NOTE: Article is being rewritten for Retribution and to be more tactic-specific and not quite so generalized. It is a work in progress, so apologies in advance if it doesn't seem to flow quite right or make sense in places :) -- Greygal 23 January 2013
Traditionally, a 'Wolfpack' in Eve refers to a small gang of light ships working as a pack to overwhelm smaller groups of larger ships. While both the Frigate fleet of PVP-BASIC and the Destroyer gangs used in PVP-WOLFPACKS are types of Wolfpacks, over time the term Wolfpack has evolved to refer more often to a Destroyer-based gang than a Frigate-based gang.
As you have seen from your PVP-BASIC class, large numbers of organized small ships are amazingly powerful and effective. Combine the EWAR capability of a Hydra fleet as well as the damage output of Destroyers, you create a gang with monumental effectiveness.
However, if you fly this kind of fleet randomly, putting little thought into its configuration or tactics, all you have is a blob: a disorganized mass of ships that operate inefficiently and are easily defeated. A well-organized, well-led Wolfpack will slaughter any blob.
After all else is taken into consideration, the ultimate difference between the winner and loser is tactics.
A tactic is "a conceptual action implemented as one or more specific tasks." Although commonly used interchangeably, tactics are not strategies. Tactics are the specific methodologies used within the strategy we are implementing in order to achieve our objective.
There are more tactics available in Eve than pilots, and new ones are developed all the time. Below we share a few basic tactics that are commonly used in a Wolfpack gang, can be used by solo pilots and other small gangs, and are even useful to large ships. The tactics listed below are the basic building blocks that many other more complex tactics are built off of.
Location, Location, Location
"If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him." - Sun Tzu
The first thing to know about tactics in a light fleet is to always be aware of where your fleet is located in space, especially in relation to a target gang.
You can't kill anything you can't hit. This includes battleships at 80km or 100km away from your current location. Essentially anything out of the range of your gang's average targeting range is invulnerable. So if you hop into a system and several Tier III battlecruisers are sitting 120km off the gate sniping with a couple of tech 1 frigates as tacklers, realize that it's not worth losing the whole fleet to kill the frigates; if they were assault frigates that might be a different story. The wonderful thing about frigates in this circumstance is that they warp so fast that it's likely the enemy won't be able to even lock you before you are gone. Hit the gang warp and get out of there before people even uncloak.
You also can't kill any fleet that can hit you successfully. A fleet of 10 well flown interceptors can wipe out a fleet of 20 well flown tech 1 frigates; albeit with losses more expensive than the frigate fleet. Similarly if you jump into a system and see 4 Ishtar HACs sitting on the gate with tech 2 small drones, warp away and fight another day. There is nothing wrong with deciding not to fight the battle on the enemy's terms. Make him fight on your terms; make that HAC come after you: it will be worth your time to kill one of those HACs and loose 4 or 5 ships. One principle of war that has been handed down since ancient times is that you should decide when and where the battle is fought and not let the enemy decide.
When it comes to frigate fleets, another guideline is that you can't kill a fleet bigger than you. If you have 20 frigates and he has 20 battleships, the battleships wont hit you for snot but over time they will shrink your numbers and destroy you. You could take on a fleet of 3 or 4 battleships and expect to kill one and get some pilots away but blowing up the 20 ship fleet is not realistic.
The last guideline is that you need to know when the enemy is set up to take you on. If he shows up in 12 destroyers to your 20 frigates, warp out. Destroyers are built to destroy frigates, and will munch you with their massive numbers of small guns. Also if you see that the enemy is prepared with Neuts, ECCM, small guns and so on, get out of there.
Knowing your enemy is an essential part of flying in frigate fleets or any fleet whatsoever. At the point when your enemy knows you things start to get dangerous and even catastrophic.
When in a frigate/destroyer fleet, your primary targets are the large, expensive ships designed to do other things like blow up other battleships or fight a POS war. Your enemy is not the people that are built to kill frigates. This has an important impact on not only who you fight, but how long you stay in a particular region. The longer you stay in one particular area, the more people are going to be saying on corp channels, "Hey there is a 30 ship frigate fleet in MHC!" Those people will kit themselves out to kill your fleet and then you will be fighting on the defensive and not the offensive. This is the reason that the best way you can be effective is to keep moving so that the enemy can not get a good idea of where you are and set themselves up to kill you.
As a final note on choosing your fights, keep in mind that the other guy will goad you, bait you, insult you and so on into trying to attack him. He will say things like, "you guys are just chicken" in local to try to provoke a reaction. If you give into this you have written off any semblance of being in control and you have put your enemy in control of the situation. Just smile at the smack talk and recognize it for what it is, an attempt to goad you into doing something foolish. Don't smack talk back either because it is pointless. You won't change their mind about things and they won't somehow develop respect for you. Play it smart, and they will be infuriated that you are in control of the situation and they are not. That in turn makes them even more likely to make stupid mistakes which you can capitalise on.
Make them Play by Your Rules
Let's say you are out on your wolfpack and you warp into a crew of HACs and cruisers that you know you can't take. Being a savy commander, you warp off to the next gate. The impulsive members of that fleet may try to follow you. Now you can easily outrun them as you can warp faster and align faster - but you shouldn't outrun them extremely fast. Draw them out. Make them come after you but don't lose them. If the other guy is undisciplined, his forces will start to string out in a line as his slower ships lag behind in the chase and the faster ships, eager for the kill, move out to intercept. That is the time that you double back on your forces and nail them, picking off the lead pilots and then once again erupt into the sprint.
One excellent way to employ this tactic this is to drop and anchor a small bubble off the gate right behind you and have all but one pilot jump out. The other pilots approach the gate and are ready. As the pursuing forces come in, they get caught in the bubble and the pilots jump back into the system and destroy the forces. As they are working on killing the forces the bubble is being unanchored and scooped to cargo hold. As soon as the ship goes pop, the bubble is in the hold and the ships are moving again. With an interdictor this is even more powerful as you can warp in at 100km from the gate, drop the bubble, kill the first ship that hits it and warp away.
Another tactic to make them play by your rules is to vary your course through the contested space, so that they try to predict where you will be. For example, you are traveling down a well known route between two areas and in enemy territory. The enemy will use their communications to try to set up something to stop you before you get to where they think you are going. This is the time that you take a left turn down a poorly used path and come at them from another stargate, or even behind them. They have their nice bubble up but you don't get caught in it and instead suprise them from another direction.
Target indirection is an especially useful tactic when engagi. The reason is that often pirates will have a battleship and one or two friends in the interceptors to tackle for them. The goal here is to tackle the battleship and then pick a different target to shoot at. You can neutralize the dps from the BS by orbiting and scrambling him, allowing you to focus your fire on the smaller ships to reduce the opposing gang more quickly.
The tactic takes some practice to execute and surprises many students because they are not used to not shooting what they are orbiting. However, those light ships or drones are your biggest worry - the battleship can't touch you, especially after it has been slapped with your damps and tracking disruptors.
The key to the target indirection is to realize that you will not have as much control over your optimal range to target as you do when orbiting that target. All of your ships will have to be equipped with longer range ammo and be able to swap out at a moment's notice.
Another key is that the battleship you are orbiting will be the last ship that you kill. He is no threat to you while you are orbiting him so there is no reason to worry about him. Kill all the drones and small ships first, then start bringing the battleship down.
(Another common scenario where this might be effective is engaging a remote rep battleship gang. These gangs will often be a mixture of turret ships with one or at most two remote reps each, with dominixes or logistics ships providing the bulk or the remote repair. Using the same tactic as above, your gangs light ships can orbit close on the turret users to mitigate dps, while focusing your fire on the main repair ships, which is where the strength of the opposing gang lies).
The higher agility of Frigates and Destroyers allows you to take advantage of some advanced tactics involving things that would be pretty much impossible in a battleship. For many of these tactics, we use a special kind of bookmark called a tactical bookmark (often abbreviated as 'TAC'). A tactical bookmark is a bookmark placed close to a celestial object (usually a gate) for various purposes. For example, you might place a bookmark 5000km from a gate so that you can scan the gate to make sure the opponent doesn't have an interdictor or bubble.
How to create various types of bookmarks is covered in PVP-BASICS, for more detail or to refresh your memory read An Introduction to Bookmarks in Eve
This tactic involves placing tactical bookmarks off a gate, at 100km from the gate in the direction of the other gates and major planet clusters. These are likely spots a sniping BS will use to try and destroy you. When that BS arrives, our bookmark is only 100km away so we can't warp to it. Instead we warp to another bookmark that is 1000km off the gate (and thus off the grid) and aligned to another gate. Immediately when the ships come out of warp, the fleet commander warps them to the bookmark near where the sniper appeared.
This tactic is based upon the concept of "warping out and back in", that fleets employ to try and land 100km from the gate on top of the target. However, only the most stupid pilots would hang out at that spot for long after they see the enemy warp right through them to where they came from so this trick hardly ever works. Making the circuit by warping to a gate then in on them is also far too slow.
However, a thousand km warp takes only a couple of seconds and frigs/dessys can realign on the new vector extremely quickly. It's likely that the BS pilot will be telling his corp "They warped to ZQX" at the same time that you are falling right on top of him from the second warp. You lock him and scramble him and he is dead.
Note that you can also employ variations of this technique. If you have 20 frigates in the fleet, you can send 15 of them to the gate to wait for the sniper and 5 of them to the off-grid tactical bookmark. Then you merely tell the tackle crew which direction to use as you warp out to the off grid tactical bookmark. The BS will see you warp off but scant seconds later ships will drop in from 10 to 15km out right on top of him and lock him down until the rest of the fleet arrives.
Since this tactic requires preparation with tactical bookmarks, there are primarily two different places that this tactic is best used. The first is a major choke point like the MHC to Harroule gate in Syndicate. If you hang out at that place long enough, someone will try to snipe you. The other place is somewhere where the enemy does not expect you to be prepared, such as a system deep in 0.0 and where people rarely stop and rarely prepare sniping points and have to settle for 100km warp ins. This is a perfect place to perfect this little ambush.
When making your bookmarks, you want to warp in at 100km and mark the spot. Then you need at least 2 bookmarks 1100km off the gate in opposite directions from the gate. This means that when mini-warping to your safe spot you will always look as though you are going away from the target. You might also want to make another couple 100km bookmarks in a direction out into space. Think of where you would put a sniper spot that is unaligned with anything if you were a sniper. Don't forget to cover warp ins from likely safe spots in the system. Again think of where you would make a great safe spot, go make one then make the tactical bookmark 100km from the safe.
Since the Apocrypha expansion, a variation of this tactic can be accomplished without exact bookmarks by setting up combat scan probes at close range on the gate. However, an intelligent sniper will be scanning for probes, and is unlikely to remain in one place if he knows that you have them in space.
A "mini" warp is defined as "Warping between two points on the same grid". This can be absolutely devastating to the sniper with his sniping spots 200km off the gate. If you have a mini warp bookmark you can warp up to him with impunity and such speed that he likely won't even realize what is happening. Suddenly you are right on top of him.
This trap is laid out in a similar manner to the bookmark indirection trap explained earlier, except that the bookmarks are set at 200km from the gate. This means that you will be able to miniwarp up to that bookmark. These tactical bookmarks will surprise the heck out of your target.
Note that individuals can use these bookmarks to achieve shorter warps by warping to a 200km bookmark at distance, however you are unable to warp a fleet to bookmarks at distances other than 0, and if your tackler is within 150km your support will be unable to warp to him.
Again, a similar effect can be achieved by using scan probes, however again, this risks a clever target spotting your probes on scan.
Working With Large Gangs
Working with large gangs can sometimes be a pain, because you have to organize and know what everyone has in order to effectively command them. While the Eve gang/fleet window has been vastly improved recently, it can still be a lot of work to get everything and everyone together.
Use Eve's Fleet/Wing/Squad command structure to overcome this. Assign a squad leader to each squad and then have that squad leader assign a second and third in command in case he gets killed. It's good if the squads know who is in command all the way down to a squad of 1. Once this is established then you can start giving orders to squads.
For example, you can say "Squads 1 and 2 equip scramblers, Squad 3 team painters, Squad 4 tracks". Your pilots will know to fit any mids left over with sensor dampeners because you put them through this course.
This organization will also allow you to set up traps like bookmark indirection. An order might sound like "Squad 1 warp to 1000km tactical in line with Harroule; Squads 2, 3 and 4 to the gate". Note that you can rename the squads if you're feeling hardcore. (Alpha/Bravo/Charlie, Hampsters/Mice/Ferrets.. as you will!)
As you experience casualties you should make sure you keep the squads balanced; move players around to other squads, having them change their configuration in the nearest station. It is a wise tactic to either have pilots carry alternative modules in cargo for a fast switchout at the nearest station, or keep stashes in various locations around the region where you usually roam. As you gain replacements or new pilots, keep your squads balanced. Make sure the squads are small and don't grow too big and try to keep at least three squads, one scrambling, one painting and one webbing. More than one squad or indeed all of them can scramble if the need arises such as in a small gang. However, they will also be able to accomplish their other objective.
This method will allow you to give more detailed combat orders. If you warp into a fleet of 2 battleships with a fleet of 20 frigates, it's wasteful to kill one and let the other one go. Instead say, "Squad 1 tackle Rockcrackr and the other three squads on Jimmy". In this matter both battleships die in due course.
Note that this is a similar tactic to assigning damp/track groups, it simply makes use of the fleet interface to make organisation easier (as well as taking advantage of fleet warps in the case of tackle squads etc). Note that since the Dominion expansion you may need to set your fleet to show as a hierarchy rather than a flat list in order to view pilots by squad.
There are literally thousands of tactics and aspects to consider when specializing in fleet warfare. However, we have given you a taste of three effective tactics that can be used to attack your enemies and deliver them crushing defeat with minimal cost to yourself. This isn't the end, this is only the beginning!