Strategic Combat: Suggestions for Era 4

General discussion for the game Anacreon
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Tue May 29, 2018 6:49 pm

Grand Unified Proposal: Strategic Combat in Anacreon Era 4
This is a proposal for improvements to strategic warfare in Anacreon Era 4. It does not cover tactics (the nitty-gritty of groups of units directly engaging in combat). Some of the suggestions here are not part in my master list on Ministry. This is because the suggestions are tightly connected to one another, while Ministry suggestions are presented in a way that would make them implementable individually.

The Problem
To build an empire in Anacreon, a player makes slow, deliberate decisions over the course of several days or weeks. However, the current empire-vs-empire war metagame makes it possible for those decisions to be destroyed by other players' actions very quickly, potentially while the player is AFK. Individual play sessions are too decisive in the course of wars. War is incredibly destructive, but it is not progressively destructive- it seems to be common for the first day or so of combat to result in the economic ruin of all participating empires, but it then takes days or weeks for the surviving units to mop up their foes. Launching a massive initial attack is time intensive relative to potential rewards; so is mopping up a defeated enemy.

It can be dificult for players to tell what is going on in the galaxy. Unless a player happens to see a world flip between empires, it's not easy for them to tell whether other players have been fighting recently. There are not enough explicit signals to allow players to tell whether hostilities are ongoing or mostly concluded.

Several existing systems are clearly intended to limit how fast players can expand against one another:
  • Sector capitals take 24 hours to establish, limiting how fast a player can turn captured regions stable and productive
  • Jumpbeacons limit the area within which fast attack ships can operate
  • Slow attack ships are limited by their speed, by nebular geometry, and by the exposure of attached transports during assaults (this last is probably not intentional)
  • Reduced planetary efficiency after conquest prevents a world from being fully productive right after it is captured
However, other systems contribute to the issues:
  • A player can designate a jumpyard- and therefore a beacon- anywhere within a capital's control radius instantly. This negates many possible strategic decisions about planet placement and jumpship combat
  • Conquering a jumpyard instantly gives the attacker the beacon even outside of sector capital control radius, which allows jumpships to leapfrog deep into other players’ empires
  • Ground combat resolves almost instantly
  • Capturing sector capitals is somewhat rewarding to an attacker - while being devastating to the defender.
  • Ground forces snowballing: if an invader has a lot of ground units, they will actually GAIN ground forces every time they invade a planet.
  • Rapid expansion against independent worlds- for a strong empire in Law & Order, "cluster building" is limited pretty much only by how much time the player has available to conquer planet after planet.
  • Citadels are not an effective deterrent to attack, since their autofire abilities can be baited to expend harmlessly with jumpships and their missiles have not proven especially strong against starships.
Some bugs and exploits make player-vs-player combat frustrating: Additionally:
  • The penalties for attacking much weaker empires are not severe enough, and what constitutes a "weaker empire" is somewhat suspect. Building every possible structures seems to provide a good social order hedge against unrest arising from attacking a weaker foe. My proposal does not really address this issue unfortunately.
The Grand Unified Proposal

Here is my theory about how war can be improved in Era 4. Note that I am not suggesting tactical changes, except to ground combat! The tactical combat system needs improvements as well but those are for the most part a separate issue.
  • Fix for planetary conquest blitzes: Ground combat has two phases, assault and insurgency. Assault is fast, uses ground combat mechanics, and determines who occupies a planet. Insurgency is slow, uses civil war mechanics, and determines who owns a planet. Gritty details are here. During occupation, forces are committed- forces you invade with have to stay on place (along with their transports?) until the occupation concludes. Slowing the pace of planetary conquest and tying up infantry to deal with insurrections is a good way to prevent blitzkrieg attacks from completely devastating an empire overnight – it attenuates and "ties up" the attacker’s ground forces for a while (this is extremely important) and gives the defender a chance to respond in their own time. If the attacker tries to occupy too many worlds at one time they give the defender a chance to consolidate their remaining ground forces and perform strong counterattacks. It also addresses unit snowballing. The presence of an ongoing occupation should generate an icon on the map that can be seen by any player when a planet is within scanner range. This will make it overtly obvious when players are involved in active hostilities. The "destroy units" mission should be extended to allow ground combat without invasion; this would give players a mechanic to help their allies in ground warfare.
  • Insurgency should occur when independent worlds get conquered, even though those worlds should get incorporated into the empire immediately (rather then occupied for a period before ownership changes, as with empire-vs-empire combat). Rapid expansion against independent worlds will be limited by infantry availability, not just by how much time a player has available to go around capturing world after world.
  • Fix for jumpfleet blitzes, instant beacons and spite-redesignation of jumpyards: The jumpbeacon functionality should not be a property of jumpship yards. Instead, the jumpbeacon is a structure that may be manually built on any world within 250LY of an active capital. A jumpbeacon takes 6-24 hours to build and 3-12 hours to demolish; during demolition the jumpbeacon remains active and demolition can be manually cancelled by the owner at any time with no penalty. Individual players can operate a finite number of jumpbeacons. The presence of an active jumpbeacon on a world creates a special icon in the galactic map view that is always visible, regardless of whether the planet is in scanner range. Subject jumpbeacons to a spacing requirement, 200LY or so, possibly with a finite number allowed that is linked to sector capital count. Players will have to be very thoughtful about beacon placement. The imperial capital gets a jumpbeacon under all doctrines; this beacon builds instantly if the imperial capital is forcibly moved due to conquest. F&M additionally gets free jumpbeacons on all capitals. Jumpbeacons cannot be constructed or demolished by either player during occupation; occupation cancels ongoing jumpbeacon construction or demolition. Jumpbeacons continue to operate for the occupier when occupied; they temporarily control the jumpbeacon without it counting towards their total beacon count. However, the beacon enters unstoppable demolition. This allows players to capitalize on jumpbeacons they capture outside of their sector capital control radius, but only for a short period of time.
  • Fix for spite-redesignation of sector capitals: Like jumpbeacons, sector capitals get a special icon on the galactic map. Player redesignation of sector capital planets does not immediately destroy the administration structures; like jumpbeacons, these structures take a few periods to stop operating. The redesignating player can immediately designate a new sector capital within the control radius of the old one, however. Occupation temporarily halts administration demolition or construction. When occupiers defeat insurgents on a capital with a sector capital administration structure they are rewarded by planetary defections, as under the current system. Rather than turning autonomous (as under the current system), the planet changes designation to something appropriate to its original doctrine: yards, academy or hub.
  • Fix for fleet capture: Fleets in orbit (not stationed on a planet) never defect under any circumstances. They are not captured when a planet is successfully invaded and they are not captured when a planet defects. Units stationed on a planet can still be captured or defect as normal.
  • Fix for slow fleets issue: Fleets only appear in orbit when they actually arrive, not when they are <1LY away.
Optional extensions to this proposal:
  • Warptransports (as slow as capships, or intermediate between gunships and capships) and new classes of warp-transportable-only infantry that are better at planetary defense and counterinsurgency. This ties into a George’s expressed desire for jumpships to be good at rapidly capturing territory but poor at holding it. A gunship-speed warptransport than can carry the new infantry would probably be too powerful.
  • Explicit states of war and peace between empires.
  • All fleets can be issued a second order to perform on arrival. For example: move, then invade. This allows players to send starship fleets on long voyages with the knowledge that they will do their job on arrival, even if the player is AFK. Change of sovereign at the destination world cancels the order. Optionally, also allow fleets to wait before moving.
  • Citadels can be given standing orders that cause them to fire on fleets under more circumstances than they currently do.
  • Galactic news: every so often, look at planetary invasions, ongoing occupations, and planetary conquest or recapture within the past cycle and generate some basic news to push to all players: "Skirmishes reported between Alice and Bob" "Alice launches massive invasion of Bob". Only generate a few each day. The purpose of galactic news is to get players engaged with ongoing events in the galaxy rather than myopically focusing on internal development. Some truly epic actions should push a news event to all players at the instant they occur: imperial capitals getting conquered and empires getting destroyed is of great interest to all players in the game, as is any huge fleet or ground battle (a huge battle is one where at least two participants brought >0.1% of all jumpships, starships, ramjets or ground units in the game to the fight). Galactic news could be tied to a message log system that is better than a bunch of stacked messages on the imperial capital.

george moromisato
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Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:42 pm

I definitely support the idea of two-phase combat, with a prolonged ground-conquest phase. I'll try to get that in Era 4.

In addition, what do you think about the following ideas:

* Introduce a new structure for defenders. E.g., a structure called "fortification" or something, which gives a bonus to defending ground troops (or something).
* Perhaps these structures can pull ground forces from neighboring Infantry Academies (via trade routes). [Or perhaps any world should be able to do this.]
* Introduce a new designation that creates ground defenses for export to worlds (e.g., exports armored satellites to surrounding worlds).
* Introduce a "civil defense" structure/program which adds "civil defense infantry" when a world is invaded (supplementing any ground troops). The civil defense infantry units demobilize (disappear) after the invasion is over.

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Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:50 pm

george moromisato wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:42 pm
* Introduce a new structure for defenders. E.g., a structure called "fortification" or something, which gives a bonus to defending ground troops (or something).
In principle having a way for planets to get ground troop combat bonuses makes sense. I do not think it makes sense to add more structures that do not involve some sort of tradeoff; right now there is no disincentive to build every structure available (I think that a player can just assign zero labor to planetary defense structures but still get the workingConditions benefits) which means there is not really an element of choice involved in what a player builds on a planet. Imposing a labor or resource cost is an option, or possibly the range model used for designating sector capitals could also be used on fortification structures, e.g. there can only be one fortified planet within a 100LY radius or something so you have to decide which of your planets are the most important to defend.

An old suggestion was to have planetary type bonuses to ground combat like in old Anacreon; if planet type affected defensibility, that would add an interesting new decision point to the designation process and to waging war. And just as planet type affects habitat availability, maybe it could also affect fortification availability.

Finally, another option that could be explored within current gameplay systems would be a "filter" industry structure that ttakes one type of unit as an input for producing another type of unit (can units be inputs for structures?). So if you have such a filter structure on a planet and it is operating, it gradually converts infantry that arrive on the planet into e.g. "garrison infantry" which are not cargo but are stronger and have lower attrition. The tradeoff is that you lose the ability to ever use that infantry offensively again.
* Perhaps these structures can pull ground forces from neighboring Infantry Academies (via trade routes). [Or perhaps any world should be able to do this.]
I'm not sure if you mean instantaneously pull them at the time of attack or gradually.

If it's gradual, then it plays well with the idea of a fortification structure: a fortification could affect the maximum number or proportion of troops imported per cycle (a demand-based model as with current trade routes doesn't really make sense since there is never demand for units). So most planets will reach an attrition infantry cap at a specific point, but planets with a fortification structure will import more per watch. This increases the point at which attrition is cancelled out by imports and the planet supports more infantry at any given time. This wouldn't affect players' abilities to station infantry manually, just the amount of infantry that builds up on planets.

We do have to be careful with adding more and more obligate trade routes: the higher trade route density gets, the harder it is to interpret them and the harder managing the imperial economy becomes. I don't think players should be forced to route everything through hubs just to make the interface manageable, since there is a strategic tradeoff involved. Some players have already suggested partial automation of trade route establishment.

If it's instantaneous, and infantry get moved onto the planet at time of attack - that would be a very different gameplay model, to the point that I can't really predict how it would work out other than that players would probably operate a LOT more infantry academies.
* Introduce a new designation that creates ground defenses for export to worlds (e.g., exports armored satellites to surrounding worlds).
This seems like a good idea, it reinforces the message that specializing worlds helps. It does further privilege large empires (which can afford to add yet another specialized planet) over small ones and it might overly encourage turtling, so maybe the kind of defenses that are available from such a structure could have expoitable weaknesses like only missile satellites (vulnerable to jumpships/starfrigates) or only r:15 or lower (vulnerable to starcruisers) so that exported defenses do not become the be-all and end-all of planetary defense.
* Introduce a "civil defense" structure/program which adds "civil defense infantry" when a world is invaded (supplementing any ground troops). The civil defense infantry units demobilize (disappear) after the invasion is over
It could work, provided that the existence and strength of civil defense forces was communicated transparently to potential attackers. This could be a property of the existing imperial administration structure (which potentially could have upgrades) and it would make sense for it to be affected by how long a planet had been in an empire, social order, etc. It would be interesting to have the civil defense strength be inversely proportional to planetary TL, with civic virtue decaying as material comforts increase: high-TL planets have great labor output, but their decadent inhabitants won't lift a finger to defend the State.

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Thu Jun 14, 2018 2:27 am

These are all great ideas.
Watch TV, Do Nothing wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:50 pm
* Introduce a new structure for defenders. E.g., a structure called "fortification" or something, which gives a bonus to defending ground troops (or something).
A good change, or alternatively an easier solution is to make different ground unit types: a low cost "defense legion"/"colonial watch" whatever. The defense legions are 3x the strength of assault legions, are made on a special infant-producing structure (military base), and cannot be moved offworld. If a force multiplier (say 1.5 * defender strength) is applied via a structure, then players can massively reinforce worlds with exotroops (already a whopping 40 base power -> 60) and quickly make them impregnable.

Different planetary types having different defensive bonuses are a great idea too, brought back from R4021.
Watch TV, Do Nothing wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:50 pm
* Perhaps these structures can pull ground forces from neighboring Infantry Academies (via trade routes). [Or perhaps any world should be able to do this.]
Yes, to improve defensibility trade routes can "rally" planetary defenses and ground troops as needed. Perhaps this process begins if an enemy fleet is present over the world (there are surely checks for that)?

With regard to trade route density - doctrines can address that. I just read and commented on the post in Ministry about the new Science & Technology doctrine here, and if we're going to improve doctrines then the T&E doctrine could mitigate "piracy risk" (space piracy, not you-wouldn't-download-a-car piracy).

A "piracy" event can have a chance to flip a hub to independent. Horrible, I know. This discourages stringing too many trade routes through a hub, and makes one think twice about using trade clusters if not in the T&E doctrine. The risk of a pirate attack could be a function of number of trade routes through a world, so empires not in T&E could only use messy, inefficient mesh trade networks. It should be merely a *chance* of disaster - something reasonable like 10% per year, however, so one can still opt to tempt fate and raise all worlds to TL10, or route everything through a hub, accepting the risk that things might go belly up in the future.
Watch TV, Do Nothing wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:50 pm
* Introduce a new designation that creates ground defenses for export to worlds (e.g., exports armored satellites to surrounding worlds).
As above.

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Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:43 am

I've posted a proposal that is in line with WTVd0's ideas here: https://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=70283

Basically, I'd like to introduce the concept of a "siege", which is equivalent to "rebellion" except if the siege succeeds, the world changes control to the attacking empire.

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