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Machiavelli: A Primer for Diplomacy Players

by Chris Hassler




With Avalon Hill's re-release of Machiavelli last year, a new opportunity has been granted for gamers to experience this gem. Not only is this game back in print after an absence of many years, but its rules have been updated and improved, making it an attractive alternative to Diplomacy. The question then arises, what should a Diplomacy player who has never played Machiavelli look out for? The answer to that question depends on which rules you play with. Machiavelli has a basic game, which closely resembles Diplomacy, and an advanced game, which while still similar to Dip, has some significant departures. In addition to that, there are a number of optional rules which can make things even more interesting. The map is also (obviously) different.

The Map

Machiavelli's map is concerned with Italy. As such, it covers the Italian peninsula and North Italy up to the Alps, Southeastern France, Southwestern Austria, the west coast of the Balkan peninsula, the tip of Tunis, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. There are also no supply centers per se on the board. There are instead, 44 cities, which in the basic game act identically to supply centers, but which are different in the advanced game. Cities come in three types: unfortified, fortified, and major. There is no difference between the fortified cities and the major cities in the basic game. Certain coastal cities are designated as ports. Fleets may only be built in ports, so just because that city is on the coast, don't think you can build a fleet there. Ports are designated by an anchor symbol next to them.

There are two provinces which have special properties, in kind of the same way that Kiel does on the Dip board. The first of these is Messina. A fleet in Messina controls the Straits of Messina (between Sicily and the toe of the boot) and can prevent opposing fleets from traveling between the Gulf of Naples and the Ionian Sea. An army in Messina, however, cannot prevent such a move. The second special province is Venice. Venice is actually a city in a sea area. As such, armies cannot be built there.

The Basic Game

The basic game of Machiavelli will be very familiar to any experienced Dip player. Diplomacy and order writing work just the same. There are two major differences in the game. The first of these is that there are three seasons each year: Spring, Summer, and Fall. Control of provinces and cities is determined at the beginning of the Spring turn of each year -- functionally the same as in Diplomacy.

The second difference is the fact that there is a third type of unit other than armies and fleets: garrisons. Garrisons can exist in any fortified city (which is most cities). They only have available to them three different types of orders: hold, support, and convert, and their support is limited to units in the same province. However, such support cannot be cut, so garrisons can provide a strong defensive benefit. Garrisons can convert into either a fleet (if in a port) or an army. Armies and fleets in port can also convert into garrisons, which allows players to shift their military assets from land to sea (albeit slowly, since it takes two turns to convert a fleet to an army or vice versa). How can you get rid of that pesky garrison? By siege, of course. Any army or fleet (if the city is a port) can be ordered to besiege an opposing garrison. The first turn of the siege, the garrison unit is place on top of the besieging unit. While besieged, any convert order issued by the garrison automatically fails. If the garrison is successfully besieged a second turn, it is eliminated. In all scenarios, certain neutral cities start the game occupied by autonomous garrisons. These garrison serve only to make it more difficult to gain control of the provinces in question.

The Advanced Game

The advanced game is where Machiavelli starts to diverge from Diplomacy in a major way. The advanced game introduces an economic element into the game. No longer is your ability to support units dependent on the number of cities you occupy. Instead, you receive a number of ducats each spring, during the Income and Military Unit Adjustment Phase. With these ducats, you can build and maintain your units as well as engage in more devious activities.

Income comes from four different sources. For each province you occupy or control, you receive one ducat. For each sea area you occupy, you also receive one ducat. Fortified and unfortified cities are also worth one ducat apiece. Major cities are worth either two ducats each (Rome, Naples, and Tunis) or three ducats (Venice, Milan, Florence, and Genoa). If a city is besieged, however, it produces no income. Finally, each country receives variable income. A single die is rolled and all countries cross index that number on a chart with determines a base number from one to six, depending on the country. In some scenarios, certain countries actually double the amount of variable income received. Ducats can also be saved from turn to turn, and can be traded or loaned to other players. Such loans, however, are not enforceable....

Now that you have collected your income for the turn, the question then becomes, what to do with it. The first obvious answer is to build and maintain military units. All military units cost three ducats to build or maintain. You can disband units at this time by simply not maintaining them. You can even build new units instead of maintaining existing ones -- and those new units need not be of the same type as the original, except that the new unit cannot be built in the same province the old unit occupied. Units must be built in home nation cities, and only one unit may be build in each city per year.

Another use for ducats is bribery. By spending a sufficient number of ducats, you can eliminate an opponent's unit, or even convert it into one of your own. The owning player can attempt to block you by counterbribing the unit, however. To the amount of the counterbribe is subtracted from the amount spent on the bribe, and if the bribe is above a certain threshold (which depends on the type of bribe attempted), the bribe succeeds. Regardless of the success or failure of the bribe, all ducats spent on the bribe and counterbribe are lost. Counterbribing must be in increments of three ducats. To disband an enemy unit, at least 12 ducats must be spent. To buy one, 18 ducats is required. Garrisons can be converted to autonomous garrisons for 9 ducats. Autonomous garrisons can be disbanded for 6 ducats or bought for 9 ducats. The costs of the last three activities are doubled if the garrison is in a major city. Since expenditures take place before regular unit movement, you can issue orders to newly converted units. For example if Milan were to buy a French army, it could also write orders for that army for the same turn.

The effect of the bribery rule is quite profound. For instance, it makes stalemate lines obsolete. It is difficult if not impossible to maintain a stalemate line if at any time your opponent can convert one of your armies to his own and march it around behind your lines. It also makes the possibilities of a backstab much more devastating. If you manage to stockpile enough ducats, you can buy off two or three enemy units in a single turn, crippling your enemy. Counterbribes can be effective, but in order for that to happen, you must correctly guess not only the unit to counterbribe, but the turn on which to do so. And you have to hope your opponent doesn't anticipate the counterbribe and add more ducats to his bribe to offset it.

Ducats can also be used to foster or pacify rebellions. Rebellions can be started in any conquered province at the cost of 9 ducats or in a home province at the cost of 15 ducats. These costs are not subject to counterbribes. The effect of a rebellion is to support the first unit of any player other than the one being rebelled against into the province. If more than one player attempts to use the support in a single turn, non get it. Rebellions also prevent the province (and any ungarrisoned city therein) from generating revenue. Rebellions can be removed in three ways: If a unit of any player other than the one against which the rebellion is directed occupies the province, the rebellion is liberated and removed. If the player against which the rebellion is directed has a military unit in the province, the unit can put down the rebellion by holding for a turn, and if it is not forced to retreat, the rebellion is eliminated. Finally, rebellions can be pacified be the expenditure of 12 ducats.

The final use of ducats is assassination. At the start of the game, each player holds an assassination counter for each other player. These counters can be traded, sold, or whatever to other players. You can only attempt to assassinate a player whose counter you hold, and the attempt causes you to discard the counter, regardless of its success. For each 12 ducats you spend on the attempt, you roll the die once: if it comes up "6", the attempt is successful, and the following effects happen: For each province the victim controls, a die is rolled to determine if it rebels. The chances of rebellion vary from one in six (for occupied home provinces) to five in six (for unoccupied conquered provinces). All the victim's units must hold for that turn, and the hold may not be used to put down rebellions. All the victim's besieged garrisons immediately surrender. After the turn of the assassination, the player continues playing as his own successor.

The Optional Rules

The game also comes with a number of optional rules which add even more chaos to the mix. These rules can be used in any combination, but many of them only make sense with the advanced game.


The player playing the Pope can excommunicate any other player (or in the case of the Turk, declare a crusade). This has the effect of barring that player from conducting diplomacy with any other player who is not likewise excommunicate. If any non-excommunicated player does conduct diplomacy with the excommunicated player, he also becomes excommunicate. This can backfire on the Pope, since if all other players are excommunicate, the Pope cannot conduct diplomacy at all, since he can't ever be excommunicate. Excommunication only lasts one turn.

Natural Disasters

There are two natural disasters which historically afflicted Italy during this period: Famine and Plague. Famine is determined at the beginning of the spring turn. A die is rolled to determine how bad the famine is. The results can either be no famine, a single roll on either a row or column of the famine table, or a roll on both a row and column of the table. Any province stricken by famine produces no income (except for a garrisoned city), units may not be built there, and units remaining there at the end of the spring turn are eliminated. Famine can be relieved by the expenditure of three ducats. While this does not remove the first two effects of famine, it does make it safe to stay in the province. Plague occurs at the beginning of the summer turn of each year.

 Like famine, a die is rolled to determine
the severity of the plague.  The effects of plague are much simpler and more immediate than famine:  any unit in a province hit by plague
is immediately eliminated. 

Plague has no other effects (as if that wasn't enough).

Special Units

Military units during this period were primarily condottieri, or mercenaries. A number of different types of units were experimented with during this period, and this optional rule allows players to use those units. Each player is limited to a single special unit in play at any one time, regardless of the type. The types of special units are: Citizen Militia. This was the type of force envisioned by Niccolo Machiavelli himself during the Florentine republic. It consists of patriotic citizens fighting for an ideal rather than for money alone. The can only be purchased by Florence, Milan, Papacy, and Venice. They cost six ducats to build and maintain, but double the cost to bribe. Elite Mercenaries. These are more effectively trained and led mercenaries, such as the Swiss Pikemen. They also cost six ducats to build or maintain, but fight with the strength of two units. Bribery costs are normal. They can be built by any player except the Turks. Elite Professionals. These are long-term professional soldiers which appeared only toward the end of the period depicted in the game. An example is the Spanish infantry of Charles V. They cost nine ducats to build or maintain, fight with the strength of two units, and cost double to bribe. They can only be built by Austria, Turks, and Venice.

Strategic Movement

This option allows each player to move one or two units any distance through controlled areas. Unlike normal movement, this is not simultaneous. It is done in descending order of cities held. Thus the player with the most cities goes first, which gives the weaker powers a chance to react to a threatening move.

Money Lenders

Need a few ducats for that all important bribe? Well, just go to your friendly neighborhood usurer. You can borrow up to 25 ducats for one or two years. Interest is 20% for a one-year loan or 50% for a two-year loan. Failure to pay back the loan results in an immediate assassination and revocation of all future borrowing privileges.


With this option, players are eliminated as soon as they no longer control any of their home nation cities. It also allows other players to conquer countries. If at the end of any turn, you control all home nation cities and provinces of another player, you have conquered that nation, and its home provinces become your own. Thus, you can now build in those cities, you collect that nation's variable income, and you must lose its cities as well as your original cities to be eliminated.


Machiavelli is a game which is similar enough to Diplomacy that Dip players won't feel too much out of place, but which opens the door up to many new and different kinds of treachery and deceit, both things dear to the heart of any successful Dip player. At the expense of a little additional complexity, Machiavelli has a richness that goes beyond plain Diplomacy. While the randomness of certain aspects of the game may not appeal to the Dip purist, it results in situations which are always in motion, rarely ending in a stalemate or draw. Machiavelli is definitely the type of game which encourages the solo victory, and how many of you would prefer to share a victory when you can have it by yourself? Enough said.