Ships are badly balanced. Jumpships currently dominate every type of combat and ship roles are not clearly defined or understandable, especially for new players. Some ship roles (starcruisers) and classes (Manta, Sirius, Hammerhead) are practically useless.
After giving it some thought, I think that the solution is NOT to mess with jumpship stats directly (but see http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=29532 for what I think should happen to jumpships). Rather, these are my suggestions:
Gunships should be a strong offensive and defensive counter to jumpships but perform poorly against planetary defenses and capships. They should have the same attrition as jumpships, or maybe slightly lower.
Low-tech gunships need better performance vs. Stingers and Explorers; hi-tech gunships need better performance vs. Stingers, Adamants, Eldritches and planetary defenses of TL 5 and lower. Gunships could perhaps stand to be slightly weaker against jumpcruisers, but this may be related to the various bugs with missiles.
The Sirius gets totally range-spanked by Eldritch fleets- for players without chronimium, the Sirius should be the best mobile counter to the Eldritch, albeit still not a GREAT counter. Gunship raids against parked jumpfleets should be a viable tactic but this is almost impossible to pull off with the anemic and slow Sirius.
Movement speed of ALL gunships should be set to the same number (I recommend 5, the current speed for high-tech gunships) so that low- and high-tech gunships can operate together without penalty.
Jumpships and jumpcruiser stats don't have to be changed provided that the damage done by gunships gets properly rebalanced.
A good way to do this would be to let individual gunships use multi-shot attacks when engaging wings of units with weak armor, targeting multiple units per combat round in exchange for reduced damage.
Gunship | Current | Proposed
Sirius | Gun R:5 D:60 | Gun R:7.5 D:60 / Multi-gun 2x R:5 D:15
Minotaur | Gun R:10 D:100 | Gun R:10 D:100 / Multi-gun 2x R:10 D:30
Hammerhead| Miss R:10 D:120 | Miss R:10 D:120 / Multi-mis 3x R:5 D:30
Cerberus | Gun R:10 D:75 | Gun R:10 D:75 / Multi-gun 3x R:10 D:20
Triple-shot will make nebular gunships especially fearsome against low-tech jumpships and jumpcruisers. This will make tactically-valuable small nebulas much more defensible.
Triple-shot nebular units (Hammerhead, Cerberus) should be able to target two shots at one enemy and one at another enemy in the same wing when engaging enemies that have armor values higher than their base multishot damage but lower than their net multishot damage. E.g. a wing of Cerberuses (base multishot damage=20) fighting a wing of Eldritches (armor=25) should see each Cerberus destroy on average 1.5 Eldritches per combat round, since two Cerberuses firing at the same Eldritch wing will generate enough shots to destroy three Eldritches. In contrast, Minotaurs (base multishot damage=30) will be a little better against Eldritches since each gunship will always destroy two Eldritches per combat round. This is somewhat compensated for by the Minotaur's weaker armor, which will see Minotaur wings lose 1 Minotaur per combat round for every 3 enemy Eldritches vs. 1 Cerberus per combat round for every 4 Eldritches. The Cerberus will be far better than the Minotaur against Stingers and Adamants since these ships' weaker armor will give the Cerberus a straight-up extra kill per round per gunship over the Minotaur AND the Cerberus will take fewer casualties while doing so since it has stronger armor.
Giving the Hammerhead triple-shot will give missile-equipped Hammerheads a chance to actually do a little damage to jumpship fleets occasionally if they can generate enough missiles to saturate a wing's missile defense. Triple-shot will also make the Hammerhead totally rule against jumpcruisers. It's fine for the Hammerhead to remain a goofy oddball unit since the Cerberus is more accessible than the Minotaur: chtholon is generally easier to obtain than chronimium, and the Cerberus doesn't compete with jumpships for advanced resources.
Starcruisers should be a strong counter to gunships and perform well against cannon-type and short ranged planetary defenses. They should be incapable of defeating jumpships on their own but should take a very long time to die against them (right now they get eaten alive). They should be vulnerable to jumpcruisers and starfrigates.
See http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=16324, http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=2478, http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=2191 for other possible uses that could be given to starcruisers.
If megastructures, SRMs, etc. get implemented then presumably starcruisers will be useful for destroying them, just like generic starships in old Anacreon. But with none of these in the game right now there is no obvious soft target for starcruisers' high-damage missiles other than other starcruisers.
Every starcruiser class is terrible. A lot of this has to do with the various issues with missiles, (e.g. http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=17754) and because they have generally shorter range than comparable starfrigates while costing much more to build per unit. Right now a cheaper starfrigate fleet seems to perform better than a same-sized starcruiser fleet against any kind of target. Missile range and performance (for ALL missiles) needs to be looked into, per http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=1841 and http://ministry.kronosaur.com/record.hexm?id=17754.
Starcruisers can be made legitimately fearsome by giving them a "shield" ability that automatically reduces each individual incoming cannon-type attack by a fixed amount. Attacks should probably still do a minimum of 1 damage, and shields should provide no protection from missiles. Shields would move starcruisers into a dedicated aggressive anti-gunship role and make starcruisers much less liable to get killed by basic jumpship swarms before they can bring their missiles to bear against hard targets. They should still being unable to actually take out jumpships themselves.
Starfrigates would slip into an anti-starcruiser/ anti-defenses / general fire-support role without their stats having to be altered in any way. Jumpcruisers and battlestations would actually be worth building!
Shields would probably not be needed if megastructures get implemented; starcruisers would be the dedicated anti-structure unit and starfrigates could continue to be the anti-every-kind-of-ship unit.
For shields, I'd suggest:
Starcruiser | Per-attack cannon damage reduction
Victory | 30
Megathere | 50
Behemoth | 32
Typhon | 50
For example, if Victories reduced each incoming cannon attack by 30, they would be extremely durable against Stinger and explorer swarms during mixed combat, but would still require support units to destroy these classes for them. They would live a lot longer under Eldritch and Sirius attack (individual ships' attacks would be reduced to 5 and 30 respectively), but would be only a little stronger against Minotaurs and would remain vulnerable to missiles and starfrigates.
The nebular starcruisers live in a different tactical environment- they have shorter attack ranges, so they have to deal with defense cannons, and the Hammerhead and Manta are both weighted to be starcruiser-busters, while the Cerberus is weighted to be effective against jumpfleets and the Cyclops is a fast planetary defense-killer that is also good against gunships.
The Behemoth needs slightly higher attenuation to make it more resistant to Eldritches than the Victory, since the Hammerhead, Manta, GDMs and armored constellations all present major threats to it that the Victory doesn't have to worry about at all. With 32 attenuation, Eldritch attacks on the Behemoth would do 3 damage/attacker rather than the 5/attacker they would do to the Victory.
Unlike the Megathere, the Typhon has no missile protection and its goofy 500-damage missile has no advantage over the the Behemoth's 200-damage missile in most tactical situations. When fighting lighter units, the Typhon should get a 2x or even 3x multishot ability, similar to my proposal for gunships. Multishot would make the Typhon eat nebular gunships alive and it would also do a little better against jumpcruisers; however, the cheap Manta will still be a significant problem for it.
The Manta and Hammerhead already perform much better than their starship counterparts against starcruisers, since they do way more damage and the Hammerhead has longer range.
Even with attenuation in play, the high-tech Cyclops nebular starfrigate would remain excellent since it's the only nebular ship with range>10.
All in all, starship and starcruiser roles overlap more in nebulas, and Hammerheads and Mantas should continue to to have tactical applications after the Cerberus and Cyclops become available (whereas right now they are barely useful under ANY circumstances since nebular starcruisers aren't getting built, period.)
I suggested splash damage for heavy missiles at one point but I no longer think this is a good solution. Starcruisers probably shouldn't be able to rapidly destroy big fleets of any kind of jumpship.
Another option would be to increase starcruiser missile range and decrease starfrigate missile range, making starcruisers the preferred stand-off planetary attack unit.
Cannon-type weapons (HEL, plasma, autocannon) should have their range should be increased to R:11-15 to allow them to first-strike jumpships; right now, jumpship fleets of sufficient size seem to get first-strike and can destroy cannons before the cannons ever get a shot in. Even outnumbered, cannons should be able to inflict casualties before they get wiped. First strikes would make junmcruisers' better armor more significant. Jumpcruiser firing range needs to be verified Armored constellation range should be increased, too.
Ships arriving at a planet should arrive maybe 10 Mm further away so that battles last a little longer and to allow more diversity of weapon ranges. Jumptransports should orbit maybe 10-15 LS higher than they currently do until they begin their landing descent. Right now jumptransports can orbit within range of satellites and hypersonics - seems to depend on planet diameter? - so people are sending jumptransports in separate fleets only once all planetary defenses are destroyed. It's an unnecessary extra step that makes combat more tedious.
Battlestations should ALWAYS target starcruisers first, then gunships; missile-equipped units should always prefer unprotected targets over protected ones. Units should try to fire at targets of opportunity (that is, to attack nearby wings/defenses which are not their primary target while their primary target is out of range) much more often, provided that this not too CPU- or bandwidth-intensive.
All defenses should be able to target multiple fleets or wings. There seem to be issues when defenses are engaged with multiple fleets, defenses will only attack one fleet (or wing?) at a time, even if the fleets are on opposite sides of the planet. It may depend on fleet arrival time.
Nebular resources should be usable in certain defense types. Maybe SRMs can require them if they get implemented.