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12/1 - Current Spy Balance

Discussion in 'General Balance' started by Stalker0, Dec 6, 2019.

  1. Stalker0

    Stalker0 Baller Magnus

    Dec 31, 2005
    These are my thoughts on the current balance of the espionage system.

    In general my gameplay goes like this:

    1) My first spy goes to CS rigging until he gets level 2. I can sometimes bag a CS ally out of this, or at least a friend. Its a good training ground, and level 1 spies still tech so slowly anyway that its a good use.

    2) Once my spy has leveled he goes to steal techs from the top person. Tech stealing to me is a mystery for the most part, I just put the spy in, and see how much time it will take, but I don't' really understand where the numbers come from.

    A key X factor is Spy assassination. If my level 3 spy gets killed....that will often cost me 2 techs of stealing because I have to level up a new spy. Its a big swing in terms of the effectiveness in spying.

    3) Spy actions are like the wind to me. They come and go, no rhyme or reason. The only way it actually effects my play is that I always spend my gold, as I know having lots of gold increases the gold steal action. Otherwise, they happen or don't, I couldn't tell you how often.

    4) Once constabularies are out, I generally stop spying. I can maybe squeeze out one last tech but then the turns become too long. This starts the lull phase for spies to me. I generally put them back into CS rigging. The rigs aren't as effective now but they keep the spies leveling a bit, its safe, and a few free diplo units of influence here or there is better than nothing. If I am wonder races I will sometimes keep a spy in my competitors capital just to check for wonder progress.

    5) Coup wise....I consider coups when I get around 30%, unless I am hail marrying for a key vote. I will say that I appreciate coups on Immortal as compared to emperor....CS influence is so much higher now that losing a spy for the chance to flip 3k of influence is a lot more attractive.

    6) Police stations exist for one purpose....as a prereq to the National Intelligence Agency. It is the weakest building in the game. Spying is already so weak at this point that I don't even bother.

    7) National Intelligence Agency is when spies become interesting again. This turns my CS rigging into money makers. The science is also nice, but compared to my SPT at this point in the game its not that great, but getting a surge of 5k gold lets me do units upgrades and some key building investments...its pretty useful.

    8) The only time I ever use diplomats is once Globalization hits. I might drop a diplomat in the culture leader if I'm going CV, but even that is a maybe. Vote buying is very hard, I would rather just keeping rigging to give me better position.

    9) I will use GW thieving once in a blue moon. But if the city has good potential I would rather spy. And if it doesn't, I'm not going to bother with thieving. Generally I will thief in the rare instances where a secondary cities potential is higher than the capital.

    So condensing those down into a short list.

    1) I like where rigging is at right now, its my standard baseline for spy use.
    2) Spying I think is a little too easy to start, and becomes too difficult after constabularies.
    3) Coups are in an alright place.
    4) Diplomats are pretty weak.
    5) Advance actions don't even exist to me.
    6) Police Stations are very weak (mainly because constabularies have done all the work to kill spying).
    7) Spy death is the biggest X factor in the system...it can really change the pace of your spy game.
    8) If thieving was gone I wouldn't miss it, I don't feel it really adds anything to my gameplay.
  2. phantomaxl1207

    phantomaxl1207 King

    Nov 19, 2010
    It seems a waste to have Wonder disruption protection on the Prora, as there aren't too many Wonders left in the Atomic or Information Eras.

    I agree that Advanced Actions are a mystery.

    "Diplomats are weak." Tell that to the AI.

    Police Stations come too late.

    Spying is very easy in the Renaissance. It does slow down very soon after, although you do get more Spies.

    GW thieving is great once Tech stealing slows down. It can be hard to find Cities to steal from.
  3. lunker

    lunker Warlord

    Oct 6, 2016
    I'm thinking spying has overall improved since I last played, but here are some observations:

    1. I said in another topic already but I think rigging offers way too much now for how safe it is.

    2. I think the tech steal speed is pretty good. With level 3 spy I was getting 30-50 turns in modern era+. In late game where tech evens out a few steals can are worth a lot more so I think the difficulty of pulling one off is justified.

    3. I think coups are pretty good too, but I'm experiencing a problem where by the end of the game, I own all the CS allies without really speccing into anything or being ahead. I don't think the AI are aggressive enough with this option.

    4. Diplomats do suck. Previously I found them useful for leveling but now rigging does that. Also I was thinking Diplomats should enable vote trading for both parties so maybe you could sell your votes more reliably?
  4. Rafs

    Rafs Warlord

    Mar 12, 2016
    My experience with spies (on huge maps) is that I personally hate them, and I only reason I don't disable them is because it disables constabularies and police stations (you want those to help with distress, and because they are used for policies). I don't mind the tech stealing, that is totally fine with me as there is a a decent period of time between tech steals from a same spy and it helps the AI/player catch up to the lead. Spy catching is random as it gets to me but I can deal with that honestly, it feels like a catch up for those who are lagging behind on techs (not for culture though).

    Now, advanced actions on the other hand (be it assasinations, gold/science theft, gw heists) are a pure annoyance and I feel it's more aggravating as a lead and player, than what you can do as a player against the AI. I don't think I've ever stolen great works aside from egypt tombs (This also makes me avoid playing as Egypt is I get all my GW stolen if I'm leading, unless I move everything to the capital, but then the capital can't fit in everything if you go wide). This also makes me, religion wise, almost always go for mandirs (if I can't I make sure I get the free mandir from Angkor Wat in the capital), unless I literaly plan to ignore great persons for whatever reason. Gold theft also creates what to my eyes is an abnormal behaviour, I always keep my gold as low as possible, the treasurery must be as empty as it can if I'm leading and other AI's don't like me (a usual consequence of their desire to win, pretty normal). I've had AI steal 25k gold from me, sometimes even more in the past, and I honestly just don't like.

    Despite all this I always leave spies on, as I feel they are good for those are falling behind to try and catchup, and it leads to a more balanced/even match, which is in the end more important.

    Now spy rigging and coups are more or less fine, until you start playing against AIs that actually care about CS and have statecraft, ever played a big map with 3-4 AIs that care about city states? You aren't going to keep those CS allied very easily, and not for long either. Rigging is in a good spot for me.
    I feel coups are good when you first get spies, but as people start getting more and more influence (I also don't know the formula for coups, but it's not a simple one from what I've seen ingame), the odds turn very low, but if you get the policy from freedom to increase rigging/coups then your odds skyrocket again. I personally believe the CS coup should trigger a cooldown on the spy and make it stay on that cs for a while, as to avoid having a lvl 3 superspy turning lots of CS in a small time.
    SwirlSlayer likes this.
  5. Edaka

    Edaka King

    Jul 14, 2015
    As I've stated before, I dislike the fact that rigging levels up spies and coups don't, I feel like it it should be the other way around. That said, I really like the lately buffed rigging efficiency - it feels much more worthwile now.

    Off-topic, but I do feel like it diminishes the worth of Great Diplomats even further, and their instant action has already felt weak for a long time. I wonder if it could perform a coup instead...

    Regarding the advanced actions: whenever I see a modifier that increases or decreases the chance of a certain action, it doesn't say anything to me, because I have no idea what the baseline chances are in the first place. It would be a significant quality of life improvemet if that information was available in-game, even though it wouldn't meaningfully change anything else. That leads me to my bold suggestion.

    What if advanced actions weren't automatic but instead could be triggered by pressing a button, like coups? There would need to be a cooldown, of course. I think that would reduce their current "background noise" quality quite a bit, however, that also may be a case of having just just another button to press, and I'm not sure if the system would benefit the AI.

    I'm not sure if it's working as intended, but it's silly how a spy can can perform an advanced action without having established surveillance in a city. If you're lucky, your spy will do it right on the next turn after just having moved.

    Another thing that feels almost as random as the advanced actions is counter spying. It's such a hit or miss, and again you're never sure what your chances are. I just use level 3 spies and hope for the best, but that's just not cool. What would be cool is if there was an active choice here as well, for example, if you could try to discover, expell or even kill a foreign spy, while risking your own spy to be killed, all of it with chances that would be available in the interface.

    Let me tell you that I also dislike the disproportionate gold stealing. I think it's the only advanced action that acts upon an empire-wide yield, not local. I think a steal should be a percentage of gold produced by the target instead.

    Regarding diplomats and vote buying: I find it useful sometimes to buy the AI votes that they would've liked to make anyway, which means they're relatively cheap. That way they have less votes to spare to shoot down other proposals that are more important to me. For example, if voting to ban a luxury and to make my religion the world religion, I may find it useful to pay the other founders to vote for the luxury ban, so that they can't vote as much for the world religion.

    Sorry that this post is all over the place, but that's because I generally really like spying, or at least what it could be. It's a very versatile system with lots of applications, such as catching up on techs, CS influence, diplomacy, tourism, etc. It's such a pity that the Firaxis spying code is apparently such an atrocity.
  6. crdvis16

    crdvis16 Emperor

    May 2, 2013
    I think you might be underestimating the instant effect from GDs. It's not necessarily obvious but you frequently knock many other AIs out of friendly status with the CS when bulbing them for their instant effect. The loss of yields to those other AIs (as well as the yields you likely gain from becoming friendly/allied) can really add up.

    Admittedly, later in the game when AIs can have 1000+ influence with CSs the bulbing effect can be just a drop in the bucket. Perhaps the bulb effect should scale in a way that keeps it relevant in the mid/late game.
  7. Rekk

    Rekk Emperor

    Dec 9, 2017
    Is it worth it just to set every civ to -50 instead of reducing their influence by a certain amount?
  8. MarvelOfRain

    MarvelOfRain Chieftain

    Nov 26, 2019
    I actually find diplomats quite useful. I also haven't looked under the hood, but they seem like a nice and quick way to safely level up your spies. I have never managed to steal anything with lvl. 1 spy, but level 3, on the other hand, works really consistently (early diplomat + a bunch of tech steals was probably what won me my last game). If you put a spy as a diplomat you get the main benefit (in my opinion) of seeing the ai city, you get to lvl. safely, get extra information about world congress and even a small tourism boost. All that without risking loosing him or getting negative relationship boost.

    But then again usage of spies is a matter of playstyle as well. I for example almost never put them in CS {did it once and got huge negative modifiers resulting in wars] and use them just to gain information, prevent enemy stealing and as a catch-up mechanism.

    Spies seem fine in my opinion. The only thing I would change is how non-capital cities work. I think it would nice if defensive spies worked in all non-capital cities at once (so just 2 spies - capital + noncapital would cover your empire). It feels really overwhelming trying to prevent anyone steeling from you late game and it can get super annoying without any counterplay.

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