Small Unit Tactics, Applied | Forum

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LDGARRETT Dec 29 '15

***reposted from the Alpha Site***

This came up in discussions as something that would good to start off the Tutorials and Advice section. Here's a proposal as to how I'd approach the matter:

Small Unit Tactics as applicable to XCOM2, XCOM EU/EW (esp. LW).

Premise Number 1: That those reading this have at least a little time in-game playing XCOM EU/EW, and so are familiar with the fundamentals of a To-Hit v. Cover, Turn-based Tactical Combat game.

Premise Number 2: That the tactical play we have seen in the XCOM2 prerelease tactical scenarios (10Dec 2015) is indicative of the play in what will be the final release. In specific, that while details vary, most all the same system constraints that apply to XCOM EU/EW seem to apply to XCOM2.

Premise Number 3: That someone(s) else will want to write lots and lots about how various specific gameplay details make certain tactics or build synergies "the best way to play"... and while that may be in-part true, it is also "gaming the game". This article will focus on how more practical Small Unit Tactics are applicable to the sort of tactical scenarios in XCOM2.


The XCOM2 tactical team, like in XCOM EU/EW, is a very small group, functioning much more like a isolated fragment of a Special Operation squad/team than the smallest of regular fighting forces.

They also fight "in a closet", in that all the engagements happen at ranges that would be considered Close Quarters Battle by any reasonable measure, and without any common capability to have ranged fires contribute in any large way to the battle. Due to the oddity of the way the game has been designed, troops can't even see any appreciable distance beyond ranges where a single turn's dash could take a unit from the edge of detection to hand-to-hand. Yes, we all know that's absurd outside of battles in bamboo jungle or going room-to-room... but it's the game system we get, so this article will be couched in terms specifically applicable to these artificial game limitations.


I'll be writing about movement and positioning from the LZ in-bound... the Concealment phase... how to get good engagements and mitigate being discovered prematurely.

...about the importance of mutual support in positioning, before and after an engagement begins.

...about how flanks in XCOM games are things you almost always get within a narrow frontage of engagement, or by cover destruction, and how the "wide flank" is more likely an invitation to disaster (without proper battlefield awareness).

...about the choices of priority targets and about when to focus-fire v. when to attempt to suppress dangers while destroying their weaker team members.

...about the difference between a "good risk" offensively (or defensively) and a dumb risk, and when any increase of risk is acceptable (or not).

...combat width, depth and the idea of counting fighting positions prior to making any moves for a turn.

...understanding how "what the mission goals are" changes what the XCOM Team will be trying to do, in what order, under what time constraint, and by extension... knowing when to cut losses and get the heck out of a bad situation.

If XCOM2 follows form on tech/story progression, there will also be the need to address the stages of play... early game, mid game, late game, as the techniques on the battlefield will likely change dramatically with changes in troop skills and equipment technology.

What do you think? Would this be a good approach?

The Forum post is edited by Commandoid Dec 29 '15

First Items, based on the mission seen in today's Reveals... see

Tactical movement during Concealment is something that will require some refinement of technique by players to make as powerful as it can be... timing when to willfully expose the Team, so that they are in the positions you want them to be fighting from on turn 1 of the engagement... or that they are in a position with full moves remaining that they expect to be able to advance into the midst of the enemy.

The "Firepower Solution" is very likely not an option in the early game, and perhaps never... The amount of damage done by the weapons systems XCOM is using are incapable in most situations of downing any significant enemy without multiple soldiers engaging the target. Your days of going in for Shotgun Crits or laying down a Precision Shot Snipe are likely over until you've gained access to some improved weapons or character perks that we haven't seen much of yet.

The Squad moves, even when engaged, in a surprisingly tight group for any real effectiveness. It's not the XCOM EU/EW "conga line" and "seeker box", but the "rules" of limiting the Team frontage and depth look to still apply,  with a fairly tight formation of about 5~7 tile frontage and 5 depth (not counting a Squadsight fire weapon) will be needed to get enough effective overlapping fire on targets to down foes in any timely manner.

You best defense remains downing all active enemies... or, less a statement of the obvious, no amount of Cover and Evasiveness gets reliable results in neutralizing the enemy offensive capabilities. Cover remains vital to reduce the chance of hits, esp. critical ones, but can not be considered on par with either: limiting pod activations and downing all contact possible; or, breaking LoS behind cover that cannot be easily flanked or destroyed.

There seems to be a skew in character performance based on activation of special abilities far out of proportion to simple level/skill progression. Having more "special attacks / melee moves / gun mods that give something free" appears to vastly increase the killing power of the Squad, all out of proportion to the more linear increases that come from skill / tech progression in general. This should be your first warning that "Reasonable and Sensible Tactics" might not apply at some point in the game. a.k.a. Superman doesn't need to use cover.

One thing that has been discussed, and will be part of the follow-up in this thread, is that mission goals may be dynamic: The Team may go into a mission with one known situation, and another situation may emerge during the progress of the Operation. Developing techniques to handle these emergent mission activities will be an important adjunct to these Observations and TTP's.

More on this later.



As seen in Operation Moon Father,, there are some examples of the items mentioned above, and one significant revision...

The Operation showcases a superb Concealment Ambush v. a 2-enemy patrol, with an explosives-initiation and overwatch engagement at fairly close range on the survivor.

The availability of hand grenades in addition to the Grenade Launcher *does* allow something of a "Firepower Solution" v. the standard ADVENT troops, at least at the difficulty level of the scenario shown in the VoD. More serious foes required multiple engagement, as expected.

Even with the small number of XCOM Operatives on the mission, at no time were they confronted with an engagement v. superior numbers. Part of that was good play, finishing all active contact before begging a new activation, part of it was that this scenario had a very low total enemy number present. How the XCOM Team fares in an even-numbers or outnumbered situation remains to be seen.

Again, more on this later.



Part One: The Concealment Phase.

What the game "models" by the Concealment mechanic is not actual concealment... but a circumstance where the enemy forces are not aware of or reacting to the presence of XCOM troops. Think of it as an "infiltration" time, with the opportunity to gain positional advantage on the unaware enemy.

Like a "RL" situation, the keys are to avoid zones where the enemy is assessing their surroundings for threats, avoid detection by sensors, and avoid close examination by non-combat personnel that would react in sympathy with the enemy forces by spreading alarm.

If you've looked at the gameplay model, that sounds pretty easy: just stay out of the red zones until your troops can take up cover positions, avoiding flanks, that are suitable as places from which to initiate contact. It's not that simple. Unseen enemies (behind blocking cover or beyond visual range at the start of your team's move) still possess their radius of potential alarm... but it doesn't show on the map until you see them. This means that, just like in real situations, the most dangerous thing you can do besides sauntering into contact is to expose a movement too close to the angle that can see around a blind corner. Rule One of staying Concealed: expose blind spots from range, and then close in from that perpendicular approach, to see what's back there before it sees you.

The other matter, one familiar to all you veteran XCOM EU/EW/LW players, is that dispersing troops or spreading out laterally during an advance simply gives more opportunity for the edge of your formation to fall within the range of sight of more enemy elements (pods)... while not fatal during your team's turn as you may well see and react to the presence of newly approached enemies, it is an almost unacceptable risk to remain so dispersed on the enemy's turn. Approaching enemies may well start beyond visual range, come into view (especially from a flank) and react by engaging your team... and have done so from one extreme of your formation, limiting the number of defensive fires (overwatches) that bear upon them as they come into battle positions. Rule Two of staying Concealed, or at least having a good "hasty" engagement, is: Your first two pawns movement forward of your current location will define the width of your team's end formation and the maximum distance forward your team will move this turn (discounting any moves from the far rear through the middle of a team in transition). After those two moves, no new portions of the map should be revealed to vision by any other team member's move. Any acceptable dispersal of your team should be longitudinal, along the axis of advance, not lateral. Cover positions, while not necessary in long-move portions of the Concealment phase, are absolutely a consideration once contact becomes a significant risk. Those troops that have delineated the limits of this turn's advance, and any troops on turns where an ambush engagement is considered likely, should end their movement into cover, fronted toward the likely enemy approach(es).

Leaving the Concealment phase: Two ways this might happen... you could get run up on by an enemy force, triggering any hasty ambush you have set... or, you can engage an unaware enemy force. Whichever you do, their turn or yours, You Must Do So From Cover. Enemy forces can and will fire upon exposed troops during their activation reaction to contact. Presuming that you've taken precautions against that happening, then the only other thing to remember is: It is always better to give than to receive. Either unmask on your team's turn with your first action causing injury or death to the unaware enemy and then the rest of your team has actions to spend taking advantage of "the break" (the enemy's movement on activation), or have massive, concentrated defensive fires prepared during the enemy turn so that when they find you, they get cut up badly for the experience.