“It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” – Rocky Balboa
Energized by a recent online conversation (Commander Koski, 2022), I set out to answer the question, “What makes a good sacrificial ship?” I found a good brunch spot and filled a notebook with statistics, thoughts, and ship specifications around this topic – Yes, at that time in Earth’s history, people still used pencil and paper; this writing exercise was referred to as a scrambled brainstorm. Somewhere between the bacon and the coffee, I noted the factor which defined a good sacrificial option was, what I called, the Balboa Quality (BQ) – the ability to take a beating and deal significant damage. This article provided an overview of a system for determining the value of this type of ship. The BQ system proved capable of determining which ships were economically and militarily efficient in sacrifical situations.
WARNINGIf you lose ship mobility or minefield control in your games, sacrificial ship tactics are nearly useless. If you frequently experience this situation, I recommend checking out this piece on strategic mine laying: Click Here. You cannot dictate combat if you cannot control the battlefield.
The classic movie lover might have noted my opening paragraph referred to a specific well-known boxing movie, so before moving forward, I thought it prudent to unpack the BQ concept.
Defining the Balboa Quality
In 1976, Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in the movie Rocky (Rocky Balboa article, 2022). The Philadelphia-filmed flick won many awards, earned a ton of money, and gained status as a national treasure. As reported by Reuters (Brooks, 2007), the staff coordinator for the National Film Preservation Board noted, “…[Rocky] it’s a great story [in real life]: An out-of-work actor watches a fight on TV and whips out a screenplay, and there you go.” Despite such a mundane reason for its preservation, I personally thought it deserved saving because there was just something intriguing, endearing, and inspiring about a socioeconomically-challenged Joe fighting his way to the top tiers of life, love, and the boxing ring.
To me, Rocky Balboa was the embodiment of toughness and a never-give-up attitude. He took massive, crippling beatings – mostly because he never protected himself – stayed on his feet, and eventually overcame incredible odds through hard work and determination. Rocky was best described by Fandom (2022) as “famous for his indomitable spirit, extreme tenacity and ferocious body attack.” This idealistic image of an unrelenting fighter inspired the idea that a good sacrificial ship must possess the qualities of Rocky Balboa.
A starship had the Balboa Quality if it possessed the following virtues:
- INDOMITABILITY: A ship was indomitable if it was built at a low Tech Level, cost few megacredits, required small amounts of minerals, and reacquired with few priority points (PP).
- Rocky lived in a tiny flat on the wrong side of town. He trained in grungy gyms, old farms, and the rough streets of Philadelphia. Despite all the hard hits he took in life, he kept moving forward and found personal and professional success.
- TENACITY: A ship was tenacious if it had the combat mass and crew to stay alive long enough to expend a significant amount of the enemy’s ammunition and defences.
- Rocky lasted 15 rounds of being pummeled by the Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, and twice that against the American champion, Apollo Creed.
- FEROCITY: A ship was ferocious if it had the beams, bays, and launchers to dispense a few quick and deadly volleys before succombing to a knockout.
- After Rocky wore down the roid-driven Drago and ‘Clubber’ Lang, he delivered his own barrages of savage beating after savage beating.
Every sacrificial ship boasted these three BQ virtues. BQ was the foundational factor for determining which ships worked best in a sacrificial situation.
While BQ applied to all sacrificial ships, the game included many hull designs to fulfill a variety of sacrificial roles. There were those which punctured hulls, scratched shields, absorbed torpedoes, garrisoned bases, and kamikazed enemies. This examination focused on the warships which proved affordable and capable of destroying a significant number of starbase fighters. The other types were outside the scope of this article and designated to Part Two of this series.
As part of the work to create this article, I spent some time determining how to represent BQ with numbers and a ranking system. The following factors determined the final score: combat mass, number of beams, number of fighters destroyed, PPs needed for replacement, and cost of the hull and Tech Level. Nu’s shiplist (Race Sheet table, 2022) and its battle simulator (Battle Simulator help file, 2022) provided the data for these comparisons. Combat mass, beam count, and fighters destroyed recorded as positives, while hull cost, tech level, and PPs recorded as negatives. Ships earned points based on the following designations:
- combat mass = +2 points per 25 kilotons (or portion thereof)
- cost = -2 points per 25 minerals and MegaCredits (or portion thereof)
- beam weapons = +1 points per beam
- tech level = -1 point per level
- number of fighters destroyed = +2 points per fighter destroyed
- priority points = -3 points per point
- ¹ During testing, carriers were without fighters.
- ² Fascist ships have a special ability: 2x Faster Beams.
- ³ Federation has a special ability: Crew Bonus +50 Combat Mass
What BQ did not tell was how to use these sacrificial ships. Battle orders, scratching shields, and puncturing hulls were not the goal of this article. While BQ was essentially the same with these other types of sacrifices, the calculations needed to include factors like the percentage of shield reduction, total crew members, and cost of torpedoes. This material was covered in Part Two of this series.
To maintain consistency in the testing, I used the same battle simulator settings for each simulation: 361 planetary defence, 100 planet shield, 200 base defence, 60 base fighters, and 10 beam tech. This recreated a representation of a fully-defended starbase on a planet with a maximum population.
The table below ranked starships by their BQ value in a sacrificial situation against a fully-defended starbase.
|RANK||RACE||SHIP NAME||FIGHTERS KILLED||BQ|
|1||Fascist||Saber Class Frigate ²||60||85|
|2||Fascist||Ill Wind Class Battlecruiser ²||62||82|
|3||Fascist||Little Pest Class Escort ²||22||33|
|4||Federation||Arkham Class Frigate||18||22|
|5||Fascist||Valiant Wing Class Carrier ¹ ²||35||22|
|6||Fascist||Deth Specula Class Frigate ²||29||20|
|7||Privateer/Colonial||Lady Royale Class Cruiser||8||19|
|8||Fascist||D7 Coldpain Class Cruiser ²||20||15|
|9||Rebel/Colonial||Iron Lady Class Frigate||24||15|
|10||Privateer||Little Pest Class Escort||12||13|
|11||Crystal||Onyx Class Frigate||24||11|
|12||Fascist||D7a Painmaker Class Cruiser ²||16||11|
|13||Privateer||Br4 Class Gunship||10||11|
|14||Crystal||Sky Garnet Class Destroyer||13||9|
|15||Colonial||Little Joe Class Escort||10||9|
|16||Fascist||D19b Nefarious Class Destroyer ²||18||8|
|18||Federation||Nocturne Class Destroyer||8||7|
|19||Evil Empire||Super Star Frigate||15||7|
|20||Evil Empire||Ru25 Gunboat||8||6|
|21||Rebel/Colonial||Cygnus Class Destroyer||8||6|
|22||Bird Men||Fearless Wing Cruiser||18||5|
|24||Lizard||Reptile Class Destroyer||8||4|
|25||Privateer||Br5 Kaye Class Torpedo Boat||8||4|
|26||Crystal||Topez Class Gunboat||8||4|
|27||Evil Empire||Super Star Destroyer ¹||24||4|
|28||Bird Men||Resolute Class Battlecruiser||24||2|
|29||Lizard||Saurian Class Light Cruiser||12||1|
|30||Crystal||Emerald Class Battlecruiser||24||1|
|31||Federation||Brynhild Class Escort||8||0|
|32||Robot||Cat’s Paw Class Destroyer||8||0|
|33||Crystal||Ruby Class Light Cruiser||8||-1|
|34||Bird Men||Deth Specula Class Frigate||18||-2|
|35||Cyborg||Firecloud Class Cruiser||18||-2|
|36||Federation||Missouri Class Battleship||32||-3|
|37||Rebel||Deep Space Scout||8||-3|
|38||Rebel/Colonial||Tranquility Class Cruiser||8||-3|
|39||Federation||Vendetta Class Frigate||8||-4|
|40||Federation||Banshee Class Destroyer||8||-4|
|41||Lizard||Lizard Class Cruiser||12||-5|
|42||Bird Men||White Falcon Class Cruiser||8||-5|
|43||Bird Men||Valiant Wind Class Carrier ¹||21||-6|
|44||Privateer||Dwarfstar Class Transport||12||-6|
|45||Rebel/Colonial||Gemini Class Transport ¹||8||-6|
|46||Colonial||Cobol Class Research Cruiser||8||-6|
|47||Privateer||D7a Painmaker Class Cruiser||8||-7|
|48||Lizard||Vendetta Class Frigate||8||-8|
|49||Robot/Rebel||Sage Class Frigate||8||-8|
|50||Federation||Diplomacy Class Cruiser||18||-10|
|51||Cyborg||Quietus Class Cruiser||8||-11|
|52||Federation||Kittyhawk Class Carrier ¹||8||-12|
|53||Evil Empire||Super Star Cruiser ¹||23||-12|
|54||Rebel||Gaurdian Class Destroyer||6||-12|
|55||Rebel/Colonial||Patriot Class Light Carrier ¹||4||-13|
|56||Privateer||Meteor Class Blockade Runner||8||-14|
|57||Privateer||Bloodfang Class Carrier ¹||21||-16|
|58||Bird Men/Privateer||Skyfire Class Cruiser||8||-21|
|59||Evil Empire||Moscow Class Star Escort ¹||8||-22|
|60||Robot||Cybernaut Class Baseship ¹||12||-23|
|61||Robot||Instrumentality Class Baseship ¹||16||-24|
|62||Evil Empire||Super Star Carrier ¹||9||-26|
|63||Federation||Nebula Class Cruiser||8||-29|
|64||Colonial||Scorpius Class Light Carrier ¹||8||-40|
If you were interested, the follow document depicted the complete set of data:
- It was important to remember that the Fascists, Rebels, and Evil Empire never required a sacrificial ship to defeat a maxed-out starbase. Each empire utilized other means to capture bases, e.g., Pillage, Rebel Ground Attack, and Imperial Assault. Regardless, the contributions of their vessels proved valuable for trade and cooperative situations.
- Some gaps in the data related to economics. The table did not account for the influences of Federation reduced mining and increased taxing, Lizard increased mining and HISSSSSing, and ship abilities which give more money, e.g., Lady Royale Class Cruiser, Englighten Class Research Vessel. Commanders of these particular races considered these economic differences when deciding which ships to sacrifice and which ones to build.
- The free fighter ability of the Evil Empire, Robots, Rebels, and Colonies of Man drastically affected the carriers in the list. For the other races, using a sacrificial carrier was an unwise choice and entirely unsustainable.
- One factor which highly influenced the rankings was the Fascist 2x Fast Beams. According to the table, the Saber Class Frigate dominated as a sacrificial ship, but this tactic was rarely employed because it was worth more as a glory device.
- The table was unable to provide analysis on the unquantifiable value of each ship; for example, the Ill Wind was one of the best minelayers in the game and not so easily replaced. The Lady Royale, D7 Coldpain, SS Frigate, SS Destroyer, Resolute, Emerald, Cat’s Paw, Firecloud, Cobol, Meteor, and other multi-use vessels all provoked the same line of thinking. If a ship was more useful intact, its was a less plausible option as a sacrifice.
- There was a concern that the results changed with Fed and Lizard Crew Bonuses. In the case of the Lizard’s bonus shield points, there was no change. The boost was not significant enough to make a difference; in general, the Alliance’s warships lacked enough mass to endure heavy attacks and extra shields did not change this. The Fed’s +50 boost to combat mass also made no difference. The 60% chance for extra combat mass factored into many Federation combat scenarios, but it was not relevant against planets. In both cases, the increases were not enough to give any ship an extra volley of beams.
- Remember: This table showed whether or not sacrificing each ship was efficient and significant. It did not show if a single ship was enough to keep the follow-up ship alive. This was a topic for Part Two of the series.
THE VALUE OF BQ
In the early stages of a Planets match, every commander had a choice to use extra bases to produce PPs or small, cheap ships. This was easier to grasp in Classic because the Ship Limit held tight control over ship production, but this decision became more difficult in the loosely-flowing Production Queue era. Commanders had to decide if filling slots with low-tech vessels was worth more than stockpiling build points. The value of BQ was its ability to root out vessels which were not efficient to sacrifice against a starbase; the ships with a positive rank showed they balanced cost with results. With BQ, a commander had a clearer picture of whether to build sacrificial ships or gather 2 PP.
Take the Bots, for example, the BQ ranking table proved that the Cat’s Paw was their only ship worth sacrificing; however, the Bot commander surely did not want to give up a minelayer. BQ suggested the Bots had the Sage to sacrifice, but its output was minimal compared to its cost. Beyond that, Robot empires had the high-costing Cybernaut and Instrumentality. A fully-loaded Instrumentality dropped the baseship’s BQ another 32 points due to the cost of the fighters, but it also killed an extra 28 fighters; in the end, this carrier’s BQ rose to 8. The commander was left pondering if sacrificing an Instrumentality was efficient or not; it was difficult to determine if losing a strong mid-sized carrier and 80 fighters was worth capturing a planet and saving a Golem Class Baseship. According to the chart, the more efficient choice was to trade for Onyxes, Iron Ladies, Little Pests, Sky Garnets, and other sacrificial ships with high BQ. Moreover, BQ showed the Robot leader that the accumulation of PPs was more valuable than trying to squeeze out a bunch of low tech Cat’s Paws and Instrumentalities.
This table summarzied the top three high-BQ ships for each race; in addition, this table highlighted which races needed to trade for some.
|Federation||Arkham Class Frigate||4|
|Nocturne Class Destroyer||18|
|Bynhild Class Escort||31|
|Lizard||Reptile Class Destroyer||24|
|Saurian Class Light Cruiser||29|
|Lizard Class Cruiser||41|
|Bird Men||Fearless Wing Cruiser||22|
|Resolute Class Battlecruiser||28|
|Deth Specula Class Frigate||34|
|Fascist||Saber Class Frigate||1|
|Ill Wind Class Battlecruiser||2|
|Little Pest Class Escort||3|
|Privateer||Lady Royale Class Cruiser||7|
|Little Pest Class Escort||10|
|Br4 Class Gunship||13|
|Firecloud Class Cruiser||35|
|Crystal||Onyx Class Frigate||11|
|Sky Garnet Class Destroyer||14|
|Topez Class Gunboat||26|
|Evil Empire||Super Star Frigate||19|
|Super Star Destroyer||27|
|Robot||Cat’s Paw Class Destroyer||32|
|Sage Class Frigate||49|
|Cybernaut Class Baseship||60|
|Rebel||Iron Lady Class Frigate||10|
|Cygnus Class Destroyer||21|
|Deep Space Scout||37|
|Colonial||Lady Royale Class Cruiser||7|
|Iron Lady Class Frigate||9|
|Little Joe Class Escort||15|
From this list, a few ships stood out when sent to die against a starbase. The Little Pest with Fast Beams turned out to be a highly efficient fighter killer, and it wasn’t too bad in the hands of others. The Onyx distinguished itself as one of the best sacrificial ships in the game. The Federation’s Arkham was not far behind the Onyx. The Super Star Frigate proved itself to be a surprisingly decent sacrifice, except that you lost your minelayer at the same time. The Iron Lady was an excellent ship to throw against a maxed base.
A few races stood out with several excellent sacrificial ships. The Federation, Fascists, Privateers, and Crystals each brandished several fighter-killing weapons. No big surprise, the Iron Lady turned out to be a perfect option for the Rebels and Colonies. This data gave the Crystals trade hopes. The Onyx and Sky Garnet were both excellent sacrificial ships and proved worthy of trade.
For the Lizards, Bird Men, Evil Empire, and Robots, difficult choices had to be made. With the exception of Imperial Assult, these commanders took a great loss when capturing a base. The Lizards, Bird Men, and Robots demonstrated a need to seek out trades for sacrificial ships, although the Lizard economy enjoyed the ability to mass produce enough ships that losing some made barely a dent.
I found it interesting that many of the top sacrificial ships were named frigates or escorts. Throughout history, frigates sported a lot of guns, protected convoys, and escorted battle groups. It fitted that a lot of the best sacrificial ships in Planets were also named in this manner.
Killing powered-up starbases was always a tricky business. If you weren’t careful, you lost valuable warships. The Balboa Quality helped commanders determine which ships to sacrifice and whether to spam ships or PPs in the early game; furthermore, the BQ data showed whether your race had any sacrificial ships worth using, who to ask for some if you had none, and which ones gave you trade options.
Remember: The purpose of BQ was to weigh the cost of the sacrifice versus the damage done. It said nothing about stacking ships or which sacrifices would save a heavy carrier. Of course, the salvation of a heavy carrier always outweighed the loss of any lesser ship, but BQ helped the discerning commander determine if the individual ship was worth the loss.
STAY TUNED: In Part Two, I will apply BQ to ships with torpedoes and those ships which can be used as “shield scratchers.”
Battle Simulator help file. (2022, July 24) Battle simulator. Planets.nu. https://planets.nu/#/howtoplay/battle-simulator.
Brooks, B. (2007, January 21) “Rocky,” “Fargo” join national film registry. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-registry-idUSN2745890220061228.
Commander Koski. (2022, July 22). What is the best sacrificial ship in this game? [Online forum post]. Planets.nu. https://planets.nu/#/activity/5960702.
Frigate article. (2022, May 12) In New World Encyclopedia. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Frigate.
Race Sheet tables. (2022, February 10) In Planets.nu. https://planets.nu/#/howtoplay/RaceSheetPlus.
Rocky Balboa article. (2022, June 5) In Fandom. https://rocky.fandom.com/wiki/Rocky_Balboa.
Rocky Balboa article. (2022, July 19) In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Balboa.
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