Given that outright war is expensive and requires a good reason if you are not to become a renegade, covert operations remain one of the best ways to get and stay ahead of your rivals for power in the galaxy. From this screen you can set your covert operations budget, recruit and assign agents and fund space piracy if you so desire.
Your covert ops budget determines how many agents you can support at a given time.
Anyone can set a budget of 'Small' or lower, however to set the budget above this requires Covert Operations as a sphere of activity. To set it to 'Huge', covert ops must be your primary sphere of activity.
You can activate a new agent by clicking the link in the 'Agents' section. There is a small cost attached. Your newly activated agent will be inexperienced - a rookie - unless you have covert operations as your primary sphere of activity in which case the agent will begin with standard experience. Agents gain further experience over time and for carrying out missions, until they reach 'Master' status.
Your covert operatives can have one of two roles. When first activated, an agent will be assigned to 'Counterespionage' at your HQ. The agent will attempt to prevent any infiltration of your House by rival factions. The more agents you have assigned to counterespionage, the less chance an enemy has of successfully carrying out covert operations against you. If you operate in the Psionics sphere of activity, your counterespionage agents are even more effective. Agent experience is also very important.
Alternatively, you can assign your agents to infiltrate another House rather than concentrate on counterespionage. Only Houses with headquarters on planets within your operational range may be infiltrated. Your agent may be placed in a specialist area in order to increase the chances of certain missions, or else in no particular area, giving no advantage for any one mission or disadvantage for any other. The potential areas an agent may infiltrate are:
If successful, your agent will be placed in the target House at the lowest level of infiltration. There are four levels of infiltration:
Once placed, you may attempt to increase the agent's infiltration level. Since any position requires trust before the agent can infiltrate deeper, there are huge disadvantages if you attempt to increase your infiltration too soon after the agent has reached his current level. As a rule, you should leave at least three months (game time) before attempting to increase infiltration - the longer the better. If an agent is discovered he will be terminated, and worse still your House may be implicated giving the player you were spying on Feud Score against you!
Once you have an agent within another House, you may assign that agent to missions. The higher the infiltration level and experience of the agent, the greater the chance of success. The types of mission available are as follows:
All missions have a cost associated, the exact amount being dictated by the difficulty and complexity of the mission. You may choose to meticulously plan a mission, paying extra to do so, in order to increase the chance of success. Conversely you can rush a mission through if you need results quickly, although your success chances will then be significantly reduced. The target player's counterespionage arrangements will also be crucial in determining whether or not your agent succeeds. A rough estimate of the chances of the mission succeeding will be displayed on the task confirmation screen before you confirm whether the mission should go ahead.
As with increasing infiltration, if your agent fails he may be caught, with potentially serious consequences. For this reason you should think carefully before ordering a mission which your agent is likely to fail.
All agents placed in other Houses have a small ongoing chance of exposure. The longer an agent remains at a given infiltration level within a House, the lower this chance.
Aside from your agents, the other aspect of Covert Operations concerns the funding of space piracy. This is rarely a profitable activity, unless there is a huge amount of trade involving the planet concerned. Most often you will make a net loss on funding piracy if you choose to do so. However, piracy can be a real thorn in the side of Houses trading on a particular planet and can be used as a tool to disadvantage your opponents.
To fund piracy on a particular planet, just add it to the list using the 'plus' sign on the piracy screen. You can only fund piracy on planets within your operational range. There are three levels of funding - the more funding you provide the more the profits of anyone trading there will be hit. If several players are heavily funding piracy on a planet the effect can be devastating.
Piracy can be combated by two means - firstly, each trade route has a 'security' level (see the description of the Mercantile sphere). If this level is set above 'none' then the route will be less prone to piracy, although trade route security has its own costs attached. Secondly, the Imperial Police presence in that planetary system will play a major part in reducing piracy. Additionally, a high police presence increases the chance that those players supporting Piracy will receive an Imperial Warning for their activities. Should such a warning be issued the offending House will receive an immediate -2 Status hit. If a House receives three warnings within a three-month period, the Emperor will receive Feud Score against that House and is bound by the senate to take action - either through negotiating some kind of settlement between the affected parties or else through more direct means of punishment.
As seen in the Rulebook
Agent skill rankings goes: Rookie, Standard, Proficient, Expert, Master. Agents start out as Rookie, unless you have Covert Ops as a Primary sphere, in which case your agents will start out as Standard.
It has been found that a rookie agent on counter-espionage duties will take around seven months to reach standard, although catching an infiltrated agent appears to give them a large experience boost.
The GM says that catching a spy gives no experience to your spies at all.
Success chances for CO missions goes: near nil, very low, low, risky, reasonable, good, very good, excellent.
There is also an almost zero chance, which is presumably below near nil.
The GM has stated that influence changes from the Propaganda mission are permanent rather than temporary. (Due to this, many galaxies have OOC agreements about not using Propaganda missions and severely punishing those who do.)
If CO is moved to a lower sphere slot, funding will be automatically cut if necessary and any extra agents will disappear, starting from the lowest numbers/top of the list (even if they're within another House). You have been warned.