Most of my ideas these days are becoming more and more non-combat and story focused. But combat works well for many to help gameplay. Question is, how do you make it work well? Running round a map only defeating enemy mobs can be very dull and repetitive. On the other hand, when Foundry Roundtable were playing my Rose Tinted Mirror, I noted particularly when the space sequence was loading that they were really hoping to fight a mirror dreadnought above Jupiter. In the end they got their asses whooped by a few fighters - the challenge and surprise of which also seemed a positive. But I found it interesting they were hoping for a 'boss' like battle straight off in what was the first space sequence at the game's mid-point.
Question is, when and why does combat work well? And when does it just become filler or too much of a barrier? Everyone wants challenge, but you can't have a map full to the brim of 3 groups of captain level mobs. And is it who you fight? Because of types of combat or just the faction your fighting (Tholians have a particular combat style that some might like, but I just get a buzz because they're Tholians). And how many other tasks are needed to keep a series of combats non-repetitive? - should those tasks be plot important or just tokenistic?
I'm fine with combat as long as it works well with the story (aka make sense). For example if the objective of the map is to "Secure a deck on the ship" yeah blow away all the npc ground units sure. If it's "Escape out the door at the other end of the map" IMO there should be no kill objectives, just NPCs running around that you can attempt to avoid or kill IF you wish to.
As for types I think the Captains should only be left to the end. They take forever to kill and some are especially dangerous (Breen and Tholian come to mind).
Definitely don't overuse Captain mobs! They can be quite difficult, especially on higher difficulty levels. I'd suggest only going up to commander level groups on the ground unless it's a "boss battle". In space it's different, as a battleship is not really that much more difficult than the other group types.
I think throwing in some combat is good when it makes sense. It is a game and conflict is part of it. But I also agree that just having mindless killing is lame. Then again, the highest rated mission list would disagree with that.
One thing I like to do is to just have optional combats, without them actually being objectives (when that makes sense). That way people can avoid combat if they want to, or seek it out if that's their thing.
I like the surprise encounters in missions. One Foundry mission I played today had a whole bunch of dead Klingons, only some of them were pretending and stormed my away team. That was fun.
In the same mission there was a space battle, the standard cruisers were easy to take out, nothing new there. However their last ditch defence was a Ferengi D'kora, I laughed when I saw it, then I quickly realised it had nearly destroyed me. Hardest fight in the mission and a total surprise. Never underestimate an opponent.
Surprise is great but you have to be careful not to overuse it.
"You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon, taH pagh, taH be"
The introduction of Romulans as a playable faction adds a new wrinkle to this topic.
The Feds don't have cloaking devices (on most of their ships, anyway), so if you put an enemy in front of a Fed player, it'll usually take some doing to avoid fighting them even without a kill objective. The Klingons do have cloaking devices, but then, well, they're Klingons; combat is pretty much what they do, and few KDF authors are going to pretend otherwise. But now we have the Romulans, who also have cloaking devices but lack the Klingons' cultural disposition toward fighting as the first option. This makes it easier from both a practical standpoint and a storytelling one to have the player avoid a conflict scenario (or at least give them the option of doing so).
One example of this is in the last map of my first Romulan mission "Valley of the Shadow I", in which the player must defeat a couple of enemy mobs in space, but when reinforcements arrive, the player is given the option of taking them on as well, or engaging the cloaking device (if they have one) and departing the system without confronting them.
In "Diplomacy in the Gamma Quadrant" (KDF) I setup a trigger where if you interact with something (after being warned to leave it alone), it'll spawn an enemy behind you. Needless to say, if you don't see it coming that fight will be a bit rough.. (Enliss is mean. )