I’ve got a bunch of mid range frigates, that are meant to hover outside short range weapons and pummel the enemy with EMP missiles. For some reason, despite the fact that their target range is set to 800, they don’t try to retreat from the incoming striker cruisers, and get destroyed, even though they should be able to easily stay outside the range of their heavy weapons.
Is there some order or combination of orders that will make them keep their distance?
Keeping a set distance is notoriously hard to implement in GSB, because ships will only retreat once the enemy comes within 50% of your range setting.
In your example above, your frigates with attack cruisers at range 800 won’t retreat until the cruisers come closer than 400.
If you want to keep your guys out of range / have them retreat when the enemy closes in, you basically have to set your range to double. This obviously causes problems, but it can lead to some interesting tactical options too.
Try setting your frigates to 1600 range, and then use the formation order to tether them behind armour tanks. Set the tanks to engage within the range of your frigate weapons. If everything goes right, your tanks will absorb enemy fire while your frigates pummel their ships from behind the front line. Once a tank is destroyed, the frigates will turn and retreat to a safe distance from where they can often still provide supporting fire.
Retreating ships are also good for pulling enemy ships out of position, or for using your ships as skirmishers with the ‘keep moving command’ (which is kind of a hit-and-miss tactic but makes for some entertaining battles).