These tips are designed for both the intermediate player and the advanced player. I would like to present some basic concepts which most advanced players have learned, but few have committed to words. However, it is assumed you have read the FAQ, and for some of the discussion, you must understand what the pop-trick is.
First, let us discuss what is meant by the word tactic. A tactic is a maneuver intended to secure an advantage over the enemy. In Stellar Crisis, this advantage can only come in three forms:
There are, however, desireable positions which you can strive for, and if the map is kind to you, you might find yourself in a winning position through sheer luck. The question is, can you turn your good map into a win?
Likewise, Stellar Crisis is a game which can be won by the accumulation of small advantages, or "edges." I have identified three advantages, and I believe there are none other. These are:
For this reason, keep in mind while playing high-tech games that in these games, long term technology advantages are quickly eroded. If you are ahead in tech and behind in econ, your only hope is to mount an immediate attack. If you are behind in tech and ahead in econ, do everything you can to delay the major confrontations until later in the game. If you want to win by a tech edge you must do so in a timely manner, for if you wait too long, your advantage will disappear.
How does one gain a tech edge in the first place? Well, there are lots of ways to gain tech on your opponent. Here are just a few:
This is the first and most elementary of all positions is what I call the double attack--or, to to borrow a chess term, a "fork." This can happen in a map like the one pictured below.
Here we see the poor Goose getting crushed by his purple opponent. The reason for my woes in this game is that his planet, Crux, is attacking both my homeworld and System 62,61.
If he presents me with an army at Crux (perhaps stargated in, or simply moved there) I cannot simply move an army into my HW, because he might choose to go after 62,61 instead. My only hope, apparently, would be to defend with mobile attack ships placed at 62,60 so that I could defend either planet that he attacks.
Suppose he has an army of 10 attack ships and 2 minesweepers at Crux, and I have 7 attacks at my HW. I could then respond by overbuilding at 62,60. Since I don't need sweepers to defend, I can afford to build a bigger army than him. Suppose I can afford 7 attack ships at 62,60, after first making sure that they will all be fully healed on the next round. (Like most experienced players, I do this by instinct--but see the Overbuild Calculator if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty.) I take the 7 attacks in my HW and move them to 62,60 also, because if he moves in on them during an overbuild I'm toast.
I press END-TURN thinking I've got the situation under control. But wait--there's a problem! The scoundrel did not move his entire fleet into either of the two planets, no--that would be too easy. He moved one minesweeper into my homeworld, and the other sweeper to 62,61. The 10 attack ships are hanging back at crux! Now he is poised to nuke either planet, but I have no way of knowing which one he will strike. He has a double attack.
The interesting thing about this scenario is that I might be able to nullify his threat by getting really lucky. He will ultimately have X ships placed on my homeworld, and Y ships placed on 62,61, where X+Y=12. I have 14 ships, so if I can just guess how many ships he will assign to each planet I could negate his attack. In fact, I have a small margin of error to play with because of my two extra ships. Since I only need to move 11 to my HW, perhaps a logical choice would be to send 3 to the builder. Surely, though, he has thought of that, and that's why he might move enough to the builder to overcome my 3, and forgo the nuking of my homeworld. So perhaps I should send only 1 to my HW? I'm in a dificult situation, because I have to resort to guessing to stay alive. No matter what I guess, it might be the wrong answer. The fewer ships I assign to my homeworld the bigger the chance of getting nuked on the spot. There is no "right answer" as to where my opponent should move his ships--if there were, I would simply make the "right response" every time! Both nuking my homeworld and nuking my good builder at 62,61 both have appeal to my enemy, who will gladly settle for nuking the builder if he is sure I can and will defend my homeworld. In fact, a good method for my purple opponent to use would be to come up with a random number from 1-10 and move that many ships to my homeworld. The more I defend one planet, the greater the odds of losing the other, and so I would have to tend toward losing the builder and staying alive.
If I do get lucky, and nullify his threat by guessing right, I'm still not out of the woods. He merely mounts another attack, and next time, I might not get lucky. Assuming the econs are about equal, it's really just a matter of time before he gets to nuke something.
One might argue, "but what if Gooseberry didn't overbuild at all? If he just built some attacks at 62,61 the attacker would have lost his sweepers and then Gooseberry would have the upper hand." This is true, but again, that would only be guesswork. He never was forced to move the lonely sweepers in at first, perhaps next time, he will simply rush my homeworld in a straightforward manner, in which case the suggested defense would cook my goose. There's no way around it, you can get lucky for a while, but you just cannot overcome a double threat.
The double-attack is an example of a map edge. And if my purple enemy was able to build at Crux, his situation would be all the sweeter. Well placed builders are another important element of a map-edge.
Note that the econ-edge and tech-edge are always results of your playing, but the map edge is usually not earned. It's typically bestowed upon you by the grace of the SC Gods.
Here, we touch upon one of the great uses for engineers: they can give you a map edge, by creating double attack on enemy planets and removing a double attack upon yours.
Another example of a map edge is a configuration of resources such that terraformers are not needed.
A well-explored map is yet another map edge. Don't forget: exploring your enemies homeworld is a necessary condition to winning the game. Also, having seen your opponent's back planets allows you to engage in cloaker mischief and distraction threats as well as well.
Suppose you want to troopship a planet, but your opponent has cleverly used the unbeatable troopship defense: he manipulated the population of the planet far beyond the reach of your troopships. There you are, with a fleet of attacks, troops, and sweepers... all dressed up and nothing to do but nuke.
Don't be so glum, chum. Put the nuke command in, and the invade command in, both at the same time. If you nuke it and the troopship lives you will also invade the planet, no matter how weak the troopship became. This is because a nuked planet's population is 0, and troopshipping happens after battle. Perhaps this was originally intentional, or perhaps it's a bug, but it's worked this way for so long it's become part of the game.
The next turn you'll have the planet with 0 population. You'll own it, but the population will be 0. (Weird, huh?) Don't worry, it will turn into "1" next round and then proceed from there. What's really wacky is this: in some older versions of SC (and maybe some of the newer ones too, I don't know) you can actually colonize the planet you already own! Evidentally, colonizing doesn't worry about whether or not you own the planet, just whether the pop is zero?!
Moreover, I don't pay much credence to the "score." Since it doesn't take into account who you play, it tells very little of the strength of the player. To pull from a chess analogy: Grandmasters of chess can finish a year with a negative score, but only by playing other grandmasters. The same player with the "poor score" could easily defeat a line of clubhouse players who boast "good scores" in terms of wins vs. losses, because they only play other amateurs. [Note: The new Bridier system is a different matter altogether! It addresses this problem and I find it satisfactory for the game. I refer only to the wins/nukes/nuked/ruins statistics.]
And so, hurray for dubious tactics! They allow the smallest David to knock-out the biggest Goliath, and all you need is some guts and a little bit of luck.
There are many recipes, so I'll just give you one which might work in a small 3 or 4 system game: build 4 science ships and 2 colonies all on round one. You'll be in the stone ages on round 2, not able to build anything because "you have insufficient technology to build ships." But your three science ships might clobber an incoming science ship, and you're clearing the way for your colonies.
Ideally, you will have a science ship over his HW on the same turn you can perform the pop-trick. Normally you dismantle your ships before a pop-trick, but in a two player game with ships on the enemy homeworld, go ahead and leave the ship on "nuke." After all, if you succeed, who cares what it does to your tech level?
If all works as expected, you're building at your border with a fat econ, while he's still defending himself from afar with less econ. Even though he is higher tech than you, you're both BR 2, and your econ edge and map edge can help you nuke one of his planets, perhaps using the double attack strategy defined above.
The point is that you reach BR 2 while you're opponent still has at least 2 turns to go. In some situations you can then choose sweepers and build a small kick-butt army to go harass him. Don't build colonies--your plan is to make sure the game doesn't last that long. If things work well, you're BR 2 science ship will stomp on his colony, then go on to die in the HW. But you'll have your fat fleet waiting behind, and even though he's BR 2 as well, he won't have the time to build the fleet to defend his HW.
I make this sound attractive, but it can go horribly awry in many ways. First, if a third player joins, you may find him gobbling up the planets you never colonized. Next, after you wait the 2 or 3 turns to achieve BR 2, what if you haven't seen a ship of his yet? Building a huge BR 2 fleet in your homeworld might be met with a rude surprise, as even a BR 1 can inflict terrible damage to an overbuild. But if you only build a few BR 2's you could lose the vital turns required to turn this time critical tactic into a nuke.
In short I don't advise this strategy to people who want to improve their score, but if you like scaring the pants off your opponents and getting a nuke on turn 6, this is for you!
THE PHANTOM ARMY
Here's a tactic which, again, requires a bit of luck, but can result in advantages in a number of ways.
Suppose you are playing in an advanced game, perhaps of a 10 system grudge match. Everybody seems to be BR 8, with BR 9 a long way off. Your territory and your enemies adjoin only in two places, and for many turns you've been playing ring-around the rosey with him. However, you have a slight map-edge: you have explored deeper into his territory than he has explored into yours. How do you exploit this?
The obvious answer is "build cloakers"... which may or may not prove fruitful. After all, he might be watching for cloakers, and in some of the newer versions like Stellar Crisis: MK II a stargate is an effective defense.
I want to explain another way to take advantage of a map-edge which does not involve cloakers. All it involves is building a small fleet of ships at BR 1 instead of the maximum BR.
Why on earth would somebody do this? The idea is to create a double attack situation by having a "real" fleet and a "phantom fleet" of BR 1 ships. Your opponent will surely look at your military rating and realize that some of your ships must be less than the maximum BR, but he will not know for sure which fleet it is. If you can successfully split the fleet so that both the real fleet and the phantom fleet present credible threats, he will be hard pressed to defend against both attacks.
Here is an example. Suppose you have 10 BR 8 attack ships, 2 BR 8 minesweepers, and then 10 BR 1 attack ships. You move this impossibly large fleet into one of his planets "by surprise" (the jumpgates in version 3.0 lend nicely to this) and then, he will be forced to try to defend that planet. However, rather than nuking, you split your force in two directions:
You should be able to see why this works better at the higher BR's than the lower BR's: because the cost of maintaining the BR 1 is a very small percentage of maintaining a ship of the maximum BR. At early stages of the game, even BR 1's can be rather expensive when you build them in large quantities.
There is another possiblity where this strategy can bear fruit, but only against less experienced players. When they see the sheer size of your fleet, you might inspire them to overbuild beyond their capacity, and therefore have underfueled or undermaintained ships which will die easily. A good player never builds beyond capacity except in the extremely rare circumstances when it's absolutely called for.
If you uncloak on the very turn he does the pop-trick, he will be unable to build anywhere and therefore you have a "free nuke" by simply setting your cloaker to nuke... and plenty of time left over to taunt him.
I shouldn't even have to explain how this plan can go wrong. If he does not use the population trick (perhaps he doesn't know how!) he will thwart you measly cloaker. You will have no ships to speak of, he'll be either fully colonized or well on his way, and you've got the tech level of a neanderthal. Indeed, you're as good as dead. You can call this tactic a "high stakes gamble."
Fortunately, there is an ace-up-the-sleeve in this tactic which can allow you to win in a related scenario, albeit farfetched. If you're lucky enough to get one or two science ships alongside your cloaker in his HW, he's as good as dead. Nobody--and I mean nobody--expects to see a cloaker at BR1! If an experienced player sees two science ships in his homeworld, he'll make sure two attacks cover the threat. He probably is expecting you to explore anyway. So at that point, just uncloak and nuke, for when he sees the "Game List" appear he'll see how sneaky you really are. If you would rather shoot for this scenario than the pop-trick scenario, consider building two cloakers instead of one.
If you find yourself in this situation, you must decide if it's worth it to try to heal these ships. You must calculate how many rounds of non-building will heal them to full strength.
Let's look at an example. You have 6 BR3 ships at 0.1875, and your maintenance ratio is 4.00. In one round they will be 0.75, in two rounds they will be 3.00. So you know that it will take two rounds to repair these ships; and since not-building can lead to a tech-edge, this might be something to strive for. This is what I call a "double repair." (Always have a calculater handy when playing Stellar Crisis!)
Usually you can pull off the double-repair by moving your ships into a territory that your enemy will not expect, so that they can then return to their original target, or perhaps pick a new one. If you see your enemy with superweak ships, try to spread your forces to encounter his ships no matter where they run.
However, keep in mind: it's not desirable to have a large number of very weak ships! Your maintenance cost on those ships is just as much as if they were fully repaired. You often would rather lose the fight outright than be straddled with superweak ships. The fleet is often stripped of it's minesweepers and then becomes worthless without support. And quite often, it's not a double-repair or even a triple-repair but so many turns in the future you are forced to simply dismantle.
And so, with this in mind, I often intentionally lose battles by tiny amounts! For example, if he is moving 7 attacks a 1 minesweeper into my homeworld, I will move in 7 fully healed attacks and build a sat one BR less than par. To be really cruel, through in another sat of BR1 or BR2 to make the fight even closer. He then finds himself with 4 or 5 attack ships at about 0.1 BR, worthless, and he pays the full tech-drain for having them. Meanwhile you are receiving full tech bonus, and can defend his ships with a single attack.
How can you tell when your opponent has superweak ships? A good tip off is that you see him lose a large percentage of the ships in his fleet. E.g., if he had 9 BR3 ships and suddenly lost 4 of them, you know that the remaining 4 will need at least two turns to repair. Another good tip off is when your BR1 science ship meets 12 of his ships and they all go up in a poof of smoke ;)
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