It’s Tuesday, so it’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com! To celebrate the return of the classic boardgame Space Hulk to stores this weekend, I thought I’d get all topical-like, and look at the game that I picked up back in September 2014 – let’s go purge some xenos!
The original game dates from 1989, and was instrumental in launching terminators and genestealers into the Warhammer 40,000 universe as the icons that they remain today. Over the years, there have been a number of re-iterations of the game, as detailed in a recent article on the Warhammer Community pages, with third edition coming in 2009, and the current, fourth edition, coming five years later. Common to all iterations, of course, is the cast of twelve Blood Angels terminators, and the horde of genestealers:
Space Hulk is played in Missions, and there are sixteen missions included in the Mission Book. Each mission will tell you how many models you start with – how many marines, and what they’re equipped with, and how many ‘blips’ the Genestealer player starts with. There are a number of entry pointed marked on the set-up map, from where the blips can enter the board on the Genestealer player’s turn. I’ll talk more about this in the Reinforcement Phase, below.
At the start of the turn, the Space Marines player randomly selects a command points counter, each numbered from 1-6, to indicate how many command points he has for that turn. Space Marines can take a number of set actions, however these points indicate the number of additional actions the marines can take. If the marines use more command actions than is printed on the token, they automatically lose!
Once the command points counter has been placed, the Genestealer player starts the timer, which gives the marines a defined window of 2’43 to take actions for the entire team.
Each Space Marine has 4 action points he can use to take a number of actions, from a menu of 11 total actions. Each of these actions takes up a number of action points, such as opening a door for one point, or firing a heavy flamer for two points. You need to completely finish the activation of each marine before moving on to the next – the only exception being if you then come back to that marine to spend a command point. While firing their storm bolters at the genestealers itself costs a point, marines can also fire at the end of some movements for no additional cost.
When moving, models move in the direction they are facing, and to turn 90° costs the marines an action point. These marines are clad in tactical dreadnought armour (terminators, to you and me!) and so are fairly bulky; the narrow confines of the space hulk therefore impede their movement, whereas the Genestealers are much more lithe and nimble.
Genestealers have a total of 6 action points in their turn, and can spin about to change their facing at no extra cost once they have spent each of those points.
Space Marine Terminators are equipped with a panoply of wargear that will help them to purge the xenos aboard the space hulk, most commonly the storm bolter, but also larger stuff like the heavy flamer or assault cannon, and combat stuff like power fists and lightning claws. Each of these weapons has various rules associated with it, as detailed in the rulebook. Storm bolters and assault cannons have no maximum range, you just need to see the model you’re trying to hit. The flamer is an area-effect weapon that can only hit up to twelve squares away. When rolling to hit, you roll two dice for storm bolters, three for assault cannons, and as many as there are models in the area for flamers, and if you roll a 6+, a 5+ or a 2+ for each respective weapon, you hit the model and it is destroyed.
Normally, you can only do stuff on your own turn, but the marines can take an Overwatch action which effectively readies them to fire at genestealers on their turn, instead. Only assault cannons and storm bolters can do this. Overwatch shooting takes place at the end of each genestealer’s action within 12 squares and line of sight of the marine on Overwatch. It can be a useful tactic to put a marine on Overwatch, to force the Genestealer player to re-think their strategy if they don’t want to lose that model.
Unfortunately, Overwatch does come with a price for the marines and, if he rolls doubles on the shooting roll, the weapon jams and he will need to spend an action point on his own turn to clear that jam. So he might be valiantly placed to cause the genestealers to pause in their advance but, on the first roll his weapon jams, and they’ll be all over him like a rash!
As well as shooting storm bolters and stuff, marines come equipped with power swords and chainfists to use in melee fights with the genestealers. However, close assault is really where the xenos menace excels, so you probably don’t want to end up there!
In close assault, genestealers get to roll three dice, while marines only roll one; whoever rolls the highest result on a single die wins the assault, and the other models is removed as a casualty. Space Marine Sergeants get to add +1 to their roll, which gives them a bit of an edge, while a marine with lightning claws rolls two dice in close assault. Additionally, marines can spend two action points to go on Guard, meaning they’re ready for the assault and can re-roll their die in combat. So they’re not entirely squishy!
After the Action Phase comes the Genestealer’s turn, starting with placing a number of ‘starting blips’ at the entry points on the space hulk as mentioned earlier. These blips are numbered from 1-3, and show how many models they will turn into – however, in keeping with the suspense of the game, the marines won’t know how many genestealers are out there until they’re converted into actual models.
Before conversion, blips can move around the map like regular models, spending up to six action points per blip as described. If the blip hasn’t activated, the player can choose to convert it into a number of models shown on the token, placing one on the square the blip had been occupying and the remainder adjacent to it. If the space marines can ever draw a line of sight to the blip, then it is “involuntarily converted”, and the Space Marines player gets to place the genestealer models.
It’s worth noting that the number of genestealer models is limited to the number of them included in the game, though there are 22 models plus the Broodlord, so you probably won’t be needing a lot more than that!
Mission Status Phase
At the end of all of this, each player checks for his victory condition, before then removing all Overwatch/Guard counters from the game (and revealing that Command Points token to show the marines didn’t overspend!) and a new round begins.
The mission I’ve been using to demonstrate throughout this game day blog is Beachhead, which runs to 12 turns and allows the marines to win if they still have at least seven men standing, and have eradicated the genestealer threat. The Genestealer player wins if there are less than five space marines alive, however, so the game could potentially last fewer turns if the genestealers have been super aggressive!
There are, of course, multiple other rules for things like objects that are specific to the mission, and there are two ‘special’ characters in the game, the Librarian and the Broodlord, who have abilities that can impact on the game in different ways. The Librarian is a psyker, and has three Psychic Powers he can use. Each costs a Psi point, and he starts out with 20 such points. There is a whole section of the Mission Status Display board devoted to tracking his use of these points. His psychic powers can be used to move the command point tracker back one, gaining additional command actions on a turn, as well as blocking access to squares with a powerful Force Barrier. Finally, his Psychic Storm power can empty a board section of genestealers or blips on a 4+ (or destroy individual targets on a 2+). However, the Broodlord is a powerful genestealer, and has the ability to increase his close assault rolls and requires two hits to kill in shooting attacks – and is immune to Psychic Storm!
Back in the first edition of Space Hulk, there were a couple of expansions that increased the options of play: Genestealer, which brought in new rules for psychic combat as well as five Grey Knights terminators and genestealer hybrids, and Deathwing, which introduced both the elite Dark Angels terminators and options for solo play. Subsequent editions haven’t seen as much love, with the last two being limited, one-time releases only. However, there are some electronic rules for adding in Space Wolves, Ultramarines and Deathwing terminators to the current ruleset, and given the current mood at GW for producing board games like these once again, maybe we’ll see full-fledged expansions for the game once more – outside of the odd White Dwarf mission, and the like…
Space Hulk is, of course, a classic of board games, and beloved by many since its initial release back in 1989. It’s currently in its 4th edition, which Games Workshop is trotting out for the second time now (though I picked it up the first time around in 2014). While I am struggling a little to make it out, I do believe this is an actual “return”, and not another limited-release thing where they have it on the shelves for a couple of weeks, then you’re having to sell organs to get a copy on ebay as the only viable alternative. So this – if it is indeed true – is yet another positive move on GW’s part in really becoming a workshop of games, and bringing back an absolute classic from the genre!