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Subject: Basic Strategy and Analysis in Spies! rss

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steve mizuno
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As I promised several weeks ago, I have now finished placing all the event tile information into an Excel spreadsheet. This is still waiting for approval from the admins, but in the meantime, I will follow up this file with some elementary parts of my event tile analysis.

First, a cursory examination of the different event tiles shows that there are a total of 86 cities listed on the different event tiles. Most of these cities don't provide much of a reward for having a spy in that city. 10 cities only appear on one event tile - 23 cities appear on two event tiles, 15 cities appear on three event tiles, 14 cities appear on four event tiles, 6 cities appear on five event tiles, 2 cities appear on six event tiles, 4 cities appear on seven event tiles, 2 cities appear on eight event tiles, 1 city appears on nine event tiles, 2 cities appear on eleven event tiles, 1 city on thirteen, 1 city on fifteen, 2 cities on seventeen tiles, 1 city on eighteen tiles, 1 city on 21 tiles. The bulk of the event tiles are centered in the major power capitals, but capitals of all European countries appear to have concentrated rewards for spies located in these cities.



You may want to note that Geneva, Istanbul, and Tangiers are "Spy Havens," and no sanctions can be performed in these cities. Geneva, in particular, is a great city to park a spy, due to the high number of tiles that effect the city, and its central location. Istanbul is another nice place, and is somewhat central. to a raid on parts of Russia.

Of course, placement of one of your spies in the capital of another major power will require some planning - you will want some extra PAPERS chits, as well as a few $$$ to pay the play of these chits. It is likely that the capital city will have enough police to toss most of your spies into the slammer. There are, however, some key neutral capitals which see a lot of action - these include Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest, Geneva, Budapest. These cities will not require the use of papers to maintain a presence here.

Looking a little more carefully at the data I have painstakingly extracted, I also note that Sophia and Riga have the highest average CASH reward from event tiles (over cities that have more than 3 event tiles). Prague and Barcelona are the two cities with the highest average Action chit reward from event tiles (over cities that have more than 4 event tiles).



Before I get too far into this, a few basic reminders about SPIES!

The goal of the game is to score more victory points than the other four players. VP are awarded for the capture or assassination of other spies, as well as the capture of secrets. All rewards are multiplied by a different multiplier based on how late in the game it is... the later in the game you score, the greater the multiplier.

The two "currencies" in the game are Action Chits, and Cash. Action chits are obtained solely through having spies in cities which reward chits - event tiles produce these results (and by cashing in secrets - one chit per secret.) Cash can be acquired by cashing in secrets (20 per secret), and by event tiles - some cities reward cash for having spies in that city. Remember - cities in your own country do not reward you for having a spy in that city.

If you run a total, you will see that a total of 305 political chits and 362 in cash are awarded in all the event tiles. Action chits are a wee bit rarer than cash rewards, but both are critical in making a run at victory points. You need chits to grab secrets, and protect your spy actions, and you need cash to enable you to play the chits. Even something simple like locating secrets takes $3 in cash - Per Discovery attempt. When you add in the cost of an ESCAPE (10), or a SANCTION (20), you quickly realize that it is necessary to keep finding and cashing in secrets to enable future operations. (Cashing in a secret at your capital gives you $20 in funds for future operations.)

So... without enough and the correct kinds of action chits (mostly, initially, at least, PAPERS and DISCOVERY chits), you will watch the other players grab up all the neutral secrets, and you will find yourself deep in the hole. So, if your initial chit pull leaves you with no DISCOVERY or PAPER chits, better play an event tile that will get you some chits, fast! Early in the game, the most valuable chit is a DISCOVERY. Later, you will need about an equal number of PAPERS and DISCOVERY chits, to protect your spies as you raid enemy owned cities. Still later, the Recruit, Doublecross, Escape, and Sanction chits become pretty valuable.



One item I didn't really cover in my review of SPIES! was the strength and valuable nature of the COUSIN spy. Each country has one COUSIN, value 4, spy. This spy is immune to COUNTERSPY traps (secrets which end up not being secrets). The COUSIN also can only be sanctioned by other COUSIN spies - a SANCTION attempt on COUSIN by a lower rated spy results in that spy being killed instead.

In general, after the first 2 turns, neutral secrets will be gone. Claim these first, since it is easier to grab these than go up against the defense of police units. The utility of the lower valued spies is pretty low after three turns or so have gone by. You may want to park these spies in areas that are likely to be rewarded by event tiles. You also should use these spies to stage secrets from raids so that they can get back to your capital in one turn. (Think of it as the 100 meter relay!)



I would advise against trying to save captured secrets within your own borders. There are entirely too many ways these can be ripped out of your grasp. The likelihood that they will be captured is entirely too high. Cash them when you can, unless you can stash them in a spy haven for a turn or so. It is critical that you keep the cash account high even to pay for your new discovery attempts. This is the only way that you can continue to keep your intelligence service running - cash and action chit flow are critical to the creation of victory points.

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Steve Winter
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This covers the high points pretty well. The note I'd emphasize is that winning at Spies is as much about diplomacy as sneaking and sanctioning. Even though you have only 5 minutes for your turn, it's always worth spending some of that precious time talking to other players and arranging partnerships. Tip someone to where he can collect chits or cash in your territory if he'll do the same for you. You need to manipulate the other players as much as the pieces on the board.

Steve
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James Parks
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Just reading the analysis and your spreadsheet makes me more bummed out I can't get our group more into this game cry. I think there is a really good game here.

It seemed in our limited play that chits were far more critical than the money on the Event Tiles. Once the first secret or two was cashed money did not seem to be a limiting factor. The Action point limit also seemed a little severe. Have you guys ever experimented with increasing this?

When you guys play do you typically see arrangments between countries like "I'll let your spy camp in my capital and get chits while mine does the same in your capital". Seems like if you have one low ranked spy doing this, one in one of the spy havens, and one other in a spy haven or somewhere in the Balkans (Bucharest? Prague?) that is enough to keep the chits flowing, along with the odd cash. Then all your Action Points and chits flow to Mr. Cousin and your 3-rated spy (or spies).

Damn I want to play this thing more...
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steve mizuno
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Quote:
It seemed in our limited play that chits were far more critical than the money on the Event Tiles. Once the first secret or two was cashed money did not seem to be a limiting factor.


Well, it can work out that way, but $20 doesn't go that far, especially if you decide to take out another guy's operatives. One sanction = one cashed secret. You tend to have an influx of cash / chits during the opening round(s) of the game, unless you get a null for Discovery chits during the initial pull. Sometimes, the annoying presence of another guy's operatives is just something you have to put up with.

And yes, there are often deals (frequently horned-in upon by other players) regarding event tile play. If you make a deal with another player, the presence of your spy in his capital is a BIG GIVEAWAY as to the goodies that will be flowing in... we would sometimes actually SANCTION other guys who tried to horn in on the deal, if we had enough cash and sanction chits.... and COUSIN had some time on his hands.

I think I proposed increasing the action point limit, and it fell on deaf ears, but to tell you the truth, I think the limitation is pretty good for producing what turn into some really elegant gameplay. With too many action points, you can move everyone everywhere, take as many actions as you want, and the game is more about getting to the proper places for resource gathering. With the limitations as the game stands, it becomes more about - is this operative okay in this location? It is more about sacrifices one turn for next turn, or cashing this turn, but now having four spies in the same city, so little opportunity for resource gathering. You do tend to spend one turn setting up for the rape of Britain / Russia, since they are so far apart in movement allowances.

And as far as the placement of the lower ranked spies (Agent 13's for those of you who remember Get Smart!), there is, I think, enough variability in the allocations of cities and rewards, by tile and area, that its much better if you actually know where you should be. If you don't... it will create some interruptions in the chit/$$ flow. Trust me, even if you setup in the high percentage cities, there will be turns in which you recoup literally nothing for your placements - aside from your own tile play.

What I like about Spies, is that there are difficult decisions to be made after the first two turns, and these decisions have to be made by each player, and the effects can cascade. Try being put on a chit starvation diet by the other four players...
 
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