting a 'look ahead' function, helping to ease the transition to pursuit of a new goal after reaching a strategic milestone, Payola blurs the notion of neighbors. In a world where everyone can and does take influence on your local environment, you are reliant on anticipating and manipulate the strategic vision of every other player.
Consequences for Best Play
Turkey has the reputation of being Diplomacy's pre-eminent defensive power. Opening play in Diplomacy sees Turkey dealing directly with three powers: Austria, Russia and Italy. A competently played Turkey can expect at least survival unless two or more of these powers launch a sustained and concentrated attack. In contrast, Diplomacy's Turkey has at best average offensive capability at the opening. He is usually limited to a single build following 1901. Longer term, he faces strategic liabilities: Turkey can face difficulty finding an ally. Allying with Russia risks junior partner status while allying with Austria or Italy often fails due to trust issues. In the race to 18 centers Turkey suffers from poor reach. Typically, supply center number 18 is far away. If Turkey doesn't give careful attention to global balance, he may discover that one of the other powers with better access and perhaps outside the range of direct confrontation passes the finish mark before Turkey can enter the home stretch.
In Payola, Turkey is even more of a defensive powerhouse. While the “sustained attack from two opponents” rule for eliminating Turkey still applies, this time Turkey's initial dealings are limited to Austria and Russia. Combine this defensive strength with Turkey's improved chances to garner a second build in 1901 and its not surprising to find that Turkey is perhaps the most improved power in Payola.
Turkey's prime objective in the opening should be to counter Russia's and Austria's ability to coordinate a joint attack. The obvious approach -- to bankroll one of RA against the other -- is perilous and unpredictable. If either Russia or Austria succeed too quickly against the other, Turkey will be in for a difficult struggle. A better approach for Turkey is to use Germany (or, less frequently, England) to keep Russia distracted. Turkey can do even better if he manages to get Italy to attack Austria, but for reasons which will be familiar from Diplomacy, this course often encounters resistance. The ideal opening for Turkey is to make significant inroads against either Russia or Austria, while using a third power to neutralize the other.
Turkey has yet one more strategic advantage without any equivalent in Diplomacy. If Turkey finds herself “cut off from the action,” he can take a conscious decision to wait and save. This option is open to all powers in Payola, but because of the Turkey's potential to raise strong outer defenses, he is likely to encounter opportunities more frequently early on than, say, Austria.
What about Turkish weaknesses in Payola? It turns out that all of Turkey's weaknesses familiar from Diplomacy are present and exacerbated in Payola. Turkey's greater natural strength in Payola can make it difficult to negotiate an alliance on favorable terms with Russia or Austria. Italy too can be counted on to exhibit more than the usual skepticism about mounting an early assault against Austrian positions. Attempts by Turkey to finance an Italian assault against Trieste will often be recognized as clumsy and transparent meddling. Once again, should Turkey try 'too hard' and cover the full cost of Italian insurgency deep into the Balkans, he risks creating a powerful future adversary.
The two biggest obstacles to Turkish growth only manifest themselves with Turkish success, and they become increasingly onerous if Turkey makes continued progress. More than any other power, Turkey is afflicted by logistical difficulties. As Turkey grows, he has to maintain ever longer supply lines. In Payola, Turkey's opponents have tremendous scope to interrupt shipments to the front. All it takes is a single successful bid somewhere along the supply chain. The front is weakened and Turkey still carries the cost of each of the remaining units.
Turkey's final problem arises from the same source as his defensive strength, which is the high walls and deep moat surrounding his castle. Turkey needs to be very aware of the risk of hostile convoys. If an opponent manages to infiltrate behind Turkish lines it can be quite costly and time consuming to deal with. The loss of time can be especially devastating as the greatest obstacle facing Turkey on the road to victory often is time itself.
Despite his corner position, Payola's Russia has more interactions to manage than any other power. Russia has direct dealings with Austria, Turkey, England, and Germany. So much is true in Diplomacy as well. But because bidding opens up the possibility of exerting “action at a distance,” Payola's Russia is often much more an early focus of attention for the distant powers as well. France will be eager to instigate Russian action against the western powers, while Italy sees Russia, the only easterner not positioned to threaten him, as an important balancing power.
At first glance it looks as though French and Italian activism would work in Russia's favor, and many times it does. However, French and Italian behavior is not always reliable. Sometimes France or Italy will push third party forces in Russia's direction to make room for their own oncoming units. Then again, France and Italy's may be satisfied just to distract their adversaries and find it more convenient to send third party forces in Russia's direction instead of advancing Russian units.
Not surprisingly, Russia is very susceptible to (and has great influence upon) the global alliance structure. Managing the shape and strength of alliances everywhere in Europe is Russia's highest priority. One tool for implementing this policy, of course, is third party bidding. But Russia has too few pieces of silver to cover all the tasks he's facing. Russia has no choice but to use third party bidding lightly as a complement to diplomacy and actions on the ground. Voluntary enlistment of third parties to the Russian cause also has a salutary effect of reinforcing psychological commitment.
The potential for third parties to instigate movement into Silesia, Prussia, and the Baltic greatly heightens the tension between Russia and Germany. Perhaps for this reason, RG hostilities tend to break out earlier than they do in Diplomacy. Worries about Russia can tilt Germany to seek an alliance with England with devastating consequences. A committed EG alliance is the purest of all poisons for Russia. If England and Germany stick together, Russia might as well enter his name at the nearest game queue. If, on the other hand, England and Germany can be made to embark on a costly war, Russia is in an excellent position to pick up the pieces.
In the south, Russia usually has more flexibility. To paraphrase Freud, geography is destiny. Both Austria and Italy can work better with Russia than with each other. If Italy decides for the east, that can only help. Therefore, Russia's top priority at the opening should be to get England and Germany fighting.
Encouraging EG rivalry can be done in a number of ways. Early purchase of a hostile action by one party against the other can help to seed discontent. Patience is also important: If possible, Russia ought to defer aggressive action against England and Germany until EG antagonism is well entrenched. Finally, Russia should realize that although an alliance with Turkey can be tempting, especially as the Black Sea flash point is much more manageable in Payola, it risks encouraging an Anglo-German counter alliance.
If Germany and England are Russia's bitterest nemeses, then it follows that France should be Russia's dearest friend. A lot, of course, depends on personality issues. Should a likeminded France emerge as Russia's ally in the northwest, it then becomes interesting to consider Italy as the Russian partner in the southeast. After sharing gains with Russia in their respective theatres, Italy and France are available to curb each others growth. Russia obviously has great influence over progress in the two theatres, and by opting for asynchronous development, he can avoid creating a static triangle where France and Italy are simultaneously able to constrain Russia. One promising approach could be for Russia to disfavor progress on the front with the more jealous and greedy of his two allies. That way, he creates a situation where two allies can later be coaxed into a war to Russia's benefit.
Russia is the Payola quintessential strategic power. Players who enjoy the negotiation and strategic aspect of Diplomacy will find Russia very versatile and interesting. Russia's relative strength in Payola is quite similar to or, perhaps, just slightly greater than it is in Diplomacy.
Like Turkey, Diplomacy's Italy has a reputation as a defensive power with limited offensive potential. Again, like Turkey, Payola's Italy remains relatively strong defensively, with improved chances for early growth and generally better overall prospects. This improvement is all the more surprising as Italy's viable alternatives are even more limited than in Diplomacy.
Italy is usually considered to have three or four viable options for opening play in Diplomacy:
Under normal circumstances none of the first three options may be advisable in Payola:
An attack on France, on the other hand, has an enhanced potential for quick results. France is typically pursuing many objectives during the first year, leaving Italy much better equipped to concentrate resources on a lunge at Marseilles.
Attacking France is also strategically sound. If Italy is able to push through into Iberia, he will have amassed a defensible cluster of centers which can deliver revenue to support operations in other theatres. What's more, if Russia is amenable to co-operating on the timing of the outbreak of dissension between England and Germany, Italy could end up as sole beneficiary in the west. Finally, if England runs into difficulties, Italy's position in Iberia greatly increase his long term survival chances. It can be quite difficult to mount a successful assault against Iberia without western naval power.
Does this list mean I am advocating only a single sound path to opening with Italy? No. There is another Italian opening beyond the well known choices from Diplomacy: Italy can play the waiting game. Italy has fairly good natural defenses and it is unusual for Italy to come under unprovoked attack during the first few years. Should England and Germany evince little interest in joining in an early campaign against France, Italy is justified in temporizing: He takes Tunis, builds an army to retard entry into the peninsula, and then starts saving. Italy can wait for a favorable change in winds in the west while keeping alert of any need for action in the east. If Germany and Austria are agreeable, Italy can volunteer to enroll his “extra” army for the Austrian cause, thus sending it through the alleyway to put pressure on Warsaw or Rumania. This assures visibility into operations on the eastern front. Italy wants to avoid excessive provocation of Russia though. Russia is not the place for Italy to look for sustainable growth early on. Neither will an isolated unit in eastern Europe be a source of net income for him. Instead, Italy aims to gain leverage and help maintain stability. In case Austria does collapse, an Italian army in the east will support Italy's claim to part of the spoils.
What about Italy's longer term strategy? Italy can take mortal wounds from any of three directions:
Naval attacks, including amphibious assaults, are unlikely during the first three years, while an early land attack by Austria is only likely as a desperate measure.
Other powers can make incursions into the peninsula too: Germany sometimes finds his way into Venice, for instance. Such occurrences, however, are unlikely to be fatal. Italy's strategic interest is then to delay, complicate, and undermine the ability and will of these three powers to mount a decisive assault. Negotiated decommissioning of shipbuilding facilities in the south could help enhance Italy's survival prospects. It is difficult to rid the Mediterranean entirely of ships including his own. So Italy's military and diplomatic maneuvers should be focused at eventually eliminating the other southern powers.
Besides obviously wanting the help of Germany and England against France, Italy has to give special attention to Russia. Italy wants a moderately successful yet fickle Russia. A Russian-Turkish alliance might be helpful. To the extent that it encourages an Anglo-German counter-alliance, it helps advances Italy's agenda against France. On the other hand, Italy needs Russia to change sides at the crucial moment before Turkey or Austria gets too strong. Russia will also be eager to share spending on operations to undermine the strength of EG. With careful timing, Italy can expect to come out with a generous share of France and Iberia.
In the east, Italy ideally wants to preserve a delicate balance until he feels confident that any putative gains in Austria and the Balkans would be sustainable. Having said that, there are three circumstances in which Italy may need to act quickly:
Concluding the survey of the eastern powers, let's examine Austria. In Diplomacy, Austria has the reputation of being a difficult power. As Austria sits on top of the richest cluster of centers in Europe, he all too often falls victim of the early aggression from his neighbors. Russia, Turkey and Italy are all obliged to take an interest in the Balkans. Once having committed forces to the area, it is natural for them to seek growth, which often comes at Austria's expense.
Austria's prospects take a turn much to the better if he can resist the early deprecations of his neighbors to emerge as a seven or eight center power. At this point, the offensive strength of Austria's position manifests itself as a potential for explosive growth. Austria can expand into Russia, Turkey, or, less propitiously, into Italy.
Austria's qualitative strengths and weaknesses in Diplomacy apply in Payola as well. In the early going, Austria is even more likely to play the victim. By pooling their funding, his neighbors can totally subvert the behavior of Austrian units. Austria also suffers from his proximity to an enhanced Turkey. Not surprisingly, Austria is Payola's most degraded power.
Austria is very dependent on local alliances. An experienced Italy can usually be counted on to keep hands off in the early going. On the other hand, more than token Italian engagement in favor of the Austrian cause is rarely forthcoming. Austria is very dependent on inhibiting the Juggernaut. This is all the more difficult by the lesser role of the Black Sea as a causus belli.
Austria still has some viable options. One is to construct a situation where the only possibility for either Turkey or Russia to get a second build in 1901 is to attack the other. A sympathetic Italy might be ready to help in the first season with Constantinople hold and Smyrna to Armenia. Alternatively, Austria can solicit German or English contributions to keep St Petersburg in dock, while using his own funding to keep Russia out of Galicia.
Allying with Russia against Turkey may well be Austria's best option. If an RA alliance emerges, Austria would like to keep England and Germany friendly with each other or at least talking. That buys Austria a shield, or cudgel, to use against Russia after Turkey has been sufficiently weakened. If, on the other hand, Germany and England are mutually antagonistic, Austria can try to steer toward a quick resolution, then work to entangle Russia with the victor.
Allying with Turkey offers fewer palatable alternatives for securing Austria's future. Austria might ally with Turkey if no better alternative presents itself, but he has to be conscious of the fact that he will need to change direction before Turkey selects him as his next victim.
Another frequently occurring configuration is face to face battle between Austria and Turkey, with Russia and Italy busy in other theatres. With careful play, Austria can hold his own here. But Russia and Italy will always be breathing down Austria's neck, ready to pounce once the sensitive AT power balance tilts one way or the other. More generally, a one-on-one engagement between Turkey and Austria is only conditionally stable. Unless Russia and Italy remain held down elsewhere, they will eventually turn their attention to the Balkans. By that time they are likely to have reached some kind of resolution on their other fronts, leaving them all the more confident and focused and leaving Austria with fewer options. In a straight up Austria versus Turkey confrontation, time is an important factor. Time is rarely on Austria's side.
Finally, Austria is very much a tactical power. No discussion of Austria would be complete without discussing tactics. Austria is sensitive to attacks on multiple flanks, but the real key to his survival lies in the south. If a hostile power is able to get an army into Serbia and Greece, Austria's days may be numbered. Hostile armies in the south can exert constant pressure against Austrian positions, and usually there is no way to push them out of reach.
Conversely, should Austria get off to a bad start, he should give priority to getting land units into Greece and Serbia, even at the cost of hastening losses in his home centers. He can survive a long while in Greece and Serbia, even while he looks on helplessly as the storm break above him. If Austria can wait long enough, help usually arrives. Greece is also a promising launching pad for an attack against Turkey. An Austrian army convoyed into his hinterland is very distressing for Turkey and the distraction may just give Austria the chance he needs to make a recovery.
England is known as one of Diplomacy's slow starters. Endowed with above average natural defenses, England faces difficulties penetrating beyond near lying coastal provinces. Typically England will assume junior partner status in an alliance with Germany or France, hoping to turn the tables by virtue of his corner position once his partner has to turn afield in search of further growth.
The difficulties facing England are compounded in Payola, and new vulnerabilities are added. Whereas most other powers need little more than a single move to gather in their first center, England must coordinate two or three. The demand for coordination of multiple moves doesn't end there: To do more than scratch his opponents' surface, England has to convoy armies onto the continent. Convoys can be expensive to make successfully and more expensive if they fail.
England's final problem is the presence of northern fleets. There are five of them at the opening and it is an unusual game in which all can be gotten rid of. Yet as long as fleets tarry in near lying waters (or unless England has exclusive control of the northern European coasts), the English homeland remains imperiled. The greatest risk may come from Germany as he often occupies multiple provinces on the shores of the North Sea. Should any clear and undistracted leader emerge from among his neighbors, England can be sure there will be an attempt to board his island fortress. The English homeland is coveted as Europe's most profitable cash cow. If the island is indeed boarded by a hostile army, England needs to dispatch it quickly and resolutely as delay only increases the damage.
England's early advantages are his relatively isolated location and his unsuitability as an initial target, both of which make him attractive as a partner. Rarely will France or Germany be strong enough to mount a successful operation against England during the first two years. Even joined in union, England's neighbors need time to carry out a successful attack, and a skillful English player will use that time to summon other powers to attack his adversaries' rear. Not surprisingly, Germany and France often chose to confront each other before engaging England. Germany may be especially eager to solicit England's friendship as England is also an effective counter to Russia. England needs to be very leery of Italian overtures to split France three ways. It is all to tempting for Italy to later instigate against his two erstwhile northern partners in order to increase his payout.
In case England is offered an opportunity for alliance, he has two viable options:
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Playing for balance risks generating frustration, impatience, and a possible French-German rapprochement, whereas if England takes sides he has to remain cognizant of the need to deter his partner.
Finally, England has one other advantage. His two nearest neighbors will usually become entangled with third parties (Germany with Russia, France with Italy) more violently and at an earlier stage than they do in Diplomacy. Still, Payola's England remains a difficult power. He is somewhat weakened compared to his status in Diplomacy.
Open any atlas and take a look at modern Germany (for once I mean the nation and not the Diplomacy power). Germany shares land borders with nine countries, and is in close proximity to other countries across two sea ways. With the exception of Russia, no other country on earth has as many neighbors. Russia is protected by his great expanse. In contrast, Germany is vulnerable to being overrun by a surprise attack before he can marshal forces of resistance. During the period when war was the usual means of resolving disputes (in other words, throughout 99+% of recorded history), Germany was forever on the edge of being overrun and forever on the edge of overrunning. World leaders, from Gustav Adolf to Ronald Reagan considered Germany as The Destination when it came to choosing a location for war regardless of whether or not the cause of the dispute had anything to do with Germany. Given this background, is it any surprise that Germans have the reputation of being anxious, intense and obsessed with security? Allan Calhammer did a fine job embodying these characteristics in Germany when he designed Diplomacy.
Germany's unique strength is his mobility. His unique weakness is his vulnerability. In order to exploit her mobility Germany needs control of Munich. In order to safeguard his homeland and further enhance his mobility, he needs control of Belgium.
A well developed network of internal transport links allow Germany to shift forces at lightning speed between fronts, either to address new threats, or to respond to emerging targets of opportunity with the famous Blitzkrieg. Germany's mobility endows him with superior access, assuring opportunities for rapid growth, along with superior accessibility, assuring vulnerability to rapid elimination.
Munich is the sine qua non of German mobility. Frequently, Munich will be besieged from various directions, making its defense costly and uncertain. There will be times when Germany may decide to leave Munich undefended to contain costs. However, Germany needs to feel that he can take Munich back if it becomes necessary. So long as Munich is withheld, Germany finds it difficult to transport troops between fronts, as is the case for the Germany in the figure below (taken from a current game) who, despite doing rather well at 9 centers, is badly out of position to counter forces drawing together on his eastern front.
The other key enabler of Germany's natural strength is Belgium. Whereas Diplomacy's Germany can enjoy harmonious relations with a foreign occupant of Belgium, the situation in Payola is more volatile. A foreign army in Belgium will be a constant magnet for third parties wanting to distract Germany, and there will be no accountability. Holding Belgium also doubles the German cross section for access into France.
Control of Belgium is a contentious issue in Payola no less than in Diplomacy. Rarely will Germany be able to impose his will against the determined opposition of France and England. Luckily Payola provides more and more finely graduated diplomatic options. Germany can, for instance, offer to cooperate to get England into Sweden and/or offer France silver for demilitarization of Burgundy and Picardy together with acquiescence on Belgium.
It is not unusual for Germany to be overwhelmed by the scope of tasks facing him in the first year. Often it is Munich who embarrasses him in the Spring 1901, as Germany is likely to favor Berlin and Kiel in the race to reach his two “naturals”, Denmark and Holland. If the German fleet is in Denmark in the Spring, Russia might compete to control it in the Fall, so as to assure a clear path to Sweden. Chances are Russia will favor Den -> Hel compared with Denmark hold, especially if he interprets Germany's Springtime move to Denmark as a provocation. Even if Germany does have sights on Sweden, he might wish to consider the precaution of including a lower bid on Denmark Hold, as this might “catch” a similar secondary or lower bid from Russia or another player.
Generally it is a good idea for Germany to avoid the temptation of allocating more than a token amount to foreign interference until he has can gain a clearer view of friend and foe. Beside running the risk of depriving his own units, the problem Germany faces with first year foreign bidding is dilution by the large number of targets. A case can be made for launching an initial attack against France since France will become much harder to attack once he manages to pull in his first two neutrals. Germany should understand that the attempt is very precarious. In general, it is true that France is rarely a good choice for Germany to ally with. Unless Germany can be confident of Italy's future strength and loyalty, he risks a future two front war against an undistracted France with only the remotest expectation of an auspicious outcome.
Payola's Germany tends to outperform his Diplomacy counterpart, benefiting no doubt from the weakening of England and the early weakness of France. I have already pointed out that Germany and Russia tend to get entangled earlier in Payola. Here I will add that Germany and Russia are quite evenly matched in these encounters. Finally, I'll close out my discussion of the best play for Payola's Germany with a quote from the first issue of “Overheard at the Ministry of Finance”:
“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 .. less interesting theatres.. 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.”
Diplomacy's France is a very popular and versatile power with above average offensive and defensive qualities. Payola's France remains a strong contender. Although somewhat weakened at the outset of the game by the greater likelihood of early assaults being launched from Germany or Italy, he demonstrates superior potential if he can persevere beyond these early difficulties.
The key to a good start for France is to get Italy going east. By succeeding in this single objective, France buys time to work things out no matter how things start with England and Germany. As with the other western powers, French finances are pressed in year one. France's best approach to dealing with Italy, therefore, is to reach for the pen. Austria and Italy are always a bit uneasy about each other at the outset. Often they will greet a French initiative to commit them to some joint cause. Typically this will begin with horror stories about the Payola Juggernaut and admiration for the stubborn resistance of a strong IA alliance. The key will be to win acceptance for active Italian involvement, e.g. convincing Austria to sanction passage of an Italian army through the corridor to Galicia. Counterintuitively, Frances initial difficulties may be increased if Italy fails to launch for Tunis. The bid reverts to Italy's account and, assuming that Italy reached Piedmont, all his funds will go toward taking Marseilles.
If France can succeed in stabilizing his position defensively, a wide variety of options will open. France is in a superior position to intersperse years of growth with years of saving. I generally recommend a “Germany first” strategy, in line with my disinclination against early construction of the fleets needed to mount an assault on England or Italy. An exception occurs if England offers a transport opportunity with a fleet in the English Channel. It is a wise precaution for France to keep an army posted on the north coast ready to take advantage of such targets of opportunity. If France can manage to neutralize Italy and England, he becomes very powerful indeed. A France undistracted by naval forces is the single most frightening force in Payola.
Ideally, France wants England occupied in Scandinavia and Russia and not competing for a share of Germany. France then instigates hostilities between Germany and Russia, either pulling Russian forces toward the German border or, if Russia is strong enough to defend herself, pushing German armies eastward. Once hostilities between France and Germany break out, France usually finds it cheaper to control German units behind the lines. By driving German units east, France creates a temptation for Germany to spend on actions against Russian centers, thus emptying the German treasury. France's two strategic objective in the battle against Germany are:
If France succeeds in devouring Germany, his next decision will be whether to turn north against England or to face Italy. A lot depends on the overall alliance structure and the affinity for and pliability of individual players. All things being equal, I prefer the northern route. A direct assault against England is time consuming, but it furnishes France with three easily defendable revenue generators. Scandinavia, which will be next to fall, usually offers France his easiest path to the Russian heartland. Finally, my preference is to make my offence a faithful servant to my defense. As England represents a more potent mid-game challenge to France than does Italy, England is more deserving of France's attention.
I'll close with a quick summary of the special characteristic and strength of each Payola power as compared with their Diplomacy counterparts: