or, On Operational Mobility
There’s an old saying: that sergeants and captains think about tactics, colonels about strategy, but generals obsess over logistics. We here, safe in our virtual universe, we imagine logistics to be a matter of keeping diesel in the tanks, gas in the trucks, bullets in the guns, food in the kitchens — that sort of thing. But we have only the vaguest inkling what the problem must be like with an army in the field unless we’ve been there.
One of the things that distinguishes a professional military force from a volunteer militia is that the professionals devote half of their manpower to supply. Cooks, hospitals, shelter, laundry, clean water, heat — supplying the basic necessities of life to an army in the field is a task of tremendous complexity. And when it fails, as Napoleon did near Moscow, the army is destroyed without a fight.
Operational Mobility is that branch of logistics where the line blurs that separates it from strategy. It’s the art of keeping your troops in food, clothing, and ammo, of making sure the mules pulling your siege guns have fodder, your artillery has a steady supply of replacement spotters in addition to rounds, your tanks have not only diesel but axle grease and spare Part Number ARG-7618-43295 Washer, Replacement, For The Use Of. And it’s making sure you’ve got all these things while under fire.
Here in Planets, that’s simpler. We just have to keep our ships supplied with fuel, fighters, torpedoes, and supplies for repairs, and to follow our attack wave with starbase minerals, cash, and colonists. Our defensive forces likewise require resupply, but there we need to take an extra effort to prevent valuable resources falling into enemy hands.
So, not really so simple as all that.
A brilliant tactician can undo all the fine work of a logistics master. Logistics will give you a vast fleet, but only strategy can tell you how to employ it and only tactics can win your battles for you. So logistics isn’t the most useful art of warfare by any stretch.
On the other hand, your superior logistics mean he’s showing up for a gunfight, a duel, if you will — and you brought an army. He scrapes together an army to face yours, and when they all blow each other up, you’ve got another fleet coming right behind.
Now, basic logistics rules are pretty simple here in Planets: Every planet you own should eventually have a starbase on it which will produce fresh replacement warships. Your colonists should move out from your homeworld to eventually grow into max populations all across the cluster. When mining fails, your alchemy ships should be ready to step into the gap, and that includes fuel. This is all vital, and every action you take should help it to happen.
But for operational mobility, I’m talking in particular about supporting your fleet in the field. It’s a completely different animal, and it has very little to do with keeping your starbases producing.
Right now, I want to point out that if you review my historical games, you’ll see straight off that I don’t practice what I preach. In each situation, I screw something up or choose to do something differently. What’s more, even without mistakes each race treats war differently, and so the art of support is likewise variable.
But there remain some general rules that are valid for all races and styles of play, and others valid for most, and that’s where we’ll start.
“Logistics comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics. Strategy decides where to act; logistics brings the troops to this point.”
Every race has their own best strategy. Crystals and Robots rely heavily on webs and mines, for example, whereas the Empire does quite well with massive starbases at every conceivable point. The Cyborg use their Firecloud fleet to quickly summon reserves wherever danger threatens, and the Birds like to selectively snipe enemy fleets one ship at a time. All these are solid strategies, and each presents its own unique needs, but there are commonalities for every one of the Eleven Races.
- It’s vital to be able to move fuel and fighters around efficiently.
- Moving cash effortlessly from production centers to the front is essential for a sustainable advance.
- Production is dependent on colonists, which must move forward with the fleet or immediately behind.
- Minerals are necessary for every aspect of production, and an effective defense will deny them to an invader.
The currency of logistics, then, is measurable not merely in cash or resources or natives, but in the ability to move what you have to where you need it. It is time, and ships, and alchemy; it is cargo holds and production. The currency of operational mobility is the lesser of these two: wealth and the capacity to move it where you want it. Above all, the most valuable currency is the amount of time and attention that a player can afford to spend on each aspect within each individual turn.
Because, essentially, money and resources are important, but the only thing each player truly owns here is their time. And that, my friends, is the real currency of Planets — player time.
In game terms, basically this means that the easier and more streamlined things are, the better you’ll do.
“In order to make assured conquests it is necessary always to proceed within these rules: to advance, to establish yourself solidly, to advance and establish yourself again, and always prepare to have within reach of your army your resources and your requirements.”
— Frederick the Great
Behind every successful advance is a wave of minerals, supplies, cash, and colonists. It’s pointless to capture territory if your enemy is just going to take it right back, so you need to advance with colonists on your ships and the ability to slap up a defensive starbase pretty much the moment you get to where you’re going.
Space can’t be controlled just with planets, though; we also need minefields — or, at the very least, the capability to deny minefields to our opponents. So we also need torpedoes, both their presence on minelayers and the ability to build them on the fly.
Finally, we need battle fleets. Where a fleet exists, our opponent has to deploy in order to match it or they’re going to lose territory. Sometimes the advantage is in having our fleet be hidden; other times, it’s vital to display it and force the enemy to counter.
And to maintain a fleet in the field, we need secure supply lines — which means starbases, minerals, supplies, fuel, and minefields covering it all.
“Logistics is the stuff that if you don’t have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as.”
— General Nathaniel Greene (apocryphal, but good)
There are ships common to most races that are essential for success in any forward drive. There are alchemy ships, but for the most part they’re production logistics, and that’s not our concern here. No, I’m talking about transport, and in general that means freighters.
The Medium Deep Space Freighter is lightweight, easy to build, and low risk. It has a medium cargo hold and, for its size, a large fuel tank. This makes for a very useful supply ship on the front lines.
The Large Deep Space Freighter is heavier than its medium counterpart, and the risk and costs of use are commensurately higher. It has a cargo hold which can carry a starbase worth of minerals as well as a large fuel tank. It’s extremely useful for resupply but it’s also a vulnerable target that may draw ambushes and attacks.
The Neutronic Fuel Carrier is invaluable as a flying fuel tank. It has the unique ability of being virtually uncapturable, and alone among ships it can travel perpetually at max warp without burning a scrap of fuel. These are necessary logistics ships, easily replaced, and provide low return to attackers. Unfortunately for some races, they are incapable of building them and must seek alternatives. These are: the Federation, the Cyborg, and the Robots.
But forward logistics demands more than just moving minerals and colonists with freighters. We need to use warships, and those often have small cargoholds. This is OK if you’ve got infinite time and ships and fuel, but we don’t. It’s important, then, to move things fully assembled if we can, which means completed fighters and torpedoes. Sometimes, it even means moving minerals in the shape of fully constructed warships, intending to recycle them at the destination — though that’s rare. Still, it’s worth mentioning that the Neut Carrier is an exceptionally lightweight method of moving Molybdenum, and that it can be constructed (in Classic, at least) for exactly as many PBP as it generates when recycled.
Back to the fleets, though: Each race has to rely on certain ships to keep them in supply. We all know the Cyborg use their Fireclouds to move stuff around, but each race has something in particular in their Ship List to help it out, and most of these hulls are underutilized. Let’s talk about them.
Federation: The Nebula. Look, the Feds have a wide variety of ships, but they all have these teeny tiny cargoholds and fuel tanks. Worse, the Feds can’t build a Neut Carrier, which really sucks for them. But the Nebula has a great cargohold, and enough armament to give a sniping Ressie a fight. It’s got a nice fuel tank — not enough to supply the fleet, but a bit of extra space just to help a bit. The Feds are very weak in support ships, so you’ll need to run more freighters than other races, but the Nebula does help. Honorable mention goes to the Kittyhawk; that cargo hold carries enough for a starbase complement, which can be very useful when advancing — fighters mass less than minerals, remember.
Lizards: The LCC and the Saurian are the workhorses of the fleet. The cloaking devices let them supply the front without fear, though the tanks and cargo holds are on the small side. The Lizards need more freighters than others, but at least they can build the NFC.
Birds: The Ressie is the ultimate useful ship. Big fuel tank and a huge cargo hold, plus that cloaking device makes it capable of supplying the front without fear. Fighter transport is easily done with the Red Wind, or the Valiant Wind can be chosen instead, since it’s not completely useless in combat. Largely useless, but not completely.
Fascists: The Ill Wind, with its massive cargohold and fuel tank, is the real gem of the Fascist fleet. The best fighter carrier is the Valiant Wind, which sucks in combat but works fine for support. The D7 is a passable cloaking support ship, especially with the fuel tank, but the Fascists lack a cloaked resupply vessel.
Privateers: The Meteor and Lady Royale are ideal vessels. The first moves very fast; the second has huge fuel tanks and, incidentally, provides benefits when moving colonists. The best thing about this pairing is that they also do most of the warfare for the Privateers, which is quite nice. Honorable mention for the Red Wind, which sucks but can at least help supply starbases, and the Dwarfstar, a solid cloaking supply ship.
Cyborg: Of course, the Firecloud. That the Iron Slave can be used to shift fighters and stock starbases is often forgotten in the shadow of that and the Biocide, yet it remains worthy of mention.
Crystals: Any other race would love the Ruby as frontline support, but the Crystals trump even that with the Emerald. Vast fuel tanks and cargohold. This doesn’t make up for the utter crap that makes up the rest of the Crystal ship list, but it’s nothing to sneer at either.
Empire: The Empire sucks at operational mobility. They have no support ships at all aside from their HYP probe, which has a decent fuel tank but only 20 cargo. In Standard, their Fighter Transfer ability makes the non-Gorbies in their carrier fleet completely useless save as fighter reservoirs, though in both Standard and Classic, the H-Ross is good for rear fighter mobility. Most Empire players don’t account enough for this lack; they actually need to bring freighters with their battle fleets. Of course, they do own the Super Star Destroyer, but it’s risky to put this on the front lines in most high-end scenarios. (Still, capturing a starbase intact is far superior to destroying it, and it reduces the need for logistics.) The only torpedo ship is the Super Star Frigate, which is too weak for reliable logistics and far too small to be a decent minelayer. The Empire’s greatest lack is the logistics ship.
Robots: The Cat’s Paw is an excellent vessel for logistics. Nice fuel tank and a big cargo hold, it doubles as a utility minelayer and torp generator. Likewise, the Instrumentality has a delightfully vast fuel tank and has enough armament to protect itself from casual raiders. Unfortunately, the rest of the Bot fleet is logistically weak. Their main advantages are that they require fewer minerals for space mines and they can build fighters on the fly, but the cargo lack means the Robots need to haul cash reserves and alchemy ships right along with their battle fleet. Which is fine if they win every battle, but it makes a loss so much harder to recover from.
Rebels: The Tranquility Class Cruiser has a solid cargohold in addition to its ability as a utility minelayer. It has weak armament but is far from defenseless. In addition, the Falcon Class Escort is cheap, lightweight, and due to its decent cargo capacity and hyperdrive can support advanced fleets and forward planets in addition to dozens of other uses. The Deep Space Scout is basically a lightweight armed MDSF, superior to it in all respects, and it would see more use were the Falcon unavailable. But the major advantage of both the Rebels and the Colonies is the ability to build fighters from parts while in space, and the Saggit and the Gemini are excellent tools for that task.
Colonies: Racial abilities — fighter construction in space and fighter minesweeping — grant the Colonies tremendous advantages in operational mobility. However, they also have some marvelous logistics vessels to compliment this. The Cobol Class Research Cruiser is one of the most valuable front line logistics ships in the game due to its ability to generate fuel for free as it travels. It also has a decent cargo capacity, which makes it invaluable both as a utility minelayer and for resupply. The Aries Class Transport is the most efficient alchemy ship in the game, and can be used to convert excess minerals into fuel. Its ability can also be used to profitably eliminate valuable minerals from vulnerable areas on the front lines.
These ships, as I’ve mentioned, tend to be underused. They’re wonderful when properly exploited, though, and if you’re willing to employ them to your advantage in the fashion I’ve discussed, it’s my belief that they will redefine the future of the Planets Nu merchant marine.8