I have been forming a pretty wild theory (which belongs to me and is mine) recently and it more or less goes a bit like this: The deepening of the economic crisis will lead to increased socialization, that will in turn lead to an increase in the popularity of board gaming; even more so if the required board games have already been bought. And, uhm, that's about it I suppose. Besides, that was the theorem I went on and empirically (successfully too) tested last night with the help of Space Hulk.
Interestingly it wasn't the second edition of the game I cracked open and hauled over to a friend's place; it was the third and latest version of Space Hulk. The one Games Workshop cunningly released in limited numbers. The same game I hadn't played since 2009 even though I most definitely enjoyed it. Actually, I was most impressed by it, but apparently was the only one in the Lair that appreciated it. The kind lady was mostly indifferent to its many charms and exquisite production values.
Now, as I was emphatically reminded yesterday, Space Hulk comes in a particularly impressive, big, heavy and beautiful box, that's filled to the brim with miniatures, dice, tiles, rulebooks, counters, an hourglass and everything one might need to play. And though I did remember that them Space Marines and Tyranids (nasty Alien-like nasties) were some of the best Warhammer 40,000 miniatures ever, I had completely forgotten just how fantastic the game tiles were in all their embossed, beautifully painted, dark glory. Well, apparently, they still are and everything looks excellent to the point that the table we set up to play, impressively made the good ladies present take notice. I mean, really, who could have the willpower to resist the evolved aesthetics of everyone's favourite totalitarian sci-fi army?
Not that the bugs look much worse of course...
Anyway. That's enough with the fanboy drooling and gawking at tiny plastic skulls. Time to completely ignore the quality of the rule- and mission books too, and briefly describe how the thing plays. Well, Space Hulk is a two-players only game in which one player controls the Space Marine and the other the Genestealers side, each taking turns to move on the board and performing actions like opening doors, shooting, attacking the close combat way, moving artifacts, burning rooms, reloading weapons and further things of the sort, while trying to achieve each mission's objectives. Interestingly the game does come with 12 built-in missions - every single one of them featuring new objectives, weapons, miniatures, special rules, board layouts and even a bit of backstory (fluff, I believe some would call it) to help with the atmosphere. Every game usually takes around 60 minutes.
Gameplay-wise though, what really stands out are the action-points mechanics (they should be familiar to people who have enjoyed turn-based strategic games like X-Com or Laser Squad) and the fact that Space Marines only see the aliens as blips on a radar, up to the point they come face-to-face with them and their true numbers are revealed. As each of these blips could conceal up to three Genestealers, things can get both strategic and very tense indeed. Oh, and good poker players will definitely be at an advantage here...
Thankfully, neither me nor the friend I played Space Hulk with are terribly good at card games, yet I must admit we really enjoyed the game in its initial simplicity, apparent balance and revealed depth. After finishing the first mission we were both craving for more and coming up with strategic principles and tactical responses. Yes, it was this good.
Closing bit: This article might have felt like a review, which it partly is, but sadly it's a review of something you can't easily buy unless you head off to places like eBay. On the other hand you can get a very good idea of how Space Hulk plays and what it looks like over at the Games Workshop and Board Game Geek sites. And you can always play the excellent and freeware Alien Assault on your PC; it's the closest you will ever get to a digital version of the game and a fantastic strategic offering in its own right.
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