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Formations, both defensive and offensive are the greatest strength and weakness of all fleets, they provide summation of weapon arcs and massive boasts of efficiency in kill times. But they also leave your ships wide open to a counter strike, introduce blind spots and in the worst case, can exacerbate the rate of friendly collisions[1]. Generally the shortcoming can be overcome by using the right formation at the right time, but which one is right is a very complex decision, and even the best commanders get it wrong every so often.

The most common formation for an aggressive fleet is the wall, closely followed by the layered wall formation. In this, as you can probably guess, ships are arranged in a rectangle shape with roughly equal spacing in-between them. It is useful as it allows almost all your ships to fire on a target in front of them at the same time with little or no risk of friendly fire, but it only works with ships of similar types as manoeuvrability and effective weapon range tend to be that of the slowest and shortest ranged ship. In addition flankers are deadly as the formation is about as quick on its feet as its namesake.

The layered wall is similar, but ships are grouped into slices based on capability, this reduces the amount of guns of target at any one time, but allows for a great deal more tactical flexibility. For example, an alpha strike of Frigates in one wall can cause pandemonium in the enemy lines, but the following wave of Destroyers does the real damage. Or, a full battery from a leading Cruiser will punch a hole in the enemy formation, and draw fire from the Corvettes behind it to give the Corvettes time to get into striking range.

Also popular is the ever present wedge, which, while possessing a lower ‘guns on target’ quota, is brilliant at breaking through the enemy lines. Just don’t put your command carrier at the point[2]. The inverse of this, known as the claw, is also useful when your enemy is gathered into a tight knot as it allows for rapid outflanking of the enemy. However, do not use these on an aggressive opponent as your kill zones at the edges of the formation become very diluted and flankers will be able to annihilate your outliers before you can respond.

On the defensive side spheres are very popular, especially when the attacker’s vector is unknown, as it allows at least some guns on every angle. Also, smart commanders will make their spheres collapsible, so that when the attacker plays his hand the opposite hemisphere will move to support the attacked front. Generally spheres will be used when protecting a fixed installation[3], or if the location of the enemy is unknown[4], in any other situation it will be best to be on the offensive as spheres have a lesser attacking power than most other formations.

Lastly, we also have the nebulous formation. While not a strict formation per say, and they can look like random arrangements to the untrained eye, one should not doubt their combat effectiveness. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules of nebulous formations; they are generally formed of a series of smaller wings, each with their own tactical role and arrangement, but beyond this it is very much down to the resources on hand at the time[5] and the commander’s battle plan.

Nebulous formations are however rare, as the only times when enough ships are in one place is when whole empires are warring.

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[1] Some will argue that lack of formation will produce more collisions, but disordered groups of ships tend to have a higher average distance between them so there is a lesser safety margin when the battle is joined.

[2] The tip of the wedge has often been nicknamed ‘the sharp point of hell’ by the crews stationed there.

[3] Technically this is space and so there are no fixed installations, but most commanders work on the principal that if it can’t pull a G then it’s fixed as far as a battle is concerned.

[4] Often overly cautious commanders will place their command vessel in the centre of a sphere to offer it maximum protection. This only works in theory however, as generally the centre ship is one of the first to go down due to it being flagged as a priority target by your very formation. A good commander will use this assumption to their advantage.

[5] Not to mention the resources the enemy has.


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