The 3AP experiment

This emerged from a conversation I was having with the Devs, where they asked me why I found the tactical missions so easy.

As I sat down to analyse it, I realised that the main ‘problem’ (if that’s the right word) is surplus of APs. Put simply, if you know what you are doing, it is ludicrously easy to weigh things so far in your Squaddies’ favour that they regularly get to use between 6-8APs for every 4 spent by the Pandas. That means that your Squad is on average taking 1.5 to 2 turns for every turn taken by the Pandas.

In the early game, when you’re not dealing that much damage, that simply evens up the playing field - but as the game progresses and your Skills & weapons get more powerful, it starts to skew the tactical contest more and more in your favour until you find that if you allow your Squaddies to unleash their full potential, most Pandas never even get a turn to react, let alone threaten you.

Now some people are fine with that, and I don’t begrudge them their power fantasy. Let them play on Easy/Vet and have a great time feeling like superheores. But I play these games for the tactical challenge of battling against the odds, and to be frank, I find the late game interminably boring because it’s too frickin’ easy!

So I thought: if the problem is too many APs, why don’t I limit the number of APs my Peeps can use?
The experiment works like this:

  • Each turn my Squaddies are allowed to spend up to 3APs on direct actions - Moving, Firing, picking stuff up.
  • They are allowed to spend their 4th AP on ‘passive’ actions like Overwatch, or moving stuff around in their inventory.
  • But if they spend their 4th AP on a Direct Action, they are ‘out of breath’ and can only spend 2APs next turn as they recover.

Does this make a difference?
In the early game, not really. It’s driven home to me just how powerful the current Overwatch system actually is, and how much I rely on it. I found that I wasn’t actually altering my standard infantry tactics using the leapfrog system: Fire Team A advances and sets OW covering fire for Fire Team B to move past them next turn, while the Support Section provides cover with GLs & Snipers. The enemy still blundered into my OW traps and I could get through any mission without a scratch.

I’m now at the end of January, and things have got a little tighter. I’ve had a couple of hairy missions where I’ve had to resist the temptation to cheat and ‘forget’ that my Squaddie was recovering their breath as the Pandas descended upon them. But I still haven’t lost a single Squaddie in this runthrough, even with Chirons, Sirens and Advanced Pandas on the map - and I’ve yet to equip my Squad with anything better than a Bulldog or a Deceptor.

So is it worth doing? I think so. It makes the decision space crunchier and more interesting. Stuff which used to be a yawn-inducing no-brainer now requires a modicum of thought: do I take out that threatening Panda now, using my fourth AP, or do I cover it with OW and hope I can neutralise it that way? Do I use Boom Blast to spam explosives, knowing that I won’t be able to repeat the trick next turn? Do I double-tap with my Sniper, knowing that (s)he won’t be able to do anything but OW next turn?

But TBH, it hasn’t - yet - made the game any more challenging except in a couple of hairy missions.
I’ll be interested to see how it feels when the Umbras finally make an appearance.


Restricting AP’s is the right approach but in your opinion all players are too stupid to understand how YOU want the game to be. Everyone plays the game differently than you would like. Please leave the possibilities to play differently like the hardcore players. Constantly restricting players doesn’t get us anywhere here. Limiting APs again is right but not for every turn. That is absurd.

Make the KI better. Very simple. They shoot and run around in the open like they’re on frenzy.

100% agreement. Limitation as a whole not by turn.

It is a turn-based game with different skill levels. Now it’s getting too complicated. Why should I use APs when running? That was the advantage of not doing it from the beginning, now it’s all wrong again? I am not so enthusiastic. Basic principles should be kept and not overturned after 2 years.

Make the skills better would be the right approach. AI should be 2-3 lvl better than the player.

Restricting player activities further is wrong. When will you understand that?

It’s wrong for you, but not for me. Hence why I said:

Don’t want to stop you playing the way you want to play. I’m just trying to find a way to make this game work the way I want it to play as well, which is why I first started calling for Second Wave Options, and when that was clearly not going to happen I’ve started arguing for a hard jump in difficulty between Veteran and Heroic.

Your answers to me are always: “Why are you trying to stop me having my fun?” I’m not - but you very clearly want to stop ME from having fun by making the harder difficulty levels challenging enough to be interesting.

Just because you like this game in its currently ludicrously easy state doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with you. All I’ve ever argued for is a 50:50 split, where Easy is easy and Hard is hard. But atmo, Easy is a joke and Hard is easy to many of us unless we tie our hands behind our backs with a list of self-restrictions as long as our arms.

So I’m trying one very simple self-restriction which should mean that I can ignore all the other Tactical self-restrictions (except for ‘no Terminator runs’, cos the 3AP restriction doesn’t solve that), and still make this game as it is currently designed the challenge that I and many others would like it to be.

Have I said anywhere in my OP that this should be implemented across the board? No. It’s an experiment - one that isn’t even finished yet. If it works, I might ask a modder if they can create something that approximates it - but there will NEVER be a time when I argue that this should be imposed on players at Easy/Vet Difficulty.

Please do me the same courtesy of respecting that the level of difficulty you like in this game is nowhere near the level of difficulty I enjoy.

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No it isn’t. If it was, they would have done it already.

But the very nature of the ballistic & sandbox system that makes this game stand out above the others makes it VERY difficult to improve the AI without grinding the game to a halt, according to the devs responsible for the AI.

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One question, who decides what is good for all players? CC or Devs? If they don’t have a plan what changes are necessary to improve the game. The players can NOT. This game suggests that the devs have no idea what they are doing? The game is lost. No matter which one of us wins. The game as such loses. Sad. Players need to develop the game further? Really?

Modders (ie. players) have always developed these games further. Enabling full mod support was one of the great decisions of XCOM. It enabled the Long Wars, XCOM Star Wars and a whole host of mods that enabled players to tailor the game to their own particular tastes without the devs having to bother. And by creating Second Wave Options, Firaxis also recognised that not all players liked to play with fixed RNG seeds or standard squaddie starting stats and a whole host of other individual tweaks.

Still the base game remains the devs game, so the devs get to do what the devs want to do.

But I have to tell you that PP’s devs are painfully aware that the game is not as challenging on the higher difficulty levels as it ought to be and have enlisted our help to try to remedy that.

They will always do this with an eye to the casual player - and tbh, I am one of the constant voices in the CC saying ‘don’t forget the casuals’. As I keep saying: just because I don’t think this game is hard enough doesn’t mean I recognise that it’s too hard (or just right) for some. Which is why I keep arguing for Easy to be made easier and for Heroic/Legend to be made harder. The big problem with this game in my opinion is that there isn’t a big enough difference between Easy and Hard.

You seem to like this game exactly the way it is. Great. I don’t begrudge you that. In fact, I want it to stay that way. But for every one of you, I read posts from other players saying: “This game is too hard, please help, how do I cope?” or “Please nerf X cos it’s killing me.” And another group of players saying: “Skills/Raids/LotA weapons make this game far too easy. Please nerf them.”

So are you arguing that just because you like this game exactly the way it is, we should ignore everyone else who finds it too hard or too easy? Cos I’m not. I want everyone to enjoy this game without having to make compromises, not just you or me.


A game is not sick at one level but at all levels. Hope you can convince the devs to bring their ideas for all under one hat, as all XCOM games need. No offence.

This might work as a balance measure, but I find it unsatisfying from a gameplay standpoint as it creates a big movement differential between PX soldiers and the Pandas. It will encourage static turtling, which I find a very uninteresting way to play.

Perhaps the answer is to have skill AP and WP costs vary with difficulty level. You can’t spam WC so easily if it costs you 5WP per use on legend, or dash all over the place if it also costs 5WP.

My personal restriction is that I only use skills when I absolutely need them, or when they’re tactically appropriate (like dashing into position on turn 1). In all other circumstances, I just use fire and movement.

You can achieve the same with a cap for WP 10-12 including all bonuses. And if you are serious playing Legendary you don’t use WC, but even applying a lot of self restrictions the balance right now is broken.

WP should not apply to all classes. Only for holy or magical damage. AP should be more for physical DMG. Stamina would be the right approach for all classes here. Player should decide from the beginning which direction he likes to play. Skill abilities should have more weight than skill points and WP. Either healer class or DMG class but nothing in between. That’s what purks were for, but they are so heavily nerfed that they don’t matter anymore. The game is getting further and further apart. Please stop restricting only player activities. It’s not good for anyone. There are so many ways to improve the game but not in just one direction.

Thing is, it doesn’t because there is already a big AP differential in favour of PP’s Squaddies. As I said in my OP, using even simple second level skills like Dash & Quick Aim means that you can routinely get 6AP of movement or fire for every 4APs spent by the Pandas - and it doesn’t take long before the Skills tree takes that up to +4 or more.

I don’t turtle at all (unless I’m making a tactical defensive stand). That’s what leapfrogging is all about. I use OW to cover a consistent tactical advance, supported by a Fire Team that could routinely lay down 2 sniper shots & up to 3 mortar grenade Fires For Effect every single turn if I allowed them to.

So for me, limiting my guys to 3APs simply levels the playing field in the Pandas’ favour and makes the tactical game more interesting and frankly less fiddly for me in terms of self-restrictions - because I no longer have to keep track of the number of QAs my snipers have used, or the number of explosives my Grenadiers have fired, or the number of Dashes my Assaults have made. All I have to do is look at their AP bars and remember which of them spent 4APs last turn - which since that is usually an emergency ‘get out of trouble’ measure, it usually sticks in your mind anyway.

I will say though, that you would be right if I didn’t allow ‘passive’ actions like OW to use that 4th AP with no penalty. I started out that way, and it made the game painfully slow and as limiting as the XCOM ‘2 Actions & Done’ style of play, which is why I abandoned it.

Why do I have to look at what activities the opponent is doing or has left? That is a completely different game principle. Away from "either the opponent is dead or my fighter is dead. Who wins the race? Does it have to be chess? Sounds interesting but turns everything upside down.

You don’t. I’m talking about MY soldiers.

It used to be that in order to level the playing field on favour of the Pandas, I used a set of self-restrictions more than a page long, just to stop my soldiers from completely crippling them in the first couple of turns: What Self-Restrictions do you Use?

Now with the 3AP experiment, all I have to do is look at the AP bars of MY soldiers and ask: “Have you spent 3 APs yet?” If the answer is ‘no’, then I can do something with them - and because the 3AP limit naturally restricts the amount of QAs, Boom Blasts and other AP-increasing skills I can use, I no longer have to remember whether Sniper A has used 1 QA or 2: I just have to decide whether I want to use his 4th AP to squeeze off another QA, or whether I’d rather go into OW and take my chances when the Panda moves.

Did I understand you correctly, per round, I have 3 AP available for an action, right? To do what? The opponent does not become weaker or better as a result. It makes everything more complicated. Why? It can be simpler. Sounds interesting. I’m not sure if it would be a better solution than simply improving some options. I’m also curious what the community has to say.

Read my original post.

What makes the tactical game so easy, in my experience, is the fact that you can use Squad Skills to routinely spend 6 or more APs each turn against the Pandas’ 4.

For instance, spamming Quick Aim lets you fire a 3 AP weapon twice per turn - which usually refunds the WP you’ve spent through the Kill that achieves.
Boom Blast lets you fire a 3AP GL twice plus a 1AP Rocket, or let’s you throw 4 Grenades for a value of 8APs
Dash lets you do 8APs worth of movement at a cost of only 4.

What this means is that within a couple of turns, the player has had the equivalent of 3-5 turns for the Pandas’ 2 - and that usually means that they’ve neutralised the Panda threat without even breaking a sweat.

I don’t find that at all interesting. It’s not why I play these games. I’m looking for a tactical challenge - something where I have to make clever use of terrain, positioning and the enemy’s movement patterns to gain a tactical advantage, rather than simply clicking a button and annihilating him cos I’ve just taken 2 full turns before he’s even moved.

By restricting my Squaddies to 3APs - except in emergencies (when they have to recover their breath afterwards), I both reduce the total number of APs available to me AND I reduce the amount of AP-reducing skills I can spam. So I can no longer get 2 turns for every 1 turn of the enemy, without paying a price next turn. Effectively, it doubles the enemy’s chance of actually being able to do something before I smear it all over the map.

And THAT for me is a lot simpler than saying: “Each Sniper can only use QA once, each Grenadier can only take 2 shots with an explosive launcher,” etc. All I have to do is look at each of my Squaddies and ask ‘have you used 3APs yet?’

Yeah sure, it would be a lot easier if the devs actually balanced this game themselves and made it less easy just to spam APs all over the place. But they’re not going to - and you don’t want them to. So I have to find some other way of making this game a challenge.

So you basically try to achieve the same effect that we all ask for just in different way. You try to limit soldier’s power. But instead of nerfing skills or setting hard limits for their usage per turn, you limit AP allowance to perform skills. :wink:

It is not really what I would like to see, as for me AP system should be more granular than 4 action points. So having 3 AP is even more against my view of tactical choices and their cost…

But if we can’t have cooldowns/limits and skills can’t be nerfed - to not boil the casuals with their rage… then I would say DO IT at least for Legendary difficulty or as an option in the settings.

Precisely. It has a very similar effect to limiting (most) skills and means that I can junk a large portion of the old self-limitations I used to use, because it automatically imposes a lot of those limits on me by its very nature.

It still doesn’t solve the Terminator problem (cos who cares if you’re exhausted once you’ve massacred the entire map?), and it does nothing to help the strategic layer, but it does make tactical decisions more crunchy and hopefully increases the challenge in the later game.

Since I’ve given up on us ever getting SWOs, I think the only way this would ever happen is if somebody modded it - or if SG created an Insane Difficulty level that implemented it.

But don’t rush to do it yet. This is still an experiment, and I’ve only got to the end of January so far.

What it has confirmed to me is that AP generation is at the heart of the problem: but despite losing a quarter of my APs a turn, my peeps have yet to take a single casualty in this campaign and so far I’ve only found a couple of missions were harder than usual - and they were the really fun ones where I was forced to regroup and really exert my peeps just to stay alive :grin:

It is on Legendary?

Don’t like Legendary, it’s boring. I always play on Heroic - you know that.

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hehe, though that maybe this time you have changed the habit :wink: