Tactical Combat

From SotS

The combat round is 4 minutes long by default, but can vary from 1 minute to 10 minutes depending on game settings.
If there isn't a clear victor by the end of the allocated time, the surviving ships pull back (to simulate a lull and regroup during combat) and a new strategic turn begins.

This puts combat into a strategic context. Peeling away the defenses of a well defended planet can take more than one strategic turn, especially if it takes a lot of time to eliminate the defense fleet. Four minute combat rounds mean a player that doesn't have any combat during one strategic turn isn't stuck twiddling their thumbs.

Game recording for tactical combat did not make the feature cut for SotS. However, the XFire client can be used to record video and sound from within the game.

In single player mode, players can pause the combat and give orders to their fleet while the game is paused.

Walkthrough Video



Battlefields in Sword of the Stars are very large, typically encompassing either a planet and its immediate environment or an area of deep space. It can take 1–2 minutes to cross the battlefield in a destroyer, depending on the level of technology. All combat in a system is assumed to occur around the key planet of the system, whether there is a colony there or not.

There are a number of moons and asteroids littering most battlefields. They are a key part of any battle. Asteroids can be shattered by weapons fire, or shoved towards the enemy with Tractor Beams. Planets, moons, and larger asteroids may also cast a sensor shadow, within which a player can hide ships or strike groups.

While the field of battle is itself three dimensional, all orders and maneuvers are carried out in two dimensions. All objects which are tactically relevant are therefore placed on this plane. However, ships will go above or below each other if they have a chance of hitting one another or colliding.

All ships are unsuitable for atmospheric movement (Born of Blood introduces exceptions, explained in the next paragraph) and are destroyed if they get too close to a planet. Larger ships may cause some damage when they do this, though it is nearly always better to use weapons arrays instead.

Born of Blood introduces a new special weapon slot which allows a craft to maneuver in the atmosphere of a planet. This resolves itself in tactical combat by clicking the 'Atmospheric Entry' weapon slot, at which point the craft flies straight into the planet and disappears to perform whatever mission it is meant to perform. Usually it will return back into orbit from the planet, exactly the way Assault shuttles do. The Zuul Wraith Abductor ship is an example (perhaps the only one) of a ship with this capability.

Specialized Riders such as Assault shuttles or Bio Missiles are streamlined and can enter a planets atmosphere. Assault shuttles are removed from the tactical map while "strafing" the Planet.

Fleet Placement

For combat near a planet, the defender always starts in close orbit.

If the defending player has detected the attacking fleet, then the defender is placed between the planet and the attacking fleet. Otherwise the fleet is placed randomly.

Attackers appear at the edges of the combat map based on their approach vector. Human and Zuul fleets deploy from node fracture points.

Colonies in Battle

Planets and any colonies thereupon can be assaulted in battle by targeting the planet as you would another ship in the combat.

Planetary Assault

Human Siege Driver.PNG

Every colony has three attributes: Population, Infrastructure and Environment. All weapons used against planets do varying levels of damage to all three.

Prior to the release of A Murder of Crows, Colonies could not be conquered, only destroyed. The only exception was the Assimilation Plague Tech, in which case, once having fully infected the population, the colony becomes yours. A colony is assumed destroyed when all population is lost. Any infrastructure that survives the destruction of the planet will be usable by whomever next colonizes the planet. However, the destruction of infrastructure or the environment may prove a significant blow to the viability of a colony if it cannot be destroyed outright. It is prohibitively expensive to support a large population in a hostile environment. A player may be forced to abandon the colony entirely.

Most weapons do damage to all three attributes, but later developments allow for weapons that preferentially target one over the other. For example, Bio Missiles kill the population, but leave the infrastructure and environment intact.

Planetary resources are immune to damage. It would be too easy for scorched earth policies to render an entire game tedious. However, Mining Ships can be used to strip resources from uninhabited planets outside of combat.


An alternative is to blockade a colony turn after turn to achieve a variety of effects such as freezing population growth and reducing the colony's production by half. Blockades are not automatic and will trigger a full combat round between turns. Blockading without taking losses will require good tactics, good point defense and probably some long range stand off weapons.

Planetary Defense

"Space is the ultimate high ground."

Planets defend themselves using Planetary Defense Missiles and Defense Satellites in tactical combat.

Colonies get 1 missile base for each 100 million population.

The only way to reduce the number of missiles that a colony can launch in its own defense is to reduce the population of that colony.

Each world can build defense satellites to bolster its own planetary defense missiles. There are 3 sizes of defense satellite, each being the equivalent of a single section. You can normally have up to 10 of each size class (limited by planet size) of defense satellite. Defense satellites are deployed in a ring around the planet, and have a clockwise orbit. Each Orbital Station at a planet can support 5 additional small defense satellites, though these additional satellites only orbit the stations, not the planet.

Any fleets in the system will be available to defend the colony, though depending on placement and luck of the draw, they may not be placed in such a way as to be able to intercept an oncoming fleet before it can deal severe damage to the colony.

A common practice, particularly for the gate–using Hivers, is to construct ships with extremely cheap engines and basic technology. Advanced engines are vital for offensive strategic maneuvers, but their high cost can make cost–efficient mobile defense an impossible goal.

Fleet Management

There is no limit on the total number of ships you can build in total or combine into one fleet, although ship maintenance costs can prove prohibitive with large numbers. You can bring all of your ships into a battle as one fleet.

There is a limit on the number of ships you can field at once in a battle defined by the number of command points available to your fleet.

The Fleet Management Interface determines fleet composition for battle. Fleets can also be renamed for easier reference.

Active Fleet

You can choose which ships are in the Active Fleet only if a ship section with the CnC ability is in the fleet, otherwise the selection is random.

Active Fleet size depends on the total command points in the fleet.

There is no class limitation so you can have a Destroyer CnC ship leading 3 Cruisers and some support Destroyers. Examples:

  • Highest Technology plus a Dreadnought with CnC ability will allow for 3 Dreadnoughts + change to be fielded.
  • Highest Technology plus a Dreadnought with CnC ability will allow for 1 Dreadnought and 20 Destroyers as escorts.

Active fleet ships (on the map) will respond to your orders with appropriate vocal feedback.

Fleet Reserve

When the opportunity to call ships from the fleet reserve arrives, you will only be able to choose which ship comes if there is still an active section with the CnC ability on the battlefield, otherwise the selection is random.

Fleet reserves are always added to the battlefield when your active fleet is depleted below your command point limit. You cannot deny reinforcements from entering the fight.

Loss of all sections with the CnC ability on the battlefield will reduce your available command points for the combat, delaying reinforcements until the active fleet size is reduced appropriately.

If you have another section with the CnC ability in the reserves then the ship with the best CnC ability section is placed first in the reinforcement queue.

Without a CnC ship on the field, and in versions of the game prior to A Murder of Crows, reinforcements appear in a dynamic volume a distance away from combat. If you are defending a planet it is assumed they are staging from low orbit.

With A Murder of Crows and an active CnC ship, reinforcements are brought into the battle in formation with the active CnC ship.

Standoff Priority

After the 1.2.2 update, the Standoff command was modified with updated weapon family priorities and more intelligent standoff ranges. The new standoff range priorities are for these weapons (in decreasing order of specialization): torpedo, fixed heavy beam, free (turreted) beam, lr missile, and then anything else. Standoff is simply about the weapon types, not the numbers of weapons. So one weapon with a higher specialization will take precedence over many other weapons with a lesser specialization.

Breaking Off from Combat

"It's okay to leave them to die." Simon Tam – From the movie, Serenity

When certain conditions are met, ships with intact engine sections can break off from the active fleet, either to prevent their destruction or to make way for fleet reserve units. Ships that withdraw behind the battle line are put back into the reserve fleet at the bottom of the Fleet Reserve pool. You can only withdraw ships if the following requirements are met:

  • You must have a CnC ship in order to withdraw other ships. A CnC ship with a broken CnC section can withdraw if another functional CnC is present on the battlefield. Otherwise CnC ships can't withdraw.
  • A ship with destroyed engines can't withdraw to the back line.
  • A ship must be a certain distance away (2,000 meters, e.g. just out of visual sight range) from all enemies, including Drones, Bio Missiles and the enemy Planet, in order to withdraw.
  • In order to withdraw, you must have reinforcements in your reinforcement queue sufficient to replace the ships(s) you are withdrawing. They don't have to be of the same type.

Breaking off is not immediate, and fleeing ships are vulnerable to attack while withdrawing.

Retreating from Combat

Node Fracture Point (full)

Ships may retreat from battle, activating their method of interstellar travel to completely leave the battle area and travel to another system. Ships that successfully retreat head for their nearest owned system, or in the case of Human and Zuul players, wherever the node line they utilized leads.

Human and Zuul ships need to both move to a node fracture point and wait for their drives to recharge in order to retreat. Node fracture points can normally only be seen by Human and Zuul players, though there are technologies added by the Born of Blood expansion that will allow other races to see node lines.

Other races just need to be far enough away from the enemy and wait for their drives to recharge before retreating. The FTL Drives typically take from somewhere between 30 seconds and 130 seconds in tactical combat to warm up, though the exact time is dependent upon the drive system being used.


You have the choice of taking control of the embattled fleet yourself or of handing over control to the AI.

Combat Options

With version 1.2 and above you have several choices before going into battle. Depending on your choice and the choices of other players who are present in the battle, the following occurs:

Other Players / You Fight Manually Auto Resolve Fight Manually if Opponent Does Auto Resolve Peacefully
Fight Manually Manual for both sides AI controls your side only Manual for both sides AI controls your side only
Auto Resolve AI controls that player Auto Resolution Auto Resolution Auto Resolution
Fight Manually if Opponent Does Manual for both sides Auto Resolution Auto Resolution Auto Resolution
Auto Resolve Peacefully AI controls that player Auto Resolution Auto Resolution No Combat

If multiple players are involved in the combat, the combat will be auto resolved only if no one chooses to fight manually. If someone does, then any player who also chose to fight manually if someone else does, will also be in control of their forces during the battle. Anyone else who chose to auto resolve or auto resolve peacefully will have their forces controlled by the AI. Also, any AI players always are treated as if they chose to auto resolve.

Auto Combat

You can auto–resolve combat when you don't feel like fighting the battle in real time.

At the end of every turn you get a list of battles that you are involved in. You can then set any or all of these to manual control or AI control. If you wish to auto–resolve and another player doesn't, the AI will just control your ships in real time against the opposition while you do something else. If all players auto–resolve a fight then it goes to an auto–resolution system based on the abstract combat values of the ships involved.

Auto–resolve of any given battle takes into account every ship, every weapon and reinforcement. It assumes both fleets will close head on, simulates the closing action by firing at various range bands and then settles on firing at Point Blank range. Long range weapons will always get alpha strikes for using this process and Weapon accuracy is also modeled, as is an abstraction of Rate Of Fire. Like any other Auto–resolve system for real time combat, it drifts into its own set of logic, behaviors and abstractions. Given this, it is more than possible for the outcome of a Auto–resolved battle to vary significantly from a manually controlled combat and also for a battle to not be completely resolved in one turn.

Auto–resolving a fight once does not mean you are stuck with that if there is still combat in that system the next turn. Combat is almost always a new, dynamic battle instead of a simple "continue".

The Auto–resolve system will NOT retreat, if you want that kind of finesse you are going to have to play it yourself. Auto–resolve is not meant to be the be all and end all of SotS combat, simply a fast approximation. Since retreat is a real, physical thing in SotS that takes into account fuel, range, distance from enemy and the like, Auto–resolve will not reduce it to a simple die roll.

Multiplayer Combat

More than two players at once can engage in a combat round. You can have everybody in on the same fight if it works out that way. In any order of allies and enemies as well.

Locating the Enemy

There is a sensor map view which shows what your scanners can pick up and there is the visual inspection of the battlefield itself by your ships. Visual range is about half sensor range, depending on racial sensor abilities and size of ship being detected.

Depending on your technology, targets can be selected from the sensor map if they are beyond visual range.

While sensor technology is adequate to reveal the presence of enemy forces within a system, with the advent of jamming and cloaking technologies it can still be very difficult to locate and destroy these vessels within the time frame of the combat round.

When you enter combat you are told the sensor information on whose ships are in system. So with normal sensors against a cloaked player you would know that player had come calling but your sensor window saying what ships and how many he had would be empty. While advanced sensors are the only way to "See" cloaked targets, you can still fire weapons at points in space you suspect. This is useful for using things like detonating torpedoes or other area effect weapons to "depth charge" an area hoping to get lucky.

Targeting the Enemy

In SotS, the 3–D world is everything. To target something, a ship AI takes its best guess at the vector of a target, swivels a turret to that position and fires. Then the "bullet" follows that path until it hits something. The game does NOT know at the moment the bullet is fired if it will hit anything. Bullet speed, turret tracking speed, target ship angle, target ship speed and the accuracy of your gunners all factors into whether you hit or not. A bullet just travels through space — it's not even an equation outside of the physics engine. If the aim is off a little you may still hit a bigger ship but chances are you'll miss a smaller ship or an incoming missile. On the other hand, with accurate weaponry, you can strip exposed turrets off of an enemy ship.

Lasers do not suffer from "travel to target" uncertainty, and have an accuracy advantage over mass drivers and energy cannons.

As targeting is poly accurate and gunners can aim for specific sections or even turrets, it is possible to disable or otherwise make a ship ineffective without destroying it.

Ships are capable of independently firing their weapons at any targets within range. As of 1.3.6 (BoB) you can also order ships to only fire at a designated target which will prevent them from firing on targets of opportunity.

You can assign weapons to one of three weapon groups. At the start of combat all weapons are by default assigned to weapon group 1, unless you placed them in different weapon groups in the design screen ( requires version 1.4.0 or greater ). To assign weapons to weapon groups, select the weapon group from the left of the ship commands segment of the Tactical Interface (1, 2 or 3). Then right click individual weapons to assign them to that group. To choose which weapon group to target with, select the appropriate number or the small button underneath meaning all. Weapons in the highlighted weapon group(s) will fire at the target selected, allowing you to choose which weapons fire on multiple targets as they bear.

Each of the weapon groups has a marker that allows you to choose a firing stance for that group from:

  • Fire at Will (SotS) — Green
  • Hold Fire (SotS) — Red
  • Fire only on designated group target (BoB) — Yellow

You can fire at any ships you can see within your weapons range. Sensors can be used to target beyond visual range once your technology has advanced sufficiently.

You can also fire at empty space and any battlefield terrain, like planets or asteroids.


Damage occurs at the moment of impact and is not calculated when the weapon is fired. This is because some weapons, like Energy Torpedoes, gain strength as they travel.

Each ship section has its own hit points. Sections receive hit point bonuses from the weapons they mount, with more advanced weapons often yield slightly tougher vessels.

Any ship section that has its hit points reduced to zero is destroyed.

Ships have different defense capabilities that can reduce damage.

Any Destroyer or Cruiser that loses two ship sections is destroyed. Dreadnoughts have sufficient redundancy and damage control that all three ship sections need to be reduced to zero hit points before it is destroyed. Ships exploding do area effect damage that will be greater the bigger the ship is.

Ship sections that blow apart may also cause impact damage as the debris hits nearby ships. One last effect noticeable in the trailers is that as each ship is destroyed, members of its crew are visibly ejected into space.

With the exception of the Liir, ship movement is inertial. As such, ships with destroyed engines will continue moving in the same direction, possibly into a planet or other terrain.

Critical Hits

There are no critical hits in Sword of the Stars. They were deemed to be frustratingly random for a computer game.


There are no boarding actions in the original Sword of the Stars. However, the Born of Blood expansion adds boarding actions against Cruisers and Dreadnoughts with the introduction of Boarding Pods.


Forum Links

Further discussion on Combat Tactics in this thread.

Examples of Gameplay in this thread.

Further discussion on Multiplayer Combat in this thread.

Also, see the Strategy And Tactics Forum Archive page.

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