Submarines!

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Geoff the Medio
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Submarines!

#1 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 2:04 am

I was just thinking about submarines and their role in the WWII German blockade of England, as well as their cold-war role of mobile nuclear missile launch platforms, and their current role in the USN of launching cruise missiles against land targets while submerged. (Why this is necessary when a guided missile cruiser would presumably work just as well, and more cheaply, I'm not sure...)

A type of ship that has these sorts of roles would be interesting to have in FO, imo.

The obvious question arises: What is the space-equivalent of a submarine?

IMO, a FO "submarine" shouldn't be modelled strictly after Star Trek style cloaked ships. These are generally undetected until they fire or uncloak, which is fine, but they're not really "submerged" in any traditional sense, and aren't protected by doing so, like a naval submarine would be from conventional ship weapons.

An FO "submarine" also shouldn't be just a very well just a particularly stealthy vessel that's just very hard to see on sensors, and doesn't even have a distinct "cloaking" mechanism other than "running silent".

The prefix "sub" could refer to "sub-space" of some kind, which as a concept could be used fairly reasonably to achieve the same tactial and strategic value of a submarine in the ocean. "submergine" or "diving" would be replaced in for FO submarines by shifting the ship down a level in subspace, which phases it out of the current plane of existance. This can reasonably be said to achieve both the stealth and protection characteristics.

While "submerged" in subspace, a submarine ship would presumably travel in a system like a normal ship, though perhaps requiring more fuel or at a slower rate. The nature of travel along starlanes is as yet undetermined, but presumably would be compatible with "subspace" hidden travel... or rather should be.

Submarine ships would start out unable to attack while "submerged", much like early naval submarines. They would have to "surface" to attack, meaning they would only really be useful as strategic raiders. This means that some degree of blockading of supply ships / lines (abstracted to some degree) needs to be possible in the game. this would presumably prevent a system from using an empire's pooled production points. It would be even better if it is made possible to send production to allied empires, rather than just your own: Your ally would give you the ability to spend PP from their pool, or you'd give PP to an ally (though still no stockpiling of PP). As well, the ability of a "submerged" ship to disrubt fleet supply lines would be most interesting (see viewtopic.php?t=754 ).

Later models of submarine ships would also be able to launch specifically designed missiles or bombs to attack normal-space ships and planets, without the need to first "surface". This would make them quite useful, and would allow them to fill the roll of modern submarines.

Advances in anti-submarine technology would also be available. Subspace-depth charges and dedicated survey / scanner ships would make it possible to scan into the near layers of subspace, detect submerged ships, and attack them directly. I would hope that this mechanic would create the need for specialized submarine hunter and attack ships, increasing the level of specialization of ships, keeping things interesting and fun. Perhaps you wouldn't be able to put extremely larger weapons on a sub-hunter ship, lest they interfere with the delicate subspace scanning equipment. Subs would also have significant limits on size and armament, perhaps allowing Q-ships to be built which look like supply ships, but are actually sub-hunters in disguise. If a sub is in a system and set to raid supply or shipping lines, they would automatically attack a Q-ship coming out of a starlane into a system. The subs would then find themselves outmatched by the Q-ship's more powerful weaponry.

Obviously delicate balancing is in order, but that applies to most any game system...

Thoughts?

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#2 Post by drek » Thu Aug 05, 2004 5:46 am

Sci-fi fluff:

"Sub-brane Ships"

All of reality sits atop a "membrane" (often referred to as the "Brane"). The nothingness below the Brane is "Hollow Space". Starlanes are holes poked into this membrane and threaded with material from Reality, making existance within Hollow Space possible.

Sub-brane ships can dive into Hollow Space at any point, without the need for a starlane opening. However, if they dived -too far-, they'd simply wink out of existance. Every sub-brane has an "Anchor" (sometimes call a periscope in a nod to marinetime tradition) that must always remain in the Reality above. Because the Anchor must remain above Brane, sub-brane ships must travel at sub-light speeds--otherwise, they'd be ripped from their Anchor and lost to the void of Hollow Space.

In military and pirate sub-brane ships, the Anchor is often no larger than a human fist, and protected heavily by cloaking and shielding technologies. Aside from this Anchor, subs are utterly undetectable and utterly invincible when submerged.

Sub-brane ships (and other ships as well) can fire off sub-torps, torpedoes that like sub-branes are submerged in Hollow Space, aside from a single tiny anchor. In dumb fire sub-torps, this anchor might be just a few atoms. Sub-torps are virtually impossible to hit with point defenses, and can re-emerge from the Brane at the last possible millisecond before exploding--often zipping right passed the wide shields of larger capital ships.

Capital ships are often armed with explosive charges that are lobbed at sub-branes (and sub-torps). While explosions are often too weak to tear through the shielding of Anchors, they can sometimes push Anchors just far enough to seprate them from the sub-brane below. As stated before, a sub-brane that loses it's connection to it's Anchor is lost to Reality--it's fate forever unknowable.

edit: interesting side-thought,

Throwing a convict into a sub-brane without an Anchor could be a bloodless form of the death penalty.

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#3 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 6:23 am

I'm a bit skeptical about the firing through shields idea. If submarine-ships can do that, then can't any ship do it, and thus what's the point of shields... or a submarine in combat? Granted, you'd have to develop the tech, just like for anything else, but it seems like it might be imbalancing, and turn subs into just another form of ship armour...

I think the element of surprise should be sufficient. Presumably shielding and point defence systems can't be run at all times, so are only on during a battle. A sub ship could attack at any time without warning, meaning a surprise attack would score one or three very damaging attacks, perhaps on unarmoured transports or survey ships or more valuable carrier ships. After firing though, the defending fleet is alerted to the sub's presence and location, turns on their shields and PD, and can't be easily hit again.

Aside: Ships that rely on armour more so than PD or active shielding would be less vulnerable to sub-attacks, perhaps.

A "submerged" ship firing a torpedo also reveals its position, allowing sub hunter destroyers to more effectively hunt for it, and fire off subspace depth charges... It would also announce to the fleet it attacked that it was in the system at all, meaning the sub-hunters would start actively scanning the system, especially the area around valuable targets, preventing further attack for several turns (as long as the fleet is still there).

Stationing sub-hunter destroyers as supply escorts along supply lines or production sharing lines would be a good way to stop sub attacks, but if the enemy starts raiding your supply lines with cruisers, the sub hunter destroyers would be outgunned. It should be too expensive to maintain a full compliment of battleships or carrier fleet group to protect supply lines (as what's doing the actual fighting that needs supplies then?), and large fleet conventional battles are best fought with your whole fleet massed to better outnumber and route the enemy.

Also, rather than having all "capital ships" armed with sub-killing weapons, it'd be better to require specialized ships for this purpose. Perhaps firing into the subbrane levels or whatever requires specialized equipment that's also incompatible with standard ship systems, or is too bulky or expensive to put on all your standard battleships.

... Now that I talk about it more, I think it'd be a very good idea to try to make a role for all the standard ship fleet roles. This means we'd have:
-subs to sneak attack
-destroyers to hunt subs and scout / patrol
-cruisers to project firepower long distance and overpower destroyers
-battleships to be the big guns that you can't move around much because they're slow, but are good in big fleet battles or bombardment
-carriers that function essentially like battleships, but with a different tactical / strategic role
-battlecruisers and escort carriers to project the firepower of a battleship / small carrier, with the speed of a cruiser, but without the defence of a battleship or fighter supply of a full fleet carrier, making them not of much use in big fleet battles, but very useful if sent with your sub hunter destroyers, to protect them from enemy cruisers.
-scanner / survey / supply ships (see the fleet supply thread) to provide those functions
-C&C ships to coordinate battles (perhaps some bonuses to fleet operations)

I don't really know what the use is for "corvettes" or "frigates", but if someone has some suggestions... I'm also not sure about the battlecruiser or escor carrier, which might make subs redundant... but I guess they can be seen and avoided by supply lines, whereas subs can't, so maybe they all have a purpose.

Making sure all this actually works, and it's not just better to make a bunch of big battleships and steamroll your opponent will be a complicated design and balancing challenge, but I think it'd be worth it. We're also obviously limited by other design decisions and game mechanics, but I think it could be done to a large degree.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't threadjack my ownthread... so how about those subs?!?

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#4 Post by drek » Thu Aug 05, 2004 8:56 am

Sub-torps would be a part of the paper-rock-scissors balance, and a weapon that can be mounted on any ship.

Sub-torps beat point defense and maybe heavy shields (but would be stopped by the weaker "skin tight sheilds" and explosive charges.)

Sub-branes would be stopped by explosive charges and stymed (like cloaked ships) by good sensors. Not every capital ship/fleet would have explosive charges--just those in the "sub-hunter" role. The charges would kinda suck vs. sheilds and armor, you'd really only want them when facing off against sub ships/torps. (again rock-paper-scissors)

I like the idea of the attackable Anchor cause I'd rather avoid weapons fire in "subspace" (ie, Hollow Space). To beat a sub, you'd have to hit it's Anchor, or hit it when it rises up into Reality to fire it's weapons.

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#5 Post by emrys » Thu Aug 05, 2004 8:57 am

I like this idea, which is slightly annoying because it means I need to do a bit of a rethink on how to fit it into my preferred ship combat design mechanics.

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#6 Post by Daveybaby » Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:24 am

Me likey this idea.

But for the love of god change the name. Sub-branes is the worst name for something that i have ever heard, ever ever ever. Just call them subspace ships or something.

I also think all of this 'anchor' business is going too far. Just have 'subspace' being something like hyperspace with certain characteristics (e.g. travel in subspace is slower, detection is harder, shields dont work).

Basically, for subspace ships to be analogs of submarines, they need certain advantages and vulnerabilities.


Advantages:

* Detection of objects in subspace is very difficult - 'surface' ships need large and expensive specialised detectors fitted in order to even try to detect subspace ships at close range. There is no way to even attempt to detect a subspace ship using normal sensors.

* Normal weapons dont work in subspace - specialised weapons must be developed and deployed in order to inflict damage on subspace ships. These weapons would typically have limited range and accuracy.


Disadvantages:

* Shields dont work in subspace - thus, once detected a subspace ship is extremely vulnerable.

* In order to be able to exist in subspace a special field generator is needed. This is very large and expensive, making subspace ships inefficient in a purely bang-per-buck way. Possibly subspace ships would also need specialised subspace engines in addition to their normal/hyper space ones (adds a whole new chain of techs) making them even more inefficient.

* Subspace travel is slow, therefore once spotted it will be very hard to get away.

* Even on re-entering normal space, a ships shields will have to being charging from scratch, so the ship remains very vulnerable.


Weapons:

* Beam weapons cant be used - since they cant cross from subspace to normal space and vice-versa. It's missiles or nothing, folks.

* 2 types of missiles would be possible:

(1) Subspace missiles - these travel in subspace to the targets location and then emerge and detonate. They can bypass all PD and possibly even shields of the target. They are, however, slow, bulky and inaccurate and have limited range.

(2) 'Normal' missiles : On firing they immediately exit subspace and travel to the target in normal space. These are exactly the same as normal missiles (can be shot down by PD, etc), but a special (bulky expensive) launcher is required in order to make the initial transition from subspace.

* I guess you could also launch fighters from subspace if you had special launcg bays on the carrier (similar to the launch tubes of the type 2 missile) - the carrier would need to return to normal space for the fighters to land though.
Last edited by Daveybaby on Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:07 am, edited 2 times in total.
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#7 Post by pd » Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:56 am

great idea, gets my vote ;)

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#8 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:02 am

double post. (connected problem)
Last edited by Geoff the Medio on Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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#9 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:03 am

drek wrote:I like the idea of the attackable Anchor cause I'd rather avoid weapons fire in "subspace" (ie, Hollow Space). To beat a sub, you'd have to hit it's Anchor, or hit it when it rises up into Reality to fire it's weapons.
I was envisioning sub-ships that playable races could as only entering a very shallow region of subspace, that's very near the normal space. Starlanes and wormholes and such would be paths very deep into subspace, where playable races can't delve on their own. You wouldn't be flying around looking at the starlane tubes or anything, or in any way able to travel interstellar distances by having your sub go into subspace. The starlane "hollow space" or whatever explanation gets used doesn't even need to be the same thing as sub-ship subspace, really...

I'm not sure what you mean by "weapons fire in subspace". Do you mean weapons being fired by ships in subspace, or weapons "going off" in subspace, and affecting things in it when fired from normal space?

My "depth chargres" would be weapons fired in normal space, and "going off" in normal space, except that their particular effect would permeate into the shallow layers of subspace where subs can hide.

In practical game terms, I don't really see the difference between "depth charges", and your "explosive charges" (which need a better name btw). In either case, you'd need a specialized weapon to hit submerged subs. (and can also hit them if they rise up to attack)

I don't really like the anchor idea though. The "cool" factor for me is that the whole ship has shifted slightly out of this plane of existance... if it needs a snorkel that can be knocked out by a well-placed normal explosive, then that's not really so cool. Anything in subspace should be fully in subspace, not transitioning through different layers in different parts of itself.

That said, perhaps subships could initially need an anchor, much like earth subs originally needed snorkels to run underwater for extended periods of time. A later development in the technology allows free long-term running completely under the surface. Destroying an early model sub's snorkel in normal space wouldn't hurt the sub directly, but would force the sub to rise out of subspace, making it a weak and vulnerable normal ship.

There also need to be more to detecting (fully) submerged subs than just "good sensors"... Doing so should require specialized sensors (specialization independent of refinement or goodness), on specialized ships built specifically for that task. Normal ship sensors should be basically useless for finding fully submerged subs... like using surface radar to find a naval submarine. Sub hunters would have something like sonar, perhaps attuned to fluxuations in subspace caused by moving subs nearby (insert fluff)

It does sound like you want to make "subs" just another type of ship defence, like shielding or point defence or armour, which I again dislike. They should be something unique, with advantages and disadvantages not dependent only on their function in a big fleet battle situation (where you need a little bit of rock, paper and scissors to win). I'd rather have them work outside of most battles, knocking out supply lines and raiding fleets on their own and targetting soft-targets like sensor ships, C&C, etc. In a big all out guns-blazing battle, subs should make themselves scarce... except maybe a suicide run to take out something soft behind enemy lines.

I also don't see the need to have sub torpedoes be anything special. Subs would work fine with conventional weaponry that can only be fired while in normal space... they'd just rise into normal space, and use the element of surprise to get hits, before the ships they attack can put up defences. They'd then immediately resubmerge and run away to hide from any scrambled sub hunters. Most likely subs would commonly use missile-based weaponry, as they would be able to attack from fairly far away, meaning no quick-firing battleships could get them with beam weapons before they submerge, and would still be able to score hits, as point defence would take a minute or two to "warm up" before it works.

If there are davebaby-esque or drek-esque subspace "phased" torpedos and such, they should be very late in the tech tree. No carriers launching from subspace though... or we end up with *everything* moved into subspace, which sort of defeats the purpose... right?

There can and should be weaponry that's good against certain classes of defence, but tieing such weapons to subs "thematically", but not practically (ie must be a sub to use this weapon) is a bit confusing and unnecesasry, imo.

On the subject of weaponry, I guess I'll write up and post my own suggestions for combat equipment and rock-paper-scissors style balancing. I've incorporated multiple hull types (not just bigger = better), as well as changing technology to make things more interesting than just pure rock-paper-scissors or leviathan beats battleship beats cruiser beats corvette or weapons being rated vs. only armor and shields, as often seems to be the case.
Last edited by Geoff the Medio on Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:12 am, edited 2 times in total.

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#10 Post by Daveybaby » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:08 am

Cripes! I wrote a tiny one line post, then edited it into a massive essay - and in the interim loads of stuff got posted. Soz. :oops:

Edit : heh, not as much stuff as i'd first feared - geoff posted the same thing twice :P - which seems to be along similar lines to what i wrote :D
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#11 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:19 am

Daveybaby wrote:Cripes! I wrote a tiny one line post, then edited it into a massive essay - and in the interim loads of stuff got posted. Soz. :oops:
I go with the single large post, rather than the starter and edit... though the signle seems to have taken longer than your whole post-edit procedure anyway.
Edit : heh, not as much stuff as i'd first feared - geoff posted the same thing twice :P - which seems to be along similar lines to what i wrote :D
Yeah, I think it was actually posted three times there, but I only noticed one of the duplicates. Was having connection problems, as I typoically indicated in the edited-away double post.

re: "sub-branes", drek does have some interesting and good ideas form time to time, but they don't often seem to including names.

*cough* *cough*... excuse me, I think I have some "phlogiston" in my throat... :P

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#12 Post by drek » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:57 am

"Brane" comes from an quantum physics article I just read in a magazine. There's probably web pages about the concept as well.

(searching)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brane_cosmology

Not that I give a fig about interjecting "real" science into the game, just that I think Star Trek and sci-fi games have beat the word "subspace" to death; it sounds pretty tired to my big floppy ears. (same goes for Hyperspace too, incidently)

Could be some better/cooler words for the membrane. Maybe Shroud? I'm looking for something mildly poetic, so that there can be some pretentious flavor text mixed into our fluff. (like the flavor text spoken by the faction leaders in Smac.)

Besides, I like my Anchor idea, because I don't think it's been used before (at least not to my recollection). Seems unique. (edit: also, anchors would explain why a sub-torp would have to impact the hull rather than rematerialize in the middle of a captial ship's vital infrastructure.)
The starlane "hollow space" or whatever explanation gets used doesn't even need to be the same thing as sub-ship subspace, really...
If we invent some big comsological explanation for starlanes, etc. etc. it'll feel more "solid" if the same rules can be used to explain other sci-fantasy things in the universe. It the silly fluff we come up with to explain one thing could be used to explain another, it'll form consistant rules for the FO universe.

Another thing Star Trek beat to death: a completely different idiotic explaination for each strange spooky sci-fi thing to occur. Creates, I think, a universe that feels very flimsly and fictional.

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#13 Post by LithiumMongoose » Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:21 pm

Boo hiss, no Star-Trek-bashing, I won't have it! <pouts> <bats Drek in the face with his tail>

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#14 Post by Daveybaby » Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:56 pm

LithiumMongoose wrote:Boo hiss, no Star-Trek-bashing, I won't have it! <pouts> <bats Drek in the face with his tail>
Let me guess... youre part of a race of beings which looks exactly like humans except for some weird facial plasticine and... a mongoose tail, right? :P :wink:

@drek - i have no problem with 'brane' being a scientific term... it just sounds and looks awful on a purely aesthetic level. I guess we can call this stuff anything you like, but if its submarines in space you want.... then i think subspace is about as descriptive a term as youre likely to find. Anything else is calling a duck a quackazoid. :twisted:

w.r.t. sub-torps, i like the idea of being able to bypass ships PD, shields and even armour completely. Kinda like a submarines ability to strike a single crtical hit if its aim is true.

Look at it this way: if detection is bad in subspace, and travel is slower, then accuracy is pretty poor to begin with and becomes even worse as distance to target increases (kinda like modern day (or at least, WWII) torpedoes). Big targets are, naturally, easier to hit than small ones. Slow, lumbering targets are also somewhat easier to hit than fast, agile ones.

So your sub fires on a target. You get a chance of a hit based on the range to the target, its size and its speed. You *also* get a (smaller) chance to bypass shields and impact directly on the hull/armour (primarily based on the target's hull size to surface area ratio), and an (even smaller) chance to bypass both shields and armour and hit internals (again, based on hull size to surface area). So the bigger the ship, the greater the likelihood that a hit will be a critical one, compared to a smaller ship which is (a) harder to hit, and (b) much much harder to critically hit.

chance_to_hit = (weapon_accuracy * weapon_speed * target_size) / (range_to_target * target_speed)

chance_to_bypass_shields = chance_to_hit * mass_to surface_area_ratio

chance_to_bypass_shields_and_armour = chance_to_bypass_shields * mass_to surface_area_ratio


Thus a big, slow, heavily shielded, heavily armoured ship is VERY vulnerable to a sub. You would need to surround it with small, fast ships loaded with specialised subspace detectors and weapons, i.e. dedicated sub destroyers. This is something which could really tip the balance in favour of smaller ships in some situations (a very good thing, since very often bigger is boringly better in these types of games). So your subs would need to try and sneak in close to the enemy's big ships and take them out before they are detected and destroyed by the destroyers.

Thats your rock-paper-scissors right there: big ships are vulnerable to subs, which are vulnerable to small ships, which are vulnerable to big ships.
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#15 Post by Geoff the Medio » Thu Aug 05, 2004 5:30 pm

Daveybaby wrote:w.r.t. sub-torps, i like the idea of being able to bypass ships PD, shields and even armour completely. Kinda like a submarines ability to strike a single crtical hit if its aim is true.
No problem with subs bypassing shields and such in general, but I don't think this should be specifically a sub ability. Imo, subs shouldn't be very useful in a full-out firefight, which might be the case if they have this great superweapon that can bypass shielding. A stealthy surprise raiding attack before defences are activated and / or supply / merchant shipping raiding features are enough to justify subs without making them into just another ship in the fleet (which would be boring, imo).

If subs are given indirect fire weapons, the tactical elements of keeping big missile-vulnerable carriers and non-combat ships in a fleet protected by picket ships and sub-hunters is retained, as the sub would otherwise be able to sneak up, fire a missile, recloak and run, and repeat with impunity. (But when not in a big battle, the picket ships can't be scanning everywhere all the time, so subs can sneak up then).
This is something which could really tip the balance in favour of smaller ships in some situations (a very good thing, since very often bigger is boringly better in these types of games). So your subs would need to try and sneak in close to the enemy's big ships and take them out before they are detected and destroyed by the destroyers.
Agreed, in theory if not in implimentation...
Thats your rock-paper-scissors right there: big ships are vulnerable to subs, which are vulnerable to small ships, which are vulnerable to big ships.
The RPS balancing can/should be based around other things than sub/not sub. I'll post suggestions for this later, but essentially different weapons (eg. beams, missiles, fighters) and defences (eg. armour, PD, shields) for "surface" ships should have weaknesses and strengths, as should different types of hulls (eg. biohull, asteroid, metal box).

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