I got the gorgeous 20th anniversary release of the Games Workshop classic Space Hulk. The first edition was a huge influence on my life-long interest in gaming, along with the one book I miss more than any other – Rogue Trader. I have now played five games of it and have to wonder why GW ever let it go out of print.
The rules are reset to their original format, although with the addition of the extra rules for new weapons and units (librarians, assault cannons, and so forth). Also from the first edition returns the hourglass, used to measure how much time the Space Marine player has to make his moves. I was worried whether the rules would hold up after all this time and plenty of evolution in board gaming. They hold up, going as far as making me wonder why did we let our games get as complex as they are these days. It may be a simple game, but it has plenty of depth and just the right amount of tactical thinking and risk. Games tend to be full of very close calls and epic moments of heroism and desperation, often just a single turn apart.
The rules are a curious mix of survival horror themed action gaming and unforgiving tactical thinking. The models can’t bypass each other on the tight corridors of the Space Hulk and the Terminators are so clumsy that turning around takes up half of their turn. Often you’ll need to knowingly leave your side or rear open to receive a bigger threat, or willingly sacrifice a Terminator to make way for the more important members of the squad. On the alien Genestealer player’s side, time is not a factor aside from usually playing into his claws. The Genestealer tactics are straightforward, but no less exciting for it. Playing as the Marines could be seen as the “hard” or “veteran” mode compared to the relatively easygoing Stealers, who have both numbers and time on their side.
The components are the best quality I’ve seen to date, absolutely wiping the floor with the competition. The cardboard is very heavy, debossed in a cool way to highlight details. The miniatures are some of the best I’ve seen in any context, although their artistic ambition sometimes gets in the way of actually playing the game, when the miniatures fall over each other in the heat of battle, with the Space Marine player sweating under his time limit. A few counters (which there are plenty of spares of, mind) have lost their topmost layer, being the actual printed information. It’s nothing a dab of glue won’t fix.
It’s still some of the most intense, short games (under an hour) you can find. The two-player setup can get old – at the office it would be nice to be able to play three or four way games – but on the other hand it really keeps things pure and simple, heightening the tension. It was an expensive game at 80€/$100, but a game purchase I am more happy with than anything else I can think of. Especially considering that the same amount of Space Marine Terminators alone would set you back more than the cover price for the whole box, if bought separately.