Yet Another Scheme
The way of the Privateer
Many players try to get a steady production of Laser Cannon off the ground as soon as possible, and fund further activities with the revenue stream from their factories. That's nice and fine and works a treat; however, it's cheesy. Besides, X-Com was founded in order to fight the aliens, not as an arms producer.
Your funding fathers provided you with a letter of marque entitling you to intercept, seize, and sell any alien vessel you might encounter. Prizes can generate quite a revenue stream, even a small scout will easily yield over one million. Unfortunately, privateering is not as easy to pull off as just building a number of workshops and (in effect) printing your own money. This guide tries to point out some of the difficulties you may encounter, and how to deal with them.
- You don't produce stuff only for the purpose of selling it. This means you can get along with much fewer workshops; this, in turn, allows you to hire more scientists instead and get research done faster.
- It's loot that pays your bills. So you want to seize as many ships as possible, preferably intact. You will need good troops, and good detection. The latter is a bit difficult to have in the early game, and hence takes up most of this guide.
- You need to take on almost every alien vessel you become aware of. Depending on your personality, dealing with the umpteenth small scout can be a chore, and the overall gameplay experience may become positively boring.
At the beginning of the game, do the usual run-of-the-mill stuff: sell gear you don't need, purchase stuff you want. Build a few base facilities. However, you should maybe be a bit more radical than usual about the abilities of the soldiers you hire. You will fight a great many battles, and this will be much less frustrating if you have good troops.
Personally, I consider reactions to be far and away the most important stat. Of course, the soldiers should have some firing accuracy as well. Mediocre marksmanship can be mitigated to a great extent, and will improve soon enough. The same is true for Time Units and Strength. But there's no way to fake reactions, and training is difficult or virtually impossible if your soldiers don't have high values to begin with.
However, there will be casualties; and loosing one of your precious hand-picked squaddies will be even more frustrating. So it's maybe a good idea to have a few Ensign Expendables around.
Find the Enemy
No matter where you build your initial base, you are guaranteed to have the first aliens show up right on your doorstep. Strangely enough, they will only send small craft, and by the end of January they will cease. Even if you leave the early UFOs alone, there will be no follow-up missions with larger craft. So, after the first windfall (recovering every landed UFO through January will easily provide four or five million worth of loot), you're on your own. Getting your hands on more UFOs (=more revenue) after the initial batch is crucial.
Aliens may show up anywhere on the globe. However, anywhere is not everywhere: every month, they will start one or two missions like "Alien Research in Australasia" or "Alien Harvest in North America". There really is no way to tell where they will go. Alien missions always follow the same basic pattern: first there will be a small scout or two (the first one ussuall doesn't even land), then medium and large scouts (usually more than one each) until eventually larger craft show up, performing the actual mission. This can all take place within less than three weeks, but usually it takes at least five, sometimes up to eight. If you manage to intercept and/or capture one UFO, the follow-up mission will be delayed a few days, but the aliens will eventually pull through with their mission, even when not a single scout ever returns.
The UFO activity graph
With the world so large and your funds still limited, perhaps the best you can do ist to pay close attention to the Graphs. Much could be said about how to read it, but you will soon be able to see the difference between a simple flyby and an actual UFO landing. When you notice a landing in a given area, it's a clear indication that more can be expected to happen in that region in the next few weeks.
Over the course of the month, the graph will become more difficult to read; the more so if there already is an alien base anywhere on earth. However, the first few UFOs in any given month will stick out.
Once you know the approximate area where the enemy will conduct it's missions for the month, send some of your craft to patrol the area for immediate radar coverage. If you think that sounds weird, you haven't tried. Example: If you expect UFO activity in North America, have a Skyranger patrol over the central US. Alright, so "North America" can be anything from Alaska to Cuba, and craft radar range is nothing to write home about. BUT: within it's limited range, craft radar is frightfully efficient. Given the tendency of UFOs to zigzag over the region before landing, you've got a pretty decent chance that it will at some time come into range of your vessel.
It's a good idea to decomission one Interceptor in favor of a second Skyranger, you may even consider to go without any Interceptor at all. Generally you don't want to shoot down alien craft as long as there is any chance of capturing them in one piece, and two Skyrangers taking turns can provide 24/7 coverage of all but the most remote areas.
Eventually you want listening posts all over the world. At approximately 2 million apiece, it will be quite some time until you've got the world covered. What's worse, they take a long time to build: you may have an idea where the center of alien activity is right now, but there's no telling where it will be by the time your detection systems finally go into service.
Patrols work very well, and will go a long way. It's possible to play and win a game without any ground-based detection systems at all. But in the long run, Hyper-Wave Decoders are so much more convenient.
The February Famine
For some reason or other, there often appears to be a distinct lack of alien activity in February. Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on what the random number generator spills out. But it's not at all uncommon that there will be a grand total of only two or three scouts (plus one terror mission) in the entire month. In short: don't rely on having a high income.
Research and Production
If you do not want to mass-produce Laser Cannon for for money, you will only need a small number of technicians to provide necessary equipment for your troops: a few laser weapons, armour and (maybe) a handful of medikits. The one workshop you begin with will suffice for a long time, up to and including the production of Flying Suits: it will take about a fortnight to make ten of these. You only really need more production capacity once you have found out how to build your own craft.
Research is more important, though. Weapons, armour, Hyper-Wave Decoder, Psi Labs: you want all of these as soon as possible. Any spare penny should go into the construction of more labs and hiring more scientists.
However, that is "any spare penny": detection is even more important. The best equipment will do you no good if you can't find any aliens to use it on. The decision whether you can afford scientists because the current radar coverage should do for a while is part of what makes privateering fun.
High-priority research tasks:
- Laser Rifles
- If you don't know why, this guide is not for you.
- Psi Labs
- It stands to reason that you want to have your first Psi-Lab report as soon as possible: After the first round of PSI-screening, it usually turns out that about half your soldiers can't stand up to mind controlling aliens. By then, every trooper who's still with you will be a skilled veteran; sacking them will be painful, and training new recruits to the standard you've come to expect will be quite a chore. If one of the early terror missions is Sectoid, capturing the leader becomes the primary objective, simply because it will save you several months until you get your first Psi-Lab report. All troopers are expendable, all other research secondary – get those darn labs.
- Hyper-Wave Decoder
- The latest and best in Alien Detection. You want it anyway; getting it early will save lots of cash you don't need to spend on (soon obsolete) radar systems. It requires you capture a live navigator, but that's usually not that hard to pull off.
- Although armour is important, it's not top of the list: getting it a little sooner or later really means only one or two more missions you will need to fight without. So you can relax – a bit. Although Body Armour is still insufficient, you should hand out at least some of these while waiting for Flight Suits. You may safely skip Power Suits, though.
- Mind Probe
- Mind Probes take a long time to research, and are generally rather useless. After all, you can predict with reasonable accuracy that the interesting aliens will be on the bridge of any given UFO. However, there's one scenario where Mind Probes can make all the difference: when you try to pick out the leader on a sectoid terror site. This may never become necessary, though; and even if, it's not guaranteed that it will lead to success (with all those cyberdiscs around, the leader may die in an accidental explosion or whatnot). Research of Mind Probes should hence either be high on the queue or postponed until your scientists have nothing else to do.
What you don't need just now
- Plasma Weapons
- The Laser Rifle will go a long way. You can postpone research on Heavy Plasma until either: a) you have the Avenger and want Plasma Beams or b) the first Smakemen or Mutons have been sighted.
- Motion Scanner and Medi Kit
- Both can come in handy at times, but really, armour is more important. First things first.
- Laser Cannon
- The sole use of Laser Cannon is to give your engineers something to do while you have no other assignments; as long as you have only comparatively few technicians, you won't lose much if you busy them with (say) Laser Pistols instead.
South Italy, Crete, or east Turkey rank high among the best places for the starting base. For starters, a base there will cover Europe, North Africa and a large part of Central Asia – that's three out of the eleven areas. In addition: provided you detect an UFO early during it's mission, a Europe-based Skyranger can reach any point in the old world and much of the Americas in time before the aliens take off and leave for good. Alaska, Chile and Malaysia mark about the outer fringe.
If you're unlucky the Aliens will schedule a mission in Australasia. Your only chance is to build a base complete with hangar, quarters etc and either relocate your squad or hire a wholly new one. Yes, that's a lot of dough, but ultimately worth it. If you manage to seize a single Harvester that way, the bill is paid.
Most bases can be mere listening posts, consisting of nothing but the access lift and a small radar at first. You certainly want to add Hyper-Wave Decoders as soon as possible, but those cost a lot of money and it may take a while. However, you should build a string of general stores at your first listening post: when the time comes you can quickly expand this to a large production plant. Research is best left at your initial base.
Later you may want to station a number of Firestorms at every base, but that's beyond the scope of this document.
- Playing many battles can become tedious once your soldiers are skilled and well-equipped; you may want to check out XcomUtil, if only for it's "AutoCombat" feature. Although I found Statstrings invaluable, too.
- Sell the loot! For every item in storage, the question is not if it might come in handy someday, but if you will need it anytime soon. If you don't, then by all means sell it: you'll recover another one soon enough. There's no point in stockpiling power supplies or even alien alloys, certainly not in January and arguably not even later in the game. By the time you get to build your own craft, you'll seize about one scout per week, and at least two large vessels per month. You may even find yourself holding excess Elerium-115.