Saturday, 11 April 2015

Board Game Action: Space Hulk (3rd Edition

The Genestealer menace, complete with Hybrids and a Magus
I haven't updated you on any silly purchases lately, which is remiss of me.  I've added a few more games to my pile by trawling eBay and generally knowing nerdy people.

Two of these are games I owned as a child and, while I still have figures/board/bits leftover, they've long since been cannibalised, damaged and otherwise rendered unplayable.  Getting copies of them means I can play them "properly" again.  The other is a game I didn't purchase before and managed to finally find at a reasonable price.

These games are....

Space Crusade, HeroQuest and Space Hulk.
  •  Space Crusade was my intro into GW games back in the day, a 1991 Christmas present that started me on this whole miniatures thing. This battered copy on eBay has all the cards and tokens from the core game and Mission: Dreadnought.  It doesn't come with any figures, but improvising with the Marines/Orks/Dreadnoughts/etc that I do still have makes this little problem.  It's actually very similar to Space Hulk in concept and some game mechanics but very much simplified to make it kid-friendly
  • HeroQuest was my next step from Space Crusade, another kid-aimed entry game but this time with a dungeon crawly theme.  This was very popular in normal toy shops - many supplements were released as well as choose-your-own-adventure books and other such paraphernalia.  This copy is complete and comes from the astoundingly kind Paul, an Oldhammer gentleman I recently met online and who gifted me this because he had already obtained his own complete copy.  I am very much in his debt for this act of generosity!
  • Finally, Space Hulk, the third edition from 2009, all complete with some very minor damage to figures (all fixed with glue) for about half the going rate on eBay.  Alas, Games Workshop made this a limited edition release and the fourth edition in 2014 was equally limited, leading to it selling out in hours online and sealed untouched copies going for insane prices on eBay.  Getting my hands on a copy for a non insane price has been a goal for a while, but I've always failed - including one time when I had to withdraw a bit because the COMPLETE SPACE HULK was, in very small writing in the description, complete apart from the figures.  Good times.  :-P

The cover to the 2009 edition.

Basic principle of the game is that one player plays a small team of veteran Space Marines in Terminator Armour - heavy powered armour used for boarding actions and the like.  The other controls a much larger horde of Genestealers, cunning alien beasts with razor-sharp claws.  Within the confines of wrecked space crafts (the Hulks of the game titles) the Space Marines try to complete their missions to recover artifacts, rescue comrades, destroy vessels or what have you while dealing with wave after wave of monster.

Second edition cover from the 90s - the version I saw on the shop shelves growing up.

 Below the cut we'll cover what happened when Sister Superior and I played a game!

All the game components, punched and glues
The game includes a selection of figures and board sections which allow you to play twelve pre-made missions, with twelve different Terminators in various combinations forming the Space Marine team and over twenty genestealer figures in a variety of poses.  Supplementary material available online adds more missions, guidelines for designing your own and rules for using other Warhammer figures to broaden out the game options a little.

For Sister Superior and I's first game, she took the Genestealers and I took the Terminators.  We played mission one, "Suicide Mission", in which the objective of the Terminators is to get into the control (top right of picture) and use their flamethrower Terminator to destroy the computers therein.  Three normal Storm Bolter Terminators (think machine guns) and one Sergeant must protect the flamer until he gets into position.

The genestealer, meanwhile, must swarm around me and find a way to wipe out my team and in particular my flamethrower.

Starting setup.  Objective is in the top right room; the purple arrows mark the places where Genestealers can enter the board

On any given turn, each figure has a finite amount of points they can spend on actions.  These must be used to move, turn, shoot, open doors and the like.  The densely armoured Terminators have 4 points per turn, while the nimbler Genestealers have 6.  You will note at the start of the game no Genestealers are on the table - they usuually move onto the table over the course of the game, a couple at a time.

Space Hulk is not a "fair" game in the sense that isn't the same for either player - most people consider it biased towards the Genestealer player, but in a fairly open way rather than it being a curel surprise.  The Terminators have ranged combat and can shoot the Genestealers at range, but in melee combat the Genestealers will devour and eat Marines no problem.  There is a time limit for the Space Marine turn - a little egg timer comes with the game - which wasn't too hard in a five Marine mission but would get tougher with ten or twelve figures to juggle.   However, no such limit for the Genestealers, who can take their time to murder you!

Three blips closing in on me.
While the Terminators start visible and move about normally, genestealers start off as "blip" tokens.  These have a generic top side and underneath specify how many genestealers they actually represent - 1, 2 or 3.  (Other versions/expansions of the game added 4, 5 and 6 counters as well as 0 for the cat that waddles onto the motion sensor.)  When the Space Marines sight one of these counters they are flipped but until then the Marine player doesn't know if the above picture is as few as 3 aliens or as many as 9.

Oh dear, that counter was 3.  My sergeant tries to hold off the oncoming horde with his Storm Bolter
 In actual play, I don't think the weighting of the counters quite worked.  There are as many 1s as 3s, with a few 2s mixed in.  The intention perhaps is to get an average of 2 Genestealers per counter but it does risk produce situations where a run of 3 counters swarms the board.

Perhaps more problematic, mission one is rough.  The Genestealer starts with 2 blips and gets 2 per turn, which in a small board seemed to produce total lockdown of aliens around every corner very quickly.  The mission design guides I mention earlier suggest that a mission with this few Marines (and with only really one unusual weapon) shouldn't be facing this many opponents, but the intro mission thinks differently!

I get surrounded by Genestealers and blips, my rear guard wiped out.  I'm only ten or so squares into the map!
 The weird thing is I've played this game before, sort of: I own the Space Hulk computer game which is a direct port of the 2009 version to a computer game.  Same mechanics, same missions, same everything.  I have done this mission before and breezed it, while here I found myself on the hop from the start and very quickly struggling.  Perhaps the difference between AI controlling the Genestealers and the aliens?

The flamethrower buys me time, but it's not a long term solution.
 In the end, my game ended at that T-junction.  We took a few monsters down with us, but jamming machine guns and sheer weight of numbers saw us die.  In the end my flamethrower marine was killed and with it the mission was doomed.

Sister Superior whoops as she claims a victory.

The game is quick enough that we were able to start again, switching sides.  Unfortunately things didn't go much better - Sister Superior in fact couldn't get her Flametheower out of the first room before I had surrounded her with blips and let the Genestealers swarm her poision.  It was a bit grim, but at least i redeemed my win/loss record a bit!

An even quicker alien nomming takes place
I'm going to try and play again, see if it's just that the first mission and/or our poor grasp of the tactics that was causing problems.  The 2014 version had some slight errata but it didn't change "Suicide Mission".... though it did make it mission 2 and insert a new mission 1, which perhaps is a hint that something wasn't quite right with this as your first exploration of the game.

Of course this game brings more figures to paint, not exactly what I need.  Sister Superior has occasionally joined me in painting - she is far slower but far neater than I.  She seems slightly taken by the Genestealers and I'm thinking of gifting them to her as a project.  She's experimenting with a white body/red claws colour scheme - let's see how that turns out on the test figure.

Original 80s Space Hulk art, from the game's supplements


  1. Its just the first mission George, its brutal on marines. Playing with Cameron we swopped the same mission 4 times round and eventually I won with Marines on the 4th try. But if the stealer player has any strategic sense its very very hard for the marines to win. Later missions aren't as brutal on the marines ;-) Sos I've not been in touch BTW, stuff has just been manic. Been working on 4 different cars/gangs for DF (Maniax, Hot Rodders, Survivalists and Cops. Most of the conversions done now, need to get down to some painting. But its been very sporadic...

    1. Hah! No problem, Paul, I know you've been busy with other stuff. Looking forward to seeing the Dark Future stuff - I'm up for a game of that sometime soon if you fancy a meetup. :-)

      A bit of digging online seems to suggest that the first mission of Space Hulk 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition is the same mission in all cases. Curiously, it seems it may be easier in earlier editions because the amount of blips given out was fewer. I rather suspect that reducing the blips from 2 per turn to 1 per turn would produce a smoother beginner experience.

  2. The trick is to barrel forward with your sergent in the lead, shooting out the doors as you go, to get close enough to the stealer entry areas at the far end to stop them using them - then you can clear our stragglers for the flamer to advance, while a couple of overwatching marines cover the rear.

    1. Interesting suggestion, Wonderdog. So basically send out a single Marine to try and lock down blip generation? That seems like it could be difficult with the several different routes the blips could take, but careful sergeant movement might pull it off.

  3. Marines on overwatch are deadly, as they get essentially unlimited shots before reloading. The southern corridor is long enough that its easy to cover this way with your 4th or 5th marine (or at least delay any stealers coming from the rear for a turn, which is enough).

    For the first couple of turns, spend your command points on move+shoot actions for your seargent to get him as far down the corridor as possible - send the flamer marine left as soon as possible and dont be afraid to use his flamer to clear out the junctions as you go - but the key is using your seargent and another marine to either meatshield or overwatch the furthest away entrance points to let the flamer do his thing.

    Always attempt to shoot out doors while moving.

    I'll run you through it at G3 some time if you want :)

    1. PS - you can send a second bolter marine down the left corridor in front of the flamer marine in order to shoot out the doors - and dont be afraid to torch his board section with the flamer if he gets jumped by a stealer... his terminator armour should protect him... and its a suicide mission right?

  4. Lock down spawn points.
    Force blips to reveal so that opposition can't place maximum number of blips if it is a 3.
    Overwatch baby

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