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Espionage is a game system in Civilization VI which allows undercover activities in other civilizations' cities, such as stealing technologies, Gold, or even Great Works. The system has been greatly expanded compared to Civilization V: Gods & Kings, and is now pretty similar to the one from Civilization: Beyond Earth.
Espionage becomes possible in the Renaissance Era, thanks to Civics development. The Diplomatic Service Civic allows you to train your first Spy, and subsequent Civics (and the Computers tech) will allow you to maintain more than one. Note that you can always maintain a certain maximum number of Spies in your empire, similarly to Traders. The maximum number of Spies a civilization can have is 5 in Vanilla and 6 from Rise and Fall onward. Catherine de Medici can have one more Spy than normal (6 in Vanilla and 7 from Rise and Fall onward). If the Secret Societies Game Mode is enabled, the Owls of Minerva can further increase the Spy capacity by 2, allowing for a total of 8 spies, 9 if playing as Catherine de Medici.
Spies in Civilization VI are almost like other units - they must be produced in cities (via the normal Production queue) and moved around. They can also get killed, or captured, albeit not by normal Military units but rather through rival civilizations' counterespionage forces. Note that you can never have more Spies than your current empire's development allows!
Spies take quite some time to produce, but this time may be reduced with the Machiavellianism Diplomatic Policy. Also, each Spy has a unique name to help you distinguish them from your other Spies.
Spies act in cities. Spy missions may be performed in enemy cities and your own (spies cannot be sent to cities of a civilization you have an alliance with), and what exactly they will do depends on the city you send them to. Prior to Rise and Fall, Spies could not act in City-States.
Spies aren't moved like regular units; they jump from city to city using air, sea, road, or foot travel, each with their own travel time. You may send a Spy to any city you have revealed (provided you don't have an alliance with that civilization), regardless of any actual physical constraints - they are clever, they will find a way. The only difference is how many turns they'll take to arrive at their destination. Whenever you are prompted to choose this destination, the dialogue will reveal all possible target cities, the Districts they have, the time it will take to move there, and what possible Operations the Spy may undertake. Once established in a city, a Spy can begin their mission. Note that a single city may contain more than one Spy, but no two spies may perform the same Mission in the same city.
Spies begin at the Recruit level and may gain levels from successful offensive operations or capturing an enemy Spy during Counterspying. Upon reaching level 2, Spies may also earn special Promotions. These usually make them more effective at certain types of missions, or at remaining undetected during missions. Spies are able to choose one of three promotions each time they gain a level, which are chosen at random from the pool below (though in Gathering Storm, slotting Non-State Actors will allow them to choose any promotion).
|Ace Driver||If caught on a mission, have a much higher chance of escape (+4 levels).|
|Cat Burglar||Steal Great Works as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Con Artist||Siphon Funds as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Covert Action||Foment Unrest as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Demolitions||Sabotage Production as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Disguise||Takes no time to establish presence in an enemy city.|
|Guerrilla Leader||Recruit Partisans as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|License to Kill||Neutralize Governor as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Linguist||Time to complete all missions reduced by 25%.|
|Polygraph||If this Spy is in home territory, enemy Spies in your lands operate at 1 level below usual.|
|Quartermaster||If this Spy is in home territory, all your Spies operate at +1 level.|
|Rocket Scientist||Disrupt Rocketry as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Satchel Charges||Breach Dam as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Seduction||Counterspy as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Smear Campaign||Fabricate Scandal as if 2 levels more experienced.|
|Surveillance||When Counterspying all city districts are defended (and +1 level at districts within 1 hex).|
|Technologist||Steal Technology as if 2 levels more experienced.|
The level of a Spy also increases their general chances of success at what they are doing. Here are the spy levels:
- Secret Agent
- Master Spy
A Spy that reaches Master Spy level stops gaining experience. This means that each Spy can have up to three Promotions - you should choose which ones they will acquire carefully.
When a Spy arrives at their destination, a list of possible Missions appears. Their range depends on the Districts in the destination city. When you choose a specific mission, a Mission Briefing screen will appear, listing the Mission duration, the chances of Success and Failure, and the chance of the Spy being Captured or Killed.
|Gain Sources||City Center||Spies in this city operate at 2 levels higher for 24 turns.
100% success rate, and no risk of being discovered
|Listening Post||City Center||Increases Diplomatic Visibility with this civilization by 1 rank.
100% success rate, and no risk of being discovered. The Diplomatic Visibility bonus is active only during mission duration.
|Siphon Funds||Commercial Hub||The Spy will steal the Gold income this district has accumulated for the duration of the mission. That means that richer cities/districts will yield more.|
|Great Work Heist||Theater Square||The Spy will attempt to steal a Great Work residing in the district. If there are no Great Works here, this mission cannot be executed. Each separate mission will specify the exact Great Work which will be targeted. If there are multiple Great Works in the target district, Great Works of Writing will be displayed first, Great Works of Art and Artifacts will be displayed second, and Great Works of Music will be displayed last. That means that the Spy can't just go ahead and steal a Great Work of Music if there are other Great Works in the same district - he or she will have to steal them in the order specified above.|
|Sabotage Production||Industrial Zone||The Spy will sabotage (i.e. pillage) all buildings existing in the district at the same time. The district itself is not sabotaged!|
|Steal Tech Boost||Campus||The Spy will steal the boost (i.e. Eureka) for a technology you have yet to discover. Cannot be executed if this civilization hasn't discovered any of the techs you don't have. Each separate mission description will mention the current technology the Spy will target.|
|Recruit Partisans||Neighborhood||The Spy will cause 2-4 rebel (i.e. barbarian) anti-cavalry units to spawn around the district. Their level will match the current World Era. These rebel anti-cavalry units will be at least Industrial Era-level (since the target district becomes available only then). Once performed, this mission pillages the Neighborhood district (to prevent spies from spamming the mission).|
|Disrupt Rocketry||Spaceport||The Spy will sabotage (i.e. pillage) the district. Any Science Victory project that city was currently undertaking will be postponed until the Spaceport is repaired.|
|Foment Unrest||City Center||The Spy will galvanize support for radicals and fringe groups, reducing the city's Loyalty by 25. (The effect of Loyalty loss from Espionage is capped at 25 even if multiple Foment Unrest actions are successively performed on the same city.)|
|Neutralize Governor||City Center||The Spy will incapacitate the Governor assigned to the city, removing them from duty for the next few turns. Can only be performed in a city with a Governor.|
|Fabricate Scandal||City-State||The Spy will spread rumors and turn public opinion against the party in power, removing the top-ranked civilization's Envoys from the city-state.|
|Breach Dam||Dam||The Spy will damage (i.e. pillage) the district, causing a Flood and leaving the city vulnerable to damage from Floods until the Dam is repaired.|
|Zombie Outbreak (Zombie Defense mode only)||City Center||The spy will spawn a Zombie for each tile worked by this city|
A Spy can also be assigned to one of own cities on Counter-Espionage missions. The Spy can be stationed in either the City Center or one of the city's districts. Your Spy's district and all those adjacent to it will benefit from his or her vigilance, so if enemy Spies are performing missions in those districts, there is a much higher chance than normal that they will be caught.
All missions have uniform duration. Unlike Civilization V: Gods & Kings, there won't be long periods of time a Spy will pass without apparently doing anything (such as going as long as 60 turns trying to steal a tech). The missions now are quick, brutal and effective - the results will come much quicker, but the enemy will also have more chances to catch your Spy. The aforementioned Machiavellianism Policy will speed missions up even more, as will the Linguist Promotion.
At the conclusion of most missions, whether succeeded or failed, your Spy may be discovered by the police of the target civilization. When your spy is discovered, the target civilization's leader will demand you cease spying on them. The leader will also gain a Casus Belli against you.
Furthermore, if a Spy is discovered, he or she will need to escape from the target city. You will be prompted to select the mode of escape. There are four possible options:
- Airplane (requires an Aerodrome District in this city) - The Spy attempts to fly away. Very dangerous, because the police always watch airports! But they will take only 1 turn to arrive in HQ.
- Boat (requires a Harbor District in this city) - The Spy attempts to escape by a vessel. Quite dangerous, since the enemy police always watch seaports too. They will return in 2 turns.
- Vehicle (requires a Commercial Hub District in this city) - The Spy attempts to escape by a land vehicle. Somewhat dangerous, but the police usually have trouble watching all roads leading out of the city. They will return in 3 turns.
- Foot (always available) - The Spy attempts to flee on foot. Not very dangerous. Think of it, who can surround the entire city with agents? They will, however, return in 4 turns.
If your Spy fails the escape, they may be captured or killed. The faster the escape mode, the less likely your spy can escape successfully. The dice roll occurs within the turn. That is, actions during the current turn can affect the outcome of the roll. The Ace Driver Promotion greatly increases his or her chances of escape.
If the Spy manages to escape, they will appear in your Capital after the respective number of turns, ready for a new assignment. Even if the mission is interrupted, a successful escape may still bring back the loot or a successful pillage report.
Spies may also fail to accomplish a mission without being discovered. In this case you won't gain anything, but the Spy may continue working normally.
Captured Spies are imprisoned, but not killed, and their original owner can then attempt to "trade" with the civilization who captured the Spy, securing their release to return to active service. If the trade goes through, the Spy is immediately returned to the original owner's Capital, ready for a new assignment. If not, the Spy is held indefinitely, but can be traded for again at any time.
Note that you are not allowed to "replace" captured spies with newly-trained ones! Captured or not, they still count towards your civilization's current Spy limit.
In the hands of a good strategist Spies can become a lethal weapon, or a great instrument for advancing your civilization! Send them on Siphon Funds missions to get solid sums of Gold; or send them on Steal Tech boost missions to speed up your scientific advancement! Great Work heists can fill your empty Great Work slots and speed up your Cultural victory while slowing down theirs.
At the same time you could hamper the opponent's development by Sabotage Production, Neutralize Governor and Foment Unrest missions; you can even force them to fight off attacks with the Recruit Partisans mission (although this one is only possible in cities with Neighborhoods).
Targeting an opponent's Spaceport districts with Spies is one of the most effective ways to hamper an opponent's progress towards a Scientific victory. If one of your rivals is progressing quickly through the Technology Tree, plan ahead by upgrading at least one of your Spies with the Rocket Scientist promotion, and ideally another with the Quartermaster promotion. Keep in mind your rival might have multiple Spaceport districts – it might be necessary to employ multiple Spies, or use the same Spy for multiple missions. In either case, Disguise and Linguist would also be useful promotions to have - they will allow you to perform missions much quicker, and hamper both Spaceports and Industrial zones.
District placement can be used to make counter-espionage more effective. During Counterspy missions, Spies protect not only the District in which they're placed, but any adjacent Districts as well. Forming clusters of Districts – particularly Commercial Hubs and Industrial Zones, which are frequent targets for enemy Spies – can therefore allow a single Spy to protect multiple Districts. Use this fact to protect Theater Squares, if you're going for a Cultural victory, or Spaceports and Industrial Zones if you're pursuing a Scientific victory.
Using spy-related Policies in the late game could be a game-changer. They can ensure both the success of your own Spies and the failure of rival spies; they can also accelerate missions considerably. You should always keep an eye on your rivals' progress towards Cultural and Scientific victories - these are the ones Spies are very effective at slowing down.