Inside Pulse 12

Board Game Review: Space Hulk (Warhammer 40,000)

Space Hulk, Fourth Edition
Publisher: Games Workshop
Cost: $125
Release Date: 09/20/2014
Get it Here: Secondary Market Only. The print run is completely sold out.

I’ve always been more of a Warhammer Fantasy fan than a Warhammer 40K fan. I’ve had Bretonnia and Lizardmen armies since Fifth Edition and Tomb Kings since Sixth, but I never actually picked up anything for 40K until Dark Vengeance. Now I have two small 40K armies – Guardians of the Covenant and Chaos Space Marines. I’ve always been Fantasy over Sci-Fi. That said, I’ve always enjoyed the 40K video games over the Fantasy ones. Dawn of War, Space Marine, Kill Team and the FPS Space Hulk games that are nothing like the board game. My favorite has been the recent Space Hulk video game for PC. I even purchased copies for fellow DHGF staffers Aaron, Aileen and Mark. With a current price of $24.99 or $39.99 for the deluxe bundle, it’s a far cheaper deal than the recent fourth edition version of the board game.

$125 is a LOT of money, especially for those who are new to Games Workshop and/or the Warhammer 40,000 line. So why purchase it? Well, for casual gamers or those who haven’t experienced 40K via miniatures, it’s very hard to recommend of explain the price point, especially when other miniature based board games, like the Dungeons & Dragons Co-operative Board Game series, are less than half the cost of this. For fans of Warhammer 40K though, the price point is a pretty good one, and simple math helps make this point. Over at Games-Workshop.com, a set of five Space Marine Terminators costs $50. Basically ten dollars per figure, yes? Well, you get eleven Space Marine Terminators in Space Hulk, so that’s $110 worth of figures right there. You also get a Space Marine Librarian in Terminator Armor, which usually costs $22.25. That totals out to $133.25 in figures for $125, PLUS you get a board game on top of it. Of course, there are also the Genestealer miniatures. A box of eight usually costs $30. Here you get twenty-two Genestealers, which works out to $82.50. That brings the total worth of the miniatures in the set up to $215.75. Finally, you also get a Broodlord, which usually costs $24.75, bringing the grand total to $240.50 in miniatures – nearly DOUBLE what you are paying for with Space Hulk. So Space Hulk winds up being a fantastic deal for people who play Tyranids or Space Marines, and is also a cost effective (for Warhammer 40K) way to break into the game. Plus all of the miniatures in Space Hulk are exclusive sculpts, so it will really make your army stand out.

Space Hulk does involve a LOT of set up though. All the figures are on sprues and you’ll have to spend hours cutting the miniatures out and putting them together. So again, this is not a board game for casual gamers or younger players. The miniatures are designed to be snap together rather than ones you HAVE to glue, although I find the pins are longer and easier to snap than the ones in Dark Vengeance. Some of the pieces don’t fit snugly when snapped together, so arms will roll around unless you glue them. The Genestealer models don’t have this problem, but a few Space Marines do. As such, you should probably glue the models together, again reiterating that Space Hulk is probably not the best introduction to the Warhammer 40K universe. The models also come unpainted (red for Space Marines and purple for Genestealers) so even though every picture Games Workshop has put out makes these things look expertly painted and detailed like HeroClix figures, they are not. Again, long time GW fans know this already, but there will be newcomers expecting the models to be painted and put together already, and they will be in for a world of shock once they open the box. The good news is that, because the minis are unpainted, you can use whatever paint scheme you want. You don’t have to make all the Space Marines Blood Angels. Hell, I turned mine into Guardians of the Covenant with their silver, black, white and red paint scheme instead of the Red and Gold of the Blood Angels. So expect to wait several days or even months to actually play Space Hulk after you get it, based on your time and willingness to cut out the figures, punch out all the cardboard playing pieces and the optional painting of your figures.

So after you have everything put together and punched out, it’s finally time to start playing Space Hulk. Well, not quite. You still have to set up the board. Space Hulk isn’t your typical board game. It’s made of tiles. Now we all know of tile based board games where the board is randomly generated like a rogue-like video game. That’s not the case with Space Hulk. The game comes with a Mission Book containing exact adventures that take place on this specific Space Hulk. Each mission has a set layout, and the missions are arranged in chronological order so that they tell a story. You can try to make your own adventures and layouts for Space Hulk, but neither the rulebook nor the Mission Book offers any advice, so your adventures will be hit or miss. White Dwarf released a single bonus mission, but there haven’t been any since, and Games Workshop has a few digital expansions that cost $16 each, but they are digital (iPad only, if you can believe that insanity) only and are simply rules to let you use other sets of Space Marines (like Deathwing Knights!) with the game. So you’re paying sixteen dollars for expansions that involve purchasing $100+ in miniatures, and you can only use them if you have an iPad. Kind of disappointing compared to how the previous three editions of Space Hulk were supported, but it is what it is.

Space Hulk is a two player game. One player controls the Space Marines (Blood Angel Terminators to be precise) and the other controls the Genestealers (a group of Tyranid aliens). Each mission has different goals and challenges for the players to partake in, and each side plays quite differently from the other. Space Marines have ranged attacks and are quite good with them, while Genestealers lack ranged combat but excel in hand to hand. Genestealers get more AP (action points) per model to showcase how much faster they are, but Space Marines can spend their points on Overwatch, which will allow them to attack on the Genestealer’s turn – and before the alien gets their shot in to boot. Of course, the game is far from balanced between the two sides. Space Marines get a timer on their turn, and when the sand runs out, they are done, even if they haven’t used all their AP. Meanwhile, Genestealers get as many turns as they want. As well, with each passing mission, Space Marines get less models on their side, while the Genestealers are replenished. This makes sense story wise, but the Space Marines definitely have an uphill battle with each mission and, at times, the game is stacked HEAVILY in favor of the Genestealers. Because of the time constraint, less AP and other handicaps, it’s generally best to try playing as the Genestealers the very first time you play Space Hulk. That way, you have all the time in the world to ask questions and learn the game. I really hate the time mechanic, and in talking to GW employees and fans of the game, most of them do without it. It’s meant to be a way to showcase how much faster the Genestealers are, but the time aspect doesn’t happen in real 40K, so I’m not sure why it does in Space Hulk. I can definitely see why so many house rule the time piece out of the game, and I have to agree with that standpoint unless you’re playing against a Space Hulk master and the Genestealer side is pretty new to the game.

Despite some notable handicaps for the Space Marines, Space Hulk is a LOT of fun. It’s a much faster paced version of 40K in a cramped setting instead of on a large table that takes forever to setup. The missions are varied and highly enjoyable and the game extends its life by suggesting that each mission be played twice, with the players switching sides the second time so you get a taste of both sides. Of course, due to the rigid form of each mission, this is the only way the game really offers replay value. The missions will more or less play out the same each time, with only the random whim of fate determining how the dice fall. You’ll quickly realize what tactics are needed for both sides to win and you’ll reuse them over and over again. The most replay comes from playing a different player, as they will think differently, have pieces and strategies they prefer over other players and will give you a slightly different experience. Still, once you’ve played all the missions two or three times, there’s not much to come back to. Thankfully you”ll be able to take all those Terminators and Tyranids and use them in your regular 40K game, right?

The rules for playing Space Hulk are pretty straight forward. Each side gets their own turn on which they move, investigate and attack. All the Space Marines have different weapons. Most have Storm Bolters, which are standard 40K guns. You’ll also have one Space Marine with an assault cannon, one with Lightning Claws (your hand to hand guy) and one will even have a Heavy Flamer which kills nearly all Tyranids dead without any fuss. There are also some defensive items, like a Storm Shield and a Power Sword, which can help keep your Marine alive even if they lose a fight with a Genestealer. The Space Marine Librarian is the most unique figure, as it has Psi-Points similar to how D&D 2/3e had psionic points. The Librarian can use points to push his hand to hand die roll up, create barriers, give his side extra command points and even unleash a psychic storm which can pretty much kill a Genestealer instantly. On the other side of things, the Genestealers are all pretty standard with the same attacks and movement. It’s rush in, try not to get shot, and kill Space Marines with your claws and fangs. The only exception to this is the Broodlord, who is immune to the Librarian’s Psychic Storm, does crazy amounts of damage in hand to hand combat and requires two successes to be killed rather than one like every other model in the game. These are nasty! Keeping track of what all the Space Marines do can be a bit overwhelming for a newcomer, especially since each mission decides which Marines you have to use, so this is yet another reason to play as the Genestealers if you are new to Space Hulk. You have less options to learn. At least each Space Marine model clearly shows what they are equipped with, so you don’t have to wonder which one has the Heavy Flamer and which has the Power Sword.

Combat in Space Hulk is really simple, especially compared to a normal 40K game. Space Marines have guns. With a Storm bolter you roll 2D6. If either comes up as a 6, the Genestealer dies. An Assault Cannon gets 3d6, and a Genestealer dies on a 5+. A Heavy Flamer gets 1d6 but kills every Genestealer in an area with a 2+. Storm Bolters and Assault Cannons get Sustained Fire, which means if they fire at an opponent, miss and fire again, their target drops by one (not cumulative), so a Storm Bolter would drop to 5+ needed and the Assault Cannon would drop to 4+ needed. The Flamer and Cannon have limited ammo though. The rules don’t say what happens when you run out, but I have to assume they become hand to hand combat only characters rather than getting a Storm Bolter. Speaking of hand-to-hand, that too is simple. A Space Marine rolls 1d6 and a Genestealer rolls 3d6. The highest die of the Genestealer is kept, and then whoever has the highest roll wins. If it is the attacker, the defender dies. If it is the defender, the attacker only dies if the two are facing each other. There are a few exceptions here. The Space Marine with Lightning Claws rolls 2d6, keeps the highest and adds 1 to the rating. A Space Marine with a Power Sword rolls 1d6 and adds 1 to the rating. A Space Marine with a Thunder Hammer rolls 1d6 and adds two to the rating. The Librarian rolls 1d6+1 for his Force Axe, and then can spend Psi-Points to raise it even higher. The Broodlord rolls 3d6 and keeps the lowest and the highest die, then adds them together for a total. So hand to hand is a bit more complicated, but it’s still somewhat straight forward.

Overall, Space Hulk is a very fun but flawed game. You have to already be a fan of Warhammer 40,000 to truly appreciate it, especially with that $125 price tag attached to it. Newcomers will find it easier to learn than a regular game of Warhammer 40K and it is an easy way to get a starting set of figures for two armies, but if you’re even remotely on the fence, wait for a Steam sale of the video game version, which routinely drops to 7.50-15 dollars and will give you an idea if you’d like the tabletop version. If you’re already a fan of Space Hulk or the wargame Warhammer, 40,000, Space Hulk is a smart investment just for miniatures and how much you would have to pay for them separately. I’m glad I picked up Space Hulk, but I’ll get more out of adding the Terminators to my Guardians of the Covenant army than I will the game itself. There’s just not enough replay value for the price tag for even a lot of ardent 40K fans, much less those with a casual interest in the brand.

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