inconsequential ruminations

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Space Hulk

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My friend James played a lot of Space Hulk as a teenager. He was so excited about the new 3rd edition that he bought two copies – at £60 each. Yesterday James, Rob, Chris and I played a round-robin of three games on both sets on one big table.

Space Hulk is basically the game of the movie Aliens, with a Warhammer 40K veneer. It was first published in 1989, just as I dropped out of gaming. Looking back on it now, I would have loved it.

The components of this new edition are superb. Games Workshop have delivered the sort of quality you would normally only expect from Fantasy Flight. The Space Marines and Genestealers are beautifully sculpted plastic models and even units of the same type are modelled differently. They look stunning if painted properly.

Painted Genestealer
BoardGameGeek Image

Painted Space Marine
BoardGameGeek Image

The board is modular and changes to fit different scenarios. The boards take up a fair amount of room, but we were still able to play two games in parallel.

Chris and James

The rules are pretty simple. Games Workshop have short-sightedly not made the third edition rules available online, but you can read the first edition rules and the main differences between the editions. (You can also get scans of third edition rules if you ask around…)

Main points:

  • The Space Marine has to finish their move before a three minute sand timer runs out. This injects a lot of tension.
  • Each unit has a number of action points. Space Marines have four. Genestealers have six. The Space Marine gets one to six extra action points each turn to spread among critical units. The Space Marines can use these extra points during the Genestealer turn, so the Genestealers can never exactly predict their turn.
  • Space Marines are good at long range; Genestealers are good in hand to claw combat.
  • Two to six new Genestealers spawn every round and travel towards their target in hidden “blips” until they get into the line of sight of a Space Marine, when they are exposed.
  • The scenario conditions give the Space Marines a goal to complete before they are overrun.

If you have played Dungeon Twister or HeroClix, you’ll find the core movement mechanics very familiar.

There is a lot to like about Space Hulk:

  • Tension from the timed objectives and sand timer.
  • Beautiful components and well realised theme.
  • Simple, well-tested, clever rules. Very few ambiguities or WTF moments.
  • Fast playing. Each game took 60-90 minutes.
  • Lots of variety from the scenarios. I’m sure there will be lots of fan created scenarios.

Problems:

  • The scenarios are solvable. James knows the game well and is a very clever guy. I played the Genestealers against his Space Marines in a scenario he had played before. He steamrollered me, but I’m not sure that anyone else could have done better in my position. This is a problem with any scenario based game. I suppose the solution is to not play any scenario more than a few times.
  • The game is more fun as the Space Marines. The time limit is fun and there are more decisions. The Genestealers just have to judge where to build up and when to time their rush. You can get around this by playing a scenario twice, playing each side once.
  • Unbalanced scenarios – this isn’t a problem for me, but it might be if you want to play the game a little more seriously. Again, you can bypass this by playing a scenarios both ways.

These problems don’t distract from an excellent game. If you don’t mind a sci-fi horror theme and like simple, dynamic games you should pick this up. It’s the best of its kind.

7/10, but only because I prefer to spend my time on more complex, historical wargames or more simple, multiplayer €urogames. Space Hulk is the best of its genre.

Written by Iain

September 14th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Posted in boardgames

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Tannhäuser

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Tannhäuser is basically the Hellboy game, without Hellboy himself.

Gameplay is simple “move and roll dice to shoot” stuff. Each player, one Nazi Undead and the other GIs, has four characters – all with special abilities. They enter a map simultaneously and try to complete missions like: activate map objectives, capture the flag or domination of areas. The simple gameplay and generic missions make it feel like a first person shooter video game.

The main gameplay innovation is an elegant colouring system to handle line of sight. Your characters can shoot to spaces coloured the same as the one they are standing on.

The components are top notch. The prepainted miniatures are particularly good.

Next time, we might play with a Hellboy character that you can download from this lavish blog about Doc Savage.

It is not the sort of game I would obsess over, but it was relaxing fun. 7/10

Written by Iain

June 15th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Posted in boardgames

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Twilight Imperium

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I was in a seven-player game of galactic domination yesterday. Sounds great right?

Actually, Twilight Imperium was traumatic. We started the rules explanation at 10:30 and began the game at 11:00. By 3:30 I was fighting for my life, with no hope of a win. Not wanting to go screw the game balance up, I hung on grimly and we finished at 8pm. That’s 9 hours of play of which 4.5 were no fun.

I made several mistakes, but I was screwed early on as my neighbour had a secret objective to occupy an opponent’s home planet. As a first time player, I had no idea he was out for my blood until it was too late.

My nemesis did not seem to realise that by entering into a blood feud for two measly VP he was screwing himself of any chance of a win. In the end, I came last with 3VP, but he only had 4VP and never took my home planet.

Risk has similar secret player elimination objectives, but that is just about permissible in a three hour game. In a game of this length it is preposterous.

Multiplayer war games are hard to get right. Apart from anything else, once the fun is over, you can’t leave without ruining the game’s balance. One guy had to leave and that left his neighbours in pole position, as they could take his planets and not have to watch their backs. Naturally, one of those two won. Games of this length really should have a method for balancing a situation where a player leaves early. No solution would be perfect, but still.

In future, I’m not playing multiplayer wargames that last over four hours (in real-time, not box-back time) and I will never play Twilight Imperium again.

3/10 – because it has some nice mechanics, lovely components and a strong theme.

Written by Iain

June 7th, 2009 at 7:35 pm