During my hiatus, I asked for suggestions for content – what do people want to read about?
One of my nice readers suggested to write a post about list building and how I approach it. I immediately thought that it would make an interesting topic and from that come this article.
What is a good fleet?
To give some advice, first we need to talk about the objective – to build a good fleet and what that means.
What a good fleet is, depends on what it should be used for. I mostly make a fleet without knowing my opponent or the scenario and our scenarios are often very warying. For this reason, I tend to value flexibility highly.
I am also of the opinion, that miniature games makes sense partly because it is beautiful to look at – if not, I could just as well play a computer game or a more abstract board game. For this reason I almost exclusively field ships that I have the correct models for and that have been painted (and I also insist to keep the playing area free of clutter like dice, measuring tape, paper, etc. – but that is another topic). So I also only field what I have models for.
Thirdly, I think most games are built on the premise, that all players make an effort to win. That means you field a list that is competitive. It does not mean that you use every trick in the book to maximize all aspects of the list, but it does mean that you make an effort that the fleet you field have a fighting chance.
Finally, we play for fun. This means that fielding a list that is neither fun to play not play against is not an option. This is most often the case with fleets that are very extreme to a degree where my opponent is denied options (or I am). An example of this could be a fleet fielding almost exclusively atmospheric capable vessels (denying my opponent the usage of most of his fleet). Luckily, very few such builds are possible in Dropfleet – one of the things I like about the game.
So, with this intro, what do I do?
First, I need to get a few things settled – a few facts that I need to agree with my opponent:
- How many points?
- Are we using command cards?
- How is the scenario decided – beforehand or at game start? And if the latter, how?
- Do I know what fleet my opponent is fielding?
Points are an obvious piece of information, so I will not comment any further on that.
Command cards is more tricky. The simplest (and fastest) is to play without in which case I will never pay any points for the Admiral – I will only get what I can get for free. If we do play with command cards I tend to run the highest level Admiral available, unless points are very tight. This will force me to make some considerations on how to keep the Admiral alive – more on that later.
The scenario is relevant for two reasons. The first is quite obvious – how do I score points and what are the best approaches to do that?. An all-space station scenario does not really call for any strike carriers, for instance. The second – and in many cases much more important – consideration is the approach type. Matching approach type with your battle group composition can be critical as several of them are dependent on the SR of your battle groups.
The fleet of my opponent can also be important. This is mostly a learning thing and I will not go into much more detail here, but as you get to know how the different fleets play – and how individual players tend to play them – some options might be more or less relevant.
Finally, with these facts known I start by…
Decide on an overall strategy
This is the conceptual ground of my fleet. How do I want it to play? A balanced list with a little of everything is a classic choice, but putting emphasis on different elements might be useful. If I know the scenario, this will most definately influence this. If I do not know the scenario or know that I will have to play several scenarios, I tend to put less emphasis on this part.
I often decide on something I would like to experiment with – something I haven’t done before. If I play more competitively – like a tournament – I might go with something I know better.
Examples of overall concepts I have run:
- Bring more ships with a high durability to point cost ratio – the basic idea is to increase my ability to absorb damage.
- A lot of carriers to maximize launch assets and attempt to use bombers to destroy my opponent.
- An overweight of frigates to put emphasis on speed (that also includes the battle cruiser for PHR since that has the same thrust as a frigate).
- Target saturation for troop ships – bring 3 troop ships in a skimirsh game to make it hard for my opponent to kill them all.
- Maximize for usage of a specific ship to see how it can perform if given optimum terms.
You could also put emphasis on close action, bombing, heavy ships, a specific weapon type or something else entirely.
When I have decided on this, I usually also have decided on some part of my fleet. I then go to my secondary concern..
Secure sufficient drop capacity
In most scenarios, drop capacity is critical since the most points are to be gained by feet on the ground. So you need to make sure that you have sufficient drop capacity.
Exactly what is sufficient is a point of debate, but I do tend to spend at least 1/3 of my total points value on drop capacity – and most of those points in troop ships. PHR is unique in the sense that their troop ships are also capable cruiser, but I think it is a good guideline. I don’t think it is uncommon to spend even more than that.
Splitting into groups
This is actually the hardest part – how to compose my battle groups.
First of all, remember that you can split a battle group – but not individual groups. It has a cost in increased SR, but in many cases it is not that important. If my opponent has four battle groups of SR 4,7,14 and 15 I can freely split my SR 10 battle group because it will never overtake the SR of any of my opponents groups. I often split my battle groups during a battle and I have only once had disadvantage from doing so.
One thing is rather clear – there is little reason not to use all battle groups. With some groups you want to go early and some you want to activate late, so if you opponent always has the last activation (because he has one more battle group than you) you are at a serious disadvantage. In clashes and above, this might mean that some of your groups are very small
I make sure each battle groups have a purpose in the game. Answers to that question could be “bring troop deploy to the table”, “destroy opposing troop deploy”, “escort the admiral”, “Bring in bombers” etc. It can also have split purpose, especially if I know I will be playing an approach type where I do not get to place my entire fleet on the board in the first round. Knowing what the battle group can do is crucial.
Speaking of battle groups, approach type can influence my considerations quite a lot. So if you know the approach types, here is an overview of how that influences battle groups.
Here, you might want to create groups that can operate together since they deploy together and openly from game start. Also, since you cannot bluff about where you bring in firepower, you might want to consider having firepower spread across the board instead of gambling with battle groups including only troop deploy.
As above. You do have a bit more of option for bluffing and I think this is the approach type that gives you the fewest considerations in terms of fleet building.
This is what we mostly play. In this approach type, you have to be aware that your fleet will arrive staggered. Especially for 5+ battle groups, this means that you will have battle groups arriving in turn 3 which sets specific requirements to these groups.
In this approach type, I always plan exactly when each battle group should arrive.
The first wave should include the majority of my drop capacity – though some can be postponed to round 2 (especially strike carriers). The Admiral should also arrive here to maximize usage since the Admiral cannot be used if he is not on the board. One of the battle groups can be a double-tap battle group. The battle groups for the first round should probably be rather large, to overwhelm your opponent if he does not do the same.
The third round should mostly include very fast ships – frigates, light cruisers, corvettes. The other main category is carriers – they will be within range of enemy ships immediately and might even be able to reach them with short range on the turn they arrive.
That leaves round 2 for the other ships – mostly ship-to-ship combat cruisers and the like.
This is similar to column, but even more tricky since it relies on SR of the battle group. Here, you have to carefully maximize the usage of your battle groups.
You basically need the same ships at the same time as for the column approach, but instead of picking and choosing, you need to maximize ship composition of the battle groups. This will most likely mean heavier on the frigateside to be able to bring two or maybe even three battle groups below SR 9. You might consider placing your admiral on a smaller vessel for him to enter the game in the first round.
Here, you need to designate one battle group to hold the admiral and as much troop deploy capacity as you can muster and pick that as the first battle group. For the other battle groups, you need to spread out your troop deploy capacity to increase chances to have as much as possible to arrive in turn 2. You should seriously consider if bringing slower ships (like battle ships and heavy cruisers) is a good idea beyond the first battle group since they might only arrive at turn 4 where their ability to do anything is severely limited.
Securing the Admiral
The final point I want to touch upon is how to secure the Admiral.
First of all, the ship with the admiral is a tempting target. For this reason, you would want to make it a ship that is not otherwise a tempting target. So for instance, you do not want to put him on a troop deploy ship.
Second, carriers are especially good since they can stay clear of the main combat and still do their thing. I like to use the Bellerophon for my admiral for this reason – it is a ship that really wants to stay away.
Thirdly, you need to put the admiral on a ship that gets onto the table early (see above regarding approach type). It is nice to get a discount for putting the Admiral on a battle ship, but if you play distant approach type, that means that you will not see you admiral before turn 3 meaning the bonus command cards are not before turn 4. So you only get the benefit of the admiral for half the game – or 40 % off compared to for instance a column approach. The discount might quickly be mitigated by the fact that he is not really doing a difference, and the difference is only late-game where it might already be too late.
Fourth, escort. All but Scourge have an escort frigate and in general, bringing one (maybe even two) to escort your admiral makes sense.
These are my main considerations when building a fleet. There are many more details, but I think this gives an idea of the kind of thoughts and ideas that lies behind the fleets I field and I hope that it can serve as an inspiration for you to build your fleet.