There's been a few Carrier threads in the last week or so, and figured I would give my 2c on the problem. Here goes nothing.
There main problem faced by carrier ship designs is that they don't have upfront damage. They get blatted from the other side of the system by the big guns, which then leads to them losing to any similarly sized fleets with long range capabilities.
I want to go back to WW2 and the battleship/carrier things there. The advantage of the carrier was its removal from the immediate area of combat of the fleet, while retaining its ability to inflict meaningful damage. The battle of Midway is marked by the carriers involved being ridiculous distances away from each other. To the point that battleships were entirely useless.
My suggestion then is to emulate this strategic removal from immediate combat. With the following changes you could see another layer of (strategic) fleet movement and placement, and indeed even new ways of approaching assaults on enemy strongholds.
The main gist of my arugment is that carriers get the ability to engage enemies in a different gravity well.
The changes I envision are as follows:
- The Strikecraft. Light, medium, and heavy. All are unlocked by the same tech. Strikecraft ignore shields completely.
i) Light craft can only attack targets in the same gravity well. These are your TIE fighters and Colonial Vipers. They're fast, cheap to upkeep, and do very well in combat. Stations automatically equip this type when the appropriate tech is researched. They can engage all kinds of ships, including other strikecraft, but they do less well against bigger ships. This could take the form of 50% damage against armour.
ii) Medium craft can jump one single gravity well from their carrier fleet. These are the X-wings of your fleet. If their parent fleet jumps away using a hyperlane they immediately disengage, and jump back to the parent fleet following the shortest path. They will not engage anything while returning. Medium craft can engage both strikecraft and bigger ships, but are not as good at fighting strikecraft as light craft. However they have no penalty against bigger ships (or armour). The main feature of this type of craft is their strategic flexibility. They're not the best, but hot damn if they can't be everywhere doing anything.
iii) Heavy craft. Think bombers. These are your Y-Wings and your Colonial Raptors. They have a strategic range of one system, like medium craft. However unlike medium craft these cannot engage other strikecraft at all. These are your Torpedo equivalents only strikecraft instead. If the enemy fleet is undefended by either PD or their own craft they will reap a bloody toll, and punch ridiculously far above their weight. On the other hand, at the basic level they're fragile, and comparatively slow (but still faster than a corvette).
Carrier ship support modules. These would be relatively simple. Things like extending the strike range by one jump, then by two at a higher tech level. Or alternatively increasing strikecraft speed, or reducing upkeep. Enough modules that you can customise your fleets. The idea here is that even Cruisers with strikecraft modules will be effective, though far less so than dedicated Battleship size carriers.
Penalties and Drawbacks. By now you're wondering what the drawback would be. How do you balance a ship (let alone a fleet) that can punch above its weight from a strategically removed location? That's simple: upkeep and fragility.These ships can't hold up in a direct fight with ships with L weapons. That's current balance. The other factor is that these setups cost a ridiculous amount (comparatively) to maintain in both alloys and strategic resources. Ideally Exotic Gasses would be the main component, but you could make an argument for each resource. This would increase the importance of a robust refining aspect of your economy, and give a use to that massive surplus most players are currently seeing. A top tier Battleship currently costs a bit of energy and alloys as upkeep. A carrier ship would require about 50% more alloys (to repair and replace those strikecraft), as well as strategic resources (to fuel the strikecraft). If a wing of craft is destroyed the upkeep of the parent ship is doubled until the strikecraft are replaced (this replenishment rate can be reduced by tech).
Starbases and strikecraft. Your default outpost gets a single wing of light craft. That means bugger all against a determined opponent, but can mean that pirates are delayed a little longer until a proper response is mustered. Starbases on the other hand get a pair of hangar modules by default with each starbase level. These only house light craft, but hot damn if that isn't a welcome addition to the base, and a reason to have more than just token PD on your attacking fleets. Hangar moodules on the other hand each provide two medium strike craft. This gives you a possible active response to piracy and for extra fun you can order raids against neighbouring systems when you're a war! This is naturally in addition to the improved ability at suppressing piracy that hangar modules already have.
Ordering sorties with your strikecraft. Simple: ships with a carrier module get a small button activated in their orders hotbar to send all their capable wings to the selected gravity well which is within range. This can be denoted by having systems highlighted in blue in the galaxy view. Once the order is sent the craft launch from their carrier, then head at best speed to the appropriate hyperlane, then they jump to the next system, then so on until they reach the target system. They will not engage any target except those in the selected system (this could be affected by a policy?). Once they arrive at the target system they will engage the closest valid target for their ship type. They will also target infrastructure such as mining stations and research stations. If strikecraft manage to disable the system's station they will not capture it. After all tiny ships do not have the manpower to capture large space stations! Once all targets in the system are destroyed the wing heads home. The wing can be manually recalled using the parent fleet's hotbar to assign the system where the fleet is as the target. A specific target can be chosen by the fleet instead of the system by setting the sortie order on a fleet or starbase in the system view instead of using the galaxy view.
In short I am envisioning several layers of power projection using strikecraft and carriers, as well as bringing relevance to the Cruiser carrier hull (as a cheaper alternative) and making PD far more important in fleet composition than it currently is. This would add a both a siege and maneuver aspect to warfare which is currently missing. Imagine: you jump a small carrier fleet into the enemy's rear, atomise a dozen resources stations in several systems, then jump out as soon as the drives are charged! Or you send your border station wings to harrass nearby systems! As for that big nasty station blocking your assault on an enemy system? Simple – send in the fighter wings first to soften up the defenders, then jump in a mop up the remnants.
If anybody knows if this could be modded into the game I'd be willing to collaborate on sorting out the different aspects and problems.
TL;DR – Carriers, they do strategic force projection. Put it in the game using the details above.
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© Post "Carrier Talk and Balance" for game Stellaris.