In the interests of raising the level of the community, several posts have been made pointing out strategies and starts, as well as balancing issues. These posts are often made from a sophisticated (in gameplay) viewpoint, incorporate math or game file numbers, and are directed at people 'playing to win' on small or medium maps. Having ghosted the forums and played Sins since it went gold, I thought I might provide a companion to these more complex arguments.
Please note that what follows below can be used in single player to great effect but is directed at a multi-player audience. Hopefully starting, casual, and veteran players will find this useful, and I encourage players to post their own thoughts, counter-arguments, and additions.
**If you can provide replays illustrating effective use of a particular strategy I will edit them into the main post, as well as pointing to any commentary you would like to leave. If you post with an outlandish strategy or tactic and can't back it up with a replay I will not edit it in- this is less an exercise in theorycraft than a tool for viable play. **If you disagree with any points below I will not take it personally, but please present your points politely and back them up with replays, or you might be ignored** The goal is to eventually have a resource that can be referred to by anyone, a playbook that will teach you something useful every time you look at it.**
I. Viable Strategies/Counters
A. LRM Spam
B. Econ Boom
C. Returning Armada
D. Scout Rush
E. Sova Rush
F. Colony Rush
G. HC Rush
J. Capital Ships
III. Game Composition
A. Map Size
B. Team Size
D. Messing Up
I. Viable strategies
- These strats are not necessarily valid post 1.04, but I've included them to give players a frame of reference for the very slooow LRF blob making it's way toward their homeworld, etc. 1.05 is still fairly new, and I will edit in additional viable strategies as I receive them.
A. LRF/LRM Spam - Prior to 1.04 the most effective DamagePerSecond dealer won the game. Skilled players immediately seized on Long Range Frigates as the most cost-effective method for dealing this damage. The LRF, and particularly the TEC faction LRM, was fast, very cheap, and when massed could kill pretty much any damage-dealing ship/building in the game quickly, including cap ships.
An effective LRM swarm/zerg/spammer in a small 1 v 1 built minimal light frigates (3-4 necessary to expand) before tech rushing (building necessary military labs, 1 for Vasari, 2 for TEC, followed by research) and pumping out maximum possible LRF (many units of one type = spam).
A soft counter to the LRM blob was the flak frigate, which while dealing minimal damage to anything other than strikecraft, was built like a tank and could slowly wear down the much weaker-hulled LRMs. Flak have a 360 degree firing arc, and could be micromanaged to run circles around the much slower-turning LRMs. While flak countered LRMs in theory, a good blob-herder would ignore them, concentrating on research labs, cap ships and, and frigate factories. Thus while your flak slowly wore my fleet down I destroyed your empire. As of 1.04, flak have been nerfed against LRFs, to the point where it will take a much larger proportion of flak to counter.
A potential counter to LRF exists in strikecraft, which cut through them like butter. Unfortunately one of the only truly hard counters in the game is the complete destruction of all your many strikecraft squadrons by my four flak frigs, not to mention that my 1.03 LRMs would run down your carriers pretty fast. Tactical management of strikecraft to minimize flak damage is possible, but difficult against skilled players. For this reason strikecraft are largely ignored through early 1.05.
Edit 5/13/08: Per Amirabiri @ http://forums.sinsofasolarempire.com/311570, in 1.04 Advent strikecraft maintain a viable counter to LRM/Flak when coupled with Guardian Repulsion. Repulsion in 1.04 allows one to scatter the opponent's fleet to the point where effective anti-strikecraft fire is not achievable by flak alone.
As of 1.04 LRF speed has been nerfed significantly, potentially lessening the effect of a LRF rush in favor of other starts. Additionally, the Advent Illuminator LRF has been buffed and the effectiveness of all flak frigates vs. LRF have been reduced. Mentioned further downpost as a counter to all LRF/ships is the Heavy Cruiser.
LRF Spam Replay:
B. Econ Boom/Pocket Boom - The "sim cities in space" approach focuses on building your economy at the expense of your fleet/military, and is researched in the 'civil' tech tree. This will almost always get you killed in a small 1 v 1 against an aggressive or skilled player (as of 1.04 this includes 'Unfair' AI). However, if your opponent is far enough, slow enough, or kept defensive enough it can reap dividends, as once your econ is mainlined you can build/research whatever you want. Booming usually involves filling every available slot with tradeports which each produce income based on the longest optimal caravan line (please note that tradeport income stacks - the more you build the more money you make).
The TEC faction is the boomer's first choice, and in high level 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 games one player (for example the player in the "pocket" on Razor's Edge Map) can often be seen booming, and either feeding the cash to his teammates or using it to acieve a much higher military tech or production level than his opponents. This can be countered best by attacking the boomer before his econ comes home, as he will make minimal efforts to militarize until then. The counter is identical to the next strat, the RA.
Econ Boom Replay:
Pocket Boom Replay:
C. RA/Dark Armada/Fleet of Doom - Returning Armada or RA is the ultimate tech on the Vasari faction Empire (civil) tree. The phase gates a player builds will periodically import high level attack ships, limited only by cooldown and antimatter drainage. As with the econ boomer, a player tech rushing to RA will devote nearly all of his resources to that purpose, making him weak right up until he has it online. Once RA is online, however, in the hands of even a competent player it is close to unstoppable, presenting as it does an unlimited flow of free ships (which can be scuttled for income). Like the econ boom, this strat is used in high level play, ideally with two players feeding money and resources to the pocket RA while fending off the opponent long enough for RA to come online. A skilled team can have RA up in 20-25 minutes.
Like the econ boomer, the RA rusher can be countered by destroying the buildings his tech relies on (research labs and phase gates) before the RA actually begins producing at full capacity. Once full production is reached, an unskilled RA player can be destroyed by taking advantage of his lack of support cruisers, as these are not produced by RA. A skilled RA player with full support and decent tactical skill is generally considered unbeatable in late 1.03, even by 2-3 opponents.
D. Scout Rush - Per Raging Amish and JinxofSin below, this strategy can be very useful under the right
circumstances. On a small, pre-made map where you know your opponent's
location it can allow you to win the game inside of 20 minutes. There
are a few variations (see replies below starting at # 44) but all
involve sending a strike force of scouts to your opponent's homeworld
immediately and killing his construction drones before he can build
tech labs. This keeps your opponent from teching his fleet up quickly,
which means that as soon as you get LRMs enmasse you can defeat him
The counter for this is simply to have your labs constructed before
your opponent strikes. On a very small pre-made this requires a
sacrifice, as you cannot build everything in the common build orders
(in order of 1. Buy 200 units crystal, infrastructure, cap factory,
crystal extractor 2. metal factories 3. labs, etc.) before your
constructors are dead. Jinx advises foregoing infrastructure to get
your labs up in this case. In larger or random maps it means that you
have to rush your labs out before building a fleet, something that can
be useful in high-level play anyway.
Replays to follow:
E. Sova Rush - The Sova rush is as follows: quick construction of a TEC faction Sova Capital Ship, teching embargo ability, and sending it to an opponent's homeworld (primary source of income). The embargo will steal a percentage of the opponent's income from that world, depending on embargo level, and slow construction in that gravity well. A skillful Sova rusher is able to avoid intercepting attackers by moving around the gravity well, and done early enough this can damage your opponent's primary economy while bootstrapping your own. Additionally, marshalling enough forces to drive your Sova out of the well can slow the opponent's expansion to nearby planets, as well as putting them on the defensive. As of 1.04, embargo from a single player does not stack, greatly lessening the effect of a level 1 embargo.
A few disadvantages are that once the embargo is beaten off you are stuck with a flimsy TEC carrier cap (TEC are generally considered the weakest carrier race, and carriers are among the weakest armored caps) that has few useful abilities in a shortgame. Thus the Sova Embargo rush is useful only if you are able to take advantage to the point where the game ends shortly after. Attempting to rush an opponent more than three phase lanes away, one with close support from allies, or one with a modicum of experience with the tactic is risky at best.
Sova Rush Replay:
(provided courtesy of ArtificerProdigy) This is an interesting Sova Rush because it's coupled with demo scouts, something we know GE has been working on but haven't seen actually used to great effect. [GE] Chutes is ables to destroy Artificer's frigate factory and capship factories very quickly using his demo charges, and only the secondary production at Artificer's asteroid allows him to stay in the game. Note however, that after the initial embargo Chutes' Sova is easily destroyed.
Sova Rush Defeated:
(provided courtesy of Ataraxia) Besides the Sova Rush, this game is notable for the goal-oriented playstyle of MonaLisaOverdive, who consistently focuses on labs and factories to deprive his opponent of reinforcements, negating any early economic advantage Chrusher gains from rushing.
F. Colony rush - is identical in every aspect except that it can be effected by the Vasari Space Whale and every dreadnought class cap ship, and instead of stealing money your are simply destroying your opponent's colony. This strategy is usually performed on your opponent's first asteroid colony, as the homeworld generally has too much health for a single dreadnought to reduce before being driven off. The advantages of a colony rush over a Sova rush is that the dreadnought is a much fiercer beast, and can usually outfight the caps that would counter a Sova while reducing a colony quickly, whereas the space whale can colonize any planet it reduces, giving you a beachhead to your opponent's homeworld. [A skilled team of three on a smaller map can actually use the colony rush to completely eliminate one surprised opponent within the first few minutes of the game, without losing a single ship. To my knowledge, effective counters to this have not yet been developed.]
Colony rush Replay:
Countering a single cap rush using one of the above requires effective scouting (auto-scouting won't cut it, ever, in any game against a skilled opponent. Even if micro/tactical managment isn't your thing, learn to scout manually). You can then counter-rush or gather forces sufficient to beat back the lone capital ship before it is reinforced. General practice at this point is to counter-rush a Sova with a colony rush, or beat it back with a battleship class capital ship. A belligerent dreadnought will generally demolish a battleship 1 to 1, so against a colony rusher support from additional ships is recommended.
G. HC Spam - With the speed nerf to LRMs in 1.04, this has become even more powerful, and basically consists of tech rushing to heavy cruisers. Heavy cruisers are effective against all ship types, and while tech/ship-expensive, can be devastating when employed enmasse against a player with any number of less advanced ships (LRMs, light frigates, flak frigates, certain support cruisers, cap ships, etc). The advantage of HC rushing over econ booming is that military production is viable early game. You are teching through the military tree, so if your opponent does something unexpected you are able to respond with military flexibility. Additionally, the HC lends itself to easy micromanagement. Each one is built to last, and you can often retreat a heavily damaged HC to fight again after health is restored.
A potential disadvantage is that your economy suffers when HC rushing, as you spend everything getting to these ships, and enough of them. Additionally, it takes longer to get Heavy Cruisers in numbers than almost any other ship produced by the frigate factory.
HC rushing can be countered by spamming a much larger number of less expensive craft and derailing HC production early, using bombers (problematic as mentioned above, but the most effective in terms of DPS), or using the disabling abilities of factional support cruisers mentioned below.
HC Spam Replay:
(Provided with thanks to ArtificerProdigy) This is a mitigated HC Rush, as both ArtificerProdigy and Yinhe start with lrms. The tech quickly to H cruisers however, and from there to subverters and guardians, respectively. There is some nice tactical use of these two support vessels and their game-altering abilities, and we see Yinhe reintroduce disciples to counter the subverters.
**Certain support abilities and ships get their own strategy sections, as they basically change the game once introduced**
H. Subverters - tech rushing to Vasari support cruiser class Subverters is risky for previously mentioned reasons, but can pay off huge. The vast area of effect stun ability, not to mention the decreased target shield mitigation ability, make this one of the most effective units of battle. A skilled Vasari player can lock up his opponent's fleet for as long as he has antimatter; with 3 or more subverters he can chain stun 30+ vessels indefinitely. In conjunction with a swarm of LRMs or HCs, there are few fleets that can withstand (or escape) close combat with the Subverter.
I. Guardians - The Guardian's shield augmenting aura is useful, but its repulsion ability is insane. A skilled Advent player can use repulsion to scatter an opponent's fleet at virtually no antimatter cost, and keep it scattered. This has defensive as well as offensive applications, as a single guardian can protect a given gravity well from any number of ships or keep those ships from leaving or focusing fire...forever. Additionally, repelling allows a skilled advent player to use carriers and strikecraft with impunity. Thus the Guardian is one of the few viable counters to the Subverter, while if the Subverter is allowed close enough to a group of Guardians the reverse applies.
Guardian Draw Replay:
A counter to both of these ships is tactical application of antimatter-draining abilities (wave after wave of teched up cobalt light frigates, for example). An alternative is use of strikecraft, which are unaffected by both abilities. However, if your opponent has skill, damage dealers, flak, and a significant number of Subverters or even a couple of teched up Guardians you are generally in trouble unless you have the same. Splitting your fleet to lessen repulse effects has some utility.
J. Capital Ships - Cap ship abilities have varying degrees of usefulness. Advent colony capship ability Malice, if triggered immediately before Advent battleship cap ability Brilliance (ability gained at lvl 6), can completely destroy a fleet of frigates and heavily damage a fleet of heavy cruisers or even cap ships, for example.
Generally in small or medium multi-player games creating multiple capships is a waste of hard earned resources until at least midgame, with the exception of specific synergies like the one listed above...With that in mind scuttling your capship factory immediately after production of your one free cap is a good idea, as all future caps will want to be coming from somewhere closer to the fight than your homeworld and you can use the planet slots on more immediate concerns. You'll see many high level 1 v 1 games ending when one player or another loses their capital ship, so make sure to choose yours wisely and keep it alive for as long as possible.
Keep in mind that each class of capital ship has a different function. Battleships excel at wading into a swarm of lesser ships, dealing damage on all sides while staying healthy, for example. Dreadnoughts deal only slightly more damage than battleships, but deal almost all of that damage from a frontal firing arc, meaning that they defeat almost any opponent 1 to 1. When faced with multiple enemies however, the dreadnought's weaker armor means it must quickly prevail or risk destruction.
Capital Ship Ability Replay:
K. Reconnaissance - While technically not a strategy, per Amirabiri @ #30, gaining intelligence on the fleet composition, actions, and numbers of you opponents is one of the most important aspects of gameplay. It will be important early, when determining where to colonize or how to counter your opponent's initial start, as well as late, when determining whether to attack or defend, where and how to fight and when to retreat. Scouts are, predictably, the most effective reconnaissance, being disposable, fast, and cheap. Read Amirabiri's reply for a fuller set of applications.
Counter-intelligence has not been as emphasized in the early days of Sins, but is easily as important. Allowing your enemy to see what you are up to, what your fleet disposition and resources amount to, can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Per Jinx below, counter-intel mechanics have not yet been developed which allow easy destruction of your opponent's scouts, especially when they are micromanaged. Allowing him to park those scouts on the edge of your main gravwell, however, is not acceptable. When you can, seize the opportunity to keep your opponent in the dark.
Technologies which allow vision of phasing ships can be useful, but there are things that you can better spend your money on as long as you effectively scout your borders.
Defense in Sins is difficult early, and only gets harder as the game progresses. Generally it falls into three categories, static, fluid, and balanced. In all cases, however, it is important to realize that no number of fixed orbital positions will protect a given colony/flank against a determined and even moderately able human opponent. Countering most defenses is as easy as going around them. If that isn't an option, destroy repair structures and Phase Jump Inhibitors first, then turrets, then hangars. (There are faction specific, high tech, defensive structures which have been discussed in other posts. These might be effective in large or medium games, but I've never seen them used. Replays, please;) Please note that defensive platforms and abilities can be disabled just like any other ship.
It's also worth pointing out that ship factories and military research labs have high if indirect defensive value. Destroying these will limit the number and type of ships bearing down on your attack.
A. Static defense in Sins can be effective very early to keep raids off your research labs and factories in small maps, but if you saturate your planet's gravity well, at best you are conducting a holding action or supplementing your fleet, at worst you are wasting resources that could be better spent on a fleet. For this reason static D is most often found in medium or large map games, when holding off the opponent until your main force arrives is a possibility and you have the resources to spend.
Small map, minimal static defense involves stacking your labs and factories with one or two turrets or one or two repair platforms, enough to hold off a minor raiding party or delay a major one til the cavalry arrives.
In larger maps you cluster your orbitals, possibly stack repair bays on top of them (at least two, as then they will heal each other) and include a tight bunch of turrets.
Hangars, like carriers, are generally considered underpowered in early 1.04, however, at choke points they can be used to halt enemy scout reconnaissance of interior positions.
Phase Jump Inhibitors are also useful for denial of recon, and a skillful player can build up just inside the fog of war, waiting to ambush his opponent the moment they attack, while ensuring they have no escape. Alternatively, PJIs keep your enemy from penetrating too far too fast, which brings us to the most important point:
**If you are going to invest in static D, make sure you protect your important assets first. Otherwise, you better make darn sure I can't go around that pretty line of turrets you just built in the middle of nowhere**
B. Fluid defense consists of using your ships to defend. The distinct advantage of this over building orbital positions is that a defensive fleet can take the fight back to the enemy once victorious, or move to another location to defend.
The most abstract method of fluid D, championed on the forums by Transitive, consists of few or no defensive structures, and only a potential fleet. The player builds several frigate factories on border worlds, optionally coupled with repair platforms. At signs of an impending attack the relevant factories produce a force tailor-made to counter the aggressor, at least until reinforcements arrive. Predictably, this is most effective in medium to large maps with long-range recon, i.e. it will do you no good to queue four flak frigs if the 20 strong fleet or assailants is already reducing your factories...(A replay of this method working would be nice)
Fluid D Replay:
C. Balanced defense supplements a defending fleet with a small number of defensive structures, most notably repair platforms, as enough of these can keep your fleet healthy against superior numbers for a long time. In most cases with Sins multiplayer, the best defense is a strong offense. If your opponent never gets the chance to attack you don't need to defend. On the other hand, if your offensive fails it's good to have hedged your bets with a few repair platforms. If you have a long term plan like teching or booming defensive skills can be vital.
III. Game Composition:
Per Therlun @ #5 - The game plays very differently depending on map size and make (premade/random), number of players, team makeup (2 v 2, FFA, etc.), and options like enabled pirates. What follows is a very rough series of thoughts on these factors. Your input is of course, welcome, especially with game types I'm less familiar with (FFA, Multi-Star, 2 v 2 v 2 v2, etc.) and especially in providing sample replays for each of the following:
A. Map Size: Every game is different, but in a very general sense, small maps require more efficient micro-management and large maps require more efficient macro-management, not only of ships and ship abilities but also of resources and research.
A large map player must balance the need for military and economic expansion/influence against the possibility of over-extending against a strong opponent, i.e. the closer you move to an opponent's ship factories the faster he will be able to replenish his fleet.
A small map player must look at the same issues, but every resource (including time and space) in a small game is more precious (more on this further down). Additionally, large map players face the chore of consolidation, incorporating captured planets into the empire and making sure they stay there, or at least that they don't drain precious income. Small maps are much more fluid, focusing less on the acquisition of territory and more on the destruction of opponent buildings and fleets.
(See Hunting vs. Innociv replay below for a good example of 1v1. If anyone has a strong large map replay let me know. I've also omitted mention of multi-star systems, as I rarely play them. If strategy differs in multi-star let me know.)
B. Team composition: Having a team allows a player the luxury of dividing the labor. We've already explored economic/technological aspects of this (Econ Boom/RA Rush) and to an extent direct military applications (Triple Sova/Marza Rush). Another common approach is to divide research and military techs, i.e. one player techs up ice planet colonization and the other to volcano, one player techs Heavy Cruisers and the other techs Support, etc. When well-coordinated with allies this can be a very cost-effective.
The game is fairly young but we can extrapolate some tight-knit teams of the future having members who excel at producing one element to the exclusion of all others ("Oh J1mmy? Yeah, he's our Subverter/Volcanic guy"). One type of gameplay will likely always require more balanced play however: the free-for-all.
C. FFA - I play these rarely, and they are seldom discussed in the forums. Very generally then: locked/non-diplomatic free-for-all games are a careful balance between aggression and consolidation, and generally fit larger maps best. If you lose a major engagement to a canny opponent he won't always capitalize by eliminating you, because he must guard against others slipping in on an exposed flank (conversely, lucky or bloodthirsty idiots, not realizing their resultant exposure, might destroy you much earlier than skilled players:/). For this reason after initial expansion it is vital to map the movements of your opponents and consolidate your hold on choke point gravwells. More on this subject when I receive it.
D. Messing up - Map size, speed, and team composition are similar factors in that large,slow maps or team games are much more forgiving than small, fast 1 v 1s. A tiny tactical or strategic error on a small map with no teammates will almost always be deadly against a skilled opponent. Even losing your main fleet on a large map, under the right circumstances, doesn't necessarily spell defeat, especially if you have backup.
1 v 1, fast, small map: Tactical micromanagement cannot be stressed enough on small maps. Every ship counts, and when you lose even a frigate you've lost a significant investment. You don't have 10 planets of population and resources with which to replace depleted forces, and as crucially, you don't have time. For this reason, managing the health of your ships, retreating them when wounded, choosing carefully where to focus your fire is highly recommended. In addition, choosing where to spend your finite income and resources is vitally important.
E. Pirates - Pirates can be a very good tool for harassing and distracting your enemy early in the game. Mid and late game however, they simply provide experience for your opponent's cap ship. An important note is that bounty placed on a player's head is collected by anyone who kills their units, making it a waste to bid until the actual countdown timer has expired. As top bidder, timing your attacks for when the pirates are attacking is a useful skill to have; keep in mind that it can often take five minutes or more for the pirate fleet to reach the closest bounty planet from their base.
A strong player will use pirates as a feint, attacking areas left undefended by ships called to defend the pirate target. If your opponent seems to consistently outbid you, put a cap ship or a few turrets supported by repair at the closest planet you own to the pirate base. If you are playing a team game, make sure your teammates all bounty the same opponent (otherwise you are bidding against yourselves:P).
As a rule you almost never need or want to attack the pirate base, unless you are in a huge game and have a number of ships that aren't doing anything better or need the experience. The pirate base, once colonized, provides a nice treat, but it's not really worth the distraction.
That's all I have for now. I urge you to debate,correct, or modify any of the above points, and I will edit valid points and replays into the main post with credit given.