Space Hulk

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
Painted Genestealer

“BoardGameGeek Image”:

Painted Space Marine
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
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.

* 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.


  1. Just thought I would add a couple of things to this:

    – everyone who plays genestealers for the first time wants to hurtle down the corridors straight into the marines fire. This wasn’t a winning tactic in first ed., and with the changes to overwatch fire, it’s basically suicide now. The way you win as stealers, AFAI can see, is to build your forces and wait for your moment. Cost the marine player enough time, and your victory is inevitable.

    – a lot depends on the marine player’s ability to deal with the time pressure. Playing as marines I made a few mistakes, but generally small ones. When you leave a marine without setting him on overwatch, or pick the wrong turn to reload your assault cannon, that’s when the stealers need to be able to make you pay.

    – in most missions, “perfect” marine play is hard to deal with for the stealers, as you say. There were exceptions in first ed. – “Rescue” seemed almost impossible as marines, but I think it’s probably very winnable under 3rd ed. rules.

    – unbalanced play is designed into the game and the missions, I think. Playing each game both ways is the best way of dealing with this, especially if some metric can be found to differentiate results. The current rules regarding victory in “Decoy”, involving rolling a die, are stupid.

  2. Thanks for your input James. Like most minor bloggers, I love comments.

    You’re dead right in your comments, but I disagree with your last one. I didn’t mind the Decoy victory conditions – they were quite fun. At the end of the day, you can always ignore the die roll and just compare the aggregate number of escapees over a two leg fixture.

Comments are closed.