Why Space Hulk is one of the all time greats.
favourite game is probably Games Workshop's Space Hulk, which we
used to play incessantly, from when it came out in 1989. Space Hulk
is a game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe in which heavily armed
marines are pitted against savage insectoid aliens. The game is played
on a series of interlocking card sections, representing the corridors
of a space ship.
The marines had
to accomplish various missions under constant attack from a foe with
seemingly unlimited numbers. (Curiously like the film 'Aliens'). There
were two further expansion sets - Deathwing and Genestealer and a book
of campaign missions which also contained the rules for Marine vs. Marine
and in about 1994 Space Hulk Second Edition was released. It is currently
out of production but it was a popular game, so a lot of second hand
sets are still knocking about.
The most outstanding point of the rules is their simplicity. Experienced
players do not need to consult the rules during play because there are
so few that they can be remembered in their entirety after a few games,
including the numbers required on dice rolls. The ideal wargame should
be a blend of luck and skill, but a failing of many simple sets of rules
is that there is little opportunity to exercise tactics or experience,
making them largely a matter of luck. In Space Hulk, however, the simplicity
is appealing rather than shallow because the simple rules combine to create a complex
whole with a high proportion of skill. The experienced player will beat
a beginner every time.
Not many rules systems are sufficiently airtight to avoid competitions
degenerating into aggravated hair splitting, but another bonus is that
Space Hulk can be played competitively without the need for an umpire.
The grid based board means that there can be no arguable ambiguities
due to measurement and the simple rules have little room for conflicting
or ambiguous items.
Space Hulk also contains a couple of innovative twists. The marine
player has only a limited amount of time to complete his turn which
adds an element of the 'Aliens' style tension. The army lists in the
'Deathwing' expansion had an option to reduce the time per turn to save
points which could be spent on more troops, allowing the Marine player
to gamble on his swift decision making.
Bluff and Counter bluff
The Command Point system was also excellent. A marine player secretly
rolled a number at the beginning of the turn which is kept secret till
the end of the turn. These points can either be used for additional
actions in the marine turn, or they can be reserved till the enemy turn,
when they can be used to react to enemy actions. As well as the tactical
decision of blowing them all on fast movement or holding them back for
defensive fire, this also introduces an element of bluff and surprise.
If you have low command points, you might manoeuvre aggressively, even
using a couple on fairly trivial moves to trick the other player into
assuming you have lots and holding off his attack.
A silver cloud's black lining
Every rose has its thorn and this includes even Space Hulk. The psychic
rules brought in with Genestealer grossly unbalanced the game, because
a single psychic was generally worth more than all the non-psychic troops
in the force put together. The former undisputed king of Marine vs.
Marine games was the Assault Cannon, but even this fearsome weapon was
largely useless against even the lowest rank of psyker. Unfortunately
all but one of the campaigns in the Space Hulk Campaigns book make heavy
use of psykers, so if like us you never use them, the missions require
Although the Second Edition rules were largely identical, they made
a critical change to the Command Point system, that they were no longer
allowed to be used in the enemy turn. At a stroke much of the strategic
complexity was wiped out, and command points became merely a random
action point bonus. The flamer rules were also changed, and although
this made them less abstract, the difference between the standard weapons
and the area effect flamer was reduced. The board sections and plastic
Terminators looked far superior to the First Edition, but the rules
tweaks ruined it. Use the playing pieces from it, but stick to the old
My favourite type of Space Hulk game is probably a simple three way
Marine vs. Marine skirmish, in which three equal forces of marines are
pitted against each other, but all the different types of mission play
very well indeed. Being the alien player leaves less tactical options,
but it's so satisfying when the first alien breaks through the barrage
of fire and dismantles a marine.
Scour the bring-and-buy and get yourself a copy.
Please note that almost every proper noun in the text above is
a Trademark of Games Workshop. No challenge is intended.