Rathorian's Subterfuge Guide

Strategy, feedback, or anything SUBTERFUGE-related
Wed Nov 23, 2022 9:47 pm

  • Last Edit: 1/4/23


    My name is Rathorian. I've been an active player at the top of the Subterfuge global leaderboard for the past 5 years ranking as high as 5th with an elo of 1957. I have 34 total games played I am a perfectionist with my play. I prioritize quality of game play over quantity. In this guide, I will discuss how to win at subterfuge with good technique. The first technique each and every player can improve at is hiring the correct specialists, and I know this because I see players make embarassingly bad hires every game even at the highest level of play. And honestly, it pains me when I see poor and such preventable gameplay, even by my opponents. So without further ado, here is my all-encomapssing guide on how to play subterfuge, conveniently organized in a way to figure out which specialists are best to hire. Well actually I'm probably coming back to edit this guide from time to time because I always see room for improvement. So that's the first lesson: always see room for improvement in yourself, have an open mind, and assume this guide may have something useful to offer that you may not know.


    Chapter 1: Good hires

    The GOOD specialist hires roughly in order of highest to lowest overall power level are as follows:

    1. Navigator [Promotes to Admiral]
    2. Smuggler [Promotes to Tycoon]
    3. Hypnotist [Promotes to King]
    4. Pirate
    5. Helmsman
    6. Lt. [Promotes to General]
    7. Assassins x2
    8. Martyr

    Consider these specialist hires to be your CORE hires. In other words, these specialists are usually ALL YOU NEED to win a given subz game - "Win" being the key word as that is all this guide is about. In fact, in games that have no preset rules you can pretty much throw out most of what you learn in this guide because the winner is usually determined by who is luckiest and can get the most Admirals in a completely noninteractive way. And for this reason, many high-level games have a 2 Admiral max per player rule amongst other rules, but this is another tangent. Hires that are not core hires can still make or break your game, and require a lot of skill, but generally you should only hire them if you are forced to. And that reminds me, PUTTING PRESSURE ON OPPONENTS TO FORCE THEM TO HIRE UNFAVORABLE SPECIALISTS IS AN UNDERUSED GAME WINNING TACTIC THAT YOU SHOULD BE USING EVERY SINGLE GAME. This tactic defines why offense is the best defense. If you sit around doing nothing all day like the community regular Dandale - Yes I am calling you out Dandale - your opponents will be able to freely hire their best specialists and you will find yourself auto-losing much more of the time. Use diplomacy to convince players to force others to hire things like Saboteurs instead of their Pirate hire, and so on. When you influence other players to make bad hires, you make them weaker. Weak players are easy targets. This is a fundamental of how to get the target off your back. Now all you have to do is rally a few others to go after the weak player, but finesse it so you don't sound like the asshole - because the asshole of the group always gets a target on their back too. Usually ask the group who they think is the best to attack, and hopefully you all equally agree on the weak player who you wanted to target in the first place.

    While this priority order is slightly flexible depending on the game, there is one thing that I'd like to straighten out immediately: if you get a navigator hire, ALWAYS hire the nav.

    Hiring the best specialists feels good, but what feels better is knowing what to do with them. The following are the most powerful specialist combos in the game:

    Admiral + Tycoon + King
    These specialists combo with each other for a driller win condition. Make a lot of drills and overwhelm your opponents. This strategy is high risk high reward because you lose your navigator/smuggler and ability to assemble other combos listed below when promoting to Admiral/Tycoon. However, if there is no Admiral-limiting ruleset in your game, something like 4 Admirals, 2 Tycoons, and 1 King should auto-win you the game - and of course your allies who have almost definitely helped you accomplish this. When employing this strategy, your Admirals are often best used by chauffeuring your Queen, King, and Tycoons away from danger.

    Navigator + (Pirate or Helmsman) + (Assassin or Martyr)
    All three specialists on the same sub.
    AKA "The Death Sub type A"

    Navigator + (Pirate or Helmsman) + Smuggler + Drills
    All three specialists on the same sub.
    AKA "The Death Sub type B"

    Navigator + (Pirate or Helmsman) + Revered Elder + Drills
    All three specialists on the same sub.
    AKA "The Death Sub type C"
    The Revered Elder Death Sub is a lot lower in power level - low enough that Revered Elder doesn't deserve to be a core hire - but it sees fringe play even at the highest levels. You should be aware of it!

    Pirate + General
    With this combo, the General can be anywhere on the map.
    Pirates and Generals are already useful without one another because they provide speed. But if you own both, you can generate extra value.

    Scenario 1: You have captured an enemy outpost with your Navigator + Pirate + Smuggler sub and you have 0 drills left post combat. You also own a General. Your enemy sends a 40 drill sub to reclaim the outpost you have captured. What do you do? Immidiately send the Smuggler and Navigator one at a time, one right after the other on a path to collide with the 40 sub. The General will destroy 10 drills x 2 from the attacking sub because of this. Then use your pirate to recapture your specialists. Assuming that your smuggler arrives back at your outpost before the attack sub arrives, you can re-send your smuggler to collide with the attack sub and leave your pirate at the outpost for another 2 General procs. This will total to 4 general procs which will defend the outpost. This scenario demonstrates the type of problem solving you should be considering in a given scenario, of course this exact method won't be appropriate every time. There are ways you can finesse this method such as sending your specialists to collide with enemy subs as soon as possible because the earlier you launch your specialist, the sooner it will return to your outpost to do another unforseen task. Use the time machine to recapture your specialists with the pirate at the soonest possible tick. Even order the specialists you send to collide with enemy subs in a way that all of your specialists return your outpost as soon as possible - consider sending the Navigator first because the Smuggler will get back to your outpost more quickly anyways. Consider if your opponents have or could have a pirate to intercept your plans - this can even require diplomacy to track enemy hires - and TRACKING ENEMY HIRES IS VERY IMPORTANT! Consider if your outpost can possibly no longer be yours before your specialists finish returning. Maybe beating a 40 sub attack isn't all that impressive, but now consider that an enemy sends 3 attacks of 40 at different intervals. Repeat the process 3 times and now we're in valuetown. Now consider that the 3 attacks of 40 aren't attacks, but they are enemy reinforcements from one enemy outpost to another enemy outpost. Now you know that if you capture the enemy outpost before the reinforcements get there, you can erase the reinforcements. If you want to take this to the next level, understand that since Generals diffuse attacks of small numbers of drillers - which will incentivise your opponents to attack you with bigger driller subs - you can anticipate this and use it to your advantage. For example, you can move your Queen close to the front you expect your enemy to send a bigger driller sub from and show your enemy that you are threatening to hire a Saboteur if they send the bigger driller sub. Negotiate for diplomacy so you never have to actually hire the Saboteur, but demonstrate that you know exactly how to defend their attack if you needed to.

    Scenario 2: You own 2 Navigator + Pirate subs and a General. Your enemy sends a 50 drill sub to capture your outpost. What do you do? Send one Nav/Pirate to target and collide with the 50 drill sub, destroying 10 of its drills because of the General. Then send your other Nav/Pirate to recapture your first Nav/Pirate. Redirect your first Nav/Pirate to target and collide with the enemy sub again, and repeat infinitely until the enemy sub is gone. Consider that this combo won't work if the enemy sub is traveling 2x speed or faster. Consider using the time machine to recapture your sub at the earliest tick possible. Consider that once your pirate captures a released sub, it starts travelling at 4x speed before you reroute it. Consider that if the enemy sub has an assassin, you have room on your attack sub for a Revered Elder. Consider that Revered Elder is not a good specialist overall and that we are just noting an instance in which it can be useful. Consider that you don't need any drills for this combo. Consider that your Nav/Pirate and General will destroy 10 drills off a sub mid-water, and it will destroy 10 drills if crashed into an enemy outpost, but it will not destroy outpost shields and cannot capture an outpost if there any any shields up.

    Scenario 3: You own a Navigator + Infiltrator sub, a Navigator + Pirate sub, a General, and a Diplomat who's sonar range includes an enemy outpost you would like to capture. First, crash the Nav/Infiltrator sub into the enemy outpost. The infiltrator will drain the shields, the General will destroy 10 drills, and the Diplomat will release your sub. Next, recapture your released Nav/Infiltrator sub with your Nav/Pirate sub. Lastly, retarget your Nav/Infiltrator to the enemy outpost and repeat infinitely until the enemy outpost is captured. Consider that Infiltrator and Diplomat are not good specialists overall and that we are just noting an instance in which they can be useful. Consider using the time machine to recapture your sub at the earliest tick possible. Consider that once your pirate captures a released sub, it starts travelling at 4x speed before you reroute it. Consider that you do not need Infiltrator if your enemy has a King. Consider that this is an extremely rare combo to assemble, but it is useful to know that it exists. Credits to mccormdr for teaching me this combo.

    One takeaway from these scenarios is that the Pirate usually outclasses the Helmsman in the hands of an experienced player. Speaking of which, there is one more pirate interaction that is reason alone to almost always hire it over helmsman. THE FOLLOWING IS A PIRATE GLITCH THAT IS EXTREMELY POWERFUL, NOT INTENDED BY THE DEVS, AND BANNED IN GAMES WHERE NO GLITCHES ARE ALLOWED IN THE RULESET:

    Pirate says that it returns to the nearest friendly outpost 4x speed when it kills an enemy sub. But what it doesn't say is that it also returns to the nearest friendly outpost 4x speed if the sub it's targeting gets removed by another source. So now try equipping a Nav/Pirate sub and asking an ally to queue 1 drill somewhere where your pirate can target it - this means that your ally's outpost must be in your sonar range. Emphasis on queue, do not actually launch the 1 drill. Target the 1 queued drill with your Pirate/Nav, and then afterwards have your ally cancel the 1 drill movement from the queue. At this step, your Nav/Pirate will have no viable targets and return to the nearest ally outpost at 4x speed. In summary, you can 4x speed a Nav/Pirate sub to it's nearest ally outpost whenever you have an ally who wants to help you by queueing a drill live and then cancecling.


    Chapter 2: Controversial hires

    I call Tinkerer and it's promotion Minister of Energy controversial specailists because their power level is more dependent on the game state than any other specialists. Sometimes they can be extremely powerful, and other times they can be utterly useless, which gives them a polarizing reputation. Only a subz verteren will know the do's and do not's of Tink and MOE, and I will explain exactly how it works.

    1. Generally speaking Tinkerer and Minister of Energy are extremely effective in low elo play, and extremely ineffective in high elo play. By low elo play, I mean the elo of my allies, I can beat low elo enemies all day. I would hire Tink and MOE if I was playing in a low elo lobby. The BIG reason why this is the case is because high elo players know of a strategy or mechanic called "driller dumping", which gives a given player near-infinite driller capacity - meaning that hiring Tink and MOE is a waste of time if you have a high elo ally who is willing to driller dump with you. For the record, of course someone's ability to driller dump is not limited by their elo, but driller dumping is a highly mechanical, input heavy technique that is usually only performed by players who are willing to do whatever it takes to win the game. Speaking of which, the philosophy of driller dumping is that making a super-player - aka one player with all the resources is the best strategy to win the game for a given team of allies EVERY TIME. Most players will not want to admit this because the idea of one player owning all the resources isn't fun for most of the allies, but it is true every single time that making a super-player is straight up the most consistant way to win at subterfuge. So make your allies quick, because if they are the kind that are willing to make a super player, you will win the game with your team and most likely draw for random top spots, it's that simple. The truth can be hard to accept, but that's what I am here to speak. Personally, my favorite subterfuge ruleset is the following because I enjoy rulesets that discourage making super players and encourage all allies of a given team to work equally together and have fun doing so to achieve victory:

    1. No Kings allowed.
    2. No more than 2 Admirals allowed per player, and no more than 2 Tycoons allowed per player.
    3. No gifting of specialists allowed.
    ---You cannot use a DA, Hypno, or anything else with an ally to trade a specialist.
    ---But you CAN use a DA, Hypno, or anything else to acquire an enemy specialist. The difference between allies and enemies is obviously a grey area so use good judgement.
    4. No shield lowering allowed.
    ---This rule is tailored to high elo games to nerf driller dumping strategies. In other words, it makes it more difficult to trade outposts.

    The following is the driller dumping strategy: Hire at least one Tycoon and take all or most of your allies' factories. Gift as many drillers as you can to your ally or allies so that you don't cap and can keep producing. Ask your ally or allies to take 1-2 generators central to your territory so you can gift drillers to that specific outpost. Request your ally or allies to send 1 driller's from their outpost central to your territory to pick up your factory gifts mid-water so that they own your drillers sooner. These 1 driller's should be sent to each nearby factory about every 4-10 hours depending on how quick driller production is. Right before the 1's land, they must be gifted. In summary, this technique maximizes driller production for a given set of at least 2 allies.

    IMPORTANT ALTERNATE WIN CONDITION: Infinite drills. Until you actually driller dump with proper technique, it is difficult to understand just how powerful a strategy it is. I have had games in high elo where my alliance of 3 had double the production of the other 5 players combined - and in that alliance of 3 only one player was really producing with all the factories and just gifting drills to the other two allies. The powerful thing about driller dumping is that it might take a few days to set up, but once it gets going it's so hard for opponents to respond to because by the time they realize what's happening your production is through the roof. I've had games where my alliance was producing ~1300 drillers/day and the rest of the players just resign. Often times, a driller disadvantage can be made up for with the production of death subs and queen hunting - but when the driller disadvantage gets extreme enough even high elo players will be SO QUICK to resign. Being aggressive and dominant does psychological damage, and can cause a lot of players to just want to move on to the next game because they don't enjoy playing from behind. And FYI, a lot of strategies in this guide including this one aren't just neat example strategies to think about - they're the ACTUAL strategies I implemented into my gameplay to get to the top 10 players on the leaderboard. Do driller dumping if you want to win, simple as that.

    If you find yourself in a game where no one is willing to driller dump with you, usually a low elo game, then Tinkerer and Minister of Energy become CORE hires. In a game like this I would rank Tinkerer's overall power level at about the 5'th spot, below Pirate and above Helmsman. Games that do not implement driller dumping and lower elo games tend to be slower paced, which incentivizes you to scale your drills up more freely with Tink. With experience, players also learn that having capped drillers and being incentivized to attack is a bad feeling. With Tink, you can make generous naps, scale up, and watch others attack each other - you can then break naps and play like a vulture taking the outposts left with little defenses on your borders. Utilize the concept of counterattacking because you can afford even moreso to not attack first because you are chilling and scaling!


    Chapter 3: Bad hires

    What do all the bad hires have in common? - they are extremely underwhelming on offense - and offense is the best defense. I don't just mean that philosophically, offense is actually the best defense when approaching the game of Subterfuge - you can always gain extra value from being aggressive and putting pressure on your enemies - think about how America won the Revolutionary War partly by using ambush and guerilla warfare tactics - Subterfuge is a microcosm of war in it's own right.

    Here is an aggressive tactic that I use in some games when I know I need to generate an advantage over an enemy ON MY OWN. For the record, I invented this tactic and I have never seen any other player use it once. To start, I join a game and proactively start messaging and building a rapport with all players even before the game starts. By the time the game starts, I know I have one of the better social games in the lobby. I use my rapport with others to build trust and offer generous NAPs between 36-48 hours to all my neighbors EXCEPT ONE. I target one player as my enemy - usually their messaging gives me shady vibes, so I know I couldn't ally with them anyways. But even still, I act like I want to be peaceful with this person and offer a 24hr NAP. In my book, if you offer me a 24hr NAP, you want to be my enemy, but that's just a me thing. I'll probably counteroffer you a 36 hour NAP to see how you handle it and go from there to see how you really feel about peace. Continuing, I pretty much chill and wait for my time to strike. Usually around day 3-4 I'll see them make a big movement away from my border since I've been chilling so long, and it's at that time that I will not hesitate to give notice. I promise you this flusters the player every time. They probably just made that movement because they comitted to some other plan, and now I'm ruining it. So then the player starts talking to all my neighbors begging them to attack me... but they will quickly realize that I planned for that on day 1. Over the next 24 hours as I transfer about 90% of my troops to their border, they will usually ask me what my price is for peace. I will tell them the price is 2 outposts, and we make NAP 48. Sometimes they will negociate me down to 1 outpost, but I will still make that deal with NAP 48. As soon as they say yes, I immediately give notice to one of my 36hour NAPs and the process repeats. Often times, the threat of your attacks is stronger than the attack itself. With this technique you can gain outposts without even losing troops. You can single out an enemy, turn that enemy into an ally, and direct the narrative of alliances in the game in a way that people will respect you.

    Speaking of threatening, that is what you should be doing with your bad hires. Since most of the bad hires are defensive in nature, put your Queen in situations where you can threaten to hire these specialists to defend yourself to deter attacks, but try to actually not end up hiring them - this is how you optimize specialist hiring in Subterfuge.

    Bad specialists can first be sorted into two categories:

    1. Efficiently kills big driller subs:
    Double Agent
    Saboteur x2
    Thief - If Thief is used defensively, sometimes you can guarantee it crashes into a sub and gets great value at least one time. If used offensively, your enemy can move troops out of the way and you never really know if Thief is gonna get value.
    Martyr - does this too, but discussed above.

    2. Efficiently kills small driller subs:
    War Hero
    General - does this too, but discussed above.

    Know your bigs and smalls, a combination of the two will give you a well-rounded defense. If an enemy is lacking in one, you know how best to attack. And if an enemy has both, either send medium troops - maybe like 80 drillers per sub - or attack with a death sub.

    Princess and Revered Elder are also good specialists to threaten hiring, and are good late game insurance policies against death subs. Maybe hire one late game, but they're really like the icing on the cake. You lose valuable tempo by hiring them early.

    You pretty much hire Foreman when you have no specialists to promote for youself or your allies and your other options are like Infiltrator and Revered Elder. This is probably a good time to mention that WAITING LONG PERIODS OF TIME WITHOUT HIRING A SPECIALIST CAN ACTUALLY BE A GOOD STRATEGY - doing this can hide your power level, increase your hiring flexibility, and in some cases help you go under the radar if other plays are already attacking each other. If you have an ally that you are willing to promote a specialist for, sometimes you can even afford to wait days on hires to make sure that you spend your "crap" hires on promotions and good hires actually hiring what you want. Gonna be honest, the more I play subz and the more I think about Foreman, the worse I think it is. The better you get at making the right allies and at assembling death subs, the more you realize that the difference foreman makes in a given game is usually negligible.

    Diplomat and Infiltrator are cool when you implement them in the Chapter 1 combo, but that will pretty much never happen. Not much to say, these are really just bad. Hire Diplomat if you got your specialists captured by mistake that's about it.

    Hire Intelligence Officer for fun.

    I've seen stacking Engineer's work before, but in extreme late game situations. The game should pretty much always end before stacking Engineers becomes an option. You need like 3 engineers for them to start being good, and then you need all the other good specialists to put their effect to use.

    Security Chief - I would say hire for fun, but it's not even that fun.

    IMPORANT TIP: The best way to hire specialists is to hire them in a way that gives other players the least amount of information possible. For example, if you give someone notice for your 24hr NAP and you know you will attack them with a Helmsman, do not hire the Helmsman right away, hire it closer to when you need it. This just keeps your options open for different hires just in case something random happens like another player giving you notice, who knows. Specialist promotions also send a global message to all the players, so watch out for prematurely giving away information like that. Keep specialists out of enemy sonar range if you can help it. All the above is the same with driller movements. Do not compromise the timing of your attacks or movements, just keep them out of enemy sonar range for as long as possible.


    Chapter 4: Documentation

    Each hire, the offers are one "Offensive", "Defensive", and "Other" specialist, according to subterfuge coding, as referenced by Subterfuge Game Wikia. In no particular order, all the specialists are as follows:

    Lt. [Promotes to General]
    Assassins x2

    Smuggler [Promotes to Tycoon]
    Double Agent
    Saboteur x2
    Sentry [Promotes to War Hero]
    Inspector [Promotes to Security Chief]
    Revered Elder

    Navigator [Promotes to Admiral]
    Hypnotist [Promotes to King]
    Tinkerer [Promotes to Minister of Energy]
    Foreman [Promotes to Engineer]
    Intelligence Officer

    Totals return 5 offensive, 7 defensive, and 8 other specialists, with 8 promotion options, totaling to 28 specialists in the game.
    Quick facts:
    1. If you should be hiring Navigator every time, that will be on average 1/8th of the time.
    2. Of the 5 offensive specialists, 3 are on the good specialists list.


    Chapter 5: Closing

    I hope you have found this guide useful - honestly I am writing this guide for myself but sharing it publicly for fun. Writing being the key word because I intend to edit this guide as I think of new ideas. Latest edit date is at the top. Surely there are concepts that I breezed over that might seem obvious to me, so I encourage people to ask questions. For example, I did not discuss the sentry strategy with princess and intelligence officer because it is a terrible strategy and easily beaten by death subs - I imagine you can estimate how I feel about those specialists based off all of them being in the bad specialists category.
    Last edited by rathorian on Tue Jan 03, 2023 10:19 pm, edited 4 times in total.
    Posts: 5
    Joined: Thu Jun 04, 2020 8:30 pm

Fri Dec 09, 2022 8:49 pm

  • Great guide. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
    Posts: 116
    Joined: Sun Oct 18, 2015 6:10 am

Mon May 29, 2023 9:20 am

  • Hey I'm really new to the game and was wondering what you ment by "extra rules". Are thoes built in rules or just general agreement? And how is that enforced?

    Also, how commonly do people break NAPs, is this frowned upon, is it a strategy to use?
    Posts: 1
    Joined: Mon May 29, 2023 2:34 am

Mon Jun 12, 2023 8:23 am

  • Hi Celahir,

    “Extra rules” can be any custom rules agreed upon by the lobby members. Typically, the lobby creator proposes the rules. They are not built into the game, so someone could choose to break them. The unspoken rule of custom rule sets is that all of the lobby members will band together against anyone who breaks the rules.

    Unfortunately, it is regular for people to break NAPs, but this does not mean you should do it too. To clarify, breaking NAP is attacking without notice - this is frowned upon universally. Giving 24hr notice to someone else before attacking as agreed upon for ex. is generally respected and a good strategy.

    If you can expect others to occasionally break NAP, I recommend that you be prepared for how you would handle it. In my experience, it is a good idea to maintain a calm demeanor and bring up the issue in public chat. Make sure that everyone knows who the asshole of the group is, and try to put a heavy target on their back. Sometimes you can even convince the entire lobby to truce while you band together to take out the asshole. Any surprise factor the asshole adds to their attack from breaking NAP should not be worth the risk of angering the entire lobby. It is all the more important that you establish good rapport with the lobby members as a preventative measure for such attacks because others will feel even more inclined to support you in a time of need.

    When you call the asshole out in public chat, be ready for them to rationalize their unfair attack. I promise you there are 1000 classic reasons they could give: “You attacked me first in so and so way blah blah unfair”, “I don’t respect you as a person anymore so any previous agreement means nothing to me“, the game is going to end anyways so it doesn’t matter”, you get the idea. Even though you would be in the right, these conversations can be difficult to navigate, and are worth trying to avoid in the first place entirely. A few ways to avoid unprovoked attacks are to make strong allies, be very specific with your peace terms, and generally be a pleasant person.

    Being specific with your peace terms also helps to prevent genuine NAP misunderstandings, which happens even more often than raw NAP breakages. It is generally known that NAP 24 means 24hr notice before you launch an attack. However, you will find that different people do, in fact, interpret the meaning of peace differently. Maybe someone will think you attacked them because you attacked their ally, or hovered a nav a little too close to their territory. I do not remember examples of specific peace terms to set, but it is the fundamental I am trying to express. However, do remind others as needed that NAP agreements are final.

    I hope this clarifies your questions. Please do not hesitate to ask any more!
    Posts: 5
    Joined: Thu Jun 04, 2020 8:30 pm

Wed Aug 30, 2023 2:16 pm

  • For me this guide says the quiet part out loud, that if you want to be good at this game you need to drop all pretensions about having fun. I hate what the community did to this game.
    Posts: 9
    Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2017 4:40 pm

Fri Sep 01, 2023 11:38 am

  • Hi Muscat,

    For me, winning is fun. Of course my own guide would be biased by my personality and way that I like to play the game.

    I understand your frustration though, as we all strive to find new ways to make the game more fun. I think new players and rulesets can help a lot with this.

    I also find scenarios of fighting against all odds to be fun as well. There have been games were it would be me and two of my buddies against a team of 5, and we'd bond while trying to figure out the path to victory.

    It is unfortunate that the subz player-base is declining, but I have faith that you can find more ways to make the game fun again,

    Posts: 5
    Joined: Thu Jun 04, 2020 8:30 pm

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