Master Class 5: How To Kill (Turn 25-ish)

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: If you’re going to go to war, first make sure you win it. Then you can go fight it.


Most people, if they think, “Gee, I’d like a million dollars,” will drift from there to what they’d do with the million, and where they’d go, and incidentally what’s on the television and what’s for dinner tonight and what time is it anyway? Some will devote serious thought to the problem, examining things like compound interest and the oil market. A rare few will visualize the object, picturing themselves with the million dollars, and draw a short line from here to there, devising a fast and effective plan that will take them along that path — and then they execute their plan, often to the sounds of sirens, gunfire, and the evening news report.

Barring the illegal aspects, I want you to emulate the people in that third category. Picture your victory, look at your present position, and then draw a line between the two places. Then make it happen.

There are several aspects to this; we’re going to examine three, as follows:

  • Grand Strategy: Who in this cluster needs to either die or come work for me in order for me to win?
  • Battle Strategy: How am I going to go about either defeating this player or convincing him to come work for me?
  • Battle Tactics: What ships will I need and where do I send them? What will they do when they get there?

Grand Strategy

This is pretty straightforward in concept, less so in practice. It comes down to this question: Who in this cluster can easily prevent me from winning if they set their minds to it, and what can I do about it?

In this particular game, there’s probably no seriously weak players. Those that are here were selected from those who have shown themselves to be capable and competent, and everyone is dangerous. In a standard game, there’s often a player or two you can afford to neglect, but that’s a bad habit to get into.

Here in the Master Class environment, you’re going to be mostly concerned about racial abilities. There’s more to it than this, but here’s a list to start you off:

  • Federation: You’re weak against the heavy carrier races (Cyborg, Empire, Rebel, Robot, Colonies) but with the right ally you can do very well. If there’s a carrier race next door, either kill them or make friends.
  • Lizards: You’re weak against most races in general and none in particular. That’s very rare. Enjoy!
  • Bird Men: Like the Federation, you’re weak against heavy carrier races.
  • Fascists: In any but Classic games, you’ve got no particular weaknesses. Enjoy!
  • Privateers: Lizards, Feds, and Fascists can kill you with ease; avoid them or make peace, but don’t fight them unless you must. Robots and Colonies can use their minefield abilities to hurt you badly if you’re not careful, but either is vulnerable to traps. The rest of the cluster is your rightful prey.
  • Cyborg: The Privateers make your life difficult. Making friends with the Feds, Lizards, or Fascists (or Privateers) can protect you. Apart from that, you can face anyone on equal terms.
  • Crystals: The Cyborg are exceptionally powerful against you, and in the late game, the Feds can cause you a lot of damage. But you can win against anyone over time.
  • Evil Empire: Privateers and Lizards are very strong against you.
  • Robots: You’ve got a well-rounded race. Cloakers, especially the Privateers and Birds, can cause you trouble, and the Colonies trump your minelaying ability.
  • Rebels: Privateers are a bad thing for you to face.
  • Colonies: Privateers can be deadly, Rebels are pretty nasty, and the Borg can ruin your day over time.

What you can do about someone across the cluster is often nothing, but occasionally you can pick your friends now to help you out in a later battle, or plan carefully to trade (or capture) specific ships to assist you in your future fights.

Battle Strategy

This topic is far too complex to be covered in any single article. Instead, what I’ll do is give you a few general pointers and you can go on from there, making modifications to best serve your race and position.

Invasions are the primary form of conquest. Each invasion force should contain massive firepower, but it’s vital to also include fuel reserves, a stack of supplies so you can repair on the move, enough colonists to occupy and defend any captured territory, and some cash. The core of the force will be an anti-planet (which often means anti-starbase) squad, and you’ll also need enough power to fight off a moderate enemy counterattack.

In advance of an invasion, sometimes it’s useful to send some cloaked scouts or find other ways to estimate enemy strength. In general, it’s a bad idea to charge directly into the path of a superior force, for instance. If you can’t know absolutely what’s in front of you, it’s sometimes helpful to move erratically; other times, the best bet is to drive as fast as possible in a single direction.

Raids or Spoiling Attacks are excellent ways to sap enemy strength, diverting large numbers of their ships away from other sectors. For the best results, one would raid in one area and then send a massive attack in another; alternately, a main attack force following immediately behind a raiding force can be a fun change. Raiding vessels are often (but not always) cloaking ships and can profitably target enemy freighters, lightly-defended planets, and isolated warships. Lizards and Fascists can use their Ground Assault advantage here to excellent effect, and Pillage or Rebel Ground Assault is a beautiful thing. Additionally, the power of an unexpected minefield in an inconvenient location in enemy space is vast compared to the cost. Privateers in particular are especially suited for this form of warfare and can actually defeat an enemy using only raiding vessels.

The Homeworld Raid is a special form of the above. Also referred to as a “decapitation strike”, this is a heavily armed attack aimed straight at an enemy’s homeworld. It is designed to cripple his economy and production capacity all at once. In addition, it’s rare player who won’t send large numbers of ships to defend their core worlds.

One thing that I’d stress is the power of the unexpected, or the indirect approach. If your target expects you to strike his border worlds, for instance, he’ll often have well-defended bases and defensive fleets deployed in ambush positions. It is often wiser to bypass these strong points, pressing through to strike in areas that don’t appear to be threatened and therefore are likely both valuable and undefended.

Finally, it’s vital to remember to use diplomacy during your attacks. If you can offer reasonable terms of surrender, sometimes your prey will become your willing ally. If he has decent skill and useful racial abilities, these are often far more valuable than the mere fact of planets added to your inventory.

Battle Tactics

It does help to have a major tactical advantage when asking for an enemy’s surrender. One of the ultimate diplomatic proverbs that has come down to us from ancient times is this: “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

Some people can manage this with minimal fighting. If you’re one of these rare gifted souls, you should read this anyway; you’re probably weak on the whole battle thing, being unpracticed. The rest of us need all the help we can get; we’re facing you, after all.

There are a few tactics that can be used to increase the impact of any battle force. These range from simple maneuverability — if he can’t reach you, he can’t fight you — to complex cloaker tow-traps designed to permit your entire fleet to engage enemy vessels singly. Fascists use Glory Devices as force multipliers; “free fighter” races (Colonies, Robots, Rebels etc.) will often rely on static starbase defenses; Crystals may rely on complex web traps. Each race has a wide variety of these available, and it’s important to learn them all over time.

The core basic method, though, is stacking ships in a single fleet to gain an advantage in a massive fight by correctly employing the Order of Battle. This can be done using particular orders, setting primary enemy, tracking ship numbers, and using friendly codes. Details on this can be found in the following two articles:
Who’s On First: On Combat Order And Battle Value
Advanced Combat: Left vs. Right

New tactics are constantly being invented, and old and long-forgotten gems will occasionally be brought out to surprise new players and old veterans alike. Anything can happen, and it probably will, so it’s best to keep your eyes open and your mind working.

Good hunting, gentlemen.

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