Campaign Advice

I can’t seem to conquer more than 5-10 planets before my empire starts falling apart. What are some general pointers to do well in this mode?

Your strategy should depend on what maps you’re playing on, and where you are in the map. A major consideration should be to minimize the number of planets you need to defend against assault; I find that I can typically fight effectively on no more than two fronts while restricted to the home shipyard, and one of those is going to be more or less static. In order to handle that, it helps to find a good chokepoint, preferably something that limits the types of enemies you will face, or at least renders one type of enemy much weaker than normal.

On Chokepoints
In my opinion, the ideal chokepoint will favor cruiser fleets. Therefore, a world which does not allow fighters to fight on it, or one which has an anomaly for a significant speed penalty, is ideal. Second-best are worlds with the ‘no cruisers’ or ‘no shields’ anomalies. These types of chokepoints are good because you can create a tailor-made fleet designed for these conditions, while the opposing fleet is probably designed to perform well in the general case, but will suffer when fighting a fleet of cruisers designed for killing cruisers at a battlefield that only permits cruisers and frigates (for example).

To defend a chokepoint, I would generally station a single fast ship at the chosen choke, preferably one which isn’t particularly difficult to replace if it gets destroyed, or one which isn’t particularly valuable and is therefore no great loss if it does get destroyed. I would then station a much larger fleet on a world adjacent to the chokepoint, preferably made up of ships optimized (to at least some extent) for the conditions at the choke. For me, this fleet will typically contain the remnants of the cruiser group that formed the core of my initial expansion fleet, and therefore will initially be more of a fleet of generalist cruisers rather than a fleet of ships optimized for fighting at that particular location; this can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing - good because you’re eventually going to want to push out of the choke unless your other front can swing around to sweep past your choke (and even then, when it does so you probably want your choke defenders to push out in support of the advance), and bad because a generalist cruiser design probably isn’t the best design for fighting at any particular chokepoint (fighter-favored chokepoints typically don’t have this problem, as there’s one fighter design capable of forming a strong core for any fighter swarm - the fast laser fighter; nevertheless, I prefer cruiser-favored chokepoints because I find it easier to expand with fighter groups than cruiser groups, and easier to support one defending cruiser group and one advancing fighter group than two fighter groups or two cruiser groups).

On Target Selection
Take a look at your homeworld and at the neighboring worlds. See what’s on them, what kinds of anomalies (if any) they have. Check to see how severe these anomalies are, because it’ll tell you what kinds of fleets you need to send that way to have a decent shot at pushing through to a good stopping point - regions with significant speed penalties are difficult for most frigates and fighters, while any fleet based on cruisers is going to have a problem when it comes up against a ‘no cruisers’ world that it cannot bypass.

Also look at the world facilities - where are the naval academies and the factories? Where are the shipyards and repair yards? Are there good chokepoints which can cut off one section of the map from another, allowing you to bag a collection of factories and academies in an easily-defended portion of the map? Can you put a chokepoint next to a repair yard or shipyard, allowing you to base your defense fleet at that location and repair after every battle at the choke (or easily reinforce, if there’s a shipyard instead of a repair yard)?

As an example, on the Andromeda map, I would open by taking the Veiled Region (dead-end next to your homeworld), then take either Heart of Rodana or Atrima, then whichever of those two I didn’t just take (preferably, I would have spent enough time building up forces that I can take both Heart of Rodana and Atrima at once, because it gives me a little extra security on my homeworld, and at any rate I’ll be wanting a defensive group available while my initial expansion fleet is off doing its thing), then taking Gastello and Rovana in a blitz attack, then advance from Heart of Rodana to Mildor’s Stand. After that, I’d hold Mildor’s Stand using a frigate/cruiser group stationed at Outpost 58, and focus my expansion efforts along the northern border of the map using primarily a fighter group until that gets to Stella Oscura or Lorgon (Stella Oscura is a better chokepoint, but using Lorgon as the choke gives me slightly more territory and a better economic base). I would then hold at roughly those locations until I feel comfortable that I have a strong enough force to push out to wherever I feel that the next round of halfway decent chokepoints can be found (i.e., if I decide to push out from the Stella Oscura/Lorgon area, I want at least two good fleets, perhaps more, available, to either push in both directions at once or at least secure the backside of my advancing group, while if I decide to push out from Mildor’s Stand I want to have a good collection of frigates/cruisers which when broken up into fleets are, in my estimation, capable of answering most threats that I expect to face - this means that the fleets must have some answer to both fighter-heavy and cruiser-heavy opponents, and you must remember that the force leaving from Mildor’s Stand is not going to have reliable access to fighter support unless I can (a) secure a safe path down from Lorgon or (b) secure a shipyard and hold it long enough for it to become loyal enough that I can produce a reasonable number of fighters or other vessels from it each turn, noting that a front-line shipyard is also likely to be losing some of its production to keeping the local frigates and cruisers in good condition.

On What Ships to Use
Ship design for campaign should favor generalist vessels over specialist vessels, because a fleet made up of several specialist designs is vulnerable to being crippled by the loss of a handful of ships; fleets made up of generalist designs are much less vulnerable to that particular threat. Moreover, the more specialized your designs are, the more classes (and therefore the more ships) you need to include in a balanced fleet, which makes it more difficult to get the ball rolling in the early game (later in the campaign, you can have very specialized fleets rolling around - a relatively early example, to continue the example Andromeda campaign above, would be a fleet specialized to fight and kill cruisers, which would be useful for holding on to Mildor’s Stand; you could also do an anti-cruiser fleet to follow a fighter swarm, using the fighter swarm to clean out enemy fighters and send in the cruisers to finish the job if the swarm needs to be retreated to prevent defeat).

You must also balance the credit, crew, and pilot cost of your designs - it does you no good to have an exceptional supercruiser that costs so much that you can only build one a turn but have no credits left over for fighters to use up the rest of your pilots, unless your supercruiser is just so good that it doesn’t need any support. Better is to design something where you can get a cruiser and a partial fighter group every turn, even if that cruiser isn’t the best you can have or if you might have cut a few corners on the fighter design, or perhaps a setup where you can get one or two good cruisers one turn, and then a decent fighter group on the next one or two turns, and then another couple of cruisers, and so on (you can exchange either the cruisers or the fighters for frigates, but note that frigates compete with cruisers for crew, and place greater demand on your pilot supply than most cruisers do, which limits the number of fighters you can get more than an equivalent credit-investment of cruisers would; on the other hand, there also aren’t any anomalies that preclude frigates from going to any given world, and depending on the design chosen you might be better able to balance your the credit/crew/pilot cost of a turn’s production of frigates against your credit/crew/pilot income than you would with cruisers and fighters). Note that fighter swarms can be an effective force in campaign, but usually not until you have ~10 squadrons available, which makes a fighter swarm an attractive second fleet to build up while your initial fleet gets the occasional reinforcing cruiser, especially if you can find a good chokepoint for the frigate/cruiser first fleet to sit at that makes fighter support unnecessary for that fleet; switching to a primarily fighter-centric fleet once you have a decent economic base is attractive, especially since it removes the need to repair damaged ships (surviving fighters are repaired to full health, so all you need to do is replenish their numbers via reinforcements rather than taking damaged vessels out of the battle line until they can be repaired/replaced) and since it allows you to ignore crew as a resource constraint (for the most part; you may still need the occasional cruiser, or decide you don’t really like winning every battle simply because you have an overwhelming fighter swarm and therefor switch to a more balanced fleet model) and easily allows you to match your ship production for the turn to the limits imposed by pilots, credits, and shipyard capacity (this is important, because getting 9 fighters out now instead of 16 fighters on the next turn means that you get 9 fighters on the front lines one turn sooner, and you probably have some understrength groups at the front that could use the reinforcements anyways; 9 fighters today is better than 16 fighters tomorrow, and much better than 0 frigates/cruisers today because I don’t have the crew/credits for them, unless I really need some frigates/cruisers, say for taking a ‘no fighters’ planet).

There are two further considerations for ships to use in campaign - first, ships with speeds less than 0.1 are extremely unlikely to successfully retreat (and I prefer to keep ships to 0.2+ speed to give them a better chance of being able to retreat even if they take engine damage); second, the less hull damage a ship takes, the longer it can be of service to you in a non-occupational role (note that it can often be better to use crippled ships as garrisons of secure worlds with low loyalty rather than sending them back to a shipyard or repair yard, because a new ship can probably reach the front much more quickly than a repaired cripple can, and even a cripple can help boost the loyalty of a planet, and the loyalty of a planet determines what percentage of the income from academies and factories you get, as well as how many credits of construction a shipyard or repair yard can handle; same goes for ships of designs which no longer fit into the fleet you want to have, or for captured enemy ships that you don’t want to bother using but don’t want to be rid of). Always remember that it is much, much better to retreat from a lost battle than to fight to the bitter end, because any of your ships survive until the point that the game declares a defeat will be captured if you did not order a retreat (if you did order a retreat, any ships that fail to retreat in time will be destroyed). Retreating does two things for you - it (probably) preserves some fraction of your forces, and it at least prevents the enemy fleet from becoming any stronger. Failing to retreat could end up creating an enemy fleet that you simply cannot defeat with your resources, especially if it happens early enough in the game that you’re still limited by income but late enough that you can be defeated without the total destruction of your fleet. This is especially true for the example of the fighter swarm + anti-cruiser combination. A relatively simple and effective later campaign tactic is to send in a fighter swarm to clear out any enemy fighters and do whatever damage you can to the enemy fleet (if you can destroy the enemy fleet using only the fighters, great; if not, do what damage you can, then retreat), while keeping a cruiser group in reserve (i.e., have the cruiser group follow the fighter group but be 1 turn behind in reaching a planet). If your fighter group clears out the enemy fighters but is forced to withdraw, you can send in the cruisers and probably mop up whatever was left; if you neglect to withdraw the fighters before they get defeated, you’ve effectively done nothing, because more than likely the enemy’s losses in fighters will be more than made good by those captured from your swarm, and that following cruiser group you had was designed to deal with fleets that didn’t have any fighters at all because you expected your fighters to get rid of all the enemy fighters yet now you must face the remnants of both your fighter swarm (which have the orders you gave to them) and the remnants of the fleet that beat your swarm (which have whatever orders they were given by the fleet creator).

On Retreating
Please don’t be too proud to retreat. It is very, very important that you be willing to retreat from a battle before you lose everything, as it’s much easier to recover from a defeat if you have some remnant of your fleet to rebuild around than it is to completely rebuild your fleet after losing everything (in the worst case, where your fleet gets absolutely trashed by the enemy and failed to inflict any significant damage, losing an entire fleet can spell the end of the game because you simply cannot build enough to face the force that defeated the group that you’d been building up from the start of the game, and that fleet will still be floating around, potentially taking your worlds from you, unless it becomes mauled badly enough that the computer decides to replace it or you destroy it, which isn’t likely when starting from a full fleet rebuild). As mentioned earlier, any of your ships which remain alive at the end of the battle will be captured if you are defeated and did not order a retreat, which can make recovering from such a disaster much more difficult. It’s also better to retreat from battles that you could win but which would cost you too many ships than it is to just fight it out (in my opinion) unless you don’t have the resources to field a fleet better suited to killing whatever was giving you trouble; even if you cannot field such a fleet, this may be a good time to withdraw so that you can go sit on a chokepoint while you build up a bit.

Very good post above, but I’d like to add a few points:

  • The AI is quite predictable. After a while they will retaliate, and the least likely planet to be attacked is your home planet.
  • The choke point strategy is very important; make sure that you do not choose to defend a planet that can be attacked by more than one enemy planet for an extended period of time.
  • The bigger your defending fleet is, the bigger the attacking fleet will be (normally). This is an important factor, because some fleet designs are more efficient than others relative to the size of the fleet. For instance, one cruiser with 4 MWM launchers as the only way to take down cruiser shields is unlikely to kill anything. 30 cruisers with 8/9 MWM’s each can be very powerful.
  • Take a damaged ship or a single fighter/frigate and attack a planet with it. You get to see what they’ve got and then retreat. Beware of an imminent retaliation, though.
  • Fighters are alpha and omega in Campaign mode. They can always retreat and 10+ squadrons will autobeat most fleets simply because a random fleet is unlikely to be made to withstand that kind of laser fighter power.

Holy crap,thanks for typing all that out Aeson! The post is worthy of a thread on its’ own.

Most of what you guys have said I kind of figured out myself but you have confirmed and refined the strategy.

It is clear I’ll have to make use of fighters quite a bit more, as well as limit specialization of my ships.

Thanks again for the advice, and beware the fleets of SpacemanSpiff552!

No problem.

Limiting the specialization of your ships is more of an advantage earlier in the campaign than later, and it’s still possible to run combined fleets of specialist ships from the start. It’s just a lot easier to have, for example, a fleet composed of a single cruiser design that performs acceptably well against anything it’s likely to come up against than to have your fleet composed of several cruiser designs, each intended for a specific role (e.g. anti-shield, anti-armor, tank, general damage, anti-fighter, anti-frigate). What I put up isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, it’s just what I’ve found to be easiest.

If you do want to create specialist ships, I’d tend to suggest that you design one more or less general purpose ship to be the primary component of the fleet, and one slightly specialized ship to fill in the weaknesses of the primary. The best specialists are ones which fill a role that you could make do without and which do not cost much to replace. Examples might be a cheap, low crew anti-fighter frigate, or a ship that is in most respects identical to your primary ship but is slightly better at, say, anti-fighter work.

An example of the second type of fleet mix would be if your primary cruiser design carries five cruiser plasmas and a cruiser pulse laser, while the somewhat specialized secondary cruiser design carries three cruiser plasmas, two cruiser pulse lasers, and a tractor beam, with the cruiser fleet(s) composed of perhaps 3-5 primary cruisers for each secondary cruiser; the primary design in this example should perform well against cruisers, and acceptably against fighters and frigates, while the secondary design improves the fleet’s performance against fighters and frigates but doesn’t add as much heavy firepower as the primary design. Importantly, the secondary design isn’t the only answer your fleet has to something (for instance, you probably shouldn’t go for a beams-only primary design and stick all your shield-breakers on the secondary, unless your secondary design makes up a significant fraction of the fleet; beams-only might be acceptable on the secondary, but only if your primary has enough anti-shield strength that making a beams-only secondary isn’t going to dilute your anti-shield fire too much, or cost you too much of the anti-shield firepower if you should lose a couple of the primaries) and isn’t going to cost you too much to replace - instead of producing a 5-plasma cruiser, you produce a 3-plasma cruiser with more anti-frigate and anti-fighter weapons; the designs are also likely of similar credit and crew cost, though since these are cruisers you might have some difficulties producing more than one or two every few turns.

Something to notice in the above example is that, although the secondary design may appear to be more of a generalist design than the primary is, it isn’t, because the anti-cruiser role (especially shield-breaking) requires much more firepower than the anti-frigate or anti-fighter roles in general and is also the more valuable role in most cases; I’d be far more comfortable taking a fleet composed of only the primary design up against any random fleet that I don’t know the composition of than I would be were I to take a fleet composed only of the secondary design, because one cruiser pulse laser per ship gives the fleet an acceptable answer to most fighter and frigate forces, whereas three cruiser plasmas per ship is not an acceptable answer (or is only barely an acceptable answer) to most cruiser forces. Killing cruisers is more likely to win the battle than killing frigates or fighters is, and killing fighters and frigates is easier than killing cruisers, so a good general-use design is going to favor anti-cruiser weapons that perform acceptably well against either frigates or fighters, and carry a small secondary armament to cover the anti-fighter and anti-frigate role.

Well, according to the ultimate guide, there are only three fleet designs:

  1. Rush
  2. Anti-Rush
  3. Anti Anti-rush

Rush beats 1 and 3
Anti-Rush beats 2 and 1
Anti Anti-rush beats 3 and 2

(given that your setup is better than the enemy when similar in design)

Rush fleets are quick and the primary weapon is the Cruiser Laser so they need to get up close. CL is the most efficient weapon in the game in terms of Dmg/sec.

Anti-Rush fleets cannot only have ranged weaponry, they also need to make sure that ships getting close are dealt with. The ranged capability of these fleets is therefore reduced.

Anti Anti-Rush are pure ranged fleets, designed to capitalize on the lack of speed and the diminished ranged capacity of Anti-Rush. While they can take down Rush fleets, that must happen before they get too close, so they are at a disadvantage if the fleets are closely matched.

Basically, for every ship you’ve got that are taking the focus away from an extreme, an extreme fleet will increase its advantage on you. However, the more extreme a fleet, the more likely it is to encounter an anti-fleet because this game is basically Rock-Paper-Scissors.

The best generalist fleet I know of are Federation Panthers with 5x Cruiser Plasma, 1x Beam Laser, 1x Fusion Beam and 1x scrambler/Pulse Laser, set to stop at Fusion Beam range (not Pulse Laser), co-operate and bundled tightly together. Ca 500 shield, 0.08 speed and no armor. Thus, they are very dependent on external fighter defense, but they are good anti-rush and with scramblers good against missile fleets unless those are very large. Sadly, these cannot retreat, so sending in a spy ship beforehand to see what they’re packing is crucial.