Frigate and Cruiser Design Guide

Yeah, first post and it’s a guide, crazy me…!


Ok, so I’m a bit perfectionnist, and lately, I’ve been having fun with challenges and started getting retaliations. I couldn’t help but notice how some designs were lacking and I simply don’t have enough room in the little message system to really tell people anything more than “…was fun, could improve blabla a bit…”
So here I am making a generic design guide.
One last thing, I do not own any of the expansions and I do not really care about them at this time. Without further ado:

[size=150]Generic design guidelines:[/size]

  • Before you even pick a hull, make sure you have clear goals for the ship. Specialisation is good. Multiple roles are better on seperate ships. Yes, that means you will have lots of designs, I don’t know what the limit is with the recent patches, but in the worst case, create folders seperate ships by race or whatever you want for that matter and swap as you need.

  • Hardpoints are more valuable than standard modules, simply because you can put standard modules in weapon slots while you can’t put a weapon into a standard module slot.

  • Think about the range your ship is going to operate in. If you need to be close, then you better put on some speed and decent defenses because you will be taking fire and speed because as long as you aren’t in range, you’re useless. Inversely, longer ranged ships don’t need as much speed or defense and can usually pack more weapons or utility things if the frontlines are covered.

  • Pick your weapons carefully. Weapons have both maximum and minimum range, make sure all your weapons have similar range values and design your ships and deploy them so that they can all stay at their best range as much as possible. If you don’t do this, part of your ship’s weapons won’t fire, and weapons that don’t fire are useless.

  • Point defense and missile scrambling devices fire at any incoming missile, even if they aren’t on the target ship. You don’t have to have them on every ship.

  • Similarly, target painters don’t have nearly the range missiles do and they don’t have to be on your missile ships. Stick the painters on some of your frontline ships and set your missile ships to cooperative for best results.

Frigate design:[/size]

Frigate designs are quite hit or miss, depending on what the enemy fields. If fighters are present, then frigates are better off behind your cruisers and better pack an average armor value of 12 or more. Why? Armored frigates are slow and can’t hope to stand up to enemy cruisers, so they are better off behind, and no matter where they are, they are fighter food if they have less than 12 average armor.

Inversely, if there are no fighers, then you are better off with little to no defense and a high speed. Combined with their usually small size, speed makes them much better against cruisers than flimsy frigate size defenses would.

As far as frigate weaponry goes, there is only really 3 ways that work well. You can fit them for anti-fighter duty with tractor beams and either anti-fighter missiles or the fast tracking lasers. You can fit them for support duty, with EMP missiles ( and possibly other missiles to act as decoys for the EMP ). Or you can fit them for damage. If you fit them for damage, then don’t bother with missiles or beams as those have far too low shield penetration values to do anything to cruisers. Fit them with either plasma for long range or a combination of ion cannons(awesome weapon), rapid fire lasers and maybe a phasor cannon or two for the higher armor penetration value at close range.

Cruiser design:[/size]

Cruisers are without a doubt the most flexible ships when it comes to design, so I’m going to spend most time here and actually split this into smaller aspects.

For reference, there is a pretty good thread about defense which you can look up here if you want.
So, cruisers are big investments in general and keeping them alive is usually very important if you’re going to win. Once again, the presence or lack of fighters is going to be an important factor. If there’s fighters, then having an average armor value of 8 or more is going to be important as figher lasers can entirely bypass shields by firing from inside the bubble. Due to the 2% chance of critical hit and the fact that fighters usually come in waves and fire fast, you’re probably going to need either more than 8 average armor or want an armor repair system depending on wether or not you can spare speed or power/crew. If there are no fighters, then armor is not nearly as important.
Still, if the scenario allows no shields or largely reduce shield strenght, you may actually want to go with armor as your only defense. If you do, here are a few breakpoints you might want to reach:
8 - Fighter Lasers
12 - Fighter rockets
22 - Most frigate weaponry and a few cruiser weapons don’t penetrate armor beyond that.
55 - No frigate weapons, no cruiser missile/plasma weapons, only about 3 cruiser weapons reach that high.
73 - No weapons have more than 73.
These are all average armor values.

Now, as far as shields go, having one only one reflective shield is quite nice, because they will nullify a lot of potential damage. Why only one? Because only the highest resistance value matters and once you have a high one, the low amount of shield strenght that reflective shields give doesn’t justify putting more. For subsequent shield modules, it’s better to go with either multiphasics or fast recharge ones. I personnally like the fast recharge ones, because the shield strenght is only about 5% lower than multiphasics, but it offers 14,3% higher recharge. In the multiphasic’s favor, they cost less, weight less and have lower power/crew requirements. Also, shields have a stacking penalty, unless you want a really heavy shield tank ship to soak damage, it’s usually not worth having more than 3 shield modules, because the 4th will give you less than 50% of the original value.

Finally, the cruisers on your front line are going to be taking a lot of fire. Typically, point defense/scramblers should go on these guys, as missiles have to go past them to hit anything. You should probably have an ECM shield as well unless you have no weapons at all. A point defense scanner might be worth the investment if you’re facing missile-heavy fleets.

Weapons depend a lot on where you want the ship to be on the battlefield. I usually go with few weapons for front line ships, for a few reasons. First, you need a lot of slots to have sufficient defenses if you’re going to last long enough to protect whatever is behind you. Second reason is you also need slots for speed, because you want your ships to stay in front and to get in range ( unless they have no weapons, then you only care about being as fast/faster than the ships behind them ). Third reason is the Cruiser Laser: very high damage per second, high shield penetration, very low minimum range, perfect for a front line ship. Only down side is armor penetration, but the ships behind you should be able to quickly fix that. Front line ships are also prime candidates for tractor beams, target painters and such.

Second line ships usually sport mid range weapons, such as lasers/beams that rip armor apart and possibly light plasma launchers to deal with shields. EMP weapons also usually goes on these guys along with protector/rescuer/escort orders to reduce the incoming damage on your front line ships. Speed is important here, but not in the “as much as possible” kind of important. They need to be at roughly equal speed as your front line ships so they can keep up. A decent amount of defense is welcome as well.

Finally, ships that stay in the back are best with cruiser plasma launchers ( heavy launchers don’t really have anything over them ) and/or missiles. Here speed is hardly an issue unless the map is really really large, defense can be at a minimum as well. Having the maximum number of weapons pays off at this point. You can also afford to stick carrier bays or target boosters on non-weapon slots to maximise their use.

…and that’s it! Comments and constructive criticism is welcome and sorry for people with low attention span!

Surprising that there’s been no response to this, Xelek, I found it to be very useful. I noticed that I’ve been in a rut lately using the same basic tactics that work most of the time. But last night I got my butt repeatedly kicked in a challenge (“Pain Sammich”, or something like that) and this summary has given me a bunch of ideas for better responses and ways to improve my game in general. Great stuff! Thanks!

Something a bit more advanced to consider is the size and speed of your craft relative to each other. Obviously smaller and faster is better to avoid getting hit, but there’s interesting things to do with the larger hulls.

Basically, enemy gunners will often initially go for easier to hit targets, when things like vulture or cooperative or weapon range aren’t totally dictating behavior. Not only are your behemoths at a disadvantage in that they are easier to hit, they are often being actively targeted first.

This is useful information to have. Depending on your philosophy, you may want to make your large hulls faster than your smaller craft (to be a harder target), cheaper (to not waste credits on inevitable destruction) or simply better defended.

I find this especially relevant for frigates, as each race has at least two sizes of frigates to choose from.

I would have commented earlier, but because of the sheer scope of the thing, I had to find a time when I could sit and read with no time pressure to really absorb what’s there. That said …

I agree that this is a really well-thought-out post (manual? guide? manifesto? diatribe?); as I was reading, I started thinking at least tangentially about the ship designs I have now and how I could tweak them to squeeze a little more function out of them. Time will tell as to whether I wind up making long-term changes to my play style.

But I applaud your effort, Xelek, and I hope many players find it as informative and thought-provoking as I did.

Here, here! Nicely done, Xelek. Perhaps we’ll cross swords sometime in the challenges. With such perceptive thinking, you’re certainly on your way up. :slight_smile:

@ Yurch: Hmm, I’m suprised I didn’t really notice this behavior before. I’ve found ships first attack whatever is in their range that has the highest priority. Then if they have retaliate, they’ll go for that. If they have Cooperative, then they’ll move to attack something another ship is shooting and so on. But I never noticed them switching targets because of its size or speed. I’ll have to run some tests.

As far as in-depth information goes, I didn’t want to go into that here, just wanted to write a guide that covers basic rules that lead to efficient ship designs, being as complete as possible yet short enough to avoid the “omg wall of text” scaring people away. But do feel free to add some tips and stuff. I might edit or write another guide with these tips if there’s enough and no one else goes for it.

Thanks for the comments, happy to finally see some responses. Might write another one concerning orders, deployment strategies, creating a challenge or a counter-fleet.

I would love to face some nice challenges, ones that aren’t spam too. Do keep in mind that I do not have any of the expansions however.

Naturally, all those orders muddy things a bit.

Gunners (but unfortunately, not drivers) will drop priority on a target and eventually switch when fire is ineffective, like beam weapons vs reflective shields. They also tend to avoid unarmed targets.

So we can’t just take a giant unarmed Praetorian cruiser, park it at 700m, and cover it in shielding expecting it to divert all beam fire.

I found another fleet that does this, Aratak’s SAC-14 (4578786), unfortunately it’s an Order expansion fleet. I don’t know if Aratak is using size differences by accident or by design.

The two main units:
Trinity (210 meter cruiser)
Crusader (180 meter cruiser)

They’re arrayed like this. (approaching from right as a single unit to short range)


I put up a single line of light plasma frigates in front of it at about a third of the budget, with no orders other than engage cruisers at 950. They park, open up on the Crusader cruisers and switch targets the moment a Trinity comes into range. Even the frigates that managed to break the considerable shielding of the topmost Crusader switched, so presumably this isn’t due to gunner frustration caused by the defenses. This all happens before his cruisers fire a single shot.

Obviously I could use vulture orders or cooperative to get the gunners to stick on the front rank a bit longer, but that carries its own set of considerations.

This behavior is very interesting.

I’m glad you pointed out the nuance of the AI targetting bulkier ships, Yurch. I managed to get though a couple of challenges by simply changing my rear-line Python missile cruisers into rear-line Alligator missile cruisers with similar parameters other than the hull. The Pythons were being actively targetted, but the Alligators were left unmolested, allowing them to deliver their hailstorm of death. In each case I had heavily armoured Alligator laser cruisers in my front line. A subtle change of strategy that made a huge difference!

Thanks for this thread I have been reading it quite frequently. It’s made some sense in my Fed ship designs.

In the spirit of guides written by relative newcomers, I thought I’d post on my experiences with budget allocation, modularity, and average hull cost.

One thing I found useful to do while playing battles was try to design my ships in blocks of 500 credits. Most battles and challenges give a budget that is a multiple of 1000 and usually a multiple of 5000 credits, so having designs that come to even numbers allow you to mix and match designs relatively easily. If one design isn’t quite working the way you want in a given role, it’s easy to sub in something else in the same price range. 500 credits is sufficient gap between price categories that it makes for good diversity and it’s generally not hard to come up with a solid design to meet a budget (or change your price target if it’s just not working out.) Of course it would be equally possible to pick a different gap size between hull costs; I just found 500 credits to be convenient for me.

Now there will always be cases where you think ‘but if I spent just a little more I could get X instead of Y!’ but there is also value to be had in exercising a little discipline, because designing to a strict per-ship budget encourages you to really examine the cost-effectiveness of certain approaches and ship design patterns you might otherwise engage in by habit. Do you really need 3 fast recharge shields on that cruiser or could you get away with swapping in a couple multiphasics instead of 2 of them? There are many little efficiencies that, if discovered and observed, do add up in the long run, and designing to a self-imposed per-ship budget aids in finding them.

Another thing I learned as a result of this discipline is that the average hull cost of the ships in your fleet is a very significant part of your overall strategy. There are advantages and disadvantages to picking a different average hull cost. Fleets with higher average hull costs will tend to focus more on speed and high defenses, but be more vulnerable to EMP effects and anything which can counter those defenses. Fleets with lower average hull costs will have more hardpoints available overall and will consequently tend to focus more on firepower, at the expense of speed (primarily) and defenses (slightly). Speed especially is an expensive commodity – but it can also be a powerful force and/or defense multiplier, and in the right circumstances, worth the cost.

I’ve heard it said that an average cruiser costs around 3000 credits. When playing the battles, I found that an average hull cost of 2500 for frontline cruisers and 2000 for missile boats and support ships was more efficient, even for those battles where speedy CL cruisers can easily carry the day (e.g. Lagoon). It’s worth noting that challenges such as SAC may present a different environment and a different picture.

Of course this leaves the role of a typical 1000-credit frigate even more open to question; if an average frigate costs only half of what a cruiser does, rather than a third, it puts frigates in a very awkward position. Of course one can design frigates on a 500 credit budget but these will invariably die easily if they come under fire, limiting them to disposable long range support, AA, and decoy roles. Frigates may tend to seem more attractive in an environment where higher average hull costs for cruisers are the norm.