10 October 2014 | XCOM: The Board Game

The Desperate Defense

How to Turn Back the Alien Invasion of XCOM: The Board Game


As their transport rumbled into position, the soldiers locked their armor into place and fired up their battle scanners. One last check of their plasma rifles, and they would rush out the door, into the beating heart of the alien invasion. They knew they wouldn’t all make it back, but if they failed, billions more might die. The whole human race might perish. Live or die, there was no turning back…

Just in case you thought it was going to be easy to win your war against the alien invaders of XCOM: The Board Game, think about this: There are two ways to lose the game, but only one way to win it…

In our last preview, we looked at the game’s free digital companion app. Integral to your XCOM experience, this app allows us to push the game’s design well beyond what would be possible without it. And it coordinates the alien invasion.

There are five different invasion plans, which we’ll explore in more depth in a later preview, but all of them share three common elements: UFOs, enemies, and crises. These are the invaders’ weapons as they strike against you. With these weapons, they hope to sow chaos, topple nations, and cause the collapse of human civilization.

Early military interventions proved ineffectual, and you – and XCOM – are now humanity’s last hope for a successful resistance. It is your job to maintain a semblance of order, to slow the descent into utter panic, and to find a way to strike at the invaders where it counts.

These duties drive the game’s victory and loss conditions:

  • You lose if two continents fall into panic. Not only does this mean that many hundreds of millions of people are dying, it means that your team loses its funding and XCOM shuts down.
  • You lose if your base is destroyed. If your base is destroyed, so are your means of fighting back. And if XCOM can’t fight back, there’s no other power in the world capable of retaliating in any way that doesn’t harm the world more than its invaders.
  • You win if you can unlock and complete your scenario’s final mission. Of course, to get to the final mission, you’ll need to protect your base, prevent nations from panicking, and complete other missions that will help you find weaknesses in the aliens’ strategy.

Can you unlock your final mission? Click on the image above to unlock Domination.

Don’t Panic!

Because you’ll lose if any two of the six populated continents fall into panic, you’ll need to become familiar with the panic track. As you wage your war against the alien invaders, you’ll need to track the degree to which each continent has fallen into chaos.

Time is against you. After all, your team wasn’t fully activated until the world’s military forces had already lost ground to the invaders. Thus, even at the beginning of the game, you’ll find that some of the continents have moved one or more steps along the panic track. Once you start playing, the pressure really starts to build. Each round, the world’s continents each move one step closer toward panic for each UFO in orbit over that continent. As if that’s not enough, the crises you must resolve may also move the world’s continents toward panic.

While XCOM’s Interceptors are deployed elsewhere, two UFOs sow chaos in Australia, moving it two steps toward panic. Asia has already fallen into panic, so if Australia also collapses, the game is over, and you lose!

It’s almost impossible for you to entirely staunch the spread of panic. The best you can hope for is that you can slow it down, aid those nations that truly need your intervention, and buy yourself just enough time to plan a retaliatory strike.

Defend Your Base

As you route your Interceptors across the globe to confront the UFOs that threaten to topple the world’s governments, the aliens send a number of enemies to assault your base, hoping to find some way to eliminate you and the threat that your team represents to their grand design.

In XCOM: The Board Game, there are nine different types of enemy cards, corresponding to each of the different types of enemies that might assault your base. At the beginning of your game, the app will identify a number of these enemies and instruct you to take all of their cards, including any Elite versions, and shuffle them together to create an enemy deck.

These enemies then spawn at your base throughout the game, and if your soldiers can’t eliminate them all, each enemy remaining deals one damage to your base. If your base suffers enough damage, it is destroyed, and you lose.

Two enemies survive XCOM’s defenses, damaging the base twice.

However, your base defense isn’t all-or-nothing. Even if your base isn’t at risk of being destroyed, you can suffer some very real consequences for letting the enemy strike. Whenever the base damage token advances to a red space, you must resolve the damage ability on the aliens’ invasion plan.

The damage token advances to a red space, triggering the damage ability on the aliens’ invasion plan. In this example, two UFOs spawn on each continent in the red zone of the panic track.

We will look at base defense in greater detail in a later preview.

The Final Mission

As UFOs appear in orbit and enemies spawn on your base, you’ll be forced to decide how best to allocate your resources. They are finite, after all, and the key to XCOM: The Board Game is deciding which battles you need to win, and which sacrifices you can afford to make.

As much as this is a game of tense struggles against strange and remorseless foes, it is a game of resource management. Interceptors cost money. Soldiers cost money. Scientists cost money. Satellites cost money. And your funds are limited. You need to weigh your options clearly and quickly, even in the face of disaster.

Your team has thirteen credits… You need to make them count!

But if you can help the world’s governments retain a semblance of order long enough, and if you can keep the enemies from destroying your base and all your work, you just might be able to send a hand-picked unit of soldiers to undertake one final, surgical strike against the aliens that may hit them hard enough that you can turn the tides of war.

XCOM’s squad leader sends a squad of two assault soldiers and one sniper to attempt the game’s final mission. Both types of soldiers excel at the early tasks, though they may need to push hard to make it through the mission’s third task.

Moreover, you can undertake other missions throughout the game to find weaknesses in the aliens’ invasion plan. By completing these other missions, you reduce the amount of time it takes your analysts to discover the target of your final mission.

Both these preliminary missions and the final mission require that you complete a number of tasks, but there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll resolve them successfully on the first attempt, nor on the second, or the third. In fact, there’s a good chance that when you send your best soldiers to a mission, you’re sending them to their doom.

Open task slots on missions are filled by enemies. Completing this final mission requires that you get one success on the first task, then get three successes on the second task, and finally manage to get one last success on the third task.

Prevail Against Overwhelming Odds

The odds of XCOM: The Board Game are stacked against you. There are two ways to lose and only one way to win. By the time your team gets funding, the aliens have already launched their invasion. You need to fight your war on four fronts, but you don’t have enough funding to fight on even footing at each.

Out of this situation, you must carve a winning plan. You need to shoot down UFOs to slow the rise of panic. You need to fight for your base. You need to research new tech to gain footing. You need to send soldiers on deadly missions to gain crucial military intelligence. It’s a desperate situation, and it requires bold action. The question is: How far will you push your luck?

In our next preview, we’ll look at the game’s push-your-luck dice mechanics in conjunction with your base defense, the role of the Squad Leader, and the resolution of missions!

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