The Nemesis DLC for Stellaris brings interesting and important new mechanics governing access to information and also some shady new uses for envoys. Here we will take a look at how Intel and Infiltration works and consider the strategic uses.
The Envoy leaders introduced with the Federations DLC gain two new roles with Nemesis. Firstly they are needed in the new first-contact system which we will not cover here. Their second new use is in the new espionage system. An Envoy can be assigned to a rival entity to establish a spy network and oversee espionage operations.
Despite these new roles envoys still lack the skill levels and specialisms of other leaders like Admirals, Governors and Scientists. Still the more Envoys one has the more espionage one can get up to.
Prior to Nemesis first contact instantly granted near total information about the target empire. Now first contact merely opens up new pathways for gradually gaining more information about the target. The information available is governed by the Intel and Intel Cap stats. Intel is the level of one’s current intelligence on the subject and Intel Cap is where one’s Intel is either increasing or decreasing towards.
The higher one’s Intel the more information about the target one can see. The Intel Cap is set by whichever is the highest out of Trust, Pacts and Infiltration (see below).
Infiltration represents your current capabilities for conducting espionage and Infiltration Cap represents where your capabilities are trending towards. Your Infiltration is also the important source of Intel on enemies with whom one can not have pacts or trust.
In order to gain Infiltration on a target you must deploy an envoy to create a Spy Network.
Besides granting Intel your Infiltration level unlocks the ability to conduct Espionage Operations (see below). Operations also consume some Infiltration.
The rate of growth of Infiltration is modified by the target empire’s Sprawl and by Relative Encryption (see below). Infiltration Cap is modified from a base value by certain civics, Assets and Relative Encryption.
Encryption can be thought of as a defence value against espionage operations. It is zero by default but is modified by certain events, civics and ethic types like Gestalt Consciousness.
Codebreaking can be thought of as an attack value for conducting espionage operations. Code-breaking is zero by default but can be modified by certain civics and events. It also helps in first contact operations.
Relative Encryption is the simple difference of the attacker’s Code-breaking and the defender’s Encryption. Eg: A weak Code-breaking of -1 against a strong Encryption of 2 would result in a Relative Encryption of 3. Vice versa, a strong Codebreaking of 2 against a weak Encryption of 0 would result in a Relative Encryption of -2. Relative Encryption modifies the rate of gain of Infiltration points and modifies the difficulty of Operations.
Operations are divided into 4 types: Subterfuge, Manipulation, Sabotage and Provocation. They also may have a specific focus: Government, Diplomacy, Technology and Military. The purpose of these types is to define what skill bonuses Assets can lend to them.
All operations go through a number of stages before completion. At each stage the operation difficulty is set against a dice roll. The operation difficulty is composed of the base difficulty for the type of mission, the target’s sprawl, skill points of the assigned Asset, Relative Encryption and any Insights generated by good results in previous stages.
Assets are double agents, folk from the target empire who are wittingly or unwittingly helping to spy for a foreign power. They can be acquired through some events but the most reliable way to acquire them is the Acquire Asset Operation.
Each Asset has the general use of raising the Infiltration Cap by 5. They can also lend their specific skills and resources to assist in the success of Operations. Eg. An Government agent with a knack for Subterfuge will lend a full 8 skill points to the success of an Acquire Asset Operation which has the type Subterfuge and the focus Government.
If an Asset is given the Gather Information Operation then the type of information gathered will be skewed towards his speciality. If you want military information try to send a military Asset. Assets increase the chance of success for Operations but they can also be consumed by them. On successful completion of an Operation in which an Asset with appropriate skills was used a extra reward option may be unlocked.
If an envoy is redeployed away from a Spy network the Spy Network will begin to lose Infiltration points. However prior to that one can carry out a Prepare Sleeper Cell Operation which if successful will freeze the Infiltration points in place for a substantial period of time.
It takes a bit of time and cost to set up so if one only needs to redeploy an envoy for a short time, such as for a first contact, then it can be just as well to let the Infiltration slip a bit instead.
Although one can Infiltrate and conduct Operations against friends and allies that is not really a good use of resources unless one has a very particular strategy that requires it. For getting Intel both Trust and Pacts deliver quick and easy results compared with Infiltration but they do not stack so doing both is redundant. The espionage operations for the most part are rather weaker than diplomatic equivalents. Steal Technology is weaker and more expensive than Research Pacts for example. If one wants Technology from a friend just ask nicely.
The advantage of Infiltration for Intel and Operations is that they can get Intel even from enemies and they take without giving back. Envoys deployed as Spy Networks then are best deployed against enemies and against those one can not or will not join diplomatically.
Patience is vital for getting the most out of a Spy Network. It takes time to accumulate Infiltration but the higher it gets the more Intel is revealed. Only the highest levels of Intel reveal the really useful information about military resources and deployment. Burning some Infiltration on Operations is ill advised to do too early. Aim to let one’s Infiltration rise to your Infiltration Cap before burning any on Operations. Since Assets increase your Infiltration Cap but do not increase the rate at which you accumulate Infiltration, the Operation to Acquire Assets is best not run until you are at or close to hitting your Cap.
One will just about always have fewer Envoys than one has targets to Infiltrate. It pays then to be focus them on targets one is sure to be in hostile relations: immediate targets of conquest, aggressive neighbours etc.
A build with strong espionage capabilities will want lots of envoys, high code-breaking, a bonus to Infiltration Cap and / or an increase in infiltration speed. How many envoys one needs does depend a bit on whether one wants them for diplomacy and representing in Federations and the Galactic Community. An espionage focused build that stays out of diplomacy does not need so many envoys. A double dealing diplomat that is heavy into espionage at the same time as being everybody’s good buddy will never have enough envoys.
A more defensive approach to Espionage aims not so much to get information or conduct operations but simply to defend against such things and so remain serene and opaque to the spying and schemes of others. Such a build will have not so much use for envoys, Codebreaking or bonuses to Infiltration Cap.
The key parameter here is Encryption and the more the better. Each level of Encryption over that of the Infiltrator’s Codebreaking slows the accumulation of Infiltration points and makes Operations slower, more expensive due to upkeep and more prone to fail.
Less obvious, but just as useful for denying information to rivals, is to avoid joining diplomatic pacts, improving relations and Federations. Trust and diplomatic pacts grant Intel similar to how Infiltration does. Also pacts leak information according to their nature, so Research Agreements leak information about one’s Technology and Commercial Pacts leak information about one’s Economy.
Therefore an Espionage Resistant build with an interest in secrecy should be one that plans on a high degree of autonomy as far as diplomatic options go.
The civic Inward Perfection embodies the espionage resistant build although it is also very poor at offensive espionage. Inward Perfection grants a bonus to encryption and various economic benefits that mitigate the inability to conduct diplomacy. It is weaker than average for offensive espionage and information gathering because of reduced envoys and lower Codebreaking. To play an empire with Inward Perfection in Stellaris Nemesis is a remarkable experience. It is an empire which is both inscrutable and quite blind.
Gestalt Consciousness, both machine and hive, are highly resistant to espionage also. They come out of the box with an Encryption of 2. Moreover because they are incapable of some diplomatic pacts such as Commercial Pacts and Migration Treaties they also innately somewhat opaque to regular diplomatic Intel.