Who’s On First? Combat Order and Battle Value

Ship combat at Planets.Nu is arguably the single most important key element in play. The tactics and complexities would be thought multiform and diverse even before one considers that every player has a unique ship list. Bearing this in mind, it is hardly surprising that many new players are, tactically speaking, rather startlingly inept, and even veteran warriors can fall afoul of seemingly basic errors.

This subject is complex, however, and ought best to be dealt with in small, bite-sized chunks rather than as an indigestible whole. In this article, therefore, we will discuss the
art of stacked multi-ship combat. Special attention will be given to battle value, which determines the order of combat and is based on ship missions, primary enemy, and above all friendly codes.

On Determining the Order Of Combat

Enemy fleets meet in deep space. They fight. The losers are converted (painfully) into PBPs (Priority Build Points); the winners live to fight another day. Seems simple, no?

For many reasons, though, it’s important to know which vessels will fight first. If one side has a complex battle-fleet and the other is, for example, escorting a convoy of freighters, it makes a huge difference which ones are in the front of the battle line — and that is just the simplest of examples. So let’s break down the steps of what actually happens.

After all of the ships move and execute their programmed missions for the turn (i.e. mine sweeping, building fighters, scanning et cetera), the Host program then determines if there is combat. Each ship in the game is checked (in order of ship ID#) to see if it is set to attack and whether it has a valid target. A ship with the “Kill” mission set will attack any ship owned by another player that is at the same coordinates; allies, players with shared intel and those set to safe passage are immune. As well, any ship not set to “Kill” will attack ships of any player set as primary enemy (though, likewise, targets owned by allies, those with safe passage or shared intel will not be attacked*). Ships with matching friendly codes will not fight; the exceptions are the ship-combat codes: “NTP”, “MKT” and “LFM”.

Every ship slated for combat is then assigned a priority; the most aggressive ships fight first. For these purposes, those with the lowest value numeric friendly codes are considered the most aggressive, followed by those with non-numeric codes but that are set to “Kill” and have a primary enemy set, followed by those set to “Kill” but with no enemy, followed by those with an enemy but not set to “Kill”. Any ships not attacking are last in line and will not fight at all unless someone attacks them. All ties are broken by ship ID number, with the lowest numbered ships fighting first.

It is important to note that the most aggressive ship will always fight from the right side of the screen. “Left/Right Combat” is an important subject and quite complex in its own right; as such, it is detailed in a separate article.

Another vital point is that numeric friendly codes below 100 can behave erratically in battle. Three-digit numeric codes using leading zeroes are far more reliable than those without, but errors have still been observed; many but not all of these could be due to matching codes with some of the enemy or allied ships present in the engagement. In either case, the results are less reliable if there is a large variation in the codes present. If you choose to risk using extremely low numbers, I advise using a uniform pattern: either all should have leading zeroes (i.e. “012”) or none should (i.e. “12”). Otherwise, you risk having your ships enter combat in an effectively random and certainly unintended order.

What Is Battle Value?

The term “Battle Value” refers to a number generated by the above methods. If a ship’s friendly code is entirely numeric, the battle value of the ship is equal to the friendly code; otherwise, a relative value is assigned based on its mission and enemy status. Some find this number to be an unnecessary complication; others deem it essential, as it neatly quantifies the above method for determining the aggression level of a ship.  (Our own Thin Lizzy has generated a helpful table if you need a fast reference.)

In the Planets.Nu client, the battle value of every one of your ships can be referenced on the dashboard menu by selecting “Starships” and “Fleet View”.  This also provides a quick access method for those who wish to change battle values by ship class; just click on the list entry of the ship you wish to change and set it appropriately.

If you intend to use this tool in specific and battle values in general, I advise you to play around with things until you feel comfortable. Experiment with different values and codes whenever you can do so without risking too much. And, when you find yourself with a stack of battle reports that happened in exactly the wrong order, stop and figure out exactly how things went wrong so you can report them here in the comments.

Some Battle Tactics

This is another complex topic, one with many articles devoted to both general tactical studies and details of individual tactical gambits. This article is intended to provide an overview of those having specifically to do with the order in which ships fight in a stacked multi-ship engagement.

The basic concept is that one can order one’s ships so as to provide an advantage over the opponent. The simplest version of this is to stack torpedo ships together and then have one’s carriers take the last “cleanup” spots in the battle, with each sent in with a level of aggression best suited to maximize its performance in combat (see the article on “Left/Right Combat”). There are, however, several variations.

“Sacrifice” ships can be sent in first against large targets; they are likely to cause damage with the intent that the next (and more valuable) ship will be facing an opponent with reduced shields and discharged weapons** at a comparatively low replacement cost in ships***. Sacrifices vary widely in type and function; sometimes, for example, a small flotilla composed entirely of the ubiquitous Small Deep Space Freighter will be sent to die valiantly against an enemy torpedo ship in order to run it out of ammunition. (In better-designed anti-battleship engagements, the sacrifice will have at least some torpedo tubes.) Common anti-carrier sacrifices are designed to cause damage and eliminate fighters; light ships with multiple beam weapons and a few torpedo tubes are ideal for this purpose. The classic combinations of T-Rex/Madonzilla or Missouri/Kittyhawk are merely expensive extensions of this style of combat; with these and other similar combinations, it is sometimes wisest to layer torpedo ships between carriers.

For cloaking ships, there also exists the option of a “Priority Intercept Attack”, formerly known as “Cloaked Intercept”. This is a tactical advantage held by any ship with a cloaking device; it may choose its first combat from any in a stack of enemy ships by the simple expedient of setting it as the target of an “Intercept” mission. Bear in mind that no special status is required for this; it is presumed to be a natural tactical advantage held by any ship with the capacity to cloak. The resulting combat will occur before any other in the stack; in the event that multiple cloaked intercepts are ongoing in any given location, ties will be determined by ship ID number from highest to lowest (unlike in any other form of combat).

These all may be combined with other battle tactics at will; unexpected minefields, stealth towing, triggered Glory Devices, sneaky Fireclouds and many other possibilities can add some fascinating complications to the results. A heavily outnumbered player may choose to add overlapping layers of complexity in order to reduce a firepower disadvantage; alternately, the best tacticians may select tactics in order to pursue a perfect victory. Imagination can provide a powerful return; use yours.

Planets and Starbases

Planetary combat occurs only after all ship-to-ship engagements are finished. Damaged vessels may use supplies in their cargo holds to repair themselves before fighting a planet. Certain ships and races are immune to attack by a planet; they will still attack it if they are able. Cloaked ships with a primary enemy set but (obviously) no “Kill” mission will not attack a planet. With these caveats in mind, the order in which combat occurs is similar; the order in which different planets fight is slightly complex but profoundly unimportant.

A Last Thought On Logistics

It is important to bear in mind the relative number of PBPs generated by each side in a multi-ship engagement, as well as the value of ammunition, fighters, fuel and supplies consumed. As well, in terms of production logistics, a ship has little cost if it is easily replaced; in terms of tactical logistics, support ships that have advanced well into enemy territory are of quite high comparative value. Battleships without torpedoes, carriers without fighters, support ships without escorts: these are but expensive targets; fleets without fuel aren’t even that.

Pick your battles. Order your ships; choose your targets with great care; protect your support craft.  If you can do this effectively – and better than your opponents – you will fight profitably in most of your encounters. All things being equal, a player that can fight to advantage in most engagements will gain a parallel advantage in strategy and logistics, and that can provide enough of an edge to win a war. Superior tactics cannot win a cluster alone, but inferior tactics will lose one every time.


* Important safety tip: If you have someone set to, for instance, “Safe Passage”, you will not attack them. If that player has not likewise set you safe, however, his ships can still attack you. It is therefore wise to make sure you can trust your allies if you plan to ride together into battle.

** It should be noted that one race, the Solar Federation, has a built-in racial advantage (the “Fed Crew Bonus”) that negates some of the gains from the use of “sacrifice” ships in specific and stacking the ship order in general. A good Federation race guide will have all of the details.

*** This replacement cost is frequently measured in PBPs, but that is hardly the only measure. The section on logistics will give some more details, though I would also recommend a highly readable book, B. H. Liddel Hart’s “Strategy”, for further reading.


3 thoughts on “Who’s On First? Combat Order and Battle Value

  1. Phenomenally great article. Thanks for doing all this research, testing, and great writing!

  2. I have been wondering about those four great passions of Gnerphk’s life… The first two are apparently bookselling and writing, and the fourth as stated is gaming – but the third, it must be reading, right?

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