So, recently I've been noticing that a lot of players really don't have good colonization technique, even if they're solid in other aspects. I want to write a quick and simple guide on colonization technique to help those who might not know some of the tricks.
Let's start with some basics:
In almost every case your first targets should be the Krosov siege frigates in the planet militia. These are the most fragile of the defenders, plus they give a lot of experience. But that's besides the point, the fact is that once they are dead you can colonize the planet even if the other defenders are still alive. This saves time and money... and opens up other strategic possibilities as well that I will discuss in the more advanced section.
The second most fragile of the defenders is the LRM. It also has some wicked damage output, second only to heavy cruisers. You'd think it would be obvious to take them out early, but I keep seeing people leaving these for last (probably because of the range). You take so much damage if you leave these guys alone. Flaks and light frigates won't even dent capital ships, and heavy cruisers will take a mighty beating before going down. Take down the LRM's second; it's just a good move.
Three light frigates are sufficient to take down the militia that guards an asteroid. If your asteroid is a dead end or you have another promising colonization target next to your homeworld, why waste time backtracking with your capital ship? Send three light frigates to secure the asteriod while your capital ship heads elsewhere. You'll get more planets sooner.
Micro those fighters!
With the exception of asteroids, all militia will have at least one flak frigate present. You can potentially lose your fighter squad on your capital ship if you let them meander about. However, flak frigates chase fighters like a magnet, and you can lure them to the other side of the gravity well. Now, ditch those flaks and get those fast fighters back into the battle! If you don't want to micromanage your fighters, dock them so they're not wasted.
Shoot from both sides!
The progenitor and the akkan are both side-shooters... so position them so all their gun ports get to fire. Try to get militia on either side of them. If only one side is firing, you're wasting half of your damage output. This doesn't apply to the Marza and Evacuator, which are forward shooters.
Now, let's move on to some more advanced goodies:
Sometimes the militia guarding a planet is too strong for your capital ship to handle on its own. However, if you bring in frigates to help it, you'll lose a bunch. It's a lose-lose situation, but there are other ways. Remember, once you've killed the Krosovs in the militia, you can colonize the planet. Once you colonize the planet, you can build defenses there. You'll need to buy some time to put up some turrets and repair bays (see below for some distraction tactics), but these will take down those pesky militia no problem. For some reason, militia prioritize construction vessels very lowly, so they will never attack one so long as you still have combat units in the gravity well.
This one is very similar to the hostile colonization. Once you've killed the Krosovs, colonize the planet, and buy your basic population upgrades. Now, just leave. The militia will kill the builder, but who cares. You control the planet (plus any tax income it may provide), and the militia will protect it from any enemy that tries to capture it! This is a great way to "claim" a planet for later without having to fight off the militia now.
Similar to construction vessels, militia apparently don't prioritize constructing starbases very highly. If you've got a choke point you want to colonize and secure, a starbase can be a very acceptable solution. You'll need to distract the militia, but once it's done a starbase will clean even the toughest mobs without a problem. This is a particularly mean one to use on a planet near the enemy. Often times players will wait too long to take on heavy militia, and this is the best-case scenario for starbase colonization, enabling you to lock down a planet that the enemy was counting on owning. Works best for Vasari, for obvious reasons (fewer labs, your colony frigate becomes your starbase constructor, and you don't have to worry about constructing it in a bad location!)
Clean up those Flaks
Flak frigates are one of the toughest militia units, but they deal almost no damage. You can spend a long time sitting around killing the last flak. Why not move on with your capital ship and use a few light frigates to clean up the remaining flaks (or build a turret if you already colonized the planet). Keep your momentum, don't get held up on these minor delays.
Don't have the time to deal with those nasty militia? Are there valuable planets on the other side of that heavily defended desert? Just bypass it. You'll need a colony capital ship to do this (obviously since you'll need colonize capacity on the other side), but you can now capture the planets you want and leave that heavily defended planet for later. Often it's a good idea to do this after a ninja colonization.
Colony Frigate Aggro:
Planetary militia hate colony frigates. With a passion. So much so that they will abandon everything they are doing to hunt them down if they enter their gravity well. You can use this strong behavior to your advantage. Any time you want to distract or delay the militia, just warp in a colony frigate. Watch them run to the other side of the gravity well to attack it, then warp it out. They will then return to trying to attack you. Rinse and repeat until you don't need to delay anymore.
First Come, First Serve:
When faced with two equal priority targets, militia will keep attacking their current target. This means that if you warp in all your fleet at once, the first frigate to arrive will be the militia's target. So... if you warp in one specific unit first you can control which unit will be the militia's target. The most obvious application is to warp in a tough capital ship (such as the Kol) first so the militia will focus fire on it, then bring in the support frigates afterwards so they don't get attacked. You could also use a scout to lure the militia into a wild goose chase before warping out the gravity well. Remember that strike craft are considered high priority targets for flak frigates!
Kill those Krosovs.... with Scouts:
Seriously, scouts kill Krosovs very well. You'll need 5-10 of them, but these units are dirt cheap. Use the first come, first serve principle to ensure your fragile scouts aren't the target of the militia (or else warp one in ahead of the group as a decoy to distract the rest of the militia), then use them to quickly kill the siege frigates.
Minimalist Colonization of Adjoining Asteroid:
Just send the colonizer frigate alone to the Home World's adjoining Asteroid. As soon as the roid is colonized, build a turret, and have the colonizer frigate attack the krosov seige. (Or put it on auto-attack. A new frigate will have sufficient anti-matter to immediately colonize the adjoining roid, and will usually survive [except Vasari maybe]. Can scuttle turret later to recoup some cash).
Above all else, try to get a sense of pacing, and learn to keep your momentum. Try to plan out your capital ship's colonization "tour" as your scouts uncover new planets. Avoid spending time needlessly flying around and focus on doing what you need to do: defeating militia and taking their planets. I've won more than a few games because my empire is bigger and stronger before the first shots have been fired. I've also lost a couple on similar grounds. The key is to learn from your mistakes and acquire an improved sense of pacing and timing. I hope people will find these tips useful!
PS: anyone got their own tricks they'd like to share?