All cliches aside, the more you know about a situation before you commit to it, and the better you're able to control what your opponent knows, the easier things are going to be for you. The former allows you to avoid situations you don't want, and capitalise on those you do. The latter lets you convince your opponent to do exactly the opposite.
This article is going to focus on the first of those two points.
Let's start with a simple example: We have a fleet of 5 cruisers, and we encounter a battleship at a belt. All other things being equal we should be able to kill a battleship in short order, however as I find myself saying pretty often, all other things are rarely equal.
Even if our hapless battleship pilot is genuinely as alone as he looks, the chances are once we engage him he will start calling his friends to come and bail him out. Enter intelligence!
We quickly need to ask ourselves what we know:
- How many potential hostiles are in local? - This is an easy one, and should have been one of the first things you checked when you entered system.
- Of these, how many are likely to be allied with our target? - Same corp and same alliance are both more likely to respond and likely to do so faster than those who are simply blue to each other due to shared comms.
- How quickly do you expect them to respond? - Is there already anything on scan, or that you've seen out and about since you've been in system? Does the system have a station, or are there staging POSes you know of, and how far away are they?
Simple, right? Hopefully you're nodding, because as I mentioned above this is a very simple example - the real thing is usually much more complex.
Let's put that battleship on a gate - now we have to take into account the system on the far side too, and the chances are we haven't been in there yet. If systems are small, or the target is a gang instead of a single ship, we need to spread our net even further since once we take the fight we're going to be committed for some time, and reinforcements could potentially come from even further afield.
There's a lot more we could throw in too. What kind of ships are the reinforcements likely to include? Does our opponent have a reputation for baiting and trapping? How easily could we disengage if we need to?
At the end of the day, there's a lot of potentially relevant infomation but the resources and time you will have to gather it are limited. In a larger gang, it's fairly easy to have dedicated intel pilots (usually cloakies, or interceptors if your gang is mobile) and you can have a fairly solid intel network (you can never cover absolutely every possibility, but you can half a fairly solid awareness of your surroundings and any key staging systems etc). However, since you're a big target the price for not making use of such a network can be high. Not that long ago, I experienced a 200 person fleet sieging a system without even having a scout in the next system along the pipe - this is what we in the business like to call doing it wrong (I actually ended up dual boxing two covops, which along with a couple of Agony members who had joined the fleet with me constituted the fleet's entire intel network).
In a smaller gang you're unlikely to have dedicated intel pilots. Depending on your gang you might have a covops, or one or two skirmishers (fast ships which double as scouts and tacklers), or you might have none. In this situation, it is usually unrealistic to expect to have everything covered. Spend too long worrying about every possibility, and most opportunities will have long since passed you by. At the end of the day it often boils down to a mixture of common sense, a little luck, and educated guesswork - know what you can, be aware of what you don't know, and make your plans accordingly. Don't be afraid to take risks, but take them sensibly based on the knowledge available.
That's all for this one. Have a good new year, and check back soon for part 2.