Help wanted: X-Com UFO Defense

I am attempting to finally play the original X-Com in anticipation of the new one coming. Problem is, I suck at it. Specifically, I suck at the ground missions early on. No matter how I outfit the guys, no matter how carefully I deploy them, the outcome seems the same: half the guys get one-shotted by hidden aliens and a few others panic. And I’ve read that these early ground missions – against small UFOs that have crash-landed – are supposed to be easy.

For example, in my latest try I have ten guys out on their first mission, all (obviously) rookies. I waited a bit before this mission to tech up to improve their weaponry.

-Three have laser rifles, laser pistols, grenades and smoke grenades.
-Five have laser pistols, stun rods and grenades.
-Two have laser pistols, stun rods and smoke grenades.
-And the party has also brought along a tank/laser cannon for good measure.

I deploy in four pairs, splitting up the three with laser rifles so they’re paired with one of the five with only a laser pistol. One of the pairs trails behind the tank. Two of the guys stay behind on the Skyranger.

I move them out slowly, carefully, crouching, and leaving enough time units to fire an auto-shot. They fan out in four separate directions. Invariably, as I’ve said, some of these guys get taken down immediately by unseen aliens, thus leaving their partner going solo. And it goes downhill after that. Guys are panicking quickly (don’t blame them). In my last try, with the above set-up, I found two aliens hiding on the roof of the farmhouse. Four set out to sneak upstairs and nail them. Only one made it up alive. The tank almost always seems to get spotted and taken down by a few alien shots.

So, this game is hard. But I’m determined to get better. I at least would like to complete one friggin’ ground mission. So advice from veterans on how to survive even the first ground mission is greatly appreciated.

Couple things off the top of my head:

About half the soldiers you recruit will be useless, with stats too low, especially bravery. Sack the low bravery ones; rename the other poor stat guys “scout” and use as described later.

Any soldier attacked by psionics has a low mental strength - aliens seek out the weaklings. First, immediately, or as soon as you get control back, drop all his gear. The AI doesn’t pick up off the ground. Then rename him “psi target” or some such. If they are ranked sack them after the mission.

When you build your teams, take a couple "scout"s and a couple "psi target"s as extras, with no gear. Use the scouts as your probes. If they die, they show where an alien is in the process. They are especially good for ship entries. Leave the psi targets in/near the lander. The aliens will still find and target them, leaving your better, armed troops alone (mostly).

Finally, until you get armor you are just going to take casualties because most hits are one-shot kills.

Double edit: you have laser rifles, which have infinite shots. If you suspect hidden aliens, and have the patience, level the area with lasers until they are exposed. Use caution in terror raid because of civilians; otherwise, laser to your heart’s content. Feel free to call in the big explosives as well; the only disadvantage is you probably blow up the alien gear if you do.

Edit: sometimes I arm the scouts with grenades. They can usually prime and throw in one turn. Also for ship entries, a grenade primed to 0 will go off when a dead scout drops it, often killing the alien(s) waiting just inside the door.

For the first couple of missions, rocket launchers are your “Oh Shit” mitigators. Use when things go south, and use liberally. Two aliens on a roof are a prime target for a rocket launcher.

To be clear, I tend not to use the rockets until I feel things slipping away from me. I hate losing artifacts. (Unless we’re talking Cyberdiscs on your first terror mission. Rocket them without prejudice.)

And as Uncle Briggs says, make sure you’re giving laser rifles to the soldiers with the best aim, that makes as big a difference as anything. With laser rifles you can auto-shot all day long and you should hit something. Eventually.

Use flares if its by night to see the enemies.

Try to run first to an area with hardcover (buildings) and then hunker down, instead of staying in the open being sniped bit by bit.

Don’t divide in four groups, stay in two bigger groups.

I think there are simpler things you can do.

(1) Early in the game you won’t have to worry about psionics, generally. So don’t.
(2) The most important bit of prep you can do, absolutely, is to sack every soldier with low bravery and hire replacements.
(3) Rename your soldiers a bit (or add ‘suffixes’ to their names) to indicate their role - sniper, grenade thrower, etc.)
(4) Lead with your guys with high reaction scores.
(5) Don’t exhaust your movement every turn. Leapfrog, and leave each soldier with enough time units left to hopefully squeeze off one shot.
(6) Don’t just fan out willy-nilly. Travel in loose packs. I usually spend the first turn just crouched under the wheels of the skythingie.
(7) Don’t get upset if your tank is blown up. The tank’s whole role is to get blown up. As long as you find out where the shot came from, you have gained information.
(8) FUCK the laser cannon tank. That thing is bullshit. Take the rocket launcher tank. First turn (assuming it’s a recovery mission and not a terror mission with civilians), deplane the rocket launcher tank and spend a few turns LEVELING EVERY FUCKING BUILDING YOU SEE. Leave your guys sitting in the skythingie playing Euchre while the tank knocks out enemy hiding places.

Good luck!

Early on in non-Terror missions, you should be using explosives liberally. Rockets, grenades, demo packs, proximity mines. You can’t hit the broad side of a barn with your starting troops and kit, so just focus on levelling the barn. Hopefully the aliens will get caught up with it.

Focus on getting a couple of guys as snipers. These guys sit way, way out of enemy range with good stats and a clear field of view. When a rookie scouts an alien, your sniper kills it. Your scout either retreats to cover or gets killed, but trading 1-1 is good enough early game.

Auto-cannons with incendiary ammo set on auto-fire lights up the night (and hiding places) quite well. When you find an enemy like this, switch to HE rounds. I usually have one auto-cannon guy in each group/squad early game.

I used to name low bravery guys names like “Curly,” “Moe,” or “Shemp” (so I’d be sure to keep tabs on them) and I’d have them hold grenades and walk into downed alien spacecraft as advance scouts. That way if they panicked at least they’d drop the grenades and blow themselves and maybe an alien up.

Peterb’s advice is closest to my advice. I don’t use any fancy equipment at the beginning. No proximity mines; I rarely use grenades; I actually don’t even bother with laser weapons! But I get a rocket tank or two. These can often clear out small and very small UFO crashes on their own. And if they die, you don’t care. The purpose is to get some alloys that you can make armor from.

Sounds like you’re doing the right thing keeping time units for opportunity fire, but also make sure you’re stopping in areas where there are as few blind spots as possible. If you’re nervous, there’s nothing wrong with just skipping an entire turn with your guys posted up covering every angle. Sometimes this will force the aliens to reveal themselves.

Sometimes you can send your ship in at the right time to ensure it’s daytime; that helps. (You can recall the ship just before it lands if the sun hasn’t risen on the site yet, then send it back whenever it does.)

Oh, and I don’t know if this makes me more successful, but I typically send 6 guys and a tank. I don’t like to fiddle with more units than that. But I weed out the losers stat-wise and leave them at home to guard the base or sometimes play second string when someone dies.


When you have a team with better stats and body armor, getting artifacts is a priority. Right now, you want to survive. Scorch the earth.

The aliens see further than you do. Combine that with darkness and you have disasters waiting to happen.

Take along a rocket launcher with incendiary rounds and light up the night.

Advance one guy forward and if he sees anything have everybody else shoot what he spots. If he doesn’t see anything. Advance your group next turn.

(Note that the game chances with terror missions and psi, but you have not been there yet.)

Saving and reloading is also good.

Try to not fight at night if you can help it. Time your flights to land just after dawn if you can.

2 aliens on a roof? High Explosives lobbed up there will level the entire top floor.

I love playing the game like it’s a SWAT movie. I end turns and catch my breath with my soldiers lined up at the edge of a building. Next turn, they can all bust out with full energy, ready to fire away.

If there’s more than one alien near each other, use grenades.

And when I say grenades, for my own tastes, I really mean high explosives. Huge difference. Prime, toss, BOOM. Gets shit done right.

Neat trick: If you’ve got only 1 guy w/ a line of sight, you can have someone else prime a grenade and throw it to the front-line guy who can pick it up and re-throw it. Obviously, bad aim or energy miscalculation can turn catastrophic. But it’s saved my life a few times.

Recently I start out with just the original 8 soldiers you start with, purchase a cannon tank, and try to keep my levels at that. If someone dies, they were meant to, especially the tank.

Do not wait a long time before starting missions, the aliens tech up like you do. Stun rods don’t have a use until you have alien containment and can sustain >30 scientists, as they take a long time to study.

Do not weigh down your troops with more equipment than they need. The more weight they carry, the faster they lose fatigue, and then their time units do not completely restore each round. Find the soldier with the best Strength and give them the heavy weapon (Auto cannon I think is the starting one).

As someone mentioned above, give tags to your soldiers so you know what they are good at.

I prefer to save time units for a “Snap Shot” instead of auto, since it takes less Time Units. You can use the buttons in the lower left to auto reserve time units if you did not know.

For soldiers armed with any type of 2H weapon (all heavy weapons, rifles, etc), keep their other hand empty. You actually lose accuracy on the rifle if you have the rifle and another weapon equipped.

I keep my troops in groups of three, with the tank scouting ahead by itself usually. Liberally use the right mouse button to turn your soldiers instead of moving them to the location. If moving diagonally, you probably only want to move one square at a time, as the AI seems to not like to move diagonally over long distances.

Keep next to something to limit exposure. Walk beside buildings, fences, etc. If you can keep your soldiers crouched, do so. It lowers their chances to be hit and raises their accuracy.

When you see an alien, have everyone auto shot him until he dies or you run out of soldiers that can shoot him.

Crashed Very Small UFOs tend to have 1-3 live aliens, small tend to have 3-5 iirc.

I always sack anyone whose bravery is less than 40. Bravery can go up, but it’s a pain because it requires that you lose (other) troopers and survive the morale hit.

Yeah, don’t wait too long to start attacking UFOs. In particular, you want to start by hitting alien scouts and small UFOs, which contain fewer aliens. That is, your guys are more likely to survive if you outnumber the aliens.

Thanks all. Lots of good suggestions. Gonna sort them out tonight and give it another go.

I think I’ll begin by starting over completely, so as not to wait so long before my first mission and to sack some of the cowards.

I love this idea. This, and other suggestions here to blast away at buildings. Never would have occurred to me to try.


Right, the small early ufos have non-psychic aliens (no sectoid leaders). Once the mediums start coming in the odds of them having a sectoid leader go up alot. If you avoid night fights, take on small ufos, and use a few troops as spotters with the people behind them doing the firing it should be manageable.

And I pretty much only use auto-shot, it seems to just work. Where aimed or snap shot, not so much…

  1. Don’t get too attached to your soldiers in the early game, you will get through a lot of them. Over time a sort of darwinian survival of the fittest thing takes over and by mid game you will have a decent team with decent chances of being successfull at missions.

  2. Use bad stat guys as scouts to draw alien fire. These guys operate in two’s or three’s ahead of the take down section. Keep space between your expendable scouts and the main force (in fact keep some space between all your guys all the time as you move around the landscape).

  3. Make a save game just before you deploy on a mission, as sometimes you will just find yourself in a horrible starting locale, and your chances of making it out are not good. I save once before i land at a target (so before the land based mission is loaded), and once as soon as the scenario has loaded, before i do anything else like move my soldiers etc.

  4. Untill you get the better armour, expect to lose soldiers, when that doesn’t happen it’s a bonus. Expect death in the game and it all flows more comfortably.

  5. If you are getting wasted too much for comfort, slow down, use your reserve shot buttons and just be more cautious and less reckless in your attempt to explore the map. Put yourself in the shoes of your troops, feel the weapon sights of the aliens on your own neck, feel the fear!

Lots of good tactical options have been mentioned so I’ll try pointing out some things where you went wrong for reference!

-First off everyone should have a rifle or heavy weapon, unless you have a dedicated medic or grenadier. Pistols have way lower accuracy and damage than rifles, you just have laser pistols as an infinite backup weapon if you run out of ammo for a real gun.

-Especially early on you should have fire teams of three or four guys, as you have noticed working in pairs just doesn’t cut it. When you spot an alien you need to be able to terminate it with extreme prejudice.

-Stun rods are useless as weapons. You only ever use them if you already have alien containment cells as mentioned, but using stun grenades or even smoke inhalation often works better for getting live aliens without committing suicide. Sometimes you get lucky and aliens that fall to real weapon fire are actually still alive too. Don’t use stun rods.

I can only imagine the media coverage in the X-Com universe.

I could also use some beginner X-Com advice. Specifically, how do you use grenades effectively? So far the only times I’ve used grenades ended with them blowing up in my hand and the enemy completely avoiding them.

Auto-cannons are the most powerful infantry weapon available at the beginning of the game. I equipped every one of my squad members with one of them. But I used high explosive ammo.

After I had an alien containment facility, I put a stun rod in the left hand of every squad member as well. I was surprised how useful a stun rod can be when a squaddie comes upon a hidden alien. A stun rod doesn’t take many action points to use.

I only used grenades when no other high powered weapons were available. I used auto-cannons instead.