EVE Evolved: A game of cat and mouse

EVE Evolved title image
Outside of the annual Alliance Tournament, it's rare to find a fair fight in EVE Online with both sides being evenly matched in numbers or odds of success. On the actual battlefields of EVE, lone pilots and fleets alike hunt for fights they can win and tend to shy away from fights that aren't stacked in their favour. A bold few will intentionally engage when they're outmatched or outgunned in the hopes of getting a lucky and impressive-looking kill, but most of the time, that kind of fight is the result of a poor judgment call or misreading the situation.

Something new EVE players tend to have trouble accepting is that the outcome of a fight is often decided before the guns even start firing. EVE PvP is a massive game of tactics in which the goal is to catch weaker enemies at a disadvantage, so the fight could already be lost the moment you're caught by a superior foe. A lot of PvP is psychological; you trick enemies into thinking they have the upper hand, and you hide your true intentions and abilities until it's too late. Fleets of all sizes roam around EVE appraising the smaller fish while avoiding the sharks, and I wouldn't trade that cat-and-mouse gameplay for any level of pre-arranged fairness.

But what motivates people to fight or flee, and how can we win the psychological battle to gain an upper hand? In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at three tricks you can use to catch targets off-guard.

EVE Evolved side imageEscape routes and picking targets

Experienced players will always be aware of the possible escape routes they could take throughout a fight, and to get people to fight, you'll need to cut as many of these off as possible. If the enemy is near a station or stargate and hasn't attacked anyone in the last 60 seconds, for example, he can dock or jump to safety. Guarantee that the target has started attacking you before you charge in with guns blazing by ensuring there's a red square around his ship icon. If this square turns yellow during the fight, it means the target has stopped firing and you have 60 seconds to finish him off before he can jump or dock.

Anything that disables your warp disruptor or warp scrambler can also be used as an escape mechanism. If you're flying solo, be acutely aware of the target ship's potential top speed and agility compared to your own and try to engage only ships slower than your own. Ships significantly faster than yours can often disengage and speed out of warp disruptor range if the battle doesn't go favourably. A short range warp scrambler will disable the target's microwarpdrive and help stop the escape but will do nothing to help against afterburner setups.

EVE Evolved side imageTrick one: Fake a limp

Since most people will engage only when they think they have the upper hand, you might need to trick opponents into thinking they're at an advantage if you want an evenly matched fight. Hold back a bit of firepower by firing only half of your weapons, manually firing less frequently, moving too fast to hit the target, or intentionally staying out of optimal range. Once the enemy thinks he's safe, he'll likely engage and will be unable to jump or dock for 60 seconds, at which point you can bring your full damage to bear.

The same principle of faking a limp applies to active tanking PvP setups like the triple armour repairer Myrmidon, the repairer Dominix, and small ships using the new Ancillary Shield Boosters. When you're fighting against faster ships that could escape or tanky ships that could disengage and wait out the 60-second jump timer, manually pulse your repairers to let your hitpoints get low. Enemies who could disengage will often hang around if they think there's a chance of barely scraping the kill.

EVE Evolved side imageTrick two: Bait and switch

The bait and switch is one of the oldest tricks in the proverbial book, right after Sun Tzu's legendary "Look behind you!" technique. The simplest way to use this trick is to hide additional backup pilots out of sight to make the enemy misjudge the combat. Backup can be hiding in a station, on the other side of a gate, or in the same system but over 14 AU away so that it doesn't show up on the directional scanner. Pirates will sometimes camp solo on stargates in tanky ships to make passing players think they have a chance, but the cavalry usually isn't far behind.

In nullsec and lowsec, ships carrying cynosural field generators are often used as bait for hot-dropping capital ships on top of unsuspecting victims. Dirt Nap Squad is famed for jumping stealth bomber fleets to a bait Arazu from several systems away through a covert jump portal, a strategy that remains successful to this day. Cloaked recon ships or stealth bombers can also follow uncloaked companions on a PvP roam so that enemies won't know you have backup until they've already engaged and it's too late to escape.

EVE Evolved side imageTrick three: Cloak-camping

If you're in faction warfare, you know how difficult it is to get a fight out of people capturing control points as they'll abandon a site as soon as hostiles appear. Solo pirates often face the same problem, with prey warping to safety as soon as the pirate gets close. To stay safe, players will usually set the directional scanner to around 200,000km on a 360-degree scan and spam the button, giving plenty of advance warning of incoming ships. Cloaked ships won't appear on the scan, but complexes and faction warfare control points with acceleration gates will decloak ships long enough for them to be detected.

For patient players, the same directional scanner can be used catch that elusive prey. Fit a combat ship with an Improved Cloaking Device II and at least one Sensor Booster II with a scan resolution script. Warp to the complex, cosmic anomaly, or control point you want to camp and cloak inside the site. When you decloak, there's a short delay before you can target other ships, but you can use the directional scanner to eliminate that problem.

Set a scan range of between 100,000km and 150,000km and spam the scan button to detect ships appearing on the acceleration gate to the complex. When one appears, quickly decrease the scan range to 95,000 and rescan until the ship appears again a few seconds later. This confirms that the ship has activated the gate and is in warp to your location, which is your cue to decloak. By the time the ship lands next to you, the sensor recalibration delay from your cloaking device will have ended. You may not get many fair fights this way, but you will catch a few people off-guard.

EVE Evolved title image
The advice in this article largely applies to low-security space and wars in highsec. Area-effect warp disruptors make it much easier to catch people in nullsec, and wormhole space has its own set of unique strategies. The limitation on jumping through a wormhole too many times makes it easier to catch someone on a wormhole than a stargate, and the lack of a local channel makes it much easier to sneak up on people and observe them in secret.

EVE PvP is essentially a huge game of cat and mouse in which strategy and execution routinely trump ship numbers and skill points. Though experienced players can be cautious to engage and careful to keep their escape options open, there are plenty of tricks that can convince them to engage when outmatched and outgunned. If you can win the psychological battle, there are plenty of smaller fish out there to feed on, and you'll even get the occasional close fight that you'll remember for years to come.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.