Sandy Hemenway on "The Unbeatable ISC TCC"

This topic contains an article on tournament tactics by Sandy Hemenway, a.k.a. by his SFBOL handle as "Firemane."

I contacted Sandy and he graciously gave me permission to repost any articles I could find of his on this website.

"The Unbeatable ISC TCC" By Sandy Hemenway

The Unbeatable ISC TCC

{circa. 1999, rescued 5/8/2013}

Who Am I to Say?

My name is Largo Andante, and I am the Captain of the ISC Tourney Command Cruiser, Steel Wolf. Having reached the finals of HR2, the 2nd ever official on-line tourney, I feel fully qualified to say the ISC TCC is unbeatable!

Don't Believe Everything You've Heard.

The ISC TCC is one of the most powerful and versatile TCs in the game. Versatile?!? Yes! While standard doctrine says the ISC TCC must sabre-dance to win, this is actually just propaganda from enemies hoping to induce inexperienced ISC Captains into making bad decisions.
Another bit of misinformation regarding the ISC TCC is that if the PPD doesn't get at least two shots before getting close to the enemy, the ISC always loses. This inaccuracy is usually tied to the bizarre contention that the ISC is a terrible knife-fighter. On the contrary, the ISC is a very able ship to knife-fight with. It's only real lack is the ability to destroy an enemy in a single impulse -- a trait shared by many TCs, and held by only a handful.

How the TCC Matches Up.

Before exploring specific tactics, let us first examine the ISC's design to see what strengths and/or weaknesses it has. While listed as a plasma ship,the PPD obviously makes the ISC a very different animal. However, in doing a casual comparison to other TCs it would make sense to compare it to a plasma ship. For purposes of this comparison, I'll use the Gorn TCC, a long time favorite of plasma players, though the newest TKR seems to be gaining in popularity.

Let's Look Under the Hood.

First, we'll look at power. Both have identical power producing equipment, having the typical 38 power. However, the ISC has a PPD to arm, which is a decent-sized power drain. Both ships have a phaser capacitor of nine (9), and the ISC gets some of this power back in the lower holding and arming costs for his G-torps, but truthfully, the Gorn comes out with a minor edge here.

We Can Dance, But Can We Sting?

I won't bother wasting anyone's time talking about the ISC's sabre-dancing ability compared to any plasma ship. The ISC owns the board from range 9-22. I will, however, attempt to debunk the myth that the TCC is a dog in close. Obviously, inside range 4 you discount the PPD. However, the ISC has a superior phaser suite, with all six of its p1s sweeping the FA. And it also has three p3s protecting those p1s in any direction. The Gorn can only get 6 of its p1s into arc anywhere, and in most cases will only have either 4 or 5 p1s tracking, with but a single p3 to protect them. The plasma arcs favor the Gorn, since he can actually launch both F-torps on a single turn, and does have the ability to put 100-pts. of plasma out at one time. But, unless you've got the enemy anchored, launching piecemeal is preferable, and the ISC can definitely do that as well as the Gorn can. The Gorn will also only maintain his overall plasma supriority for a brief time, since the ISC will certainly be using fast-loads, (and in knife-fighting range, an F is as good as a G). The Gorn will either fall behind, taking a full 3-turns to arm his torps, or will effectively have the same damage potential in plasma that the ISC does. Remember, most knife-fights don't last for more than two turns.
However, completely dismissing the PPD in knife-fighting is a bit much. The ISC has the option to 'download' the PPD, paying only 2 to begin rearming, to improve his power-curve, and if he's crafty, he may do a late turn speed change in reverse, allowing him to back out of the PPD myopic zone, if the PPD is still intact. Since most knife-fights involve both ships stopping, the ISC may get the opportunity to overload the PPD after the ships are both severely damaged. If so, the power of the Mizia and multiple-shield spread of the PPD can be truly appreciated.

Also, by the time a knife-fight is engaged, the PPD should have fired at least once, (or the ISC player is an idiot and deserves to lose), which means that at least one, and possibly three of the opponent's shields have already been softened up a bit. Do not underestimate the value of those 3 or 4 splash points the PPD does. Come knife-fighting time, that's like having an extra p3 added to your point-blank alpha.

Still, the ISC probably doesn't want to tackle a fully loaded Fed, Hydran or plasma ship up close (who does?) -- but if the ISC gets in the first shot and destroys a few weapons, even these foes are manageable. The point is, those fast-loaded torps and that phaser-suite allow the ISC to compete on relatively equal footing to most TCs in a knife fight.

Some Assembly Required.

The final area my analysis will cover is overall ship design. The ISC is a solid ship in regard to its ability to take damage. The 12 phasers are 2nd only to the Neo-Tholians. With 17 weapon-hits to take, the ISC ranks ahead of every other plasma ship by at least 2. He only falls behind against the Kzinti's 20, the Tholians' 19, and the Seltorian's 18. The 8+8 hull splitis not as nice as the Gorn's 4+8+4, but is sufficient to protect the batteries for about the first 20 internals.
Weapon arcs for the ISC are curious. The phaser arrangement allows all six p1s to sweep the entire FA, with 3 p3s for protection in any direction, or 6 if hit from directly forward or aft. (Okay, I'm repeating myself, but the strength of the ISC ship design lies in its phaser-suite, so bear with me). In comparison, the Gorn can only get 6 p1s if the enemy is directly fore or aft. In hex-spine arcs, the Gorn has 5-p1s and 1-p3, and if not on a hex spine, he drops to 4-p1 and a p3. The ability of the ISC to fire all 12 phasers, if he center-lines his opponent, makes this TCC very dangerous. The torp arcs for the G's are identical to the Gorn's S-torps, though nothing in the game compares with the rear-F restrictions. Realistically, the Gorn has a slight advantage with his 180 degree F-torp arcs -- but the ISC has one extra heavy-weapon hit. The rest of the ship is almost identical, though the Gorn does have two extra control spaces, while the ISC picks up a transporter.

Overall, I'd have to give the edge in ship design to the ISC, based primarily on its phaser arrangement. While the Gorn gets 20 extra potential damage with his initial S-torps, the PPD negates much of that advantage. However, the ISC also gains a subtle deception plus, since his psuedo-G torps are completely effective in the role of fast-load F-torps. Any unused pseudo S-torps will be useless, if the Gorn is fast-loading. Also, enveloping G-torps will be practically as effective as enveloping S-torps, when you consider the PPD will probably have done 3 or more points to 3 or more shields before any envelopers arrive.

Not Good With a Knife?

So far, I've talked primarily about knife-fighting, and getting use out of the ISC torps and phaser-suite. I've touched on some of what the PPD can do, assuming it only gets one shot. However, this does not mean you shouldn't try to get multiple PPD shots. On the contrary, since the PPD is the single best weapon for sabre-dancing with, it is perfectly acceptable to formulate tactics around the PPD. But, beware the pitfalls of the PPD. The myopic zone is always a concern. Don't feel compelled to arm the PPD, if itis obvious you won't get a chance to fire it. Or, in many cases, just put the minimum two points to it, and if you get the chance, upgrade it later,or fire two or three pulses.
Using the overload function is practically impossible, unless your opponent has stopped for some reason. But the general effect of a PPD is a total damage output of something like 16-24 points. Even if 8 points is stopped with reinforcement, that usually means 8-16 points of damage is done to the enemy shields on the initial attack run. If you lob an enveloping torp and turn away, if the enemy flies thru the torp, he'll have 20-pt. shields all around, and those rear F-torps suddenly become a serious threat. However, don't casually throw those rear F-torps. If you pair up a G-torp with an F, the enemy will certainly fire phasers at the F-torp and take the G on a flank shield. Instead, lob the G by itself. Now your enemy will have to guess whether it's live or Memorex. If he fires phasers at the G-torp, then launch the F -- you're guaranteed to have one in arc, if you're running away. It's best to wait until the enemy is at about range 9 to lob the F at him. This may encourage him to slip away in order to take the F in the 6-10 category (15 pts.) rather than at full strength. If he eats the full F-torp, you've done five extra shield hits -- if he slips away, then you've gained an extra hex of breathing room for setting up your 2nd PPD shot.

Truthfully, I'm not very fond of enveloping torps myself. Using regular G's frees up more power, keeps your opponent guessing as to whether it's real or not, and more easily takes down a shield completely. This last point is subtle, since at first glance everyone thinks -- a G-torp won't take down a shield. Actually, after the PPD has done its 8-24 shield hits, a single 20-pt torp will leave the shield it hits at single digits (or soak up enemy fire). A complaint about the ISC is that is cannot consolidate its damage. In truth, in many cases, it doesn't want to consolidate its damage. By smacking multiple shields with 20 and 15-pt. torps, if you do get a 2nd PPD shot, not only will you be doing internals, you'll probably be doing Mizia. The best part of the PPD is the prodigous amount of damage it produces. But its bonus is, once shields are down, the ISC has the potential to strip off weapons at an alarming rate. With plasma, phasers, and PPD all working in tandem, the ISC has more Mizia potential than anyone in the game.

So, How Do You Pull it All Together?

I began this examination of the TCC by stating that it is a very versatile ship. My good friend and mentor, Steve Rushing has compared my style of play with the ISC TCC to that of a crafty boxer, jabbing repeatedly with the PPD while constantly looking for the opponent to give me the opening I need to close to point blank and deliver the crushing left hook, (I'm a southpaw, okay?), of an ISC phaser/torp combo at point-blank. Fact is, the ISC has several different strategies available to him, all with the potential for success, if played correctly. The following list is by no means complete, but it should suffice for the novice Peacekeeper.

BANZAI!!!

The most basic, and most volatile of strategies -- Get 'em! The concept is obvious -- getting the point blank alpha is your primary goal here. You put a few points into tractor, paying for these with either a short spell at speed 16 to start the turn. You then speed up to 31, your goal is to end the turn with the enemy held in a tractor at range one. You'll have 40-pts. of plasma facing the enemy, (unless he's on your #4). You hack down a shield on 32 with phasers, letting the torps hit on impulse 1 for Mizia purposes. Ideally, you'll find a way to launch a G and F on impulses 31/32 for your 40 internals on impulse 1 -- because if you do, you may be able to envelop the other G on turn 1 for more Mizia, and you'll have a fast-load available on turn 3. You will want to use your pseudos on turn 1 to soak up some phasers on your way in. This ploy is very hard to pull off -- and works primarily against disruptor opponents who elect to reinforce on turn one, hoping to blunt your initial PPD. You'll want at least one SS, and a couple of WWs for this gambit to work. You'll need the weasels for drone defense, and the SS is another Mizia possibility. It is important to remember that you can't blow him up in a single turn -- you're just trying to blow off his weapons, so your phasers can finish him. To see an example of this, take a look at my third round game in HR2 -- HR2_302.
To get in close, move to keep his #1 shield, ideally staying off the center-line, but by no more than two or three hex rows. Your PPD will be firing, (starting at range 10 or 11) and your opponent will be expecting you to turn away, so he is likely to go ahead and fire when you reach range 8, and then turn himself in order to spread the PPD damage. If he fires, he's probably not doing internals, and then you close in and toast him. If he doesn't fire, you'll want to get the psuedos (or maybe reals) out one hex ahead of your ship. Most opponents will want to get close, and most people don't follow pseudo torps in to get close to an opponent. This tactic is not for the timid.

Reduction Attack

Here, your goal is to feature the PPD. You take your range 12-10 PPD shot when it's presented, but then turn away, lobbing plasma to discourage pursuit and/or wear down his shields. Don't fire your phasers in the 9-15 bracket. The ISC TCC gets power-hungry when reloading, and holding your phasers is one way to maintain your power-curve edge. Impulse 32 launches are great in this strategy, The enemy will have to deal with your turn 1 torps during turn 2, either by weasel, running away, reinforcing or phasering. Any of these choices is good for you, since he will either not be getting closer, or he will not have enough weapons to do a solid hack & slash. Since you are not wanting to get close, you can forego arming shuttles, and launch a phaser-three contingent to guard your escape -- or perhaps arm a pair of weasels against crunch-power ships, to allow yourself the chance to huck & hide (launch plasma & weasel on the same impulse). Since this is a long term strategy, don't get too concerned about doing internals right off the bat. The splash damage from the PPD should eventually give you an edge, and allow you to Mizia your opponent into oblivion, should you manage a third PPD shot.

The Double-Back

One point about the TCC that gets overlooked often is that despite the rear-F restrictions, it does have the ability to put 80-pts. of plasma on the board in an 8-impulse period -- 120, if you throw in the fakes. A variation on the reduction attack is to perform the typical oblique PPD scrape, turn away and lob your left-side torps (together or piecemeal). On turn two, if you think the opponent will simply run through your first 40 plasma, plan on waiting out the 8-impulse delay, launching your 2nd rear F torp, then HETing back into your opponent. If he's reinforcing or phasering your plasma, this leaves very little to hurt you with during turn 2. Plan on hitting him with at least one 20-pt. torp and your phasers on the same shield (at close range). You'll want to allocate the HET and have a couple into tractor to either anchor him or avoid being anchored, depending on your overall plan. You'll probably want to just put two into re-arming your PPD, until you've finished your attack.Ideally, you'll hit him during the middle of turn two, and if all goes well,you'll move to set up a turn 3 PPD shot (even three pulses is good, if he has several down shields), or another point-blank exchange, using a fast-load and your phasers against his depleted shielding.
I used this one against a Tholian in HR2, after I convinced him to attempt to snag me with a web-wall. While I was hoping to hit multiple forward shields with my piece-meal plasma (and then take advantage of those weak shields later with phasers), though a strange sequence of timing and luck, I managed to get three of my torps to hit the same shield my 12 phasers pounded with an impulse 32 hack. It was not a pretty sight. If you want to see how this one went, take a look at 2HR_401.

The Envelop, Please

Another option for the ISC is to envelop every G-torp he can as often as he can. This TCC can still travel 20 hexes on turn 1 while enveloping both of his G-torps. The first enveloper may not discourage the enemy, but the second will either force him to stop or break off, or will whittle into his shielding tremendously. If you look at the math, two envelopers is 80 pts.,with the PPD doing another 20 or so. That's 100 shield hits (give or take), which is a serious problem for almost any TC (since they start with 162). While running on turn 2, a rear F should draw phasers, and on turn 3, you'll have at least one fast-load available along with your phasers. Even if you come out on the losing end of the initial alpha exchange once your opponent gets close, your phasers should allow you to win this one, as you put a fresh shield to him each turn, while you're firing your phasers thru remnants.

Notice Some Similarities?

One thing you may have noticed about the above strategies -- most use an oblique approach. They all use the range 10-12 category as the point to fire the PPD. And allocating to give yourself the option between any two of the plans (except where envelopers come into play) is usually possible. Without going into great detail, knowing what your options are if your opponent doesn't cooperate is one of the most important jobs of a starship Captain. And giving yourself multiple options off the same power plot is a good way to avoid catastrophic surprises.

General Rules of Engagement

The single most important thing to remember about the TCC is Mizia. It is your best friend and perhaps your worst enemy. The five heavy weapons is okay, but multiple small volleys of internals can shred your heavy weapons quickly, since the rear F-torps can be hit on torp or drone. While that is a problem, it does help your p1s last a bit longer. But the ISC can use Mizia like a scalpel, combining torps internals, phaser internals and PPD internals into three distinct possibilities for A-row hits -- and enveloping torps can offer a 4th possibility, since they are a separate volley from normal seeking weapons.
Don't think about overloading the PPD, unless your opponent stops. But, if he ever E.D.'s, definitely look at the possibility, remembering that he cannot move for a full sixteen impulses after he comes to a stop by E.D. I do notbelieve I have ever seen an ISC TCC lose if he managed to hit with more thaneight pulses from his PPD. Power your tractors! You can often use them for drone defense, and having a couple of points into tractor can also make a big difference if your opponent gets close enough for an anchor attempt -- especially, if you've both already used up your reserve power for the turn. Don't overlook the possibility of arming weasels, even against direct-fire races, since the ISC is an excellent ship to Star Castle with. Likely repair choices are p1s and in some cases, repairing a rear F-torp. While, getting arear F-launcher re-armed may be unlikely, it may help your PPD and/or G-torps last longer. Batteries are also critical, since they are mandatory if you are to use fast-loaded torps.

Race to Judgement

What tactics you employ is very dependent on what race your are facing. Before selecting any plan of your own, ask yourself what plans might you choose flying against the ISC TCC in your opponent's ship. Tailor your strategies to the opponent on the board, but don't play his game -- play yours. The TCC is not likely to destroy anyone in a single turn, so always look to maximize your Mizia potential, planning on blowing off your enemies' weapons and winning the game down the line with your phasers and perhaps your last enveloping G-torp. Examine each opponent for any inherent design flaws, or weaknesses, and try to create tactics that exploit them.

Plasma Punks

Against plasma ships, keep your speed up, keep at least two weasels armed (or none), and always keep at least one plasma ready to discourage any thoughts of attempting to anchor you. Since the other plasma boys don't have much long range potential, using range ten PPD shots, and lobbing envelopers is viable. But you'll want to hold your phasers, since these guys have great power curves until they are in final turn re-arming, or they've fired a bunch of phasers. The other plasma ships almost have to anchor to win against the ISC, so be ready for it -- and try to do internals to them first. They only have four torps, so if you can destroy a launcher or two and then launch a WW, (you'll need a minimum of two to cover the entire 8-impulse fire-after-dead plasma period), you should win, since you out-phaser the Gorns and Roms.

Disruptor Dweebs

These are the most plentiful TCs, coming in a number of varieties. If you have solid anti-drone tactics ready, the WYN, Kzin and Klingon shouldn't be too much of a problem, except for that blasted UIM. Know the Klingon special firing arcs, so you can keep him down to 4-p1s firing at a time. Understand the dangers of the disruptor hack & slash and be prepared to thwart it -- or at least equal it. You thwart the hack & slash by either not allowing the disruptor dweeb to catch you, or by denting multiple shields with plasmas before he reaches you. Most of these guys rely on FA for their offense, soonce their 1,2 and 6 shields are gone, you should have the edge. The Tholians are problematic, since they can dictate your timing and tactics with their web-caster. Against these boys, you'll really need to concentrate on sapping their power, so don't waste yours. And plan on launching piecemeal. You never want to let them snag more than one torp at a time in web. One plus is the sequence of play allows you to get your full four-pulse PPD through a castweb -- but the Tholian gets to pick the range you have to fire at. The Kzin are probably as hard as the Tholians to beat with the ISC TCC. They handle Mizia better than any TC in the game, and their drone power will be a real drain on your phaser strength. You'll want multiple weasels to deal with the SP, since the Kzin will certainly be trying to corner you, to take advantage of his own point-blank strength.

Wingnuts & Weirdos

The Orion, Andro, and WYN-AUX TC each offers its own unique headaches for the ISC TCC. Each has a power curve far superior to any normal TC. But each also has a built-in flaw, generally not too difficult for the TCC to exploit. The Orion's engine-doubling puts it on a time-clock. Not only does it have to win quickly, it also has less repair than any TC, since typically 2-3 of its 4 CDR repairs will be power fixes from early turn doubling damage. Key point here, is that the TBR generally only has three heavy-weapons, so every internal it takes is critical. Don't rush this battle. Time is on your side. And the longer the game lasts, the more powerful your PPD becomes.
The WYN-AUX TC, or the Battle Pig, as it is sometimes called, has serious maneuvering problems. The easiest way to exploit this is simple, get behind it, and don't let it get you back in arc. It will typically be flying around the board at speed 28 -- so you'll need to keep your speed up too. But that is a good thing, as this will make his speed 20 drones all the less effective against you. Use of heavy reinforcement on turn one, to absorb the AuxTC's initial alpha is often a good idea. Of course, his options will affect your strategy as will the Orion's -- but concentrate on the fundamental flaws of the ships -- the TBRs size and time-clock, and the AUX TC's horrible movement restrictions.

The Andro requires special tactics from everyone, and in some ways, the TCC is an ideal ship to take up against the Krait. In others, it is dreadful. The Krait's typical attack ranges are 3 and 5 -- not a bad range for the ISC. You'll want to reinforce to keep your internals down on the early passes, and always keep some phasers ready to take advantage of a power dump. The PPD is deadly if his panels ever get full, so total gross damage output is your real goal in this battle. Use of envelopers is highly recommended to help control the range the Andro fires at (and possibly hurt him badly if he fails a displacement). You won't penetrate the PAs in the early going, so you want to fill him up slowly, and keep weapons ready when he has to finally dump. The Andro will almost certainly choose a PA mine, so you pretty much kiss one plasma torp goodbye. Try to time launches so your plasma will reach him the same time he reaches range three or five, so he has to eat plasma to get his shot, or wait a turn. Envelopers are better for this than standards, and an impulse 32 enveloper is almost always good, especially, if launched immediately before the Andros TRs come back on-line. I suggest holding phasers and only firing them between impulse 25-32 each turn to prevent the power dump. I don't like bolting, unless it is against full PAs at range 10 or less.

Crunch Clowns

The Fed, Hydran and Seltorian, while unique, have enough similarities to warrant pairing them in the same group. Each is heavily armed with phasers, and each posseses a scary potential for damage in a single turn. The crunch power of photons and fusions is widely known and respected, but don't underestimate the bugs. When you add in the shield-cracker damage, the Seltorian PC+SC shots equal a 4-disruptor blast, (with an added follow-up shot with PCs later in the turn). So, imagine it is a Klingon with 8-p1s. Each ship also has a basic flaw -- no tertiary system to draw fire or reduce an opponent's alpha for the Fed and Selt -- while the Hydran is a Mizia disaster just waiting to happen. Each of these ships wants to get close to the enemy to do its damage, which is a help for anyone flying against them in the sense that none of these ships will have very ornate strategies. However, this also simplifies things for the player flying the Fed, Hyd or Selt. Reinforcement is at a premium against these guys, and to win, you really need to take advantage of their maneuvering problems -- turn mode D for the Selt and Fed -- and the Hydran headaches with firing arcs and keeping his fighters with him. The fact that the ISC is also turn mode D makes this difficult, but the weapon arcs of the ISC help greatly -- since the ISC TCC will have equal or better p1s everywhere except when centerlined.
Final Thoughts

If you do decent Mizia and get some shields stripped away before getting too close, you should do well. Try to be fluid in your movement, always looking ahead as far as you can, (especially toward next turn), paying careful attention to turn modes, (yours and your enemies), and power curves. I always plot my enemies power -- and this often gives me insight into what he is planning to do before he does it. Play the weapon arcs -- both yours and your opponent's. Don't forget two torps and three p1s can fire out the #3 and #5 shields. This is especially nice, if your enemy presents his down shield. If you come up with any winning tactics that you'd like to share -- send 'em in.
If you take exception to anything I've said here, please feel free to Reply, so I can explain the errors in your thought processes more thoroughly.