*All credit for this guide goes to Nichts of the .us forums. The original can be found here.*
Since the dawn of time, understanding an enemy has been a prized trait. It could be said that humans became the dominant species on earth because we were able to understand and decimate or conquer so many of our enemies, both natural and man-made.
With the invention of warfare, this became all that much more important. Leaders on both sides of the battlefield desired to know what their foe was planning to do. Whether it was to place the most troops in areas that would need them, to mount an attack while the enemy was still getting organized, or to bring in reinforcements from other areas, information on the enemy became an important commodity. To this day it remains so, with monolithic organizations worldwide dedicated to it - the CIA, M5, Mossad, formerly KGB, etc.
It shouldn't be any surprise then that espionage exists in Travian. It's purposes within the game are no different than those in real life. Spies in Travian will share everything they can if they are given the chance, in the hopes of giving the group they are helping a better chance at coming out on top.
The following is a look at espionage and Travian. It is not the end all, be all of espionage in Travian. Far from it. I personally think of it as just the tip of an iceberg. Good spies are creative, so what I have posted here may not even be applicable anymore.
And while espionage may look like fun to some of you, getting caught often has dire consequences. Beyond the obvious catapulting of an account used for spying, a caught spy may also suffer from a negative reputation amongst the server community, and may even be considered untrustworthy.
Espionage is like playing with fire. It looks real pretty, until you get burned.
The amount of information that can be discovered and shared in Travian is astounding, so what better way to begin a tutorial on espionage, than to take a look at the information that can be passed on?
A good spy can access:
1) Troop counts for any village within their immediate alliance.
This becomes important come wartime, when there is a strong desire to hurt the enemy as much as possible. Finding important and poorly defended villages is an incredible asset for anyone co-ordinating strikes, irregardless of whether they are short 3 hour hits or 48 hour trips into the enemy's heartland.
2) Battlereports showing damage
Once again, the ability to pass on how much damage was inflicted becomes important during war. Normally, deciding whether a key village - often a hammer village or capital cropper - was damaged enough is based on guess work. A spy is able to gather all of the important battle reports, ignore any unimportant ones, and pass them on at the same time. This saves a coordinator time, making the war effort as a whole more efficient.
3) Mass Messages
Mass Messages ("MMs") are an excellent way for alliance leadership to communicate with the alliance. They are often sent out to let the alliance know of any number of changes within an alliance (policy, leadership, political and military, diplomacy, etc.) These become an important tool for other alliances to assist in keeping tabs on what is happening within the spy's alliance. They serve as a way for other alliances to predict future events, and therefore are an important consideration in determining how to shape their policies - everything from instructions on troop size to diplomacy.
4) Forum posts
Virtually every top alliance has it's own off-site forums. Mass messages are well known to be unsafe because of spies, so off-site forums are created as a way to place a buffer between crucial information and the other alliances.
A spy with forum access is a very prized spy. Because off-site forums are regarded as being safer than MMs, people often post bits of information that the spy can pass on without even realizing. Everything from plans, to battlereports, to troop counts sometimes winds up in alliance forums. But spies can also pick up on subtle hints about the state of the alliance.
Are there many people complaining of getting farmed? Of the alliance not helping in attacks? Are the forums dead? Are the leaders active? A lack of activity by leaders may, for example, make the people within that alliance ready to switch tags. This can guide recruitment policy of the neighbouring alliances.
Doing the Dirty Act
There seems to be a common misconception among newbies about spying, Travian, and the frequency/severity of it. Espionage is done in some form by all top alliances. Because of the advantages it can give, it is a desired part of any well geared alliance. No alliance will admit to spying because of the negative connotations associated with it.
A spy serves two purposes: espionage, and counter-espionage. The first involves gathering information from a variety of sources, and forwarding them to a contact within another alliance. Often, this person serves as a coordinator for all of the alliance's spying efforts, and will receive reports from multiple people. This person may also assess and summarize the reports for leadership.
In a counter espionage role, a spy serves as the primary method of rooting out moles in his real alliance. I'll explain this in further detail when I look at counter-espionage in greater depth below.
As mentioned earlier, spying can be "dangerous." It can result in the loss of account, reputation, and trust. A spy must perform his/her duty without passing on information which would compromise who they are. Here are a few suggestions on how to accomplish this:
1) Never copy and paste any message directly. Not from an MM, and not from the forums. The alliance a spy is spying on can have a spy in the other alliance as well, and should this message turn up in the hands of an enemy, it will not only alert the alliance to the presence of a spy, but could also potentially be used to help trace this spy down.
2) Troop counts can be obtained by a spy looking at their alliance's attack logs. Often, when an alliance is in need of this type of information it will send out a series of fakes, and let the spy know to look for them. The advantage to this is that each report only costs 1 unit, but the reports will only contain information on troops and not on structures.
The presence of complete battlereports from one wing in enemy hands can alert an alliance to a spy in that wing.
3) Sitters are a big problem for spies.
Sitters can check In Game Messages (IGMs). A good spy network will not rely on IGMs because of this. Instead, the spies will report via an instant messenger (MSN, YIM, AIM, etc.) or directly to another alliance's forums. This is to prevent getting caught.
Some alliances will set up a two sitter rule in an attempt to have everyone checking each other. This won't affect good spies because there won't be any traces of their activities on their account. However, to be double sure, a good spy coordinator may opt to have all of his spies set themselves as sitters. If the spies are loyal, this is a great idea as it removes all possibility of leaks. However, spies do sometimes work for both sides, and this will reveal who your other spies are. So tread carefully.
4) If at any time a spy or a coordinator feel that the spy could be in danger, there should be a discussion on whether to continue spying. Sometimes it's a good idea to stop leaking information, but sometimes this is a bad idea as it can send a variety of signals to an enemy.
Keeping that Information Safe
I've touched upon the fact that every top alliance uses spies; a keen observer should therefore conclude that ever top alliance has enemy spies.
It is often impossible to completely rid a large meta of spies. When an alliance is composed of hundreds of players, even a small percentage of disgruntled players is enough to cause huge leaks. Never believe that you are free of spies unless your alliance is small enough that you can be 100% sure.
The trick, therefore, isn't to prevent spying, but to prevent how effective it is. And there are a number of ways of doing that:
1) The division of players into smaller sections is crucial. Terms such as battlegroups, divisions, platoons, and corps come into play here. These out-of-game groupings should not be the same as in-game ones.
The reason for this is that information can be passed on to any given alliance member through two methods - in game via MMs, and out-of-game via the forums. If a person is a spy, their tendency will be to report from both sources. When information from x wing, and y group appears in the hands of an enemy, an alliance will be able to narrow down the number of people who could be spying to a list of a dozen or so. With this list in hand, a number of steps can be taken - moving these people around and watching for changes in where the leaks are coming from, IGMing fake MMs, etc. The objective here is to figure out who the spy is.
2) Never share a complete set of battle plans, as well as any other sensitive information, with everyone. Only tell people what they need to know, no more, and sometimes less. This prevents an enemy from having all of the information, but also presents the opportunity to observe where the leaks in the alliance are.