VGA Planets Super Site

Using the right weapons
by Donovan

Using the right or wrong weapons has a huge impact on your success in playing this game. Using the wrong weapons will leave your ships without a chance in battle and your empire ready for the takeover. If not that, it could very well just cost you too much money and minerals because you did not pick the most economic weapons. Ofcourse weapons of a higher techlevel are better than the cheaper ones, but you will find that if you aim for top quality from turn one, you won't get much done.

This article is inspired by, and in a way based on, Jan "Sirius" Klingele's excellent "Master at Arms" article. It is, however, much shorter and does not dive into the matter of combat mechanics and the effect of weapons in VGA Planets as deep as the Master at Arms article does. Although I recommend Master at Arms to everyone, it might be a bit tough to digest if you're not all too familiar with VGA Planets. Think of this article as an easily digestible summary or introduction, and Master at arms as the full scientific paper.

Having said that, here' the quick rundown of the various weapons in VGA Planets, their goals and the best choices among them.

1.    Torpedoes
For most races in the Echo Cluster, torpedoes are the main weapons to reign destruction on their enemies. The races with large carriers (Cyborg, Evil Empire, Robots, Rebels and Lost Colonies) will find that fighters are a much more effective way of dealing with their enemy, especially in the case of the latter three races who can build fighters for no money. But even these races need their torpedoes, even if only to lay minefields.

The primary use of torpedoes is to kill enemy ships, but laying minefields is a good second. Especially against cloaking ships laying mines is a must, but minefields can also be a very strong weapon against smaller but nasty ships. The Patriot for example is quite hard to kill, especially with the engine shield bonus enabled, but will blow up from just one minehit. Medium and heavy ships are also easier to kill when already damaged by a minehit.

1.1    Killing ships
How well torpedoes kill enemy ships depends mainly on their explosive power. Generally speaking, the higher the techlevel the higher the explosive power. Eden Tan's Infolist gives a complete overview of both the costs in money and minerals for torpedoes, as well as the kill- and explode-ratios for every type of torpedo.

Torptype Tech Explo-ratio Cost (MCs) Cost per explo
Mark 1 1 5 1 0.20
Proton 2 8 2 0.25
Mark 2 3 10 5 0.50
Gamma 3 2 10 5.00
Mark 3 4 15 12 0.80
Mark 4 5 30 13 0.43
Mark 5 6 35 31 0.89
Mark 6 7 40 35 0.88
Mark 7 8 48 36 0.75
Mark 8 10 55 54 0.98

There are a couple of observations to be made about the list of torpedoes. As the techlevel of the torpedo increases, so does it's explosiveness ratio. The one exception is the Gamma bomb, which is designed to capture ships intact rather than blow them up. It has a relatively high kill-ratio (left out of this table to avoid confusion) with a low explosiveness ratio.

Looking at the 'cost per explosiveness ratio', we see that the higher the explosiveness of a torpedo, the higher it's cost. The increase in costs is clearly higher than the increase in explosiveness, because in general the cost per explosiveness point goes up. Looking purely at the costs, the Mark 1 torpedo is the most efficient torpedo. The Mark 4 torpedo and he Mark 7 are also remarkable, as they seem to be more cost-effective than the others.

To cut a long story short and without diving in to the depths of how many torps it would take to kill a medium or heavy ship, it is pretty obvious from the above table that the torpedoes of techlevels 1 through 4 (up to the Mark 3 torpedo) aren't worth the trouble. The Mark 4 does much better already: 30 explosiveness points per hit, and at a relatively low cost. As many race-guides will tell you, in early stages of the game and/or when strapped for cash, this is the efficient and cheap torpedo to go with. It is especially useful in early stages of the game, when money to further upgrade techlevels isn't widely available and most ships in the cluster are still pretty light.

By just having a quick look further down the list of relative costs, we see a significant drop in cost per explosiveness point for the Mark 7 torpedo when compared to the Mark 6 or even the Mark 8. We'll have to make a mental note about this one. When comparing the torpedoes ranging from the Mark 4 to the Mark 7, it's pretty clear to argue why the Mark 5 and Mark 6 torpedo are a waste of investment. The Mark 5 is only 17% more damaging than the Mark 4, but over twice it's cost (not to mention a techlevel higher). A relative cost of 0.43 per explosiveness point vs 0.89 per point is a pretty convincing argument against the Mark 5. The Mark 6 is as cost-effective as the Mark 5, but more powerful. Compared to the Mark 4 it is still very expensive per explosiveness point, but exactly one third more dangerous - still much more expensive, but the utter fact that you will need less hits to kill an enemy ship and thus have a greater chance of blowing him up before being blown up is -in theory- a good argument for the Mark 6.

But let's not jump to conclusions and start mass-producing Mark 6 torpedoes just yet. One step further we have the Mark 7 torpedo. A nice 20% more explosive than the Mark 6, for a negligable increase in price. Here we have the high-end equivalent of the Mark 4: much more deadly than the cheaper torpedoes, but still at a reasonable price. As enemy ships become heavier and need more explosiveness delivered to them, the Mark 4 won't cut it anymore and the Mark 7 is perfect to take it's place.

Does that mean the all-topping Mark 8 is just an expensive toy that should never be bought? No, not exactly. No matter what rules of efficiency say, it is still the most dangerous torpedo that can be launched from a starship and needless to say, when two equal ships fight the one with the most dangerous torpedo will often win. Especially in later stages of the game (say: after the shiplimit has been reached), when money is abundant and power is more important than efficiency, the Mark 8 comes in to play. If you can afford it earlier you should have a long hard look at your empire, and ask yourself if you can afford it because you are so lucky to have that much money (or simply not enough minerals to spend the money on) or if it's just because you're failing to put your money to it's best use, by building more starbases and ships.

In summary, the most efficient and important torpedo types are the Mark 4, Mark 7 and Mark 8. The Mark 4 is particularly useful in early stages of the game. You can usually afford them from day one, meaning you can immedialy build some ships with nasty weapons to go and harass your neighbours. A bit later on, when you'll find your Mark 4 ships get blown to bits where-ever you send them, upgrading to Mark 7 is the way to go. Although not as deadly as the top level torpedo (Mark 8), it is far more efficient. Apart from the cost per explosiveness point, the fact that upgrading to the Mark 8 will not only mean more bucks per explosiveness point but also means spending 1,700 MCs on techlevels makes the Mark 7 a very wise and efficient choice. Once money becomes less of an issue and the really big ships are ruling the battlefields, upgrade to Mark 8 torpedoes or you'll find yourself outgunned prettymuch everywhere you go.

1.2    Laying minefields
Minefields are created by converting your torpedoes into deepspace-mines. The amount of mines per torpedo is based on the position of the torpedo, not the techlevel (the Mark 4 Photon for example is techlevel 5, but position 6). Exactly how efficiently

Torpedoes are split into mines following the formula Mines = number of torps * (torp position)^2. One Mark 4 Photon torpedo will give you 1 * 6^2 = 36 mines. In Eden's Infolist you'll find the following complete listing of the costs in both MCs and minerals per mine:

Costs in MCs and minerals per 100 mines layed
Torpedo Type MCs / 100 mines Minerals / 100 mines

(of each mineral)

Mark 1 Photon 100.00 100.00
Proton Torpedo 50.00 25.00
Mark 2 Photon 55.56 11.11
Gamma Bomb 62.50 6.25
Mark 3 Photon 48.00 4.00
Mark 4 Photon 36.11 2.78
Mark 5 Photon 63.27 2.04
Mark 6 Photon 54.69 1.56
Mark 7 Photon 44.44 1.23
Mark 8 Photon 54.00 1.00

From this table we can conclude the following:

  • The Mark 4 Photon gives the best value moneywise: 36.11 MCs per 100 mines. Using this torpedo mines cost a total of 8.34 minerals per 100 mines.
  • The Mark 8 Photon is the best buy mineralwise: 3.00 minerals per 100 mines (1 torpedo gives you 100 mines). These 100 mines would cost you 54 MCs though.
  • Using the Mark 7 Photon 100 mines cost 3.69 minerals and 44.44 MCs.

When using the mineral conversion rate by which Merlins make minerals out of supplies and consider each supply-unit can be sold for 1 MC, the Mk7 is overall the most economical to use. The 0.69 minerals they cost more than the Mark 8 equal 2.07 supplies/MCs, far less than the 9.56 MCs the Mk8 costs more.
The 8.33 MCs the Mark 4 is cheaper equal 8.33 / 3 = 2.78 minerals, while the Mark 7 uses 4.65 less minerals per 100 mines.

1.3 Conclusion: the Mark 7 Photon torpedo
So taking into account both killing ships and laying mines the best overall torpedo is the Mark 7 Photon. Sometimes, especially in games with the engine shield bonus enabled, you will need the power of the Mark 8 howver. Also, in later stages of the game, you'll often find you have an abundance of money but a shortage of minerals. Combined with the need for more firepower, the Mark 8 torpedo is your perfect choice at that time. It makes mines that are expensive in money and cheap in minerals.

Timo Kreike has written a very interesting article detailing how you can make hightech torpedoes for less resources by laying mines from lowtech mines and scooping them up with a ship with a hightech torpedotube. The Mark 7 however can not be made cheaper by scooping up lower tech-mines. You can use this trick to cut back the costs of Mark 8 torpedoes very nicely however.

2. Beams

Beams have three uses: they're needed to sweep enemy minefields, they're used against enemy ships and they shoot down fighters from enemy carriers.

2.1 Sweeping mines
Given how effective a weapon a minefield can be, you can ofcourse expect your enemies -Especially the robots and the Crystals- to lay minefields too. You can try flying through them and hope not to hit too many mines, but you'll lose a lot of ships that way. You're either going to have to lay counter-minefields or you have to sweep those mines. Laying counter-minefields will often cost considerably (mines destroy eachother), while using beams to sweep mines is often much cheaper (although a good old large minefield usually takes care of enemy mines much faster).

To sweep mines the captains on your ships fire their beams at random, blowing up the mines. Minesweeping happens according to the following formula: Mines swept = number of beams * (beamposition)^2 * minesweeprate. The minesweeprate is host-configurable, and is 4 by default. Six Heavy Phasers for example would sweep 6*10^2 * 4 = 2400 mines, or 600*3=1800 webmines. We'll have to keep this in mind when choosing which beams to use.

In the beginning of the game you're not that likely to face serious minefields yet, since most opponents will be concentrating on expansion and simply don't have the resources available to lay any serious minefields. At this stage you can probably get away with putting X-rays on your ships. Be aware of surprise minefields in your shipping lanes layed by cloaked ships though, be prepared to outfit some ships with better beams to speed to the rescue.

Once you're facing serious minefields or Crystal webmines it's better to start equipping your ships with more resonable beams, and outfit some ships to be quality minesweepers. If you have them in your shiplist, use ships with at least six beams. The larger ships with eight to ten beams are ofcourse even better, but together with the higher costs for hightech beams they could be out of your reach for a while. When forced to chose between more beams or higher tech beams, go for higher tech (actually, type) beams. As can be seen in the formula, the beamtype-number is squared so it weighs much heavier in the minesweeping formula.

Apart from the cost of increasing the techlevels, these are some of the costs:

  • Disruptors cost 13 MCs
    Heavy Blasters (tech 6, pos. 7) 31 MCs
    Phasers (tech 7/position 8) 35 MCs
    Heavy Disruptors (tech 8/position 9) 36 MCs
    Heavy Phasers (tech 10) cost 54 MCs a piece

While Heavy Disruptors will sweep 9^2*4=324 mines (and kill crews very well), one techlevel lower the Phasers sweep 8^2*4=256 mines for roughly the same price. One techlevel higher Heavy Phasers will sweep 10^2*4=400 mines. From the Heavy Disruptor this is an increase of 23% in sweeping-power at an increase in price of 50%, not even taking techlevel-increase (1700 MCs). This is one example where 'go for the higher tech' doesn't always hold true. The 1700 MCs needed on techlevels alone will buy you a lot of extra Heavy Disruptors, while upgrading all the way to heavy phasers might just be too much of a burden on your economy. A ship with six Heavy Disruptors will sweep 6*9^2*4=1944 mines per turn, clearing a path of 44 lightyears. Six Heavy Phasers will sweep 2400 mines per turn, equaling 49 lightyears. Not much of an improvement for the extra costs.

2.2 Capturing ships
There will be times when your beams are used to fight enemy ships. This is very rare, however, since your torpedoes should take care of the killing. You should never rely on your beams to destroy an enemy ship. Beams vs. ships have only one use, and that is to capture the ship. So what you're looking for are beams with a high kill-ratio rather than a high explosive ratio.
There are three beamtypes especially suited for capturing ships:

  • X-ray laser. Techlevel 1, with a kill-ratio of 15. X-rays cost 2 MCs and one KT of tritanium.
  • Disruptor. Techlevel 5, kill-ratio of 30. Costs 13 MCs, 12 duranium and one KT of tritanium and molybdenum.
  • Heavy disruptor. Techlevel 8, kill-ratio of 50. 36 MCs, 17 duranium, 1 tritanium and 37 molybdenum.

Purely economical: the X-rays are the best buy, both in minerals and in MCs. The difference between them and Disruptors is that disruptors are twice as powerful, but 15 times as expensive in MCs, 3.5 times as expensive in minerals (4 total vs. 14). Heavy disruptors are 3.33 times as effective, but 18 times as expensive in MCs and cost about 14 times as much minerals.
Also keep in mind capturing ships will only occur when you're out of torpedoes or have disabled your torpedoes. When you ran out of torpedoes against a serious battleship you won't capture it because it either destroys you or has a very large crew. When you've disabled your torpedoes (NTP friendly code) you know you're facing a freighter, and X-rays will do in those cases. Again, this is something to keep in mind when choosing your beams.

2.3 Shooting down fighters
When facing a carrier your beams shoot down enemy fighters while your ship fires torpedoes at the enemy ship. Despite any rumours you might have heard beamtype does not influence anything here. Each beamtype has the same recharge-ratio, and beams never miss. Thus tech 1 Lasers are just as effective as tech 10 Heavy Phasers here. For this purpose it doesn't matter which beams you use.

2.4 Conlusion: which beams?
From the above we can conclude we don't want to be spending too much on our beams, since torpedoes are our main weapon and the techlevel doesn't effect the amount of fighters our beams shoot down. Beams should be able to capture enemy ships if the occasion is there, for which tech 1 X-rays will do. But they should also be reasonable minesweepers.

Overall the best beams to put on your ships are Disruptors. They are great for capturing ships, though maybe not as economical for it as X-rays. They're tech 5 but position 6, so one beam can sweep 144 mines per turn. A Diplomacy with six Disruptors can sweep 864 mines, equaling roughly 30 lightyears (square root of the number of mines) of minefields. Not all that impressive maybe once you're stuck inside a huge minefield, but it'll do. Heavy Disruptors are even better crewkillers and minesweepers, but the money you'd spend on them is better spent on building more and better ships. You also have to take into account your beams might get blown up with the ship without even having fired once.

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