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Influence and Spheres
Think of a "sphere" as a group of client-nations that are dependent on the sphere leader for guidance. This is distinct from a "Satellite". A good example from this time period would be the Slavic states of the Balkans, which generally fell into Russia's "sphere". In Victoria 2, members of a sphere form a common market, on which goods are purchased and sold first, before going to the world market. This can be beneficial to ensure resource availability, as well as a captive market for finished goods. It is important to note that tariffs will not apply to goods purchased on this "common market".
Great Powers may influence other countries to join their Sphere, which makes forming alliances much easier. The first step is to put influence into the country until gaining 50 points, at which point Increase Opinion can be selected to become "Cordial" with the nation. Another 50 influence is needed for Friendly, and finally, 100 additional influence can be used to add the country to the Great Power's Sphere. 50 influence can also be used to decrease the relation of another great power. If another great power has sphered a nation you will need 100 points and friendly status to remove the nation from sphere. A great power status can vary from "hatred", "Opposed", "Neutral", "Cordial", "Friendly" and "Sphere Of Influence"
Tricks and Tips
Great Powers may choose to deplete the existing influence of their rivals by establishing a tiny bit of influence at each country where any Great Power has at least 25 influence. Most of the time, within one week, all of these other Great Powers will have expended their 25 influence by "discrediting" the Great Power trying to advance its own influence. This can result in the destruction of several hundred influence at the cost of 3–5 days of influence. The Great Power may then allot its influence freely in any country where it is not discredited, assured in the knowledge that its rivals are months behind in sphering their own.
Note: The USA does not seem to do this to Texas, so its not worthwhile to try to influence Texas for this strategy.