Fleet Stacks: The Missing Colonies Of Man

Articles Of War, Supplemental

In this series of brief supplements, we examine not ships as individuals but when working together as a machine, in task groups or battle formations. These articles presume familiarity with the concepts of Battle Order and Left vs. Right Combat.

The Colonies, like four other races, field a heavy carrier that can take on any single vessel in the Echo Cluster on relatively equal ground. The Virgo has the further advantage of being cheap to build (minerals-wise) and arm (free fighters). However, the rest of the Colonial fleet is composed largely of vessels too lightweight to be allowed out on their own.

In consequence of this, in an appendix to the Dreadlord Manual of antique fame, Doug Suerich proposed grouping a Patriot with a Little Joe and a Cygnus. When employed properly, he contended, this trio could be deadly against most foes. Unfortunately, what was true in 1994 has not withstood the test of time; against cloakers, who can select their targets through Intercept, such a group can gain no advantage from stacking, and against even medium carriers, battleships, or battlecruisers, they’re often simply flying to their deaths — a gift to any adversary who chooses to seize it.

Instead, we shall focus on ship stacks that function in a group as greater than the sum of their parts.

Fleet Stacks

Some races are fortunate, and can field uniform squadrons composed purely of heavy carriers without fear. Most don’t have this ability, which means they need to use precisely stacked fleets for battle, predicting the enemy’s own battle order and countering with their own design.

Against enemy battleship stacks, Virgos perform admirably, but it never hurts to sift in the odd shield-scratcher; each one means the enemy will have that many fewer torpedoes to fire, and a scratch means that much more time to load tubes and beams. Most foes aren’t courteous enough to field only battleships, which means more sacrifice ships are useful. Remember that higher-tech torpedoes fire sooner than low; the investment in Mk8s is worthwhile — but I wouldn’t advise fully loading the cargo hold with ammunition; these ships will die quickly.

Against heavy carriers, the Colonial fleet is often at a marginal disadvantage; especially when fighting from the right, the Virgo wins less than half the time. Wise enemies will add shield-scratchers, so sifting in a few of your own will probably be necessary. The following table contains some examples of simple deployments, but vary as you see fit; a degree of randomness often works in your favor.

Cygnus (x2?)Iron LadyLittle JoeIron Lady
VirgoIron Lady
VirgoIron Lady
Ships are listed in Battle Order, lowest to highest

When fighting fully defended starbases, the unaided Virgo has a high likelihood of victory. Even so, stripping a dozen fighters from the enemy base is usually enough to guarantee a win.

*NOTE: But not always.

Escort Group

The Colonies have two major logistical tools: free fuel (Cobols) and free fighters (Gemini and Saggitarius). In order to take proper advantage of these, it is often wise to follow the main battle fleet with several support vessels for refueling and rearming. This convoy will often include a Merlin, some dedicated minelayers, freighters, fuel carriers, and so on, some of which may occasionally travel fuelless as a partial defense against Intercept Attack.

It is tempting to hold a portion of the main battle fleet here in reserve, to act as an escort. Against some opponents — particularly the Bird Men — this may be essential; Priority Intercept can kill any single Gemini, but when the second vessel faced is a Virgo, that’s often a hollow victory. And yet, the main principle of winning battles is concentration. As such, most of the time it’s wise to keep the Virgoes assembled in a single massive stack.

As a result, it is often wise to commit dedicated vessels to escort duty, particularly those hulls best kept clear from the main battle force. The Patriot is ideal for this purpose; it’s lightweight, disposable, and almost entirely useless against top-level carriers and battleships. One will kill most cloaking raiders; a pair will succeed against anything smaller than a Dark Wing. Combine two up with a Tranquility or a pair of Cygnuses (Cygnii?) and you can do major damage — not against a heavy carrier, but you can actually kill most shield-scratched battleships with such a stack. (For the Puckish, a three-beam Scorpius might serve as well.)

It’s worthy of note that Geminis stocked with spare fighters can sweep mines, and that Cobols placed here for fuel generation can defend themselves with torpedoes and minefields. The occasional Cygnus, Tranquility, and Iron Lady enroute to the main battle group can provide worthwhile support to the escort mission on their way forward. Finally, the otherwise embarrassingly useless Scorpius can provide worthwhile service in this area, acting as an armored fighter courier to resupply the battle fleet; its heavy hull can keep it alive in places where lighter ships can’t go, including ion storms and the detritus of partially swept enemy minefields.

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