Using the traitor drone during boarding
The Traitor Drone carries 10 powerful limpet mines, which are replenished over time while it is docked at the Skunk. They can be launched towards the surface of objects, such as ships and stations, where they attach and await your remote detonation. Placing them in close proximity to groups of surface elements (e.g. weapons. shields, engines, jump drive) can wreak havoc on the target. Interestingly, they are stealth devices so you can plant multiple mines on a target without initiating aggression, then detonate them at your leisure. Combining stealth with timing allows for sabotaging a ship after it has begun to boost away from it's location (e.g. station, jump beacon or gate). As long as the detonation is triggered while the ship is still in the player's zone (maybe try riding it ), you can cripple a target after it is out of range of any local defences (AKA the "XenonSparky Maneuver").
Although possible to board some freighters with very few Marines, there is really no reason not to use the full 50 if you can afford the full complement. If you properly prepare targets for boarding you will never lose any and they are reasonably cheap to hire at ~20K each. There is also the chance of them gaining experience: this level (AA Boarding Attack or Strength point) gain will obviously be increased by more marines taking part in the op, increasing their individual chance to level up
Friendly NPC ships seem to completely ignore your boarding operation. They will keep firing at the target (if hostile to them) while your boarding pods are in transit which can potentially cause friendly fire losses. Once aboard, however, your marines are invulnerable to outside fire despite their protestations (unless the ship is destroyed ofc; see below). 'Friendly' ships will also not hesitate to destroy the target in the middle of a boarding operation, which will result in the boarding operation failing and the loss of all Marines and the Marine Officer; for this reason it is advisable to only board ships while away from friendly NPC ships where you can conduct the boarding operation in peace. With a tougher XL ship it is OK to board while a few NPC fighters are hammering it, as its hull regeneration can often be larger than their damage output (the fighters may also help in bringing down surface elements such as weapon clusters or local shields!) It is almost impossible to board a ship when an NPC L or XL FIGHT ship is attacking because their damage output will usually kill the target ship long before the operation completes from when boarding resistance (BR) is low enough to be safe.
Destroying the drone launch pad component destroys all contained drone units but not all currently launched units. Launched drone units remain hostile after ship control is transferred and will persist until destroyed or docked (useful in the case of working cURVs or cargolifters). Occasionally captured ships might appear to have drone units even though the drone launch pad was destroyed but these units are stuck in a bugged state and cannot be used unless transferred from the ship.
One can quickly get decent Captain and Defence Officers by flying into a built up sector and hiring the most expensive remotely. Both use 3 stats so the chance to get a reasonable one when hiring based on their hire fee is pretty good; Engineers on the other hand only use 1 stat and that stat should be maxed: as such you may need to hunt with the small talk mini-game to find a good one. <75K+ for Captains; 130K+ for DO & around 38K for Engineers is a fair target to aim for if hiring remotely, although you can get decent (4 or 5*) Engineers for half that price if you smalltalk.. - Snafu>
Do not worry if you are left with nothing but a wreck with practically no hull after boarding. A 5 star Engineer will soon have it as good as new without any additional cost. You should always have one handy as your Albion Skunk Engineer anyway. If you plan to sell the ship you can reclaim the engineer, captain & any cargo (eg drones) for use in another boarding operation after it is done repairing to a sufficient amount. Most (~100%) of the ship value is on the components and hull which get repaired very quickly when out of sector allowing one to quite quickly sell captured ship if desired.
Removing all ship components and reducing hull to 10% before boarding is a great way to secure a successful boarding. No turrets will mean no losses during the boarding pod phase and the low boarding resistance will mean no losses during the passive boarding phase. All the damage is only temporary and no problem for an Engineer to repair in the long run. One still might want to avoid destroying the drone bay if possible as its destruction will lose all equipped units and prevent the use of cURV units to increase ship repair speed as well as transfers to move goods.
If you are struggling to reduce the hull and shields of tougher XL ships after stripping them of turrets then consider bringing your own to the party. If their DO is set to defend then they will only attack the ship if you order it, and will immediately stop firing the moment you tell them to stop. Such a ship can make a 5-10 minute weapon cycling nightmare against hull regeneration a 1 minute lazy job.
Some DLC weapons like the Heavy Laser (TTO) or Rail Gun (HoL) have the ability to damage components and hull through shields. These come in very handy when destroying the primary shield generators of tougher XL ships since you can kill them without having to take down all of the massive shields. Do note that the Heavy Laser does not follow the auto aim mechanics: as such hitting components from a distance depends on the <player>'s ability to aim (although this can also be a benefit!)
Unless playing with a self-imposed "no save-scumming" rule you will only ever need 1 Marine Officer, so it's well worth Smalltalking to find a good one: if a boarding operation fails or has bad results you can always reload from a previous save. It is recommended to make multiple saves at different stages of boarding to allow you multiple different points of retry in case something goes wrong. If using this method it is also recommended you find or train a Marine Officer with maxed primary skills for the highest boarding strength.
The Albion Skunk with good strafe engines can effortlessly evade fire from most turrets by constantly changing strafe direction. Dashing shields can help to quickly recover the odd hit that lands in between changing direction. This makes capping ships with only basic HIT/MA and Plasma/MA turrets a long but very easy task, no matter how many of them it has. Guided missiles are very useful for removing critical mobility components fast such as Drives and Jump Tunnel Device. You can easily build up a good stock of missiles by killing fighters & looting their cargo drops.
Starting with 4.0 better captains of L and XL ships will often try to flee if in a losing situation; this can be used to the players advantage to push them away from allied NPC ships into quiet areas for capture! Once the ship is in a suitable capture location you can shoot up their Drives to render the ship immobile and unable to flee. You can then strip it of weapons and board at your leisure.
Pay attention to the Jump Tunnel Device of L and XL ships you plan to board. If you see it starting to glow and making noise you will not have much time to destroy it before the ship jumps and is likely lost for good. This can be difficult as it is always shielded with some ships even having it protected by the engine shield panel. Heavy missiles and your most powerful guns are most useful in this situation.
Although one can in theory board high end XL fight ships, the chance of you pulling it off is extremely low and often dependant on abusing exploits so as to not be destroyed*. This is especially the case for ships equipped with Plasma/JET beams as the Albion Skunk cannot survive more than 3 hits at close range and a single hit will break Dashing type shields and even leave Behemoth shields in a critical state. Although JET turrets do have slow rotation rates, if they ever face you they will damage you no matter how well your strafe.
You can still communicate with the crew of L and XL ships while in the middle of a boarding operation against them. They will respond with their usual hostile "go fly into a black hole" type message despite 50 marines coming after them. The instant ship control is transferred to you they always magically disappear. Although lore-wise one can assume they were all killed during the boarding operation it does not make much sense that everyone would fight to the last person. One cannot help but feel this was a missed opportunity for "prisoners" or an alternative to recruiting staff (some of them would be willing to work for you in exchange for a little money or even just sparing them).
Boarding resistance does not have to be zero for no losses to occur. It is perfectly fine to board a ship with 40 or more resistance and expect no losses as long as your Marine Officer and marines are sufficiently skilled. To secure no losses it is recommended that your boarding strength is at least 10 higher than the targets boarding resistance, plus successful completion of all Yisha's demands. Ships do repair over time which will raise boarding resistance so care must be taken to not allow it to reach the stage losses start to occur.
Version 4.1 fixed the bug in v4.0 that allowed mission-spawned Xenon Ks.
*It is perfectly possible to cap L & XL FIGHT ships, but it is very time-consuming & likely to use a lot of (guided) missiles (even more time-consuming if you don't use missiles!) to take out target's wep clusters with missile AoE splash damage. Better to focus on one that's already been heavily battered & was fleeing from a previous fight IMO. Ofc you should first focus on <target's> JD, then make the drone bay your priority; leave engines alone (since you should be hugging the ship, out of its turrets' fire-arcs, functioning 'fleeing' <target> engines will take you away (using capship 'follow on' or 'slipstream' methods) from 'friendly' ships/stations trying to ruin your boarding op) - Snafu
Ship Specific Tips
The Lyramekron poses little threat to the Albion Skunk as long as the player keeps changing strafe direction with decent engines. Despite being one of the toughest ships with firepower close to a fight ship it lacks any dangerous guns that can hit the player. It is also tough enough that a few fighters can hammer it without risk of destruction helping salvage some interrupted boarding operations. This ship is usually found playing defensive meaning that if the player stops shooting it for a while it will stop shooting back allowing for shields to recover if required.
The ship engine system consists of 2 units of 3 thrusters, 2 shield generators and 1 Hailstorm/MA turret, each on either side of the ship. The jump drive is a separate unit with separate shielding located around the middle of the ship. The drone launch pad is located at the back of the ship. There are over 100 turrets positioned around the ship in a symmetrical manner. Most of the HIT/MA power one encounters will come from the main banks found at the front and back of the ship on either side each consisting of two rows of 4 turrets. Most of the Plasma/MA power comes from the back of the ship where both top and bottom surface each have 2 banks of 2. There are some hidden turrets inside the front alcove of the ship giving it additional forward firepower.
If the ship has been forced to flee due to combat you will first want to remove the capital generators before the shield recharges to save time later. After getting the ship to an appropriate quiet location first remove the jump drive. This can be killed fairly easily due to its weak shielding, possibly with only 2 missiles if it is starting to jump. The engines are tougher to shoot out as they have reasonable shielding and are protected by a hailstorm/MA turret which can be difficult to dodge with some engine configurations. If the ship refuses to stay still and tries to boost then firing missiles at one of the engine shield generators should be sufficient to heavily damage the engine unit. After one engine unit is down removing the other is straight forward as the ship is no longer capable of boosting at a significant speed.
Stripping all components is a very time consuming job due to the number of them. After that there is the massive 6.8 million hull to damage sufficiently for boarding to be successful. Even on normal mode it can take upwards of 15 minutes (harder difficulties longer due to damage penalty) meaning that good positioning is important so that NPC ships do not stumble by and spoil the boarding operation. If using weak weapons (no mods, mk1) against one with a good engineer (5 star) it is possible the hull regeneration will be almost as much as the damage you deal, in this case call in another ship in defensive mode (eg another Lyramekron) to help lower the hull a bit, ordering it to stop once at a sufficient stage.
These ships make good trading ships for hostile journeys due to their excessive fire power and toughness. They can even double as fairly efficient fight ships if required, capable of taking on pretty much any L ship and below with little risk. For safe trade runs their slow speed and poor mobility hinders efficiency. If you are after free trade ships for generally making profit with deals then there are other ships which are better boarding targets.
The Sanahar has very limited fire power making it a non-threat to the player. Even then this ship is usually found playing defensive meaning that if the player stops shooting it for a while it will stop shooting back allowing for shields to recover if required. The most troublesome part is its massive speed which makes tailing it while boosting very difficult unless inside its gravity field/jet stream. It is also very fragile making the boarding operation susceptible to interference from NPC fighters.