Thursday, 23 April 2009

Space Hulk

On 18 Apr 2009 Han and I played Space Hulk, a copy he bought from eBay I think. This is a classic (old and well-liked) game, and I was surprised to find that it is still in the top 100 at BoardGameGeek.

The background story is that humankind (which has settled many planets and star systems) is being invaded by an alien race called the genestealers. These aliens send their invasion force in large spaceships called space hulks to human-inhabited planets. One of these space hulks has been intercepted, and the space marines (humans) are now boarding it to try to wipe out the genestealers. The genestealers and strong and fast (just like the aliens in the Alien movie series). The space marines are armoured and armed and can shoot from a distance, but are not as fast or nimble. There are very many aliens on board the space hulk, and they attack the space marines wave after wave. The space marines need to survive the onslaught and complete their mission before they are overwhelmed. 6 scenarios come with the game. The human player wins if the space marines succeed their mission, the genestealer player wins otherwise.

This is the setup of the first mission - small rooms, narrow corridors and doors (the green stand-up cards). There is a team of 5 marines at the top right. They need to make their way to the room in the lower right and blast it with a flamethrower in order to complete their mission. In this scenario there are 6 points where genestealers can appear - the open-ended corridors on the left half of the board.

Genestealers first appear as blips, i.e. moving and blinking spots on the marines' radars. Each blip token has either 1, 2 or 3 on its hidden side, which only the genestealer player knows. The blips get "converted" into real life aliens when they move into a location where they can be seen by the marines.

Each space marine team has 5 members. 3 regular guys who can shoot regular guns, 1 captain who can shoot regular guns and is slightly stronger (but still not as strong as the genestealers) in hand-to-hand combat, and 1 flamethrower guy who cannot shoot regular guns but has a flamethrower with 6 shots. The flamethrower is a very powerful weapon. It often kills everything in its path, and the flames block entry to a whole room or a whole corridor until the next round.

I played the space marines and Han controlled the aliens. Normally the human player has a limited time in taking his turn, but since this was my first game, we played without this rule. This rule is to simulate the chaos and to create the tension of a mission, when the humans really do not have much time to think.

The markers that come with the game:

  • Top left: blips, which show 1, 2, or 3 aliens on their hidden side.
  • Top centre: command points chips. There are 6 such chips numbered 1 to 6. In each round, the human player randomly draws one and looks at it, but hides it from the genestealer player. For that round, the human player gets that many extra action points which can be used on any marine, and can also be used during the genestealer player's turn. This is an action point game, where you need to use action points to move, turn, shoot, fight, unjam your gun, open a door etc. Marines get 4 APs, genestealers get 6AP. This means the aliens are faster and nimbler.
  • Top right: Overwatch marker, showing the jam icon on the other side. When you order a marine to set up an overwatch, he takes a defensive position and points his gun in a direction. On the genestealer player's turn, this marine on overwatch gets to shoot every single time a genestealer moves. Obviously this is important for the marine player considering how few APs he gets. However during an overwatch the gun may jam, and the marine won't have any more free shots, and will need to unjam his gun next round before it can be used again.
  • Bottom: Flamethrower markers. There are 6 each for marine teams A and B. Some scenarios have the marine player controlling 2 teams.

My team of marines. I think they come unpainted, and you need to paint them in order to tell them apart. Han bought this second-hand, partly painted. He only painted the grey ones, just to set them apart as the regular marines. The unpainted marine will be the captain, and the already-painted-in-red one will be the flamethrower marine.

Genestealer and marine on two sides of the door.

Now, onto the mission itself.

My team of marines quickly moved through the first room. One marine opened the side door and set up overwatch for any genestealers, while the rest continued to file out of the room. Indeed the genestealers came. Thankfully the marine on overwatch managed to shoot them down before they reached him.

As the marines proceeded to the branch in the corridor, I realised how restricted movement and line of sight are. In the narrow corridors, only the marine in front can see and shoot at genestealers. The other marines behind him can't help much at all. If a genestealer reaches and kills that first marine in melee combat, the second marine will have little time to aim and shoot at the genestealer, before he himself is engaged in melee combat too, a very dangerous thing.

I had my captain lead the way down the branch, the flamethrower marine right behind him. One regular marine set up overwatch guarding the main corridor.

Han's genestealers started to grow in numbers, and they hid behind the corners, just out of sight so that I could not shoot and could not tell their numbers. In the photo above, one blip (i.e. unknown number of genestealers) and one genestealer are hiding just out of sight of the marine captain. The humans are always the ones under time pressure. They do not get reinforcements. One new genestealer blip appears every round, so if the marines do not act quickly to complete their mission, they will eventually be overwhelmed by the genestealers.

Knowing the time pressure on my marines, I forged ahead. I, being the cold-blooded commander, decided that someone has to "take one for the team", i.e. die, in order to complete the mission. My captain, who had been quite a good shot, and who had even defeated a genestealer in hand-to-hand combat, was the brave one to push ahead to allow the flamethrower marine to come up. He got himself killed. The flamethrower marine used quite a number of blasts to kill genestealers and also to set the corridor on fire to prevent them from approaching closer. However, ammo was running out, and he must keep one last shot for completing the mission - destroying the control room.

The flamethrower marine made took two shots to kill the two genestealers right in front of him, then quickly moved into that final short corridor leading to the control room. Another brave, ready-to-die marine moved up to the corridor junction to hold that position, and to block the advance of the other approaching genestealers. But we all knew he would probably only be able to slow down the genestealers for a few seconds, using his own body as an obstacle. And a few seconds was what I needed for the flamethrower marine to open the door to the control room, and to blast it with his last shot. Thankfully flamethrowers do not jam in this game.

The remaining marines probably wouldn't make it back out alive, although they have completed their mission (and won me the game). Now I have to think of how to explain to their families how I had sent them to die.

I liked the game more than I expected. I have played Descent: Journeys in the Dark once before, also Han's game. We didn't complete the game due to time constraint, but from that half-game I thought it was just so-so. I liked Space Hulk. Maybe because of the simplicity. The game felt fast and furious. It may be because of its simplicity, which allowed the turns to be played quickly. I imagine if I play with the full rules which sets a time restriction for the marine player, it will be even more fast and furious. No wonder it's still a BGG Top 100 game.

There were some rules that we weren't very sure about. The rules were not clear enough. So we had to play with what we agreed was logical. If the flamethrower marine stands at the mouth of one corridor at a crossroads junction (let's say the 1st space of the southern corridor), and shoots at the mouth of the next corridor (let's say 1st space of the eastern corridor), how does the fire spread? Does it spread only down the eastern corridor? Does it spread down both eastern and western corridors, including the single space at the junction itself? We agreed on the former. We had already agreed that the flamethrower can shoot at 45 degrees in the first place, making this scenario possible. Can anyone confirm?


Anonymous said...

Here how the flamers work. Each tile piece is considered a section. So a 2 square hall is a section and a 5 square hall is a section. The flamer can target and section as long as one square from the section is within the range of 12. You can do this provided no model blocks line of sight with the square in the section. A important stealer tactic would be to move one model from a group into the next section to stop a flamer from wipping out a room filled with them and such.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Thank you for the clarification. Looks like we played it wrong, and made the flamer overpowered. We thought it would burn a whole corridor as long as it is in a straight line, and didn't realise the effect of the flamer blast is restricted to one "tile".

Anonymous said...

If you can find the Spacehulk Campaigns book it contains the rule updates that were posted in WHite Dwarf Magazine and the rules for the use of space marine units as well. It has additional terminator weapons. Deathwing expansion added weapons, the Genestealer expansion added psykers. I find that 1st edition was the best and that 2nd edition was a half ass attempt to dumb it down. There are some websites that contain the info for the rules if u cant find em on ebay.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Thanks for the tips!