Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Hulk Smash!

So, I've been playing a particular game a lot over the past couple of weeks... BUT! It's not a video game! I've finally got a copy of the reissued Games Workshop boardgame Space Hulk (well, I say finally, I actually got it three days before it was released in the shops), and have spent the last few weekends giving it a spin and playing through a variety of missions.

Space Hulk is Games Workshop's answer to Alien and Aliens. Your squad of Space Marine Terminators have boarded a drifting mash to derelict ships, the hulk, to prevent it from colliding with a nearby hive world. Scans of the hulk reveal it is teeming with sleeping Genestealers, a brooding and darkly intelligent alien species related to the Tyranids. One player leads the Terminators on various missions through the hulk's twisting corridors, the other takes the role of the Genestealers as they stalk the Space Marines through the ship. The Genestealers are initially represented by 'blips' which can hide between 1 and 3 aliens, and the Marine player can use a secret pool of command points to spring surprises on his opponent. In close combat, the odds are heavily stacked in the Genestealer's favour, so the Space Marines must do their best to engage at range with their rapid firing storm bolters...

The box itself is fantastic and, though it is pricey at nearly £60, it weighs in at around 4kg, with much of that being the beautifully detailed 'debossed' cardboard corridors and snap together plastic miniatures. Beware, though, it'll be a good few hours before you can actually play the game; it took me two solid evenings to clip out all the models and shave the flash off them.

The models really do deserve a special mention. They're as crammed full of detail as any of the metal commander models, and the plastic they're made of allows authentically spindly arms and pointy claws on the Genestealers. For the most part, mould lines are hidden well underneath the joins in plates of armour, and the many intricate details makes the models a painters dream. Of course, as they're snap together, there isn't really any scope for conversions, but as the formation of the squad is fixed this shouldn't be too much of an issue (and for your own games, you could always paint up a regular box of Terminators with any funky conversions). The only two slight criticisms are that the models are undeniably Blood Angels, so tough luck if you fancy painting them up as Smurfs, and that they are maybe too spindly; I had a couple of fine bits of detail snap off as I was assembling. However, as you can see, the models are absolutely fantastic.

It's been many years since I last played the game, so I can't reliably say whether the game has changed much since its previous incarnation, but it certainly feels authentic. The rules are nice and simple; they're very easy to learn, though I would recommend rereading the rules after you've played your first few games as there will undoubtedly be some small point you've missed! The game can often feel unbalanced one way or another, with some maps being very challenging for the Marines, and others seemingly impossible for the Genestealers. However, the point of the game is to play each map with both sides in a single match to even out any unfairness.

I thought I would round things off here with a quick summary of a few hints and tips I've picked up over the past few weekends:

  • Firstly, and most basically, don't ever let a Space Marine get bogged down in combat. Only the Librarian and the two combat only Terminators can really reliably win, and even then, they should be left on Guard rather than being used offensively.
  • Don't throw away Genestealers. It may seem like you a limitless amount, but quite often every single one will need to count.
  • You should really be using the timer, it adds a lot to the game. However, a ten second pause at the beginning of your turn can work wonders; just remember to do the things you really need to get done on your turn first!
  • Don't bunch your Space Marines up; bunched up Terminators can't fire, and you are therefore wasting their shots!
  • Remember to read the manual; for instance, notice that Sergeants only get their +1 bonus (+2 for the chap with the Thunder Hammer) if an attack came from the front square only. Also, closing a door will trigger overwatch, as will opening it; a Genestealer can stand behind a door opening and closing it to trigger jams or waste assault cannon ammunition!
  • Finally, paint your models :)

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