Managing the World: The Machiavellian Doctrine

Chapter I: Introduction

This is a style of play that I think some historically and politically minded players may find more rewarding than purely playing for points or winning the game as early as possible. The strategy should be applicable to all difficulty levels.

The Man

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy at a time when the country was in political upheaval. He became an important diplomat and an ardent supporter of the Florentine republic at during a brief interruption in the rule of the Medici’s in Florence.

When the Medici’s regained their power however, Machiavelli was removed from his post. Eager to ingratiate himself with the new princes who ruled Florence, he broke from his strong support of republicanism and wrote “The Prince”, a work that describes in plain pragmatism how a prince should acquire and maintain power.

It is interesting to note that while The Prince was written to win the Medici’s favor, Machiavelli never actually mentioned anywhere in the book that he preferred a monarchy over a republic. He only described how a new prince ought to rule over its new subjects.

In this light, the book, both in its content and its historical context shows Machiavelli’s pragmatic approach to politics. He essentially argues that morality is secondary to what is practical.

In The Prince, Machiavelli offered a monarchical ruler advice designed to keep that ruler in power… Machiavelli wanted to persuade the monarch that he could best preserve his power by the judicious use of violence, by respecting private property and the traditions of his subjects, and by promoting material prosperity. Machiavelli held that political life cannot be governed by a single set of moral or religious absolutes, and that the monarch may sometimes be excused for performing acts of violence and deception that would be ethically indefensible in private life.

Excerpt: “Niccolo Machiavelli Statesman and Political Philosopher” by: Robin Chew May 1996

Chapter II: Background

Historically, Civilization (Civ) players have differentiated themselves through two labels. Those who engage in war, and domination of their immediate landmass are the warmongers. For definition’s sake, we base our definitions based on intent over method.

  • A “warmonger” usually takes advantage of the benefits of war and seeks victory by domination or conquest. Of course, there will be times he will be devoted purely to building, but in the end, sees military might as the road to victory (i.e. the building is to gear up for war)
  • A “builder” takes advantage of the benefits of peace and seeks victory by culture, diplomacy, or space race. The builder will of course be forced to warmonger, when he is threatened or when he sees no other alternative. However, he sees building as the road to victory (i.e. the wars are to allow room for building peacefully)

Excerpt from MasterZen’s builder/warmonger post at

Players who play the role of Machiavelli’s prince fall in between, and encompass members of these two groups and are players who prefer to use ‘influence’ as a major part of their empire building strategy. For a prince, the objective is not score maximization, diplomatic, space race, cultural, domination or conquest victories. These hard-coded victory conditions are merely goals a player may choose to end their game and record a victory. The objective is control.

A dichotomy can also be made in how power is exercised. That is, the use of hard power versus soft power. Hard power is the use of military force and conquest to achieve one’s goals. This method is the most popular thus far and is probably the best measured by the game’s scoring system. Soft power in contrast, is the use of trade and indirect means to achieve one’s goals. This method is not well measured by the hard-coded scoring system and may require a bit of imagination for the player to understand.

Given that hard power is well documented and straightforward and well practiced, this treatise will focus on the exercise of soft power.

Chapter III: Central Principles of a Machiavellian Game

Commercial Power

The foundation of a trading state is its commercial power. The introduction of a rational price driven trade system and the use of luxury resources and strategic resources as gameplay elements makes Civ III unique in the canon of Civilization by giving the players the unprecedented ability to exercise commercial power over its friends and rivals. The ability of a civilization to have access to resources and their ability to extract profits from these resources is a legitimate source of power.

A successful state would have all of the luxuries under its direct or indirect control. Controlling the resources give the prince the option to use its influence to deny resources at times or war, to hedge bets by being a third party profiting from a war between other civilizations, or to use resources as a tool to indirectly influence the outcome of a conflict where the machiavellian power has a vested interested.

Because trading plays a key role in any Machiavellian strategy, managing global image is important. Machiavellians prefer not to break treaties, even against their most hated enemies and can be generous to allies and even enemies in peace. Similarly, the focus on commerce imply that all players concentrate on the cultivation of a ready market for its goods, and one of the most profitable markets for a mach are its client states.

The Client System

Client states often include civilizations across oceans, defeated civilizations and isolated backwater states on the fringe on the player’s empire. Keeping clients and using the capitals of these provinces to generate tax revenues is one of the objectives of developing the client system. The other is to use clients as an extension of power on a global scale.

Balance of Power

A distinguishing feature between a Machiavellian foreign policy and a standard foreign policy is how alliances are managed. While most players do use alliances in times of war to outnumber and distract their enemies, these are often alliances of convenience.

As part of its larger foreign policy, players, where possible, should keep key allies and clients in a constant state of dependence, whether it be luxury, resource or technological. The existing good relations often ensure that support can be enlisted at low cost. In terms of planning, there is a constant predictable 20 turn renewal phase in which players can schedule a timetable for invasions and wars to coincide with the renewal of a expensive resource or the sale of a technology in which the allied civilization is lacking.

Lastly, Machiavellians manage rivalries between its key allies and its key threats by creating a balance of power in global politics. After identifying the prime threat, the prince would, through treaties, trade and warfare, attempt to enhance his own power and deny the expansion of his rivals by ramping up support for client AI states (see the client system), and in case hostilities are began, enlisting key allies to contain the power of the main threat.

Chapter IV: The Client System

Originally Posted by The Prince, Chapter III
“…the prince who holds a country … ought to make himself the head and defender of his powerful neighbors, and to weaken the more powerful amongst them, taking care that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall, by any accident, get a footing there…

The Client State defined

To be classified as a client state, the following conditions should be roughly met.

  • Dependence on one civilization for its imports in strategic and luxury resources as a net of trades*
  • Dependence on one civilization for its safety and well being
  • Dependence on one civilization for its technological progress.
  • A civilization whose progress, security and growth can be tied directly to aid and acts of goodwill provided by the benefactor

*The quantity, amount and importance of the resource traded is important to consider. Relatively speaking, trading relationship where the trade is equal (dyes in exchange for furs) is not one of dependence. The direction of the dependence of the trading relationship must be clear by the fact that the client is highly dependent net of any resources or luxuries it is trading back.

The Causation of Client Development

Client states come into existence from a number of factors.

  • Natural Factors – A poor starting location, isolated island and general geography around the state
  • Non Player Factors – Wars that have reduced the size of the client, other AIs crowding that stunts growth and prevents it from reaching the critical mass needed to become a full fledged power
  • Player Factors – War, or crowding of an AI Civ that stunts its growth and prevents it from reaching the critical mass needed to become a full fledged power

Types of Clients

A) The City State Client

Not necessarily restricted to one city client states, this last class describes small client states that are supported for political reasons, usually for a UN victory which requires a majority vote in favor of the player.

While sentiment may play a role, the prince should be pragmatic in the keeping of these clients. Small in size, these clients will generally not be a productive or profitable trading partner and will be in a state of permanent welfare. These small states may, with technological aid from the prince, field a small potent military force with which it could make small conquests of their own as an ally to the player in a war, potentially allowing it to gain a scale that moves them from a welfare client to a more profitable one.

B) The Classic Case

The client states come into the attention of the prince as the geopolitical map is developing and there is a need, both strategic and tactical, in acquiring clients to benefit the player and carry out a long-term policy of containment against a rival. As such, these states are often losing parties of aggression and or weaker powers in a region that is increasingly being dominated by a single power. These client states are the traditional means with which prince project power. The strategy of a proxy war, usually involving a developing client state, for example, is widely understood and is borne out of the necessity of supporting the party opposed to the prince’s rival by means of financial and resource aid to project power by magnifying the power of the client and contain the rival’s power.

The “classic” client cases can be placed into two categories:

Developing clients maybe large or small in size. They are behind in technology, as a general rule of thumb, more than two or more technologies behind. They have a weak military that is outmatched by its key rival(s). Our focus is on defensive forces. If the client’s defensive units are either a generation behind its neighbors (i.e.: Pikemen vs. Cavalry) or is based on the resourceless defensive posture (Guerilla instead of Infantry) this would count as a sign of military weakness. The number of units the AI has at its disposal can be a factor if there is an overwhelming numerical advantage of the inferior troops. Lastly, developing client will have an underdeveloped infrastructure and economy. A state that is constantly low on funds and is usually unable to pay for generous deals in gold per turn (GPT) is a sign of a weak economy.

The purpose of developing these client states is to aid in its defense, become its biggest benefactor and make it a profitable market for trade when it is developed.

Developed Clients can be the result of a natural development of a developing client into a more developed stage. However, players can engage into a client relationship with a well-developed power as a matter of geopolitical interest, noted the discussion about the ‘classic’ form of client acquisition.

Developed clients are desired client type of the peaceful prince. They are sufficiently large to generate healthy surplus tax revenues in which the prince may, through its control of technology and resources, extract tribute from the client through trade.

Developed clients may in time, and through allied actions, acquire even more power, thus changing the tenor of the relationship into that of a partner client.

C) Partner Clients

The Partner Clients are developed client states that are often field militaries that are large, sometimes closely matching that of the prince. These states are on the threshold of being classified as a non-client. The key difference between a partner client and a full-fledged partner is that issue of dependence and history. Generally speaking, these states may have developed from its years under the guidance and protection of the player. The resulting strength of these civilizations is therefore the direct result of the client system.

In addition there will be substantial continuing dependence on the part of the client state. The machinery of the client system looms large, usually in terms of these states’ lack of several key strategic resources and luxury goods. Without the continuing support of the Machiavellian power, the partner client can only see a decline in its power overtime.

The justification for such a state is situational, but can also be fairly common across all games. Their existence and classification as a client can be most easily justified in cases where there is no common border shared between the client and the player and the client itself is geographically distant and serves the dual purpose of a balance of power and as a proxy power with which the prince may project power against another rival.

A client state of this scale can be also justified as a neighbor with a shared border for two main reasons, one of which is if the player is facing an encroaching AI runaway that is threatening. The client can serve as both a buffer in case of attack as well as a source of units to wear down and distract the more powerful rival when hostilities are declared. Secondly, partner clients will generally be the best source of revenue income for the prince. This revenue stream may be covering for budget shortfalls in the domestic ledger, allowing the government to spend beyond its means or to reinforce the treasury and allow for the funding the player’s other projects. Barring any overriding reason to declare war and interrupt a trading relationship, the Machiavellian would choose the status quo.

On the Classification of a Client

Now that there is a general description of client types, a relevant discussion would be on how clients are classified. Not all clients are equally dependent and there are some distinct differences in each forms. As with all categorization, there’s some subjectivity to the process of client classification. Two principles can be applied to aid in client classification.

Nominal Scale – This attempts to measure the power held by the client state irrespective of other civilizations. It is the most useful measure for classification at the extremes. A nominally weak power will likely be relatively weak, and a nominally strong client is a necessary condition for a client to be powerful relative to everyone else.

Relative Scale – We take into consideration the place of client relative to the world powers and the power scale of the world. A nominally powerful client in one game, may under a different set of circumstance only be an average power. Both the scale of the prince and his rivals are determining factors.

The relative scale is best employed when the type of the client state is unclear. As clients grow large and gain power, it is prudent to question whether they may remain as clients or their power curtailed by the prince.

Cultivation of a Client

Client cultivation can be divided into two general categories. Trade agreements and Diplomatic agreements. Specific strategies will be discussed in later sections covering both trade and diplomacy.

Chapter V: World Trade

Commercial power is the means with which a prince wields power over its rivals. Below are several strategies that can be employed to enhance, contain AI civs as well as to profit from them.

Technology Broker

One of the most basic strategies employed by players on higher difficulty levels to erase the AI’s bonuses and to gain technological parity. The idea is simple but can be incredibly powerful.

  • Seek out and contact as many civilizations as possible
  • Check in each turn between each trading partner to spot a trade deal
  • Buy a technology and immediately ‘flip’ it to trading partners who don’t have it. This strategy can sometimes erase entirely the cost of buying the technology and it is not uncommon to make a tidy profit
  • Research a technology path the AI will likely avoid. The optional techs are the best bet. The AI also has a tendency to go for Nationalism in the Industrial era and for Synthetic
  • Don’t hoard techs unless you’re playing at Regent or below as technological parity is often better.

Commerce is King

The ability of a client to pay tribute and the ability of its economy to support an army is inextricably tied to the size and power of its economy. Thus, the key to a machiavellian game, especially that of a client relationship is to enhance the client’s economy.

One of the most interesting effects that can be found in the game is the dramatic differences that emerge once an economy had the benefit of a commerce enhancing technology that allows it to build commercial improvements. Currency, allows for marketplaces. Banking gives economies access to Bank and lastly, The Corporation gives economies access to Stock Exchanges and the Wall Street small wonder. Banks,marketplaces and Stock Exchanges give a cumulative effect of 150% trade bonus when all 3 are present in a city. The Wall Street small wonder may also add 5% interest gpt income on the treasury or up to 50 gpt.

If a player find itself in a position where it has taken a client that is technologically far behind any of its rivals, gifting them these commercial technologies can allow for them to grow much faster. Rather than refusing to trade unless the AI can pay a fair price for these technologies, giving away the commercial technologies will enhance the client economy and allow for more profitable trading opportunities. The perennially bankrupt client can become a cash cow for the player.

On a side note, the technology of Mass Production, which allows the building of commercial docks on coastal towns is left out for 2 reasons. Mass Production is a pre-requisite for Motorized Transports, which opens the way to tanks. For obvious reasons, this technology may be held back from a client. The second reason Mass Production is left out is because it can only be built on coastal towns, effectively reducing its effectiveness as a wealth generator in many situations. Furthermore, unless the economy has highly productive coastal towns, it is unlikely this improvement can be brought on-line in a timely fashion.

The Banker

The banker strategy taps into the AI valuation model by offering them lump sum gold in exchange for gold per turn payments. A necessary condition for this to work is for the player to have a relatively clean reputation and good relations with the trading partner, otherwise, the AI would be reluctant to engage in any gold per turn deals or make the trade unprofitable by demanding more compensation than under other situations.

In the banker model, the initial lump sum can be viewed as an investment, which will pay off over the next 20 turns from a stream of gold per turn payments from the AI. This cash flow, can be treated as a twenty period annuity and an interest rate can then be calculated in a spreadsheet program such as Excel. Using several games played in Monarch and Emperor difficulty, the real interest rate (there is no inflation in the Civ3 economy) for the banker model came up to be roughly between 0.6 to 1%, hardly a game breaking cash cow, but it can be an effective way to profit from ‘safe’ trading relationships by earning extra gold on the side. When the amount of gold traded is large, the nominal return in gold can be in the hundreds of gold pieces over the lifetime of the trade.

Further study of the banker model with a specialized test map set-up revealed some interesting results. The study had the following findings:

  • The interest rate is affected by attitude of the of the AI Civ towards you
  • Reputation and attitude does not capture all trade modifiers. An additional variable, called the trade premium is assumed to cause this.
  • Relative military strength has no effect on the interest rate

Trade Premium: It was observed in the test that under a start on Emperor difficulty with a clean reputation and a gracious attitude, the AI offered a far lower interest rate than what had been recorded in previous non-test games of the same difficulty where the human player has been trading with the AI with a far longer period. This indicated that there are additional uncontrolled for variables which made the AI willing to pay a higher interest rate than observed under a clean start 1st turn test conditions. This would support the premise that a good history with the trading partner in addition to a clean reputation would yield the best deals available.

Implications: The lack of enmity against the player and a history of good relations appear to positively affect trade such that over time, an AI may be willing to offer deals.

As there is always a risk of non-payment due to war, the strategy is best employed with clients of the least risk, strategically safe clients and trading partners which is safe from attack, a client that is too weak to become an aggressor against the human player and is not entangled in a web of mutual protection pacts with the player’s rivals.

Another relatively safe bet would be the recently defeated rival in which a peace treaty has just been signed. Under the cover of the peace treaty, a player may apply the banker model. Short of a mutual protection pack induced re-declaration of war, these trades are relatively safe.

Using the strategy: The banker strategy can also be viewed as a profitable way to infuse cash into an AI economy. Thus, the player can be said to be ‘investing’ in another economy, not unlike how industrializing America borrowed heavily from Europe to build its railroad infrastructure.

The peacetime AI in a representative government will spend excess funds in the treasury directly into the economy by rush-building improvements and upgrading units, often creating a multiplier effect as the depth and strength of the economy is enhanced by the AI borrowing. In the case of a Wall Street ready economy, the treasury balance will help even further from an additional interest income.

Arbitrage Trade

The luxury resource model in Civ3 treats all resources as identical. The only distinction made is the number of resources a player have under its control, with each additional resource adding more ‘happy faces’ in unimproved cities and significantly more happy citizens in cities with markets.

The luxury model: There are eight (8) luxury resources in total. In cities without markets, each resource adds one happy face for a total of eight (8). In cities with markets, the first two luxuries add one (1) happy face each, the next two add two (2) happy face each, the following two adds three (3) happy faces each and the last two resources add four (4) happy faces each for a total of twenty (20) happy citizens.

This luxury to happiness model creates asymmetric need or an imbalance in the luxury markets. An empire with more luxury resources and markets will tend to place a higher value on the next luxury resource it can obtain than an empire with fewer luxury resources.

Arbitrage Defined: Arbitrage is the act of trading goods and financial instruments where the person making the trade, the arbitrageur, seeks out imbalances in prices of the same goods in different markets. By buying low and selling high, the arbitrageur can capture this price imbalance as profit.

Setting up the trade: In Civ3, the human player can trade their last unit of a domestic luxury resource away. Putting this feature together with the concept of asymmetric need, a human player can thus shop their only unit of a luxury resource around other AI empires.

In many cases, a larger well-developed AI civilization with access to several luxuries will demand a high price for the unit of luxury resource that is up for trade. In best case scenarios, they may have several resources of their own that the player can obtain. If the value is high enough, a player could potentially trade away his luxury resource and receive two imported luxuries in return. More commonly, the trade would be a more straightforward luxury resource swap, but because the AI puts a higher value on the luxury he is receiving, he is willing to also throw in extra gold, maps and older technologies.

One way to view the net effect of the trade is to view it numerically. Before the trade we have 1 unit of happiness. After the trade we have 1 unit of happiness + profit.

Notes: For the trade to work as an arbitrage, the player trading his unit of luxury must receive another unit of luxury in return, otherwise, he would be losing happiness in his empire. If there is more than one instance of a resource and the player is simply shopping the extra resource a good deal, the items received (including luxuries) from this trade cannot by definition be an arbitrage trade, he is simply utilizing an unutilized resource.

Chapter VI: Diplomacy (Work in Progress)

This is essentially where all the concepts and strategies discussed in the previous chapters come together in the creation of an empire of influence where through shrewd trades,

There are two types of diplomatic states. The first is “explicit” state, while the other is an “implicit” state. Explicit State describes tangible diplomatic arrangements between two civilizations. Mutual Protection Packs (MPPs), Military Alliances (MA) and Right of Passage Agreements (ROPs). These are hard-coded diplomatic arrangements that are part of the game’s feature set. Implicit State describes a state of affairs that is abstract and describes things human players can see, but not the AI. A good example would be stationing a large army in the territory of a weaker partner. The Explicit State is that of a Right of Passage (ROP) agreement exists, but the Implicit State is that the player will have in effect, made the allied power into his or her protectorate or a base of operations.

Power Projection

Domestic Intervention

ROP agreements should be viewed as diplomatic tools in peacetime and wartime. In peacetime, these agreements allow the player to groom a protectorate, ally or a buffer civilization. This is especially critical if the civilization is small, has limited financial resources to support workers and is falling behind in tile improvements, such as road and railroading building, pollution and jungle clearing. While workers are technically not offensive units and the AI usually won’t declare war if an uninvited worker intrusion persist, an ROP is far superior to simply entering enemy territory uninvited to do work. For one, workers can move around on any existing infrastructure to their work faster.

To safeguard what could be substantial assets in terms of number of workers committed to the job, the use of this policy is best paired with a policy of power projection (see point number 2) with forward deployments of military units.

Military Projection:

Power projection imply player troops stationed around the world, or regions in the map (depending on player size and development). It is often taken for granted that projecting power implies having actual cities. While cities in far flung regions of the map maintained and fortified with the sole purpose of repairing wounded units and for stationing naval and air forces can be part of this strategy, the use of ROP agreements to station military units in friendly territory can be used in conjunction as an effective means of projecting power overseas. This allows the player to use another Civ’s territory as a launching pad to an attack and can be especially crucial in disconnecting vital resources and luxuries in parts of a rival’s empire that would otherwise inaccessible to the player immediately after the declaration of war.

Extending the Missile Shield:

When a game lasts well into the nuclear age and the player has built the SDI small wonder, they may use workers, scouts or even military units (if an ROP agreement exists) to extend its missile shield to allied cities. For the SDI system to intercept a nuclear warhead from a third party, the unit must be placed in one of the eight titles immediately next to the allied city.


A caveat with ROP is for the player to thoroughly understand the ‘actual state’ of the agreement. While we implicitly understand that the human player is the master of the relationship and is in effect protecting and helping the client, the game only recognizes ROP as an agreement that allows both Civilizations to travel and stop in each other’s territories as if it is their own. It cannot understand or appreciate the work the human player is doing. Just as players may decide to project power by sending troops overseas, they must understand the door is also open for troops to flow in the opposite direction. This can get especially tricky if, for example, an ROP agreement allows one of your client states to send troops across your territory as part of a dogpile to attack another client state whom is being crushed by an AI rival.

The implications here is that ROP agreements need to be signed with care and some foresight. Unnecessary use of this agreement to needlessly send militaries and workers in a world tour of client states is not the desired result. Planned ROPs targeted at the cultivation of states with a need to improve infrastructure or a state that is well placed to monitor and counter any potential military advances from a rival is ideal use of this strategy.

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