8 December 2014 | XCOM: The Board Game

Something Has to Give

Balancing Your War Effort and Budget in XCOM: The Board Game


Hello, Commander. In response to the alien threat, this council of nations has chosen to activate the XCOM project. You have full command of XCOM headquarters. You must learn more about the enemy to expand our capabilities as well as the abilities of our operatives…

Being the Commander of XCOM is a high-stakes, high-pressure job. It’s not one for the weak-willed or the faint of heart. As alien invaders assail the world’s nations, laying waste to its great cities and sowing panic among the masses, you must be willing to make hard decisions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions – maybe even billions – of people.

In XCOM: The Board Game, there are four distinct roles the players must assume. Each of these roles has its own unique set of responsibilities, and the Commander is responsible for, among other things, managing the team’s budget. This isn’t a matter of simple mathematics, however; everything your team needs to do will cost you, and the money never seems to meet your needs.

Ultimately, balancing your budget means choosing which technologies you can afford to research, where you’ll deploy your Interceptors or soldiers, and which nations must fend for themselves as alien invaders continue their massacre.

Build Toward Victory

When you play as the Commander, it is your job to track the budget and manage the emergency funds. However, there’s a catch: You don’t actually have the authority to shut down your teammates’ expenditures.

Throughout the game, your teammates will assign units to various tasks based on what they think is the best way to respond to the alien threat, and based on what they believe they can contribute. Each of those units counts against your budget, but your teammates are the ones making the decisions about how many units they assign, and where they assign them – not you.

After the team’s budget is set at thirteen credits, the Chief Scientist decides to assign eight scientists to research tasks: three to UFO Tracking, three to Plasma Cannon, and two to Interceptor Repair. While you hope the science division can make some meanginful progress, the rest of the team now has only five credits to spend!

This is one of the unique challenges of the Commander’s position within the fully co-operative structure of XCOM: The Board Game. You’re responsible for tracking the budget, but in order to make your efforts meaningful, you need to encourage the cooperation of your teammates.

You know that if your team overspends, you’ll have to advance the continent with the highest panic level by one space for each credit that you’ve gone over budget. That means that you’ll be watching the different units your teammates assign to research tasks, orbital defense, and missions, and you’ll have to weigh their number against the number of credits you have available.

The Squad Leader assigns two soldiers to the current mission and two more to base defense, committing four of your five remaining credits.

In your Emergency Funding, you have some leeway to accommodate your teammates’ enthusiasm. They’re the savings you can dip into once or twice if your team can’t get its monthly budget in order, but these funds aren’t refreshed. Once they’re spent, they’re gone. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest – and that of the whole XCOM team – if you can get your teammates to work with you to develop a more strategic and foresightful use of XCOM’s resources.

One way you might be able to get your teammates to budget more effectively is to help them identify key expenditures as early as possible. If you can help your team quickly identify the most threatening aspects of the alien invasion plan, your organization can take actions that do more than respond to the various alerts flashing across the screen; you can direct all your efforts so that they build toward the completion of your final mission.

After your team has assigned units elsewhere, the aliens spawn UFOs over several different continents. As the Commander, you know your team only has one credit remaining in the budget. Do you assign a single Interceptor, hoping to mitigate the damage in one of the continents? Do you ignore the UFOs, allow the continents to move up the panic track, and invest your last credit to recruit a soldier or build an Interceptor that you can deploy next round? Or do you go over budget, deploy your interceptors to reduce the panic in multiple continents, even as you push the most frightened continent closer to the brink of chaos?

A More Judicious Use of Limited Resources

Each time you or your teammates assign a unit to a task, it counts against your budget. Each Interceptor assigned to global defense costs one credit. Each satellite assigned to orbital defense costs one credit. Each soldier assigned to a mission or base defense costs one credit. Each scientist assigned to research – one credit.

You need to complete these tasks in order to hold back the alien invaders long enough to formulate a meaningful response. However, there are ways to counter the aliens’ various attacks and the crises they create that don’t cost you credits.

Each player starts with one or more asset cards. Like Satellite Uplink and Research Center, these cards introduce valuable tactical abilities that can help you maintain or reshape your response to the alien menace. And some of these asset cards introduce powerful abilities that you can trigger by placing units on them:

The Central Officer can place a satellite on Mission Control to move one unit from its reserve to the board or from the board to its reserve. In this way, you can add an extra soldier to base defense if the enemy invaders launch a surprisingly deadly assault, or you can pull back one of your Interceptors from global defense in order to ease the burden on your budget.


As the Commander, you can train one of the Squad Leader’s reserve soldiers by assigning it to Officer Training. That soldier becomes elite, meaning it will be able to roll an additional XCOM die in future rounds.


The Squad Leader, meanwhile, can place two soldiers on Skyranger to discard a crisis card from the crisis pool.

These are powerful abilities, and any units assigned to asset cards don’t cost against your budget. Likewise, the science division’s research efforts are likely to unlock even more cards, introducing other abilities that you can trigger by assigning your units to them. For example, your efforts are bound to benefit if you can unlock the secrets of UFO Power, and it’s much more effective to develop techniques for Interceptor Repair than to buy new Interceptors each time they’re damaged in combat.

Identifying the Invasion Plan

In order to make the best possible uses of the resources available to you, you’ll want to identify the exact threat you face as early as possible. While UFOs pour into orbit and fly over the world’s great cities, while crises erupt across the globe, and while enemies assail your headquarters, it can be difficult to take your eyes off the immediate threats. But if you want to win, you need to focus on larger patterns.

There are five different invasion plans in XCOM: The Board Game. As noted earlier, each invasion plan features a different ratio of UFOs, enemies, and crises. Accordingly, each drives the game’s action in a different direction, and though you’ll never know exactly what to expect, you’ll begin to recognize the larger patterns:

  • The alien invaders focus on creating crises to sow chaos and panic throughout the nations when they follow their plans for Infiltration.

  • When the invasion plan is Domination, you’ll have to quickly identify the greatest threat you face each round, as the aliens swarm a single, targeted continent.

  • You’ll face fewer enemies and more UFOs in orbit as the aliens aim to scramble your transmissions and throw your defenses into disarray with the Misdirection invasion plan.

  • The invaders focus on dominating the ground in the Onslaught invasion plan. You’ll find more enemies, and they’ll be more difficult than is typical for your difficulty level.

  • If you have to fight back from a state of global Occupation, you’ll need to do so with extremely limited funding, even though the pressure never relents.

As the Commander, your recognition of these patterns can help you counsel your teammates to budget more effectively. For example, while the aliens are working at Misdirection, you may face a brutal early assault against your base that renders it uncomfortably vulnerable, but you could choose to play your odds, knowing that the massing UFOs pose the greater threat.

In such a situation, you might ask the Squad Leader to assign minimal troops to your base defense, despite the risk. Then, your team can allocate those funds toward fighting UFOs and mitigating panic elsewhere… as well as racing through missions in order to locate your enemies’ key weaknesses and get an earlier start on your final mission.

To that end, each invasion plan introduces a different final mission. This means that each invasion plan demands that you succeed at a different set of tasks before you can win. It also means that each invasion plan inflicts a different sort of punishment upon you whenever the damage to your base hits a red space.

For example, the invasion plan Domination, which focuses upon pushing the aliens’ existing advantages, spawns two UFOs in each continent in the red whenever your base damage marker hits a red space.

On the other hand, the invasion plan Misdirection seizes upon the opportunity to further build a fleet of UFOs to menace the earth and scramble your transmissions. When your base damage marker hits a red space, Misdrection spawns two UFOs in orbit.

The Bottom Line

Alien invaders have arrived, the world is under siege, and traditional military units have all proven ineffectual. As the poorest and richest nations alike tilt perilously close to panic, a secret coalition has activated the XCOM project. Now, as XCOM’s Commander, it falls to you to ensure that your resources are used as effectively as possible.

It’s a tough job, and even as you assign your Interceptors where you feel they’re needed most and choose the crises you’ll resolve, you’ll need to identify situations that you can potentially use to your advantage. You’ll also need to recognize when it’s time to cut your losses. More than that, though, you’ll need to encourage your teammates to work with you, as any chance you have of successfully repelling the invaders hinges upon your ability to work together, united, sharing an understanding of your larger strategic concerns.

In XCOM: The Board Game, when you’re Commander, you’re not some authoritarian presence with the final word on every matter. You must be a leader, and you must lead by example. If humanity is to survive, you must think quickly and clearly, putting others’ needs ahead of your own interests.

You are humanity’s last hope!

Next preview: We’ll take a look at the Chief Scientist and the different tech your XCOM team can research in order to turn the tide of battle!


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