Miscellaneous XCOM Tips

Here are a whole bunch of notes from playing through XCOM Ironman Classic (and preparing for Ironman Impossible) that may be helpful if you’re trying to do similar stuff in XCOM. I didn’t craft into a detailed guide, just typed up a list.



  • Starting goal is to get your first round of satellites (up to 5) launched in month 1. To do this, you need to 1) abduction by 3/7 to get bonus Engineers, 2) start workshop by 3/7, 3) start 4 satellites by 3/11 by selling loot from your first UFO, 4) start an Uplink as soon as Workshop finishes, by 3/17. Then launch 4 satellites by 3/31.
  • You can then either reinvest fully in satellites in month 2 (going up to 8), or put off the second round until month 3 to have money for Officer Training and some better gear in month 2.
  • Getting the satellites up in month 2 takes some planning, since you now not only need the Workshop and Uplink, but an Access Lift and two Power Generators. The uplink and second generator have to be on level 2. Working backwards: need to start uplink by 4/16, second generator on 4/11, excavating for second generator on 4/6, access lift on 4/1, so first power generator in March to be done by 4/1. There’s some variation in all this based on which holes are pre-excavated and how much you care about adjacency bonuses, but point is, to make it all work, you have to sell more things in March to make a power generator in advance.
  • Just to highlight one sticking point: in order to have 15 Engineers to start a Workshop on 4/6, you might need to get 1 from a Satellite bonus at the end of month 1. You’ll do so anyway if you cover Africa in month 1 as I recommend below.
  • In month 3 you can get to 12 satellites (or at least 8) without much difficulty since you have money to do it and get your combat upgrades, but again, make sure you plan your digging/power needs in advance so you don’t miss the end of the month.
  • Remember that selling early UFO Computers/Power is no big deal; you don’t need them for anything until Firestorms way down the line. For scrounging up more, most early corpses are fine to sell, just keep ~7 Floaters for dodge modules and 5 Thin Men for medkits later on.  Try your best to avoid selling Alloys/Fragments/Elerium; they will the limiting factors on your later research.

Base Choice and Satellites:

  • Start in North America. It gives somewhat more spending cash in month 1 than any other option (specifically, $58 more than Africa) and really helps pay for those satellites and uplink.
  • Unless you have serious panic problems, launch your 4 month 1 satellites over Africa (with the 4th being either Russia or a country that’s about to panic).
  • Even if countries end month 1 with 3-4 panic, it’s fine as long as they don’t leave. With your important bonuses up, you’re free to use month 2 satellites to whack-a-mole on anyone who hits 5 during that month. Losing 1 or 2 non-Asian countries at this point is not a big deal anyway.
  • Going forward, just save countries from panic while filling Asia when you can.


  • The big question is whether you’re going to skip lasers entirely by looting an early Light Plasma Rifle and researching it. That’s the path I have more experience with since it’s what I did for Ironman Classic.
  • If you want to go this way, open Xeno-bio and Arc Thrower, and stun a Thin Man/Floater/Outsider early on (grenade to 1 HP for easy stun). You won’t have Alien Containment for a while, but it’s no big deal. If you get LPR’s going by month 3, you’re not really that far behind, and will already have Carapace Armor.
  • As soon as Mutons appear in month 3, stun one and interrogate for Plasma research bonus. Then you can just continue down the Plasma tree. This is the only really important stun (the one Alien Grenade is also handy).
  • Having only your starting 5 scientists leaves things really slow in month 2. Contrary to popular wisdom, I’d get one scientist bonus early if you can, since you want to be kitted out in carapace/LPR as soon as possible, as well as having arc thrower and Phoenix Cannon done somewhere in there.  After that don’t bother with scientists/labs.
  • If you want to get laser weapons, do it before Carapace Armor.  They’re pretty cheap and on Classic they let you guarantee one-shots against Floaters and Thin Men (and two-shots against Chrysallids) without waiting for LPRs.

Space Combat:

  • A “medium” UFO comes in month 2. One non-upgraded interceptor can take it down usually, but not 100%. You need to either have 2 in every continent (more expensive) or find a consumable that guarantees a kill (unsure).
  • A “large” UFO comes in month 3. You need Phoenix Cannons here. Even one phoenix cannon doesn’t guarantee a kill, but I think throwing in a Dodge item does.
  • After that, you can hold off for a while. Don’t need anything fancier than Phoenix Cannons until after you assault the alien base, so you can worry about Firestorms/Plasma Cannons after working down the weapon/armor trees for your ground force.
  • Curious if someone can answer this: can you make 1 Firestorm, skip a scout, and then transfer the Firestorm to the continent where the scout was in time to fight the battleship? Or do you need to have one in every continent?



The Free Turn

  • When an alien pack first sees you, they get a “free turn” during which they move but do nothing else. This means you cannot be hurt until whenever the next full alien turn starts.
  • So really, it’s not a free turn for them, but for you. You get all the time between first contact and the end of your turn to strike first, and only the aliens who survive that will ever get to fire on you.
  • The overarching result is, never make any movement that reveals new territory, if the remaining actions left on your turn aren’t enough to handle what appears (either by killing it, or by moving everyone to safety). Examples:
  • Never dash or double-move a soldier ahead of other soldiers (or any dash that reveals new territory). The soldier will be unable to retreat.
  • Never commit soldiers to actions (including overwatching) if you’re going to move other soldiers later that turn. First make all the forward moves you’re going to make, then tab through and press overwatch on everyone once moving’s done.
  • If you’re relying on a Sniper or on Heavy rockets as ways to handle high-HP enemies, never advance to new ground with your Sniper or Heavy, or advance with anyone after your Sniper or Heavy has moved.
  • If this all makes it sound like you can’t move that much in a turn, you’re right. Out of combat, there’s no downside to ending your turn and resetting everyone’s actions for free. So just make the safe moves only, Overwatch everyone, and repeat. A tip is that if you spam tab and your overwatch key, you can overwatch the whole party instantly; you don’t have to watch the animation every single time.
  • Another plus side of cycling turns a lot is that patrol packs are more likely to stumble into your mass of Overwatches on the aliens’ turn, getting you both a free kill and a full turn to deal with the rest.

Overwatching in combat

  • In combat, it’s the opposite–overwatching can easily do more harm than good. If you can see an alien, but have a low chance to hit, don’t default to overwatch. Now they can simply stand still and shoot you back and you’ve wasted your turn, an even worse result than if you’d traded shots (and trading shots is generally something you want to avoid in the first place). If you don’t have a good aggressive play, retreat or hunker down.
  • Even overwatching with soldiers slightly out of range of the enemy isn’t great. Yes, you can set up kind of a trap where the alien walks into it, but overwatch shots don’t have great chance to hit, and if it doesn’t hit, the alien can shoot back at the un-hunkered soldier. Obviously things aren’t always ideal and sometimes letting an alien shoot at an un-hunkered partial-cover soldier is least of all evils. But that’s how people die, so keep it to a minimum.
  • Take stock at the beginning of a turn. If you make the aggressive play, how likely are you to kill everything in sight? How many shots do you have, how many targets, and do you have rocket/grenade failsafe? Unless the odds are very high, you want to end your turn with every soldier in full cover or better.

Managing XP

  • The most valuable thing you get from each kill is the XP. Similarly, since you don’t lose gear/items in combat in this game, the only think you stand to lose in battle is the accumulated XP on each soldier. You just have to make sure your XP gains outweigh the losses.
  • So this actually means you can play somewhat fast and loose with young soldiers. Losing just a couple kills worth of XP isn’t a huge problem. If you kill 10 monsters in a mission in a lose a solider with 4-5 kills, it’s not a big disaster. Keep this in mind when you need to set up risky flanks and stuns as well.
  • A rookie with no kills is pretty much 100% expendable. The only thing to keep in mind is that before you have “New Guy,” it’s helpful to get them one kill to see what class they are.
  • With all this in mind, bring a mix of soldiers each battle, not simply your best available team. Give a rookie a good gun/armor and get him in there to do some killing. If he gets slaughtered, give his stuff to the next in line, otherwise once he has a few ranks he’ll be ready to go when you inevitably need him.
  • Once you have Colonels, remember to have them shoot last on easy turns, so younger guys are more likely to get the XP.
  • SHIVs don’t get XP so most of the time you’d really rather throw in an well-geared rookie (they’re cheaper anyway).  SHIVs have high HP though so if you need cannon fodder they can help bear the brunt of tough encounters while soldiers do the killing.

2 thoughts on “Miscellaneous XCOM Tips

  1. Thanks for these tips. Just recently started playing Xcom: EU and have really been enjoying it. I am on my first playthrough, and very intimidated about the aspect of trying ironman at some point down the line. This advice will help out a lot!

  2. Nice guide! I used your guide and I’m able to buy and launch 4 satellites before the end of March. I had to go back to save a few times but it a great strategy. On one game, I had a Council quest, two abductions, small UFO(skip), medirm UFO (killed).

    With all that, I was able to get more than enough $ for the 4 satellites and uplink.

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