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Hi, I'm Jol Nar Binks. I am going to be honest up-front and provide the disclaimer that I am an open PoK tester (Patrick Smalley). Xxcha are my favorite race in TI 4th edition, and after seeing some of the difficulty Matt and Hunter have had with the race I wanted to post my in-depth take on the faction. My record with Xxcha is as follows (in spoilers in case you don't care) :
>! Game 1: Loss, and not really even close
Game 2: Win, by Seed of an Empire kingmake
Game 3: Win (4 player)
Game 4: Win at last year's gencon (this one was fun! I will revisit it later)
Game 5: Narrow Loss
Game 6: Win (Prophecy of Kings)
Game 7: Eliminated by round 3 (vanilla) !< Overview
The Xxcha suffer, maybe more than any other faction, from a distorted community perception about what the race is actually about. Only Yin really come close, and at this point most people have generally figured out that devotion isn't really the main draw of the race.
The notion that Xxcha are about building up a PDS network has persistently plagued the faction, when in fact they have relatively little pushing them into that niche. I am far from the first person to make this observation. The niche of PDS faction is fairly narrow in PoK, and VERY narrow in Vanilla. As a matter of fact, the Argent Flight outclass Xxcha for this bad niche anyway, as they can fire 3 dice from a single PDS 2 with relatively little investment. By contrast, Xxcha must totally derail their tech path and spend lots of CCs on PDS for a much lower benefit. In short- PoK Xxcha players are going to need to find a new use for the faction if they want to compete.
I advocate treating Xxcha as a Hacan-variant. Use your strong commodity limit and variety of useful bargaining chips to cosplay a Hacan for economic dominance to propel yourself into a position of wealth and security. Xxcha is below-average to average on most variables with 3 very very strong components that other factions can't compete with. Quash and Peace Accords are not your faction abilities- the Loncara Ssodu, Instinct Training, and Nullification Field are. The turtles are at their best when you are leveraging at least two of these incredible abilities that even top-tier factions can't substitute for (POK adds 2 more incredible abilities in this vein, which will be discussed later). Shortcomings
Even though I am quite comfortable with Xxcha, and would gravitate towards them in a tournament setting, I am not selling you snake oil. Even in POK, Xxcha is in the middle-bottom half of factions in terms of pure power level. This is because they have a couple of shortcomings which make them greatly resemble the Sardakk N'orr. But just like Sardakk N'orr, Xxcha can be a formidable late game powerhouse if they are able to overcome these core limitations.
In general, a 1 capacity unit start is a kiss of death for factions in vanilla, with Naalu as a notable exception. Xxcha start severely gimped in this regard.
- Graviton is not a good starting technology
Graviton is a strong but situational tech for Xxcha. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to accomplish much of anything in the first round or two. You need to fix this problem by picking up early Green or Yellow technologies to make Xxcha a faction worth defending with Graviton. Neural motivator is a must in vanilla (tech paths in PoK are much more variable), and Hyper is a high priority purchase as soon as you can get it.
- You start with fewer than 4 resources in your home system.
This is the least of Xxcha's 4 major problems. I advocate skipping tech altogether on round 1 in favor of building a flagship as your second carrier, with the caveat that if you
- have a green skip you should instead get neural (if you expect not to get tech r2) as part of a hyper rush.
- may be able to build your flagship off of warfare and also tech in prophecy of kings thanks to an excellent agent. This is possible with trade, politics, diplomacy, and technology strategy cards at a minimum.
- You have severe, game-long mobility problems.
Xxcha's general tech path and needs afford them no room for virtually any technologies which help with mobility. Dread II, Gravity Drive, Carrier II all require more blue than you can typically afford to get. With a blue skip, you can solve this problem very easily by getting gravity drive. Otherwise, you will need to suck up to a Jol Nar player for Dread II or consider going for Cruiser II. You are unlikely to win many games of TI (especially games of PoK where economy takes a backseat to war) without having good mobility. My preferred way of solving this issue is with Flank Speeds. This is part of why I emphasize neural, but you may also get the chance to buy them from Yssaril or Hacan players. 2 flank speeds over the course of the game are more than an adequate replacement for gravity drive. On Space Cannon
It is correct to say that Xxcha is a Space Cannon faction. It is incorrect to say that they are a PDS faction. If you have to pick between the Loncara Ssodu and teching/building PDS II it is not much of a decision- go with the flagship
. It requires much less work for a much higher payoff than PDS. In Prophecy of Kings, the decision may be made more difficult by structure objectives. In that case, the traditional all-in on PDS approach to Xxcha is sufficient. But generally the dynamic is the same. Though they both gain from plasma scoring, the synergy between your flagship and PDS 2 is overkill. Defense is at its best when you are winning. If you are 2 points behind the pack, no one will care about how well defended your home system is. Our goal is to be Naalu- play as good generic nuts and bolts TI as we can, and then win from ahead in the endgame because other people can't stop us. This is how Xxcha is like Sardakk. One of the six "great races" often foisted on new players, but that start deeply behind and greatly reward players who are good at playing generic TI and conversely punish newbies. The Loncara serves as your second carrier and protects you while you are ahead. With it out, people will find other space docks to blockade, other culturals to grab, and other enemies to threaten. Even though you are in the lead, it would just be easier to attack someone else.
Construction is still a good pick for you, both because you need a second or perhaps even third dock, and also because your PDS benefit slightly from graviton. But without plasma scoring or other large secondary investments, PDS with graviton on their own just don't do enough. You are the best faction in the game at Turning Their Fleets to Dust, even without PDS II.
Even though the Loncara Ssodu is very strong, don't get cocky. On average, it produces about 1.5 hits pre combat, and 2 with plasma scoring. This isn't enough to hold off a dedicated Saar Ball or Barony armada. Be humble with your flagship- if you make yourself too annoying you may get swatted down. Fleets
In vanilla, you can generally build a flagship and then pivot to playing Xxcha-hacan trade turtles with little plastic without too much fear of being punished for it, saving substantially on resources. In POK, this strategy will no longer work. Control objectives are too common and fleets are too important for you to coast on the flagship alone. To augment it, lets review our options-
- Dreadnoughts are the most efficient capital ship at scoring points in Twilight Imperium. They reward you directly through Raise a Mighty Fleet (5 Dreads) and Make an Example of Their World (bombard a planet) and are generally more capable of taking key objectives than the alternatives, especially when resources are plentiful or fleet supply is constrained. If you have the correct skips or can butter up a Jol Nar this is your fleet composition of choice. I will occasionally focus on Dread I with Xxcha out of convenience.
- Xxcha is the rare faction which may like to build Cruiser IIs, a generally bad capital ship. Cruisers don't have enough capacity or firepower to accomplish key objectives, and are much more fragile than the alternatives, lacking serious fighter screens or sustain damage. For the Green Yellow Xxcha however, Cruiser is the best way to augment your mobility without a flank speed or blue skip that requires the smallest diversion from what you do best- sitting on GY techs and wheeling/dealing. The main weakness of Cruisers being poor at large battles is somewhat irrelevent. You can defend yourself just fine, and use the Cruisers to strike out on the board when absolutely needed. You will suffer in pitched battles with Cruiser II, but have better scoring potential in general.
- Carrier II is an afterthought with Xxcha. Unless you get a blue skip, you are better off going a different path, and even then Dread II is generally superior since you start with a yellow.
- War Sun is an interesting path, and one I would highly recommend if you can access it. The Maw of Worlds relic is the main way to accomplish this, but Muaat and Jol Nar may also be cooperative. War Suns entirely fix Xxcha's mobility problem and free them up to focus on their racial techs instead of chasing unit upgrades. They are also exceptionally easy on your fleet supply, freeing up more command counters for you to actually use your abilities. I don't recommend using AI development or Hard-teching your way to War Sun, but if any of the 3 aforementioned methods are available you should take advantage of them.
Simply put, you want Hyper Metabolism as soon as you possibly can get it. Jol Nar is your best friend in this regard, but so is any green skip you come across. If you are playing using a draft method, bag method, or anything that gives you the ability to select your tiles, Starpoint-New Albion and green skips generally are a sign you should think about playing Xxcha. Hyper pays itself back and gives you the room you need to use those juicy racial technologies.
However, if you don't think you can get Hyper by round 2 you shouldn't pick it up for its own sake. Round 3 is ok but not great, and by round 4 you never tech hyper metabolism at all.
Another reason I recommend Neural as your first technology is that Riders are genuinely incredible with Xxcha, and in Prophecy of Kings Xxcha finally realize their dreams of being an agenda phase powerhouse that can muscle through riders. Neural improves your odds of drawing these (which you can guaranteed score with your hero at at minimum). An imperial rider for you is simply a free point once you activate Political Data Nexus. And so on. Your commander also gives you the incredible ability to ride and
vote "game effects do not prevent you from voting on agendas
" and neural is your best way to hit riders, in addition to following politics whenever you possibly can.
Instinct Training is a must get generally, as it simply prints points like the Federal Reserve. At most tables there should be at least one time when instinct training is so sought after by an injured player that you are able to nab a support for the throne by its use. What's more, instinct training combos powerfully with bio-stims for multiple uses per round, if needed. Just like Nullification Field and Quantum Datahub node, you can often secure a game with Instinct; by cancelling a sabotage targeting your political stability or public disgrace for instance. As I have become a more experienced Xxcha player I've found Instinct Training more and more essential.
Nullification Field is a strong checkmate play, if you are badly behind you should skip it. If you're in the pack or you see a path for yourself it is excellent. Sabotage and ceasefire are some of the strongest mechanics in the game, and Xxcha gets them on sticks! Sometimes just announcing that you have null can prevent you from being kingslayed- one of the reasons I prefer Xxcha to Hacan for a trade-focused game. Xxcha are much harder to kill once they get ahead. Both games 4 and 6 were won with Nullification Field blocking a HS capture or a capture of a critical system. And though Null lacks the versatility of Quantum Datahub Node, it is much less expensive and can be used in more situations, such as extorting your opponents for control objectives or deterring attacks. In PoK I found Graviton, Scanlink, Null, Neural, Bio Stims, Instinct to be a very effective pure GY path.
Your essentials are
Neural -> Hyper -> Instinct Training Graviton
-> Nullification Field
with all unit upgrades being situational. Plasma is a good buy after that, and Scanlink and Sarween are very good bridges to nullification if you have no yellow skip. Scanlink is my general preference unless my slice is very resource poor, since it helps more directly with gaining points, and also helps Xxcha improve its slice- and Xxcha wants a good slice to protect more than anyone else. Bio stims is also a good option if you get around to it. Mecatol
Xxcha are unlikely to ever be involved with Mecatol barring an early flank speed or a sweet deal with the custodian. If you can flank speed your flagship next to Mecatol round 1 or two, you are well positioned for a custodians point. Xxcha benefits disproportionately from owning Mecatol, but is unlikely to do so under typical circumstances. Your commander unlock also may ask you to go to Mecatol in order to gain 12 influence. An aggressive Xxcha with a flagship on Mecatol is likely to be targeted, so be careful!
In Prophecy of Kings, Mallice
is a better and more realistic option for the Xxcha. It provides 2 trade goods a round, helps accomplish several objectives, and provides 3 influence, which is both sorely needed for the Xxcha and also helps typically unlock the commander on its own once you've filled out your slice. Mallice is also more accessible than Mecatol (especially with scanlink) and is a less provocative place to put the Loncara Ssodu. Paradoxically, it also may offer more fruitful extortion opportunities as well, thanks to letting you fire into every wormhole on the map. Imperial
Despite the fact that you are unlikely to own Mecatol, Imperial and Politics are your best friends. Only Trade (remember, we are cosplaying a hard to kill hacan) comes close. You want to take and hold a lead, and as Xxcha you need to take every point you can get. You'll have to be scrappy the like Sardakk N'orr in this respect. If you can double score with Imperial, you should do so- end of story. Quash and Peace Accords
As I stated earlier, these are not your race abilities- your flagship and techs are. But they do occasionally come up, so I will discuss some of your use scenarios for them.
If you start with Bereg Lirta IV or Accoen Joel Ir, Diplomacy can be a valid Round 1 play that enables a R1 flagship in addition to a possible technology. The advantage of diplomacy here is that it also acts as a pseudo-warfare, allowing you to expand early to an equidistant or single planet system without having to build another carrier. Generally claiming an equidistant with Peace Accords doesn't accomplish a lot unless you follow construction to place a structure on the planet afterwards, genuinely securing it for yourself.
Your agent can remove infantry from a readied planet to prepare it for peace-according. I find the opportunity cost for this to be too high, but in the late game it may be quite a good play.
Peace accords has some interesting innate synergy with Integrated Economy. If you start with a Yellow skip and are wanting to do something goofy, you can build on a planet with IE after peace according it. Xxcha have a fairly natural path through yellow via Sarween, Scanlink, Nullification, Integrated Economy. Give this a shot if you'd instead like to have fun cosplaying the Arborec.
Lastly, most people don't read Peace Accords closely enough to realize that it allows you to take home planets. This is especially good against Hacan or Argent, where they are unlikely to have all 3 planets occupied at all times. If you've support swapped with this player, you can force them to return your support and lose a point by annexing a planet in their home system. This is certainly the easiest way to capture a home system, though not a very lasting one. You can pull off some crazy moves here with the Minister of Construction however.
For Quash, the conventional wisdom is correct. You need to be paid 2 trade goods to quash an agenda you already wanted to get rid of and 3 otherwise. Quash is another point of leverage- often times you can get much much more- say from a Nekro player who wants to see Mutiny vetoed. Yet again Xxcha has good opportunities to extort supports.
I have not found a good way to use Political Favor consistently. It is the single component most ripe for an Omega version in my view. The 10 Point Problem
I am borrowing somewhat from Space Cats Peace Turtles here- they have discussed the issue that Xxcha typically falls a single point short of a victory. 5 publics, a support and 3 secrets is 9 points. Xxcha has to either find another point on the board or score a stage II, which is typically fairly difficult for them.
Thankfully, POK has ameliorated this problem extensively in my view. Xxcha now have many ways to solve this issue and generally stage IIs are not mandatory. You can,
- Extort a support with the Loncara Ssodu. This how I got Sol's support in game 4 at gencon- the Loncara allowed him to get the custodians point and take Mecatol.
- Spin it to win it with Political Data Nexus. Generally Mutiny, Seed of an Empire, as well as another agenda or two are points you can secure solely for yourself with your hero. As a hail mary, you may stockpile strategy tokens in the last round in order to quash until you see these. You can also effectively get points by playing riders that would give you an objective on your agenda.
- Instinct Training gives you many opportunities to nab a support
- Scanlink provides relics, which can give you points via the Obsidian, Tomb of Emphidia, or Shard of the Throne. Dark Energy Tap also does this depending on your slice.
- Imperial Rider is a free point when you draw it
- Your commander often allows you to dominate the agenda phase to such an extent that you can buy supports for swinging a vote in a critical direction.
Unlike Sardakk or Winnu, Xxcha are typically not seen as a charity case. You should fix this. To the greatest extent that prevents you from being annoying, you should remind other players about your weaknesses- poor racial abilities, starting fleet and technology, ect. This will help you win from ahead somewhat. Matt and Hunter have suggested that with Xxcha you can afford to be a little meaner and drive a harder bargain than other races. This is not how I prefer to play Xxcha socially.
I will elaborate on this more in depth at a later time, but in general I find that Xxcha work best when you really do play the role of diplomat. Most people should feel like you are their friend, or at least will listen to them if they have an offer for you. It is most important that you target one player and get them in your corner. Once you find a buddy, you and that player should try to boost each other above the competition. Nomad and Hacan are good candidates here, but Jol Nar and Muaat are also good options. When you refuse a deal, affirm the player behind the offer and tell them you get it. For aggressive action where you clearly have the upper hand, ask for permission from the attacked player anyway. This generally helps them feel more in control of the situation, even if you attack them regardless. Sympathize with an attacked player, even if you have no intention of helping them. When you extort players with your racial abilities, try to frame those situations positively rather than as threats. If you decline to fire space cannon at someone, remind them that you could have if you wanted to but wanted to be nice. Establishing rapport and soft power with Xxcha is helpful for having influence on the board without a big fleet, as well as getting players to do your bidding and makes those extra supports easier to obtain. Relationships Muaat
Muaat is an excellent friend to the Xxcha- perhaps the best. The primary reason is their incredible commander which synergizes with your heavily-strategy pool focused strategy. Every time you quash, follow a secondary, instinct or nullify with this commander you get repaid a good portion of the cost in trade goods. Support swaps also keep the incredibly dangerous POK muaat off your back. Buying Fires of the Gashlai is fantastic for Xxcha if they can afford it, and of course Muaat being a 4 commodity factions means you two can make quite a bit of money together. Lastly, you are often able to buy Umbat (their agent) since you typically have your flagship out. Jol Nar
Jol Nar is a less necessary partner in POK thanks to greater freedom in tech than vanilla. That said, Jol Nar is also less dangerous as well, and they can provide crucial technologies like War Sun, Dreadnought II, Gravity Drive, and Round 1 Hyper Metabolism to Xxcha. 4 commodities plus their commander is also a good combo- allowing you to reroll all of your PDS misses. Finally, the agent can be very helpful round 1, since you may get cut out of tech. Argent Flight
Both the Argent Flight promissory note and commander are useful for an Xxcha which is serious about PDS, though certainly less so than Muaat or Jol Nar. The Argent Flagship ignores space cannon so can also be very dangerous for you- having Argent on your side can be wise. Nomad
Besides being a trade focused faction that you will want to partner with for lots of money, the Nomad has a very interesting Commander which can allow you to constantly rebuild the Loncara for free if you lose it. Worth buying for less than 4-6 dollars if you can buy it round one or two. Hacan
You and Hacan can have a lucrative partnership with production biomes and their agent. Hacan has to give biomes to someone, so why not the nicest guy at the table? permanent immunity to instinct training can often secure perpetual production biomes rights. You also want to buy Trade Convoys if Hacan will sell it cheap- remember that we are cosplaying a much more secure Hacan with more interesting leverage. Trade Convoys allows us to beat the Querion at his own game to some extent. We also want to butter Hacan up to buy cheaper Flank Speeds to avoid gravity drive if possible. Barony
Barony's sustain damage war machine is uniquely deadly to your graviton space cannon. Be aware that Barony has the upper hand in any conflict between you two and you want to keep the Baron on your good side. He has little to offer you and can eat you alive if you aren't careful. Yssaril
Worth noting is your relationship with Yssaril's similarities to Hacan, though you have Yssaril over a barrel somewhat. All their critical action cards are vulnerable to Instinct Training and Transparasteel Plating doesn't stop your green machine from doing its thing. You can form an effective late game counter to Yssaril, but you would also like him to sell you flank speeds if possible. If Yssaril is in the game, you may want to avoid researching Neural to prevent yourself from being a Mageon target. Yssaril will tech it every game. Nekro
Xxcha can give Nekro the ability to vote with their alliance. You can singlehandedly enfranchise Nekro, and even do so mid agenda phase! This can be a powerful tool for making agenda go your way or indebting Nekro to you. Empyrean
Aetherstream is an incredible technology which King Ccrysus benefits from immensely. If you can make an Empyrean friend, your mobility problems totally solves themselves, allowing you to flank speed yourself almost every activation with her permission. You also love Empyrean's racial notes- Dark and Void pacts help you make that money you love and dominate the agenda phase to an even greater extent together. After Muaat, Empyrean is Xxcha's best friend. Prophecy of Kings
Prophecy of Kings gave Xxcha some pretty incredible new tools. Political Data Nexus gives them the ability to unilaterally legislate and score crazy points out of nowhere, their agent fixes their start somewhat, and their commander is highly sellable with 3-4 abilities rolled into one juicy package. I view their mechs relatively bad however. Not awful, but not good enough to be worth building. Hitting on an 8 is terrible without plasma, and is often not worth angering someone by firing. Antimass completely hoses this mech by making it hit on 9s. However, it does give you space cannon offense, acting a bit like Mentak's Ambush on your attacks, and it does quite a powerful job of protecting key planets. I think the mech is overkill, but welcome experimentation.
Elder Qanoj however, revolutionizes how Xxcha plays. You generally gain about 6-10 votes from him, can ride and vote at the same time if you don't want to wait for Nexus to play your riders, and gain immunity to effects like Assassinate Representative or Political Secret. This has the knock-on effect of making you immune to diplomatic pressures- since your Political Secret is totally useless. Unfortunately Elder Qanoj is difficult to unlock- you can solve this by borrowing planets, scanlinking for + influence or taking Mecatol/Mirage/Mallice.
Lastly, POK softly buffs your tech path's awkwardness by lowering the importance of Revolutionize Warfare (3 unit upgrades) and giving Xxcha a smoother path down Green/Yellow with excellent intermediate techs such as Scanlink (generally a sarween upgrade if you have a forward dock) and Bio-Stims. Conclusion
So why play Xxcha? The consensus seems to be that they are pretty sub par. You play Xxcha because you love wheeling, dealing, negotiating and extorting, but are sick of having your stupid 3 planet home system taken as Hacan. You play Xxcha because you're a blue mage and you love having the ability to say 'No' to anything. You play Xxcha because of the thrill of seeing people give up on trying to stop you- PDS and Null field would be too much. You play Xxcha because when else are you gonna get to play with Graviton and telling fighter swarms to screw off is enjoyable. You play Xxcha because you saw Steve wipe out an entire fleet headed to Mecatol because he decided to fire space cannon on a whim. Lastly, you play Xxcha because you like toytles, and certainly you like cool hippie pacifist toytles that have big fat cannons.
Special thanks to Matt Martens, Vaunt, and Volverbot, who each inspired me to write this guide.