A simple guide on how to win ship combat using weapons without destroying the enemy ship. This is useful for a variety of reasons in game.
For my purposes, I was working on the Small Ship to Prize Ship community challenge and wanted to list out my strategy so that I wouldn’t forget things in the middle of the run.
Table of Contents
Two real choices here. Missiles or Plasma Cannons. We want to do primarily radiation damage to the enemy because that will damage the crew & components without blowing up the ship. The wiki has some info on this (and most of the material in this guide) so I won’t be going into gritty detail of combat mechanics here.
You only need to fire ONCE each turn to apply a talent effect. More shots will do more damage (and potentially apply additional crippling effects) but you can only use one talent per turn, and more damage from more shots each turn will increase the risk of a hull breach making this strategy less likely to keep the ship intact.
Missiles hit with radiation damage by default, and 2/3 of their crippling effects help our strategy. They’re effective at range 3-5, with crippling effects: Electrical Fire which causes +20 crew & component dmg/turn, and Secondary Explosions which cause -20% armor (not so good for us,) -10 Escape, and -20 Radiation Resist (fantastic for us.) The 3rd effect, Crew Stunned, is also fine causing -20 boarding, -20% accuracy, -20% defense, and -10 range change.
Plasma Cannons also do radiation damage, and their crippling effects are helpful too, though they are effective at range 2-4, and can’t be used at range 5. This means that you have at least one movement turn where they can’t fire in every combat.
I am going to write this guide for missiles only, because if you’re getting into Plasma Cannon range reliably boarding is a better strategy, and configuring the ship to operate at range 4-5 is easier than configuring it to get to range 3 or closer and stay there. However, Plasma Cannons work just fine with this strategy as well.
As for size, it doesn’t really matter. Small weapons will take longer because of the way that radiation damage multipliers work, but they’re also safer because of the way that hull damage multipliers work. I have done this strategy with both medium and large slot missiles and never had a ship explode on me in over 600 combats. It CAN happen. There is no 100% certainty in this game. The way that dice work, you can sometimes roll significantly higher or lower than you usually do, especially with larger dice pools. For most purposes, the risk of a 1 in a million ship exploding won’t matter too much; you can loot the other 999,999.
Other Ship Components
In order to take a ship intact we have to make sure that we have time to implement our strategy by taking no (or very little) damage, and that the enemy can’t get away. Again, I’m not going to go into gritty mechanical details here, but these are what work.
Use high defense components to avoid taking hits:
Defense Pattern Matrixes (level 3 or 4)
This is the only critical component aside from your weapon. Other components can be selected as needed to reach the recommended dice pools in the next section.
Get as many as you can fit. I recommend 6, but no less than 5. Note that level 4 can only be obtained from Javat starports. With 5 of these you will still often need talents active to avoid damage, and even at 6 you may need talents to avoid damage sometimes. I personally aim to fit 7, because I prefer defensive talents to only be backups. Remember: any time you take a hit, crew can die… dead crew immediately reduces your dice pools, available talents, and overall effectiveness. It’s also expensive and timely to repair. While there are strategies that can help with the repair problem, it’s still better to just not get hit.
Dice Pool Targets
If you don’t know, ship combat dice pools are determined by a combination of your ship components and your crew. Dice pools are important for basically everything in this game and I’m not going to go into their mechanics in detail. For this guide I’ll be talking about dice pools that are important for ship combat ONLY. For completing missions, or surviving in space outside of ship combat, you will need to develop dice pools beyond what I list here, but that is outside the scope of this guide.
A little about how dice work and caps:
Most ship combat dice pools are capped by the total value of your ship components. Sometimes multiple values will be used for a roll, and one of those values will be more likely to succeed than another. Importantly, uncapped dice are *not* limited by the value of your ship components. This means that the total value of your crew’s stats for that pool will contribute to their relevant rolls, and you don’t need ship components to increase their effectiveness as your crew’s stats improve.
You can see your ship dice pools by pressing hotkey ‘S’ on the main screen. Most of them will look like this: Pilot [27/24]. The number on the LEFT (in this case 27) is how much your crew is contributing. The number on the RIGHT (in this case 24) is the value that is capped by your ship components. After this is a bar in black/blue/yellow, and a %. That’s just showing you the ratio of the numbers before. The important thing here is that you can’t get any further benefit from a stat once your crew is contributing 200% or more of the ship components. So at that point you either need to upgrade components or consider replacing crew to raise a different stat.
Ship size affects dice pool rolls so a small ship will have different targets than a large ship. I’m going to list very rough targets for a medium ship (M6000) on impossible difficulty. You may find that you need more or less depending on ship size and difficulty. Note that it is possible to fail any roll, but it becomes a lot less likely as you roll more dice.
To figure out how much you actually need, you need to know this: if you’re rolling about 25% more dice than your opponent, you are extremely likely to succeed. You can see your rolls vs opponent rolls during combat by checking the log, which is the best way to know whether you are close to your target.
Rough targets on impossible with a medium M6000 / mid-game ship:
- Command dice pool from crew as high as possible. Aim for around 100. Command dice are *uncapped* by ship components. They help with defense. They also help with escaping if needed, and with boarding if you’re doing that.
- Tactics dice pool from crew as high as possible. Aim for around 70. Tactics dice are *uncapped.* They help with accuracy when attacking and changing range. They also help with boarding if you’re doing that.
- Electronics components to around 70, and crew to 200% of that. They help with defense and changing range. They also help with escaping if needed.
- Pilot components to around 70, and crew to 200% of that. They help with defense, short range accuracy and changing range. They also help with boarding if you’re doing that.
- Navigation components to around 50, and crew to 200% of that. They help with long range accuracy and changing range. They also help with escaping if needed, and boarding in certain edge cases.
Talents are going to enable a lot of what we’re trying to do. Here I will give a brief description of some notable talents for this strategy categorized by how they help. Later, I will talk about when and how to use them. You won’t need to have all of these, but you are going to want some from each category. Especially good talents for their category are marked with (!!) to help identify them. You won’t need to worry about carriers in the early game, but it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead, and I’ve marked talents that are useful for enemy carriers as well.
Some talents that do similar things are not listed here. They have been left off *for good reasons.* In most cases, the ignored talents do something that we don’t want (like increasing damage to enemy hulls) so we don’t want to use them if we’re trying to take a ship intact. In some cases, they were left off because their effect is particularly weak relative to other options, or hurt our own ship which we don’t want, though it can be an option with more advanced strategies.
Some talents are listed multiple times. That’s because they have an effect that fits into more than one category and is worth mentioning in that category.
- Commander 1’s Steady Hands
- Gun Boss 1’s Point Defense (vs carriers)
- Gun Boss 11’s Flak Attack (vs carriers)
- Gunner 1’s Bombardment
- Gunner 1’s Elusive Barrage
- Pilot 1’s Evasive Maneuvers (!!)
- Pirate 5’s Barrel Roll (!!)
- E-tech 8’s Vigilant Scanners (!!)
To improve radiation damage, crew damage, and component (NOT hull) damage:
- Crew Dog 8’s Engine Lockdown (+rad, !!)
- Crew Dog 11’s Veteran Clarity (+crit)
- Gundeck Boss 11’s Flak Attack (-shield)
- Gunner 1’s Raking Fire (-shield)
- Pilot 1’s Guided Fire (+crit)
To reduce our own hull damage, preserving the enemy ship:
- Commander 15’s Warning Shots (!!)
- Pirate 5’s Barrel Roll (!!)
To hit enemies with high defenses:
- E-tech 8’s Vigilant Scanners (!!)
- Pilot 1’s Guided Fire
- Pirate 5’s Acrobatic Dive (!!)
To prevent enemies from running away (mostly an issue turn 1-2) and keep them in weapon’s range:
- Commander 15’s Warning Shots
- Gunner 1’s Elusive Barrage
- Gunner 8’s Scattershot (!!)
- Navigator 5’s Perfected Approach (!!)
- Pilot 1’s Sharp Steering
- Pilot 8’s Devastating Shot
- Pilot 11’s Forward Thrusters
- Pirate 1’s Acrobatic Dive
- Pirate 11’s Disabling Approach (!!)
- Pilot 5’s Twitch Surge (!!)Navigator 15’s Flash Charge (!!)
Twitch Surge is especially useful turn 1 vs Merchants and Smugglers, as it can prevent them from escaping (which they will always try to do turn 1.) This is the reason I usually keep a couple pilots around.
Flash Charge does *work.* It puts you in range to use Barrel Roll immediately on turn 1, which can eliminate the need to run Pilots at all. It guarantees the enemy can’t escape turn 1, which buys you time to stack crippling effects. It takes you out of range of certain enemys’ optimal range, which can massively reduce their accuracy. It can put you in range 3 on turn 1, and reliably turn 2 with Twitch Surge, which means that some enemies with lower engine Agility and/or lower Navigation dice will have a much harder time range changing against you. Both of those also help with boarding, though that strategy isn’t covered in depth here. It has a long cool-down, but with experience you’ll know when is a good time to use it.
This is mostly contrived by looking at the talents we want and the dice pools we’re aiming for. This is much like the ship dice pool targets: a very rough idea of a composition that will get you there. Many variations will work. Mostly pay attention to your dice pools to figure out your crew, and remember that you still have to survive in space travel, missions, and crew combat to finish the game!
- 2-3+ Commanders (can be replaced by Military Officers)
- 3+ Crew Dogs
- 1 Gundeck Boss
- 2-3 Gunners
- 2-3 Navigators
- 1-3 Pilots (can be replaced by Pirates)
- 4+ Pirates
- 4+ E-techs (can be replaced by Spies)
The + areas are where you’ll want to add crew to fill out your dice pools. The low numbers are soft “minimums” that will help you have the talents and dice pools you need to get through cleanly. The numbers with maximum values are meant to indicate that you usually won’t gain huge benefits from adding more of that type. Military Officers are listed because they’re usually much easier to recruit than Commanders, for this strat I like Commanders a lot more if I can find them. Spies will be preferred over E-techs for those who are using boarding strategies. I usually keep a couple pilots on staff just for Evasive Maneuvers, since Barrel Roll can’t be used on turn 1 without Flash Charge which might be on cool-down, plus enemies can retreat and it’s nice to have an option at the ‘most common’ combat range.
Putting It All Together: Actual Combat
You fire one missile every turn. As mentioned previously this will let you apply a ship talent plus crippling weapon effects. Fire even if you’re not using a talent, because multiple instances of those crippling effects stack with themselves.
Your ship combats combats will usually start with a defensive talent. If you aren’t familiar enough with the enemy type you’re facing to know that they can’t hit you in a reasonable universe, then the safe bet is to throw down a Pilot’s Evasive Maneuvers turn 1.
So, turn one: fire your weapon, throw down Evasive Maneuvers, move closer. If you’re against a smuggler or a merchant, they will try to retreat turn 1 and won’t shoot, so in that case you can use a different talent to get closer (Pilot’s Twitch Surge guarantees they can’t escape that turn.)
From here, you want to start disabling the enemy ship. You want to stay at range 4 as much as possible, so move as needed to do that. You will automatically roll against the enemy to STAY at range 4 if you’re already there, so no need to move in that case. You fire your weapon every turn. So that covers weapons and movement.
For talents, I can’t really make a flow chart here so here’s basic conditional advice, mostly in order of importance:
- If the enemy hit you last turn, give yourself a defensive boost. If not, go to next.
- If the enemy nearly succeeded at retreating (check log or use personal experience) and your weapons hit them, use a talent that reduces their escape and/or range change. If not, go to next.
- If you miss your first shot, give yourself an accuracy boost. If not, go to next.
- If the enemy hull took a lot of damage from your first shot, use a damage that reduces your hull damage. If not, go to next.
- If you’re worried that their attack rolls seem to be getting results that are pretty close to your defense rolls (in the log,) you can use a defensive boost. If not, go to next.
- Everything is going well. If you want, increase your radiation damage by using something like Crew Dog’s Engine Lockdown. Otherwise, you can just repeat what you’re doing until the enemy surrenders or everyone on board dies leaving you free to loot the poor bloody husk of a ship.
There are pros and cons to doing ship combat this way. This isn’t the only way to win ship combat on any difficulty, it’s not the fastest way to win ship combat in general. However, it *is* in my experience the fastest way to take a ship intact, and that is the niche this guide is trying to fill.
The biggest benefit to doing combat this way is that you can guarantee intact ships and from a component and crew standpoint, it is relatively simple to set up. Only needing one weapon frees up slots for other things. Most of the crew that you’ll be using is crew you already want anyway.
The biggest drawback to doing combat this way is similar to boarding: it’s slower than just blowing them up. One advantage of this way over boarding is that, in my experience and opinion, it is *much faster* than boarding, even though it can be slower than just blowing them up with a couple grav cannons. Another drawback is that boarding grants your combat crew experience which might matter if you’re trying to level your combat crew on harder difficulties (since every ship combat will result on an average of around 6 crew combats if you’re boarding.)
When I started doing this strategy there wasn’t a lot of info on how to make it work in a way that was easily readable without going through hours of wiki data and finding scattered pieces of information on the discord and forums. Most “keep the ship intact” discussions revolve around boarding strategies.