Publisher:Games Workshop Price (as reviewed): Second-hand only, approximately £100/$160 from eBay Players: 2
Space Hulk is a fast-paced tactical board game for two players, and it's based in the same universe as the ever-popular Warhammer 40,000 (40K) tabletop war game and its Dawn of War PC spin-offs. Mercifully it’s a far simpler proposition than 40K, and requires far less time to set up and play. If you always liked the 40K setting, but didn’t want to tackle the big rulebooks, army lists and modelling - then Space Hulk should be just the thing. The game is also highly regarded among board- and war-gaming circles alike, as it bridges the two camps.
The first edition of Space Hulk was released way back in 1989, and proved instantly popular. A second edition was released in 1996, but certain key rules were removed and the whole thing felt dumbed-down. Meanwhile, video game iterations came from EA in 1993 and 1996 - called simply Space Hulk and Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels. Both combine turn-based action with first-person shooting to good effect, although they were criticised for being too difficult and too hard to get to grips with.
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The current, third edition of the game, which we’re looking at here, was released as a limited edition run in 2009. It returns to the first-edition rules with a couple of minor tweaks in the space marine player’s favour, plus it includes some of the best additional rules from earlier expansions. It sold out within a week of release and has been out-of-print ever since, hence the need to resort to eBay should you wish to pick up a copy.
The setting of the game is a gigantic derelict spaceship - the titular space hulk - that has just appeared out of warp space and which is now threatening human settlements of the Empire. The hulk is made up of thousands of ancient vessels and could contain great scientific and technological treasures. However, it’s infested by an alien race known as Tyranid genestealers, and they don’t take kindly to visitors.
The genestealers are incredibly fast and armed with razor-sharp claws; though they lack ranged weapons the close quarters of the hulk makes an ideal hunting ground. Although undoubtedly influenced by the Alien movies, the ‘stealers may lack originality, but they’re no less deadly for it.
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Arrayed against them are humanity's greatest warriors - space marines equipped with huge terminator-class armour, which have been sent in to investigate the hulk and reclaim its booty for the glorious Imperium of Man. The average terminator marine carries a rapid-fire storm bolter in one hand, while the other is encased in a deadly mechanised powerfist; a weapon capable of smashing through ‘stealers and armoured doors alike. Special weapons available to the marines also include flamethrowers, mini-guns and a range of hand-to-hand implements.
The space marine player has just one or two squads, with five members per squad, and no reinforcements available, while the other player controls a practically unlimited number of genestealers. Each turn he secretly draws two radar ‘blips’, each representing between one and three genestealers. These can enter play from numerous points and then be moved, unrevealed, to threaten the marines. The terminator player doesn’t know precisely how many genestealers each token represents until they enter their line-of-sight.