This article presents a new analytical approach to the study of aid negotiations. Building on existing approaches but trying to overcome their limitations, it argues that factors outside of individual negotiations (or the `game' in game-theoretic approaches) significantly affect the preferences of actors, the negotiating strategies they fashion, and the success of those strategies. This approach was employed to examine and compare the experiences of eight countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. The article presents findings from these country studies which investigated the strategies these states have adopted in talks with aid donors, the sources of leverage they have been able to bring to bear in negotiations, and the differing degrees of control that they have been able to exercise over the policies agreed in negotiations and those implemented after agreements have been signed. It argues that Botswana, Ethiopia and Rwanda have been more successful than the other five cases in levering negotiating capital from the economic, political, ideological and institutional conditions under which negotiations occur.