Fleet Encounter Mechanics, Part 2

Part one is here. If you haven’t read it, it provides context for what I’m going to talk about here.

Travel Drive
Conceptually, ships use a different, much faster means of transportation for travel than they do for battle. Presumably, they either have to pop out of it every so often to navigate, or are forced to slow down by targeted nav system interference/debris fired across the projected trajectory/need to divert engine power to defensive systems due to the threat of enemy fire/<insert your favorite technobabble here>. Personally, I’m in favor of it being some kind of nav interference, whether it’s due to hypervelocity debris or jamming. The point is, a fleet can be forced to slow down and engage in battle.

On the flip side, a fleet disengaging from battle means that they’ve been able to re-engage their travel drives and put on speed. Maybe the nav computers finally calculated a safe trajectory. Maybe enough distance has been gained to eliminate the threat of enemy fire. The concept was always there, even if it wasn’t directly explored in the gameplay.

But now, there’s an opportunity to use it to improve the experience. With that in mind, the new mechanics:

  • A ship or fighter wing being deployed into combat comes in with travel drive on, and it remains on for about 5-6 seconds – enough time to move around 3 grid squares in the command screen
  • A retreating ship or fighter wing engages travel drive when it gets to within a couple grid squares from the border it’s heading for to make its getaway

Deployment using travel drive
A Medusa and a Wolf entering battle with Travel Drive (possibly pending cooler name) on.

This does a couple of things, all of them to do with reducing the impact of borders on gameplay. One, maps can be bigger without battles taking too long to heat up, because the extra space around the border is traversed very quickly using travel drive. This extra padding means objectives – which fighting often centers around – can be much farther away from borders. Two, retreating ships separate from pursuit far away from the border, almost entirely eliminating the “chase ship all the way to a border” situation.
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Fleet Encounter Mechanics, Part 1

In a previous post, I talked about combat readiness (“CR”) as a means of tying the campaign and combat layers closer together, but also as a means of cleaning up existing mechanics. The mechanics surrounding battle are a perfect candidate, both because they need cleaning up, and because they wouldn’t work well with CR as they now stand. Changes to these aren’t just a consequence of adding CR; rather, they’re part of that process.

First, a quick recap of how things work now. When the player encounters another fleet, they can choose to attack them or leave. If either side wants to attack, the fleets engage, and each side has three options: “attack”, “defend”, and “escape”. Without going into too much detail, there’s a rock-paper-scissors mechanic there where attack beats escape beats defend beats attack. (“Escape” beating “defend” simply means a clean getaway, with “beating” in general meaning having an advantage in the battle, not automatic victory.)

Playing rock-paper-scissors vs the computer isn’t fun. The computer is either predictable or random, but in either case you don’t get the mind games that make it interesting vs a human opponent. The “escape” mechanic also doesn’t work well. The escapee has to run their ships across the map and retreat them off the enemy side, which is much more difficult than “attacking” and then retreating ships off their side of the map – which they could do without seeing a single enemy. If they do that, their ships take some automatic, random post battle damage to simulate a chase after this retreat, but that’s a problem in itself.  Either it does enough damage so that retreat from a real lost battle is disastrous, or it doesn’t do enough damage to stop “attack to retreat” being viable.

Adding in CR, the current setup is also open to being gamed. For example, a single Hound-class frigate fighting against an Onslaught-class battleship – the Hound could engage, then immediately retreat, causing a CR loss for both ships for being deployed in battle. However, the Hound both costs less CR to deploy and recovers it faster. So, it could reliably beat an Onslaught without firing a single shot but wearing down its CR.
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