Chasing Carriers

Ships with cloaking devices are a good thing — every Privateer, Bird, Fascist or Lizard player will agree on that. Your cloaking ships can disturb enemy freighter routes, sabotage their economy and even fight many medium-sized ships. But when it comes to fighting a carrier race with its huge battlecarriers, the cloaking races often have big problems. This article explains a few little tricks to make these seemingly indestructible carrier monsters less harmful.

As all regular Planets players know, cloaking ships usually can’t stand up to any kind of large carrier vessel. They can’t destroy them; often they can’t even cause significant damage to an incoming carrier. So what can you do?

The first thing to understand is that most cloaking ships are cruiser types which are made for economic warfare. (The Dark Wing is a notable exception.) Many cloakers have a great range, a large cargo hold, and are stronger than most ships capable of performing special missions in the game. Cloaking ships also have the ability to pick out one special ship they attack before the regular battle order is resolved. And although it sounds primitive to say, cloaking ships are invisible and can choose when and where to engage enemy ships.

The second thing to understand is that most large carriers cannot destroy enemy ships and starbases on their own. Each carrier relies on planets and support ships to produce fuel and build fighters. These support ships are usually weaker than your cloakers. Carriers also need minerals and supplies to build and use their ammunition, and of course they need neutronium fuel to get to the place where they want to fight.

Fighting the fighters

The Robots, Rebels, and Colonies can build fighters in space. This requires only minerals and supplies (no money) to produce the ammunition for the carriers they want to use against you. Often the carrier races need to use special factory ships such as the Q Tanker, Gemini, or Sagittarius to boost their fighter production. Often these fighter-producing ships are accompanied by freighters and Merlin Class Alchemy Ships to haul and produce the necessary minerals.

If you want to pull a carrier race’s teeth you need to find and disturb the fighter supply. This can be done by breaking the direct connection to the fighting carriers at the war front and also by disturbing the actual production process. The deeper you go down into the fighter building processes, the more disturbed the economic backbone of your opponent will be.

Fighter production usually works like this: Since fighters are very costly in terms of minerals and supplies, a whole set of planets is needed for constant production of fighters in the early and midgame. The required minerals and supplies are either transported to a stationary fighter-building vessel, or the fighter-building vessel moves by itself, or the fighter-building vessel gets towed around. Later in the game, once most planets are exploited and the minerals become scarce, fighter production will mainly center around Bovinoid planets or high-population worlds with a high number of factories, since these produce supplies in a sufficient quantity for fighter production with the help of an alchemy ship.

Many different ships will be involved in this process: freighters, dedicated fighter-building vessels, and alchemy ships, as well as the large carriers which serve as the ultimate destination for the fighters being produced. All these ships — except for the large carriers — are usually weaker than any cruiser with a cloaking device and therefore are the ideal prey for a cloaking race.

With cloaking ships you can spy on your opponents. When you can see everything in orbit around an important enemy planet, you should be able to spot one or more ships involved in fighter production. The key questions to consider when targeting such a production center include:

  • How many support ships are involved?
  • Are some of these support ships more rare than others?
  • How difficult will it be for your opponent to replace a lost support ship?
  • Is your opponent using some ships solely to store ammunition?
  • Are there other ships that could take over the role of lost support ships?
  • How many other ships will be affected if I take out one specific ship?
  • How can I safely attack one or ships at any particular location?
  • Do I want to capture an enemy ship or destroy it?
  • If a ship has a high mass, what is it carrying?
  • Which move will demoralize my opponent most?

Fighting the Freighters 

Apart from the midsized cruiser types, also the smaller ships with cloaking devices can have an impact on the opponent’s economy if they are used for reconnaissance and freighter-disturbance missions. Many players tend to have a much higher number of battleships than freighters. Freighters are vital for the overall economy, but they are easily captured or destroyed. Since transporting heavy cargo burns tremendous amounts of neutronium, there will often be long supply routes that depend on a series of planets for refueling. Identifying these freighter routes and fuel planets, capturing freighters, laying strategic minefields into freighter routes, or even capturing fuel planets can not only cut off the warfront supply, but also supply your own cloaked fleet with neutronium fuel. Once you have identified and infiltrated an important freighter route, you can start capturing or destroying freighters.

Fighting the Movement

A carrier that does not move cannot cause damage: that is as profane as it is true. Large carriers such as the Automa, Golem, Gorbie, Rush, Biocide, or Virgo require great amounts of fuel to move. If they are stripped of their fuel supply, they can easily get stranded on a planet. Depending on the race the fuel supply is usually maintained by special ships such as the Cobol Class Research Cruiser, the Aries Class Transport, the Neutronic Refinery Ship, the Neutronic Fuel Carrier, and support ships with large fuel tanks such as the Lady Royale, the Tranquility Class Cruiser or Large and Super Transport Freighters. The only exception is the Cyborg whose technique is to save fuel by using the Firecloud Class Cruiser’s wormhole chunneling capability, which allows it to travel with a whole fleet for the cost of only 50kt of neutronium fuel.

Similar to fighter production, those smaller ships are absolutely necessary in a carrier race’s game. And again they are weaker than the cruisers of a cloaking race. Some of these support ships are so important for their race that they should be taken out at first sight, especially the Firecloud and the Cobol Class Cruisers. A typical way to do this is the use of the ‘cloak intercept’ feature of any cloaking ship in order to attack one specific ship in a fleet.

In the early and midgame, the races that build large carriers will tend to install low-grade engines, since the number and technology of (for example) Transwarp Drives simply are too expensive in money and minerals at that time. A common sight in these game stages is a carrier that is towed around by a second smaller ship such as the Cobol Class Research Vessel.

A carrier with bad engines has two weak points a cloaking race can exploit: the first is that the carrier won’t be able to move much if the propelling unit is destroyed. Until the smaller ship is replaced by another one to fuel and tow it, the carrier can only defend itself and the spot it is on. The second weak point of a carrier with bad engines is that it is not capable of performing an intercept mission above a certain speed unless it burns ridiculous amounts of fuel. The towing ship is even more affected, since its only mission to perform can be ‘tow’ as soon as both need to move. The result of these mission conflicts caused by bad engines is that such a carrier/tower combination can only be used to defend certain singular spots or fly to fixed points, while a successful control of the space around is only possible in a very limited way. Therefore a bad-engine carrier gives you a mobility advantage if your opponent is defending and a big weak point if your opponent is attacking.

Fighting the Key Planets

There are different types of key planets that are vital for your opponent’s gameplay, namely geometric key planets, economic key planets, and outposts.

  • One type of geometric key planet is the bridge planet.  A bridge planet is an isolated planet that serves as a step between large clusters. Bridge planets have higher traffic because of their location and will often serve as refueling stations.
  • Another type of geometric key planet is the bottleneck planet. This is a planet inside a larger formation across which the opponent will have to fly in order to stay hidden.
  • An economic key planet is a planet that is very rich in minerals or supplies or money production. Depending on playing style and race, these planets often are highly defended. Many players will gather resources from the surrounding planets and store them at this economic center.
  • Outposts are used to supply scouting ships with fuel and armament, to prepare future attacks, and to monitor every visible movement that is happening 300ly around them.

Outposts and bridge planets can be identified beginning on turn 1, since they are qualified solely by way of their geometric and strategic potential. To find out which of these planets are relevant for your campaign (or your opponent’s), you just need to watch the freighter and warship traffic, since it typically takes at least two turns to reach these planets.

Identifying local economic centers usually is much harder and requires a bit of searching. While outposts and bridge planets usually are not as well defended since their position is somewhat remote, the economic key planets often are much harder to destroy.

There are different ways of using these planets for your own benefit. While capturing outposts will blindfold your opponent in that area, the geometric key planets can either be captured to supply your ships and cut off transport routes, or they can be used to monitor enemy ship movement inside a larger cluster if a cloaked scout waits there.

After you have identified economic key planets, you have many strategic options:

  • There will be a lot of traffic (and stationary ships) in the orbit of these planets, so monitoring the traffic is the first benefit one can achieve.
  • Another option is to capture or destroy the freighters and support ships by towing them just outside the warp well or into it.  One of the only ways your opponent can defend against this is by intercepting his own ship and destroying your cloaker.
  • A third option is to lay a surprise minefield around an economic key planet in order to damage or destroy the traffic around it. This technique will not work against the Missing Colonies of Man.
  • A fourth option is to attack all ships in orbit directly by setting the primary enemy to the specific enemy race while the mission is set to ‘cloak’. The ship will attack only the ships with fuel in orbit and remain cloaked unless it gets hull damage during combat. To repair smaller damage your ship can carry smaller amounts of supplies.
  • A fifth option is a combined attack on a specific enemy carrier. With no primary enemy set, your cloaker tows out a heavy carrier. A battle group from outside comes to meet the carrier and destroy it.
  • A sixth option is a direct attack on the planet. Your cloakers tow out the guarding carriers, while a battle group attacks the support ships and the starbase.
  • A seventh option is a direct attack with the aim of causing damage even if it is not possible to destroy the starbase. Why? Because the technology levels get decreased when a starbase is damaged and cannot be recovered without investing in them again.  Also a damaged starbase repairs itself very slowly.  This is a strong early game attack.
  • Finally, there are options unique to your own race.

A little side note

Many of these maneuvers require more than one cloaker to be successful, and often it is very hard to get a cloaker into the orbit of a major key planet, so it is always recommended to keep cloakers in groups of two or more. Minefields are always a big problem for cloaked ships because they cannot scan or sweep minefields while their ship’s mission is set to cloak. Another big problem is fuel supply in enemy territory. For these reasons a smaller support ship can serve as a kind of ‘AWACS’ ship to monitor enemy minefields and activities for your cloakers. Using Medium Deep Space Freighters for these kinds of missions can be a good choice, because they can carry a decent amount of fuel to help stranded cloakers, and also they can carry supplies and clans. Apart from that the Medium Deep Space Freighter can outrun other ships over very long distances when the cargo hold is empty. And often, what maybe is its highest virtue, it is seen as no threat and not worth hunting.

Fighting the Masses

One of the most important pieces of information an enemy ship gives you is its overall mass, since it allows to calculate the cargo and fuel mass that is on board by subtracting the empty hull mass (plus weapons if you want to be exact). Apart from that you can see the direction of supply routes since full ships travel in one direction, and empty ships in the other. This would indicate that there is something important at the end of this supply route.

Also, when choosing which freighter to attack, the one with the most cargo and fuel on board may be the most interesting and beneficial.

Making assumptions based on the overall mass also allows you to determine how much ammunition is on board of a warship. When it comes to minelayers it can help you determine the risk of a large minefield and when looking at battlecarriers it also can help you to calculate whether this carrier is carrying a sufficient number of fighters for combat. The ideal sight would be a large carrier in orbit around a planet, having a mass that is only slightly above the empty mass. This carrier will be unable to fight without ammunition and might be worth attacking with a set of cruisers or a battleship as long as it is vulnerable.

Chasing Carriers

A little example of how small ships can successfully be used to fight big carriers is the ‘Chasing Carriers’ maneuver I found during a Cyborg-Privateer attack on my core planets. It is derived from an idea to double-tow a carrier to keep it separated from its battle group for longer than one turn. What you need are two cloakers capable of towing, a little bit of fuel and need to be with one ship on the same position as the carrier:

  1. Tow the carrier just outside the warp well ending up empty, meeting with the fueled and cloaked second ship.
  2. Transfer the fuel to the tower, set it to cloak and tow the carrier a second time with the second ship for just one lightyear, meeting again with the initial tower that is now cloaked.
  3. Repeat.
  4. You can go on with that procedure for quite a long time, and the risk of losing the ships is very low as long as you tow the smallest possible distances to avoid mistakes.  A desperate opponent will jettison cargo to mess up your fuel prediction.

There are only two ways of escaping that trap for the carrier:

  1. If the carrier or an intercepting ship has a lower id number than the empty tower it might be able to tow the empty tower while it goes back to cloak.
  2. Or, much more often, the carrier needs to set its waypoint more than 81ly away — and its speed to warp 9 — to break the tow lock. It is a very pleasant sight to see a carrier run away while burning large amounts of fuel, just because of two small cloakers.

Playing a cloaking race requires a slightly different mindset from playing a carrier race which often relies on pure strength. Since it is harder to separate and destroy each and every carrier, a cloaking race’s ideal should rather be to stop the carrier from fighting than to go for the direct clash. Separating the carriers from their support ships, manipulating their movement, and preventing them from fighting in the moment they need to can be a hard but satisfying task that may lead you to a successful campaign versus a carrier race.

Building Your own Economy

A fundamental task when fighting other races is not only the successful destruction of enemy ships, but also a more successful replacement of destroyed ships on your side.
Especially for cloaking races that do not have access to large battlecarriers that can destroy multiple smaller ships in one blast, the techniques of replacing or building new ships require a lot of thought and effort. It is absolutely necessary to play the economic part of a cloaking race with at least the same commitment as the scouting and destruction of much bigger ships than yours.

One technique is managing the queue. This means you aim to have more starbases with the right ships ready to build when the queue reaches them. Even constructing small vessels in the queue will help. A Small Deep Space Freighter you build simply takes up one slot in these 500 ships and won’t allow the carrier race to build a big ship. At this point also the destruction of all enemy support vessels comes in: The more small key ships have to be replaced by the opponent, the fewer large carriers will be built, and the more you can play the tactical advantage of your cloaking ships.

Also, Priority Build Points (PBP) are important, as they help you build ships in addition to those on the regular queue. Emork has written an interesting article about a more advanced strategy for PBP.

In summary, to win a conflict versus a carrier race you should give your best in the following areas:

  • Destroy more ships than your opponent does.
  • Focus on support vessels, especially the rare ones.
  • Have more starbases in front of the build queue than your opponent has.
  • Focus on starbases that are probably next in the queue
  • Play all obvious and hidden economic advantages of your race as well as you can
  • Don’t panic!

Fighting the Morale

As a cloaking race you have several advantages over an opponent who has carriers at hand. Apart from the greater information and control over timing you have, you should never forget that your opponent does not see the ships you have under cloak. He can only assume how many ships you have in an area, how they are equipped and what their mission objective is. While you can precisely plan your actions, a player who is under pressure from a cloaking race has to base his actions mainly on assumptions. This often results in a higher number of random actions and mistakes. For example, a common reaction to an attack from a single cloaking ship is laying out minefields over large areas, which costs a lot of resources. If you go and ask the specific player why he reacts like that, you will probably get the answer: ‘Well, you never know…’ The effect of not knowing what will happen forces your opponent not only to lay minefields, but it often forces him to also avoid planets in certain areas with his small and unarmed support ships.  At the end of the day, this disturbs the economic development in larger areas than your cloaker can actively control.

If you see a carrier race and need to fight it: Don’t Panic! Let your opponent do that for you. Stay unpredictable.

Good luck, Commander!

 

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8 thoughts on “Chasing Carriers

  1. Umm… any chance we can delete this post until I complete the war I just started with the Birds??? Great post a thousand thanks for sharing the knowledge!

    Cheers,
    hawtsoop

  2. Fantastic article, Thin!!! You are a true expert. This is the first time I have heard anyone say that the fleets of cloaking races are primarily intended for economic warfare. Of course, they do have ships that can fight, but their primary purpose must be to find the weak point and strike there. Aim for the knees if you aren’t tall enough to hit the head!! Thanks for writing this (and for hosting this awesome blog)!

  3. Good article, I read it thoroughly and found it really interesting from several points of view. I would like to add that what cloaking races are missing dearly is… shadow in which to move. With just a look at the score, the Big Carriers Guy can know how many planets, starbases, ships and military power you have (as a Bird, Fascist, Privateer and such). If scores could be blanked, it would be much easier for the cloaking races to play a diplomatic war of cat-and-mouse behind the curtains. Is that de-cloaked cruiser just a loner or the an avant-garde of a bigger fleet? Could the enemy have planted cloaked battleships on all my key planets already? Can I safely disregard the diplomatic efforts coming from those sneaky Birds and just stomp them with my Golems/Virgoes/Rushes/Biocides a little later? Or… should I worry a lot more about my fledgling economy? … and so on.

  4. Great article, TL. Reading it made me remember all the reasons why (as a Colonies player) I generally hate to deal with qualified cloaker players. Feels like pulling teeth >_<

    I think one more detail should be mentioned: As Cloaker, you should try your utmost to be offensive. Try every trick in the book to carry the fight into the Carrier player's territory. If a prepared qualified Carrier player is on the offensive against you, it's generally not easy to stop him. On the other hand, if you can make sure that the fight is on the Carrier player's turf, things are looking much better for you.

    Which is – by the way – why I hate having to deal with Thin Lizzy in DIE HARD 3 at the moment. He's harassing my northern expansion, and I can't easily carry the fight on Lizard territory (my favorite tactic), since he has an allied Crys player protecting him. So, the next 20 turns will be annoying consolidation and preparation. Ow.

    Maybe I should write a "Countering Cloaking Pests" article some day.

  5. @Mentar
    Can you tell us the “Battle of Planet Gorn” in DIE HARD 3? I just heard rumors about it. Would be great to read about it from your perspective, maybe included in an anti Cloaker guide.

  6. Well, the story isn’t all that special, but okay…

    In DIE HARD 3, around 10 turns after ship limit I was aggressively pushing through the center to the north to an area contested by Borg, Fascist, Empire and me. I had already scouted and marked the area with an avantgarde Cobol, so I knew that there was one particularly nice 6.7mil Humanoid Unity planet with decent minerals that I wanted to set up as frontline outpost. I had successfully pushed both Empire and Borg away and was on fine terms with the Fascist, so I hurried and sent two consecutive Cobol/STF combos there through open space.

    I could see that around 200 LY farther to the west Lizzy was obviously spoiling for a fight with me, with incoming Rexes (which is as much of a declaration of war as it gets – LCCs are neutral, but when the Liz sends Rexes and/or Madonnzillas to you, he means business). I knew why Lizzy did it – I was and still am planet count and military leader – and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to talk Lizzy out of it, he’s too experienced to be befuddled. Doesn’t mean I didn’t try though.

    So, I knew that he would already have his share of LCCs operative over my northern territory, but I didn’t know how far he had penetrated. Most of my northern theater Virgos were tied up to protect my most important planets right at the frontline with Lizzy, so I couldn’t safely slow-play it. Additionally, Lizzy hadn’t shown any cloaker presence around Gorn (the Humanoid Unity) so far. Which is why I decided to risk it.

    Lizzy saw the full STFs and correctly deduced their likely destination, so he sent a Mk8 LCC over to check. On the turn the second Cobol/STF combo arrived, I had 2000 colonists and enough minerals for a base, so I decided to “go for it”: Building the base, ramping the defensive posts to 93, and praying that I would get this ONE turn to buy fighters, and so moving the base out of LCC attack range. My Cobol was only Mk4 with self-defense torp load (which tends to die to a single volley against Mk7/8 LCCs), so I rather decided to lay them as mines and move to another planet instead. The STF hull remained to soak 2 volleys of torps in case of an LCC attack – and unfortunately, this was exactly what happened.

    Lizzy attacked at EXACTLY the right time, and after the 2 Mk8 volleys against the STF, he then had a mostly-beam battle against the base. His 6 remaining torps got the base down to 38 damage, and then the LCC was reduced to 96% damage by the base’s Heavy Blasters before it succeeded. Sounds closer than it was though – since Liz ships take 150% damage before they blow. Had 1-2 more torps missed, things would have ended up differently.

    To add insult to injury, Lizzy found enough minerals to be able to IMMEDIATELY build a new base, and I didn’t have enough firepower around for an immediate counterattack. C’est la guerre.

    But don’t worry ^_^… like Arnie says: “I’ll be back”.

  7. And back you are, Mentarnator ^^… Actually this little LCC attack was solely based on 3 pieces of info: The first was the freighter traffic to this (let’s say) geometrically insignificant planet, like you said, the second was a Virgo sitting two turns away, southwest, that probably would fly over to protect it, so i needed to attack immediately at high risk. The third was Fruchtquake’s hint that experienced players have their routines; And since i could not find any Virgo in earlier games of your’s that was just sitting somewhere to protect an important outpost i ordered the LCC to attack… And was lucky.

    Why this lonely T-Rex came to the middle does not really make sense, i know, since it is lacking it’s second half to be a real threat for Virgo Classes. Nevertheless it has it’s use there – or no better use somewhere else.

    That maybe leads me to a theoretical addition to the text above:
    There is one more little advantage smaller Battleships have in comparison to big carriers: You can split and assemble battlegroups pretty fast, which on the one hand allows you to attack multiple targets simultanteously or or lets you combine the ships to destroy bigger targets.

    Of course you need to know the targets you want to attack, for this you have the cloakers, but also one should keep in mind that controlling or disturbing an area is not done by the overall firepower one has, but rather the local powers one can use to perform a mission. There we maybe come to Ecatoncheires’ point:

    In this specific case the power that was needed to destroy a future stronghold was a great portion of luck and an LCC, while the Military power suggested a big advantage for Mentar. Mentar’s only way to counter was to use a Virgo Class to get Planet Gorn back. Could be that there was no Patriot Class around, or the presence of a Battleship nearby forced the Virgo Class to do exactly what everyone would expect: Namely to fly to Gorn and attack it.

    To go even further one could say that this small firepower represented by a T-Rex and (only^^) one cloaker was controlling indirectly the movement of one large carrier (plus support i guess) and i dare to say that other movements around that situation are influenced, too.

    In the end we don’t know why Mentar took that big ship to attack a planet that was stripped of it’s clans, and we don’t know why i attacked it although it was clear that i would not be able to hold it .. Maybe Mentar want’s to keep the cloaker pests awy from his core worlds, maybe i just wanted to trap a virgo. Or another Freighter.

    That is what i like so much baout this game – You play a few hours, but you think about your turn until the host runs again ..

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