AI War:Taking High-Level Planets
How Do I Take A High-Level AI Planet?
Q: I have another problem I have had on occasion. I find this planet near my home system near the beginning of the game. It is a tier 3 or 4 planet and has something I want, like an advanced science facility. However I can not take it for a long time. Later on, I got a good number of tier 3 units and a fleet of like 2k+ units. Now this planet has like 4k+ units.
The only way I can deal with this is to get into a giant slug fest, and typically I can't keep up. I lose a lot of ships and by the time I rebuild them all (metal / crystal income is my bottle neck ) the planet regenerates most if not all its lost units back. So you have this big fat planet loads of MK IIIs and some IVs, how do you take it?
A: This is a tricky situation, and the solution really depends on the exact circumstances. There are a huge variety of strategies that can work, each with their own drawbacks and advantages, and figuring out the right ones to use in a given circumstance is part of the challenge. There is also considerably room for inventing your own various strategies in tight spots such as this, even almost a year after the game came out new strategies for this sort of thing are coming up pretty regularly. This is a fairly long list, but is nowhere near the complete list of strategies out there for this sort of situation.
Here are some of the key concepts:
Divide and conquer: If the planet is heavily reinforced and high-level, you don't stand a chance if you just try to smash through everything. Most likely you are in for multiple raids against this planet, so you're going to want to make sure that you accomplish something permanent during each of your raids, otherwise the AI is likely to just rebuild and negate whatever you did.
Kill guard posts: The number of ships that the AI gets at its planet is entirely based on how many guard posts it has there. So kill those guard posts to make a permanent effect! Once you have all the guard posts gone, that's when it is time to go after the command stations.
Don't give them the home-court advantage: Being attacked at your own planet has many advantages, both for the human and the AI players. For the AI, this can mean Ion cannons, various special ships that give all the rest of their ships bonuses, multiple starships, turrets galore, and on and on. When you are attacking the AI and failing, think about why, and then how to neutralize that. Turrets kicking your butt? Figure out a way not to go near them. Starships after you? Figure out a way to engage them on their own, and then kill them. Ion cannon gutting your ships early on in? Swarm that as your first priority, so that then the way is cleared for the rest of your lower-level ships. And so on.
Be prepared for the backwash: At some point, you are going to have to kill the command station. The ships around the wormholes and the command station at the very least will then go into "Free" behavior mode and come after you. They will probably engage you on the current planet first, but they might decide either retreat or ignore your forces and go for more valuable targets. And it's also 50% possible that any other remaining guard posts will release their guards, sending them after you. So make sure that you are prepared to deal with that with adequate turrets and defenses on your neighboring planets, or any other planets that the AI ships might go to via a circuitous route if they opt not to go straight for your nearest planet. Be aware of this effect, but don't be afraid of it -- some players even use strategies relying on this to give themselves a home court advantage by making the AI come to them to fight, for example.
Here are some of the favored strategies and partial-strategies:
Establish a foothold: If you can clear (and keep clear) the wormhole leading from your entry planet into the high-level planet, then that will make things so much easier. That way you aren't constantly being bombarded by by massed turrets and ships when you enter the planet, for instance. If you can build turrets of your own, that is ideal, but sometimes this particular key concept is impossible to execute based on the proximity and composition of other nearby guard posts. If you can take out those guard posts first, then that can help you not take a constant beating there.
Lightning Warheads: A couple of these, used carefully, can wipe out huge numbers of AI ships. This is particularly useful for breaking through the wormhole to an AI planet while insuring minimal losses of your own. Useful also for creating a beachhead on the planet (assuming you have supply to that planet).
Engage the AI away from its turrets: The turrets that the AI controls are an incredible force-multiplier for it, and this creates an even greater home-court advantage for it. If at all possible, make sure that you are fighting AI ships away from their turrets. Sometimes this means killing their guard post to set their ships free, then engaging their ships somewhere else when they inevitably come after you.
Bring cleanup drones: Cleanup drones are cheap, and should generally be part of any assault force. That way when you kill the various turrets at the planet, the cleanup drones can make sure that the AI doesn't just rebuild those turrets. This is particularly useful after you've destroyed a guard post in an inopportune location, since you can then kill and clean those turrets without risk of them coming back.
Engage the AI's starships and fortresses away from everything else: Starships and fortresses and similar can act as force multipliers, which is a big problem. But even those that are not tend to be more effective when grouped with many ships. One effective strategy, therefore, is to move your forces out into the middle of nowhere, away from all the AI ships (and preferably under counter-sniper turrets if you brought a mobile builder), and then let those large things come to you. Kill these sorts of planetary roamers while they are alone, and the guards won't come to help.
Kill special structures: If there are special structures there that you can kill, such as special forces guard posts or astro train stations, those are often a good idea. Having a great many astro trains coming into the system can make things a lot more difficult, especially if they are the dreaded speed booster or regenerator trains. Ion cannons are usually a prime first target on such high level planets, because they are so deadly to the lower-level ships that can serve as valuable damage-sponges and added firepower in your offensive fleets.
Use force-multipliers of your own: Munitions boosters, the fleet starships, leech starships -- really, starships in general -- shield boosters, force field bearers, decoy drone, and so on are all ships that you can use to multiply the effectiveness of your own ships. Not all starships include a munitions-boosting effect, but most of them have some sort of abilities that can either augment your forces or quickly take out key enemy force that would otherwise do a lot of damage to you. Think about how specific combinations of ships can lead to more effective battle forces -- often the most effective forces are more powerful than the sum of their parts.
Beachhead variant: Turret Chopping Block: Basically, when you create a beachhead in enemy territory, often the obvious benefits of that are to allow you to produce more ships more quickly, or to have a defensible, protected entry point into the AI planet. But, these can work in a more direct offensive manner, too: turrets tend to be more effective than their mobile counterparts, and with larger range, but the drawback is that they are immobile. Of course, when you are attacking the AI, often you are flying right into their turrets, which works to their advantage. Turning the tables can work absolute wonders: build 50-100 turrets of some sort, all under counter-sniper turrets, at your beachhead. Augment with some mobile ships to make sure and finish off those enemy ships that are strong against turrets. Then destroy an AI guard post with something long-range, even a sniper if you want (or a dreadnought will often do the trick -- and even a band of cruisers, in a real pinch). Then instead of staying around to fight the AIs by their now-dead guard post, where all of their turrets are, make sure they come over to your beachhead, where your turrets are. You'll be amazed at the difference in how it goes.
Turret Chopping Block variant: Dinging The Command Station: A variant on the variant above is, rather than destroying the command station or any specific guard post, just have one of your ships go shoot the command station and then turn away -- don't kill it. Then, for about thirty seconds after the last shot was fired on the command station, all of the forces on the plant will be after your forces, intent on protecting their command station. If you've set up a nice turret ball away from their turrets, you'll get a similar effect to the turret chopping block. And this can even be used to draw out ships from under force fields. This tactic tends to be used more sparingly, though, as it can be harder to pull off than others since 30 seconds is a pretty short window and getting close enough to ding the command station can be hard without the right units for that sort of thing (cloaked ships are often the best for this one).
Dealing with force fields: Force fields can be extremely tricky, so you may want to leave those until later in the planet attack cycle. Or, if they are covering a noncritical guard post, you may even want to leave them until after you destroy the command station, since that will draw their forces away in some cases.
Transports: Transports can be quite the force-multiplier, as well. Basically, you can use them to slingshot your ships safely through one danger zone and deposit them further away to actually fight (if the transport is destroyed, the ships inside are safely ejected in the latest versions of the game). This can be used quite effectively to send ships after distant key targets on the planet, such as ion cannons or specific guard posts, or whatever else. This is an underutilized tactic by many, but is supremely useful in a great variety of cases.
Mobile Repair Stations or Engineers: The simplest form of force multiplier is simply the ability to repair your ships on the fly. Mobile Repair Stations (MRSes) are typically much more effective than engineers in enemy territory compared to engineers thanks to their space tugs and how that can work when combined with a beachhead. Especially great for letting your starships do far raids and then reeling them back in to your protected are for repairs before they die.
Here are some of the ideas that are less centrally popular, but still quite effective at times:
Engine Damage: There are a few ways to run this strategy, but the basic idea is to paralyze the engines of all the mobile ships on the planet, and then blow up the command station to stop further reinforcements (and repairs from engineers, which will then retreat). This can work really well with things like Riot Starships (up close), or Spider Turrets if you build a bunch of those at your beachhead (but be ready for the AI to build a bunch of counter-sniper turrets, which may make the spiders short-lived -- but this can still be used to effect).
Nuke the planet: Simple as it sounds. As long as the planet is not Mark V, sometimes the only way to break a high-level planet that has been heavily reinforce is with a nuclear warhead. Make sure you read the link there for information about the various drawbacks you might face with this approach beyond just the AI Progress increase (starships surviving and coming after you, etc).
Intentional backwash: Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. If you're awesome at defense and think that you could take on the forces on an AI planet if they all became free, then just pop in with a suicide squad and kill their command station. Then deal with the Free ships that all come after you, on your own turf where you probably have great defenses lined up, and you're good to move on. Some players use this strategy to enormous effect, but just be aware that you typically need a really good bottleneck planet set up for this to work with high-level AI planets -- one planet through which all AI ships must come to get to the rest of your planets, in other words. And there is some substantial risk with this in the best of cases; but also substantial potential advantage, if done right.
Supply Denial: Did you know that the AI is also dependent on supply, same as you are? This doesn't come up all that often, because AI planets are usually adjacent to several other AI planets. But if you find one that is in a dead end, then kill its command station, then it will be out of supply: which means that all of its turrets, force fields, etc, on that planet will now be completely harmless and useless. Be ready for the backwash, as usual, but this can really serve to cut dead-end AI planets down to size very quickly.
EMP: EMPs are lesser used, but can be really effective paired with starships of your own, or a big mobile fleet waiting just on the other side. Having 30 seconds during which you can shoot at the enemy, but during which time they cannot shoot at you, is not to be understimated.