Early Game Ship Design
The following describes a technique useful for early,
easy conquest of computer opponents. I've also had great luck
using this against humans. Although shields are beneficial,
most of the things you want for early conquest are found in
the physical sciences hierarchy, which also includes mining
advances. Therefore, this strategy is especially suited to
physical-science savvy, mineral hungry races like the silicoid,
meklar or cynoid.
To cut to the chase, here's an example of an effective combat
vessel you can start building on the very first turn:
Zortrium, Light Armor (100 hit points)
5 nuclear point defense missiles (3 shots)
3 nuclear rockets (2 shots)
7 nuclear rockets (1 shot)
Detection System (Special)
combat speed: 250
Obviously the vessel can be improved with better armor, bigger
missiles and especially shields, but three of these will enable
you to conquer an enemy homeworld if you can crank them out
fast enough. The detection system may or may not be preferable
to a few extra PD rockets (YMMV).
You'll want a light cruiser. Use the heaviest armor and the
largest shield you have (this means you may have to replace
the small shield generator the computer likes to put on, and
upgrade the armor). Drop the ship's combat speed; 250 is quite
sufficient since you never move. Note that these missiles
are very expensive, so the cost-savings for stripping off
the armor is never worth it. Use your best defenses.
For armament, you want 1 shot of your most advanced missile
on a rocket chasis (light missile if you have it, but personally
I can't get light missiles to shoot at fighters, see below)
and a separate rack, somewhat smaller, with 2 shots of the
same missile. If you have missile shields or armor, use them.
Don't fill up all your space with ship to ship missiles.
Use some of the remaining space for point defense - interceptors
do work, whatever weapon you have is fine, use fighter shields
and armor if you have them. If you have the point defense
gun, you can use that, instead of interceptors. This armament
is purely to be used against enemy fighters, and if you use
your best armor and shields, you won't need much of it. If
you use point-defense missiles, make sure to pack more volleys
of these than you do of ship-to-ship missiles, since the first
point-defense volleys like to target enemy ships.
The basic idea is to build indirect fire ships capable of
taking out all of your enemies immediately. These boats can
be built without the benefit of advanced technology, although
of course you should always use the best that you have - without
shields you will lose an occasional vessel to enemy fighters
and you may want to compensate by raising the ratio of interceptors/point
defense you carry.
These ships are very vulnerable to enemy stealth - you can
counter this by piling on ECCM or having reonnaisance ships
escort them, but in the early game don't worry about it. I
find that minimal sensors are still worth it.
Keep the following things in mind:
a) A single volley of missiles can never harm more than one
target. A planet is a single target, as is a single task force
of ships or flight of fighters. Therefore, a typical enemy
planet will be defended by planetary defenses, defensive ships
organised into one task force, up to two orbitals* and possibly
an interstellar task force that simply happens to be in-system.
This means you need to take out five targets plus the fighters,
which means you need at least three vessels; enemy planets
may require an extra volley, so bring four if you can muster
them. Organizing your missiles into a single shot means you
need 5 or 6 vessels, which is much harder to muster early
in the game.
* However many orbitals a planet has, I've found that only
two fight at a given time. This means it may take multiple
turns to invade the planet; be patient.
b) Point defense doesn't really work. This may change with
the patch (let us hope), but at present, the first volley
you fire is superior to subsequent volleys. Make it large.
The computer is somewhat more able to use point defense than
c) The missile volley of an enemy planet, with a missile
base, is extremely powerful. EXPECT to lose a task force every
time you attack an enemy planet with a missile base. This
means your task forces should be composed of single ships
(see above). This limits you to ten ships per combat, which
can be a problem against human opponents, but the computer
is stupid. This also means you will have to replace a vessel
whenever you attack a missile base. Human players, who generally
build slightly fewer planetary defenses than a computer opponent,
CAN be easier targets. They will also be more of a threat
later so viciously attack people with these ships if they
leave themselves vulnerable.
d) If you use rockets (the second-smallest chassis of missile)
you can take out fighters with those. Pack 3 volleys per ship
if you plan to do this. However, it is difficult to do if
you control combat yourself (the ships often refuse to fire
at the fighters). So, I recommend interceptors, point defense
guns, point defense missiles or the like.
e) If you don't control combat yourself, you can't control
bombardment (again, hopefully this will change with the patch).
These missile vessels utterly frag enemy planets when the
whimsy strikes the bombardment AI, so be careful.