I was thinking about the comments Clifski made in his video blog about taking a bunch of ships, maxing out the same weapon and spamming the map with it. It’s true that unless you run into a very specific counter you can pretty much make a giant fleet of ships with X weapon, set up optimal range parameters, and then steamroll 90% of the challenges.
I think the main reason for this is that when you have zillions of the same weapon which are packed into a small area of space they tend to pick the same target to fire at and you get very efficient focusing of firepower… which of course is ALWAYS the key to winning in pretty much every space strategy game I ever played.
So to fix that, you need a mechanic which will force ships to split their targeting. Which made me think of the “Tacnet” concept which I vaguely recall from some pen and paper wargame I played years ago (Starfire maybe?). The idea is that each hull has a base “command rating” and ships have a command cost. One ship is set as a sqadron command ship, and then you fill up its command rating with the cost of the ships in the fleet. Smaller ships have lower command ratings and command costs, and some hulls might be designed with reduced weapons in favor of higher command ratings, giving up weapons space for C3 equipment. Your whole fleet will have to be sorted into a number of small squadrons instead of, say, one giant swarm of 36 plasma frigates. The numbers should be designed to make the maximum amount of firepower you can get in a squad come from a mix of cruisers and frigates.
During a battle, the AI chooses the target for each tacnet, erring on the side of splitting fire on different targets. So if you try the frigate swarm you end up with a bunch of 3 ships squadrons shooting at many different targets. But if you throw some command cruisers into the frigate mix you end up with far fewer units and more efficient focus fire.
I think it would add a little more strategy to order setting as well because you’d have to think about splitting the enemies fire by destroying his command ships.
Soooo yeah… just my 2 cents.