Tactics: Drones

As the header of this section states, not everyone has had the benefit of 30+ years of Captain's Log term papers and other tactical discussions. Particularly newer players. As SFB veterans, we are always looking to bring in new players be it for Starfleet Battles Online (SFBOL), face-to-face (FTF) or in the tournaments. So I'd like to open a tactical discussion on drones that members can list their experiences, tactics, tips, tricks etc.

I'd like to start the conversation off with a discussion on FD1:21. This rule states that a drone can be fired in any direction as long as the target is in the FA of the drone. This means that a drone is a 360 degree weapon. As long as the target is in the FA of the DRONE being launched (NOT the FA of the launching ship). In other words, if a ship is heading in direction A, a drone can be launched in direction D as long as the target is in the FA of the drone being launched (which means you're launching the drone to the rear of the ship).

This can have important tactical implications in combat. As an example, I was once in a Netkill (NK) tournament game on SFBOL. I was the Klingon tournament ship and my opponent was a WYN Black Shark tournament ship. I was heading in direction F and my opponent was above me and to the left heading direction C (basically 'crossing my T'). We both completed our Alpha strikes and blew down each others shields and inflicted some internals. My opponents ship had no #1 shield. As he was crossing from left to right above my ship on the map I launched two fast Type IV drones that I had been saving. I was still heading in direction F but I launched the drones in direction B. The opponent was within the FA of the drones being launched in direction B. This meant that the drones had to make the first movement in the forward direction. So in order to track the opponents ship (which was travelling slower than the drones) the drones had to 'hook back' to the left. So instead of impacting on an good shield like his #2, the drones sailed through his downed #1 shield inflicting 48 points of damage as he had no phasers in arc to hit them. As a result I won that game based just on this one tactic working. In essence, I threw a curve ball where the drones where launched in one direction but not directly towards the target (but were still in the FA of the launching drones). This allowed me to go through a downed shield instead of impacting a good shield.

Now considerations are the opponents speed, turn mode and phasers in arc. But as with any tactic it is something that can/will occasionally present itself and may be useful in some circumstances.

Well done

I never really even considered that move. I always played with the drones firing directly toward the target. This makes me wonder, why can't a played have the drone go where he wants? The ships can 'control X amount of drones per sensor rating' right. The key word being 'control'. What if you could launch them go 90 degrees off from the direct course to the ship and have them turn to intercept when you want? Or launch massive amounts of drones in a general direction and then take control as you need them and guide them to intercept then?

Drone Control

I suppose this is handwavium, but it's what lets me sleep at night when thinking about seeking weapons. Mention of "Drone" refers to all seeking weapons that have not been released to self-guidence, such as suicide shuttles.

Drone control channels are used to maintain a communication link between the ship and the drone. Across this link flows targetting information and location information of the drone and the controlling ship.

Targetting information is transmitted (from ship to drone) because drones have a very small frame, their sensor arrays are not very large. When dealing with arrays, this means you don't have much triangulation, which means you don't have a good idea of (primarily) the distance involved. The ship's sensors can help the drone stay on track, but there are limits to the amount of information you can send, and the amount of information you want to trust that the enemy can't listen into.

Location information is transmitted both ways across the "radio" because it allows the drone to know where in space it is in relation to where it aught to be, and thus it can update it's own location data if it needs calibration. The ship needs to know where the drone is, so that it's own awareness of the clutter on the battlefield stays up to date. Additionally, the drone warhead might be the kind that transmits back information. Probe-drones are the obvious warhead, but multi-warhead drones need to make the controlling unit aware of location and trajectory of the submunitions when they crack. ECM drones need to keep the controlling ship aware of what super-huge prime numbers it's using at that particular moment when generating EW (because those numbers change often, to prevent the enemy from burning through simply with a little bit of computer processing), so the controlling ship is not swamped with the same noise that the enemy is.

Subspace-Guided Missile

BuddhaDude, Matt does a good job of describing how normal drones work in the game. What you're describing is somewhat similar to Subspace-Guided Missiles (FD53.0) as found in Module C4. They're guided like a probe drone and then released to ATG.

This would be an interesting refit or upgrade for drone using races. It has very specialized rules that do differ from normal drone rules.

My other car is a D7 Battlecruiser

More Drone Tactics

The way drones (all seeking weapons, actually) are moved on the map do make a difference. The rules state that a drone must move closer to their target (by hex distance) if at all possible (given it's heading and the way the hexes between the two are arranged.) A seeking weapon also must turn in such a fashion as to keep the target in it's forward arc. It's important to note that a seeking weapon is never, ever, forced to HET - There are some situations where it might be advisable to do so, or a HET might be the only way to keep your ATG drone from losing tracking, but you are still free to not HET and instead lose the advantage or lose the tracking.

There are often situations where a seeking weapon can move to "Lead" the target, or "Follow" the target (without getting into the very specific mechanic that is enshrined in the rules for Carnivon Death Bolts.) Basically put, you can move the seeking weapon to meet the target where the target will be later (leading the target) or simply moving towards where the target is currently (follow the target.) Both have their advantages. Consider the difference by example.

Following a target can be important if, for example, you know the target will be turning around (and thus you will be cutting off the corner.) It can also be useful to discourage a HET. A slow target would be vulnerable to being hit from following seekers, and it might be advantageous because of the status of the rear-firing weapons.

Leading a target is usually the most advantageous in order to score a hit with the seeker. Generally this is accomplished by moving down the hex-row towards where the target will be in a few moves (you are still closing the range as fast as you are able, but you're not being slavish about slipping towards them when possible.) This tends to discourage the target from turning towards the seeker, but does leave the seeking weapon vulnerable to the weapons that can fire forward. At very close range, the target can be "pushed around" by being forced to slip or turn away from the seekers or else be hit.

Faking

The standard load out on a SP is six Type-I drones. But it doesn't have to always be six Type-I's. It could be three type IV drones. Or it could be three Type-I drones pretending to be IV's. Or a combination of I's and IV's. Make the opponent use his labs. Particularly if maybe they don't have the plethora of them available or have already used them in the turn.

Could also make them burn a point of battery power on a last ditch tractor. Making the opponent needlessly burn resources is never a bad thing.

More than once my son (our Kzinti player) has caught me with IV's when I wrongly assumed them to be I's. That kind of mistake hurts!

My other car is a D7 Battlecruiser

Different kind of faking

As noted above, Mixing in Type-IVs with a scatterpack's normal load can be effective (Which one(s) is the shipwrecker?) By swapping out two type-Is for a single type-IV, you can force the target to expend resources as if they all are type-IVs.

Another way to fake it, is to put external armor on a faster drone during a transition year. Done right, the opponent won't know that the faster drone (being slowed down to the same speed as your other drones) is actually harder to kill. They'll assume it's a slower drone and use an incorrect amount of phaser energy. That can let the drone slip through the defenses.

Armor and launch cycle

Consider adding some internal armor to you drones. Explosive modules are 1/2 space payloads. Each explosive module does 6 points of damage. This is why a Type-I does 12 points of damage i.e. it has two 1/2 space explosive modules. Armor is also a 1/2 space module. By adding armor you're reducing the warhead but also making it harder to kill. One 1/2 space armor module increases the durability of the drone by 2 points. So it now takes 6 points to kill. Sometimes it's better to hit with only 6 points of damage rather than having the 12 pointer killed before it reaches the target...well, actually it's better all the time (lol). At the very least it may cause your opponent to have to use additional resources to kill/tractor/WW that drone. An armored Type-1 won't be killed by a single ph-3 and possibly even a single ph-1.

Additionally, a Type-IV drone could have some armor added to make it more resistant. Adding a single armor module will reduce it to an 18-point warhead but make it have 8-point do be destroyed. Or a 12-point warhead for 10 damage. This will definitely make them use resources and use those labs!

My son (our Kzinti player) will armor a drone and send it out first by itself and then follow with a wave or two of other drones. The purpose of the armored drone is to set off any pesky T-bombs the opponent has laid in the path of the incoming waves. Makes them use more T-bombs than they sometimes have...

My other car is a D7 Battlecruiser

Armored Drones

>>Additionally, a Type-IV drone could have some armor added to make it more resistant. Adding a single armor module will reduce it to an 18-point warhead but make it have 8-point do be destroyed.>>

I have long been of the opinion that the type IV with a half point of armor (i.e. 8 damage, 18 warhead) is so good as to be something you should always have as many of as you can (which, for the Kzinti, is, like, half the spaces in their racks, or 10 spaces worth on a standard y175 era cruiser). The difference between 6 damage to kill and 8 damage to kill is *huge*, given the damage cutoffs for P1 and P3s--2P3s are an auto kill on a standard type IV but not at all an auto kill on an 8/18 drone, meaning you have to fire 3P3 at such a drone to auto kill it, and then you are going to end up wasting up to 4 points of damage overkilling the thing. Even a P1 and P3 combined aren't a certain kill on such a drone. Meaning that a ship dealing with these has to spend way more resources killing them than is reasonable.

If it weren't generally so trivial to deal with drones through, like, tractors and t-bombs and ADDs and weasels and whatever, I'd probably consider the 8/18 drone to be probably too good for the game.