XCOM is a great game. It can also be a very frustrating game, particularly if you aren't used to turn-based tactical strategy. That's why I'm here to help (note: the actual helpfulness of these rules is open to some debate).
Editor Note: If you've read any of Chris Kluwe's recent articles online, you know that his vocabulary is sometimes not safe for work…or children…or lovers of cats. Reader discretion is advised.
Rule 1: Save Early, Save Often
When you first start playing XCOM, you should probably play it on normal difficulty and no Ironman. There are a variety of lessons the game will teach you, and the vast majority of them involve your squad dying horrible and painfully messy deaths. You will learn about cover (it's a good thing). You will learn about flanking (it's a good thing when you do it, not so good when the enemy does it). You will learn about staggered fields of fire, keeping a tactical reserve, and why clustering your troops together against grenade opponents is Tactically Unsound. Every single time you learn one of these lessons, it will be because someone just died, and IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT. Hit "load" and try again.
Rule 2: Stop Saving And Nut Up
After you have the basics down pat, it's time to play for real. Start a new game on whatever difficulty you prefer, but click the Ironman box in advanced options. This prevents you from reloading an earlier save, and makes all your actions permanent. Lose a squaddie, and he/she is gone for good. YOU MURDERER. This is a good thing, however, as it will cause you to become much more attached to the hapless meat vessels you're so casually toying with. When Sergeant Herpaderp takes a heavy plasma rifle to the face because you decided to run him through the front door of a building you didn't clear properly, you'll gain a newfound appreciation of just how important he was to the squad.
Rule 3: Always Send The Rookie In First
Sergeant Herpaderp has a wife and three kids. Rookie Fister McGrundle is unloved and molests cats in his spare time. If you're going to kill one off, make the right choice. Always send the rookie in first. There's plenty more where he came from.
Rule 4: Rocket Science Is Your Friend
Build satellites. Build LOTS of satellites. Build uplink nodes to control your satellites. The essential resource in XCOM isn't scientists, or squad members, or engineers – it's straight cash, homey. With cash you can buy everything you need (and you'll need a lot). Without cash, you're staring at a mountain of insurmountable obstacles while E.T. wags his stupid glowing finger at you and laughs. You just researched a plasma rifle? Whoop-dee-friggin-do. If you can't buy it, you might as well be throwing Ding-Dongs at a Muton Berserker.
Rule 5: Know When To Launch Your Satellites
Whenever you launch a satellite, the country you launch it in immediately drops two Panic levels. Don't blow your space load right away. Wait until right before the end of the month, and then launch satellites to bring red Panic level countries back into the fold. This can mean the difference between a prosperous United States contributing 180 space bucks a month versus a Thin Man fiesta in your bedroom. No one wants to clean up after one of those.
Rule 6: Go Straight For Plasma
No one cares about beam weapons. They're stupid, look ugly, and will most likely give you scabies. Go plasma or go home.
Rule 7: Squaddies Stick Together
Your beautifully dysfunctional team is absolutely worthless if everyone runs around playing John Rambo. You need a scouting element, fire support, an assault component, and medical backup if you want to get through the tougher missions, and all of these units have to work together. Understand how the game mechanics work; when you think there's a group of enemies up ahead, make sure you can bring firepower to bear when you disturb them. If you don't, you're giving them a free turn of shooting, and if Corporal Facecheck runs into a nest of Heavy Floaters, you might as well break out the memorial urn now. Bring buddies or bring a body bag.
Rule 8: Never Run Into A Sectopod Without Serious Firepower And Oh My God Now Its Firing Reaction Shots With A Small Nuclear Cannon And Dropping Mortar Rockets On Cars
Rule 9: Sell Your Crap
The gray market is the perfect place to get money in a hurry, and you can sell anything you get from missions. I wouldn't advise selling any higher-end corpses, elerium, or weapon fragments, but you don't really need 18 UFO flight computers, so dump a couple of those bad boys off for some cold hard credits. Treat yourself to a pretzel and an Orange Julius while you're at it. Killing aliens is hard work.
Rule 10: Never Name Your Squad Members After Someone You Care About
Seriously, you're just asking to get them killed. Name them after an ex, or that dog you had that kept crapping on the couch. You'll feel much better when they inevitably get head-asploded after you miss three straight 95% accuracy shots on a target that absolutely has to die. Alternatively, name them all "Andy Reiner" and cackle with glee as they continuously pay the price for letting you down.
Rule 10a: Never Trust Accuracy Percentages In The Game
If you have three squaddies available, and one target that absolutely has to die, maneuver as if each half-blind, drooling imbecile you've somehow trusted with a gun is guaranteed to miss their incredibly crucial shot. Because they will. Miss. Repeatedly. It's a wonder they can tie their own shoes.
Hopefully these rules will lead to salvation of the human race in your game of XCOM. If they don't, write your own stupid rules. I'm too busy keeping Lieutenant Chodehammer from drinking all the paint thinner in the barracks. F—ing squaddies.
Chris "Warcraft" Kluwe is the Minnesota Vikings' punter, Tripping Icarus' bass player, and Andrew Reiner's Pokemon.