TFTD Strategy Guide
This guide was developed with community feedback, so it is a collective effort. Nonetheless there are many ways to play the game - part of its enduring appeal is that it offers so much variation in approach.
Setting the Difficulty level
TFTD offers five difficulty levels: Beginner, Experienced, Veteran, Genius and Superhuman.
The differences between the levels consist of three factors. First, the number of aliens that emerge from downed or touched-down Alien Subs is generally greater on harder difficulty levels. An intact Dreadnought will never contain more than 15 aliens on Beginner level, or fewer than 22 aliens on Superhuman level.
Second, aliens have much higher statistics on the harder difficulty levels. Aliens' health does not increase, but most of their other stats do; aliens on harder difficulties will move faster, react more easily, shoot more accurately, use Molecular Control more effectively, and deal more damage with melee attacks. Perhaps most crucially, aliens' armour increases drastically with difficulty level, which alters the relative effectiveness of weaponry; on higher difficulties it becomes far more important to use combined arms and target aliens' weaknesses rather than simply handing out the same guns to everyone and shooting aliens until they die.
Third, political support (and hence funding) is harder to maintain on higher levels than easier ones, so you can lose either funding or indeed the whole game much more easily if you suffer tactical defeats.
The difficulty levels allow you to learn the game on the easier levels, and keep the game challenging even for experienced players on the more difficult levels. As a new player, it is probably best to begin at Beginner level.
Starting Base Location
A good starting location for your base will maximise your ability to protect your sponsoring International Organisations. In other words, "protect the money". Bases are placed in seas, but must cover funding countries. Overall, your base placement strategy must protect as much of your funding and political support as possible. See Country Funding (TFTD) for more information. Good starting locations include:
- The South China Sea, covering various wealthy parts of Asia.
- The western North Atlantic, or the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean, covering eastern USA and New Mexico.
- The central Mediterranean, covering parts of Euro-Syndicate, Arabian Bloc, Egyptian Cartel and Africa Corp.
- The northeast Pacific, covering the eastern USA and Alaska. (Full coverage of the US also requires a North Pacific base).
Stop The Clock
As soon as you have selected a base location, go to the Base screen immediately, to stop the game clock while you continue other initial activities.
Before you forget, set your initial research (to Gauss Weapons, Medi-Kit, or Particle Disturbance Sensor, see below).
Buy the following immediately:
- Wide Array Sonar ($800K) - crucial to increase intercept opportunities
- Alien Containment ($400K) - crucial so as not to waste research opportunities
- General Stores ($150K) - space is immediately at a premium
- Living Quarters ($400K) - to be able to fully utilise your existing Labs and Workshop.
If you are using the standard starting base layout, which is defensively very poor, build all your new base facilities below the row that contains your Airlock. Be sure to build the General Stores and new Living Quarters in the gap between the two existing Sub Pens, as they will be completed first, thus making 2 more building spaces available. The new living quarters will help you dismantle the initial living quarters to isolate the airlock and sub pens. As soon as possible, build 2 new sub pens ($200K each) in the top left and top right parts of your base so that you can dismantle the vulnerable sub pens in the lower left and lower right.
Total cost $1.75M ($2.15M with new Sub Pens)
To summarise visually, go from this starting layout:
to this interim layout (new facilities will show as under construction, not as being completed like this graphic):
and then finally to this layout (you may have added more modules by the time you are ready to dismantle the unwanted modules):
If you are using an "improved" or "alternate" starting base layout from XComUtil or another mod, you don't need to worry about rearranging your base. But you should still avoid building next to airlocks or sub pens. Also try to build fast-building modules in squares which will 'unlock' other squares, while building slow-building modules (eg Wide Array Sonar, Workshops) in corners or other dead ends that aren't needed to unlock other squares.
Big-squad strategy: You are going to rely on manpower rather than machine power. Your capital outlays will be lower, but your monthly running costs (salaries) will probably be higher. In a lot of combat situations you will just outnumber the aliens, even if they out-shoot you. Your skill growth and average experience will be lower than with a small squad. But you will be a lot less vulnerable to (inevitable) casualties. This is a conservative strategy, and suitable for learning the game. When you are more confident, experiment with smaller squads and more SWSs.
Recruit 7 extra aquanauts to bring your total to 15. Total cost $280K.
- The 2 Gas Cannons (GCs) and all ammo.
- The 13 Magna-Blast Grenades
- The 1 Hydro-Jet Cannon. Sell half the HjC-AP ammo (3 clips).
- Keep 5 Jet Harpoons to arm your initial aquanauts until the additional GCs arrive (after 24 hrs). So initially sell 3 of the weapons, and half of the clips (10).
This initial sale yields about $18,600. Selling the final Jet Harpoons and ammo nets a further $12.75K, making about $31K in total.
You will be using GC-HE in place of Torpedoes for combat purposes. You might want to hang on to the Torpedo Launcher and torpedoes until the extra GCs and GC-HE clips arrive. And consider keeping the Torpedo Launcher, and buying Large Torpedoes, for use as a ranged terrain-breaching device to complement Magna-pack Explosives.
- 6 additional Gas Cannons to arm all 8 initial Aquanauts
- Preferably a further 7 Gas Cannons to arm all 15 Aquanauts (total 13 GCs).
- GC-AP and GC-HE ammo, enough for all GCs (in 1:1 or 1:0.5 AP:HE ratio, depending on your tactics)
- Additional Grenades (at least 12 - these are a crucial starting weapon to counteract enemy terrain advantages)
- 2-4 clips of HjC-P (for illumination)
- Between 5-15 Chemical-flares, for illuminating areas not reachable by HjC-P, or where the terrain type does not burn very long
- Thermal Tazers, for at least half and preferably for all 15 of your Aquanauts (this is essential for alien captures to advance research, and also as an initial counter-measure to alien Molecular Control)
- 2-4 or so Magna-Pack Explosives in case you face strong foes early. They will soon be replaced with Sonic Pulsers.
- Particle Disturbance Grenades if they are part of your tactics, or for Base Defence
- 13 GCs, 9 GC-AP, 14 GC-HE, 12 grenades, 4 HjC-P and 15 chemical flares costs $100K.
- 15 Tazers and 4 Magna Packs costs an additional $25K
If necessary, you can wait 48hrs to order the additional weapons and ammo for your extra 7 Aquanauts (i.e. order them when your new sub weapons arrive), since the extra Aquanauts themselves won't arrive for 72hrs. But if money is the problem, don't count on getting any money in this first 48hr period. You might, you might not.
The above strategy makes the Gas Cannon your standard weapon in the early game, because it is powerful, effective, and works in all environments (surface and sub-sea). If you prefer, you can go for a more even mix of Gas Cannon and Hydrojet Cannon, though this makes squad logistics more complicated, especially for land based missions (when Hydrojet Cannons won't work). You can even go for all Hydrojet Cannons on sub-sea missions. But you must still buy sufficient Gas Cannon to outfit your squad for a surface mission. Therefore even if you want to use Hydrojet Cannon, it is recommended that you buy Gas Cannon first, and purchase Hydrojet Cannon later, once you have raised some additional funds (and created additional base storage space).
(There is a school of thought that you might want to hold on to some Jet Harpoons to use their Auto fire capability in surface mission close quarters assault until you have a better weapon, such as at least Gauss Pistols. Jet Harpoons would be used in the range band below 6 squares (when GC-HE is dangerous to an unarmoured firer) and above 2 squares (where charging with a Thermal Tazer is more effective). However, underwater, HjC-AP would fulfill this role better, and is more versatile. And in all environments, GC-AP snap fire is more effective, more lethal per TU, than Jet Harpoon snap or auto fire. Particularly when you consider that in close quarters assault you are more likely to be facing front armour.)
- Disarm the Craft Gas Cannon from both Barracuda. Sell all 4 cannon and all ammunition. This sale yields about $100K.
- Arm the first Barracuda with Ajax + DUP, arm the second with dual Ajax. Remember which is which!
- The Ajax+DUP re-arming operation will take 4 hours. The dual Ajax re-arming operation will take 7 hours. Consider doing the Ajax+DUP first, then the dual Ajax, to maintain an available interception capability.
- Sell about half of your Ajax torpedoes, keep maybe 12 spares out of 25. This yields about $30K.
- Buy 3 DUP launchers ($51K) first, and (only) then buy as many torpedoes as you can get. Space will be the limiting factor.
- When the DUP launchers arrive, upgrade your Ajax + DUP to dual DUP, sell the spare Ajax launcher.
- Keep the dual Ajax craft for engaging Very Small targets, as DUP will destroy these craft, meaning no artefacts will be recovered. Very Small targets are a key source of M.C. Readers and getting at least one of these is essential for M.C. research. The recovery missions can also generate small but useful amounts of money.
- If neither of those factors concern you, upgrade both craft to dual DUP. You probably want to do this by around March in any case, as Very Small detections become rare, and less important, whereas by then you are frequently facing tough larger alien craft that require (at least) dual DUPs to engage successfully, and which will damage your X-Com craft if you engage using Ajax.
- The upgrades to dual DUPs will take 4-7 hours, depending on whether you are adding 1 or 2 DUPs. Again, consider staggering the upgrades to maintain intercept cover.
- Selling all Ajax launchers and torps will eventually yield up to about $93K if no torps were fired).
Ultimately, Scientists win the game, by developing the technologies that will first resist, and then defeat, the alien menace. The faster you can acquire these technologies, the quicker the balance of power moves in your favour, and the more likely you are to survive and succeed.
Recruiting 25 Scientists costs $1.5M and fills your initial Living Quarters. To get even more scientists quickly, you could sack some of your 10 starting Technicians and replace them with scientists. 35 scientists would cost $2.1M, using up pretty much your whole budget (assuming no base layout issues).
Given the importance of Scientists, if you plan to divert most of your resources into Scientist recruitment, you may want to build an extra Lab (and eventually extra Living Quarters for them) right at the outset, due to the long lead time for Labs. This is just about possible if you do not need to spend money on reorganising your base layout.
A squad size of 10 rather than 15 would allow you to have 5 extra scientists. The squad can be supplemented with a single SWS, to minimise the loss of firepower and augment recon capability. See the next section.
You should have just about enough money left to buy an SWS and its minimum ammunition (check the in game UFOPedia - buying less than the minimum ammo capacity will mean you cannot send the SWS on a mission). Many Commanders swear by SWSs as tough, M.C. immune recon vehicles that can scout and draw fire from human Aquanauts. Others believe instead that an extra 4 Aquanauts in an assault sub give better firepower, better value for money and the possibility of long term skills growth. These Commanders tend to use rookies in the scout / decoy / cannon fodder role. It is good to experiment with both approaches to find what works best for you.
If you are buying an SWS, you probably will recruit no more than 2 extra Aquanauts (for a total of 10), and consequently you will also buy fewer Aquanaut weapons. Having 10 rather than 15 Aquanauts will save you about $250K in initial hiring and equipment costs, plus $100K per month in salaries.
- Start work on Gauss Weapons or Medi-Kits. The intention is to reduce casualties on the battlefield, and provide an acceptable money-earner for your Technicians. And to provide your Scientists and Technicians with something to do while they wait for more worthwhile projects. If you complete Medi-Kit and have nothing else to do (see below), research Particle Disturbance Sensor as it is one of the best long term money earners. If you are making progress on Gauss Weapons, you may want to stay with Gauss, as Gauss Cannon is the overall best money earner (and arguably a useful craft weapon) but only if you have nothing better to do (see below).
- As soon as you get Magnetic Navigation, switch to that. This then leads to Transmission Resolver which will greatly improve your intercepts and thus your frequency of missions. Intercepts are critical, they are what enable you to progress in the game. You should note, however, that in some versions of the game, completing research into the Transmission Resolver without first having a captured Alien Sub Construction in your inventory can make the game unwinnable by triggering a bug that blocks off crucial research paths. Magnetic Navigation also helps you towards building advanced Subs, which are essential by the mid-game in order to be able to intercept alien subs.
- As soon as you possess a Sonic Pulser, switch to that (because it's fast). The Sonic Pulser is a massive equaliser, quick to research, and large numbers are available to loot from the battlefield. Then return to complete Transmission Resolver.
- Once the Sonic Pulser and Transmission Resolver are completed, start the Sonic weapon & clip sequence with the aim of getting the Sonic Oscillator craft weapon as quickly as possible. The Sonic Oscillator is essential to make progress in the game, as the alien craft quickly become too hard to kill without it. With fewer kills you get fewer missions, limited progress, and a future that is as bleak as it is brief. Fighting missions with no M.C. and no armour is better than having no missions to fight at all! You may as well do the Sonic Cannon and clip first, so that you can use them in combat. (Though this can be a very expensive tactic: it may be better just to sell Sonic Cannons for cash, in order to build up the strength of X-Com).
- When you first capture a live terrorist, divert to research Molecular Control for M.C. Labs. (and make sure you have captured the necessary M.C.Reader before research is completed). This is more important to Battlescape combat success than researching any armour or weapons. Without it, the quickly increasing power of alien MC will take your teams apart. If you don't get an M.C. Reader by the time progress shifts to Average, halt M.C. Labs research, otherwise you risk the bug that means you will never get offensive M.C.
- When you capture a Thermal Shok Launcher, it's worth diverting research to that, as it is a powerful combat equaliser and also very helpful to your research objectives.
- Even more so, when you capture a Disruptor Pulse Launcher, divert to research this supremely powerful weapon (research Zrbite first). Unless you consider it is cheating to even use this awesome weapon.
- After these diversions, return to the Sonic Weapon sequence and the Oscillator. Resist the temptation to dally with Gauss Weapons. The battlefield Sonic weapons you are unlocking will more than compensate for them. Reaching the craft Sonic Oscillator is only twice the Research effort of reaching the craft Gauss Cannon, and massively superior. Don't waste research on Gauss when you could be half way to completing all Sonics.
- The next key technology will be deep-diving Manta and Hammerhead subs for intercepts and assaults, as the alien subs will often dive deeper than your Barracudas can follow. For this you need to work your way through the armour technologies to Mag-Ion Armour. Which is great since it gives you a defensive advantage and unlocks more powerful SWS technology as well.
- You now have the everything you need to resist and defeat the enemy almost everywhere on Earth, above and below the sea. You can now take the war to the enemy - focus on development of whatever other subs, weapons, M.C. and SWS you prefer.
- When you feel ready, develop Leviathan sub technology and unlock the Victory missions for the final showdown.
The general approach recommended here is perhaps the opposite of the intuitive, instinctive approach. The instinctive approach is to research tactical equalisers such as more powerful personal weapons and armour for your Aquanauts. The smarter approach is to research more strategic equalisers - sub weapons, alien sub detection, and MC defences. It's hard to win battles with basic weapons, but it's impossible to win battles without successful interceptions.
Obviously if you get a really bad progress value when starting a particular Research topic, you might want to change to a different topic.
Alternative approaches include:
- Focus on Gauss Weapon research right up to Gauss Cannon, to unlock the income generating potential. Then use the income generated to hire extra scientists and catch up on other technologies.
- Focus on M.C. Research as much as possible, as this is a game-winning technology on the battlefield (provided your detection systems and subs are capable enough to actually provide you with battlefield missions).
- It's very important not to get into long chases or especially tail chases with Barracudas, as they are too slow compared to alien submarines. Ideally attack an Alien Sub when it is approaching your sub, and quite close. You want to always pack a full load of the most powerful torpedoes because you will probably get at most one chance to succeed in submarine combat.
- Watch the Graphs for clues as to alien activity. Check them every 24 hours, just after midnight (when you also check your Research progress). Check the Totals first, for Alien Sub Activity by Seas and by Zones. Only if the Totals have changed from the previous day do you need to drill down into the individual graphs for each Sea and/or Zone. And if your memory is not great you might want to record the Totals, as well as the values in each Sea and Zone, each time they change.
- While you only have Standard Sonar, send out a Barracuda, at least 600nm outside your base's detection radius, as a picket ship. If the graphs show any alien activity, send to the affected Sea or Zone. Keep one Barracuda on picket duty, but ensure you have the other available for intercepts. Check the Interception window every hour on the hour, and as soon as both craft show Ready, re-launch one as a picket. Every extra intercept is a huge bonus, especially early in the game.
- Keep your torpedo inventory light, but re-order torpedoes immediately after every engagement, success or failure.
- Similarly, replace Battlescape ammunition, grenades, lost weapons, destroyed SWSs, dead Aquanauts, etc immediately after every mission. Try to keep a small surplus stock on hand.
- Typical tactics involve using SWS, lightly armed scouts or expendable rookies in forward positions to scout for aliens, with more experienced, better armed troops held in the rear, to fire on the aliens once detected. This way the troops in the rear preserve their TUs for firing effectively, and the scouts at the front preserve their TUs for getting out of the way of detected aliens or, if evasion is not possible, for defensive fire.
- Avoid direct fire firefights wherever possible, unless you definitely have the upper hand. Use grenades and stay out of line of sight.
- Identify your best grenade throwers (accuracy and strength/range), particularly those with high TUs who will get forward.
- Identify grenade mules with high strength, who can carry a lot of grenades and relay them a long distance.
- Give everyone a GC with at least one clip. Even a weakling can carry a GC preloaded with AP, if he carries nothing else.
- The Gas Cannon is your primary direct fire weapon for all situations. Use GC-HE at long range, GC-AP at shorter range.
- If possible, avoid using GC-HE or other explosives near downed aliens, as this will destroy loot.
- Do NOT bunch up under any circumstances: aliens use grenades freely.
- Distribute as many Tazers as your encumbrance limits allow, to deal with MC incidents and to exploit capture opportunities.
- Once Sonic Pulsers are available, use them in place of grenades, though initially only for tough targets (or multiple targets), until they are in plentiful supply.
- When you see your first Calcinite or Deep One, capture it at almost any cost (as long as your Alien Containment is built!!!!)
- Don't be afraid to fall back and abort if a battle is going badly, particularly if you are falling apart under M.C. The Triton is worth more than the Aquanauts in it, early on.
- Similarly, if you don't have the strength to win a mission outright, see if you can conduct a raid instead - kill a few exposed aliens and return to the transport sub with some valuable corpses and more-valuable artefacts. You will gain money and experience, and live to fight another day.
- Even when direct fire Sonic weapons are available for use, be cautious in arming your Aquanauts with them. They are very expensive to own and operate. That money (from selling the weapons rather than using them) could well be better spent on base facilities, additional bases, or research (Scientists).
- When terrorist or MC-capable aliens go down, stand over them to be sure they are not just stunned, as they can be very dangerous when they wake up. If they are not needed for research, drop any grenade or HE round on them, which will ensure they are dead.
- In open areas (not inside bases or vessels) DPLs are best used in a mortar-like trajectory, a high arc up into the air and then straight down to the target. This minimises the number of waypoints, minimises errors, and places the explosion in the centre of the target group.
- Replace any expended purchaseable battlefield supplies, including SWS ammunition, Aquanaut ammunition, and lost/destroyed equipment, as soon as the combat mission ends. Otherwise you may forget, and go into your next combat missing some vital equipment.
As you will go some time without having M.C.-Labs to screen your Aquanauts' MC strength, you must take very careful note of anyone who succumbs to MC, or even who is targeted. Remember that the weakest MC Aquanauts are targeted first, and if the enemy see one of your Aquanauts, they see all of them. Keep a ranked list of the weakest Aquanauts. If anyone succumbs to MC, stun them, disarm them, keep them out of combat, and dismiss them when they return to base. Be careful when deploying on missions with Aquanauts who have not been exposed to MC before - keep careful notes of this as well. For Aquanauts who have not been exposed to MC before, consider arming them only with Thermal Tazers until they are MC-proven.
Adding a new base early can help you increase your intercept rate, which can give a big advantage to loot and research. It can also help to avoid negative score penalties that can place you in grave difficulty.
You can either add new bases where the Graphs are showing the worst alien activity, or where the Funding charts show the greatest funding that is available (and at risk). Or a combination of both. Reacting to the Graphs by building a base can prove to be a mistake, however, if the aliens change their target area next month, when the new base is operational.
Initial Layout: The most important item in your new base is a sonar. A standard sonar will be operational half a month earlier than a wide array sonar, so build that first. Position the airlock on the 3rd row down from the top, second column from the right. Build the sonar underneath it. If you have additional cash, build a Sub Pen in the top left corner. Before the Sub Pen completes building, you will have time to build a Living Quarters and General Stores on the left and right (respectively) of the Standard Sonar, after the sonar completes building. The Sub Pen (in conjunction with General Stores) allows you to launch Interceptions from the base. The Living Quarters allows you defend it, and launch assault missions from the base. The initial layout looks like this:
Develop new bases using the Sonar Base - Intercept Base - Strike Base - Major Base pattern. Don't bother with Workshops or Labs in new bases, unless you are strong enough to build a specialised Factory Base.
Strategies when replaying the game
Once you have played through the game one or more times in the conventional way, you can play it again but with either specific objectives or under interesting handicaps.
For example, you can try to win the game with only limited saves allowed (such as one per month at month-end); using only one base; in the shortest possible time (this is a function of what you retrieve from crash sites and how fast you research it, so there is a minimum feasible time); using the least amount of money; using only one aquanaut per raid (or at all); and using terrestrial equipment only, except where required to complete the game (eg you would research alien submarines, but would build and use - once - only the one required to undertake the T'leth mission).
The game is reportedly winnable in any of these ways, although the one-aquanaut option is probably challenging. On alien sub, base defense and surface attack missions, your one soldier would have to kill every last alien. On alien colony or artefact site missions, you can, of course, simply destroy the device, and then get him / her to the escape area.
The most immediately challenging voluntary handicap you can introduce is probably to limit or not use saved games at all. Doing this means that, in the battlescape, you will need to grenade every possible area of dead ground where an alien might be before moving through it, or take many casualties from snipers. You would also be well advised to deploy troops from the landing ship in pairs, threes or fours so they can fan well out and not all be taken out by one grenade, stun bomb or DPL round.