Civilization V: Gods and the Kings' Spies

| Monday, June 24, 2013
Spies hide out in every corner; you can't touch them no, 'cause they're all spies
Espionage has made a much-needed comeback.  A somewhat lame comeback, but this is Civ V, so it's still an improvement.  I must admit that I found the Civ IV spies to be somewhat annoying.  You'd send this little unit shuffling across the world, only to get caught a turn after entering the next civ's borders.  Missions knocked it back to the capitol, since as we all know, the best place for an agent who successfully completes a mission without blowing their cover is back where they started, with all their carefully generated contacts and hideouts rotting away (that's how I interpret the no-movement espionage discount).

Civ V takes a more sensible approach.  You have your list of spies and you can send them to cities.  They take a turn to move and then take a few turns to set up.  Then they can begin the fun.  Admittedly it's a mostly fire-and-forget process, but that depends on the situation.  You'll want to move them around as it changes even though you won't be managing them turn-by-turn (since then they'll accomplish nothing).

In other civilizations this takes the sometimes-fruitful path of slowly, very slowly, working toward stealing a tech.  It seems to take around 15 turns, depending on difficulty and whether they have theft-slowing buildings.  In effect this a second research path and if you're not playing at low settings you're going to need it.  You can put multiple spies in enemy cities, even of the same civ, to get parallel paths to theft, all of which can bear fruit independently.  This can be life-or-death, and has been for me at least once, when I was falling behind pretty far.  However, if your spy is caught the AI will get pretty mad at you.  I've never seen to lead to a war, but I've not tested the limits, instead switching to another civ.  Still, this can turn a friendly civ to guarded, so it might be a bad idea to spy on your 'allies' (for as much as such things exist in Civilization).

City States are a bit more fun in the espionage arena.  The boring thing is rigging elections.  Send in a spy and he'll try to rig the next round of elections for that particular city state, which are all held at the same time for every city state.  This gives a boost to your standing, if it succeeds.  Other civs may be doing the same and only one will succeed.  The real fun is in the coups.  If someone else has the ally, you can stage a coup, with varying changes of success depending on your current standing.  If they don't like you at all, you're not going to succeed.  However if some other jerk just bought off the city state, a coup will not only put you back on top, it will also knock them way down.  It hurts when this happens to you.  Failed coups will get the spy killed, though they are replaced eventually so it's a temporary loss, though the replacement won't be experienced.

A last interesting bit that I keep forgetting to take advantage of is Intrigue.  Spies can sometimes see what the AI is planning.  Maybe recon with your units shows that Isabella is building a navy, but who is she planning to attack?  A spy could find out, or see inside a civ that has closed borders.  The AI civs sometimes share this information when they find it, which is nice of them.  Though the one time I was notified that the English were plotting against me I was well aware of it since I'd already captured two city states under their protection and was positioning my navy to launch my own attack.

My only major complaint about the espionage system is that it favors players who are slightly behind in tech, but not by much.  If you're too far behind, then you have fewer spies (you get one slot per era starting in the Renaissance).  If you're ahead, then you have nothing to steal and therefore your spies can only get experience by catching other spies stealing tech, and since the odds of stealing and surviving seem to be significantly higher than getting caught, you're going to have lower-level spies.  On the other hand, maybe that's just one more way to keep a game interesting.  It helps keep lower-tech civs from becoming completely left behind.

My God can beat up your god.
Religion is back.  I'm undecided on if I prefer it to the version in Civ IV, but it's certainly a bit of fun and makes for some difficult decisions early in the game.  You first adopt a pantheon which will give a situational bonus, such as more food or culture from particular tiles, improvements, or buildings.  With a prophet you can form a real religion (take that, Greece, you didn't have a real religion, just a bunch of jerks in the sky), which gives two more bonuses.  Finally you can enhance it for two more and then you have a fully-fledged religion tailor-made for your civilization.  Since it gives bonuses you'll want to spread it to your cities.

Spread can be active or passive, both based on converting followers to form a majority in a city.  Cities that follow a religion will exert pressure on nearby cities and if one religion has more pressure than another, then the city will gradually convert to that religion.   If you want to speed it up, great prophets and missionaries can convert a large number of people, often forming a majority right away.  Inquisitors can remove those of other faiths, also potentially converting a city.  I tend to use them for the more dramatic purpose of wiping out the holy city for competing religions, thereby crippling their spread.

I've not seen any religion-based wars, but some of the bonuses will affect combat.  The AI will get mad if you try to spread a competing religion in their lands.  I've only played a few games, so maybe I've just not seen it yet.  Though as of writing this, Sweden has happily adopted my religion in the majority of their cities.  Good thing I slaughtered the Hindus and destroyed their holy city.  I guess I've started all the wars over religion.  I do hate those competing holy cities so much.

I'm not sure how powerful religion is in the game.  The slower rep decay with city states is obviously a pretty big deal, equal in power to the first social policy of patronage.  I tend to go for Ethiopia (Jewish) and pick up the 1% production per follower, since 15% at the max is pretty awesome.  Yet I don't have much to compare it with, since I almost always have my own religion.

Currently I'm playing a game as England, which has no particular benefits for religion, or much of anything else until their longbowmen aka artillery conquer everything flat.  Due to Ethiopia getting in the way I ended up with an awful start and have been a perpetual underdog, with only my constant spying keeping my civ from being irrelevant.  I don't see how a religion could have fixed this.  If anything, atheism saved us a lot of time and money that would have gone to shrines and temples.  On the other hand, having more happiness and production would have been a big help.  Only very late in the game did I manage to crush Ethiopia and start to be a factor in the world.

The sad yet undefeated state of my England is a strong endorsement of the impact of espionage.  At times I was getting half my beakers from stolen tech rather than my own civilization.  Rather than an ignorant backwater waiting to be crushed, we were instead second or third in technology, aided by our spies speaking what must have been perfect Russian.


Ephemeron said...

Both religion and counterespionage are good for making friends. The former by sharing a common religion via peaceful conversion, the latter by forgiving your friends whenever you catch them spying on you (this bonus stacks for each forgiven spy and has no diminishing returns).

Klepsacovic said...

I didn't know that the forgiveness stacked. I'll have to remember that, if I ever have a tech lead.

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