Purge With Fire. In a Good Way.

By Kieron Gillen on February 20th, 2008 at 4:29 pm.

GET THEM!!!!

Space Hulk was on my mind anyway – I was thinking of group-based tactical games with a claustrophobic atmosphere after playing Spectrum-Aliens-remake LV-426 (Which, were I making Bioshock 2, I’d rip off completely). So when news of a just-released Space Hulk remake reached me, I was overjoyed, making plans to step back into the early nineties of EA’s multi-windowed paranoia-fest. Except then I realised that while they have EA’s (And Games Workshop’s) permission to do this, it isn’t based on the computer game at all. It’s based on the board game. So it looks like this:

They're behind you!

But I was overjoyed anyway, because Space Hulk was one of my favourite board games of my teenage years and, in this form, it’s is the sort of focused turn-based strategy game that hits that Julian Gollop (Rebelstar Raiders, Laser Squad, Chaos, X-COM) spot straight on.

It’s an asymmetrical war-game basically. Set aboard the hulking pieces of space-wreckage known, for some reason, as Space Hulks in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, there’s two groups. One one side, are the Terminator Space Marines who have guns. On the other sides, you have Genestealers, who don’t. But they do have the sort of claws that can rend through the marines’ Tactical Dreadnought Armour if they get close enough, lightning speed and endless numbers. While on the board-game version you could play either, in this one the computer plays the Genestealers leaving you to wrestle with the more sophisticated Space Marines.

Clearly taking heavily from the Aliens films, it’s a game of extreme tension. The marines are normally the team which has to press forward and achieve an objective… but being far more cumbersome than the ‘stealers, that’s the last thing they want to do. Trying to work out how to advance while you know ‘stealers are around the corner, unseen is the core of the game. Unseen is another large part – all of the aliens appear as blips on your radar. However, until you’ve actually sighted the blips, they’re an “unconfirmed” blip, which could be a small or larger number of the creatures. Or even none – and there’s few feelings worst than having your advance fall to a halt due to a mysterious blip lurking, and when you finally press forward, it’s revealed that nothing’s there and your scanners were just playing up. Of course, the delay has allowed the enemy to regroup, and your fascist death machines are now surrounded (and shortly eaten).

But the marines have guns. And guns are good. As well as shooting at whatever you can actually see, you’re also able to enter Overwatch, which will take a single shot at anything that steps into your firing line. If you’re lucky, you can mow down an entire way of enemies, especially if you position them at chokepoints down long corridors. If you’re unlucky, the guns jam and the genestealers rush forward unharmed.

The amount of random elements is probably Space Hulk’s worst feature – but it’s also the one which gives the game its incredible tension. While you can play the odds well – that it’s a relatively simple game compared to the complexities of 40K proper means that there’s a real purity to its maths – you can’t ever be sure. For me, I’d argue that the worst thing in this version – except the apparent lack of an undo key, which is especially annoying when action-points are as limited as they are in Space Hulk – is that it hides its maths a little too much. If you’ve played the board game, you’ll know the rough odds of combat. If you haven’t, it might as well be magic. From memory… well, Stealers roll three dice. Marines roll one. Whoever gets highest wins and kills the opposition. Draw equals a draw. Marine Sergeants with Power Swords get a plus one. In short, Marines are screwed in close combat. Similarly, over-watch fire. If I remember rightly, if you roll a double, the guns jam. You need either dice to be a six to kill the stealer outright. But… well, I don’t really know the real odds from playing the game, and when it’s a game that’s based so strongly on playing the odds, its’ an annoyance.

The second major problem for me was something that I found bewildering – simply, I thought they didn’t know the rules since its removal wasn’t mentioned in the things they’ve changed from the original (Another problem: I wish they kept the advance and fire move, because it was a cornerstone of a load of my strategies). You can’t spend command points during the ‘stealers turn. Except it seems that ability was removed in the second edition of the game, which strikes me as reducing Marine strategy in a less interesting manner. To explain why, I’ve got to talk about the command point system… and that’s probably a good idea anyway, as its a mechanism which you’ll need to know about if you want to have a crack.

In the grim future of the 41st millennia there is only top down views!

Each marine has four action points a round. Takes a point to advance, a point to fire, two points to fire a heavy flamer (if they have one), two points to walk backwards, one point to turn. As you can see, that’s tight as hell, especially when you realise Genestealers have six and don’t need to pay points to turn around. However, the Marines also have between one and six command points a round. This is a reservoir of extra points you can spend on any of your marines (and it’s generally higher if you have better commanders). This means that the guy who really has to do extra stuff is able to do it. How you use them each round is the cornerstone of Marine stategy.

However, in the original edition, you were also able to use them as a reaction-move in the Stealer’s phase, assuming you have some left. Having to decide whether you want to save any is another worthwhile strategic aspect. Similarly, you could use it to unjam your gun and perhaps even go back into overwatch or take another shot. In other words, if you knew that you were in a defensive position and jamming would be fatal, you would keep command points in reserve to mitigate against that. The removal of this makes it a whole lot harder for the marine player – not impossible, as my cheery stomp through the stealers shows, but when luck is against you it seems more frustrating. There really was nothing you can do.

(The fact that movement is no longer on a piece-by-piece basis also helps the stealers more than the marines, I suspect.)

I still think this is worth playing. It’s a very pure combat game, about movement, cover and more than a little bit of luck, and remains strikingly atmospheric – and the ability to design your own levels and campaigns is another welcome touch. Equally, with all the dice rolling and figure moving taken care of, it moves at a pace almost as blinding as the xenomorphs you’re facing.

The full client can be downloaded from the site, and it’s not even two Peggles in size.

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56 Comments »

  1. Will Tomas says:

    Looks good, I have fond memories of Space Hulk from my misspent youth. But what I’d really like to see is someone make a decent computer game out of Necromunda. Now that would be fun…

  2. Okami says:

    I never played the board game, though I vividly remember playing Advanced Space Crusade when I was 14. We had the basic set as well as a bunch of Space Hulk minis, so we could play epiv ASC campaigns during skiing holidays..

    ASC was a lot like Space Hulk, with Blips and whatnot, but a bit more complex.

    I also loved the multi window game when it came out for the Amiga..

    RPS: You allways make me misty eyed and wish back for my days of youth… *sniff*

  3. Nallen says:

    Space Hulk is f’ing great. I had two copies of the board game and the expansion. The hulks you could make where frankly massive. I designed my own hulks most of the time.

    I’ve played the original multi windowed game within the last week, and I’ll be giving this a go too.

    Multiplayer in either a co-op or Marines vs. ‘Stealers capacity would probably be enough to get me off Audiosurf.

  4. Ging says:

    Oh wow – I’ve been playing an older port of the board game off and on for a while, this one looks much, much nicer! (the port is Space Hulk-SP)

    It’s so intensely hard to get through – the guns are frustrating, they always jam when a genestealer is a square away from your last overwatched terminator.

  5. Dood says:

    The fact that you know it’s called Tactical Dreadnought Armour maces you a huge nerd.

    But I think we all are ;)

  6. Tom Armitage says:

    The second edition is, in many ways, much inferior – slightly nicer board and pieces but with both over-simplified and slightly gimped rules. From what I recall, anyhow.

  7. Alex says:

    Nice. Anything featuring the W40K universe is worth a look. You can almost smell the paint again (well, maybe not in this particular case, but.. oh let me have my nostalgic dream, damn you!).

  8. Dracko says:

    Is this by the same team as Space Hulk SP? I was never quite clear on that one.

  9. Joonas says:

    I’ve played all incarnations and love them dearly, but especially the original boardgame. This does look good, going to take a dip.

  10. teknohed says:

    Did you guys play squad command for PSP or DS? It’s based on warhammer 40K as well and is also overhead turn based strategy “X-Com” style. I thought it was totally fun.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Teknohed: I didn’t but (er) my girlfriend did. She liked it a lot.

    Okami: Yeah, they were similar, but that Space Hulk was purer (i.e. The two very, very different sides. When both have guns, it’s no longer quite the same thing, y’know?) meant it was much more its own creature.

    KG

  12. Okami says:

    Yup, a lot of the asmetry was lost in ASC. Tyrandids had everything from hulking Hive Warriors to lowly Genestealers and could even use Orcs, Chaos and Imperial Guard “mind slaves”. It basically allowed you to use your whole 40K miniature collection.

    But any board game that allows you to use Imperial Guard Beastmen (not to be confused with Chaos Beastmen!!) is ok in my book..

    Though I guess that Space Hulk lost some of it’s purity too once you added all the extra rules from the expansion packs…

  13. lalahsghost says:

    I had the Sega Saturn Version of space hulk, and found it completely overwhelming at age ten. These-a-days, I might like the gaming engine better if it wasn’t sci-fi space monsters and whatnot.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Okami: Yeah – Deathwing did some okay things*, but by the time we got to Psychics and hybrids, it had lost its charm. That’s the odd thing about Space Hulk – it was one of the very few GW games which stubbornly resisted expansion for purely conceptual reasons. It was an absolutely complete entity in first release.

    KG

    *Well… the assault cannon, really, and some of the campaign stuff. Lightning Claws and Thunder Hammers weren’t really Space Hulk.

  15. Okami says:

    Which just goes to show: Something isn’t perfect, when you can’t add anything more to it, it’s perfect if you can’t take anything away anymore.

    A rule that a lot of game designer would be well adviced to follow. Heaping even more features and special rules on something rarely makes it better.

  16. po says:

    LOL. It’s been out as open source for YEARS!

    http://r.vinot.free.fr/spacehulk/

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    Po: Not the same version. This one has stuff like Single-Player and whatever, which makes it a bit more recommendable to pick up and play.

    KG

  18. MeesterCat says:

    But what I’d really like to see is someone make a decent computer game out of Necromunda. Now that would be fun…

    Yes, yes yes! A Necromunda MMO would be fantastic.

  19. Fumarole says:

    I played the Playstation version and enjoyed it, so this is very good news indeed. As a bonus, it would appear to run on even my less-than-stellar work computer. Work, it’s not what I do, it’s where I go.

  20. Lightbulb says:

    Necromunda – This would be the best MMO setting i can think of.

    However this isn’t Space Hulk the original this is Space Hulk the remake. Which was a lot simpler. Still break fun though.

    In this version you have special dice but basically:

    Spend a point to shoot:

    Roll a 6 and your target dies
    Shoot again and its on a 5 or 6
    Again and its a 5 or 6
    Again and its a 5 or 6

    So it pays to fire sustained bursts.

    Over watch – each time you shoot there is a 1 in 6 chance (independent of whether you hit or not) of your gun jamming.

    Stealers get a 90 free degree turn each turn and can strafe for 1 AP.

    I think other than that its fairly obvious and as you explained above.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    Lightbulb: Does Overwatch get that sustained fire bonus?

    KG

  22. Will Tomas says:

    I can answer that one – Overwatch doesn’t get the sustained fire bonus.

    http://www.headlesshollow.com/downloads/games/SpaceHulk_rules.pdf

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    Ooh – didn’t know about the overkill fire. That’s interesting.

    KG

  24. meatpeople says:

    Ah Space Hulk. Great write up. I remember loving Space Crusade for the Speccy too, and filling my pants over it, late at night (y’know, past 10). Fun times, fun times.

    Sorry to be slightly off-topic, but anyone heard any word on THQs’ 40k MMORPG? I’ve never gotten into MMOs but that might be the one to get me into it. Not heard much of since it was announced a year odd ago.

  25. Homunculus says:

    The original Space Hulk board game was my gateway drug to the Warhammer 40,000 mythos, and, as such holds a special (claustrophobic, unlit) place in my heart. It helps that it was such a crackingly well designed game, of course; it also introduced me to the concept of expansions to games long before the likes of your Opposing Forces, with the preposterous mind-melting psychic shenanigans of Genestealer, which proved sufficiently successful as to be later co-opted into Games Workshop’s main tabletop wargaming offerings in an expanded form.

    Hell, I’d be happy to participate in a game of it or the second edition of Blood Bowl even today, which is more than I can say about Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly or Risk.

  26. Dracko says:

    Kieron, have you tried out the SpaceHulk-SP version?

  27. Optimaximal says:

    A Necromunda game, let alone an MMO, would be mint. The quesiton is, would anyone actually play as Mad Donna?

    It’s just a shame the game was binned, along with Gorka-Morka (yes, I know they were effectively the same game, but the creativity that went into both was so unique).

  28. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    I picked up the DS game a few days ago. It is rather enjoyable. Now I just gotta finish off my Tau army…

  29. Sucram says:

    Wait.. people bought Space Hulk for reasons other than to get lots of cheap Genestealers?

  30. Ging says:

    I may have to stick with SpaceHulk-SP, this one crashes a tad too often and from the looks of the forum, they’re nowhere near close to figuring out the cause even after a year of trying…

  31. Caiman says:

    Here you are all talking about some board game I never played (though the Amiga version was great stuff) and yet have overlooked the barely-referenced link to an updated Aliens game that scared me shitless on my Spectrum. I even created a PBGMYTASEM (Play By Giving Me Your Turns At School Each Morning) Aliens game by stealing the graphics off that! Good times.

    Anyway, downloading now – I hope it retains the same blipblipblipBLIPBLIPBLIPBLIP tension of the original.

  32. Dracko says:

    Isn’t there an Aliens-themed game in a similar vain as Space Hulk? I recall hearing about it.

  33. Rich Tysoe says:

    I was pointed at the site for this a couple of weeks ago and was imediately dismayed to see they’d taken out move-and-fire – I very rarely used it against Genestealers, but would always use it to move and shoot at any doors ahead of my guys.

    Teardown’s ignoring of the “one activated model at a time” rule is closer to the rules we used to play in my lunchtimes at school, (because we’d not noticed the proper rule in the rulebook), and it is a big boost to the Stealers as they can move up a corridor en-masse against an overwatching marine and it gives the marine a lot less shots – hence I’m finding the original missions in this a lot harder than I did in SpacehulkSP.

    There are other differences as well-the main board only shows you what’s in the marine’s LOS, for everything else, you need the mini-map. I don’t think they’re using the Overkill rule, either – so it’s not a straight implementation of any set of board game rules (unlike Sulk, for 1st edition, or SpacehulkSP, for 2nd Edition), it’s a bit of a mishmash of both editions and the PC game. The flamers are another example, working as they did in the original PC game, and not really like either board game iteration.

  34. Nallen says:

    Someone needs to break out the board game and write up a battle report :)

  35. Five says:

    Spacehulk on the Amiga was terrifying. I was too scared to move anywhere, so I just stayed where I was and shot any oncoming genestealers.

    Didn’t really help that I was young and had no idea how to pause the game and issue commands.

    The only mission I ever beat was the one where you just had to kill a set number of genestealers.

  36. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dracko: This is a conversion of the Aliens board game, which I also played to death. My Teenage years were all about boardgame recreations of Alien versus Human warfare. See also, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.

    Also, I haven’t had a crack at the other SpaceHulkSP ones.

    KG

  37. Lightbulb says:

    Optimaximal says:

    It’s just a shame the game was binned, along with Gorka-Morka (yes, I know they were effectively the same game, but the creativity that went into both was so unique).”

    There were subtle difference in the rules but yes both were brilliant games.

    —-

    I played the game and the rules do appear to be different to be honest.

    Also what the hell are they doing with the story? Its not 40k let alone Space Hulk!

    Space Marines live for hundreds of years, they spend decades in the 10th (Scout) company before they are allowed to become full Battle Brothers.

    The members of the 1st Company, the only Marines granted the privilege of wearing the few remaining suits of Tactical Dreadnaught (Terminator) Armour, are all veterans of centuries of conflict across the galaxy.

    The Space marines are a religious brotherhood – they sure as hell don’t have American drill sergeants ‘training’ them.

    The only good thing about modern 40k if you ask me is the back story – although it is simply a rip off of the past (as in real world history) it is still a very dark and interesting place. Just a shame they seem to be watering this down in recent times.

    However this game doesn’t appear to even loosely follow the back story at all.

    Very disappointed to be honest.

  38. Lightbulb says:

    Oh and Kieron – in answer to your question:

    I believe not but i think you have a proper copy of the rules so i guess this answer is moot now. :)

  39. Okami says:

    You know, you should really rename this site to RockPaperBolter.. There’s so much GW related news and discussion around here. Not that I’m complaining. I do not trust people who didn’t spend their teenage years getting high on citadel paint fumes…

  40. CdrJameson says:

    This looks almost exactly like the Atari ST version I wrote using STOS back in 1990.

    Crivens! that’s nearly twenty years ago.

  41. GibletHead2000 says:

    Ah, good times. I think I still have my original Space Hulk game up in the attic. Unfortunately, the kids aren’t quite old enough to play it yet… I’m still tempted to dust it off now though.

  42. Andy says:

    Umm… I’ve only searched through this article rather than reading every comment, but has no one heard of QSpaceHulk?

    It’s been out for years (in fact looking at the site it was last updated in 2004) and although I don’t recall it featuring a play-against-the-computer mode, it had pretty much everything else needed for a faithful reproduction of the board game, probably.

    http://r.vinot.free.fr/spacehulk/

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    Andy: Someone’s already mentioned it and, no, it doesn’t have a play against the computer mode.

    KG

  44. jaksoul says:

    Got loads of happy Space Hulk memories-got mildly addicted to the space hulk phone game-which was pretty dumbed down, but a good way to zone out of the northern line (and pretend I was Blood Angel)

    Battlecars would have been another ideal candidate for a conversion

  45. Rich Tysoe says:

    I’ve got the mobile phone game, but never worked out how to get the “FPS” mode it was supposed to have. the board game implentation seems pretty close for 2nd Ed.

  46. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    There’s rumours of a new edition of Space hulk(in board game form) due out this year sometime. Would be great If that was true.

  47. ShineDog says:

    Not the same, but possibly of interest if you like your old GW board games.

    http://www.fumbbl.com

    Its a fully functional online multiplayer league playing bloodbowl (one of GWs best ever games) in a java client, sanctioned by GW and with a mostly complete set of the bloodbowl living rulebook fourth edition.

    (GW has been releasing the rulebooks for its non core game for free on its specialist games site, BB is on its 5th edition while Fumbbl uses the 4th while the client is updated – personally i prefer 4th anyway)

    So yeah. Its free, its quick to play, its multiplayer, its really easy to use for a system of this, and since you are a huge pile of geeks, those who havent tried it would be well advised to do so, if you havent already.

    Note – there is another client out there that is much more basic and requires the player to do most stuff manually. OLBBL i think (unless they switched? not sure) Some people prefer this, but Fumbbl handles the dice rolling and the aftergame stuff for you and thats much easier.

  48. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    RARrrrrrr when will they make something like that for Necromunda? Necromunda is perfect computer game material. I think i’d just keel over and die from excitement if anyone mentioned a vague possibility of it happening, in any form or format. Even a PSP Puzzle game.

  49. ShineDog says:

    For a little indy project, i think something like necro would be difficult.

    You would also need a far more complicated engine because its not necromunda if it doesnt ivolve lots of verticle movement, and you need to display that and calculate LOS accuratley. along with all the free roaming movement.

    I personally want to see someone do a BFG game. because that would be immense.

  50. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Let’s face it. Ain’t nobody here doesn’t know what Terminator Armour’s really supposed to be called, and that’s just the way we like it.

    Never did play Space Hulk, though. … Am also not that interested, because I find the Space Marines really boring compared to the poor, downtrodden, shot-by-their-own-Commissars Imperial Guard. Who, by force of their name alone makes them sound like they’re an elite force of genetically super-soldiers, especially compared to Space Marines, whose plain ol’ name sounds like they’re a bunch of hopeless shmucks who need Sigourney Weaver’s help just to survive the night.

    The only reason I mention this is because Ripley’s picture is staring at me a couple tabs down my browser to the left.

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