Saturday, March 16, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Strategy Tips

The following are some general strategy tips and observations that I thought I'd share in relation to the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks space combat game:


First-attacker advantage is always important. Being able to get in the first shot with the devastating torpedoes and assault rockets, degrading the enemy and likely eliminating some ships, frequently dictates the course of the game. Any way you can arrange to be the first moving player to launch attacks is a good idea.

With a little forethought, it's usually pretty easy to stay out of the 3-hex-wide range of forward-firing cannons on the approach into an enemy ship (so as to avoid that particular defensive fire). Even better, getting set up behind a slow-turning capital ship is a great idea, as they probably can't turn around to use a cannon on their turn, either. So is using any planet's gravity well to get an extra hex of turning when needed.

Counter-intuitively, I find that small fighters and assault scouts don't make great advance cover units, as they are easily destroyed. Consider: in contrast to WWII ship combat, there is no real aerial benefit, as the enemy capital ships can “fly up” and catch them at will. So I reverse this usage, and try to have my largest and most powerful ships engage first as a shock force, and then have smaller ships fill in afterward (ideally from behind or to the sides).

More on fighters and scouts: Their assault-rocket attacks are ideally set up from exactly 4 hexes away. There's no range penalty for this, and it prevents capital ships from firing back rocket batteries (3 hex range), which are deadly to the smaller ship types. (I consider the resulting penalty to the scout's laser battery to be negligibly important.)

Selecting targets for your weapons (prior to resolution) is basically a probabilistic packing problem. Two obvious goals that you need to balance off each other are: (a) eliminate or degrade enemy ships/weapons as soon as possible with focused fire, but (b) don't waste damage points! (This latter point is the fundamental insight that I used to program the trainer AI for the Star Trek: ConQuest Online game, or analyze D&D Hit Dice, for instance.) So what is frequently a good idea is to aim your heavy-duty torpedoes at a big, healthy ship (so as to get the full benefit of all those damage points, without overflow), and then use your smaller battery weapons to finish off a second ship that's near-death. Of course, you never want to launch a torpedo at a fighter or scout, because of their special ability to dodge away from them (and it would be wasteful of the torpedo's big damage payload even if it did hit).

Interceptor missiles (ICMs) are nearly useless against rocket battery attacks (another rather obvious point, when you look at the combat table). So I generally save ICMs for torpedo attacks, and then aggressively use either a half or full load against any such attack (lest the ICMs go unused later); use against assault-rocket attacks may also be reasonable in some cases.

Defensive screens are of limited use. Since masking screens disappear with any move change, I only find use for them with orbiting structures or otherwise crippled, fleeing ships. Since the advanced proton/electron screens symmetrically help against one weapon and hurt against another, I don't think I've ever activated either of them in all my years of play.

Referring back to the very first point (first-attacker advantage always important), consider the Campaign Game, where the Sathar's only victory condition is to destroy the space stations in each star system -- and by the book, the Sathar player gets first option to declare attacks, first-move, and the ability to choose any starting speed in the battle. So then I've found it trivially easy to pick the speed exactly halfway across the map, land directly on the station in the first turn (before the UPF can respond, move, or raise shields), and launch an unstoppable attack that destroys even the most powerful orbiting Fortress. Then my ships jump off the other end of the map on the next turn and head for the next star system. This strategy is so broken, it basically spoiled the one time I tried to play the full Campaign Game (with me as prime abuser), and  it's why the #1 house rule I have is to limit all starting speeds to 10 hexes/turn.


Anyone have other tips that I've overlooked here?

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