Chapter 12:Operational Stars! by Example
|This was the featured article on 7 July 2014.|
In this chapter
This part of the Stars! Strategy Guide deals with war in Stars! at the operational level: between diplomacy and war decisions on the one hand (grand strategy, the kind of thing your Emperor decides) and ship design and tactics on the other (tactics being what a ship captain might decide or recommend). Between the two lies the operational aspect of war -- the fight on the map. You can think of it as the decisions your Emperor might reach working with his general staff, or those made by senior admirals.
This is a huge subject and rather than try to cover everything that can happen in a game of Stars!, this chapter shows the operational aspect of Stars! war through an example -- the fight between the Saxons and the Epworthians in an actual Stars! game. This war featured a large advantage in technology, fleet strength, resources, allies, strategic initiative, and surprise -- all in favor of the Epworthians. Nevertheless it resulted in a decisive Saxon victory after 30 years of intense battle. This fight is rich in examples of the importance of operational factors in Stars! war.
In examining the operational level of Stars! we will follow the moves made by both sides. To those of you who are faint of heart, it may seem this discussion is overly critical of the Epworthians. This is not the intent of this article. However, the mistakes the Epworthians made eventually led to them being out-maneuvered by the Saxons and this demonstrates the importance of the operational details in Stars! war.
Part One: War Strategies
Part one deals with issues of overall operational war strategy and explains the strategy the Saxon player adopted in this war and what it entailed. By war strategy we mean an overall plan for what you will be trying to achieve as you make decisions about what moves to make on the map. We start with descriptions of three broad operational strategy classifications: Mahan (or fleet strategy), Blockade (or skirmish strategy), and Mao (or guerilla strategy).
The Mahan Strategy
The most common Stars! fighting strategy is the main fleet battle, which we will call Mahan style war or just Mahan. As some players may know, Mahan was a U.S. Navy Captain in the 19th century, the author of the book The Influence Of Sea Power On History. He argued for decisive battle as the key element in naval war. The idea is simple -- your whole fleet, or as much of it as can be gathered, seeks battle with the main force of the enemy. If you win such an engagement, the enemy is left with no main fleet, which allows you to take effectively complete control of the "sea" and attack where you will.
In Stars! terms, you try to create the single most powerful fleet on the map and direct it toward the main fleet of the enemy, or to the core of his space to force him to fight or lose his colonies in sequence. Given a choice, you always target the enemy's main fleet, chasing it wherever it goes, hitting only the colonies in your path and only when the enemy fleet cannot be reached. Once you've destroyed the enemy fleet, you try to kill his planets while he's weakened.
If your fleet is not currently superior, you keep it built up but avoid battle temporarily while seeking reinforcements tailored to alter the existing fleet balance. Your fleet maintains its position just out of range of the enemy main fleet, whether covered by mines or simply by distance, until you are sufficiently reinforced. Pulling back means more of your reinforcement stream joins your fleet, while less of the enemy's reaches the front (his reinforcement "tail" is stretched). When you believe the odds are sufficiently in your favor, you seek a decisive battle at the earliest possible moment.
Destroying the enemy fleet is the key to victory. Call it Mahan war strategy.
The Blockade Strategy
A second kind of war strategy, which in some ways takes two (both sides adopting it as a method), is the Blockade strategy. This emphasizes territory controlled. In Stars!, this is the volume of space controlled in square light years, with colonies being a secondary consideration.
Control is defined by time-to-front issues (i.e. the area most of your ships can reach in two years, which only a small portion of the enemy fleet could reach in that same time, you dominate by threat.) Minelayers and minor ships are used extensively in this type of warfare.
Mines restrict enemy movements, limiting the portion of his forces that can reach places within or behind them. Destroying enemy gates can have a similar effect. Building your own gates (and sweeping enemy mines) increases the area your forces can threaten. The operational emphasis in this kind of war is on mobility and planning flexibility. Forces are spread wide across a long front. The majority of your forces are "in reserve," meaning behind the actual front, able to move to this or that sector as needed to repulse an attack. At the front line, intensive skirmishing takes place as small groups of escorts intercept and trap one another, sweep mines, escort minelayers, "fork" enemy colony-targets, and hit colonies counting on the protection of the fork (the enemy not knowing which colony to reinforce via gate or other means).
If an enemy tries to attack in Mahan fashion, the reserves may be gathered to match that move or the delay of the mines may be counted on while temporizing, or counter-attacking in other areas. Blockade strategy concentrates on containing the enemy while expanding the volume of space controlled by your own forces. Minefields are usually key to this strategy, with players attempting to swamp each other in minefields and thus gain the upper hand in mobility. Fronts tend to be rigid or to move slowly as both sides execute large numbers of smaller actions rather than the grand fleet movements of the Mahan strategy. Once an area of space is controlled, enemy planets within that area will eventually fall, but the planets are a secondary concern. The goal (for both sides) is territorial control.
The Blockade strategy is rarely decisive in and of itself. Instead, it most often leads to bogged-down combat and a continuance of the status quo. The primary exception to this rule is early in the game when the enemy's population movements are crucial to future growth. If contained tightly at an early date, a race can wither as its colonies grow too crowded too soon, and you could outstrip it economically. The second exception can occur later in the game when the Blockade strategy may be decisive if the race using it has other advantages that the blockade would enhance (i.e. race design or territory controlled). In the later parts of the game, aspects of this strategy are often incorporated into one of the other two (Mahan or Mao), though sometimes (especially for Space Demolition races) it can remain the dominant aspect of the overall war.
This strategy is rather like trench warfare in its feel and principles. Call it Blockade war strategy.
The Mao Strategy
The third main Stars! war strategy, the Mao strategy, is the one the Saxon player adopted to defeat the Epworthians. Why this strategy was chosen and how it was implemented is the subject of the rest of this chapter of the Stars! Strategy Guide.
The main idea of the Mao strategy is "hit them where they ain't." The focus is on anti-planet actions rather than the anti-fleet strategy of Mahan style Stars! war, but the idea is to hit them, not control territory, as in the Blockade strategy. The flip side of fighting in this manner is that you do allow the enemy to hit your colonies but not your fleets. Your main fighting bodies rigorously and continually deny battle to the main enemy fleets -- instead they attack only enemy colonies and smaller, outnumbered, enemy forces.
When the enemy hits your worlds, you want him to get as little reward as possible -- "let him hit air." You must destroy his colonists faster than he kills yours. His economy is the target, and it must cease to function effectively as a source of war-fighting power while yours continues to increase your fleet strength despite enemy action.
The principles of this style of war are those of guerillas -- Mao's line was "our strategy is one against ten, our tactics are ten against one. Therefore we must fight 100 battles -- it will be a long war." The emphasis on actions effecting the colonists/economy rather than the armed forces of the enemy is also common to guerillas (though with Stars! economics standing in for real-world politics, to some extent). Call it the Mao war strategy.
Choosing Your War Strategy
You choose your strategy based on many factors, and if those variables change they may cause a change in your strategy. Why did the Saxon player choose the Mao war strategy in the fight against the Epworthians? In part, the Saxon race design favored this approach and, in part, the situation the Saxons found themselves in left them little in the way of good options.
Prior to the start of this war, the two races had been allies. The first sign of trouble for the Saxons was the complete destruction of their main battle fleet in a sneak-attack by the Epworthians. The Epworthians also had superior weapons and electronics technology. Therefore, the Epworthian fleet was vastly superior to the remains of the Saxon fleet and a Mahan strategy was, to say the least, not very promising for the Saxons.
In addition, because they had been allies, the warring races had intersettled. As such, the continuous fronts of a Blockade strategy were impossible to establish in the short run. Also, the initial strike by the Epworthians included minesweepers sent via gate to all Saxon worlds, reducing the large minefields needed for successful blockades.
That left the Saxons with the Mao strategy.
While conditions forced the choice on the Saxons, they had considerable advantages in this type of war. They had great strategic depth, at least by the standards of the small-normal universe this war occurred in. At the outset of the war, the Saxon empire included colonies from the east edge to the west edge of the board and spanned half the galaxy north to south with a bulge of colonies into the northwest quarter of the galaxy. However, the Saxons did not control all of this area, since the Epworthians also claimed planets in these areas. The Epworthians dominated the southwest quarter of the galaxy, with only a few Saxon colonies there. The Saxons controlled most of the southeast, with only a few Epworthian colonies there. The Epworthians also controlled space west of the northwest bulge. The Saxon's northern border on the east side of the galaxy was buffered by their ally the Rockefellers. The Rockefellers, in turn, were desperately trying to hold off the renewed attacks of the Moon Riders, the old enemy of both the Saxons and the Epworthians whom the Epworthians had now switched to friend. Here is a very rough sketch showing the placement of each race on the map:
In addition to strategic depth the Saxons possessed other strengths that aided them in a Mao style war. These included:
- Inner Strength Primary Racial Trait (providing cheaper Planetary Defenses, colonist growth in Super Freighters, Speed Trap mines, and a defense bonus in ground combat)
- Improved Starbases Lesser Racial Trait for Space docks, Ultrastations, and reduced cost to build bases.
- High-growth rate and a factory-less economy. This made it easier to resettle abandoned colonies and left little in the way of usable infrastructure when invaded.
- Relatively abundant minerals (coming from many colonies combined with no factories)
Note that a factoryless race design is one that takes the worst possible factory settings in order to gain advantage points for other strengths, especially habitat, growth, and resources produced by colonists directly, then builds no factories at all. While this allows for rapid establishment of colonies, the downside of this is far fewer resources per colony.
With those advantages in mind, and a lack of viable alternatives, the Saxon player decided on a Mao-style war. At first, the Saxon player simply wanted to inflict pain on the Epworthians, hopefully doing enough damage that someone else would win rather than the Epworthians. The concept of exacting vengeance in a last gesture of defiance is one we can probably all understand. But as a wise man once put it, "it is only on those who hang on 15 minutes after all seems lost, that hope begins to dawn." Eventually, this strategy succeeded well enough to win the war with the Epworthians, despite the daunting initial odds.
There will be more later on what implementing Mao-style war entailed, but first a few additional remarks on the three basic war strategies, why they occur or work, and what causes them to be effective ways of fighting in Stars!.
Why These Strategies?
To see the manner in which the three strategies differ, and to see that they really are exhaustive as strategies in Stars!, distinct from one another, it helps to look at the subject in the following manner.
In the Mahan strategy, power matters at a point .
- That point moves, and its moves can be important. But the decisive aspect remains power projected at one point -- who has more fighting strength at their highest power peak.
- The critical operational elements of Mahan strategy are fleet-mix and ship design, accurately assessing the outcome of a battle before it happens, and maneuvering to get a battle when you want it. It is the point-nature of battle itself that encourages the use of Mahan strategy.
In the Blockade strategy, power matters along a line and varies along that line.
- That line is the front, and power-projection capabilities differ drastically across that front (high for you on your side, low for you on the far side and the reverse for your enemy). That uniform slope of power makes the variations in the other direction -- laterally along the front -- the critical thing and each side tries to manipulate it in order to move the line. It is the linear nature of movement and thus of impediments to movement that brings about this tendency.
- The critical operational elements of Blockade strategy are mobility, use of reserves, and fleet flexibility. Your goal is to increase the mobility of your own fleets and to reduce that of the enemy. It is the nature of movement that brought about the use of a Blockade strategy and the movement that matters always takes place along a line.
In the Mao strategy, power matters across a plane, and varies throughout that plane.
- The power variations in the plane change as fleets move, dragging about "power-peaks" or hills and valleys of relative power near them. That fleet-power "field" then interacts with the economic-power field (which is also the source of time-changes in the fleet-power field, as new ships are produced).
- The goal is to increase your fleet strength and economic strength through those changes, movements, and reinforcements. It is the interaction between the fleet-power and the economic-power "fields" that matters most in this, rather than the interactions between the fleet-power concentrations. Planet killing, planet defending, and other war-economy operational aspects are critical in Mao strategy.
- It is the nature of production that brought about the tendency toward using Mao strategy in the first place, and production is always spread over a plane.
- Note that in reality, Mao's plane-dispersed power-field was political, not economic, recruitment rather than building things, but it amounts to largely the same thing for the nature of the war, especially in Stars!.
Part Two: Making Your Strategy Work
When last we left our intrepid Saxon adventurers, we had explained why the Saxon player chose an overall war strategy directed at the Epworthian economy and colonists -- a Mao war strategy. Now we look in detail at what such an operational strategy involved. The next three sections each cover a different aspect of the overall war and somewhat different periods of that war. They will be discussed in roughly chronological order.
The Saxon player's first problem was that Saxon colonies were basically naked to attack by the vastly superior Epworthian fleet and to a lesser extent by his ally, the Macs.
As explained above, part of the Mao strategy is to let the enemy hit your colonies but not your fleets, while trying to reduce the impact of each loss and increase the effort the enemy needs to put forth to inflict it. The principle is "let him hit air," but the implementation involves many different measures.
This first section deals primarily with how the Saxon player protected his colonies and limited his losses without resorting to main fleet battles. We will describe these measures in terms of an acronym that captures what this portion of the Mao strategy is all about: FEAR, which stands for Fortification, Evasion, Attrition, and Resettlement. All four of these represent measures taken in defense of one's own colonies without using main battle fleets, which fits the overall Mao war strategy.
While all three basic strategies call for some level of fortification on planets, overall fortification is more important to a Mao strategy than to other strategies, and the reasons for this are a little counter-intuitive.
While the Mao strategy calls for avoidance of main fleet battles, it also dictates that you should destroy the enemy ships in minor fleet actions. In order to fight portions of the enemy fleet without a main-fleet engagement, the enemy has to want to spread out his forces. His motivation for this is that if he can't get a battle and destroy your fleets, he has to race you to destroy your colonies faster than you can destroy his. One big fleet will destroy colonies slowly; several separated attack groups can destroy them more rapidly. But if those separated groups can get the job done while they are very small, detaching those groups will not appreciably divide the force of the remaining main body. Fortification is all about making the enemy want lots of those groups, and needing them to be larger in size individually, thus limiting the size of the main fleet body.
For example, assume the enemy has 100 Battleships in his main body. If he wants five attack fleets and needs at least 10 Battleships in each, then his main body can still have 60 Battleships. If he only needed two attack fleets, and only five Battleships in each, his main body could be 95 Battleships strong.
Thus, forcing the side-fleets to be larger means forcing the overall largest fleets to be smaller. Stronger bases at most colonies will require the side fleets to be bigger and longer delays in hitting colonies with each side-fleet will make the enemy want more separate fleets.
After the loss of his main fleet, the Saxon player's first measures were to upgrade his colonies' bases and defenses, to add more minelayers to protect them, and to cover those minefields with light skirmishers to prevent easy sweeping of those mines. All of this falls under the category of fortification.
The Saxon player built an Ultrastation in orbit of virtually every colony. The bases were not completely decked out, as that would have been too expensive and taken too long for the smaller worlds to produce. Instead, each station had one slot of Jihad missiles, two slots of Mark IV Blasters (and later, Heavy Blasters), and one slot of Pulsed Sappers (and later, Phased Sappers). Each base had enough armor and shielding to give them about the same number of defense points as two to three Battleships.
The beam-heavy armament was important, and again the reasons why may not be clear. After all, if a fleet of missile ships attacks your station, the three slots of beam weapons are useless. That is true, but the rationale for the beams goes deeper. In this case, the purpose of building the bases was not to defend against the enemy's main missile fleet, but to force the enemy to use larger detached attack groups. Generally, in Stars!, battles that primarily involve side-groups tend to be all beam or beam heavy. This is because the Ironium-expensive Capital Ship Missile ships aren't as mobile, fight better in large groups, don't sweep mines on their own, and are less appealing for a risky mission that might lead to their loss.
So Saxon planning was, "If the Epworthian brings 10 Capital Ship Missile Battleships, the place is dead and the base isn't going to do much anyway. I want these things to be able to destroy a small stack of beam Battleships instead." This approach also let the Saxons use most of the Electronic slots on the Ultrastations for Capacitors to augment the damage from the beam weapons, with only modest computing power for the one slot of Jihad missiles, just to counteract enemy jamming.
The most popular design of beam battleship includes a battle speed of 2 1/4 and a range of three. The Epworthians fielded just such a ship as the backbone of their beam component. Against such a ship, a base with range three weapons gets two shots off before the attacking beam ships can respond -- once at range four, and again at range three or less due to higher initiative. If the base can also survive the incoming fleet's first hit, it can get off a third shot with the beams. The point of this is that in order for a base to actually begin destroying the opposing vessels, one slot of the base's weapons must be able to overcome a single ship's armor. The combination of standard beam weapons, shield sappers, and capacitors allowed these bases to quickly blow through the token's shields and lower the overall armor to the point where the base had a chance to actually destroy a couple ships. In order for this tactic to be effective, the base needed to fire three times (which meant surviving the first Epworthian hit). The use of capacitors in the electronic slots was especially important for this type of base. The capacitors could raise the per-slot damage by a factor of two or more, which meant that a single weapon slot could overcome a ship's individual armor sooner (for a kill), whereas extra slots of weapons would have still been applied to the armor of the entire token.
Some of the smaller colonies and some of those closest to the Epworthian main fleets only built Space Docks during this period because they needed the things in the sky right away. Again the idea was to be able to destroy one to three beam Battleships, and forget about anything larger. An important long-term effect of having Ultrastations everywhere possible was that battleships could now be built at almost all Saxon planets -- the Saxons put up some Ultrastations on colonies with as little as 400 resources. That meant these lesser planets were protected from small fleets too, and could also (slowly) build Battleships to add to the growing fleet.
This "production everywhere" idea is important in Mao-strategy war, because you don't want your fleet production to be centralized in just a few big colonies, making your relevant war-production more vulnerable to attack.
Still on the subject of fortification, all Saxon colonies put up full planetary defenses (at a discount cost due to the Saxons being Inner Strength). In this campaign there were no "rear areas" that might not be subject to attack, and defending the colonists is important. Full defenses also meant the enemy needed more bombers, in larger groups, for a longer period to destroy each colony. This helped to further disperse and delay the enemy because he had to waste more fleet-time protecting his bomber groups with escorts to defeat Saxon bases or anti-bomber fleets.
The Saxon player also made sure every colony had a reserve of at least 300 kT of each mineral on the surface to build defenses (enough for 100 defenses as Inner Strength). The mineral reserves would allow the Saxons to immediately build new defenses if bombs destroyed all the planetary mines and defenses. The Saxons did this for all colonies, even those that might fall soon.
Every colony built one standard Frigate minelayer and one small Speed Trap Scout minelayer. These both stayed at the colony laying mines continually. Speed Trap mines are great at stopping fleets moving fast. An enemy can't get nearly as many "fork" opportunities when there are even small five-to-ten light year Speed Trap minefields around each world. The standard mines made it a bit harder for the Epworthians to run down to one light year and rapidly sweep the Speed Traps minefields from far away, increased the overall stopping chances (each type of mine has a chance of stopping a fleet), and made the Epworthians think twice before attempting high speed bombing runs. The Epworthians were using mini-bombers, with their low weight, because they could safely gate. Given the widespread, many-front nature of the war, they had little real choice and mini-bombers cannot survive a standard mine hit.
Finally, the last aspect of fortification was to defend those mines from cheap-and-easy sweeping. The Epworthians, being Jack-of-All-Trades, were using large numbers of cheap throwaway sweepers – Frigates with single Gatling guns that doubled as planet-penetrating scanner scouts and tripled as "chaff" when gathered together. To counter those, the Saxons designed a cheap Frigate (named Peasant) with one Mark IV blaster, one Croby Sharmor armor, one DNA Scanner, and a Fuel Mizer. The Croby Sharmor armor allowed the Peasants to take two Gatling shots safely and to safely risk mine hits when sweeping or intercepting while stacked. The DNA scanner allowed them to do scouting work, especially for enemy minefields, important as the Saxons had the Lesser Racial Trait of No Advanced Scanners and didn't have access to penetrating scanners.
The Saxons made about 100 of these Peasants, producing from two to three per colony, and immediately sent them after the Epworthian sweepers (starting with those that had gated into the Saxon colonies through Saxon gates in the sneak attack). Not caring how many of these Peasants were lost, the Saxon player assigned them high-speed intercepts every year. Occasionally he would do something different to decoy interceptors to bases or fleets or minefields, just to keep the Epworthians honest. This intense level of skirmishing is time-intensive, but can play big dividends in terms of limiting enemy fleet threats, by keeping your minefields unswept.
The Epworthian player, in turn, used cruisers to chase the Peasants, and later switched his sweeper class to a shielded heavy blaster destroyer. The Saxons hit the cruisers with detached battleships when possible, while handling the destroyers with small stacks of peasants. The purpose of this back and forth design and fighting competition was a struggle over whether the Peasants would accomplish their basic mission -- to prevent the Saxon minefields from being swept too rapidly by the cheap Epworthian sweepers. On the whole, the Peasants fulfilled their mission.
That was the fortification plan the Saxons used. It cost them two to three years at the start of the campaign to get those things in place over most of their empire. Those years were scary for the Saxon player -- he would have liked to start on Battleship production right away after the initial loss of his main fleet. But building the Ultrastations and the Peasants instead it was a wise investment, as events showed.
What did the Saxons gain from this initial investment in fortification? The Epworthians lost a few separated Battleships while finding out about the Ultrastations. The Epworthians then moved to using side-fleets of six beam Battleships, which they later had to bump up in size to 10 each. The Speed Trap minefields kept fork threats down, and served to alert the Saxon player as to which colonies the Epworthians were most likely to try and hit in any given year. The planetary defenses and mineral reserves for rebuilding when under attack forced the Epworthians to build lots of bombers -- using minerals and reducing the number of warships they could build. Because of the rapid replacement of ground defenses, the Epworthian bombers also usually needed two or even three years to destroy a given world, even in large groups. The Epworthians were only able to maintain two to three of these large bombing groups on the map at any one time (typically 80-150 Mini-Bombers each), dramatically limiting their ability to destroy Saxon colonies quickly.
A key part of the Mao strategy is letting the enemy "hit air" and a key part of that is simply getting everything out of his way.
The Saxons built as many Super Freighters as they had colonies and more. These could gate through the 300/500 gates, and each was designed to carry 3750 kT of cargo (375,000 colonists). Moving ahead of the Epworthian attack fleets, these Super Freighters would gate in and pick up any surface minerals to deny them to the Epworthians, hauling the stuff back to the next colony. If a location had lost its Speed Traps and an Epworthian attack fleet was in range, the Super Freighters would usually pick up all colonists minus the 250,000 needed to operate full planetary defenses and retreat (sometimes more colonists would be left depending on the fleet cargo capacity). Finding places to put all these people was never a problem, and since the Saxons were Inner Strength they also increased in size each year they were left in the Super Freighters, making their transportation less of a loss for the Saxons than it may have been otherwise. The Saxons used these colonists to fill worlds that were no longer threatened, to re-establish colonies on destroyed worlds, and to start new colonies in Epworthian-controlled areas as that became possible.
The Saxon player wasn't going to make it easy for the Epworthians to destroy Saxon colonists in a colonist-killing war, and wasn't going to let them build large new fleets out of captured minerals.
The idea here is to use the enemy's desire to spread out and destroy colonies against him, to whittle away at his fleet.
Saxon colonies whose orbits were controlled by Epworthian ships waiting for bombers to arrive would put up tailored Ultrastations to beat the fleet in orbit. When the Epworthians started using detachments of 10 beam battleships, the Saxons found an Ultrastation design that could destroy two of the 10 and damage the rest a bit. If they stayed in orbit, a second Ultrastation of the same type was able to destroy all the remaining eight because they were still damaged. That Ultrastation design had four full slots of Heavy Blasters, two full slots of Phased Sappers, 10 Capacitors, and enough armor and shields (typically Organic Armor and Gorilla Shields, sometimes Neutronium Armor) to take one enemy shot. The whole process could take four years or more after the loss of the orbit and original base -- but what else was that colony going to do? The Saxons called those Ultrastations "Sallie" and "Sallie Port" for the stations with gates (a 300/500 Gate was added the next year if the Ultrastation won the orbit fight, or if the enemy had left before the Ultrastation went up).
Under siege? Keep fighting back. You can't win if you give up.
When the Epworthians used detached, single beam battleships to sweep minefields, the Saxons attacked them with pairs of their own beam battleships. The Saxons wanted the kills, but also wanted to gain technology from these little battles -- they started the war 10 levels behind. The Saxons used this tactic to destroy several Epworthian ships and gained several levels of technology along the way.
In order to limit the effectiveness of the Epworthian bombing fleets, the Saxons also built a series of unarmored torpedo and capital ship missile battleships with high initiative to use as "kamikazes," specifically targeting the enemy bombing groups. Since the Epworthians had the advantage in technology, the kamikazes were only of limited use, but they did manage to do some damage. When faced with a force of kamikazes and even a single Saxon beam battleship, the enemy beam ships would attempt to stay out of range of the advancing Saxon beam ship. This would put them out of range of the kamikaze missile ships on round one (though the beam ship was sacrificed) allowing the Saxon kamikazes to live long enough for a shot against the bombers in round two. The right battle order would have countered this tactic, but the right battle order (maximize damage) would have left the Epworthian fleet vulnerable to an attack by a larger group of Saxon beam ships since then the Epworthian ships would not have even tried to use their superior range. The Saxons tried not to let the Epworthians know which type of attack was being threatened (kamikaze or standard beam ship), and thus which order would be appropriate, before launching the kamikazes. The Saxon ally, the Rockefellers, later made higher-speed kamikazes with their better technology and sent several support groups into Saxon space by overgating (as well as onto their own front).
A kamikaze combines high speed and long range to reach the far side of the battle board in the first round, then uses their high initiative to shoot first. (The Saxon lower tech kamikazes weren't quick enough to take the round one shot -- thus the one beam Battleship escort trick). Then you give the kamikazes orders to hit bombers/freighters and go for the enemy bombing groups. That causes enemy attrition and delay, as war-fleets are robbed of their planet-killing ability. Enough kamikazes can stop almost any bombing group if not countered by higher initiative escorts.
The anti-sweeper campaign also caused some attrition. The Saxons also used larger battle fleets to go after Epworthian side fleets, and destroyed several. The object of attrition is to reduce enemy fleet strength over time in lots of little actions.
Resettling is really a corollary to evading. Whenever the enemy moves on past a destroyed settlement, repopulate it. The Saxon player recklessly recolonized and repopulated anything the Epworthians killed as soon as the enemy fleet moved on and the Saxons could manage it. The Saxon player didn't care in the least if the place was indefensible. For this mission, they used a Privateer colonizer with one Multi Cargo Pod -- they initially cost about 100 resources each -- and carried 50,000 colonists. They hit everything they could, drawing the colonists from the evacuation Super Freighters.
Since the two races' habitats were incompatible and the Epworthians needed to keep their war economy going despite Saxon attempts to wipe out their colonies, the Epworthians did not try to hold ground on every red planet they cleared. When they did try, the Saxons invaded using only Super Freighters along with a tiny escort to destroy Space Docks or Orbital Forts. The Epworthians did try counter-invading some Saxon colonies of 50,000 colonists, but quickly thought better of it. After all, against Inner Strength colonists, which defend at twice their actual numbers, trading two colonists for one in a colonist-killing war was not a way to make progress. In addition, the first thing the Saxons would do on a new colony would be build planetary defenses as fast as they could, and their colonists were growing both on the ground and in the freighters all the time as well. That, in combination with their rapid population growth rate and inherent Inner Strength defensive bonus, made it difficult for the Epworthians to cheaply defeat even the smaller Saxon colonies.
As soon as the Epworthians cleared an orbit, the Saxons would send in a small mine-laying fleet composed of one Speed Trap Scout, one standard Frigate minelayer, and one Fuel Transport. These were cheap, so it didn't matter how many the Epworthians managed to catch. If they failed to destroy it the first turn, the mines would be laid and the Epworthians would have to clear the space all over again in order to maintain freedom of movement.
The effect of the resettlement principle in Mao-style war is that the enemy can't just destroy your colonies once and win. The Epworthians could have marched clear through Saxon territory in one fleet, untouched, and bombed every world (though it would have taken them decades with the Saxon's strategic depth). But if they did, all that the Saxons would lose is some ground facilities, a few minerals, and 250,000 colonists every time they destroyed a defended world -- with evacuated colonists and colonists on the ground growing that back all the time. In the time it would take the Epworthians to make this sweep, the colonies they hit earlier would have recovered completely, with all losses replaced in every detail.
So, the Epworthians not only had to take out the Saxon colonies, they needed to hold the conquered space with mines and with fleets -- meaning they had to fight a two-dimensional, spread-out campaign all over the map to hold the Saxons down.
The Epworthians actually did manage to clear and hold a couple of areas. They managed to destroy colonies in a few other areas; sometimes keeping them clear of resettlement for a decade or more. They had to spread themselves thin to do this. They needed to hold planetary orbits, intercept the Saxon counter-sweepers and colonizers, wait for bomber replacements here or there after a kamikaze strike, sometimes losing the orbit in the meantime to Ultrastations, and sometimes abandoning their hold for other reasons.
At the worst point in the first 15 years of the war, the Saxons lost one-quarter of their economy, one-third of their colonies (based on the original total with resettlement taken into account) and, up to40 percent of their bases. There is no question that, despite all the measures the Saxons took, the Epworthians were still able to hurt Saxon colonies. That will always happen in a Mao strategy, since your own fleet is not fighting to defend colonies from the main forces of the enemy. But the Epworthians were not able to hurt Saxon colonies fast enough, for long enough, or to keep them down, before the Saxon's offensive measures brought the Epworthians down.
F.E.A.R. Fortify, Evade, Attrition, Resettle. In a Mao strategy, without a main-fleet defense, it is all your population has to defend itself. It amounts to acting as though each colony or bit of population is desperate to survive and recover, despite lack of main-fleet help. Applied vigorously, FEAR makes it rather hard for anyone to hurt your colonies long term.
Continuing with the example of the Saxons and Epworthians, we now look at the more offensive measures the Saxons employed versus the Epworthians. In general, this section deals with running a Mao-strategy war economy, taking the war to the enemy's population, and how the general principles of Mao-style war can be put into practice.
The Wartime Economy
While Mao strategies do not plan on winning through main-fleet battle, overall fleet strength is still critical. The idea is to continually produce reasonably capable and mobile warships from all available colonies. These forces are then deployed continually, in varying strengths and locations, to threaten as many important points as possible -- both enemy colonies and enemy side-fleets.
In our example, the Saxons had to practice a little "lemonade ship design." Life gives you lemons; you work with what you have. At the time in question, the Epworthians had higher weapons technology than the Saxons. They also had a larger economic base with which to work.
The Epworthians fielded two main ship classes, one older important ship class, and one secondary fighting class. Their main missile arm was 20-Juggernaut missile battleships with Valanium Armor, Gorilla shields, four Battle Nexus, three Jammer 30s -- quite capable ships that the Saxons could not match at the start of the war. The Epworthians had about 50 of those. The older class was 40-45 Jihad missile battleships along the same lines, with four Battle Super Computers but otherwise like the Juggernaut-armed version. Together those gave them a powerful missile arm for the game conditions, one the Saxons couldn't really match at first. The Epworthians also had a large number of standard design Heavy Blaster beam battleships (meaning 16 Heavy Blasters and four Phased Sappers), with four Valanium Armor each (rather than six) to maintain speed, three Jammer 30s and three Capacitors. The numbers of their beam battleships rose over time despite losses, but generally they had well over 100 of the things. The side class was a beam Cruiser with four Heavy Blaster, two overthrusters (battle speed two-and-a-half), two Jammer 30s (51% jamming), and two Gorilla shields. They used those as a gating reserve, for their light weight (to move last) and long range vs. lower range Saxon beam ships, for sweeping, and the like.
The best the Saxons could field was a Mark IV Blaster beam battleship, under-ranged against the opposing Epworthian beam ships. In order to make the most of the range-two beam weapons, the Saxons used Organic Armor to keep the ships light, in effect turning the range disadvantage into both an initiative advantage (Mark IV Blasters have better initiative than Heavy Blasters) and a cost advantage. In combat against Epworthian beam Battleships, the first round of fire would usually be at a range of two, negating the Epworthian's range superiority. This was possible because of the ship speeds and the fact that the lighter Saxon ships moved last (effectively choosing range). If the Epworthians moved last, they would have moved to range three, and gotten in at least one free shot.
The design the Saxon player settled on for his initial battleship (the Thane(4)) included 20 Mark IV Blasters, Organic Armor, Gorillas shields, one Overthruster, six Jammer 20s, and Warp 9 ram scoop engines. Jamming pods in the electronic slots were used to minimize the ship's weaknesses against missile ships (a relatively low battle speed of two and weapons with a range of two yielding an extra shot to the Epworthian missile ships). However, the fact that the Saxons tried to avoid those missile ships in large groups meant that this might have been less than optimum use of the electronic slots. Even so, it did not seriously detract from these ships' fighting ability or add significantly to the per ship cost.
With Organic Armor and Ram scoop engines, the Thane(4) was light enough for extensive overgating without unacceptable loses. Therefore the Saxon fleet had the requisite strategic mobility for a Mao strategy. Naturally, with less armor, the Saxons needed odds to defeat the Epworthian beam Battleships, but only reasonable odds ratios. As soon as the initial base and planetary defensive construction was done, all Saxon colonies filled their production queues to build Thane(4)s for five-ten years. The Saxon player continuously updated the queues to add more as applicable. Using the queues in this fashion helped to reveal mineral imbalances for Saxon Super Freighters to work on and plug well ahead of time.
Each year, the Saxons built a new crop of Thane(4)s, and would gates them all to a single location -- but a different location almost every year (occasional two-year deliveries to one location kept the Epworthians guessing). The effect was that every year, the Epworthians had all the old threats to look at, and a new one of moderate size with enough power to easily overcome any single unsupported Base. Just a few years after demolishing the Saxon main fleet, the Epworthians had to start concerning themselves with a counter-strike. Forcing the Epworthians to consider the possibility of an attack degraded the effectiveness of the Epworthian offensive fleets, which in turn allowed the Saxons to build more, etc.
Attacking with Bombers
The Saxons also built a few bomber groups of modest size, using the mini-bomber to maintain flexibility in movement -- the mini-bomber is light enough to gate safely. A typical group would consist of 40 mini-bombers with LBU bombs and 20 mini-bombers with Cherry bombs (enough to destroy a planet that could not put up more new defenses, or to destroy 1500 facilities or so through full defenses.) There were never enough of these groups -- typically only two to four operating on the map at any one time -- but again, you use what you can get. New ones were made to replace losses or simply increase the number of bombing fleets. Even so, it was clear this would not be sufficient to destroy all the Epworthian colonies.
The first bomb groups and one-turn "threat" fleets went after some of the Epworthian worlds deep in Saxon space. The Saxons could defeat the base and start bombing easily enough, but then Epworthian defenders, gated to a nearby world would threaten the attack group. When this happened, the Saxons used their Speed Trap minefields. When threatened, the Saxons would withdraw behind some Speed Trap mines to avoid intercept, and go to a gate and deploy to another area. Occasionally, the Saxons could gate in enough reserves to counter-attack the new Epworthian defenders, again keeping the Epworthians guessing.
The Saxons used two tactics to minimize the possibility of first-year gated defenders. First, they positioned their attack fleets to get colony forks -- meaning simultaneous threats to go to two or more worlds. The more options the Saxon player had, the more options the Epworthians had to defend against. Second, the Saxons sent smaller battleship groups ahead to knock down bases before the group escorting the bombers. Of course, if an Epworthian fleet were already in the area, this second tactic wouldn't work as well, but it still kept additional reinforcements from arriving via gate.
An important principle of Mao-style war is to use limited forces in proportion to the risk in order to minimize the potential losses if things go wrong (i.e. if you meet more of the enemy than you had planned on.) When using a Mao strategy, you don't send 25 Battleships to do a job five or ten could complete if the enemy doesn't reinforce that point. If he does reinforce it, you may consider 10 battleships an acceptable loss, but you don't want to lose 25 Battleships just because the enemy guessed right. There are no hard and fast rules on how to judge how many ships to commit to a single task. It depends on relative fleet sizes each side tries to use, available reinforcements, and importance of the task in mind. The Saxons used replacement rate as their rule of thumb -- any fleet that represented more than one year of all-out production from all colonies was "valuable"; a fleet worth a half year of production was "affordable."
Attacking with Mass Drivers
As noted above, it was clear the bombing groups alone would never be enough to slow the Epworthian war-machine. To help hasten planet killing (and initially to inflict as much hurt as possible), the Saxons also made extensive use of artillery in the form of Mass Drivers. In the early Ultrastation-building period, the Saxons took the time to research up to Energy 15 and built a Warp 10 Ultra Driver at just about every decent-sized world (about 30 in all). The Saxons did not fire a single mass packet until every driver was completed and had ammunition in place.
To determine what planets to target, the Saxons got current intelligence/scanning reports from their Jack-of-All-Trades ally, the Rockefellers. Many places in Epworthian space had only middling defense levels and a couple recently-acquired colonies had none. However, on the down side, all main Epworthian production worlds and all those in Saxon space had full defenses (Planetary Shields).
When all driver-equipped planets were ready, the Saxon mass drivers went after the Epworthian colonists with gusto. All planets with moderate defenses (or less) were targeted with planet-killing packets -- all launched the same year, to impact at latest the following year (250 light year range or less). In some places that meant the Saxons needed two or three mineral packets fired simultaneously, with the first helping reduce the defenses for the second hitting the same year, etc. The Saxons also fired at fully-defended planets deep in Saxon space, again targeting each planet with multiple packets. As an example, one such world was targeted with an 8000 kT packet plus four other smaller ones all hitting the same year. All shots were overflung at Warp 13 (to reduce captured minerals for the Epworthians, increase available range, overpower defending Mass Drivers, etc). By keeping the flight time of the packets down, the Saxons kept the Epworthians from being able to respond (either by building more defenses or intercepting the packets).
This type of tactic is very expensive, in mineral terms. It is also costly in that it reduces the amount of ships each of the mass driver planets can generate. Shots at heavily defended colonies are especially expensive in terms of colonists killed per kT of packet thrown. Having noted that, the Saxon player was most concerned at the time with hurting the Epworthians as much as possible, even if it led to another enemy winning. For the Saxons, this was still revenge for the "sneak attack" that touched off the war. This type of "hang the costs, give me his head" aggressiveness often pays off in Stars! In this case the payoff was huge.
It took about 10-15 years for the mass driver preparations to be completed. When the grand battery of mass drivers opened up, it had a dramatic impact on the Epworthians. They lost close to 25 percent of their total colonists in two years, dragging them down about as much as they had dragged the Saxons percentage-wise, though still leaving the Epworthians with a resource edge. Several of the larger worlds deep in Saxon space lived through all the rocks thrown at them, but had still been reduced to less than 50 percent of their prior population levels. Almost all of the moderately defended colonies were simply killed outright. The resource history graph clearly shows the direct impact of the packet attacks on the Epworthian economy. (The grand battery attacks occurred from approximately 2520 to 2522.)
It is worth noting that when using mass drivers, it is generally more effective to use an all-at-once strike than to spread the attacks over time -- at least for the first shot. First, each hit is likely to be more effective the first time. Human nature and game economics often cause planetary defenses to be one of the last considerations on a planet -- if the owner feels secure. Once you have shown that you are both capable and willing to spend the minerals to wipe his colonists off his planets via remote control (i.e. mass drivers), your opponent is much more likely to concentrate on defensive measures (planetary defenses, intercepting freighters, or maintaining freighters in orbit to lift colonists off-planet -- called dodging). Second, the overall impact on the enemy is more pronounced in an all-at-once strike.
Losing one colony to mineral packets, then resettling it, is a comparatively minor matter. The colonists were lost but nothing else, and the colonists can grow back. But growing enough colonists to repopulate many worlds is harder to do. The choice is to do it slowly and limit the reduction in your established planets or do it quickly by reducing population levels on established planets to increase their growth rates. Both ways equate to a loss of production that will take years to recover. So the economic impact is more severe and lasts longer (whether the enemy spreads colonists to increase growth or not) if you hit multiple planets on a single turn than if you hit a series of planets over multiple turns.
After this initial barrage, the Saxons continued to use the mass drivers to follow-up at places they were bombing thereby increasing the speed of the planet-kills. When one bombing group hit a defended colony, the 1500 facilities destroyed would drop the defense level. The colonist destruction was small through the full defenses, but that defense "crack" would magnify the impact a mineral packet could have. The difference between full planetary defenses and middle-level defenses is significant. In the interest of increased speed, it may be cost-effective to use the minerals required to overpower middling levels of defenses. Multiplying that another ten-fold to get through 95 percent defenses is daunting. The LBU bombs in particular opened the door for the Saxon mineral packets. In addition, controlling the orbit also meant no defending Mass Drivers or dodging, leaving the population to receive the full impact of the packet. It is certainly more expensive in overall minerals to destroy colonies with this "combined arms" approach -- but it is also much faster, and in a Mao-style strategy fast planet killing is the goal.
In order to prevent defenders arriving that first year by gate, the Saxons adopted a tactic that entailed knocking out the Epworthian bases before the Saxon bombers arrived. This in turn meant the Saxon player had to run risks and accept mine hits. On at least one occasion, the Saxons forced an attack group of Battleships through 40 light years of mines at Warp 10, from 95 light years away, using several groups of five Battleships each in the hopes of getting enough through to destroy the base in one turn. In effect, any planet without a gate and more than 100 light years from the enemy was a place the bombers could hit safely the following year.
The Saxons sent single or paired battleships to within one light year of an Epworthian world many times (to sweep all the mines but avoid a fight). The next year they would run or follow up with another unexpected move, always "mixing it up", never using all the same tactic in the same year. Pairs would split at one light year, with one battleship moving to a different position one light year away from the same colony (to keep the minefield suppressed), and the other running for Saxon bases, Speed Traps, or fleets. The size of the Saxon threat fleets refused to sit still, despite the general replacement rule of "one year, one location". The Saxons continually split and reformed fleets to keep the Epworthians guessing about the size of any given threat. Fleets were split to penetrate minefields and get first-year base knock-downs, joined to threaten Epworthian side fleets or overpower a set size of gated defenders, and split again to sweep fields close to Epworthian planets while refusing battle.
The Epworthian player could obviously see some of this happening beforehand. However, by constantly denying decisive battle, the Saxon player continued to frustrate the Epworthian strategy and generally forced him to fight where and when the Saxons chose. For example, over a three-year period the Saxons would run up a main fleet to 80 Battleships out of groups of 20 and the Epworthians would gate in defenders to the threatened locations. If the Epworthians had enough ships to sufficiently threaten the Saxon fleets (as was often the case), the big fleet would then split. Anything that makes the enemy gather a big fleet together at a useless location, or one that could be made useless by altering the point of attack was done.
While the Mao strategy concentrates on killing colonies and colonists, it does not necessarily ignore the enemy fleets. As such, the targets of the Saxon threat fleets weren't just enemy colonies. While they were trying to deny battle to the Epworthian main fleets, side-fleets where valid targets. The Saxons were trying to get first-year gate-in response themselves at locations the Epworthians were threatening with smaller battle fleets. The Saxons succeeded at this several times. The Saxon battleships being more indifferent to gating than the Epworthian ones (due to less mass), the Saxons could gate more frequently. In addition, the Saxon Speed Trap minefields made it harder for the Epworthians to get good fork positions -- the tactic of traveling warp ten through minefields to reach a planet in one turn does not work well versus speed trap mines.
Naturally, as with all other aspects of Stars!, some luck enters into the equation. The human element of the war becomes "how deep can I get inside my enemy's head?" The Saxon player anticipated the enemy correctly a couple times, each resulting in the loss of a large Epworthian bomber group and 20-30 Battleships for the Epworthians, at about half the Battleship cost for the Saxons.
Over the course of the next decade or so, the Saxons were able to drag the Epworthians down to about equality in resource terms. In the process, the Saxons managed to gain a lot of tech from the Epworthians (both also got some tech from a Mystery Trader or two during the war). Saxon research spending during the war was minimal -- they researched up to energy 15 at the start for the packet offensive, and 16 for better planetary defenses a little later. However, for the most part the Saxons spent everything on ships and stole the technology they could (killing enemy Battleships and bases, some invasions). After meeting one Mystery Trader, the Saxon main-line beam Battleship was modified to incorporate Myopic Disruptors and Warp 10 engines, while still using Organic Armor to stay as light as possible. The low weapon range was certainly a drawback, but speed, mobility, and higher initiative as well as high firepower once they closed combined to make these an effective, if not exactly desirable ship design for the Saxons. The fact that the low range beam weapons are cheaper than their long-range counterparts also made them more affordable for the Inner Strength Saxons, with their inherent weapons cost penalty.
While they generally concentrated on beam-equipped battleships, the Saxons did assemble a modest missile token of 33 pocket Juggernaut Battleships with 12 Juggernaut missiles and eight Phased Sappers each. These were not nearly as mobile as the beam battleships and were designed with three purposes in mind: to support the Saxon attacks against Epworthian bases, to help counter Epworthian cruiser designs, and to help prevent the Epworthians counter-designing against the Saxon beam battleships. Against a straight beam attack, the Epworthians could use the same types of base-design tactics as the Saxons were using. This wouldn't work as well with missile ships in the fleet mix. The Epworthian cruisers were lighter than the Saxon beam battleships and had longer-range weapons. This gave them several free shots before the Saxons beam ships could close to effective range. The missile ships helped counter this threat. With no missile ships to concern them, the Epworthians would have been free to put 6 capacitors on their battleships. However, with the potential threat of missiles, the Epworthians continued to use half of their electronics slots for jamming. Later in the campaign, after they had an edge in mobile-fleet/gatable fighting power, the Saxons also put together a more sizable Rho Torpedo Battleship token with Valanium Armor. The Rho Torpedo battleships were built too late to play any role in this stage of the conflict, though they do play a part in the final section.
Since they couldn't be gated, the Juggernaut battleships took a bit of time to form up, but eventually most of them merged into one token (with a few being lost on anti-base missions). They formed deep in Saxon space where the larger Epworthian fleet couldn't easily reach them, combined with a bomber group, and began bombing the remaining Epworthian colonies in Saxon space in sequence. This was the first "linear" campaign the Saxons had used in the war. However, in order to minimize reinforcements, the Saxon player still maintained the policy of knocking down bases ahead of the task force when possible, thus still denying main-fleet battles.
At the time, the Epworthian player might have moved his main missile forces to counter them, but it wasn't a very appealing prospect. He was a full quarter of the board away with several Speed Trap and standard minefields at Saxon colonies in the way. The journey also would have taken him fairly far from his own gates and left his missiles in an unsupported position.
In the Mao-style war, any combat group that can't be quickly reinforced, evade battle easily, or rally on defenders, is very vulnerable. The emphasis is on mobility. Fast side-fleets gating and buzzing about, plus new production, can gather rather fast and overpower the portion of a fleet left in a main body -- if that body can't be reinforced easily. Anything at a gate is "safe by mobility", because it can deny battle simply by gating out of range. Anything near a gate, if there are enough reserves at other bases, is "safe by reinforcement" -- it can move to the gate-base the same year the reserves gate in to meet them. A fleet with neither of these is out of position and has to worry about fighting the entire enemy force (or enough of it as to not matter) in two-to-three year's time. Because of that, there will develop regions neither you nor your enemy really dares to operate in with forces other than minor annoyance ones (like 10 Battleships, not 25).
The Saxon player used his missile token in a region where the Epworthians could reinforce with beam ships but could not reinforce with missile ships. As such, they would have faced the same threat the Epworthian missile ships represented to the Saxon beam-equipped vessels -- not a desirable option for the Epworthians.
Impacts of Operational Successes
After losing on balance over the first 15 years, the Saxon economy stabilized. They were still losing some colonies, but gaining (from growth and re-colonizing) as much as they were losing. The fact that they were factoryless was a key to this. If they had needed to recover destroyed factories every time they recovered a colony planet, as the Epworthians did, their economy would have continued to decline for a longer period.
The large packet strike sorely hurt the Epworthians and the period afterwards saw a general decline in their economy. They did recover somewhat from resettlement in some of their rear areas, but were unable to regain their overall lead. This became even more true as the Saxons cleared the remaining mature Epworthian colonies from Saxon space (while two Saxon colonies were ignored in Epworthian rear areas -- more anon in the next section). Epworthian overall fleet strength rose slightly, but they were hard-pressed to gain in power after the packet strikes. They replaced lost ships but not much more than that.
During the same time period, Saxon fleet losses were moderate. The Saxon war-economy continued to run flat-out, building up total Saxon fleet strength. The Saxons passed the Epworthians in beam-fleet power about 20 years into the war. The Epworthians still maintained more missile ships than the Saxons, but were unable to use that to their advantage because the Saxons continued to run away whenever real danger threatened.
Saxon Methods and Reasoning
This section contains a few specifics regarding Saxon practices in the above period, and the reasons the Saxon player acted as he did. The examples are cited both as clarification of the Saxon players' decisions and to show the importance of adapting your game play to your strengths (and weaknesses), whether they be due to your race design, your position in the game, or your general leadership.
For the mass driver attacks, the Saxon player used single-thrower bases instead of dual-throwers. Bases with two mass drivers would have reduced the amount of decay of a packet and thus would have allowed the same damage to be done with fewer starting minerals (or more damage from the equivalent amount of minerals). But, each base has only two orbital slots. Therefore, a base with two mass drivers cannot have a gate. Strategic mobility was critical to the Saxon player, so only single mass driver bases were used. At short ranges, the decay introduced by overflinging mineral packets at Warp 13 was considered acceptable. If longer-range shots had been required, the savings from a second mass driver on the same base would have been more meaningful and the decision regarding the base design would have been tougher. The Saxon plan for using mass drivers called for lots of them, which kept the ranges low.
The Saxons built about 30 mass drivers, which was equivalent to approximately one and a half turns of production, not including the cost of the packets themselves. This would have been equivalent to about 30 Saxon beam battleships. While this is a considerable expense, the Saxon strategy centered on destroying population centers instead of fleet strength and the first barrage destroyed approximately a quarter of the Epworthian total population. Used in conjunction with the Saxon bombing fleets, the mass drivers also served to hasten the demise of several Epworthian colonies. 30 Thane(4)s would not have had anywhere near this effect. As such, this was considered a worthwhile trade. The fact that the Saxons also had less reliance on minerals (specifically Germanium) than the Epworthians also weighed in on the side of using mass packets.
The Saxon economy during this period was constrained by resources rather than by minerals. If you and your opponent have equivalent technology, it is often a good idea to build capital missile or torpedo battleships when you are unconstrained by minerals. The reason being that usually the Torpedo or Capital Ship Missile designs have more fighting power, about the same resource cost, and only cost more in minerals (though far more on that score). On the other hand, it makes sense to build mostly beam-armed warships when minerals are the limiting factor on production, to stretch the minerals into more ships. As shown above, though, the Saxons built mostly beam-armed warships. Why? There are two primary reasons.
The main reason for this decision by the Saxon player was strategic mobility. The whole Mao strategy places a great premium on this aspect of Stars! war. The relatively light, beam-armed Saxon battleship designs, could be (and were) ruthlessly over-gated. The heavier torpedo or missile battleships would not have been able to do this. The second, supporting reason was that the Epworthian enemy held an important technology edge in missile versus missile fighting match-ups -- they had the Electronics for Battle Nexus computers. It would not have been promising to try to beat the Epworthians in their strong suit, Instead, the Epworthian missile fleets were avoided as much as possible by Saxon fleets. This allowed the Epworthian fleets to hit colonies and destroy bases, but a combination of evacuations, resettlements, and kamikaze attacks on their supporting bombers, rendered those fleets largely ineffectual in terms of colonists killed.
Nevertheless, the Saxon player did build a modest Capital Ship Missile arm during the war -- 33 of the pocket Juggernaut design and a larger 55-ship token of a Rho Torpedo design later in the war. These should be compared to the Saxon production of 189 Thane (4)s, 38 later Heavy Blaster beam battleship design, and eventually 215 Myopic Disruptor-armed beam battleships. Overall, in the first part of the war, 260 Saxon battleships were constructed. 33 were armed with missiles, the rest with beam weapons. 270 additional battleships were made in the second half of the war, of which 55 of them were the Rho Torpedo design. Thus 5/6 were beam ships in both periods taken together, while the beam portion was fully 7/8 in the first half of the war. This led to a fleet mix that had great strategic mobility. Note also that the total of 530 battleships built by the Saxons over the course of the whole war comes to almost 18 battleships per year, on average, as the war lasted fully 30 years. A few years of that represent "pauses" for the changeover in designs, and a few the early starbase-building and fortifying at the beginning -- for the rest of the war, about 20 new battleships were built each year.
At the end of this period of the war, the Saxons had lost 30-40 percent of the Battleships they had built, while their overall fleet strength had increased roughly linearly (the prime reason being their successful avoidance of main fleet battles). The Saxon economy started the war at 32,000 resources, fell to 24,000 resources in the first 10-15 years under the weight of the Epworthian attacks, and basically remained there for the duration of the war. However, after the successful conclusion of the war, the Saxons were able to rapidly recover and grow to a resource total in the 45,000 range, roughly doubling the size of their economy. This increase reflected the use of all Epworthian space during or immediately after the conclusion of the war, and the use of the Inner Strength capability to grow on freighters, letting the overflow fill planets (literally) up to the brim.
In running the Saxon war-economy, everything possible was devoted to building the needed Battleships. All planetary Production Queues were completely clear except for warships and research was set to zero. This is called a "war footing" economy. If you are caught in an early war, you often cannot afford to do this, as completing factories, mines, and terraforming are too important for your long run success. This war began with all Saxon colonies fully developed (reflecting the late game year). If that had not been so, "pauses" would have been needed to complete planetary facilities up to the level the colonists could opera e, use new terraforming tech level everywhere, and the like. In this war, the Saxons only performed such pauses to get a tech level or two, and to allow minerals to come in and freighters time to rebalance them before another round of Battleship building. With all the bases, minelayers, freighters, packets, mass drivers, colonies unable to build due to lost bases, planetary defenses, tech, etc., the Saxons still spent 70-75 percent of their total resources over the course of 30 years on just Battleships. If you are in a war emergency, fleet strength is everything so clear the queues.
Part Three: Operational Details
This last section deals with a campaign later in the Saxon-Epworthian war, as the Saxon's mobile fleet strength was passing that of the Epworthians. The focus of this part is on the particular map-moves made and why, rather than the general ideas, and is taken from the period in the war in which the initiative overall passed to the Saxons, and the Epworthians lost their core areas shortly afterward as a result. The level of detail is considerable higher than in the previous sections.
To start with, we present a cast of characters of sorts (the ship types used and the groupings they usually operated in during the period covered in this section) and the setting (the geography of the fighting area covered in this section). We also include a short description of the remaining Saxon positions deep in Epworthian space.
Epworthian Fighting Ships
- Jihad Battleship.
- 20 Jihad Missile, four Battle Super Computers, three Jammer 30s, Valanium Armor, Gorilla shields, Interspace-10, engines. There were 40 of these ships in the Main Missile Fleet.
- North Carolina Battleship.
- Same as the Jihad Battleship but with Juggernaut Missiles and Battle Nexus -- 42 in the Main Missile Fleet and six elsewhere (in home areas)
- PT Battleship.
- 16 Heavy Blaster, four Phased Sapper, four Valanium Armor, three Capacitors, three Jammer 30, full Gorilla shields, Interspace-10 engines. There were approximately 150 of these about, usually in the Main Beam Fleet, occasionally split into sub-groups.
- CA Cruiser.
- Four Heavy Blaster, two Gorilla shields, two Overthruster, two Jammer 30. 100-110 of these were used in this final stage of conflict, usually all in the Main Beam Fleet. They were designed for safe gating ability and exploited the low range of Saxon battleships via light weight and better weapon range.
The Epworthian fleets were centered on just two "units" on the map -- the Main Missile Fleet and the Main Beam Fleet, with six North Carolinas incorporated into the Main Beam Fleet in the main part of the campaign.
Fleet reinforcements in this period were low, presumably due to low mineral stockpiles. Only the main fighting groups are listed. In addition, the Epworthians also had bombing groups, minelayers, chaff with the Main Missile Fleet, etc.
Saxon Fighting Ships
- Thane(4) Battleship.
- 20 Mark IV Blaster, six Jammer 20, one Overthruster, Warp 9 Ram scoops giving a battle speed of two, Gorilla shields and Organic Armor. There were about 50 of these left in this period as a second-line beam battleship. Their low weight allowed them the initiative to effectively fight the Epworthian PT battleships. These were in fleet "Jackson" (Saxon main fleets were named after US civil war generals) for the most part.
- Companion Battleship.
- Same as the Thane(4) Battlehip, but with 16 Heavy Blasters and four Phased Sappers as armament. Same battle speed of two. There were only about 16-20 of this ship class left; they started with Longstreet and were later detached to support fleet "Ewell", a minor attack fleet. These were the only range-three beam warships in the Saxon fleet.
- Companion(2) Battleship.
- 16 Myopic Disruptors, four Phased Sappers, three Battle Super Computers, three Jammer 30, one Overthruster, Warp 10 Ram scoops (speed 2 1/4), Gorilla shields and Organic Armor. Note that these had a very high initiative, but low range. The number of these built up continually over the period, ranging from 50 or so at the start to over 125 by the end. These formed the core of fleet "Lee." Some were also assigned to fleet "Ewell".
- Berserker(2) Battleship.
- 15 Jihad Missile, six Battle Super Computer, one Overthruster, no armor, Gorilla shields, Warp 9 Ram scoops. Six of these cheap pseudo-kamikaze battleships were left over from earlier anti-bomber missions and were added to fleet "Ewell" to give it some ranged, anti-base firepower.
- Earl Battleship.
- 12 Juggernaut, eight Phased Sapper, four Battle Super Computer, three Jammer 20, Gorilla shields and Organic Armor, Warp 9 Ram scoops. 25 of these formed the backbone of fleet "Longstreet", with some beam ships attached on a temporary basis.
- Duke Battleship.
- 16 Rho Torpedoes, four Phased Sappers, four Battle Super Computers, three Jammer 30, Gorilla shields, full Valanium armor, Warp 10 Ram scoops. 55 of these all told, built just before and during the period covered, gathering and deploying only at the end of the period. Used to augment fleet "Lee", the main Saxon battle fleet.
- Cherry and LBU Bombers.
- Fleets "Longstreet" and "Ewell" had small bombing groups attached, heavy on the LBU bombs, and killed colonies in combination with packet attacks after the bombers cracked the defenses (as described previously).
Total fleet strengths started at around 151 Saxon battleships versus 232 Epworthian battleships plus another 20-25 battleships worth of Cruisers and moved to more than 267 for the Saxons versus 232 plus 30-38 for the Epworthians -- roughly parity in overall fleet strengths. The Epworthian ships were more capable on a per ship basis, but the later Saxon ships were powerful in their own right (weapons technology 18, though limited range on the beam version).
The Epworthians maintained a sizable contingent of chaff with their Main Missile Fleet, but without large missile-based battles, the chaff didn't figure into the equation. Both sides also maintained a smaller number of minor ships for mine clearing and smaller intercept tasks.
At the start this final period, the Saxons had just gathered a large fleet together to threaten a particular Epworthian colony. As such, the only Saxon fleets at the time were "Longstreet" and "Lee". Lee later split off both "Jackson" and "Ewell" and was also being continually reinforced by "Companion(2)" battleships, and was also reinforced by the Dukes near the end of the war.
Those six fleets (four for the Saxons and two for the Epworthians) were the basic operational elements. Each fleet split off ships for side missions as needed (sweeping, intercepting, etc.), but they tended to quickly reform into the same groupings (except for "Jackson" and "Ewell" which were independent of "Lee" once formed).
At the beginning of this period, the Epworthians still had five mature colonies inside Saxon space in the Southeast corner of the map: Macintosh, Dingleberry, Taton, Nu, and Axelrod. Longstreet launched from Allen and decimated Taton/Nu, reducing Epworthian colonies in Saxon space to three. Meanwhile, Lee was forming up from smaller fleets via gate, and threatening Axelrod, Dingleberry, and Macintosh from Bush, Omega, and Woody, in turn. While the Saxon player took care to sweep the mines around the Epworthian planets, he didn't actually attack any of them because the Epworthian Main Beam Fleet gated in response to the repeated threat in a form of cat-and-mouse.
Meanwhile, the building threat from Lee was covering for Longstreet's attacks. Rather than attack the fleet decimating Taton the Epworthians worked to gather their beam fleet to overmatch Lee's increasing power. A little before this period, the Epworthian Main Missile Fleet had been attacking a Saxon colony in the Omega area. They destroyed the Saxon base and controlled the orbit, but had no bombers to destroy the colony and the Saxons avoided further battle with them. As the Saxon threat moved toward Macintosh, the Main Missile Fleet broke off from Omega, worked clear of the Speed Traps, and maneuvered to simultaneously defend Macintosh, threaten Woody (the Saxon base in the area), and also threaten Eden, a Rockefeller colony. You'll recall that the Rockefellers were the Saxon ally (who was under attack himself farther northeast). This area was in the approximate middle of the whole galaxy and had been a point of contention in the past, so it was a logical move to hold this location based on past importance. Unfortunately for the Epworthians, the focus of battle changed and left his fleet out of position.
The Epworthian Main Missile Fleet begins the period at Macintosh and the Main Beam Fleet is at Dingleberry. Saxon fleet Lee is at Woody and fleet Longstreet was commencing the bombing of Taton.
From the relative fleet positions, it was clear to the Saxon player that the Epworthian player could have easily gated the Main Beam Fleet to Macintosh and merged them in with his missile ships to form one master fleet, one that the Saxons had no hope of defeating. Previously, such an occasion would have called for splitting Lee into smaller groups and re-creating several threats in several places in order to force the Epworthian to break his fleet down again. This time, the Saxon player decided that the reinforcement stream looked good enough to make a more ambitious move.
The Saxon player anticipated that the Main Beam Fleet would gate to Macintosh, putting the majority of the Epworthian fleet in the north, out of position to defend his core areas in the southwest, at least temporarily. The plan the Saxon player came up with, the "Strange Gambit," depended on one of the remaining Saxon planets in Epworthian space.
Since the Saxons and Epworthians were initially allies, they had intersettled before the outbreak of war. The Epworthians had destroyed all of the Saxon colonies in their space except for two, Strange and another of no strategy importance to this story. The Epworthians certainly had the capability to destroy Strange, but it was a lone planet in the southwest corner and the fleet sent to do the job would have been out of the primary combat zone for several years. As such, the Epworthians committed only a small force to assure its destruction -- a force that turned out to be too small. Strange survived and managed to set up an Ultrastation with a gate. Although the Epworthians were surely planning on destroying the chink in their armor, they waited too long.
Lee gated as a single unit (including the heavier Berserkers which arrived with severe damage) to Atropos in order to threaten both the base at Axelrod and the first of the Epworthian core worlds (a chain of colonies stretching westward), while a few Peasants simultaneously swept the mines around Axelrod. Longstreet detached sub-groups of five beam battleships each to push through the minefields around Dingleberry and shut down the gate (by destroying the base). They were successful and the Epworthians couldn't gate to Dingleberry. Earl continued to hold the Taton orbit as bombers completed their destruction. As anticipated, the Epworthian Main Beam Fleet made the reasonable-looking move and gated north to Macintosh and joined up with the missile fleet. The loss of the gate base at Dingleberry assured it would not have gated defenders the next turn and sealed its doom.
The best next move for the Epworthians was clear -- sacrifice the colony or two that Lee could hit in the core area and gate the Main Beam Fleet in a body to Axelrod. If the Saxons attacked Axelrod, the entire Main Beam Fleet would fall on them. If the Saxons pursued the Epworthian core worlds, the beam fleet would be set to chase them from Axelrod and trap them against the Epworthian core-area minefields. Since this move was obviously the best move the enemy could make, the Saxon player decided not to go for either option and instead developed a third option -- "the Strange gambit."
All of the worlds in the Southwest other than Atropos (fleet Lee's current location) and Strange were under Epworthian control. The distance from Atropos to Strange was 238 light years with the Epworthian homeworld, Shangri-La in between. The idea of this move was to use the gate at Strange to evacuate an attack fleet heading into the Epworthian core area when they are pursued from the east. The attack fleet would run ahead of its pursuers (who, hopefully, would not be expecting this and would be trying to trap such a fleet against the Epworthian mines by keeping east of it), reach Strange before being caught, and gate out. That was the initial Saxon idea.
So, while Longstreet hit Dingleberry, the beam ships already there moved to the gate at Bush. Most of Lee moved to a position between Atropos and Bush. From here Lee's ships were able to reach the Saxon planets of Bush and Atropos and the Epworthian worlds of Axelrod and Knife (through a minefield). This was a splendid forking position. The Saxons had a small Speed Trap minefield at Atropos and a large one (covered by a few Peasants) at Bush, so they could avoid battle the following year if necessary.
Lee detached the six Berserker(2)s, a bombing group, and about 15 Companion(2)s as fleet Ewell at Atropos. Knife was the closest colony (and the logical move), so they went to Gemini (a warp 8 move through minefields).
However, the Epworthians did not gate the Main Beam Fleet to Axelrod. They sent a small detachment force, sizable enough to destroy a small side-fleet of the size used on Dingleberry the previous year or a little bigger, but the main force gated to Knife (obviously hoping to catch Lee in a group). Meanwhile, the Main Missile Fleet, hopelessly out of position at this point, moved to attack Eden.
The next year, the Epworthians simply faced too many threats to have anything intelligent to do. If the Main Beam Fleet went for Ewell, there was no assurance they'd catch it, and they would leave Lee free to destroy Axelrod. Axelrod is 106 light years from Knife, so the Epworthians could not protect it via an intercept order aimed at Lee.
The Saxon moves were fairly obvious, though of course the Saxon player fully expected he might lose the risk-fleet that Ewell represented. Lee moved to Bush; Ewell split and sent a small force to Hay Seed (east) and another to Shangri-La (west), the Epworthian homeworld. Meanwhile the Companions moved south from Bush to reinforce Ewell if possible.
The Epworthians, with too many options, sent most of the Main Beam Fleet to Axelrod ("he has to hit it this time" was the apparent thought), and a smaller force of cruisers met up with his 6 North Carolinas in his core area at Pyxidis (those North Carolinas were coming down from the north at this point) -- the idea being evidently to prevent "running" dodges by catching Ewell from two sides the following year. There were no battles except half of Ewell against the starbase at Shangri-La (and a couple newly built cruisers there), which Ewell easily won.
Obviously the Epworthian player didn't play this move correctly -- he should have gotten rid of Ewell (or half of it) while he had the chance, and trusted that the Saxons would not risk losing all of Lee at Axelrod. But the Epworthian player was trying to get a major battle (because he had the existing fleet strength, but Saxon ship-production was already higher), and turn by turn trying his best to guess where the Saxon main fleet would go.
Meanwhile, Longstreet clobbered Dingleberry.
The following year Shangri-La was obviously too hot to handle for the Saxons, and the Ewell group there split again. The eastern group ran northeast, joined with the Hay Seed group, with the Companions, and with most of Lee -- in deep space out of range of Axelrod. The west group was ordered to hit Cosine. Fleet Longstreet headed south, threatening Axelrod. The main Saxon idea with these moves was simply to trap some pursuers of Ewell, while part of that former fleet went west for Strange as originally planned.
The Epworthians at this point realized they had to get the Saxons out of their space, and moved the bulk of the Main Beam Fleet to Pyxidis, while the group there chased Ewell -and went for the east group, losing several ships. Because of a move order set wrong, though, the Saxons didn't catch all of them -- one of the Saxon fleets only went warp 7 and was caught by the Epworthians and killed. Meanwhile, the west Ewell group lost its bombers to a mine hit and failed to reach Cosine. Not so good a year for the Saxons; a brighter but not great one for the Epworthians.
At this point, the Saxons had a small group near Cosine, Longstreet threatening Axelrod, and the rest of their fleets in space Northeast of the Epworthian core worlds. The Epworthian fleet was at Pyxidis, except for a small pursuit group in deep space near the main Saxon force. Saxon reinforcements were now being gated to Bush and Epworthian reinforcements were at a trickle due to mineral scarcity.
Note the affect maneuvering has had to this point. The Epworthian fleet had retreated back into his own core areas in self-defense. This gave Saxon fleet Longstreet free reign to destroy the outer Epworthian colonies and occasional core colonies had also been hit. In reality, the Epworthians had lost the initiative by this time. They had lost colonies and had been unable to even slow their losses, the Main Missile Fleet was unable to respond to the threat, and the Main Beam Fleet was still trying to force a confrontation with a rapidly reinforcing enemy.
The following year the Saxons sent a force to Axelrod and destroyed the base. Lee retired through the Speed Trap minefield to Bush. Note, however, that Bush had a gate, so it altered threats rather than limiting them. What was left of Ewell ran toward Strange, avoiding ending within 100 light years of Pyxidis. The Epworthians pursued Ewell westward with a small force, and moved the rest of the Main Beam Fleet to Gemini.
The Saxon then split Jackson off of Lee and gated the 50 older battleships to Strange, arriving the same year as the Ewell remnant. Everything else hit Axelrod and killed it. The Epworthians pursuit didn't follow to Strange, so fleet Jackson's "catch" attempt didn't work that year. However, the Epworthian player now found himself faced with 45 battleships in the west and the rest of the Saxon fleet united in the east at Axelrod. He went for the west fleet (Jackson), reuniting the Main Beam Fleet in the process. Fleet Jackson hit Purgatory and the base at Strange built as many Speed Trap minelayers as it could. Lee, in turn, moved back to the previous forking position north of Atropos.
It looked as though the Epworthian player had finally run down something he could destroy -- Jackson was not at a gate, was within range of intercept, fleet Lee couldn't reinforce Strange via gate, and the Epworthian Main Beam Fleet was in range of Strange should Jackson try to run for the gate and get out that way. The Epworthians made the obvious move and tried to intercept fleet Jackson.
The Saxon player knew what his enemy is going to try; after all the Epworthians had been trying to pin a Saxon fleet for some time now. The speed bump minelayers had just appeared at Strange, but not in time to lay a field there to protect Jackson if Jackson went to Strange. So instead, while the minelayers started their field, fleet Jackson (40 battleships at this point) split into 10 groups of four battleships each and scattered. One went to a point west of Strange, over 100 light years from the Main Beam Fleet. The rest went eastward along divergent tracks. In the East, fleet Lee slammed Knife.
The Epworthian Main Beam Fleet followed the original group of four and ended the turn slightly west of Strange, on the wrong side of the new Speed Trap minefield at Strange. Trapped on the wrong side of the minefield, the Epworthian fleet can't cover the east for two years now.
This most recent maneuvering has resulted in the Epworthians having very bad positioning. The Main Missile Fleet is still out of position to be of any real use; the Main Beam Fleet is trapped on the wrong side of the minefields in the far southwest corner of the map, unable to defend the Epworthian core area for at least two years. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the Saxon fleet is within range of the Epworthian homeworld and inner planets.
The four Saxon Battleships that decoyed the Main Beam Fleet westward reversed course eastward through the Speed Traps at high warp -- no chance the Main Beam Fleet could catch those. The rest of Jackson reformed with Lee as they hit Gemini. Side groups took down virtually all mines in the area and got many of the bases as well. With no interceptors or reserves to worry about, the main fleet was still safe even though it was smaller than normal (because of so many side fleets). The Saxon Dukes were also steaming in at last, and a steady stream of new Companion(2)s were joining Lee from Bush.
The Epworthian Main Beam Fleet went to Strange and killed the base and a few minelayers, while other minelayers had already left and were repeating the action at Purgatory. The Saxons then hit the Epworthian homeworld with the united fleet while the Main Beam Fleet was still out of range westward.
By this time, the Saxon united fleet had grown stronger than the Epworthian's beam fleet and the Epworthian Main Missile Fleet was still hopelessly out of position several hundred light years to the northeast, through Saxon-controlled space and minefields. Several Epworthian core worlds were smoking ruins already, and his homeworld defenses were cracking signaling its inevitable end. His fleet production had dropped off to next to nothing (downed bases, killed colonies, no minerals getting through in all this fighting), and he had started on a downward spiral in resources that began when Lee broke in to the east side of his core areas. For all intents and purposes, the war was over for the Epworthians.
The Epworthian player at this point practically gives up, and sends his Main Beam Fleet on their death-ride into his home world's orbit to fight the united Saxon fleet, including the newly arrived Dukes. The Main Beam Fleet takes about 50-60 Saxon Battleships down with them, and dies.
After that it was only mopping up in Epworthian core areas for the Saxons. The Rockefellers managed to destroy the Epworthian missile fleet at Eden and recapture that place, using a lot of chaff and high jamming, since the Main Missile Fleet had no beam support at that point, and there was no Epworthian economy to reinforce them.
Part Four: Conclusion and Final Comments
That is operational Mao-style war. There was no main-fleet battle until the very end, and then it was brought about largely by the Epworthians effectively admitting defeat. The Epworthian empire was already decimated. The Epworthian player could not catch the Saxon threat-fleets; he could not protect his colonies -- in fact he lost about one colony every two years throughout this period despite his greater fleet strength for most of it; his strength in "heavy metal"/missiles did little for him. His emphasis on missile ships had cost him the minerals he was now lacking, but kept his fleets from having the strategic mobility to help him in the style of war he wound up fighting. He was outmaneuvered.
This is not to say that the Mao strategy is better than Mahan or Blockade strategies and it is certainly not meant to suggest that everyone should use it. As with all other aspects in Stars!, there is no single 'best' strategy, other than the one that allows you to win. This final section was devoted to illustrating how operational elements of planning and execution can influence the outcome of a war. When the war starts, it takes more than the 'right' ship design and battle orders, more than a diplomatic tongue, and more than a good race design. When the war starts (and even before then) it takes the right operational movements, the moves-on-the-map, to keep from being someone else's lunch. You also need to consider what effects your current moves will have on your future positioning. When the Epworthians moved to Knife rather than Axelrod, they were only considering what would happen if Lee went there too. Instead, they should have been looking at what would happen if it didn't (as was the case). They ended up with too many threats to cover and too far from Axelrod to cover it with an intercept order aimed at Lee (106 light years). Similarly, you must grab your chances when you have them and try to anticipate the worst. The year the Epworthians were decoyed west of Strange, they should have detached a fleet to attack Strange and kill the minelayers there; Strange was vulnerable that year because there were no large Saxon fleets at gates to reinforce it.
Also, when selecting a war-strategy, keep in mind that some methods will work better at different stages of a game and you must be flexible in their use. Some races lend themselves more easily to one war-strategy than to another. For instance the Hyper-Expander PRT isn't able to build gates, whereas the Interstellar Traveler can safely gate heavier ships. Other things being equal, those facts will make a Blockade war strategy more effective for a Hyper-Expander and a Mao strategy less so -- since you can handle your mobility deficit more easily in a war in which movement is impeded for both sides than in one that emphasizes high mobility and fluid points of threat. An Interstellar Traveler race can excel at a Mao strategy, provided it has enough strategic depth to handle a few planet-losses.
Many factors can play a part in developing your war-strategy, and even your war-strategy as a whole is a tool of your overall grand strategy, which will involve whether, when, and who to fight, not just how to fight them. Most importantly, though, you need to develop an overall strategy, and when at war you need to implement a war-strategy effectively. Otherwise, you'll find yourself simply responding to someone else's. So much to do! Well, every Stars! player works within his or her own limits. But, every player also has the ability to grow beyond those limits. Good luck!