These are some notes for the design of a play-by-email-style game I'm thinking of developing. Comments and suggestions welcome.
Greg Ewing

Espionage - a Multiplayer Strategy Game

In Espionage, each player controls a race of beings which wars with other races for control of territory.  A race gains superiority by developing weapon and defense technologies and spying on other races to discover their strengths and weaknesses and steal their technologies. The struggle continues until one race emerges as the victor and all others are obliterated from the universe.


The game is played on a hex grid of territories. Each player begins owning one territory, and the rest of the territories are unclaimed.  As the game progresses, territories are claimed and change hands until all territories are owned by one player, who is then the winner.


Each race has a set of available technologies, each of which has an associated technology level. Each technology also has a corresponding counter-technology and counter-technology level. Each race is considered to have a unique variation on each class of technology, and a corresponding variation of counter-technology is required to oppose it.

The classes of technology are:

  • Weapons
  • There is a set of weapon types, fixed before the start of the game. Not all races necessarily begin with all weapon types, but they may acquire other races' weapon technologies as the game progresses.
  • Defenses
  • For each race and weapon type there is a defense technology which counters it.
  • Encryption
  • Each race has an encryption technology used to create ciphers for encoding attack orders.
  • Decryption
  • For each race's encryption technology there is a decryption technology for breaking their ciphers.
  • Espionage
  • Each race has espionage techniques for obtaining information about other races' technologies.
  • Counter-espionage
  • For each races's espionage techniques, there are counter-espionage techniques for catching and interrogating spies.
    At the beginning of the game, each race has Level 1 of each of the following technologies:
  • Their own version of some subset of the weapon types
  • Their own Encryption technology
  • Their own Espionage technology
  • Counter-technologies to all technologies possessed by other races
  • Turns

    Play progresses in turns. At each turn, each player decides what actions he will perform during that turn, without seeing any of the planned actions of other players. When all players have decided on their actions, the actions are carried out in parallel, and then the results of each player's actions are presented to that player.


    At each turn, each player has a number of action points to distribute among the available actions. The number of action points per turn is equal to the number of territories owned by the player.  Unused action points are lost and do not carry over into the next turn.

    The possible actions are:

    1. Colonise
    2. Attack
    3. Research
    4. Spy
    5. Send Message
    6. Trade Technology


    A player may attempt to colonise an unclaimed territory which is adjacent to one of his own territories. If no other player attempts to colonise the territory in the same turn, the claim is uncontested and the territory becomes owned by the colonising player. If two or more players attempt to colonise the same territory in the same turn, their forces withdraw and the territory remains unclaimed.

    Colonisation requires 1 action point (whether successful or not).


    A territory owned by an opposing player may be attacked if it is adjacent to one of the attacking player's territories. An attack is carried out using a specified:
  • Weapon technology
  • Number of action points
  • Encryption technology for encoding the orders
  • The outcome of the attack depends on the relative technology levels of the weapon being used (Tw) and the opponent's defense to that weapon (Td): If the encryption technology level used to encode the orders is less than or equal to the opponent's corresponding decryption technology level, the opponent intercepts the orders. In that case, the element of surprise is lost and the effective values of Td and Ns are increased by 1.


    A player may devote action points towards increasing the technology level of any technology available to his race, subject to the constraints detailed below. When researching a technology, the action points allocated are added to a count of research points for the technology. When the number of research points reaches the current level of the technology, the technology level increases by 1 and the research points counter is reset. Thus, a technology at level T requires T research points in order to increase it to level T+1.

    The constraints on research are:

  • A race may always research an improvement to any of its own technologies.

  • A race may research an improvement to a counter-technology (Defense, Decryption, Counter-Espionage) for another race's offensive technology (Weapon, Encryption, Espionage), but only up to the highest level of that offensive technology that has been used against it so far.

  • A race cannot research an improvement to another race's offensive technology (Weapon, Encryption, Espionage).
  • Spy

    A player may spy on another race to gain information about that race's technology levels and to acquire technology from them.  Spying is carried out using a specified:
  • Espionage technique
  • Target technology area
  • Goal
  • Number of action points
  • The target technology area can be a general technology class or weapon type, or it may refer to a particular technology of a particular race. The goal may be one of:
  • Gather Intelligence
  • Attempt to find out what level of technology the opponent has.
  • Acquire Technology
  • Attempt to steal the specified technology.
    Whether or not the spying succeeds depends on the relative levels of the espionage technique used (Te) and the opponent's corresponding counter-espionage technique (Tc), as well as the goal of the spying.

    If the goal is Gather Intelligence, the spying succeeds if Te >= Tc.  The spying race gains knowledge of the level of technology (not the technology itself) possessed by the spied-upon race for up to Na  technologies covered by the specified target technology area, where Na  is the number of action points allocated. Information already known by the spying race is not included. If there are less than Na  pieces of new information available, only the number available is returned (but Na  action points are still used).

    If the goal is Acquire Technology, the target technology area must specify a particular technology of a particular race, and success requires that Te > Tc. If successful, the spying race gains access to the next higher level of that technology from the one it already possesses (or level 1 if it did not previously possess it), provided the spied-upon race has at least that level of the technology. Whether successful or not, 2 action points are required.

    If the spying fails, the spy is captured an interrogated, and [...what?]

    Send Message

    A player may send an informal, free-format text message to another player. Players are also permitted to communicate by any other means outside the game. Because of this, sending a message requires no action points.

    Trade Technology

    A player may trade technologies by agreement with another player. The trading process takes place in three phases over three turns:
    1. Player A selects a set of technologies to offer for trade to Player B. Any level of technology can be offered, up to the level currently possessed. Player A may optionally attach a message indicating what sort of technologies he would like to receive in return.

    2. Player B decides whether to reject the offer, in which case the trading process goes no further, or to make a counteroffer by selecting a set of technologies to offer in return.

    3. Player A decides whether to accept or reject the trade. If accepted, the technologies offered by each party become available to the other party.
    Since offering a technology for trade betrays the fact that a player possesses that technology, players may find it advantageous to begin negotiations using informal messages before making a formal offer.

    [Should trading require action points?]