The Commodore Mindset or How I Learned to Stop Dying and Love the Cap

The Commodore Mindset or How I Learned to Stop Dying and Love the Cap


What does it mean to be “good” at Nebulous Fleet Command? It doesn’t require quick reaction times or the ability to execute hundreds of actions per minute. The mechanics are straightforward; there are no special attacks or combinations. Even fleet design is fairly forgiving once you cover the basics. Moreover, given that it’s a team game with 7 other people in the lobby, one might even be inclined to think that the outcome of any particular match is effectively random. But that is false. Games are not decided by chance; games are decided by one team making better decisions than their opponents.

Being able to make good decisions is less about specific tactics and mechanics, and more about mindset. So this guide might be a little unorthodox, as it focuses less on what to do and more on how to think about the game. Good play is not itself a skill, but a natural outcome of sound thinking. If you are mindful about the game and disciplined in how you make choices, you will be surprised how often you will be able to carry a team. To achieve this, you really only have to do three things:

1. Don’t Die for Free

2. Mind the Objectives

3. Play to Win

With that, let’s dive in and explore what these ideas mean.

Part 1: Don't Die For Free

In order for you to be useful, you need to be alive. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget. In the heat of battle, it is very easy to simply throw your fleet at the enemy and hope for the best. But hope is not a strategy. Even if you are not currently doing anything, the fact that you’re alive gives you potential: you can shoot, spot, capture points, tank hits, and do all manner of helpful things. But once you’re dead, all of that disappears. Other guides emphasize the importance of fleet design to be effective. While good fleets make this a lot easier, it is important to remember that no design is perfect and no fleet is invincible. The best fleet poorly played is far worse than a terrible fleet played well. Good builds will not save you; you have to use your brain.

The first step in avoiding an untimely demise is to simply be patient. At the start of a game, some players start enacting their “plans”. These plans usually involve sending their entire fleet into an area of the map and fighting whatever happens to be there, whether it’s an unarmed scout or an entire beam battleship. What usually follows is that somewhere along the way, their fleet gets spotted, the enemy converges on them, and they die without firing a shot.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with psychology. Deep down every Nebulous player just wants to mash spaceships together, and when there’s an opportunity to do so, we are drawn to it like moths to a flame. Sensor contacts show up and we start setting a course to get in range to start blasting. Mysteriously, it doesn’t seem to matter how many contacts there are; in fact, the more the better, more things to shoot! This is the death instinct. It is the lust for battle that lures you out of cover so that you can hold the target lock just a little bit longer, or take that one extra shot. This instinct is what leads you into ambushes, gets you beamed, missiled, and shot to pieces. In order to make any headway, you have to learn how to suppress this instinct and exercise discipline and patience. If you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Take time to figure out the best plan available to you at the moment. If things go poorly, have the discipline to cut your losses and regroup. Remember: you can always retreat. Even saving a single ship gives you more to work with than you would have otherwise.

Now, once you’ve mastered your craving for death, it is time to get in the habit of making informed decisions. Because everything in Nebulous moves slowly, if you find yourself in a sticky situation, it can be difficult to get out of it. But if you understand the consequences of your actions beforehand, you avoid bad spots entirely. Part of the information game is paying attention to the sensor picture; this will tell you when new contacts show up, the location and movement of enemy fleets, and your position relative to your allies. However, rarely will you have a full sensor picture of the map, so you also have to use the clues the game provides in order to figure things out on your own.

Detection Ranges: Contacts detected at maximum range are likely capitals, and will represent the majority of a given player’s fleet.

Real-Space View: Can show you shot trajectories and ammunition type, allowing you to estimate facts about the shooter.

Capture Timings: Significant delays in the time it takes the enemy to capture their naturals can give you an idea of how many heavy vs. light ships they possess, or whether they’ve adopted a non-standard opening.

Deductive Reasoning: Combine clues to rule out possibilities and make educated guesses. E.g. If you have a sensor ID on a battleship, but it’s not firing cannons, it’s reasonable to assume that it has beams.

Using sensor data and these clues, you can figure out which plans are dangerous and which plans are safe. Ultimately information in Nebulous comes down to figuring out two things about the enemy: composition and disposition.

Composition: What the enemy has brought to battle. If you haven’t identified all of the enemy’s fleets, it is best to assume that the one hiding is whatever is most dangerous to you. Play accordingly. In the early game, this means playing more cautiously, especially with capital ships that can’t easily escape ambushes. More generally, knowing the enemy’s composition tells you how to exploit their weaknesses and what to worry about. For example: You ID a beam battleship. Wherever it is stationed is now off-limits to your team. But now you have the opportunity to pin it down with the threat of cannon fire and engage the rest of its team.

You ID a dedicated missile fleet. Time to group up with friends and share PD. No one is allowed to move alone. But as long as you stick together, you know there’s at least 1 fleet that can’t hurt you. Moreover, you know that once they’re out of missiles, they are pretty much useless.

You ID gun frigates. You’re vulnerable to getting back-capped and your scouts are now in a lot of danger. But if you can kill the enemy capitals, there’s nothing they can do to stop you from winning.

You’ve ID’d 3 of the enemy’s fleets, but the 4th has been off map the entire game. Something fishy is going on. Assume beams or torpedoes are lurking somewhere and don’t go charging into points alone.

Disposition: The location of the enemy’s forces. This will tell you where to go to both be safe and make sure that your own fleet is effective. Consider the following examples.

You have established that there are 3 fleets guarding one of the enemy’s natural capture points. Therefore only one fleet, at most, guards the other. This isolated fleet could be attacked and defeated in detail before turning to the rest of the team.

You have identified that the enemy has brought a beam battleship. As long as you can keep tabs on it and estimate its position you can simply choose to ignore it; by refusing to engage, you effectively deny the enemy the use of 1/4th of their firepower.

You are playing Gun Light Cruisers. You see the enemy’s corvette swarm crossing from the left side of the map to the right. The swarm is your preferred matchup (as opposed to fighting heavy cruisers and battleships) so you shadow their movements and intercept them if they try to flank.

You see 3 fleets advancing towards your position. You are alone. Run.

Once you’ve established this information, the rest of the game is about keeping it updated. So pay attention and actively make a note when you learn new information. It will tell you which areas of the map are safe and which are not, which routes expose you to the least danger, and what cover will best protect you from the enemy.

You see 3 fleets advancing towards your position. You are alone. Run.

Once you’ve established this information, the rest of the game is about keeping it updated. So pay attention and actively make a note when you learn new information. It will tell you which areas of the map are safe and which are not, which routes expose you to the least danger, and what cover will best protect you from the enemy.

Part 2: Mind The Objectives

So you no longer are dying for free at minute 6. Congratulations! You now have the potential to be useful. But what should you actually do? There’s a lot of space to fight in, and sometimes it’s not clear where things are going to get hot. Fortunately, we have objectives. I’m going to mainly talk about objectives in the context of the Control game mode, but the principles are universal. It doesn’t matter how much damage you’ve done, and it doesn’t matter how many ships you kill. These are simply the means to an end. The only thing that matters is the Cap, the ticking clock of the scoreboard that determines who wins and who loses. If one side plays the objectives and the other side doesn’t, the side that plays the objectives will almost certainly win.

Again, this may seem obvious, but many players get overwhelmed with bloodlust and they forget why these fleets are fighting in the first place. Almost everyone has played a game where they watched a battleship fly to the withdraw line to chase down a ship while an enemy corvette capped the entire map. In cases like this, one player has simply forgotten their job. To avoid this yourself, be mindful. For whatever plans you make, consider the tradeoffs. Does your plan:

a. Help capture a point?

b. Help defend a point?

c. Zone out the enemy?

d. Delay the enemy?

e. None of the above?

If the answer is “e. None of the above?” then how much of the objective game are you giving up by pursuing it? What will it take to recover?

Whatever your plan is, you should always endeavor to act with urgency. Unless you’ve captured all 5 points and there is no way the enemy can recapture them, there is always something you can be doing. And for whatever plan you choose, attempt to do it as quickly as possible. Picking the shortest route, use of flank, even managing heading to compensate for thruster damage can all shave seconds or even minutes off of the execution of your idea, and often, those extra seconds can be the difference between winning and losing.

Likewise, it is important that your team as a whole act as efficiently as possible. Having two people go for the same control point, for example, is often a waste of effort. You can’t control your teammates, but you can help improve performance drastically by communicating. Even stating your intentions gives your teammates information that they can use to make smart decisions. If you say, intend to sacrifice your dying ship to capture the A point on Pillars, your team can leverage your sacrifice to reposition or attack the enemy while they attempt to stop your cap.

To make this idea of how to play the objectives more concrete, though, we’ll have to divert, do a little math, and dive down into the mechanics of how objectives actually function.

2.1 Understanding The Cap

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The primary game mode in skirmish at the time of this writing is Control. Upon deployment, a game of Control has several neutral “control points” scattered around the map. Capturing a control point takes 60 seconds, and they can be captured by any ship. It doesn’t matter how many ships are in a control point, but an armed ship (including EWAR) has priority over a “harmless” ship. If opposing ships of the same priority are both in the control point, the point is “contested” and progress is frozen until one ship leaves, dies, or changes priority (e.g. loses its weapons).

Once a control point is captured, the owning team receives 2 points every 10 seconds. Most games are played to 1000 points. Games of Control rarely have time limits, because as soon as any team captures a control point, the clock starts running until one of them has enough points to win.

On most 4v4 maps, there are 5 control points; two tend to be “naturals” that are near the deployment zone for each team and a central point that both sides fight over. On Pillars, the most commonly played map, C and D belong to Team 1 (Blue) while B and E belong to Team 2 (Red) with A point up for grabs in the middle.

Source: Puppy’s Perfect Pillars Guide (

Beginning from deployment, your team should think about how to capture these points as quickly as possible. Capturing late puts your team on the back foot and forces you to push into the enemy lest your time runs out. For reference, here’s how much time it takes to go from 0 to 1000 with various levels of point control:

· 1 Control Point (12 pts/min) – 83 minutes and 20 seconds

· 2 Control Points (24 pts/min) – 41 minutes and 40 seconds

· 3 Control Points (36 pts/min) – 27 minutes and 47 seconds

· 4 Control Points (48 pts/min) – 20 minutes and 48 seconds

· 5 Control Points (60 pts/min) – 16 minutes and 40 seconds

In a game, control points are acquired and lost throughout the match, and the math is much messier, but it should be clear from this that if you allow the capture differential to get out of hand you can lose before you know it. Moreover, the longer you’re at a control point disadvantage, the bigger the swing it will take to recover. Even letting a 3:2 disadvantage run for too long can put you in a position where the only way to win is to capture all 5 points.

At its most intense, a game of control is counted in increments of 10 seconds, and inefficiencies from the early game come back to make or break teams. For example, a corvette moving at FULL will enter the D point in approximately 1:11. On FLANK, that corvette will reach the same point in 0:44. The 27 second difference will cost Team 1 4 points on their cap. Notably, this example has the corvettes going roughly to the center of the point, but they will start capping as soon as they enter the bubble, so the absolute difference between the two will be smaller in real terms, but the point remains. Even a 10 second difference has costs.


In another example, Corvette Acap will reach the center of A point in 3:21. Meanwhile, Corvette Bcap will reach the same spot in 2:26, nearly a full minute faster.


The Opposing Team’s Corvette Windswept Coast reaches A in 2:12 minutes. If Team 1 only has Acap, it will arrive 9 seconds too late to contest the control point and Team 1 will lose the point.

In the best case, a player deploying at Acap’s location would be able to recapture the A point immediately after Team 2, costing their team only 12 points. In the worst case, Team 2 has had enough time to set up defenses for the A point and kills Acap before it can flip the point. Now Team one is not only down in points, but has to organize a push to flip one of Team 2’s points, or it will lose automatically.

2.2 Objective Gaming

With this knowledge of how points accrue, you can now consider how objectives dictate the flow of the game. At some point in the match, one team is going to gain the cap advantage. This can happen early by quickly securing the neutral point or sniping one of the opponent’s ships attempting to cap their naturals, or it can occur late, when after careful positioning, one team can no longer defend a point and lets their opponent in. Once this happens, the strategies of each team will diverge. The team that is winning seeks to maintain the status quo and stall: staying alive and presenting a threat to any potential cappers is more important than chasing kills. The longer the status quo can be maintained, the more desperate the opponent will become, spurring them to take risks that can be punished. Meanwhile, the team that is losing immediately begins to seek ways to create imbalances. This can be by pressuring a capture point in order to flip it, committing to engage and destroy an opposing fleet, or by finding opportunities to sneak back-cappers in to split up the opponent’s defense. As a general rule, it is going to be the responsibility of the losing team to attack and the winning team to coordinate its defense.

Understanding your position will hopefully guide your decisions and identify what your job is going to be at any given moment. Do you need to outright stop the capture of a point, or is delaying the enemy sufficient? Do you have time to try and tip the scales of a fleet engagement, or do you need to break off and stabilize the cap? If you’re afraid to move out, how much time do you have to wait until it’s safe? If your team has the advantage, you have all the time in the world. If you’re down 4:1, you may simply have to take some risks.

Speaking of taking risks, this brings us to the last part of a winning mindset.

Part 3: Playing To Win

Some players think that surviving to the end of the match is a form of winning. Some players think that doing the most damage is a form of winning. But they’re wrong. Only winning is winning. If your goal is to win, then you have to act like it.

Fundamentally, playing to win is just asking yourself at any given moment, “what could I be doing now that will have the most impact?” Sometimes this question leads to counterintuitive answers. Sometimes, as a battleship, it’s best to simply sit on top of a point rather than go engage the enemy because you know there is a sneaky ship nearby waiting for you to leave. Sometimes it means trading a capital ship for a light cruiser, because you know the light cruiser is the only thing that can stop your cappers. Sometimes it means sacrificing your fleet in order to flip a capture point. Sometimes it means that you’re the person that just has to eat the missile dump so that your teammate doesn’t. Survival is secondary to victory.

Playing to win often means making the best of a bad situation. Your teammates will die. You will get ambushed. You will get very far down in the cap. Most games will not go smoothly, but before you can win you have to first not give in to losing. Playing to win means that, first and foremost, you never ever give up. If your ally is dying take advantage of the distraction to cap or kill off an enemy fleet. If you’ve lost half your fleet, then you still have the other half. Use it to annoy the enemy and slow them down. If you’ve lost all your weapons, you can still capture and hold uncontested points. All you need is a drive and a dream. And if you’ve lost your drives, you can still hurl insults at your enemies into the vacuum of space.

If you never give up, you’ll be shocked at how many games you can steal from your opponents. By acting with urgency, you’ll steal points, even if only a dozen at a time. But it adds up. And while they’re dealing with you, they’re not shooting your friends. Sometimes, this gives your allies enough space to gain the upper hand in an engagement. Again, it all adds up. And if you manage to stay alive and a potential threat, your enemies will respect your presence and they’ll be delayed and less coordinated. It. All. Adds. Up.

Closing Thoughts

There are many reasons people play NFC. Some like building space ships. Some like experimenting with weird builds. Some just like the sounds 450s make. All of these are perfectly legitimate ways to play. This guide is for people who enjoy the competitive aspects of the game and wish to improve at those aspects. And even if you aren’t so ruthlessly focused on winning, understanding the fundamentals of good play can unlock new joys in those other desires. After all, if you enjoy shooting things with large cannons, “not dying” lets you shoot them for longer! If you enjoy the thrill of ambushing enemy fleets, understanding objectives can help you predict where the enemy is going to show up. If you like making wacky builds, you can compensate for your suboptimal designs with good plays and keep your teammates happy. Good play should not and does not compete with having fun, but instead helps elevate the game, highlighting all of the intricate and fascinating interactions it has to offer.

Many players get frustrated with NFC because often they’ll lose and they won’t know why. The truth is, they’re suffering the consequences of decisions they made several minutes prior to their death, and it’s difficult to see how those events are connected. I believe that by embracing the principles of good play, the game becomes much less opaque and less arbitrary. You will realize the amount of influence you have over the outcome of the match, and you should be empowered to make decisions and see how they play out.

Not dying for free gives you the opportunity to think about what is going on in the game, and it truly helps your team even if you aren’t actively shooting your guns. Minding the objectives will give focus and direction to your thinking, allowing you to come up with sound plans. And playing to win will reward you with the most exciting matches you’ll ever play; you’ll win or lose nail-biting games that will inspire you to try again and to keep exploring this wonderful game.

Good hunting.

-Hopeful Monster

Special thanks to PuppyfromHell, Weeble, Siger, and Nop for their constructive input.


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