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22 December 2014 @ 03:12 pm
Board Game Review: Space Hulk  
Obligatory SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK SPACE HULK (etc).

When I heard that Games Workshop were releasing a new version of Space Hulk, I was pretty excited. I had read about the first edition in Dragon Magazine, read about the PC version in PC Gamer, and heard their praises sung in pretty much every corner of nerddom, but I never got the PC game and the board game was basically impossible to find. By the time I heard about the 2009 release, it had already sold out nearly everywhere, and anyway I lived in Japan, so I didn't want to have it shipped to me at enormous expense and then have to ship it back, or have it shipped to my parents' house and make them store it for years until we came out, since they were kindly already storing everything else we had foisted off on them.

When the new board game come out this year, though, softlykarou had started her new job and we had an FLGS within walking distance, so when I learned that there was a new version only a couple days after I had come out, I walked over to Dice Dojo after checking their website to make sure they had it in stock. They couldn't find it after tearing the store apart, but they told me they would call me when they found one...and a couple days later, I got a call and picked it up, and a few days after that we settled down to play it.


Setup for the first game. The SPESS MEHRENS are all lined up in their boarding torpedos and the genestealers haven't been placed yet.

That was months ago, but the reason I'm posting now after it's been so long is because I wanted each of us to play each side. The first game I played as the genestealers, and it took a bit before for me to get the hang of using my superior numbers and trying to rush the SPESS MEHRENS to trigger gun jams while they were chilling on overwatch. In the end, I won on the last phase of the last turn, when softlykarou decided to try to move her marines away from me instead of going on overwatch again, and I was able to get close to her and kill the last marine necessary to push into the winning threshold. The second game, I played the marines and it was a genestealer bloodbath, but softlykarou turned a win into a tie on the last phase of the last turn by sneaking a genestealer in to one of the rooms through a flamer burst even as I had slaughtered her forces almost to the last xenos scum.  photo emot-argh.gif

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The basic setup is a modular board made of tile pieces, as pictured in the image above. The game comes with a bunch of scenarios (and this edition has three more than the 2009 edition, I think), and you set up the board according to the mission, deploy the appropriate marines--there are various marine models, some with different weapons and some with command rank--and the appropriate number of interchangeable genestealers, and begin the mission. Each mission takes a certain number of turns and each side has to accomplish different objectives. In the first mission, the one we played. The marines win if there are at least eight of them still alive and there are no genestealers in the room tiles (the squares with the colored lighting). The genestealers win if they kill at least six marines. Any other result is a tie.


Man, fuck overwatch
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Genestealers are faster and more maneuverable, able to turn without spending Action Points and having 6 AP to the marines' 4, but marines have ranged weapons and their player can spend Command Points (drawn from a random pool of one to six each turn) to give them extra AP, including during the genestealers' turn. The marines can also go on overwatch, and since the map we were playing in has a ton of long corridors, in both games overwatch was pretty much the main reason why genestealers died. If the marines roll a double on their attacks--2d6 to hit, 6 kills unless you're continuously firing, in which case 5 or 6 kills on subsequent shots--the gun jams and they either have to spend 1 AP clearing the jam or they lose overwatch, so for the genestealers the game is about approaching from areas the marines aren't covering or feeding themselves into overwatch and hoping that the gun jams.

I don't remember many jams when softlykarou was playing the marines, but when I was playing them I had two incredibly inopportune jams, including one on the very last turn which cost me a marine and turned a win into a tie, so they're very important and setting up overlapping fields of fire is necessary...if it's possible. As you can see from that map, most of it was cramped corridors where only one holy warrior of the Imperium/blasphemous enemy of the God-Emperor could pass, so any kind of overwatch was very difficult. A couple of the marines can't use overwatch, either. The marine with the flamer can't go on overwatch, and neither can one of the sergeants, and at one point I almost got screwed until I used some Command Points to shuffle my marines around to get a marine on overwatch in front.

The shot-by-shot mechanics are thus random, but like a roguelike, the strategy comes in the unit placement and making sure that solutions are in place to mitigate the effect of the randomness. Leaving everything down to a single marine, as I did in the room at the top of the V shape, means that a single gun jam can result in disaster, which is exactly what happened to me. With some better planning, I might have been able to have multiple marines covering the entrance and avoided everything hinging on two dice rolls, both of which went against me. Before that, I was doing great.

Admittedly, some of it is because I was trying to complete my turns quickly because the marine turns are timed. There's an hourglass included with the game and it's the genestealer player's job to track how long the marine player takes and call time when the sands run out, but I always had more than enough time. I should have spent a bit more time calculating genestealer movement vs. marine movement and setting my marines up better.


This is me playing the marines. Notice the lack of any genestealers nearby.

And note that all of this is just covering the first scenario. There are a bunch of others, with different mechanics for winning, multi-level maps with ladders between the levels, air ducts that the genestealers can use to get around the ship faster, a psychic Librarian that can accompany the marines, and probably other things I'm forgetting because I haven't actually read the manual in depth. There's a lot packed in there, though I can't say "into a small box" because the box is enormous.

It also plays really quickly, too. A full match is about 45 minutes to an hour, and that probably runs longer than normal because we kept having to stop to check rules like how the chaingun works or the area of effect of a flamer or what happens in close combat on a tie. A big chunk of time was just setting up the board.

Money well spent!
 
 
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