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Note: The opinions and observations herein are strictly my own.
Sometimes they'll be right, sometimes not. Please let me know if the latter is true.

Dec. 6, 1999       

Secondary Systems     (Updated Dec. 12, 1999)
     You have engines to make you move, weapons to hurt the other guy, and shields to protect you, but there is much more in your ship than these items. Some of these secondary systems can either win a battle decisively, or pick away at an enemy in order to make victory more attainable. The biggest secondary systems are tractors and transporters, but other miscellaneous things like sensors and probes can increase your awareness on the battlefield, and help extend your life.

     On TV, transporters are just a quick way to get from one place to another. In Starfleet Command, these seemingly harmless devices are used for sometimes devastating effects. Here is a list of ways they can be used:

Hit & Run/Capture missions
     These involve transporting marines to a target ship in an attempt to disable or seize control of that ship. Pretty straightforward if you've been playing the game for more than 3 days. You shouldn't really try either of these if your ship has any less than 3 transporters, though you can sometimes get away with using 2 transporters. The reason for this is simple. Transporting a boarding party involves lowering a shield. This opens you up for damage. The damage you take from getting hit on a downed shield is likely to be more than the damage your marines cause to his ship. Also, since enemy ships have marines as well, it's a numbers game. If you beam one guy into a ship that has 20 marines, your poor redshirt is going to bite it. If you send groups of 3 or more, they have a much better chance of doing some damage before they die.

     Before engaging in any boarding maneuver, it's always helpful to soften up the opposing ship. After you penetrate his shields and start doing internal damage, his marines will often die off, probably hit by shrapnel from your hits on his hull. The less marines he has onboard, the more effect your boarding parties will have, because there's less resistance. If your intent is to capture (in single player only), you may want to set your weapons to disable him. This will still kill marines and soften up his defenses, but won't destroy the ship outright.

     One last note on captures. Orion ships tend to self-destruct to avoid capture. You still get credit for capturing, but you also may be penalized for losing a ship. Not sure about this one. In any event, if you insist on capturing the ship, you may want to get out of range just in case it explodes. if it doesn't explode, that ship will be able to help you in battle, albeit barely (since you've probably already knocked out most of its good weapons anyway).

Transporter Larceny
     You can also use transporters to... uh... relieve your target of his spare parts. Just click on the Transporter panel to see if he has any spare parts aboard. Knock down a shield, click on the icon in the "beam in" window of the Transporter panel, and marvel at the luxurious supplies now in your cargo bay. This is good for two reasons. You can repair more, and he can repair less. Also! Did you know that Large Asteroids have spare parts on them? Whenever you're on an asteroid survey mission which requires you to scan Large Asteroids, you can beam in one unit of spare parts per asteroid. Just orbit the rock, and while you're scanning it, beam off some free parts. I'm assuming that ships have a maximum capacity, but these extra parts do show up on your spacedock manifest (the maximum button will be blanked out to signify you're carrying more than you can buy). I'm not sure how many extra parts (past your purchasable maximum) you can beam on.

The Zen of T-Bombing
     Transporters and mines go together like peas and carrots. You know all of the particulars, of course, so here are a few nifty t-bomb tactics to try out:

1. If you've damaged a target's rear shield and he's immobilized, drop a t-bomb right on top of him. That way, no matter which way he goes, it will impact on his aft shield (or hull). Even if he moves slow enough to avoid detection by the mine, he'll still be moving slowly enough for you to swoop in and nail him on his tender backside.

2. T-bombs can be used as a long-range point-defense against missiles. Just beam it out there and let them suck it up. But you knew that already.

3. T-bombs (or regular mines) can be used to "flashcube" cloaked vessels. If you want to tractor a cloaked ship, or beam a boarding party aboard, just set it up beforehand (charge your tractor or assign your Hit & Run teams), get into range, and beam a t-bomb as far ahead of him as possible. This helps prevent you from taking damage on your downed shield before it raises itself (though sometimes its unavoidable). When the mine detonates, your tractor will engage. Because the vessel is cloaked, his available speed will be extremely limited, so you should have ample power to drag him into a nearby rock. It also helps if you're near an asteroid when you do this. He will, of course, decloak to gain speed, so try to make sure he's dead before he can fire those plasmas he has ready for you.

4. If you're fleeing a ship or group of ships that has lots of missiles, you can kill missiles with mines. But, if you drop a mine and need another one (mines take a while to prepare before you can drop them again), you can use a t-bomb. Beam the t-bomb in front of you. This opens up your forward shield (which is away from the enemy) and still puts the bomb in about the same position it would be if you had rolled it out of the hatch. Then, just maneuver so that the mine is between you and the missiles, and boom. This is also good for dropping a mine to deter a pursuing attacker from following you without opening a shield to him. The same can work for either of the forward/side shields, provided no enemies are facing them.

5. T-bombs are also great for fighter defense. Beam the t-bomb in front of them. Far enough ahead that they will fly into it, but close enough that they won't swerve to avoid it. It takes practice and it depends on their speed. Fighters are a pain to pick off manually, so let the t-bombs damage or destroy some of them, and then finish them off with phasers.

6. When placing t-bombs, it's a good practice to do so while turning. As your shield lowers, that facing will rotate away from enemies, lessening the chance that they can pop a phaser shot through the hole in your shields. It doesn't work all the time, but it's a lot better than just taking the hit.

Tractor Beams
     Tractor beams are surprisingly versatile little gems. We've already covered the defensive tractor beams, but the regular ones are pretty potent, too. Here are some of the various ways you can employ your tractors:

1. Dragging bad guys into big rocks. Fairly straightforward. Make sure you're moving faster than him, and make sure a rock is nearby. Boom. Bad guy dead. This is actually one of my favorite tactics. Some people call it cheap, but I don't think so. There are plenty of defenses against tractoring, so nobody has an excuse for getting snagged unless their opponent is really skillful and has good timing, in which case he deserves the credit. In any event, here are the defenses you can use if you ever get snagged in a tractor:

     1a. Repel his beam. In your Tractor Beam panel, click on Repel and start charging your tractor (make sure you hit "engage" to start charging). Charge to level 1, and then to 2 if 1 isn't strong enough. Keep stepping up until his beam is broken. The disadvantage of this is time. It takes a while to charge up to, say, level 3. But at least if you go one step at a time, you'll get results as soon as your power level matches his. This method is slower, but it's guaranteed to eventually break the beam, provided you have the power and time to do it.

     1b. Overpower his engines. This is a faster route, but not as "safe". You simply stay locked in his tractor beam, and throw as much power as possible into your engines. The direction your two ships go is determined by whoever is using more engine power. If I'm going at speed 3, and you're going speed 7, you can push or pull me wherever you want. Remember, it's a combination of the two directions you're facing. Again, assume I'm at speed 3 and pointing "up", and you're at speed 7 pointing "left". Our two ships will go to the "left", but will go in a diagonal direction slightly upwards. Got it? Anyway, if a guy is using a high power tractor, has his shields up and weapons armed, he's at an energy disadvantage. Throw all of your power into engines (take weapons offline if you have to), and just drag him into the asteroid. He may react quickly enough to drop his tractor. If that happens, you're free. If not, you can smear him all over the rock. If he gets smart and starts trying to overpower YOUR engines, you can try the Repel feature on the tractor beam. There are LOTS of options for getting out of a tractor. You just have to think quickly.

     1c. The "Shrug of War". This is a devious little tactic, but it's really funny if you can pull it off. Using Tractor beams is, at its very essence, a Tug of War. You pull, he pulls, and whoever pulls harder wins. Imagine you're playing Tug of War. Your side is pulling really hard, their side is pulling really hard. What happens if your team just lets go of the rope? The other team falls backwards on their collective ass! This is the "shrug of war" principle. Let's say you catch a guy in a strong tractor, and he decides to overpower your engines. So he's going as fast as he can to ram you into an asteroid. Just fight weakly against him for a while, but keep your engines so that he's still pushing you. Wait until you're almost being slammed into the asteroid, and then DROP your tractor. You will speed away, and he will very likely scream past you right into the rock. This also works the other way, if he's using his tractor on you, you can just repel at force 6, but it will take EXCELLENT timing to drop his tractor right when he's at the worst possible spot. Using tactic #5 (below) would probably work in this instance, but you'll probably have to precharge your tractor well ahead of time. Just charge to 5 or 6 and then drop it down to 3 at the moment you want to release his beam. Trickery! I love it!

2. You can tractor an enemy to (kind of) influence where he goes. If an enemy is going to have a shot at a vulnerable area on your ship, you can tractor him, make the necessary course correction (turn the vulnerable shield away from where he's going to be), and let him go. If you maneuver correctly, his course will take him away from where he intended to go (ie... on course for a kill shot). Also, it throws him off for a second. He's thinking, "why did he do that?", while you're speeding away. This is great for when an opponent has a superior turning arc (like a Klingon). You can overcome this advantage with skillful use of your tractor beam. Don't make a habit of it though, because they will eventually catch on. Use it as a suprise tactic, because his plan will be thrown off by your slight intervention.

UPDATE: Woah. I mentioned before that you could only tractor one ship at a time. This was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Read on...

3. You can tractor multiple ships at once. It was kind of a shock to learn this, but numerous emails have tought me the error of my ways. All you do is tractor one ship, then target another ship and set the tractor level to 2. You can apparently do this for up to 5 ships, but the power cost would be enormous. Anyway, thanks to Allan Bennett, Sean Ross, and Matthew Brown, for cluing me into this. Look at the "so-called expert" over here...

4. If you really want to hold onto your enemy, start ramping up your tractor power to the next level as soon as you lock on. Or, you can simply charge to level two before the tractor locks. This way, if the enemy does try to use reverse tractors, he will be shocked when your beam doesn't disengage.

5. This is a fairly easy tactic which you've probably found already. I'll mention it here just in case you haven't discovered this. Timing is critical when using tractor beams. You have to be in just the right position and just the right angle at the moment the tractor engages. This is very hard to time perfectly. So, simply charge the beam to the level above the one you need. As that tractor slowly charges, you can maneuver into exactly the position you want. When you want to engage, simply drop the tractor beam power level to 1 (or whatever level you want to use). The tractor will engage the instant you drop your power down (as you've already accumulated the energy necessary for the tractor to "fire" at that level). This type of tractor micromanagement is a little more time consuming than just charging it and engaging at the right range, but it allows you much more planning for what you're going to do once the tractor is locked on.

6. You can also "death drag" shuttles by tractoring them and forcing them to move faster than their design limitations. Just tractor it and move as fast as you can, and soon the shuttle will just shred under the hull stress. This will work on admin shuttles and suicide shuttles, but I wouldn't risk it with a scatterpack. That little sucker might blow its load right in your face. Ouch. Anyway, this is a time consuming process which requires a lot of attention to detail. Shuttles are hard to see, and you have to target them manually. Be vigilant.

Deepscans and Probes
     Of the two, probes are by far the more useful. We will therefore talk about deepscans first. The only real use of a deep scan is to increase your sensor range in order to find out where the bad guys are coming from. Generally, you'll see them with normal sensors long before they can do any damage, so deep scans are really not necessary unless you are required to use them in a mission. They don't offer a significant tactical advantage over standard sensors (which will generally detect stuff out to range 100... more than enough).

     That said, I should now point out that probes are extremely important. I mean, they won't automatically win a battle for you, but they will give you the information you need to plan your attacks and defenses. Probes determine what weapons the other guy is carrying. If he's using missiles, you know you should move fast and engage point defense. if he's using photons, you know you should pump up your ECM. Knowing his weapon loadout ahead of time will make sure you are prepared for the coming battle. If you just close in to range 15 and all of a sudden find out that he has 8 missiles waiting for you, you'll be unprepared and will probably get hurt. It doesn't cost anything to launch a probe, and the tactical knowledge it affords is worth the price (which, again, is nothing).

UPDATE: Lots of folks have emailed in with probe tactics I'd never discovered. Read on! Peter Bhagwandeen listed the following info about probes:

They are of modest value, but can be used in a knife fight.

- Once you have fired the first probe to gain tactical info, set to attack at that time. It will charge and you can ignore it till the knife fight begins.

- Probes take NO energy to load as weapons.
- Probes can be launched like drones at any angle.
- Probes are useful to hit closely tailgating enemies.
- Probes can knock out an incoming drone or shuttle or fighter if manually targeted.
- If you have a mine between yourself and an enemy, lock on and send him a probe(attack or scanner) to detonate the mine.
- Probes will do just 2 points damage
-Feds have 10 probes, 5 more than other races.

Someone Else mentioned that you can use a probe to detonate a mine, provided there is an enemy to target on the other side of the mine. I haven't tried this, but it sounds interesting. Also, I deeply regret missing this guy's name, but my email program at work deleted the thing rather than saving it on the server. So, thanks, whoever you are!

The Map
     This thing just shows you where you and your enemies are. Very useful little item, actually. It's good for finding out where a certain item is, such as a black hole. It's also good for seeing the relative distances of your enemies (unfortunately, you can't lock onto a target by selecting him in the map). The map is also an excellent way to find out where the disengagement boundary is. If your mission calls for you to escape the system, you can find out the quickest way out of there by heading in any direction and watching the map until the red line shows up. Then just head for the line. You can also find out the relative positions of asteroids and planets without manually looking around. This helps keep you from smacking into rocks and what not. So, the map is a pretty useful tool in moderation. It improves your situational awareness to a much greater extent than the overhead view (which is superior in its own right). I pretty much always zoom all the way out when using the map, because it gives you a much wider picture of your surroundings.

     Well, that's about it for secondary systems. There aren't a lot of them, so this installment probably isn't as big as some others. Still, I hope you've learned a couple of new ways to use these little gadgets in your future adventures. I suppose it's time for another racial overview. So, next time we'll discuss the Federation, since they are the only race I play other than the Klingons and Hydrans. I've already done the Klingons, and I don't feel that I can do the Hydrans much justice at this point. So, by process of elimination, I'll go with the Feds. So, next time, plan on an intimate snapshot of those heroic guys in maroon jackets and snazzy sideburns. Stay tuned!

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