In practice, I didn't get to experience all three of the affinities in the short time I played. Pete Murray at Firaxis and Jessica Lewenstein from 2K PR were nice enough to let me and two other journalists play for a few hours, but the alpha code had a hard limit at 100 turns. I did start to go pretty heavy into supremacy, though. I benefited from an early trade deal with a neighboring outpost (think City States from Civ V) that netted me a new military unit every few turns, as well as robust science rewards from killing aliens, netted me the technologies I needed to progress in supremacy. It was just a taste, but I could see immediately how that progression impacted my strategy and diplomacy with the other factions. I look forward to playing with more of the affinities to really test out the system.
Scratch My Back
One thing that did strike me in my dealings with rivals on the planet was how the diplomacy had a new features called "Favors." Your relations with other factions or civs in other Firaxis games has always been a pretty simplistic affair. You'll trade or not, and maybe go to war over religions or something. But there was always more meaning attached to your dealings than the system could model. "When I was playing I would go and make lopsided deals and I would impart all these meanings like, 'I asked you for gold to help me out and you didn't say yes, so now I clearly have to go to war with you and conquer you for being petulant.'" Anton Strenger said, mirroring how I would put all kinds of meaning in deal that was never codified. "What happens in a lopsided deal? What's really going on? Do they owe me a favor now? Do they think I'm indebted to them?"
"In a nutshell, a favor is the promise to repay for things that you do good for them," McDonough said. When you trade something to a faction, and they have nothing to give you in return, they may offer you a unit labeled as a favor. You can accumulate multiple favors from a faction, and trade them back to them for something later down the line like resources, money, science or even declaring war on a third party.
"Favors give the player the ability to manipulate, in the long term, the balance of power in the diplomatic landscape," McDonough said. "You can literally make your opponents do things that fit your plans."
The additional feature was only added into the code fairly recently - it wasn't present in the build I played in May for Pre E3 - but it was so simple and good that the team did all it could to get it working and balanced in Beyond Earth. "Dave [McDonough] came in one day and he's like, 'I got it, this idea. We can put it in and we don't have to change any code. Very little and we just put it in and see if it works,'" Miller said. Strenger was the one who had to code it all, and he confirmed that it was pretty straightforward. Even the producers Dennis Shirk and Lena Brenk were OK with the new feature because it felt right.
"It's not something we had in Civ V and it's more of a modern concept of 'scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' and we thought it was a really good addition. That one was just out of the blue," Shirk said.
Perhaps McDonough was watching too many movies at the time. "I was playing or watching something that had to do with gangsters," he told me, and he started to consider what leaders valued. "What's the most valuable thing to have? It's not money or wealth or guns or thugs. It's the promise to repay, it's having leverage over somebody else. Power over them. So that you know that no matter what happens, some of the unpredictability and danger of the criminal enterprise is removed. You can operate a little more safely."
It's like that scene in The Godfather Part II where Vito Corleone helps out a shop owner and asks for nothing in return other than saying "Someday I'm going to ask you to do something for me." It's all about power, prestige, in the neighborhood. "That's what he wants," McDonough said. "He doesn't want his money back. It occurred to me suddenly, why can't you do that with the leaders in Civ?"