A Gratuitous Space Battle

22 Mar

My Federation armada has been strongarmed to a standstill.  Up until this point my strategy has been simple but sound, requiring little alteration besides refitting my ship types as per the spatial anomalies in some missions — such as producing armoured variants for zones that reduce shield effectiveness.

Now this rebel fleet, around twice my size, refuses to go down like the rest.  The spatial anomaly rules here seem small enough to wave off, but as I have grimly witnessed time and time again, it blows my war strategy apart.

Normally I rely on a mass of mixed specialty ships, travelling at different speeds because of their engine loadouts and hitting the enemy at specified times.  Providing a front line are my Juggernaut cruisers, decked out with more shield generators and armour plating in their standard module slots than a filthy xenomorph could shake a three-fingered fist at, and almost bereft of direct fire weapons in favour of point defense lasers and missile scramblers.

Behind these behemoths are my all-round cruisers, the Overlords.  Light on everything but laser weaponry, they are there to stand up in the battle line and burn the enemy down before the shields fail on the Juggernauts.

Slowly grinding their way through space behind this mass are my Reaper cruisers, designed to barrage the enemy with missiles from the rear.  Ignoring the frigate class I then have several squadrons of fighters that usually hit the enemy formation about thirty seconds before the fleet arrives, and if I’m lucky stay alive and plucky for the rest of the battle.

What’s important to note is that there are no tactics in this game — it’s a game of strategy and forethought, in both ship design and the behaviours you assign to your ships.  After you’ve set everything up, you press Fight and watch it play out.

And this imposing rebel fleet has thrown a wrench into my well-oiled war machine.  In this mission all engines fire much more slowly, leaving my frontline cruisers a bit slow — my Reapers unusably so — but most importantly widening the speed gap between cruiser and fighter.

The only real options for assigning fighter squadrons is in an escort role where they circle a ship and fire from it, react to an attack on a vessel they are protecting, or put into battle with no rules.  I usually do the latter, but while in past missions they haven’t had to rumble alone for long, they are now being blown apart before my main fleet arrives.

But more important than my having to rethink my strategy and produce a specialized fleet, my enemy has a wild card that I can’t deal with.  Their fighters, cruisers and normal frigates aren’t a huge problem.  There is a formation of cruisers and frigates on the top of the map and another on the bottom with heavy fighter support.  But in the middle is their lynchpin, able to assist either formation — a group of five dedicated, fast firing missile frigates with target painters.  While my Juggernauts are able to turn away and zap a few missiles out of each barrage, they fire witheringly fast and with incredible accuracy — once they come into the fight my cruisers are focused and detonated one at a time, every time.

I tried everything against these bastards, even a Star Wars inspired fighter-centric attack that managed to decmate one formation before it was overwhelmed and swarmed.  I sent in a mass of frigates armed with heavy plasma launchers in an effort to multiply firepower and split up enemy fire.  But in the end they too were decompressed in the blackness of space by the unwavering missile fury of the enemy frigates.

Back to the workshop; I need to find a way around this.  There are a few issues I have to address here.

1) I need to isolate and quickly destroy the first formation I hit, otherwise I am utterly outgunned.

2) Rather than rely on speed I need a group of slow ships that will stay together and attack at once.

3) Outgunning those missile frigates is not possible considering my fleet size; this will be a build for attrition and, most definitely, maximum missile deflection.

My baby for this fleet is the idea of using a frigate as a dedicated anti-missile platform, able to escort my cruisers and babysit them.  I pick the Federation frigate with the most hardpoints for weapons and get to work.  Every weapon slot is filled with a frigate point defense system — thin blue lasers that will track and detonate incoming missiles.  Everything else is sauce, and I leave some of the standard module slots open to reduce cost so I can field more of them, and not worry too much about losing them.  Nuts to engines in this space molasses, and I plop one in just so it can move.  I christen her “Escort” and move on to the next hull.

I’ll need a frontline cruiser that can take a few hits while lazing through enemy shields.  The unlucky crews of these “Laserbirds” will be thrust in headfirst, and I don’t expect them to live through the entire battle.  That said, I spare no expense — I want them to get stuck in for as long as possible if this is going to be a war of attrition I can win.  This thing is about as simple as a baseball bat — it will concentrate basic, balanced, high shield penetration laser fire on the enemy cruisers.  It has respectable shields and armour, an engine to get the job done, and to be on the safe side it has its one point defense laser.

Once those shields are down I need someone to kick ’em in the dishpan and finish the fight.  A backline cruiser.  I outfit a cruiser hull with some fast firing pulse lasers to knock out enemy fighters that sortie into our formation — if left alone they will devastate our fleet, and possibly prioritize my Escort frigates.  When the enemy gets reinforcement fighters from one of its other formations, I estimate most of my fighters will be thrashed and unable to fend off the new wave alone.

But the real basis of this appropriately named “Masher” class cruiser is to strip enemy armour after their shields have been knocked out — it needs to be a backbreaker.  It has to be mean.  I give them a respectable loadout of fusion blasters to cut through armour and heavy plasma launchers to deliver some heavy hits.  For some more utility I outfit them with two EMP modules, which fit into standard slots, which will incapacitate enemy ships for a short time.

For my fighter escort I modify an older “Firefly” design, a spunky little one seater with a laser cannon, cheap armour and shields and a shitty engine.  Only a maniac would fly one of these junkers, but I like my fighters crazy and numerous.

In the battle setup I deploy at the bottom of the screen — four Laserbirds to lead the attack, attended by three Escort frigates.  Behind them and with their own Escorts are four Masher cruisers.  I’ve set five squadrons of Firefly fighters to escort and protect my Laserbirds at max escort range, which means they’ll engage the enemy line a couple seconds before my fleet, drawing some fire and going to work on enemy shields early.

Another three Escort frigates, of course, escort the Mashers, who are in turn ordered to advance in tight formation.

Fight time.  As my fleet closes the gap my fighters are greeted by some laser fire, which they handily dodge.  My leftmost Laserbird meanwhile gets to try out its point defense system on what will be the first cluster of an unending missile barrage from the Rebel formations.

The Rebel fleet sends out its black sheep first at my left flank, a small frigate ferrying about three squadrons of dogfighter-type fighters, and they get in a tangle with my Fireflies out in the no-mans-land between fleets.

This first formation I’ve chosen to engage is not so bright.  They send one then two cruisers into my Laserbirds, who with fighter assistance beat them to a pulp.  However the rest of their ships have bunched up and are returning fire.

I’m happy to see that my Escort frigates are performing admirably, lasing missiles out of the void that would otherwise spiral into my cruisers.  The scramblers on my Laserbirds are also helping, sending missile clusters twisting away harmlessly (and sort of beautifully, I think).

Unfortunately the enemy missile frigates from hell have arrived, and they’re not too happy about my early lead.  They launch a veritable wall of warheads at my left flank, and it’s all my little Escorts can do to thin the sky of missiles.  Shields go down on my leftmost Laserbird and it starts taking module hits and losing weaponry as the laser-assisted missiles hit their target.

But what’s this?  My little Escort crew is not going to give up so fast.  Astonishingly my Laserbird lives a relatively long life without shields as two Escorts team up to fend off the barrage.  But it’s not long before the cruiser surrenders to the inevitable, and I take my first big casualty.  The Masher at the back moves up to take the Laserbird’s place at the front, and his Escort loyally joins him.

However it’s not long before the entire enemy fleet, joined now I realize by their top formation — the two cruisers Chaos and Powerful are launching blue Megaton missiles at me from the rear.  Without much ado the Masher taking up the left flank explodes, and I fall into the red while the Rebel fleet gleefully takes the lead.

I’m confident though.  Never before have I been able to get stuck in for so long against these missile frigates.  I think I have the lasting power to make it out alive.  Thousands of tiny unseen virtual men will die, but that’s why I signed up to be the commander in this comfy chair, and not to ride around in some rickety Firefly fighter.

The influx of missiles on my left flank is truly impressive, and whoever steps up to take the brunt gets a bloody nose right quick.  This could be a problem.  Hopes are up, however, as I see that shields are down on some of the missile frigates.  I’ve foolishly forgotten to set frigate priority to be super high, so they’re not being focused, but they are taking a steady beating.  My Mashers, built to last, also have their own limited self-repair systems.  They should do alright.

Meanwhile, with all the horror and death on my left flank, my right flank has been giving the Rebels the business.  In a jumble of wreckage the last cruiser from the bottom formation explodes, followed by its laser-frigate escort.  I’m now dealing with middle’s missile frigates and top’s heavy cruisers.

With its mothership gone down as the first casualty, one of my Escorts noses its way valiantly into missile and laser fire in a misguided heroic effort, and summarily detonates.

Boom.  The last of the missile frigates is brought down to so much space dust.  Now only having to deal with cruiser-fired missiles, my bundle of point defense systems has an easy job fending off the warheads.

But we’re down to bare knuckles and bootstraps here, and these remaining cruisers are heavy boys.  With every laser this side of the spatial anomaly firing on them, they stand up.

For a while.  The cruiser tending their right flank loses shields and is hit with a couple EMPs, followed by some crack plasma shots.  After a bit of sustained laser fire, it hits the deck and bows out.  As that ship’s crew was busy scrambling into their escape pods (filled with the unsightly biological attendents of absolute fear, I imagine), the other heavy cruiser has its shields taken down.

The Rebels, though, have this tricky habit of stealthing their ships, and a smaller cruiser shimmers into sight on their left flank.  Seconds later the already damaged cruiser is raked by beam weapons and its atomic structure expands at a quickened pace.

Shortly after, not wanting to join their fellows in the field of space junk, the two heavies, Powerful and Chaos, surrender.

I’m left with four Cruisers floating, two Laserbirds and two Mashers, three of them damaged and two critical.

And that, gentlemen and gentleladies, is a gratuitous space battle.

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One Response to “A Gratuitous Space Battle”

  1. Mr.Gompers February 21, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    I’ve run into many battles like that, although here’s a tip: when building fighters, make them as fast as possible, even if you have to leave slots empty.

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