After seeing so many FTL tier lists floating around on the Internet, I decided that I might as well put one together myself and post it here on my website. I've divided the 28 ships into five main tiers based around different levels of overall strength. Ships within tiers are intended to be roughly comparable in power, although they are also ranked within tiers as well. Some of the intra-tier ranking was truly splitting hairs, however, and these ships should be regarded as roughly even in strength. Ships were evaluated under the assumption of Hard difficulty with the goal of defeating the rebel flagship and winning the game as efficienty as possible. The boarding ships with a Teleporter don't get extra weight because of their ability to rack up a higher in-game score (although I have indeed factored in the additional scrap and other rewards that they can reap from boarding). The ranking was also done with the assumption of an experienced player using these ships to the best of his or her ability. In other words, low skillcap ships like the Engi A don't receive more weight for being easy to use. Finally, this is ultimately a personal ranking based on my opinions. Readers of this website will know that I favor gunships over boarding ships, and while I've tried not to let that affect this list, I'm sure personal bias plays a factor in this process. Let's get started.
Be prepared for a long read.God Tier
Overall Ranking: 1/28
Strengths: Crystal Crew, Four-Tile Teleporter, Cloaking
Weaknesses: No Weapons
The Crystal B Cruiser is the single strongest ship in FTL. This opinion is shared by nearly everyone within the FTL community. As the stronger of the two designs on the "secret" ship, the Crystal B is well worth the difficult process of unlocking it. This ship's advantages are almost overwleming in nature. It's one of only three ships in the game with a four-tile Teleporter, a system that can easily win the game without need for any other weapons. This complements extremely well with the starting three Crystal crewmembers, the game's overpowered hidden race. Crystals have extra health, take damage more slowly from low oxygen, and come with the utterly broken "Lockdown" innate ability. With three Lockdown uses and the four-tile Teleporter, the player should be able to kill enemy crew with ease, Medbay or no Medbay. That would be strong enough, but the Crystal B also starts the game with Cloaking too! Crystal B is the only ship in the game to start with both Cloaking and the Teleporter. That system adds ridiculously strong defenses to a godly boarding setup. On top of THAT, Crystal B also starts with the Crystal Vengeance augment, an utterly useless augment which sells for an amazing 40 scrap. This silly thing is priced at the same value as a Zoltan Shield! It's another advantage that this ship absolutely does not need, but nonetheless has anyway. The one and only weakness of this ship is the lack of any starting weapons. This isn't nearly as big of a setback as it sounds though, and indeed two of the three ships that start without weapons are among the best in the game (this ship and Mantis B). Long story short: if you can't win with the Crystal B, you're doing something seriously wrong. This ship is wildly overpowered compared to the rest.Demigod Tier
Overall Ranking: 2/28
Strengths: Advanced Flak, Teleporter + Mind Control + Cloning Bay + Double Lanius Boarding Party
Weaknesses: Weak Weapons, No Sensors
Occupying its own little tier is the Lanius B ship. If it weren't for the Crystal B, this would be the best ship in the game, and it doesn't miss the Crystal B by much. The Lanius B has one of the top boarding setups in FTL, and unquestionably the strongest one that doesn't involve a four-tile Teleporter. (Sadly the Lanius B only has the normal two-tile system.) Unlike the Crystal B and Mantis B however, which need more crew to get rolling and use their Teleporters to maximum ability, the Lanius B boarding setup is fully ready to go from the start of the game. The starting crew allows the player to place an Engi in the piloting room, and then send two Lanius over to the enemy ship. The Lanius will immediately drain all of the Oxygen from whatever room they happen to be standing inside, making it nearly impossible for the enemy crew to fight them. In addition, the Lanius B has a Mind Control system to help the boarding party further, turning one of the enemies against their friends. (There's a really evil move where you can Mind Control someone on the enemy ship, then use the Teleporter to beam them over to your ship. If there's no Teleporter on the other ship, they can't get back and you can murder them with ease. Nasty.) If for some reason you mess up and get the Lanius boarders killed, well, the ship has a Cloning Bay for that. The Lanius B is almost idiot-proof.
This alone would be enough to put the Lanius B into the top tiers, but it goes another step further by having the single best weapon in the game: Advanced Flak. The normal Flak I is already one of FTL's holy trio of weapons (Burst II Laser, Flak I, Halberd Beam). The Advanced Flak is a version that has a shorter cooldown time (8 seconds instead of 10) and costs only 1 weapons power instead of 2. So not only does the Lanius B have an amazing boarding setup, it also has this brokenly strong Advanced Flak to play around with as well. The only weaknesses on this ship are the weak starting weapons (requiring a one-time payment of 40 scrap to upgrade to level 2) and the lack of Sensors, which does limit the effectiveness of the Mind Control system a bit. These are minor problems, of course. Other ships would kill for this kind of setup. You can play the Lanius B as a boarding ship, or ignore the Teleporter entirely and use this is a powerful gunship with the Advanced Flak. It's hard to mess up this thing.Tier 1
I put four ships into this tier, and I was surprised at how naturally they fit there. These four are all roughly comparable to one another in power, and a clear step above the rest of the non-godly ships. Since the Crystal B and Lanius B are essentially designed to be secret ships, you can think of these as the best of the "normal" ships in FTL.
Overall Ranking: 3/28
Strengths: Zoltan Shield, Halberd Beam
Weaknesses: Low Reactor Power
I believe that the Zoltan A is the strongest ship in this tier. I was honestly surprised when I went back and played this ship again a little while ago; even when doing a wacky low-power variant to unlock one of the achievements, the Zoltan A was still crushing everything in its path. This ship starts with one of the game's holy trio of weapons in the Halberd Beam, the best beam weapon in the game. T-Hawk has written about this in detail, explaining how the Halberd Beam sits in the sweet spot on damage. Two shots with the Halberd Beam against a shieldless target will kill just about any enemy ship in the game; if you go up to the much longer cooldown of the Glaive Beam, it still takes two shots to kill the enemy ship. Cool as it looks, the Glaive Beam is simply overkill. The Halberd Beam is in the perfect spot of dealing significantly more damage than the Pike Beam or Hull Beam, without requiring all the extra power and chargeup time of the Glaive Beam. The fact that it pierces through one shield layer (at half damage) is another massive advantage. The only weapons that compare in overall strength are the Burst II Laser and Flak I, the other members of the holy trio. Not surprisingly, the ships that start with these weapons are all in the top tiers of my list.
The Zoltan A also starts out with a Zoltan Shield, the game's best augment. Starting every battle with 5 points of supershielding helps enormously in cutting down damage taken. You're pretty much guaranteed to get off the first shot of the Halberd Beam before your weapons system can even take damage. It's also impossible to be hit by enemy boarders or Hacking or Mind Control so long as the Zoltan Shield stays up, and even when it goes down, Zoltan A has level 2 Doors to deal with invaders. To counter these strengths, the Zoltan A has... no real weaknesses? It's true though - there are few holes in this setup. The ship starts with only 5 reactor power (the default is 8), but that's countered by begining with a crew of three Zoltans. Even with one in the piloting room, there's plenty of power to run everything. I suppose the ship is weak against boarders, but with a Zoltan Shield and upgraded Doors, I've never had any problems. The main knock against this ship online is something like "the Halberd Beam won't deal any damage once the enemy ships have two shield bubbles." This is a foolish statement. First of all, that's not even true; Zoltan A has a Leto Missile which could be fired against enemy shields and eliminate one of the layers. Secondly, if this is a "weakness" of the Zoltan A, it's a weakness shared by nearly every other ship in the game. Most ships need to upgrade weapons to handle the second shield bubble - few are lucky enough to having starting weapons that strong. This is not much of a weakness for the Zoltan A, given that finding just about any weapon whatsoever (lasers, ions, flak, etc.) will combo beautifully with that Halberd Beam. I mean, what are all those ships that start with Dual Lasers or Chain Lasers going to do when the enemy ships show up with two shield bubbles? Even the mighty Burst II Laser is virtually useless on its own against double shield layers without a second supporting weapon. The fact is that virtually EVERY ship needs to upgrade weapons to handle level 4 enemy shields. I'm not buying the criticism. Zoltan A is a really solid ship setup. It's simply not as ludicrously overpowered as Crystal B or Lanius B. I would expect to win with this ship close to 100% of the time.
Overall Ranking: 4/28
Strengths: Four-Tile Teleporter, Level 4 Shields, Defensive Drone, 11 Reactor Power
Weaknesses: No Weapons, Weak Weapons, 3 Weapons Slots
Mantis B is most similar to Crystal B in its setup, a ship based around using the Teleporter to board the enemy while also having extremely strong defenses at the same time. Like Crystal B, this ship also has a four-tile Teleporter, a system which scales incredibly well with more crew into the lategame. Unlike Crystal B, this ship has Mantises instead of Crystals for the starting crew, and there are only two of them to begin. That's one of only two real weaknesses of this ship, the lack of more crew at the outset of the game. Mantis B scales extremely well with more people on board - this is one of the few ships where I recommended purchashing them at stores. If you can get 4 Mantises to fill the Teleporter, and then have more humanoids to remain at home running the ship itself, Mantis B becomes arguably the best ship in the game. It does take some work to reach that point, however. The player is helped through the opening stages of the game by the strongest defensive early game setup of any ship in FTL. Mantis B begins with level 4 shields (two bubbles) and a Defensive Drone. This makes the ship almost completely invulnerable to damage from the rebel designs in Sector One and Sector Two. The two shield layers stop lasers and beams, while the Defensive drone will shoot down missiles. It's pretty hard to mess that up. It doesn't matter if the ship has 0% evade and lacks a pilot - you still won't be taking damage anyway!
The other major weakness of the Mantis B (beyond the limited starting crew) is the lack of any starting weapons. It's true that there's no direct way to deal damage, and even after the player comes across weapons, there's that one-time 40 scrap penalty to take the weapons system to level 2. Like all Mantis ships, the Mantis B is also limited to only 3 weapon slots, which I find to be a major limitation at the end of the game. Long story short: this is not a gunship. Don't play it intending to engage in ship vs. ship laser duels. Mantis B is a boarding ship and it needs to be played that way to take advantage of its strengths. The designers arguably overcompensated for the lack of weapons by giving Mantis B such absurdly strong early game defenses, plus the use of a Boarding Drone to handle auto scouts, plus an absurd 11 reactor power to start out (!!!) I have no idea why they did that; it's way more power than the ship needs, and represents 65 extra scrap that the player doesn't have to spend later. The designers apparently thought that starting with no weapons was a bigger setback than it actually is in FTL, and overcompensated with tons of other goodies on the Crystal B and Mantis B. Within this tier of ships, Mantis B has the strongest lategame potential, but its early boarding gameplay is just tricky enough for me to rank it behind Zoltan A. By a little bit. That scoring is personal preference as much as anything. If you happen to love the boarding style of gameplay, then the Mantis B will likely be the top ship in this tier for you.
Overall Ranking: 5/28
Strengths: Four Basic Lasers, Strong Starting Crew
Weaknesses: No Systems or Augments
The Kestrel B is my single favorite ship to play in FTL. The Red-Tail is a very simple ship to play, filling the role of a standard gunship and filling it very well indeed. Kestrel B's great advantage is starting the game with four Basic Lasers, the only ship in the game to start with four weapons. To give you an idea of the rarity there, only Zoltan B and Slug A even have so much as three starting weapons! While Basic Lasers are the most simple weapon in FTL, firing one laser shot apiece on a 10 second cooldown, they should not be underestimated. Starting out with four Basic Lasers gives the Kestrel B unrivaled early game offensive power. There's no need to fiddle around with a Teleporter or hire extra crew or anything like that: just point the guns at whatever you want to blow up and press the trigger. Enemy ships at the start of the game have 0 or 1 shield bubbles, which is nowhere near enough to deal with 4 laser shots. Even with poor RNG luck, some of those shots are going to get through. The Basic Lasers also have a very short cooldown, again only 10 seconds per charge, which allows them to fire again and again in rapid succession. (Your gunner levels up extremely quickly with this ship, since he or she is gaining 4 XP with every volley on that short cooldown.) The Kestrel B is therefore one of the strongest DEFENSIVE ships in the early going, as the ship is very good at taking out enemy weapons before they even get to fire. That Burst III Laser or Flak II that they have will almost never get off a shot before being blasted out of commission. Lots of cheap weapons are actually pretty darn good when used together. Throw in an outstanding four-person starting crew (with 2 Humans, 1 Mantis, and 1 Zoltan) and we have a real winner on our hands.
The most common drawback that I've read about the Kestrel B is that its weapons don't scale very well into the later portions of the game. That is indeed true, but only up to a point. The Basic Lasers are slot-inefficient for the lategame, and they will need to be replaced eventually. However, one of the great things about the Basic Lasers is that they can fit very nicely into just about any gunship setup. Let's say that you purchase a Flak I weapon at a store in Sector Two. You can upgrade weapons to level 5, sell one of the Basic Lasers, and keep right on using the other three. Kestrel B allows for a smooth upgrade path throughout the game, slowly replacing the Basic Lasers with more advanced tools one at a time. Even if you have poor luck in finding weapons, the starting setup will work reasonably well until enemy ships begin showing up with three shield layers in Sector Five. There are very few ships that can make it that far without upgrading their weaponry. For that matter, I've had plenty of runs where I was still using one of those Basic Lasers against the flagship at the very end. It's a shame that you can't purchase them in stores, I would absolutely buy a Basic Laser for the last weapon slot on a lot of other ships. I'd argue that the early game nature of the weapons aren't the real weakness of this ship, as FTL is like Civilization or Master of Orion where snowballing from a strong early game is extremely important. Instead, it's the lack of any systems or augments which is the biggest drawback of the Kestrel B. There's no extra stuff to micro for advantage - Kestrel B is a basic ship. While it's nice to be able to customize to your heart's content, it's also hard to ignore the lack of Cloaking or a Teleporter or a Zoltan Shield. It's a testament to how good the Kestrel B's weapons are that it gets placed this high on the tier list without any systems or augments at all. Anyway, I could keep raving about how much I love this ship, but the description here should be enough to get a good idea of its strengths. Kestrel B: the pride of the rebel fleet!
Overall Ranking: 6/28
Strengths: Burst II Laser, Artillery Beam, Strong Starting Crew
Weaknesses: Somewhat Slow Early Game
Federation A is essentially an improved version of the default Kestrel A design. It keeps the Burst II Laser, one of the holy trio of FTL's weapons, and gives up the Artemis Missile in favor of better crew and the addition of the Artillery Beam. I've found that losing the Artemis Missile actually does slow down this ship's early game performance a bit in comparison to the Kestrel A. Having a spare missile here and there to shoot out a key system can be quite useful at times. Still, that doesn't change the fact that Federation A is a much stronger ship overall. The starting crew on this ship is outstanding, with the collection of a Human, an Engi, a Mantis, and a Rockman. Together they provide fast repairs, great defense against boarders, and the potential to go on the offensive with a Teleporter if desired. Expect to get a lot of blue event options from having such a diverse crew. The Burst II Laser is simply amazing as always, with 3 shots for 2 power on a 12 second cooldown, and will almost certainly be used straight through to the end of the game. And then there's the Artillery Beam, a system unique to the Federation ships. The Artillery Beam is a separate system (which does occupy one of the ship's system slots, leaving only two remaining) that fires an unstoppable, untargetable beam when charged. The Artillery Beam will completely ignore shields, and it can be an effective strategy to ignore standard weapons and rely on the beam to deal damage. This is a lifesaver on those random runs where you're getting screwed over by store luck and cannot find a weapon upgrade. There are two big drawbacks, however. The first is the inability to target the beam, as sometimes it will line up massive shots across the entire enemy hull, and sometimes it will ignore key enemy systems to lightly brush a corner of their ship. That can be frustrating, to say the least. Secondly, the Artillery Beam suffers from an extremely long chargeup time, which cannot be reduced by having crew operate the system. The thing takes 50 seconds to use at the starting level 1, which can be reduced by 10 seconds with each upgrade, to a maximum of 20 seconds at level 4. Now the Artillery Beam is indeed pretty awesome when maxed out, especially because it completely ignores enemy shields, but it's important to keep in mind that it costs 160 scrap to reach that point (30+50+80) as well as the investment of four reactor power (roughly another 80-100 scrap cost). This thing is not cheap.
The conclusion to take away from this discussion is that Federation A is more of a lategame ship overall. The Artillery Beam is almost useless at the start of a run when it has the 50 second chargeup time, and as much as I love the Burst II Laser, with nothing else to lean on in the early game, Federation A only has an average beginning offensive setup. It's an interesting contrast to the Kestrel B just discussed above. On paper, the Federation A looks better in almost every way. Burst II Laser! Artillery Beam! Versus a bunch of Basic Lasers? Come on. But in practice, I've found the Kestrel B to perform better than the Federation A, because the early game damage of those Basic Lasers is just so ridiculously strong. It takes a while for the Federation A to start to outscale the Kestrel B, and by then a run has usually either gotten ahead or fallen behind the dreaded Curve. Now the good news is that the Federation A really doesn't have any weaknesses to its setup either. There are no holes here, nothing missing, only a slightly slow early game which is still pretty darn good with a Burst II Laser in hand. And Federation A has outstanding lategame scaling; this thing wrecks the rebel flagship with level 8 weapons in all four slots and a fully maxed Artillery Beam. As I wrote above, all four ships in Tier 1 are extremely strong, and all fairly comparable in performance. I have the Federation A as the weakest of this group, but not by much, and there's a major dropoff from this ship to the following tier. Although some of the other tier lists I've seen online aren't too hot on the Federation A, I do feel that it belongs in this group. It's hard to argue against a Burst II Laser, awesome starting crew, the ability to fall back on the Artillery Beam on a run with poor weapons luck, and no true weaknesses to speak of.Tier 2
This is the group of ships that came to mind when I thought about the phrase "above average". They are a clear step behind the outstanding ships in the first tier, while also being a cut above the ships that I rank as "average" in the one below. Despite being a diverse group of ships, I consider all of them to be roughly comparable in strength. These six ships are all good choices to use for a victory attempt.
Overall Ranking: 7/28
Strengths: Shield-Piercing Weapons, Strong Starting Crew
Weaknesses: Lacks Anything Overpowered
Crystal A is the other design on the secret ship, the poor man's version of the Crystal B. This ship rarely seems to get much attention from the FTL community, and whenever I see anyone playing or discussing the Crystal Cruiser, nine times out of ten the focus is on the Crystal B. It's a bit of shame that this design gets overlooked, because it's a nice setup in its own right and a lot of fun to use. Crystal A has two different crystal-based weapons for its default offense, the Crystal Mark I and the Heavy Crystal I. These can only be bought in the secret Crystal Sector, so this is probably the only time you'll ever see these things in action. These weapons are basically a Burst I Laser and a Heavy Laser I, with the distinction of having longer cooldown times, the ability to breach the hull instead of set fires, and the drawback of being a projectile that can be shot down by standard Defensive drones. The game considers the little crystal shots to be missiles, in other words. The advantage of the crystal weapons is that they pierce through one layer of enemy shields. This is really useful at the start of the game, since most rebel ships will begin with one shield bubble. The weapons on the Crystal A get to ignore that, and it's like every ship has no shields at all! Even without that bonus, starting the game with an effective Burst I Laser + Heavy Laser combo is very nice indeed. (I'd rather have those non-crystal weapons with their shorter cooldowns but hey, beggars can't be choosers.) On top of that, the Crystal A also has an outstanding starting crew of four, with a pair of Humans and a pair of the overpowered Crystal race. You can go boarding with them and have good results, although be warned that purchasing a Teleporter will only grant this ship the normal two-tile setup, not the godly four-tile version of the Crystal B. Finally, the Crystal A also begins the game with the Crystal Vengeance, which basically means that it starts the game with an extra 40 scrap (after selling the useless augment at a store). That can be turned into a weapon purchase, or most of the upgrade to level 4 shields, or two reactor upgrades, or whatever. Lots of options there.
I tried to find a weakness for this ship, but there really isn't one. All of the normal systems are present and begin at the default levels. The weapons are above average, the crew is excellent, and so on. The only drawback is that there's nothing overpowered to boost this ship up into the next tier. Crystal A is a solid, above-average ship. If you ignore the weird crystal weapons and crew, it's almost somewhat bland, similar to the Kestrel A in a lot of respects. Because of this stable setup with no serious weaknesses, I rank it as the best ship in this second tier. (The presence of the Crystal Vengeance was enough to give it a small extra boost to the top. That silly augment really should not sell for so much scrap!)
Overall Ranking: 8/28
Strengths: Hacking, Solid Weapons
Weaknesses: Lacks Anything Overpowered
Just as the Lanius B trails a step behind the Crystal B, so too does the Lanius A follow in the wake of the Crystal A. (I did not do that deliberately in the tier list; I didn't notice the pattern until doing the writeup.) This is another ship in the "above average" category without being strong enough to fall into the exceptional group. Lanius A leans heavily upon its Hacking system for strength. The flexibility of Hacking allows Lanius A to be developed in a number of different directions, hacking enemy weapons for defensive protection, hacking their piloting / engines to guarantee successful shots, hacking shields for beam weapon usage, or hacking enemy healing systems / doors to synergize with boarding gameplay. This can be a strong invasion ship with a Teleporter, Hacking, and the two Lanius crew. I've found that Hacking is often useful in the early game against enemy weapons, stalling them out temporarily while allowing the Chain Laser to wind up on its initial slow cooldown. Speaking of weapons, the Chain Laser + Ion Stunner is a solid if unspectacular early game pairing. The Chain Laser starts out with a slower cooldown time than the Ion Stunner, only to drop all the way down to 7 seconds after its third shot. These two are still inferior to the Burst II Laser on some of the higher ships on this tier list, although having Hacking on hand to boost their performance helps a lot.
The rest of the Lanius A is relatively uninteresting. The engines start out at only level 1, but the first two engine upgrades cost 10 and 15 scrap respectively, which means that this isn't much of a penalty. The two Lanius crewmembers are nice to have on board, as is the Emergency Respirators augment (which I typically sell for the 25 scrap payout). Like a lot of the other ships in the middle of the tier list, the Lanius A doesn't have major strengths or weaknesses. It's a fairly average ship that gets boosted towards the top of this group due to the presence of the Hacking system. The performance of the Lanius A will depend heavily on how well the player can make use of those Hacking drones. Failure to get good value out of them will likely result in defeat.
Overall Ranking: 9/28
Strengths: Hacking, Mind Control
Weaknesses: No Sensors, High Skillcap
Slug C is another ship that generally seems to fly under the radar. I rarely see much discussion of this ship online, even though it's actually one of my favorite ships in FTL. It's also the best of the three Slug designs, none of which are especially near the top of my tier list. Slug C is unique for having both Hacking and Mind Control as starting systems, which no other ship can claim. This provides a number of different ways to screw around with enemy crew, and Slug C can be a decent boarding ship if the player chooses to add a Teleporter. (Of course, if you do that then it means no Defensive drone or Cloaking since all of the system slots will be full.) The starting weapons are very similar to the Lanius A, with the presence of a Chain Laser and nothing else. Without much in the way of direct offensive power, the Slug C needs to use the Hacking and Mind Control systems to destroy enemy ships. It can do this very effectively, of course, which is why I have it ranked above average in the tier list. This is also a ship where finding an early weapon can swing a run into easy mode and start snowballing ahead. Remember, you can find weapons for free in FTL, but you can't find systems. Having two useful systems on hand right from the outset is a major boost to this ship.
As mentioned before, the tradeoff for the Hacking and Mind Control is a lack of direct killing power. The Chain Laser becomes a good weapon after it finishes charging up, at the cost of a very slow first shot. (It goes 16 seconds to 13 seconds to 10 seconds to 7 seconds.) This is a ship with a high skillcap to use; the player will not be able to brute force his or her way through battles. The ships that are most similar to Slug C are the Lanius A and the Engi C. I have all three of them grouped together into this tier, with the Lanius A nudging a spot higher due to its Ion Stunner and Lanius crew. Lanius A and Slug C are very close in terms of overall strength, and I wouldn't fault anyone for ranking them in the opposite order. I personally prefer having the extra weapon and the Lanius crew instead of the Slug crew, rather than having the Mind Control system. (Slug C also lacks a Sensor system, which was the effective tiebreaker for me.) As far as comparing to Engi C, that ship's Dual Laser is fairly comparable to the Chain Laser, but it gives up Mind Control in favor of a Drone Control system with a Beam Drone. Mind Control is simply more useful than a Beam Drone in that comparison; I don't find the Beam Drone to be very useful in most situations, not to mention it eats up scarce drone parts which would be better saved for Hacking use. Thus I end up with Lanius A, then Slug C, then Engi C in my personal ranking of these three similar ships. But all of them are roughly comparable, and we'll get to Engi C in a minute further down the list.
Overall Ranking: 10/28
Strengths: Burst II Laser
Weaknesses: No Systems or Augments
The Kestrel A is the default starting ship in FTL, which means that it's fairly basic in its setup. The great strength of the Kestrel A lies in its weapons, especially the Burst II Laser. This is one of the holy trio of FTL weapons, providing 3 shots for 2 reactor power on a relatively short 12 second cooldown. The presence of this weapon is literally the only reason why the Kestrel A get ranked above average, since there is little else to distinguish the ship. The ship also begins the game with an Artemis Missile, which cannot be bought in stores and is an excellent missile in its own right. The Artemis Missile does 2 damage on hit for 1 weapon power, and I've found it to be a useful early game compliment to the Burst II Laser. It's great at providing extra punch against a nasty weapon setup, or covering for the Burst Laser if all the shots miss, or smashing out enemy piloting when the rebels try to run away. Obviously the missiles have too many limitations to see regular use, and the Artemis will almost certainly be replaced later on, but having that extra weapon does make a difference.
The rest of the Kestrel A is standard in every way. This makes complete sense, since this is the ship that establishes the standard for all of the others. There are no systems or augments, it has all of the default systems at the default levels, and the crew consists of three Humans. You could refer to the Kestrel A with the term "bland", although that might be a bit unfair. Something has to be the default ship, and I enjoy using the Kestrel A quite a lot. The mere fact that the Kestrel A has that Burst II Laser and DOESN'T have any crippling disadvantages is enough to make it a solid ship, better than about 2/3 of the others. I would rank this ship higher if I could.
Overall Ranking: 11/28
Strengths: Zoltan Shield, Ion Cascade + Beam Weapon
Weaknesses: Weak Shields, Low Reactor Power, Ion Cascade
I've placed the Zoltan B into this second tier despite the fact that it doesn't resemble any of the other ships here. I feel confident about this placement, however, as I regard this ship as falling into the same "above average" category on roughly the same power level as the others in the group. Zoltan B operates on a very different setup, not using lasers or Hacking like the other ships in this tier. Instead, it uses a pair of Ion Blasts to set up an ion cascade, with the goal of repeatedly hitting the enemy ship with ion damage and keeping its shields permanently offline. Once the shields are gone, the Pike Beam can cut it apart with ease. I know that a lot of people in the FTL community like using the ion cascade gameplay, and I agree that the Zoltan B is the strongest ship that uses this style of combat. (You might also notice that I don't think too much of the ion cascade style, since I have the Zoltan B ranked as only the 11th best ship, and the other ships that use this setup are significantly lower.) One of the understated benefits of the Zoltan B is the ease of training up your weapons crewmember; those Ion Blasts have a very short cooldown, and the weapons guy will be racking up the experience very quickly. This ship also has a Zoltan Shield, like all of the Zoltan ships, which is a huge advantage and arguably the strongest aspect of this ship. The Zoltan Shield is the best augment in the game, and it's a critical component of this ship's setup.
The biggest weakness of the Zoltan B is its non-Zoltan Shield defensive setup. Zoltan B starts out with "weak" shields at level 1, which means zero shield bubbles. Once the Zoltan Shield is broken, there's no defense other than evade. This is different from the Stealth ships, which lack a Shield system entirely and must find one in a store, but the Zoltan B has to pay a one-time penalty of 100 scrap to upgrade the shields to level 2. After that point they function like normal shields. It's probably a good idea to do this relatively quickly, as there are no Long Range Scanners on the Zoltan B (which the Stealth ships all have) and wandering into an asteroid field or ion pulsar will remove the Zoltan Shield almost immediately, leaving this ship in a dangerous position. Zoltan B also has a weak reactor and starts with 5 power, although like the Zoltan A that's pretty much canceled out by starting with three Zoltan crewmembers. Unlike the Zoltan A, this ship does not start with an upgraded Door system, and it's significantly tougher to deal with enemy boarders. In my experience, the strange layout of this ship combined with the Zoltan crew makes it highly vulnerable to Teleporter attacks.
I also need to discuss the ion cascade setup in more detail. I've placed the ion cascade setup as both a strength and a weakness of this ship, which I would argue is a fair representation of this mechanic. When it works well, the ions will vaporize the shields on the enemy ship, and the Pike Beam happily goes to town from there. This is one of the rare ships where the initial weapons can last for a long time, and under the right conditions it's possible to defeat rebel ships with even three or four shield bubbles with just the two Ion Blasts and the Pike Beam. For this reason, I've seen some FTL tier lists that place the Zoltan B significantly higher, up near the top as one of the best in the game. The problem is that those "right conditions" don't happen that often, especially on Hard difficulty where all of the enemy ships have higher evade and stronger weapons. For one thing, ion cascades are slow, and even with a Zoltan Shield it's undesirable to sit and wait for the enemy shields to slowly be removed. Ion cascades also have the bad habit of being interruptable; if you miss a couple of shots in a row, the cascade gets reset and it has to start all over again. With all of those endgame auto scouts having 40% evade, you'll almost never manage to land the 8 shots in a row necessary to remove all of the shields. (Hacking doesn't even help with this since the shots come over an extended period of time and not in one burst like lasers.) The ion cascade also gets interrupted by any ship with Cloaking, and it feels like every other ship has a Cloaking unit by the end of the game. (Plus the flagship itself has a Cloaking unit in the first phase!) Furthermore, until the shields actually get removed, that Pike Beam is completely useless. This is not like the Halberd Beam on the Zoltan A, which can still function through a single shield layer (at half damage), making it much less error-prone. Anyway, the net effect of all this is that I don't consider ion cascade setups to be a reliable form of offense, and therefore rank these ships lower in the tier list. While the Zoltan B might be the best at this style of gameplay, it's an inherently risky way to play the game. Maybe this stuff works great on Easy difficulty, I don't know. It's a low skillcap approach to FTL, and in my experience it's not reliable for the ending areas of Hard difficulty. Zoltan B is still pretty good, but mostly because of the Zoltan Shield and the Pike Beam, not those two Ion Blasts. I always try to replace them as soon as possible with lasers or flak when I use this ship.
Overall Ranking: 12/28
Strengths: Hacking, Drone Control
Weaknesses: Weak Weapons, 3 Weapons Slots
The Engi C is the last ship that I place in this tier, and I would argue that it's the weakest of the "above average" group. This ship's great advantage is starting out with both Hacking and Drone Control systems, the only ship to have that particular combination. These are both systems that I typically find myself trying to purchase in almost every game, which means that the Engi C has a very nice setup right from the outset. Unfortunately, almost everything else about this ship is below average to compensate for those two systems. Engi C only has a Dual Laser for weaponry, which isn't that bad given that it's 2 shots for 1 weapons power on a short cooldown. That said, it doesn't scale especially well into the lategame, and as the only starting armament the Dual Laser isn't particularly impressive. To help deal damage, the Engi C gets a Beam Drone, which is sadly one of the weakest offensive drones. I generally don't like relying on drones to deal damage at all because they can't be controlled in combat. They always seem to waste time going after trivial stuff like enemy doors or sensors instead of focusing on weapons and shields and piloting. The Beam Drones are even worse than the Combat Drones, as they do absolutely nothing unless the enemy shields have been broken, and that's 90% of the challenge in the first place. I don't need more overkill damage after the shields are down, I need weapons that can help me break through the shields! As a result, I don't value the Beam Drone very highly. The great advantage of the Drone Control system is the ability to pick up a Defensive drone somewhere and use it to stop missiles, not the Beam Drone that comes along for the ride. This ship also has the very useful Defense Scrambler augment which prevents enemy drones from targeting your missiles or hacking drones. I tend to devalue this somewhat due to the trick/cheat that allows you to slip Hacking drones past enemy Defensive drones. (And yes, I feel like a scumbag whenever I use that, but I still abuse it all the time.) For anyone who's playing more legitimately, the Defense Scrambler can be extremely valuable in certain situations.
Engi C also has the "weak" weapons setup that requires a one-time payment of 40 scrap to upgrade the weapons to level 2. Like the other Engi ships, it can only hold three weapons at a time, and that limitation always irritates me in endgame scenarios. (The fact that Engi ships can run three drones at once doesn't compensate for this at all. When could I ever consistently run a setup that used three drones at a time? How would I ever have enough drone parts for that?) This ship has a high skillcap, and needs to rely on smart usage of Hacking to get around the lack of direct offensive power. Again, it's most similar to the Lanius A and the Slug C, the two other ships in FTL that also start with Hacking. I find Engi C to be the weakest of the lot. Now despite everything just mentioned, this ship is still above average on the tier list, and that's because the Hacking + Drone Control combination truly does offer a lot of value. You can always find better weapons and drones, but you can't luck your way into finding systems. Engi C slots its way into the final spot on this tier with a whole lot of hard work and elbow grease.Tier 3
As the middle tier out of five on my list, this holds the ships that I consider to be average in strength. This is the largest of my five groups, with eight ships in total slotting in here. It makes intuitive sense that the ranking system would approximate a normal distribution, and here we're sitting solidly in the fattest part of the bell curve. Disregarding the overpowered Crystal B and Lanius B in their special unique tiers, I wound up with 10 ships grading out above average in the top two tiers, 8 ships in this average category, and 8 more below average ships in the bottom tiers. I'm very pleased at how well that turned out, since I was not consciously trying to manipulate the numbers for the sake of neatness. Anyway, this group has a disparate collection of ships which are all in the middle of the power curve. They represent a noticeably harder challenge than the ships featured previously.
Overall Ranking: 13/28
Strengths: Drone Control, Ion Cascade, Low Skillcap
Weaknesses: Ion Cascade, Reliant on Offensive Drones, 3 Weapons Slots
This might be the single most controversial spot in my tier list. I have the Engi A ranked as an average ship here in tier three, and I'm prepared to justify that opinion until I'm blue in the face. If you've never interacted much with the wider FTL community, the Engi A is typically regarded online as a top tier ship. I've read innumerable posts stating that this is one of the best ships in the game, it was the first ship where the poster defeated the rebel flagship, etc. But is this ship really that good? (Answer to the rhetorical question: No.) Let's look at its strengths first. Engi A is another ship based around using an ion cascade setup, in the same fashion as Zoltan B. It begins with the Ion Blast II as its only weapon, the game's best ion weapon. This thing requires three weapon power and fires an ion shot every 4 seconds; I believe it's the fastest non-Vulcan firing rate in the game. The Ion Blast II is the only ion weapon that fires fast enough to initiate permanent shield ionization without help from other sources. To deal direct damage, the Engi A also starts the game with a Drone Control system and a Combat Drone. The Combat Drone is definitely better as an offensive option than the Beam Drone; it will help break through enemy shields and occasionally fire two shots in rapid succession to deal damage through a single shield layer. So it's easy to see why this ship would be popular, and not only because it's the first non-Kestrel ship to be unlocked. Players can autofire the Ion Blast II against enemy shields and then let the Combat Drone go to work against the unprotected enemy. Battles practically play themselves. Engi A arguably has the lowest skillcap to use in FTL, and even someone with little understanding of what they're doing can often have great success.
Of course, that's sort of the problem with being such a low skillcap ship. The Engi A might be great in the hands of newcomers, but it doesn't get much better when piloted by an expert player. The ion cascade gameplay has serious holes in its setup, as described above in the Zoltan B section. It tends to fall apart against lategame ships with high evade, Cloaking, or both. A Defensive Drone II can also wreck havoc by shooting down all of the ion shots. The ion cascade is also slow; you really can't sit around for thirty seconds at the start of every battle waiting for the enemy shields to be ionized to use the rest of your weapons. If you're heading that route, you might as well get a Vulcan and have a weapon that actually deals damage. People online will often say that the holes of the ion cascade setup can be covered up by adding additional ion weapons for more total shots and faster shield removal, but is that really a good solution? The Engi A only has three total weapon slots, another weakness of its design. Locking up two of the three weapon slots on ion stuff leaves the player with few options to deal actual damage. Of course, the Engi A does start with a Combat Drone for that purpose... but again, that's not a reliable offensive option. The offensive drones can't be controlled in battle, and they will often waste their time firing at all of the unimportant systems on the enemy ships. The inability to focus damage on enemy weapons or shields or piloting (or whatever) is a serious weakness indeed. Knocking out the most dangerous systems on the rebel ships is a crucial aspect of FTL's ship vs. ship gameplay. I suppose you could try to compensate by getting even more offensive drones, but then where are you going to get the drone parts needed to run them? Like missiles, drone parts are a resource to be managed in this game. I find myself barely having enough for Defensive drone and Hacking usage in my runs, and there's certainly not enough spare scrap to be purchasing more drone parts at stores when playing on Hard mode. The whole ions + drone setup simply isn't that good. I rank the ships that use it fairly low on my list due to all of these flaws.
The net result is that the Engi A grades out as an average ship, right in the middle of this tier list. I have it as the best ship in Tier 3, however that's still very much where it belongs. It's actually among my least favorite ships in the game due to its completely passive gameplay style. Autofire the Ion Blast, watch the Combat Drone do its thing... boring. The darned ship even comes with the Engi Medbots augment for auto healing! This is very much a newcomer's ship. If we're evaluating these ships from the perspective of a skilled player, Engi A is nothing special.
Overall Ranking: 14/28
Strengths: Cloaking, Strong Weapons, Long Range Scanners
Weaknesses: No Shields, 3 Weapons Slots
If you're looking for the polar opposite of the Engi A, look no further than the Stealth A design. All of the Stealth ships are high skillcap setups which require an experienced hand at the tiller to avoid early disaster. Stealth A is on my short list of favorite ships in the game, bringing a series of awesome tools to the table for use by a creative player. The first and most obvious is the Cloaking unit. As the "Stealth" name implies, the Stealth A and Stealth B both start the game with a Cloaking system already installed. Cloaking is the game's most expensive and generally best system, with Stealth A even starting with upgraded level 4 engines to take better advantage of it. The ship also begins with Long Range Scanners, the best non-Zoltan Shield augment in FTL, allowing the player to steer straight for the maximum number of encounters from the outset of the run. It's no coincidence that my high score list has several runs with Stealth ships listed on it, with the battles found by the Long Range Scanners snowballing into more scrap and better upgrades at sooner times. As I've written before, the rebel flagship will always be there at the end of the game, so you might as well fight as much as possible to collect scrap for upgrades in preparation for the final showdown. Stealth A also benefits from having a very powerful early game weapon duo in the Dual Lasers and Minibeam. Don't be thrown off by the unassuming nature of these two weapons. They share extremely short cooldowns and deal excellent early game damage when used correctly. Their ability to set fires can be particularly devastating when it pops up. The pairing reminds me a lot of the Burst Laser collection on the Kestrel B, another weapon setup that doesn't look as strong as it actually is. Stealth A even gets the useful Titanium System Casing augment, which can be sold for a very nice 40 scrap at the first store visited. With the combination of Cloaking, Long Range Scanners, and strong early weapons, this ship is very entertaining in action.
Of course there have to be disadvantages to counter all those goodies, and the Stealth ships share a glaring hole: none of them start the game with shields! That sounds terrifying when you first start playing FTL, and I'll admit that it still feels weird and slightly disturbing seeing the Stealth ship graphics with their total lack of shielding. The presence of the Cloaking unit means that this isn't quite as suicidal as it sounds at first blush, however. Stealth A should put its first upgrade into taking the Cloaking system to level 2, and that provides 10 seconds of invisibility for the weapons to charge up to full. Cloak, fire the weapons to knock out the enemy offense, and then if all goes well you're relatively safe. (Spoiler: it doesn't always go well.) With Long Range Scanners on board, the player can pilot around the asteroid fields which would otherwise be disastrous for a ship without shielding. And it's not like shields are forever out of reach either; a Shield unit can be purchased in a store for 125 scrap. Shields always seem to be offered for sale if the store is selling systems, although I might have just been lucky in my runs. The design for the Stealth A is therefore just about perfect: a fast, hidden ship that relies on Cloaking past threats and using its strong weapons to avoid trouble. The presence of only three weapon slots is probably my single least favorite thing about this ship, I like everything else about it. (Well, the starting weapons also scale poorly into the lategame, especially with only three total slots.) I wish that I could rank this ship higher, but the lack of shields makes the Stealth A too chancy to be placed higher than average. This one is a lot of fun - I highly recommend using Stealth A. (It's a great teaching tool too, you'll learn a ton about using Cloaking effectively. That or you'll die really fast!)
Overall Ranking: 15/28
Strengths: Artillery Beam
Weaknesses: Subpar Starting Weapons
Federation B is the design that comes to mind when I think of an average ship. This one doesn't stand out for being particularly strong or particularly weak. It kind of sits there in the middle of the power curve without distinguishing itself very much in any direction. The Federation B is weaker than its big brother the Federation A in almost every way possible. Instead of having a Burst Laser II, this thing has a Dual Laser and a Leto Missile. That's not a very good weapons combo at all, as the Leto Missile is a weak missile that deals 1 damage per shot. (It does have a fast cooldown as its one advantage.) The Dual Laser can be a good option when combined together with other weapons or systems, since it fires 2 shots for 1 weapon power, however on the Federation B there's little to help it deal damage. This ship doesn't have Hacking or Mind Control or a beam weapon like so many of the ships featured above. The Leto Missiles are weak enough that they don't contribute very much. Federation B also has a significantly worse starting crew when compared to Federation A, losing the Engi and Mantis and Rockman in favor of a Slug and Zoltan. While that's still a solid group, it's nowhere near as good.
The saving grace of the Federation B is the Artillery Beam, which returns once again and starts the game at level 2 instead of level 1. That means that it begins the game with a 40 second cooldown, assuming that the player invests two reactor power into the shorter cooldown. Unfortunately this is still too long to be practical in most battles, as the enemy ship will typically get off three volleys of their weapons before the Artillery Beam can fire. It can sometimes be a good strategy with the Federation B to ignore normal weapons and invest the 130 scrap needed (50+80) to drop the Artillery Beam's cooldown to the minimum of 20 seconds as soon as possible. At the very least, the player can save scrap and see if any weapons turn up, then invest his or her funds as needed. The Artillery Beam is not a panacea for all woes though, and I think that it gets overvalued a bit in the online community. Yes, the fact that it ignores shields is awesome, but the Artillery Beam can't be targeted in any way. The inability to deal targeted damage at key enemy systems is a major weakness, just as it is with the ions + drones setup. If you've read this far, by now you've probably realized the high value I place on targeted damage, and the far lower emphasis I give to the automated damage options that can't be controlled. Federation B does become a strong ship in the lategame, when the four weapons slots have been filled out and the Artillery Beam has been upgraded to the maximum level. Unfortunately its early game setup is significantly weaker than Federation A, and I listed the early game as the biggest shortcoming of that superior ship. Federation B is another ship where finding an early weapon to complement the Dual Lasers can make a massive difference. Land a Flak or Burst Laser to pair with the Dual Lasers, and you can ignore the pricey, uncontrollable Artillery Beam for a while and get off and running. That strong lategame will arrive... eventually.
Overall Ranking: 16/28
Strengths: Anti-Bio Beam
Weaknesses: Subpar Starting Weapons, No Sensors
Slug A is very much another average ship distinguished by the presence of the Anti-Bio Beam. We're now starting to reach the point on this list where the ships don't have much in the way of advantages, and they make this tier simply by avoiding the crippling penalties of the worst ships. Slug A is one of the few ships to start with three weapons: the familiar Dual Laser, an Anti-Bio Beam, and a Breach Bomb. There's only enough starting weapon power to run two of these weapons at a time, and in most cases that will be the Dual Laser and the Anti-Bio Beam. The beam weapon has only one use: killing enemy crew. The Anti-Bio Beam deals 60 HP of damage to any crewmember unfortunate enough to get hit with the thing. The beam itself must touch their little sprite graphic, it's not enough to hit the room in which they're standing. Two shots with the Anti-Bio Beam will kill everything other than Rockmen, and ideally the player can use it to get the bonus scrap reward for eliminating enemy crew without destroying their ship in the process. Unfortunately the Anti-Bio Beam doesn't work unless the shields on the other ship have been breached, and it tends to fare poorly against enemy Medbays and Cloning Bays. If the other guys can simply go heal between shots, or come back to life after death, it's not a very effective weapon. The beam is also completely useless against auto scouts, for the obvious reason that there's nothing alive on board. I've found the Anti-Bio Beam to be a nice little addition in the early game, when the opposing ships often don't have any way to heal their crew. Unfortunately, it's hard to justify locking up 2 weapon power and a weapon slot on the thing as the enemy ships begin to ramp up in difficulty. If by some chance you can get a second Anti-Bio Beam, however, you can start one-shotting the rebels with a double Anti-Bio Beam, and that's a terrifying scenario. I've never managed that combo myself, but I'd love to try it.
Outside of the Anti-Bio Beam, there's little noteworthy about the Slug A. The Dual Laser is a common starting weapon on a half dozen other ships, and the Breach Bomb isn't anything all that special. It can be useful at times if there's a key system that has to be taken out, but standard lasers or flak would definitely be a better choice. The ship has standard levels in most of the other systems, although it lacks a Sensors system like all of the other Slug ships. The Slug innate racial bonus helps to compensate for this. There's only two of the slimy things on board to start the game, so expect to do some crew microing between the engine room and weapons room as appropriate. This design is very much an average one, right in the middle of the pack.
Overall Ranking: 17/28
Strengths: Four-Tile Teleporter
Weaknesses: No Direct Damage, 3 Weapons Slots
Here's the last of the boarding ships with the four-tile Teleporter, and the Mantis C is a far cry from the heights of the Crystal B and Mantis B. That Teleporter is the one thing that the Mantis C has going for it, because the rest of this design has rather slim pickings. Mantis C begins the game with a crew consisting of 1 Engi, 1 Mantis, and 1 Lanius. This eclectic bunch doesn't make for a particularly strong boarding party, with the Engi dealing very little damage and the Lanius quickly suffocating the other two. Mantis C is a ship that needs more crew to be truly effective. If you can find or hire a bunch of Mantises (or somehow get 3 more Lanius!) this becomes a very strong ship. The four-tile Teleporter scales very well into the lategame, and the player can make progress with little in the way of conventional weaponry. The early parts of a Mantis C run can be rough, however. This ship begins with no direct damage capabilities, carrying only a Stun Bomb and a Lockdown Bomb for weapons. The Stun Bomb will deal 1 ion damage and stun everyone inside the room it hits (including your crew!) for a lengthy 15 seconds. This bomb typically takes some good micromanagement to set up an effective shot, although stunning enemy crew in the same room with an oxygen-draining Lanius can work decently on its own merits. The Lockdown Bomb duplicates the innate ability of the secret Crystal race, which can be used to trap enemy crew or wall off portions of the enemy ship. You can lockdown the enemy Medbay, then teleport inside and destroy it before the rebels have a chance to repair the system. Again, these bombs have good synergy with a boarding party; the difficulty is getting through the early game while putting that boarding party together. Mantis C is also somewhat unique for having a Cloning Bay instead of a Medbay, which does some strange things to the invading gameplay. There's little reason to pull your people off of the enemy ship. Since you can't heal them, it's better to let them fight until they die, then revive them in the Cloning Bay. It's also more important to upgrade the Cloning Bay to the maximum level 3 than upgrade the Teleporter - why would you need a faster cooldown? You'll almost never need to pull your guys off the enemy ship! Better to upgrade the Cloning Bay and reduce the risk of a stray shot knocking it offline. Expect to see a lot of dying and reviving taking place in that thing.
I've seen wildly varying opinions about the strength of the Mantis C. Some tier lists based around playing for high score have this thing near the very top, due to the extra scrap rewards that come from boarding. I've also seen more than one Reddit post claiming that this is the worst ship in the game, or at least in the bottom tier. I find myself somewhere in between those opinions, putting the Mantis C within the ranks of the average ships, albeit towards the lower end of that group. As difficult as it can be to get started with the Mantis C, that four-tile Teleporter does count for an awful lot. This is another one of the few ships that's more limited by available crew than by weaponry. I recommend hiring additional crew to take advantage of the Teleporter if scrap is available, especially if Mantises are for sale. Once you have six or seven people on board, Mantis C starts to take off and begin dominating the enemy. On the other hand, if you lose crew to a depowered Cloning Bay or bad luck with events, this ship rapidly becomes almost useless.
Overall Ranking: 18/28
Strengths: Teleporter, Strong Crew, Small Bomb
Weaknesses: Weak Weapons, No Sensors, 3 Weapons Slots
I've placed the Mantis A right next to the Mantis C on this list. I value these two ships very similarly, and struggled when deciding which one to put ahead of the other. Mantis A has a better early game with weaker scaling, while the Mantis C has a poor early game with good scaling. In the end, I went with the Mantis C by a hair because of the four-tile Teleporter; feel free to disagree. Anyway, Mantis A is another boarding ship based around use of the Teleporter. Mantis A has the opposite problem of Mantis C in this regard; Mantis C has the four-tile Teleporter and needs crew to use it, while Mantis A has an amazing starting crew with 3 Mantises and 1 Engi, but can't put them all to use because it's limited to the two-tile version of the Teleporter. It's a real shame these ships can't be combined together into one super Mantis cruiser! (Oh wait, that does exist: it's called Mantis B.) When developing Mantis A, the player will want to focus on upgrading the Teleporter to level 3 quickly (again, the opposite of Mantis C). Upgrading the Teleporter drops the cooldown time from 20 seconds to 15 seconds to 10 seconds. This has two benefits. First, it's possible to pull your attackers more quickly off the enemy ship in case of danger - there's no Cloning Bay here if someone dies. Secondly, with a faster Teleporter cooldown the player can send a second wave of invaders over to the enemy ship after 10 seconds of melee combat. Since this ship begins with 3 Mantises, you'll want to get that third Mantis over to help the other two as quickly as possible. Complementing the boarders is the presence of a Small Bomb on the Mantis A, a far better weapon than the Stun and Lockdown Bombs on the Mantis C. The Small Bomb deals 2 system damage and only costs 1 weapon power, making it the perfect boarding accessory to eliminate those annoying Medbays and Cloning Bays. You can also use it to target enemy weapons or shields or piloting too. Along with the Ion Bomb and Heavy Laser, the Small Bomb is one of my favorite 1 power additions for the final weapon slot at the end of runs. With all those Mantis crewmembers and the Small Bomb, the Mantis A is set up about as well as possible for a boarding ship that lacks a four-tile Teleporter.
Now the drawbacks for this ship: Mantis A is complete garbage at pretty much everything other than using the Teleporter. It begins the game with almost no direct damage capabilities, just a single Basic Laser on the hull. That's not a Dual Laser, that's a Basic Laser. One shot at a time. Against any enemy ship with shields - which is nearly all of them - the Dual Laser is useless. The player must break the shields via boarding or Small Bomb usage before the Basic Laser can do anything. The Mantis A also begins the game with a "weak" level 1 weapon system, requiring a one-time payment of 40 scrap to upgrade to level 2. This means that the Mantis A cannot use both the Basic Laser and the Small Bomb at the same time until upgrading the weapons. It's one or the other, since they both cost 1 weapon power. This is another reason why I suggest upgrading the Teleporter first to level 2, so that the ship has a way of dealing with auto scouts via boarding. Like all Mantis ships, the Mantis A also has only three weapon slots, and that's a major problem in the lategame when you'd like to carry the Small Bomb in one of those slots. If you do choose to carry it for assistance in boarding, then you can only use two other weapons for ship against ship combat. That makes for some difficult decisions in the endgame. Overall then, Mantis A is a fairly mediocre ship which is heavily reliant on its Teleporter to make any headway. Mantis A and Mantis C are like bizarro reverse images of one another with similar gameplay. I put both of them down towards the bottom of the "average" tier, but if you are someone who enjoys the boarding style, these might be higher on your personal list.
Overall Ranking: 19/28
Strengths: Crystal Crewmember
Weaknesses: Subpar Starting Weapons
This is the first of the three Rock designs to appear. Due to their heavy reliance on missiles, I don't value any of them particularly highly when compared to the rest of the field. Rock C has the odd starting weapon pairing of a Heavy Crystal and Swarm Missiles. These two have very little synergy, even if they are both relatively solid individually. The Heavy Crystal is the same unorthodox starting weapon found on the Crystal A, essentially a Heavy Laser (one shot that deals two damage) which has a longer cooldown and pierces one shield layer. It works great so long as the enemy ships have only a single shield bubble, and then needs help from other projectiles after that. The Swarm Missile is probably the best missile weapon in the game, basically a "Charge Missile" which can fire up to three missiles at once (still at the cost of only one ammunition) if the player waits the full 21 seconds. This gets around the biggest problem of missile weapons in FTL, the fact that they require a limited resource quantity to be used. That said, with the prevalence of enemy defensive drones and the long chargeup time required to get the full effect, the Swarm Missile still isn't a practical weapon for Hard difficulty. You would need to keep buying missiles at stores to use the thing for a full run, and the scrap for that simply isn't available. The Swarm Missile will most likely be a useful early game damage complement, and then get replaced as soon as something better turns up.
Anyway, this weird weapon setup is the main reason why the Rock C doesn't grade out higher in my list. The ship does have two other advantages going for it. One is the presence of a Crystal crewmember; this is the only non-Crystal ship in the game to start with one of these guys. Their innate Lockdown racial ability makes them great for boarding operations, and Rockmen are good partners to pair with them. Of course, Rock C doesn't begin with a Teleporter system, and even if the player does purchase one, it will only be the standard two-tile version. For a second advantage, like all Rock ships this one begins with the Rock Plating augment, a useful one that has 15% odds to block hull damage from taking place (systems will still be damaged). Helpful as this may be, the thing also sells for 40 scrap at a store, and that's how I typically put it to best use. The net overall package of this ship grades out squarely as average for me, tilting towards the bottom end of the middle group. While the Rock C lacks any crippling disadvantages, there's relatively little on the positive side of the ledger either, and any ship that has to rely on missile weapons has a tough patch to hoe.
Overall Ranking: 20/28
Strengths: Strong Crew, Fire Bomb + Teleporter Boarding
Weaknesses: No Teleporter, No Doors, No Outside Vents
Rock B is the last ship that just barely cracks the average tier on my list. I debated whether to keep this here or drop it down a tier to the below average group, ultimately keeping it next to its C design sibling. I certainly wouldn't fault someone for putting this ship in the next tier down. Rock B is certainly one of the stranger ships in FTL. The big advantage of this ship is a setup that's clearly designed for boarding gameplay. It starts out with an excellent beginning crew of four Rockmen along with a nasty Fire Bomb weapon. None of the other ships in the game get to start out with that particular flammable item. The Rockmen's racial bonus is an immunity to fire, so the clear intention of the Rock B is to teleport two of them over to the enemy ship and then Fire Bomb whatever room they happen to be fighting inside. The weak non-mineral life forms will horribly burn to death while the rocks smash their way to victory. For conventional weaponry, the Rock B also starts out with a Heavy Pierce Laser, which is almost identical to a normal Heavy Laser (one shot that deals two damage) with the ability to pierce through one shield layer in exchange for a slightly longer cooldown. It's almost a carbon copy of the Heavy Crystal weapon, for that matter. Since the Heavy Pierce Laser also has a chance to breach the hull and set fires, it makes for a nice complement for raiding the other ship. Tack on the Rock Plating augment again, and there's some nice stuff to play around with on this ship.
Unfortunately, Rock B also has major weaknesses to counterbalance these advantages. Here's the most glaring one: Rock B does not start the game with a Teleporter system! Yes, this ship that seems custom made to be used in boarding operations doesn't begin with the system needed to carry them out. Rock B was quite a bit better in the pre-expansion days of FTL, when boarding enemy ships carried a much higher scrap reward bonus. (I believe it was originally 50% higher scrap; now it's more like 15% higher reward.) The Advanced Edition also added more total systems in the form of Hacking, Mind Control, the Backup Battery, etc. making it less likely that stores will even carry the Teleporter for sale. These changes add up to some serious nerfs to the power level of the Rock B. This ship also uniquely lacks Door controls - the doors are not level 1, the ship simply doesn't have them at all! You need to purchase them for 60 scrap at a store, and then spend another 35 scrap to take them to level 2, if you want to control the movement of enemies on your ship. Adding on to this oddity, Rock B is the only ship that lacks any outside hatches to vent the ship of oxygen. This makes it that much more difficult to deal with rebel marines or put out fires by draining rooms of air. Fortunately the ship has a starting crew of four Rockmen who aren't affected by fire and tend to be good in melee combat, but this is still a pretty serious disadvantage. Those rocks are awfully slow moving if there's a system that has to be repaired immediately. This ship does start out with level 2 Oxygen for some reason, so I guess it's a good one to take into the Slug Nebulas (?) Overall, this is a memorable and unique ship, if not a particularly strong one. A boarding ship that may never be able to board anyone makes for a bit of a sad puppy.Tier 4
This is the group of ships that I consider to be below average. We're starting to hit ships here that have major weaknesses and serious disadvantages. These are the kind of ships that need good luck in random drops or a series of upgrades just to hit the same power point where many of the other ships begin the game. On that note, let me add a quick word here about how tier lists operate in general, since this so often seems to be misunderstood online. The fact that these ships are below average doesn't mean that it's impossible to win with them. Every ship in FTL can become strong eventually with the right weapons and upgrades, just as every civilization can become powerful in the Civ games, and every champion can dominate in League of Legends with enough gold. The purpose of a tier list is not to discuss what could potentially happen, but rather to evaluate relative strength in a vacuum. It's pointless to write that Slug B "isn't really that bad" or whatever, because compared to the higher tier boarding ships, it's unquestionably a weaker setup. If Slug B becomes a decent ship after purchasing a Medbay, then how much better off would another ship be that *DIDN'T* have to waste 50 scrap that way? In other words, all of these ships can be good with the right upgrades. But they'll never be as good as ships that start out from a stronger position in the first place.
Overall Ranking: 21/28
Strengths: Decent Starting Weapons
Weaknesses: No Systems or Augments, Lowest Total Scrap Value of Design
This was another ship where I debated the placement between the very bottom of the average tier or the top of the below average tier. Ultimately I slotted the Kestrel C here due to its lack of discernable advantages. At least the Mantis and Rock ships have some kind of unique positives to distinguish them; this ship has fewer weaknesses, but almost nothing in the way of strengths. I suppose the biggest advantage of the Kestrel C comes in the form of the starting weapons, the combination of the Dual Laser and the Ion Stunner. At the start of the game, a successful hit from the Ion Stunner will remove a shield bubble and allow the Dual Lasers to get in two shots for free. Unfortunately this is still a pretty mediocre weapon setup, and nothing particularly special to write home about. Strictly average. Unlike the other ships placed above the Kestrel C on this tier list, the ship gets basically nothing to compensate for these weapons. Kestrel C has no extra systems and no augments. In comparison to the other two Kestrel designs, which compensate for the lack of extra goodies by having awesome weapons, the Kestrel C has... level 2 Scanners? Ummm, thanks? Kestrel C also starts with level 2 weapons, lower than the other two Kestrel designs, and only 7 power in the reactor instead of 8 power. The initial crew has 2 Humans and 1 Lanius, which is again decent but hardly spectacular. Kestrel C furthermore has the unique distinction of being the ship with the lowest total scrap value in FTL (when counting up the in-game value of everything). I generally don't pay too much attention to this, since the scrap ranking tends to overvalue ships with a lot of systems and augments (I think Engi A has the highest scrap value in the game or something like that). However, the rock bottom ranking of the Kestrel C certainly doesn't do it any favors either, and suggests that this is a low-tier ship.
About the best thing that can be said for the Kestrel C is that it doesn't have any crippling disadvantages. There's no key system missing here, or a dreadful weapons situation that has to be rectified. Still, if the best praise for a ship is that it's thoroughly mediocre, that's likely a sign that it belongs in the below average group.
Overall Ranking: 22/28
Strengths: Strong Weapons, Shield+ Drone, Long Range Scanners
Weaknesses: No Shields, No Cloaking, 3 Weapons Slots
This is probably another one of my more controversial ship rankings. "Are you actually suggesting that there are six ships worse than the Stealth C?!" Yes - hear me out on this one! It's true that the Stealth C has some absolutely punishing disadvantages. There are no starting shields on this design and they must be purchased at a store, like all of the Stealth ships. Unlike the rest of its breathren, the Stealth C also has no Cloaking unit either. The combination of no shields and no cloaking certainly suggests that this ship will meet a rapid untimely demise. In their place, the Stealth C begins with a Drone Control system with a Shield+ Drone unit, identical to the normal Shield Drone except that it only costs two reactor power instead of three. The Shield Drone will create a supershield barrier (identical to a Zoltan Shield) every 8 seconds, and keep stacking them if left uninterrupted to a maximum of five bars. These will block all sources of damage from hitting the ship, whether that comes from lasers or beams or missiles or whatever. I think the Shield Drones are pretty solid overall, largely limited in practice by their heavy power consumption and limited availability of drone parts. For the Stealth C, you need to rely on the starting Shield Drone until finding some kind of defensive system at a store. The ship also begins with an Antidrone, which is absolutely necessary to survive against enemy drones. The first upgrade on the Stealth C should always be to the Drone Control system, taking it to level 3 so that the player can run the Shield Drone and the Antidrone at the same time. (It also damage buffers the Shield Drone against taking a point of system damage - very helpful!) While this setup is tricky to use and has a very high skillcap to pull off, it functions better than you'd expect in practice. So long as the Stealth C can stay out of asteroid fields (which it can, starting with Long Range Scanners) the early game ships aren't much worse than normal. The Shield Drone should always be able to get the first point of shielding in place before the first enemy attack, and this thing does a better job of defending against missiles than normal shields. I don't mean to oversell this whole setup, however, because the Stealth C can still run afoul of all sorts of trouble in the early game from events and an unlucky shot hitting the wrong part of the ship. But it's not as suicidal as the design appears at first glance.
To compensate for the lack of defenses, the Stealth C has excellent starting weaponry. This ship begins with a very similar setup to the Stealth A, with a Minibeam combined with the Charge Laser+. The Minibeam is one of the underappreciated weapons in FTL, only costing one weapon power and normally able to hit 3 rooms on the enemy ship for one damage apiece. Don't be fooled by the tiny length of that little beam though! The Minibeam has the advantage of a fast cooldown time (12 seconds) and the ability to set fires while dealing damage. The quick firing rate and the ability to burn the enemy hull make for an excellent (if early game focused) weapon. Stealth C also gets the unique Charge Laser+, essentially identical to the normal two-shot Charge Laser but with a cooldown of 5.5 seconds per shot instead of 6 seconds. This timing lines up beautifully with the Minibeam, and the Laser Charger+ only costs 1 weapon power instead of 2 power. Combined together, these weapons tear right through early game enemy ships. Add Long Range Scanners (the best non-Zoltan Shield augment in the game), and the deal gets even sweeter. This is the sole reason why I have the Stealth C ranked here and not lower: for all of its massive defensive weaknesses, this ship can compensate for them by winning battles quickly with strong weapons. My experience with FTL has taught me that reliable offensive is the most important thing to have in winning the game. All of the ships ranked below the Stealth C struggle mightily to deal damage. I can't put this ship any higher because, well, no shields and no cloaking, but it is not the worst ship in the game by any means. Stealth C is a fun ship to use if you can pull it off successfully.
Overall Ranking: 23/28
Strengths: Cloaking, Glaive Beam, Long Range Scanners
Weaknesses: No Shields, High RNG Factor, 3 Weapons Slots
The Stealth B is a ship that tends to have highly binary outcomes. Either the ship gets out in front of the Curve and easily crushes all opposition, or it runs afoul of bad decisions / poor luck and dies almost immediately. This is a ship where the random aspects of FTL are often shoved directly to the forefront. Anyway, Stealth B is a design with sharp strengths and weaknesses. No blandness here, the ship either does something very well or not at all. Stealth B starts the game with a Cloaking system, and one upgraded to level 2 for 10 seconds of cloaking time. This system is designed to pair with the only starting weapon on the Stealth B, the mighty Glaive Beam. This weapon has the slowest chargeup time in the game at a massive 25 seconds, ensuring that virtually anything else will get to fire first. The payoff for waiting is the game's highest damaging beam weapon, as the Glaive Beam deals 3 damage per room against unshielded targets and pierces through minimal shielding, dealing 2 damage against a single shield bubble and 1 damage against a pair of them. When facing the early game ships with their single layer of shielding, one Glaive Beam shot means an instant KO. In fact, this is part of the problem; the Glaive Beam is simply overkill for most situations. The Halberd Beam would be much more practical here. If the player can avoid running afoul of the shaky early game of the Stealth B, the combination of Cloaking and the Glaive Beam makes for a frightening lategame setup. This is also the single best ship in the game to land a Preigniter augment, so snap that up in a heartbeat if you can afford it.
The lack of any kind of shielding is again the biggest weakness of the Stealth B. Here things are even worse than the Stealth A and Stealth C, however. Both of those ships have low cooldown fast-charging weapons, so that if they have their weapons room damaged it's not a particularly huge deal to repair and fire again. The Glaive Beam on the Stealth B has the exact opposite of this, with its ridiculously slow chargeup time, and if the Stealth B's weapons get hit before the thing can fire... well, disaster is the word that comes to mind. It's very possible to charge up for 20 seconds, take a random laser or missile hit, repair for 10 seconds, then charge for another 25 seconds before the darn thing fires. Cloaking can't save the player for anywhere near that amount of time. To work around this weakness, the first upgrade on the Stealth B should be taking Cloaking to level 3 for the maximum 15 seconds of invisibility. Cloak immediately at the start of battle and the enemy ship will only have 10 seconds to charge their own weapons before the Glaive Beam fires. This works well enough against the average ship, but leaves the Stealth B in serious danger against drones. The only real tactic is to pause the game just before a drone fires and look to see what room it happens to be targeting; use Cloaking if the thing is going after weapons or cloaking or something else equally important. Low power battles or other environmental hazards can be similarly horrendous. At least the Stealth B does have Long Range Scanners to pilot around them. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is a highly luck-dependent ship. You can mitigate the random factors somewhat, but never get rid of them completely. The Stealth B rides on the razor's edge throughout the early game. If you can survive long enough to get shields from a store and power ahead with additional weapons, you're normally set for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, far too many runs fail to reach that point and get torn apart while waiting around endlessly for the Glaive Beam to fire. I don't particularly like the Glaive Beam as a weapon, and I don't care very much for the gameplay of the Stealth B. Even for a procedurally-generated game like FTL, this one's a bit too random for my tastes.
Overall Ranking: 24/28
Strengths: Rock Plating Augment, Not Defensively Crippled
Weaknesses: Only Missile Weapons
Do you like missiles? Have we got a ship in store for you! Rock A is the only ship in the game to sport an all-missile weapons setup. The ship begins with the same Artemis Missile from the Kestrel A (one shot that deals 2 damage on a short cooldown) along with a slower-charging Hull Missile. The latter weapon will deal 2 damage normally, with a chance to set fires / breach the hull, and 4 damage against a systemless room. It's the missile equivalent of the Hull Laser, in other words. Missiles are handy weapons to have for extra damage, with their ability to ignore shields completely and take out key systems on the enemy ship. Unfortunately for the Rock A, neither of these missile types are the ammunition-conserving Swarm Missile, nor does this ship begin with an Explosive Replicator augment. The 28 starting missiles that this ship gets are nowhere near enough to last for long. Even if the player uses nothing but Hull Missiles, it will still require at least three of them per encounter, and that's assuming that none of them miss. The rate of missile usage is simply not sustainable, and on Hard difficulty you can't afford to waste scrap purchasing more ammunition at stores. Missile weapons just aren't very good in FTL. They're handy for a little extra damage in a tight spot, but it's almost impossible to use them as your main damage source. A ship that starts with missiles and missiles alone is a terribly weak ship. (Well, not for the first few beacons, but after about ten fights you're completely out of shots and then you're pretty boned.)
The rest of the Rock A is fairly standard, without any major strengths or weaknesses. The Rock Playing augment returns again, which can be useful for preventing the odd point of damage, or (more likely) sold for 40 scrap at the first store. Shields, engines, weapons, crew, etc. are all completely normal. The fact that Rock A lacks any crippling weaknesses in the rest of its setup is the main reason why it doesn't get ranked any lower on this tier list. But those missles are a glaring fault in the design, and they must be addressed as soon as possible. Your best hope with Rock A is to hit a store before the end of the first sector, tear out the starting weapons, and replace them with something more practical. The Artemis + Hull Missile + Rock Plating combination will sell for a total of 101 scrap, so there's money there to get another weapon layout. That's the rub, of course: this ship is at the mercy of the RNG in finding a store that has something decent to sell, or alternately getting a replacement weapon to drop in battle. You can play the game perfectly, fail to turn up any replacement weapons due to poor random luck, then run out of missiles and wind up dying through no fault of your own. Not much fun. Rock A is therefore very much a low-tier ship that avoids the bottom of the barrel by virtue of becoming decent once the starting weapons are completely replaced.
Overall Ranking: 25/28
Weaknesses: No Medbay, No Sensors, Poor Weapons
This ship is right on the border between Tier 4 and Tier 5. I don't think it's quite as bad as my bottom three ships, but this one certainly isn't very good. The Slug B is another ship that relies on a Teleporter for most of its offense, boarding over to the enemy ship and killing the crew for the bonus scrap payout. Unlike the top boarding ships, however, this one has a long list of problems from the very outset. For starters, Slug B has the default two-tile Teleporter, which means no awesome lategame scaling for this ship. Secondly, there are no Mantis or Lanius or Crystal boarders here to cut through the enemies quickly. Instead you'll be making due with Slugs, who have no particular advantages or disadvantages in melee combat. They are identical to Humans except that they don't level up from experience quite as fast, and they can't be Mind Controlled. Slugs have the passive racial ability to see enemy crew as well, but this is largely canceled out by the lack of Sensors on this ship. (None of the Slug ships start with Sensors. I guess the slimy aliens don't think they need them.) Without some kind of bonus to melee combat, defeating the enemy crew is significantly harder. And it's not like Slug B has a Cloning Bay in case of error either; if your Slugs would die in boarding operations, they don't come back to life. Worse yet, the ship doesn't have a Medbay either! This is the only ship in the game without one of the two systems. If boarding without a Medbay or Cloning Bay sounds impossible, well, you're not that far off the mark.
The Slug B is supposed to work around this by using the Healing Burst item. This is a bomb that will heal any of your crewmembers in the room where it goes off. It functions like a normal bomb, which means that it costs missile ammunition to use and it's not guaranteed to hit the target. An unlucky dice roll when your Slug attackers are about to die could spell disaster - upgrade the Teleporter to level 2 right away for the faster cooldown! The other starting weapon is an Artemis missile, which again is one of the better missile weapons in the game. However, using the Artemis means consuming more precious ammunition that could have been used on Healing Bursts instead. Either way, this is a pretty bad setup. The player needs to get a Medbay or Cloning Bay quickly to remove the dependence on those silly healing bombs, and the player also needs to improve the ship's weapons ASAP as well. Don't think that using a little two-tile Teleporter with a pair of Slugs is going to impress much of anyone in the lategame. This ship has major problems, and the hole that the player is being asked to climb out of is deep indeed. Like all of the weak ships, your best hope is getting a strong weapon to drop at random. Building this ship up from scratch without a lucky find will require expert piloting and very good micromanagement of boarding combat.Tier 5
These are the absolute worst ships in the game. Winning with them requires a herculean effort to overcome the massive flaws in their designs. I regard these three ships as being a step lower than even the crummy ships in Tier 4. The ships in that group are either underwhelming (Kestrel C) or generally get some kind of modest advantage to compensate for their serious weaknesses (Stealth B). The poor vessels in Tier 5 simply have horrendous, crippling disadvantages with little in the way of positives. You're asking for serious trouble when taking any of these ships out for a spin.
Overall Ranking: 26/28
Strengths: Drone Control System, Lots of Junk to Sell
Weaknesses: Only One Crew, Poor Weapons, No Sensors, 3 Weapons Slots
Oh man, not this ship again. Engi B is a notoriously bad ship in FTL, and since it unlocks so easily it's often a rude awakening for new players when they test out the funky-colored alternative to the Engi A. This ship has the infamous disadvantage of starting with only a single Engi for crew. Every other ship starts with at least two crewmembers, and in fact nearly all of them have three or more. (Mantis B and Slug A are the only ships that have a starting duo of crew.) The lack of other sentient beings on board is a major drawback, and not only due to the obvious issue of dealing with enemy boarders. Crew provide passive bonuses for manning systems in FTL: 5-10% evade for engines and piloting, 10-20% faster cooldown for weapons, 10-30% faster recharge for shields, and a free additional system level for doors and sensors. Engi B's lack of anything other than a pilot causes the player to miss all of these extra benefits that the other ships get by default. You're basically playing the game with one fewer engine level and with a negative Auto Reloader augment! This is compounded by the fact that Engi B also starts out with level 1 engines, which means a pitiful 10% evade rate. And that's only with the initial Engi sitting in the piloting room; the rate drops to 0% if the Engi has to leave the room to fight off attackers or repair some critical system. Have fun with that... What's that you say? Level 2 piloting? No, the ship doesn't have that. Level 2 doors? No, the ship doesn't have that either. Engi B lacks Sensors too - you can't even see the inside of your own ship! Seriously, this design is a total piece of junk.
To make up for the lack of starting crew, the Engi B begins the game with a Drone Control system and three drones. It's the only ship that starts with three drones, the maximum that can be run at once. Sadly these are not particularly useful drones; Engi B gets an Antipersonnel Drone and two System Repair Drones. At best, these things will fight off attackers and repair systems which would have been handled normally by the missing crew. At worst, these drones - which you cannot control directly - will run around to the unimportant parts of the ship, fighting the wrong invaders and repairing the wrong systems. I've seen the System Repair drones ignore damaged weapons and shields to go fix the Oxygen controls, for example. About the best thing that can be said about these drones is that they sell for decent scrap at stores. Replace them with living, breathing crewmembers at the first available opportunity.
In addition to the lack of crew and the terrible evade rate, the Engi B also has a thoroughly awful starting weapon setup. The ship begins with two weapons: a Heavy Laser and a Heavy Ion. The Heavy Laser is a nice weapon that deals 2 damage for 1 weapon power and has a chance to set fires and breach the hull. However, it only fires a single shot and generally is more of a complementary weapon than a main damage dealer. Some other weapon should be the one getting past enemy shields, followed by the Heavy Laser adding on major damage from there. On the Engi B, the Heavy Laser is the only source of direct damage, where it is not at its best. The weapon is paired with the Heavy Ion, one of the worst weapons in the game, which fires a two damage ion shot for the cost of 2 weapon power. Remember, ion weapons can only ionize enemy systems, not damage them directly. Even in a best case scenario, the Heavy Ion can only knock out a single enemy shield bubble, making it not worth its relatively slow chargeup time and power cost. The crippling problem for the Engi B is that both of these shots have to hit the target to deal any damage, at least against normal opponents with shields. If the Heavy Ion misses then the enemy shield layer remains up and the Heavy Laser cannot deal damage. If the Heavy Laser misses, well, it's the only weapon that deals direct damage. Since the Heavy Ion has that 13 second chargeup time (plus there's no one aboard to man the weapons system for a faster cooldown, making it effectively more like the cooldown for a normal 15 second weapon), enemy ships will nearly always fire before the Engi B. If either of your shots misses, or if an enemy shot would hit your weapon system, you're in all kinds of trouble. Remember, the starting evade rate is only 10% on the Engi B. Expect to see your weapons get hit a lot by missiles and even normal lasers. This is a frustratingly random ship to play, where the player can miss some early shots and die through no fault of their own. Engi B has a desperate need for better weapons, better defenses, and more crew, all at the same time.
I rate this ship slightly higher than the final two on the list because the starting hole is more surmountable with some good luck. The Heavy Laser does give the player one solid tool to work with; replace the awful Heavy Ion with a laser or flak weapon, and the Engi B suddenly becomes respectable. This still makes it a bad ship, of course - putting a Flak I on the Engi B makes it decent while putting a Flak I on the Kestrel A makes it amazing - but it's not quite as crippled as our remaining subjects. Biggest advantage of the Engi B: you can sell a bunch of the starting trash for decent scrap. That's a good sign that we're down in the lowest tier of the list.
Overall Ranking: 27/28
Strengths: Flak Artillery Beam, Teleporter
Weaknesses: No Weapons, Weak Weapons
Federation C is the worst boarding ship in FTL. I had a devil of a time winning with this ship, taking seven tries on stream before pulling it off, and I still find this to be an incredibly frustrating setup. For starters, the Federation C shares the same lack of starting weapons as the Crystal B and the Mantis B. There's nothing in the cargo hold to fire at enemies when beginning a new voyage, and you must use the Teleporter to invade the rebel ships. Unlike Mantis B and Crystal B, which compensate for their lack of direct weapons by having amazing defenses and a four-tile Teleporter and excellent boarding crews, the Federation C has few advantages indeed. This ship only has the standard two-tile Teleporter, which means no opportunity to leverage the four starting humanoids on board. Federation C begins with a Human, a Mantis, and two Zoltans for the crew. The gimmick is that the player is supposed to teleport the Zoltans over to the enemy ship and then have them explode to deal damage as they die (Federation C has a Cloning Bay like all of the other C designs). I've found that this doesn't really work in practice, however. Even with their death explosions, the Zoltans don't deal enough melee damage to make up for their low health totals. I've had better luck using the Human + Mantis pair for fighting, which will generally win the 2 vs 2 fight against most enemies. They still wind up dying much of the time though. Since your crew keeps dying and coming back to life repeatedly, they never pick up enough combat experience to level up their melee skills either. In fact, with no Medbay you normally have to intentionally kill off your boarders at the end of every battle for the health refill in the Cloning Bay. Going into battle with half health on the crew is an invitation for disaster. (Better hope as well that your Cloning Bay doesn't get hit on the many occasions that someone's reviving in there, since that can also end runs in a real hurry.) It's a tough, short life for the poor saps manning this ship.
Now this might not sound that bad, and it isn't against the default enemy ships. You can keep throwing replaceable clones against the enemies with your Teleporter until they all run out of health. The problem comes when the rebel ships start showing up with Medbays and Cloning Bays, which happens very fast indeed on Hard difficulty. How do you stop the enemy crew from simply walking away and healing when they get low? Crystal B has the Crystal crew with their lockdown ability. Lanius B has Mind Control and Advanced Flak. Mantis B has the four-tile Teleporter and deadly Mantis crew. Mantis C has the Stun Bomb and Lockdown Bomb. Mantis A has the Small Bomb. Even Slug B gets the Artemis Missile for targeted damage. Federation C has nothing. (Well, it has the Flak Artillery, but we'll get to that in a second.) This is a boarding ship with a fairly average group of melee combatants, just the one Mantis outputting real damage, and absolutely nothing to assist the attackers. This is the point where I should mention that boarding gameplay with the Teleporter tends to be fairly slow, requiring either outstanding weapons to shoot out the enemy guns (Lanius B) or impenetrable defenses to avoid taking damage while the invaders slowly get their crew kills (Mantis B). Federation C again has neither of these options. Most battles consist of the ship getting pounded by lasers and missiles while the boarders slowly try to kill the enemy crew while hoping they don't heal. Somehow. It's like that old Internet meme:
Federation C Strategy
Step 1: Board the enemy ship
Step 2: Remove enemy healing with no weapons
Step 3: ????
Step 4: PROFIT!!!
The one other distinguishing feature of this ship is the Flak Artillery, Federation C's version of the Artillery Beam unique to this class of ships. Like the normal Artillery Beam, this weapon occupies one of the system slots and has a very slow chargeup time depending on the level. It's 50 seconds at level 1 and drops by 10 seconds with each additional level, down to 20 seconds at level 4. The upgrades are not cheap (30+50+80 scrap) and they also require more reactor power for the faster charge. Unlike the other Federation ships, Federation C fires Flak Artillery when fully charged instead of a beam weapon. This is essentially a Flak II weapon, shooting out 7 small flak projectiles at the enemy ship. They are not guaranteed to hit and they can't be aimed any more than the normal Artillery Beam can. In other words, you're essentially paying 160 scrap for a lousier version of the Flak II that costs more reactor power and can't be aimed. Ummm, thanks? I don't even think the normal Flak II is all that good due to the very slow cooldown rate. The Flak Artillery on the Federation C is therefore far inferior to the normal Artillery Beam, and practically useless until the ending parts of the game. You cannot rely on this as the main source of damage due to its untargetable nature. That leaves the teleporting shenanigans with zero standard weapons as the only option - what a load of fun. And even if you do find something useful, Federation C starts with the level 1 "weak" weapons that cost a one-time 40 scrap payment just to reach level 2. Furthermore, with the Flak Artillery and Teleporter eating up two system slots, Federation C can only fit one more system in total before running out of room. You can have Cloaking or Hacking or Drone Control or Mind Control... but only one of them. There's no option to sell the Flak Artillery even if you want to get rid of it. Yet another kick in the teeth with this ship.
Overall, I wouldn't blame anyone for ranking this as the worst ship in the game. It's a close second for me, but there's one final ship left to go.
Strengths: Zoltan Shield, Backup Battery
Weaknesses: Very Weak Power Reactor, Poor Weapons, Reliant on Beam Drone for Damage
I believe that Zoltan C is the weakest ship in FTL. I know that T-Hawk wrote the same thing at Realms Beyond a while back, and I came to the same conclusion as well. It took me ten different attempts to win with this thing on Livestream! Zoltan C rarely seems to be rated as the worst ship in the game; I tend to see a lot of Engi B and Stealth C popping up online in that position. I honestly think that few people have actually tried to play this ship, since its biggest flaws do not show up on the pre-game hangar screen if you're glancing briefly at each of the designs. Zoltan C's gimmick is reactor power management. It begins the game with four Zoltan crew and a Backup Battery system upgraded to level 2. All of this is designed to cover for a devastating weakness: Zoltan C starts the game with only two levels of reactor power. Two reactor power! The default starting point is eight levels!!! This means that the Zoltan crew aren't providing any benefits at all, merely papering over a gaping hole in the ship's design. Since one of the Zoltans must pilot the ship, that means three bonus power at the start of the game, for five power overall. That's not even close to what's needed to power the ship, which means that any time the Backup Battery goes on cooldown the ship is in dire straights.
Zoltan C also has one of the worst starting weapon setups around. If that sounds familiar, it should - there's a reason why all of the bottom tier ships get ranked here. It begins the game with an Ion Charger as the only proper weapon, which can fire an ion shot every six seconds and hold up to three charges at once. As ion weapons go, I suppose this one is decent, but it doesn't fire quickly enough to initiate a permanent ion cascade on its own, and it's subject to all of the weaknesses shared by ion weapons in general. Enemy ships with Cloaking, high evade, or Defensive Drone IIs will shut down the Ion Charger in a real hurry. Like all ion weapons, it also doesn't deal any direct damage, which can only be applied at the start of a run by the Beam Drone that comes with Zoltan C's Drone Control system. I wrote previously in the Engi A section about how I dislike the ion + drone combination, as the setup can't be targeted and therefore can't be counted upon for consistent damage. Well, Zoltan C has the same basic offensive gameplay, but with a much weaker/slower-firing ion weapon (Ion Charger instead of Ion Blast II) and an inferior type of drone (Beam Drone instead of Combat Drone). I hope you enjoy watching the Beam Drone plink away at the empty parts of the enemy ship's hull, because they don't seem to spend much time hitting important stuff like weapons or shields when I play.
Still, if it were only the poor weapons setup, Zoltan C wouldn't be that bad. This ship does have a Zoltan Shield after all, and I've seen that used as a rationale for ranking this ship higher on potential tier lists. Four Zoltans also sound pretty nice for a starting crew, at least on paper. The fatal flaw of the Zoltan C is the combination of the weak untargetable weapons together with an absolutely disastrous reactor situation. Seriously, if you haven't played this ship for yourself, you have no idea how bad it is. The math on the power management is BRUTAL. (And don't tell me it can all be overcome with good micromanagement, I'm the one who's always running around with oxygen off and half the ship unpowered!) You get 5 initial reactor power to play around with, since one Zoltan has to stand in the piloting room. The Ion Charger and the Beam Drone alone take up 4 power, and they are both mandatory to deal any damage. If you want any dodge chance at all, that takes 1 power in engines. Shields require 2 more power (the Zoltan Shield won't last forever and this ship does not win battles quickly), and then Oxygen costs another 1 power. We're already at 8 power there, eating up essentially everything provided by the Backup Battery. When that thing goes on cooldown, you can choose one of two options. Either shut down the weapons and defend for the next 30 seconds, or alternately lose everything defensive to power the Ion Charger and Beam Drone. Both are obviously poor choices.
Well, what about simply upgrading the reactor to get out from that crippling starting penalty? This is the hidden shackle that makes the Zoltan C the worst ship in the game. Because the Zoltan C starts with that "weak reactor", it costs 30 scrap to upgrade to the next level. That's 30 scrap EACH time that you upgrade the reactor across three upgrades, 90 scrap in total. Even then the ship is only at 5 reactor power; to take it up to the default starting value of 8 power costs a further three upgrades at 20 scrap apiece, 60 scrap in total. Zoltan C therefore starts the game 150 scrap in the hole on reactor power (!!!) compared to normal ships. I cannot overstate how nasty this is. Just getting the initial 90 scrap to push past the three weak reactor levels is incredibly painful. That could have been turned into a Burst II Laser, or a Drone Control + Defensive Drone pairing, or a Hacking system, or level 4 shields + level 4 engines, all with extra scrap still left over. On the Zoltan C, spending that scrap simply allows the ship to avoid being completely helpless once the Backup Battery wears out.
This ship is also incredibly fragile in practical combat. Most ship designs will find themselves in trouble if a few key systems take damage: weapons, shields, piloting, and engines being the big four. Losing important secondary systems like Cloaking or Drone Control can also be a source of problems. On the Zoltan C, however, virtually everything can send this ship into a spiral of doom. All the usual suspects of shields, piloting, engines, etc. are still as important as ever. Losing either one of weapons or drones will make the ship unable to deal any damage, since the Zoltan C is reliant on both the Ion Charger and the Beam Drone for attack. But the ship also can't afford to lose the Backup Battery either, as it's absolutely necessary to power the rest of the systems on the ship. That's seven different systems that all cannot get hit in battle! Not good. And we haven't even discussed the reliance on using Zoltans to provide power - all of the power calculations above assumed that three Zoltans would be providing power to systems at all times. If you need to repair damaged systems, or put out fires, or fight off attackers, anything that moves the Zoltan crew out of their normal stations, the ship runs into further problems with power management. If a Zoltan dies without being revived in the Cloning Bay, then these problems are compounded even further. This ship does not have upgraded Door controls and you cannot afford to spend the 35 scrap to upgrade them in the early game. Once the Zoltan Shield goes down, boarders are a major threat. As if there wasn't enough to worry about!
For all these reasons, the Zoltan C grades out as the worst ship in the game. The weak reactor adds a unique disadvantage to the Zoltan C not found on anything else. Even on terrible ships like the Engi B or Federation C, the player can find a strong weapon and suddenly have a run turned around. Land a Burst II Laser or Flak I and either one of those ships becomes at least mediocre. They can be fixed with a lucky drop. But on the Zoltan C, the weak reactor issue can never be fixed through fortunate RNG. The player will always have to invest 90 scrap at some point to get over that hurdle and have enough power to run the darned ship. This is the deepest hole that any ship must dig its way out of, and it makes the Zoltan C the single worst ship design in FTL.