Which missions are the strongest?
There’s much debate in the SpyParty community about this question, and even players who don’t engage in that debate influence it; the way one plays spy is a direct reflection of which missions they believe are strong in various situations. But how do we evaluate mission strength, and by extension, how do the venues we visit affect those evaluations?
We can answer this question by answering two others:
- How can we use the ideas presented here to our advantage in a given game of SpyParty?
- What makes a venue balanced and interesting?
Mission Strength and Practical Applications
What makes a mission strong? There are a few ways to answer this question, but I’d like to measure strength in terms of what I call “value.” That’s a pretty vague term, but the primary indicators of value in descending order of importance are:
- The likelihood of getting shot or accruing game-losing levels of suspicion for doing the mission;
- The time it takes to complete the mission;
- The auxiliary costs to completing the mission.
The first is straightforward: how likely are you to get shot for attempting to complete the mission? Seduce the Target and Contact the Double Agent are a part of almost every single game plan due to the low likelihood that you’ll be shot for them, whereas the hard tells fall in value due to the exact information the sniper can obtain from them.
Seduce falls in value relative to Contact, however, when we consider the second criteria, because the former takes much more time to complete. This is where hard tells rise, as well, in that most only take a moment to complete, with the exception of Transfer the Microfilm.
Contact falls in value when considering the third criteria, though, because it has the most significant auxiliary costs of any mission: the glut of information the sniper is given through lowlights. Purloin the Guest List and Swap the Statue have potentially similar auxiliary costs in that both can result in a high number of lowlights.
“But wait,” you may say. “Aren’t these value measurements dependent on context?” Precisely. If everyone is in a conversation circle, the auxiliary costs for Contact are very low, its value is even higher, and it’d be almost criminal not to complete it.
This is the key to evaluating mission strength: it is not a definitive, unchangeable ranking, done once in a vacuum and gone through in order. It’s a living list, constantly changing, reordering, and developing in every moment of every game.
As spy, one must ask themselves what mission has the most value at any given point (hint: it’s almost always a good bug: done quickly, low likelihood of death, and no auxilliary costs!) and how they can personally affect the value of that mission.
As sniper, it’s useful to think about what missions the spy may find to be strong at any given moment and anticipate their movements. And, of course, there’s counterplay: Contact is such a high value mission that the sniper may expect (and wait for) the spy to complete it, and suddenly there is value in not doing so.
Venue Balance and Interesting Gameplay
There’s less practical value to be had in studying what traits makes for a “balanced” venue, mission-wise, but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless. In my view, a well-balanced venue is one where the difference in value between missions is smaller. Consider three different 4/x venues: Courtyard, Ballroom, and Teien.
In terms of broad outcomes, Ballroom is the most balanced venue of the three, with a nearly 50/50 win rate between spy and sniper, competitively. This stems from the fact that no mission creates too much value relative to the others. There is no mission that creates so little value that it’s almost always ignored, nor a mission that creates so much value that it warps and dominates each game.
On Courtyard, the value of Inspect the Statues is incredibly high, because multiple AIs complete the mission in almost every game. In the same vein, the value of hard tells on Courtyard are lower than they are on any other venue due to the sniper’s unusually high vantage point. This creates an ecosystem in which doing Inspects is powerful, but so powerful that it generally doesn’t make sense to counterplay by avoiding them. If you’re not completing Inspects on Courtyard, you’re probably not playing the best spy game you can. Combined with the high-value Seduce and Contact, this centers most Courtyard games around the one remaining (and relatively low value) mission the spy has to complete, which is not as interesting, gameplay-wise.
The same is true on Teien, but in a very different way: instead of Inspects being too high value, Bug is too high value, a weird thing to say given that Bug is generally the highest-value hard tell in the game. Instead of the game being bottlenecked through a single mission, as in Courtyard, there just aren’t often times on Teien when Bugging is a bad idea. There are plenty of moments on other venues where Bug is just not a good mission to complete that are based on positioning, cover, and execution. Creating high value Bugs is what makes the mission so interesting on the whole. On Teien, you rarely need to create a high value Bug. They just happen. If you don’t Bug on Teien, you’ll probably wish you did. In fact, Bug is so high value there, at nearly all times, that most Snipers are forced to credit it to multiple AI, which means that completing without Bug can be like doing an extra mission.
I said earlier that this idea doesn’t have much practical merit, but that wasn’t entirely true: thinking about the value that certain missions provide based on venue can help you pick or ban in a competitive match. Is your opponent unusually good at tracking fingerprints? Then perhaps a venue where the Ambassador is liable to leave them everywhere is less advantageous to you. Are you good at getting away with bugs? Then it makes less sense to pick Teien, where the relative value of that skill is lower, because bugs in general are easier to get away with. Looking at things through the lens of value doesn’t stop or start with the game itself: it can help inform your choices before and after, as well.
Next time you’ve gotten your first flirt in and are thinking about your next move, consider the value each mission offers. It just might win you the game.