Chapter 5:Ship Design Basics

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In this chapter

In the early game, resources and minerals are scarce, as you try to forge your empire in the depths of space. Therefore, care must be taken to make sure that you get the most out of your ship designs as possible.


fig 5.1
Scout design

Early in the game, your basic scout needs four attributes: Scanning power, Range, Speed, and Low cost. You will be building a lot of scouts, first to find habitable planets, then to patrol your space to make sure that nobody infringes upon it, and finally to scout through the space of your neighbors to spy on them. Your early scout design may be the only ship design you keep through the entire game. The basic Long Range Scout design you are given is one of the best pre-made ship designs in the game, because it is simple. You don't need think hard to design an effective scout, if you remember the four basics.

Scanning Power

First, your scout must have a good scanner. For all races except Jack of All Trades, this scanner will have to be added to the scout. Until you reach Electrical level 7 (and then only if you have not taken the trait No Advanced Scanners) you will have no access to a penetrating scanner. For scouting new worlds, a simple Bat Scanner will do. For protecting your border worlds however, nothing beats a penetrating scanner.


Next, your scout must be able to go the distance. This little guy will be traveling a long way from home, and is probably not coming back to refuel anytime soon. Improved Fuel Efficiency again will come through for you, and again with the Fuel Mizer engine. If you do not have Improved Fuel Efficiency, any ram scoop will do, but the first available ram scoop engine is a Propulsion level 6, which may be hard to reach early in the game. A scout without a ram scoop engine is basically a one-way scout. They go out, and never come back. To help with range, a scout can (and should) be outfitted with a fuel pod, which quadruples its fuel, and therefore its range.

The exception is the Interstellar Traveler. They start at level 5, so it's only one research level away.


A scout also needs speed, both to quickly reach the planets to scan, and to escape from potential dangers in the great unknown. Again, a good engine is necessary. Until Propulsion level 9, there is no better engine for going at Warp 9 than the simple Fuel Mizer. Again, if you don't have Improved Fuel Efficiency, your best engine will have to do.


The last factor to consider when building a scout is cost. Especially if you are going to send your scouts off with no hope of their return, you are basically trading minerals and resources for information. You'd better strive to get the most for your investment, by investing less per scout. A Jack of All Trades could throw away the scanner to save some construction cost. Otherwise, there is not much that can be done to reduce the cost of a scout.

So, the ideal early scout should have the best engine available, a fuel pod, and a good scanner. That is the exact description of the Long Range Scout. In most cases, it is perfect for the job at hand. However, it can be improved. A Jack of All trades could save a few minerals and resources per scout by throwing away the scanner. An Interstellar Traveler with Improved Fuel Efficiency gets a scout without the Fuel Mizer, which is in all scouting related ways superior to the Daddy Long Legs 7. And, of course, as your technology rises trading a penetrating scanner for the bat scanner will only help.

Advanced Scout Design

Early scouts need to be cheap and efficient, but your second-generation scouts can come in different (and larger) designs. Here are some examples:

  • Outfitting a destroyer with a scanner will turn it into an armed scout, which can serve the dual purpose of gathering data and defending your empire.
  • The frigate hull (Construction level 6) is the first true multi-purpose ship. With 5 potential scanner slots this ship can see quite far indeed. Instead, it could be equipped with 2 scanners and 3 weapons, for another possible armed scout design. It could also be equipped with mines (available at Biotech level 4) and assigned to watching your borders and protecting them at the same time.
  • The Privateer could technically be equipped with up to three scanners, making internal scanning a snap. However, those slots could be better used improving the Privateer as a freighter than as a scout.
  • Likewise, all Freighter hulls could be outfitted with scanners.
  • The Mini-Mining hull (available to any race that has Construction technology above level 2) could house a scanner, improving inner-empire scanning.

You don't need scanners in all your ship designs. Usually, only one or two designs need them, while the rest of your ships would be better served using those design slots for more important things.


fig 5.2
Simple freighter design

To move people and minerals around your empire efficiently, you need to build efficient freighters. In the early game, there are three possible hulls for carrying freight:

The Small Freighter is available at any technology level. This hull can carry 70kT of minerals, or 120kT if a cargo pod is installed. With only 130mg of available fuel, this freighter can have trouble delivering your cargo any great distance. If, instead of adding a cargo pod, you install a fuel pod, then range is no problem but the payload is small. Also, because of the high cost of this hull in Germanium, you could have trouble building more than just a handful.

Construction technology of 3 is required for the cargo pod.

The Medium Freighter is a better choice, if you have Construction technology level of at least 3. With three times the payload (210kT) of the Small Freighter, and more than three times the fuel (450mg), this hull is fairly attractive. However, it has only one available slot in which to put either a cargo or a fuel pod, and has the same problems (to a lesser degree) as the Small Freighter with balancing range and payload. It costs almost the same in Germanium, so for three times the cargo carrying ability, you are spending the same amount of factory-building power.

fig 5.3
Privateer design

At Construction level 4 the Privateer becomes available. This hull is one the most adaptable in the game. A slightly increased payload (250kT) is coupled with a greatly increased fuel tank (650mg), making it easier to justify adding a cargo instead of a fuel pod. Also, with no less than three slots that can take fuel or cargo pods, a Privateer can be outfitted in four ways:

  • Three cargo pods, for a whopping 400kT payload with short range.
  • Two cargo pods and one fuel pod, for 350kT payload with about the same range as a Freighter.
  • One cargo pod and 2 fuel pods, for 300kT payload with good range.
  • Three fuel pods, for extremely good range and a decent cargo capacity of 250kT.

The Privateer also has an extra slot to put some armor or shields in, and that 2 of the slots we've been allocating to fuel or cargo pods could go to something else (scanners, for instance), making it seem like the ultimate freighter. Lastly, the Privateer costs a mere 2kT of Germanium (compared to 17 and 19kT for the small and medium freighters) so you are in almost no danger of hurting your factory production. The downside is that the Privateer costs 50kT of Ironium, which is almost three times the Ironium cost of a freighter. If your worlds have an Ironium problem, you may have a Privateer problem as well.

Remote Mining Ships

In the early game, you don't have much choice when it comes to remote mining operations. If you have taken Only Basic Remote Mining as a Lesser Racial Trait, you will never have many options. Unless you have taken Advanced Remote Mining, your number of available ship hulls is one: the Mini Miner.

The Maxi Miner, available at Construction level 11, is outside the scope of beginning-game tactics.

Further, if you have taken Only Basic Remote Mining, you are limited to only one remote mining robot. In this case, your best remote mining hull is the Mini Miner (Construction 2) with two Robo-Mini Miners installed, and perhaps a scanner.

fig 5.4
Mini-Miner hull with Robo-Mini Miners

If you have standard mining, you may want to consider researching Construction up to at least level 4, and Electronics at least to level 2, before starting your remote mining operations in earnest. At these levels, you will have access to the Robo-Miner robot, which can pull three times the minerals from a world as the Robo-Mini Miner robot, for the nearly same mineral and resource cost.

fig 5.5
Mini Miner hull with Robo-Midget Miners

If you have Advanced Remote Mining, you have more choices. You could follow the preceding advice for standard mining, or, better yet, rely on the Robo-Midget Miner robot (available with no research whatsoever) with a Midget Miner hull (also available with no research). For half the cost, the Midget Miner hull holds the same number of mining pods as the Robo-Mini Miner. Also for half the cost, the Robo-Midget Miner robot pull minerals out faster than the Robo-Mini Miner does. If you have the Advanced Remote Mining trait, start remote mining early using the Robo-Midget Miner robot/Midget Miner hull combo.

fig 5.6
Midget Miner hull with Robo Midget Miners
If you have Advanced Remote Mining, you should never use the Robo-Mini Miner!

The final decision to make in creating a mining ship has to do with that extra slot. While a scanner could go there, it would be far cheaper to simply send a scout with the mining fleet. You could put a fuel pod in the slot, to both increase the range of the miner (those things are heavy and won't go very far without help), and eventually to create a storehouse of fuel for use by passer-by fleets in need.

In recap, there are four viable remote miners, from worst to best:

  • For races with Only Basic Remote Mining, or races that cannot justify researching Construction to level 4 and Electronics to level 2 before starting remote mining: a Mini-Miner hull with 2 mini-miner robots, the best engine available, and a fuel pod.
  • For Standard races that can research for it: a Mini-Miner hull with 2 Robo-Miners, the best engine available, and a fuel pod.
  • For races with Advanced Remote Mining, who cannot research Construction 4 and Electronics 2: a Midget Miner hull with Robo-Midget Miners, and the best engine available.
  • For races with Advanced Remote Mining who can afford Construction 4 and Electronics 2: a Midget Miner hull with Robo-Miners and the best available engine.


Early in the game, warships are an expense you just cannot afford. Sometimes, though, with an enemy on the horizon (or at the door), a government must buckle down and buy such things anyway. If you must build warships, you should have the same considerations in mind as you did when designing your freighters: you want the most bang (offensive and defensive capability) for your buck (resource and mineral input).

The Optimal Hull

The smallest ship that can carry a weapon is the scout hull, which can carry only one weapon, has no shield capability and only 20 armor points. For a resource cost of only 10 for the hull, however, this hull is cheap and expendable.

If you have Construction technology of 3, the Destroyer may be a better choice. With the possibility of having some shields, and a base armor 10 times that of the scout (200 DP), not to mention the ability to add even more, the Destroyer is usually the early game warship of choice. Also, because of the layout of design slots, this hull is very flexible.

However, when you consider bang for the buck, the offensive capability of the Frigate (Construction level 6) cannot be beat. Frigates can have twice as many shields as the Destroyer without sacrificing one of the three weapons slots. What you gain in offensive power, however, you lose on the defense, as the base armor of the Frigate is less than one-quarter (45 DP) that of the Destroyer. On the positive side, the Frigate is much cheaper than the Destroyer, costing only slightly more than a scout hull.

Torpedo Ships

The Scout has basically two weapon possibilities: One Beam Weapon or one Torpedo. Low-tech beam weapons have very short range. Until Weapons level 8, all beams are range 1, meaning your ship has to close to within a range of 1 square on the battle board before it can fire. Since a scout hull is lucky to get 1.5 moves per turn, getting in range without being destroyed is a problem (unless the enemy is another like-armed scout or unarmed ship).

Torpedoes are a better idea for this design, because with range 4, your scout will not have to close in by as much before letting the guns fly. Still, at half the power (5 damage points), and 35% accuracy, the Alpha Torpedo is a poor weapon to put on a scout. Beta Torpedoes require Weapons level 5, but have more damage and better accuracy. Even better is the Delta Torpedo, but that requires Weapons level 10. If you have Weapons level 10, the Colloidal Phaser may be a better choice. Of course, if you have weapons level 10, you should probably not be fighting your battles with scouts.

fig 5.7
Destroyer design

Writing off the Scout as a possible warship, next comes the Destroyer. The same weapons considerations for the Scout are valid for the Destroyer, with the added possibility of having two (or three) different weapons on the same ship. Is this wise? After all, the Stalwart Defender that is available with some races has one torpedo and one beam weapon. At first, this seems like a good idea, for the ship is more flexible and can send torpedoes after far off, fleeing ships, but also quickly take out a ship that flies up close. The little you gain in flexibility, however, you lose in power. In general, battles will be fought at either torpedo or beam range. Your torpedo ships will attempt to hang back to stay out of beam range, while your beam ships will attempt to sweep in for a quick kill. A destroyer with one torpedo and one beam will hang back, because it has a torpedo, and will probably never use its beam weapon. Ever. By adding another torpedo instead of a beam (or vice-versa) you have just doubled your ship's offensive capability.

Here are the possible design considerations when planning a Torpedo Destroyer:

  • You'll need your best engine for battle speed. This is the number that is slightly blue in the Technology Browser's 'Fuel Usage Vs Warp Speed' graph. For races with Improved Fuel Efficiency, this engine is usually the Fuel Mizer, with a battle speed rating of 6. *The Daddy Long Legs 7 gives a battle speed of 7, but is not available until Propulsion tech 5. Even better is the Alpha Drive 8, which is two more levels (Propulsion 7) away.
  • The mechanical slot should go to a fuel tank to increase range, or to a maneuvering jet (if you have Propulsion 3 and Construction 2) to increase movement.
  • The Electrical slot will get your best computer, probably the battle computer. If, for some reason, you have extremely good technology, the battle super computer (Electronics 11 and Energy 5) will be a better choice.
  • The Armor slot should have your lowest weight armor. If you have possible, you should use Carbonic (Biotechnology 4) or Organic (Biotechnology 7) armor. These armors are light and make it easier to keep a good battle speed.
  • The two weapons slots should go to your best torpedo. If possible, skip the erratic and wimpy Alpha Torpedo. Instead, try for the Beta Torpedo (Weapons 5 and Propulsion 1) or, even better, the Delta Torpedo (Weapons 10 and Propulsion 2). The Beta has almost a 50/50 chance of hitting its target and does over twice the damage of the Alpha. The Delta is the first torpedo to have a better than 50% chance of hitting, and has more than twice the firepower of the Beta torpedo.
  • The General slot can be used for another maneuvering jet to increase battle speed, another Battle Computer to increase accuracy, a shield to help on the defense without slowing the ship down, or, the most attractive choice, another torpedo to increase damage to your enemies. The two most common choices are the extra torpedo and the extra maneuvering jet. However, if your energy technology is high enough you can add 60 or 100 damage points to your hull with the Wolverine Diffuse Shield (Energy 6) or the Bear Neutrino Barrier (Energy 10). These shields offer more protection from the enemy with almost no added weight.

Battle Speed, Initiative and Mass

fig 5.8
Destroyer hull, example 1

Let's look at the basics of battle speed, initiative, and weight is in order here. (For a detailed discussion of battle, read Chapter 8.)

Battle speed is a combination of 3 factors:

  • your engine rating
  • your ship weight
  • the number of maneuvering jets in your design.

The better your engine rating, the faster your ship. The heavier your design, the slower your ship. Every jet adds 1/4 to your battle speed.

What does this all mean? When designing your ship, watch the battle speed indicator. If it drops, then you either added something too heavy (usually armor or a torpedo) and will need a better engine (or a maneuvering jet), or will have to allow your ship to run a bit slower than it could. On a torpedo ship, this is not as important as it will be on a beam ship. A torpedo ship can sit back and lob its torpedoes at the enemy without worrying as much about range. However, against a fast beam ship, a torpedo ship may have trouble staying out of the enemy's range, so don't make it too slow.

Initiative is simple: whoever has the highest initiative fires first. There are separate initiative ratings for the hull and for the weapon. Because torpedoes are long range weapons that require more aiming, the initiative on most low-tech models is 1 (except for the Alpha, with an initiative of 0). A beam ship will have much higher initiative, so they will almost always fire first (assuming they can get in range). High initiative, added to the greater power of beams, makes a beam ship that can move as fast as possible a very nice addition to your battle fleet.

Beam Weapon Ships

What considerations should be taken into account when designing a beam weapon Destroyer?

  • Again, it's critical that you use your best engine is critical. Speed is not just an issue, it's a matter of life and death.
  • The mechanical slot should always go to a maneuvering jet. Period. The only possible exception is using an Overthruster instead, but that requires Propulsion 12 and Energy 5.
  • The electrical slot should go to either an Energy Capacitor (which requires Energy 7 and Electronics 4, a tall order) or a Jammer 20 (even harder to get at Energy 4 and Electronics 10). Otherwise, leave the electrical slot blank. Although you could place a battle computer there, you would only add a 1 to an already high initiative, at a high resource cost. Of course, if you find yourself pitted against the same beam ship with a computer, that ship (because of its higher initiative) will fire first. However, because you'll have spent your resources in building more ships without battle computers, you'll probably outnumber your opponent: a decided advantage even if you fire second.
  • The Armor slot should either be left empty or be fitted with an armor that doesn't cut into your battle speed by more than 1/4 of a movement point. Try using either Organic or Carbonic Armor, or place one regular armor in the slot instead of two.
  • The Weapons slots should have your best beam weapon. It's probably not worth designing a beam ship until you at least have weapons technology level 8 and have access to the first range-2 beam, the Phaser Bazooka. Until then, your ship has to get very close to place the enemy in range, and with no armor you may have quite a hard time of it.
fig 5.9
Destroyer hull, example 2

The General Purpose slot should have either a maneuvering jet or another beam, in order to either move faster or dramatically improve firepower.

Lastly, the goal of your beam ship should be a battle speed of at least 1 3/4. Really you should try for 2 or, if possible, for the maximum of 2 1/2. If you consider that a torpedo ship's speed will probably be 2 or less, your speed of 2 gives your beam ship at least the same movement, with an increased initiative, at a lower cost. If you can close the gap fast, you should be able to spread more damage than your opponent.

You'll also have to survive the first few torpedoes, which is where armor comes in. Armor can potentially make a Destroyer twice as sturdy, so it is usually worth the loss of battle speed to add the armor. However, with shorter range weapons, your beam ship may be find itself constantly taking damage while its prey stays constantly out of reach.

A good rule of thumb is to never let battle speed drop below 1 3/4. Therefore, if you already had movement 2 or greater, you could add one or two armors, and your ship speed would still be 1 3/4 or better.

If you know your enemy's designs, you're in even better shape. All you need to do is design a warship that has higher speed. If you know, for example, that enemy ships have movement 1, you could get away with movement 1 1/2 yourself. Perhaps one Strobnium armor and 3 beams would suffice.

Some players find that Frigates are not very useful as beam weapon ships. Because they have three general slots, they can be outfitted with three weapons. However, with no mechanical or electrical slots, they can not be outfitted with computers, maneuvering jets, jammers, or any other technology that makes an beam ship effective. Even with the Frigate's two shield slots, their low base armor and the absence of armor slots makes them weak (you could add armor to the general slot, but then you'd have to cut back on weapons).

However, other players have successfully fielded beam-carrying Frigates with shields or Croby Sharmor armor to give their ships solid defense values. These players also report having faced both small and large fleets of beam-carrying Frigates, and found them both competent and costly to defeat.

Overall Strategy

Maxim for warship design: A successful warship design costs more for your opponent to counter than it does for you to build.

Early on, you either will be able to afford only a few very sturdy and dangerous vessels, or a larger number of cheap, almost throwaway vessels. Both strategies are poor in the early game. The best strategy is to wait for your economy to grow to a level where you can produce more, larger, better armed, and better defended fleets. It's not always your choice, however.

Throughout the game, you may find that it's better to carefully choose one or two warship designs, standardize on them, and produces them in bulk. This minimizes the number of design slots used, and increases your combat effectiveness by allowing a single, large collection of ships to engage rather than an assortment of small ship collections. In general, consider creating new warship designs only when forced to counter a successful enemy design, or if you achieve a technology breakthrough that would result in a significantly better new standard design (for example, gaining a Battleship hull, or the Jihad missile.)


To help save you from having to design warships, it is a good idea to protect your empire from the prying eyes of your neighbors. There is no better way of doing this than by laying minefields (minelaying pods are not available unless you either have the Space Demolition racial trait, or Biotechnology level 4). Minelayers can come in 2 simple sizes: Small and Large.

fig 5.10
Small minelayer design

Small Minelayers are built off using the Scout hull. They are equipped with an engine, a minelaying pod, and a scanner. Since a Minelayer spends most of its time in open space distributing mines, it really doesn't need a penetrating scanner. If it sees the enemy coming, it can usually call for reinforcements before the enemy has cleared a path through the minefield (depending on the size of the field). This is also one of the few designs where the 'best engine' is usually not needed: Minelayers stay in one general location (often times, a planet with a stargate), and churn out minefields.

A good Minelayer design includes the following:

  • The Fuel Mizer engine, if you have it, or the Long Hump 6 (Propulsion 3). Alternately, if you have Propulsion 6, and avoided taking the No Ram Scoop Engines trait, the Radiating Hydro-Ram Scoop makes a perfect engine for Minelayer.
  • One mine laying pod in the General slot.
  • The longest range scanner that you can get (either penetrating or non-penetrating). Even Jack of All Trades races benefit: adding a scanner on top of the built-in scanner that comes with Jack of All Trade's scouts will give your Minelayer extra scanning range.
fig 5.11
Minelayer based on the Frigate hull

Large minelayers are available once you get the Frigate hull. They provide three times the minelaying ability as the Scout hull at nearly the same cost. Plus, they allow two scanners, and the possibility of armor or shields. All in all, a good hull; but for minelaying, perfect. Here are the things to consider when building a Frigate Minelayer:

  • The Engine is a bit more important, as fuel will be more of an issue. Any ram scoop should do.
  • Place either your best Shields or Armor in the Shield/Armor slots. Using your best shield will cost less than armor. Alternatively, you could leave this slot empty. As a general rule, if your minelayers are attacked, they will be destroyed.
  • Three minelayer pods in the General slot.
  • Your longest range scanner in each of the scanner slots.

The cost/mine is less with the Frigate Minelayer, so you may not want to lay minefields until you get the Frigate hull. On the other hand, it's much cheaper to use the Scout hull to create a minelayer. A Scout may not be as efficient as the Frigate, but you can build 2 1/2 minelaying Scouts for the cost of one minelaying Frigate and use them to defend your borders. The same border defense undertaken with Frigates would cost more, or result in poorer coverage. For more on managing your borders, read Chapter 10.

A Last Word on the Cost of Ship Design

In the early game, while your empire is still growing, remember that every ship you build equals at least one mine or factory (more often, a dozen mines or factories) that goes unbuilt. Also, every technology level researched to obtain a particular hull equals possibly a hundred unbuilt mines or factories. It is easy to convince yourself that you need that special scanner, or weapon, or engine to build your armada, but the resources you would spend to research all the necessary fields would better spent building your economy.

Of course, there are exceptions: for a modest research investment to attain Construction level 4, you'll have the Privateer hull, which provides unparalleled freight movement at an amazing speed. Nearly every other fancy part or hull can wait off until the economy is running faster.

Speaking of economy...

On to Early Resource Management...