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This is probably more about Stellaris 2.0 than the current game, but I want to put it out there and get feedback.

What if Fleets were the basic unit of combat, and not just piles of ships?


What is a Fleet

A fleet is a structured collection of ships. Each ship in a fleet has location and a role, and the role determines the behavior of a ship within the fleet: a screener ship will try to remain between the flagship and the enemy, for example; while a flanker ship will attempt to encircle the enemy to fire from the side or back.

Fleets are your basic units of command. You don't send out a solo science vessel; you send out a science fleet commanded by a Science Cruiser with a number of escort Corvettes. This makes your "first contact" stance is meaningful again -- you have warships with your science vessel, so you can attack someone before they have time to research your comm frequency -- while retaining the idea that you need a science vessel to explore strange new systems.

The most basic fleet at game start is a Cruiser flagship with a number of Corvette escorts. As the game goes on, you'll get both bigger and smaller ship types, and you'll get access to more complex and larger fleet formations.

Carrier-based small ships -- Interceptors and Bombers -- will also have roles which determine their attack paths (or patrol paths). They'll have their own formations in service of their roles.


Doomstacks?

Fleets are intended to impose limitations against doomstacks. You can't pile more ships into a fleet than its organizational structure allows -- the fleet functions somewhat as "combat width", but without reserves always slotting in automatically, and with more tactical implications.

Also, having fleets as discrete units means the game can penalize you for using 2 fleets at once. Perhaps coordination problems mean one of your fleets is considered "primary", and all other fleets suffer -50% rate of fire. This still allows you to send a second fleet to lay down cover-fire to permit a losing fleet to escape, but hopefully not doomstack effectively.

Finally, each fleet would have a Flagship, and the loss of this ship would inflict a significant morale and coordination penalty on the fleet. (As modified by ethics and civics, of course: an Egalitarian + Citizen Service empire might suffer less coordination penalty, for example.)


Fleet Mechanics

Since the Flagship is intended to be a priority target, it must also be a target which can be defended by the rest of its fleet, but defenses should be imperfect to reward good tactical match-ups. Here are some ideas I have:
  • Directional Shields: escort ships have powerful shields in some arc, which means attacking an undefended flank deals more damage.
  • Ramming Prows: some escorts might have disproportionate forward armor, which means less damage from frontal attacks, and also the ability to ram any larger ship which attempts to move through the escort's position.
  • Blocking / Aggro: escorts must be able to defend the flagship. This might mean blocking (e.g. point defenses to shoot down missiles & bombers en route to the flagship), but it might also mean aggro management in terms of drawing fire from other ship weapons.
"Aggro" might be a bad term for this, but there should be a reason for ships to fire on escorts, and here's what I've got: ships that aren't forced to Evade get a bonus on attacks, and can attack the Flagship directly. This means each fleet might try to target every enemy escort as a means to protect its own flagship -- and that might be the most sensible default behavior -- but it leaves open the door to other fleet tactics.


Reserves, Rear-Guards, and Reinforcements

Since your fleets are designed and not just piles of ships, the game won't get confused about what the Reinforcement button means.

Fleets have a fixed size based on organizational capacity, but you should be able to over-build escort ships as reserves, which immediately replace losses after a battle.

It should be possible to combine partially-destroyed fleets in order to restore one fleet or the other. Remaining ships in excess of your fleet formation's requirements might serve as reserves.

If you are losing a battle, it might be possible to field your reserves as a rear-guard for your flagship to escape. Under a "No Retreat" policy, you might reinforce from reserves during a battle instead of gaining a rate-of-fire advantage -- this would be a notable exception to the fleet mechanics, which normally shouldn't allow mid-battle reinforcement.


Defense in Depth

There should be reasons to want your escorts close and reasons to want them distant. Here are a few ideas:

Close:
  • If long-range weapons are "bigger" (require more slots) then keeping the capital ships and escorts all at the same rage category means your enemies might need to use their big guns to engage escorts, which might be your strategy.
  • Screener escorts which want to intercept flankers have less distance to travel to accomplish the interception.

Distant:
  • If area-effect weapons can hit both your escort and your flagship, then the escorts are not blocking that damage.
  • You might want to equip your escorts with more medium-range weapons instead of a small number of long-range weapons. If your ships are fast enough at closing with the enemy's escorts, you may overwhelm them, leaving the enemy's flagship vulnerable.
Have I mentioned area-effect weapons? Yeah they should be a thing. Dense formations should be stronger against missiles & bombers, but weaker against area-effect weapons. Echo the old cavalry-or-artillery defensive trade-off.

In addition to distance, you want to pick the right quadrant for your defenders. If you expect flanking attacks, you want a wing of escorts on each side of your flagship / carrier / capital ship group. If you expect charge attacks, you want denser escorts in front.


Fleet Formations

You start out with a very small number of formations, and they're composed of Cruisers and Corvettes.

Discovering new ship types (Destroyers, Battleships, Carriers, Titans, etc.) might be orthogonal to discovering new fleet formations & doctrines, but some types (e.g. Carriers) will need their own formations.

The fact that you have Cruisers available immediately means Corvettes might not need access to missiles & torpedoes -- those can be moved to the domain of Destroyers, which might even define them as a class (instead of cheap & early L weapon slot, they might have a loadout with G slots and better PD).

Fleet formations should allow you to go heavier on capital ships or escorts, to focus on one engagement range (making the others less optimal for you), and to optimize for either speed or durability, both in ship types and in reserve depth. (More reserves = slower fleet; faster fleet = better chance to retreat.)


Engineering Capacity?

Maintaining a different set of ship designs for each formation type might be optimal, but it would demand a lot more micro. Micro sucks. Therefore, there should be a mechanic which rewards having fewer concurrent ship designs, and then making the best fleets from that limited set of designs.

I'm calling that mechanic Engineering Capacity -- dunno how it'll work yet, but the point is that something should (a) justify AIs going all-in on a role-play decision to make one design for each kind of their ships, because figuring that out should be fun for the player rather than frustrating, and (b) reward the player for role-playing into a set of design choices as well.

If NOT indulging in micro-hell has a mechanical benefit, that's great for the player and thus great for the game.

Again, not sure how this'll work, just sure what it needs to mean.


Alright Already, Show Me The Damn Fleet Formations!

I don't have pictures yet, I'm just drunk-posting.

If there's any positive interest, I'll try to work something up this week.

If anyone else wants to post picture ideas for fleet layouts, please go ahead!
 
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I love this idea - I like the idea of meta units, like Ashes of the Singularity's initial concept.
 
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With this idea, I'd like to bring up fleet doctrines, where you can set your entire fleet based on different roles. There have been suggestions about this on other threads, but basically, you can set your fleet to overwhelm a starbase in one moment (maybe with a cooldown, like increased firerate, but decreased evasion), and set it to chase after other fleets the next (again, maybe higher sublight speed/decreased jump charge, but lower weapons damage - in both types, you're drawing excess power to certain areas) without having to go back to an owned starport to change computers. So if you have like 3 fleets, you could have something like 9 different roles for them to take in total that help in specific circumstances.
 
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this does sound awesome but entirely outside the scope of current stellaris, and while i do like the idea I don't think this is possible without major reworks and the inevitable dumpsterfire that follows any major rework.
i'd love to see stellaris combat expanded but not at the cost of whatever gets broken along the way(ai almost certainly, crisis definitely, balance issues (probably))
 
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I really, REALLY like this idea. I also agree that it's not going to make it in to Stellaris 1. But for stellaris 2, it would be perfect.

In my xenophobe games, I sometimes assign my starting corvettes to my science vessels as an escort, to protect them against the unknowable horrors of space. Currently that just gets them killed, but with a fleet system maybe you'd need a few escort ships so your science ships had a good chance to escape.

For inspiration, I think the naval system for HOI4 is a great place to start. While I don't play myself, I've heard others say that the current system is quite good.

Some quick brainstorming:

I think starting with corvettes AND cruisers would be interesting and good. Having both large and small ships would allow for interesting starting fleets, and mean that mechanics which punish mono-fleets wouldn't crippling to an empire which hasn't researched another hull size.

Fleets as the basic unit makes a ton of sense. Rather than a penalty on extra fleets, I'd make it a penalty to multiple fleets operating in the same system. It should a significant enough penalty to have real teeth, but low enough that two fleets in the same system is more powerful than one. There can also be a global fleet capacity, although I'm not sure if this is necessary with a naval cap and it might be overly punishing to the use of small fleets needed for science or construction ships.

Fleet configuration would the main aspect of a fleet, and would have different sections that would be filled with ships. You might have a "Standard" formation with a front screen, flanking vessels, core, and reserve; a "staggered wave" formation where multiple waves of ships will attack against the enemy before breaking off and allowing the next to engage; "overwhelming force" where a vanguard of heavy vessels punch through and let smaller ships clean up the survivors; an "artillery" formation where sacrificial vessels are sent far in front to allow a backline of long range vessels to attack unhindered. These configurations could be unlocked or buffed by various techs or traditions, and different configurations could even apply direct bonuses to the ships or a multiplier to the number of ships that can fit in the fleet. Depending on the configuration different stratagems (similar to existing fleet stance) would be available to be selected, and change how that fleet will approach a fight. A science fleet you probably want to try and disengage and run to protect the scientist, while a raiding fleet you might want to just dive on a station regardless of the defending fleet.

Fleets could also gain experience and traits themselves, a fleet which wins a desperate stand over your homeworld should get some recognition for the feat, and raids operating behind enemy lines for an extended period might pick up some tricks.
 
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I like the basic concept.... but at the risk of oversimplifying.... you are describing HOI4 in space. (Which I like). So expect some opposition.

in essence, your idea has each fleet is a division, consisting of multiple regiments, support units, etc. This is backed up by a logistics system where losses are replaced from reserves. Limiting multiple fleets in a star system = combat width, Etc. So while you haven't specifically compared it to HOI4 unless I missed it in my skimming, its pretty much how I interpreted what you said.

There are definite benefits to this kind of approach, over the current game, especially given the current game can't decide whether space battles are spreadsheets or RTS. It's something you have to be careful of as well. To what extent are battles autoresolved, and will players start demanding tactical control of individual ships?

I do much prefer playing strategy games than RTS, so I would prefer a system like this where fleets are reduced to a unit that has a designed composition (formation, behaviour, etc).
 
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Not to double post ... following a different reain of thought.

One of the areas that is missing for me in current stellaris which I would like to see in a stellaris II and that could theoretically be tied to your idea, is to build in the concept of theaters and areas of operation into the sector and quadrant mechanics of the game.

Thus an admiral would not be assigned to a fleet, but to a quadrant, where he would provide bonuses to all fleets operating in that quadrant. Individual sectors in a quadrant may have rear admirals assigned, to give more specific bonuses.

In this way, you would build up a command structure where you might have a supreme admiral for your empire, with a handful of grand admirals each responsible for a quadrant, and rear admirals each responsible for a sector but reporting to the grand admiral. Individual fleets might be commanded by a commodore.

You could then set orders at different levels of command for things like suppress dissent, anti piracy, scouting operations, defending infrastructure, raiding or invading enemy systems.

I also liked the mission system of SOTS2, or call it the battlefield commands of HOI4, where you can create a line of defense or axis if attack, then assign fleets or officers to execute it.
 
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Also, this may bring more challenges to fighting advanced enemies in the late game, if there's a limit to fleets in a single system before you get diminishing returns/maluses. It could be increased by tech/admiral level, but the crisis/FE could automatically maintain a larger amount of fleets in a system. Then it could be harder to fight back even a normal crisis or FE, where players will have to be smarter about how to engage them rather than stacking all fleets, while bringing even more importance to countering, and gathering allies (who may increase global diminishing returns/maluses in a system, and increase your width).
 
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With this idea, I'd like to bring up fleet doctrines, where you can set your entire fleet based on different roles. There have been suggestions about this on other threads, but basically, you can set your fleet to overwhelm a starbase in one moment (maybe with a cooldown, like increased firerate, but decreased evasion), and set it to chase after other fleets the next (again, maybe higher sublight speed/decreased jump charge, but lower weapons damage - in both types, you're drawing excess power to certain areas) without having to go back to an owned starport to change computers. So if you have like 3 fleets, you could have something like 9 different roles for them to take in total that help in specific circumstances.
These could be Fleet Stances which are only available to some fleet structures.

For example, a Swift Skirmish Formation (flagship is Destroyer, main guns are Destroyers, screen and wings are Corvettes) might be able to research stances like:
  • Hit and Run: Fleet focuses fire on nearest enemy ships (usually escorts); fleet retreats when shields are depleted. The goal is escort attrition to make the enemy fleet more vulnerable to a follow-up attack by a heavier fleet.
  • Void Cavalry: attack the side or back of an enemy's formation; the penalty for attacking an engaged enemy is reduced as a special exception.
  • Patrol: a spread-out formation which grants a bonus against piracy, but makes your fleet more vulnerable to attacks by enemy Swift Skirmish fleets.
The Patrol stance might come along with some other anti-piracy tech, since it's not worth much on its own, but the other two seem pretty good as techs.

this does sound awesome but entirely outside the scope of current stellaris
I really, REALLY like this idea. I also agree that it's not going to make it in to Stellaris 1. But for stellaris 2, it would be perfect.
I'm down for Stellaris 2, hopefully by Wiz.

Most of the stuff I'm thinking about COULD be done in Stellaris today -- like the ship behaviors, right now you can get quite a lot of relevant behaviors from the NSC2 mod today, including flanking and hit-and-run tactics -- but today you would need to put those behaviors on each ship individually, and the ships would just clump up in a pile (sorted by size) rather than flying in a formation.

But yeah, even though this stuff might be possible, I don't expect to see anything like this until Stellaris 2.

I like the basic concept.... but at the risk of oversimplifying.... you are describing HOI4 in space. (Which I like).
Interesting, I don't know HoI4. Is it awesome? Are there any pitfalls which Stellaris 2 should avoid?

Also, this may bring more challenges to fighting advanced enemies in the late game, if there's a limit to fleets in a single system before you get diminishing returns/maluses. It could be increased by tech/admiral level, but the crisis/FE could automatically maintain a larger amount of fleets in a system. Then it could be harder to fight back even a normal crisis or FE, where players will have to be smarter about how to engage them rather than stacking all fleets, while bringing even more importance to countering, and gathering allies (who may increase global diminishing returns/maluses in a system, and increase your width).
Yeah, it might be that you want to cycle small skirmish Hit-and-Run fleets against a FE fleet to keep it busy while your main fleet attacks its supply lines.

Or something.

And there is no reason ethics and government can't come into it. Militarist empires could have a bonus to supply limits or combat width (conscription, forced service, whatever).
Maybe Militarists just plain get bigger fleets, and Pacifists get smaller fleets.

The initial Fanatic Militarist Science Fleet might have 1 Science Cruiser and 8 Escort Corvettes; standard might be 1 and 4; Pacifist might be 1 and 2.



--- More Thoughts ---

Supply, Theater, and the Juggernaut

Supply lines might work like trade routes -- you get piracy (and partisan / rebel fleets) if you don't patrol them. The supply route stretches from your fleet to the nearest station, or to the fleet's home station (if any), your choice to toggle on the fleet. You have automatic 100% partisan suppression within your borders and your Federation's borders, non-trivial piracy & partisan attacks within the borders of neutral nations with the specific value depending on your relations vs. the neutral empire's relations towards your enemy (and the neutral nation gets events to raid / interdict / tariff your supply line, and of course you get the same events when some other empire is being supplied through your borders) -- and partisan and piracy are both high in enemy territory. Not a problem if you're just skirmishing on or near your borders, of course.

This would become increasingly annoying around the mid-game, so instead of supply lines leading back to a starbase, you can build a Supply Fleet which acts as a starbase for supply. It would be a prime target for enemy attacks, of course. The supply fleet would probably be slow and bad at retreating; defeating one should impose hefty penalties on the fleets it supported, and grant the attacker some decent pillage in terms of energy / alloys / etc.

If your Supply Fleet is one system away from your attack fleet, there's no danger of piracy or partisan attacks.

The active range for a supply fleet might be a reasonable definition for a Theater of Operations. Put an Admiral on the Supply Fleet and get some kind of theater-wide bonus. Perhaps the range limit for a supply fleet should be 4 jumps, just like a sector? This can be tweaked.

Late-game your Juggernaut is your best Supply Fleet.


Defense Fleets

Upgraded starbases will spawn Defense Fleets, like how planet jobs spawn Defense Armies. These defense fleets can be designed (somewhat), but other than architecture and doctrine there's no micro -- their upgrades are applied automatically over time.

Defense Fleets will lack FTL but will otherwise be able to traverse the system they protect.

If there's computational capacity, they might even have explicit patrol patterns.


Flower Wars

With discrete fleets, it's easier to do diplomacy contests where you engage in one-on-one fleet combat in a particular system.

If Militarists get bigger fleets, their preference for this form of diplomacy seems pretty natural -- though anyone with a tech advantage might enjoy success here.
 
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As an abstract idea it should work out but I'm not sure people want to see their fleet marker moving into combat... The space porn element needs to be included
 
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Upgraded starbases will spawn Defense Fleets, like how planet jobs spawn Defense Armies. These defense fleets can be designed (somewhat), but other than architecture and doctrine there's no micro -- their upgrades are applied automatically over time.

Defense Fleets will lack FTL but will otherwise be able to traverse the system they protect.

If there's computational capacity, they might even have explicit patrol patterns.
Honestly, I'd like defense fleets like this to replace static platforms entirely. If that's what you're going with here, great! But one complaint I've seen about Starbase as defense, is that it's not very good against fleets later on in the game. So if you could instead have a system 'fleet' able to evade enemy fire, it would make Starbase defense much more worth it. You could have something like 2 classes of "ships" you can build, which have certain weapon sizes each. If they're within the Starbase defense cap, they won't count for your regular naval cap. But if you exceed it, it will. The Eternal vigilance perk could become a much better choice later if you find yourself needing home defense, or playing Pacifist. And it could introduce a few engineering techs that increase your Starbase ship cap as well.

As an abstract idea it should work out but I'm not sure people want to see their fleet marker moving into combat... The space porn element needs to be included
Bit late, but I agree. I would think you could view battles like you do today though.
 
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Interesting, I don't know HoI4. Is it awesome? Are there any pitfalls which Stellaris 2 should avoid?
Blasphemous Infidel!!!

Hearts of Iron is one of PDS flagship games. Lots of lets plays and Youtubes you could reference to figure out what its about.

In essence, its a WW2 simulator, where ground combat is managed at the DIVISION level, and naval combat at the FLEET level (you might have seen people reference the Man The Guns expansion - MtG - in some discussions).

Amongst the criticisms of HoI4 by the blasphemous infidels is that it plays like a spreadsheet, and that people have developed "metas" for best division composition, and so on. Also, to a certain extent, the division design and supply system can be gamed if you know how they work, so just like Stellaris, there are "rules" that are recommended for multiplayer.
 
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HFY

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As an abstract idea it should work out but I'm not sure people want to see their fleet marker moving into combat... The space porn element needs to be included
Fleet icons would be for the galactic map only. If you click on a system, you'll see each fleet made up of ships. The difference is that the ships will be in places determined by the fleet's formation -- not just a blob with the smaller ones in front.

Honestly, I'd like defense fleets like this to replace static platforms entirely. If that's what you're going here, great! But one complaint I've seen about Starbase as defense, is that it's not very good against fleets later on in the game. So if you could instead have a system 'fleet' able to evade enemy fire, it would make Starbase defense much more worth it.
Yeah that's basically what I'm proposing.

Just like planetary armies auto-spawn (instead of being built manually as we used to do), defense fleets would spawn and upgrade automatically. They'd be legit fleets of regular ships, not special no-evasion platforms, and they'd be just like your other ship designs except for the lack of FTL drives.

Blasphemous Infidel!!!
I'm no blasphemous infidel!

I'm just an innocently ignorant heathen.


Anyway, HoI4 sounds neat, except that as the incarnation of HFY it's difficult for me to enjoy human-on-human violence.
 
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