Designer's Notes: Tom Hughes has outlined his vision of some of the myriad elements of Task Forces duking it out in the Operational (as opposed to the Strategic) View of combat. (The perspective is different, being "higher up," in the Strategic View; players can freely switch back-and-forth between them.) It demonstrates the kinds of elements that we are trying to assemble in space combat in Master of Orion III. These are presented, in story form, by Alan Emrich, below.
Some player actions are shown in blue.
The Context of Battle
Commodore Nagrak was a fifteen-year veteran of the Imperial Igneous Fleet. After twelve years as captain of the IIF Battlecruiser Sulfurous, he had made his promotion to Commodore when a new Task Force was assembled (the "Copper Vein") three years ago during the what has grown into the Third Igneous-Magma war. The treacherous Chitins, it turns out, have joined their Magma allies against the Igneous Empire; Nagrak's Copper Vein Task Force was sent to meet that threat and charged with joining the Alkali Fleet under Grand Admiral Drodgt that was forming up on the Igneous-Chitin border. He had the glorious assignment of meeting any new threat from these sons-of-Klackons and blowing them out of space.
During the Campaign 2053.6, the Chitins arrived at the Igneous outer system of Viktsar Major, a poor but strategically located system on the Igneous side of the border. The lone Igneous outpost in the system was not well defended on the ground, but with the amassing of an Igneous Fleet in the area, its security was growing steadily.
The player selects the pre-battle plan and deploys his Task Forces for their battle set up.
Grand Admiral Drodgt, an amiable political appointee with more influence than talent, deployed the four Igneous Task Forces in a classic diamond pattern around the lone Igneous outpost located on the second moon of Viktsar Major III. They had orders to defend their pathetic little outpost, so keeping forces between it and enemies was the strategy. The Chitins were expected to arrive from the direction of the warp point closest to their territory, their commanders being notoriously unimaginative. However, since the collapse of their collectivist government ten years ago, their fleet doctrine could have evolved into something less predictable (but that was unlikely).
With this in mind, Commodore Nagrak, on the right flank of the Alkali Fleet, ordered the Copper Vein Task Force to extend the group's picket forces and probe deeply in a passive search pattern for enemy forces. Carefully moving toward the expected direction of an enemy attack in a textbook operation, Nagrak was soon confronted with a sighting report - but not the one he had been expecting. An enemy force was approaching bearing 095, directly to the right of the enemy's expected maneuver vector.
The First Reaction
The player, watching the Operational View of the Copper Vein Task Force, selects the newly sighted enemy Task Force as its target. He also confirms that his engagement doctrine is to commence firing at Maximum Beam Range.
Ordering a change in course to steer toward this sighting, Nagrak also instructed the pickets to close into battle formation and keep a screen on the Copper Vein's left (facing the still-expected enemy approach vector, just in case). The well trained and experienced Captains and crews of the Copper Vein neigh well snapped into their proper positions as firing coordinates were established on the enemy Task Force.
As the range closes from extreme to long, Nagrak carefully studied the enemy Task Force opposite him. Like his own, the enemy's screening vessels were maneuvering to intercede themselves between the two opposing core groups. The enemy Task Force was only slightly outnumbered, but it was comprised of known enemy ship designs ñ these being the bearers of numerous missiles. Withholding his own fire until reaching beam weapons range, it struck Nagrak as odd that they had not yet launched a salvo of missiles. "They've enjoyed the range advantage some moments, now, yet they've fired nothing at long range. Surely their ordinance was not all spent at some previous encounter?" he mused. "Or is this some new enemy ship design sporting an old, familiar appearance?"
An exchange of beam weapons ensued at the extreme of their range, and as the Igneous Task Force steadily closed two events occurred within seconds of each another. First, an anticipated enemy Task Force was sighted on vector 260, the screened left side of the Copper Vein Task Force. Just as Nagrak was murmuring "hello," and considering his next move, all of space around him flashed white. A battlecruiser in the core of the Task Force he'd been engaging had just violently exploded, possibly a warp core breech "or a weapons hit," he mused, wondering again why they hadn't fired their missiles. Nagrak was grinning, though, at his good fortune. Chitin ship designs are notoriously well armored, so it was a lucky hit indeed that caused an explosion of that magnitude. Large enough to...
The player orders a charge to Point Blank Range against its targeted enemy Task Force.
Nagrak knew in that instant what to do. Ordering his Task Force to approach the enemy they'd been engaging at full speed, he sought to take advantage of their certain command disruption following an explosive shock of that magnitude in the enemy Task Force's midst. It would be some precious moments before they would bring everyone back under control ñ time enough to close in and finish the job before tuning to meet the new threat on his left.
As the Copper Vein sped up, the Captain of the flagship Sulfurous watched Commodore Nagrak stare intently at one of the enemy Task Forces. Not the unlucky one that he surmised must be disrupted and they were now closing in on at full speed, but the new group sighted on their left. Strangely, that enemy group was not closing, and the ship designs in its center were unknown to the Captain. "Carriers," Nagrak concluded audibly. "They must be. Why else would they hang back like cowards while their comrades are about to die?"
Keeping an eye out on vector 260 for fighters approaching, the situation had evolved only a little further when the klaxons started blaring on the Sulfurous. "Bogies! No, Bandits, sir, at 135" a crewman related excitedly.
"Confirm 135," the Captain ordered in astonishment, recognizing the tactical conundrum in an instant. "Confirmed, sir, 135." The enemy fighters should be coming from the opposite direction the direction where the Copper Vein's screening vessels were waiting to greet them.
The Task Force's point defenses opened up immediately in reaction to the threat, a credit to the skill of the Captains and crews of the Copper Vein. However, the screening vessels needed time to interject themselves to meet the enemy fighter threat along this unexpected vector, and Nagrak could feel his Flag Ship already starting to shudder from the damage the enemy fighters were meting out.
The Fateful Decision
The player slows the Copper Vein and re-organizes the deployment of its escort ships.
"Copper Vein, all ahead one-third," he ordered. His Task Force gracefully slowed. This would make it easier to hit the enemy fighters and maneuver screening vessels to distract them away from the Copper Vein's core ships. Based on the size of the enemy strike, however, their fighters would be a short-lived nuisance.
In the moments it took the enemy fighter attack to start to wane, Nagrak finally concentrated on the begging question: how had they approached at such an opportune vector? "Even if cloaked, they reached us very quickly. And there was no sign of their approach. None. Is there an undetected Task Force behind us?" he said to himself.
Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, the enemy fighters disappeared. "Order the escorts to form a 360 defensive perimeter," Nagrak instructed his Executive Officer. "The next strike of fighters will not catch us exposed again."
But as he turned his attention back to his original enemy, a report that they had just launched missiles arrived like an acid gale at an Igneous wedding. Staring at the readouts, at first the Commodore didn't believe the count estimate for the incoming barrage. It was double his estimations of what the enemy Task Force could fire at once. "Devils and double Devils!"
Survival necessitated a new order: "All reverse full!"
The enemy's fighters had bought the time needed for their scattered comrades to regroup. "A plague of arachnids upon them," Nagrak muttered. "Move every escort we have between those missiles and our core!"
"But, sir, we just deployed a 360 degree perimeter."
"Belay that! You have your new orders." The missiles were real enough and the time of their arrival predictable and waning. The fighters would take time to return to their carriers, rearm, and trouble him again. And they would be fewer next time. There should be time enough to weather a salvo of enemy missiles, even such a large one (he hoped), before he'd need to consider reestablishing an anti-fighter defense.
"Commadore Nagrak," Grand Admiral Drodgt's image appeared over the Communications Station, "fall back on Viktsar Major III."
Orders. Nagrak quickly considered their military and political implications. Militarily, it implied that the rest of the Alkali Fleet might be faring no better than he was. Politically, though, to seize glory in battle could catch him the Emperor's eye and smooth his path of promotion, and Nagrak was ready to take his chance.
The player issues the Withdrawal order for this Task Force and wants to reflect on this battle.
But like the Legend of Geode, such musings were not meant to be. Nagrak had already made his final, fatal miscalculation. With his escorts repositioned to meet the barrage of enemy missiles, now closing the gap between the Copper Vein's pickets and its escorts, a new signal appeared. The herald of doom reported, "Bandits again, sir! Vector 181!"
It appeared to be another full strike of enemy fighters. With a huge barrage of missiles in front of him ready to impact and a swarm of fighters on his again vulnerable rear, Nagrak's cool pause slid into panic as explosions began bursting throughout the Copper Vein. Stunned for a moment by his reversal of fortunes, Nagrak was brought crashing out of his stupor when a barrage of missile explosions impacted the now charred and torn hull of the Sulfurous.
Over the blare of the hull breech damage warnings, Nagrak finally barked out, "Order an immediate withdrawal." His Executive Officer took a moment to compose himself and finally issued the Commodore's decree. "Start warping them out immediately!"
Nagrak needed survivors from this encounter. It was almost too perfect for the enemy. Damn! If only he had pressed his attack against the missile group he might have chiseled their teeth before they had a chance to shard his crystals. It was too late for that now.
This battle would have to be analyzed by Fleet Command. The enemy had something truly new in those fighters. It would take some study to determine what it was or, at the very least, suggest some new countermeasures. The Magma had chosen their ally well. These Chitins had evolved.