Monday, 6 April 2015

Space Hulk: First Edition - Bank Holiday Gaming

Well over here in sunny old England its the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, which essentially means extra time for gaming!! After a lovely weekend with the other half she kindly agreed to play a few games of 'little men' with me!

Always keen to take up such a kind offer I quickly scurried off to the man-cave to set something up. For a variety of reasons I wasn't really in the mood to set up all the scenery and construct the army lists required for a game of Second Edition 40k and so I looked around for something a bit easier to just 'pick up and play'.

A quick perusal of my shelves yielded this:

The iconic artwork on this box is timeless and still rates among one of the best cover images ever produced by GW. Young Legio spent many an hour gazing adoringly at those bold red terminators slaying the purple and blue 'stealers!
Now 1989 was a very important year in the history of mankind; the Cold War and the associated threat of nuclear apocalypse effectively ended with the shattering of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. The first commercial based internet service providers went live heralding a new age of technology and the election of FW DeClerk in South Africa really began the end of apartheid! However despite all these major events most experts agree that one thing above all was of even greater import...

Games Workshop released the first edition of Space Hulk, an absolute master-piece of a wargame/board game hybrid (hybrid - get it??). This extravaganza of retro goodness was penned by Richard Halliwell and involved heavily armed Space Marines clearing an assortment of deserted corridors of vicious-looking, Geiger-esque aliens. Many people said this concept was remarkably similar to a certain 1986 film...but I can't really work out which one...

'Hey Vasquez...Have you ever been mistaken for an Astartes?'
The game was based in GW's already popular Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader universe and was great fun. The boxed set was very well produced and contained everything you needed to start playing including rules, board and miniatures. In fact it was so good that it was awarded the 'Origins 1989 Award for Top Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game', and its subsequent expansion Deathwing won the same prize a year later.

With this stunning set of credentials and the fact it takes merely a few minutes to set up it was clearly a no-brainer that this would be a fun way to spend a few hours over the weekend, and so I quickly opened the battered 26 year old box and dug in!

As per many of the games GW released in this period the rules come in the form of A4 black and white booklets, which were apparently designed to have the pages cut out and stored in ring binders (there's even markers to help guide your hole punch and a 'SPACE HULK' card spine to slot into your ring binder)

Helpfully the booklet labelled 'Rules' contains the rules whilst the other one contains...well...the background and missions! Simples!!
Historically I have been a bit of a child when playing this game and always insisted on being the Space Marines, however I have since realised that nobody really likes playing with a douche bag and so this time I took the decision to let my partner play as the Astartes and that I would command the filthy she loves both Terminators and heavy flamers this suited her perfectly.

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple and revolve around Action Points (APs) which need to be expended to do certain things. As Genestealers are a lot more agile they have 6 Action Points each turn whilst Marines only have 4 Action Points. Additionally certain activities require more APs for a Terminator to complete than they do for a Genestealer which again reflects the difficulty of moving around in a giant suit of ceramite armour. A slight tactical twist in the game is that at the beginning of each turn the Space Marine player can draw a random number of Command Points (CPs) ranging from 1-6 and these can be used as additional APs that can be allocated to any of her troops, these are hidden from the Genestealer player and so cause an air of trepidation in any planning on their part.

The assorted missions in the game  are designed to be played as part of a sequential campaign and as such they become progressively more complex as you go on; therefore it made sense to start with Mission One; the appropriately named Suicide Mission.

An excellent map diagram coupled with very clear instructions: Perfect!
So the objective of this mission is simply for the Space Marine player to get her Heavy Flamer model to the target room and torch it! What could be simpler?

The forces: Terminator Squad Sanchez consisting of 1 Sgt with Power Sword, 3 Terminators with Storm Bolters and 1 with a Heavy Flamer. Behind them is the horde of 22 (painted) genestealers.
Initial board set-up as per the diagram.
The Terminators line up for a Space Hulk Conga through the ship...
But quickly this formation starts to break up in order to cover all access ways and prevent any genestealer incursions
As the Terminators move onward through the ship their motion trackers start to beep incessantly as luminous green blips mark out the position of potential foes on their HUDs.
It's not long before these blips enter line of sight and are flipped over to reveal the presence of enemy lifeforms
However the initial enemy forces are easily slain by the sheer power of the Astartes long range weapons systems
But this supremacy is short-lived and as the number of aliens on the table gradually increases it is inevitable that the noble Space Marines will start to take casualties.
Nonetheless the Emperor's finest remain stoic and the sheer power of the heavy flamer is ably demonstrated as an entire corridor is swept clean of alien filth.
Things begin to get increasingly tense as the last bolter marine is slain and the remaining blips close in on the sole survivor, namely  the vital heavy flamer marine....
However the Emperor is with him, and grants him 6 Command Points in the final turn...these allow him to dash to the objective and hose it with fire! Burn, baby burn.
Overall the first mission was great fun and provided an excellent introduction to the rules and mechanics without being too complicated. Technically the marine player is only supposed to have a limited amount of time to complete their turn (which decreases by a further 30 seconds if the sergeant dies), however we suspended this rule in order to avoid confusion whilst we became au fait with the basic mechanics; I would strongly suggest that any other beginners out there do the same.

I have to admit that my girlfriend played a fantastic game and her lucky allocation of 6 CP's in the final turn allowed her to sprint away from the alien threat and achieve her mission! Top stuff, very cinematic.

Next up Mission 2: Extermination. In this mission the Space Marines have been cut off from the bulk of their forces and have realised that they are going to die what ever happens. With this fatalistic attitude in mind their sole objective is now to kill as many of the xenomorphs as they can before the inevitable happens:
'You always were an asshole Gorman'
In order to achieve victory the participants in this heroic last stand are required to slay a minimum of 30 aliens before the last of them is reunited with Rogal Dorn in death. Challenging, but not impossible and I'm guessing that the Heavy Flamer will really prove its worth in this scenario as it has the potential to burn multitudes of the foe with each shot.

A much more complicated board forms the setting for this mission and this consisted of a vast layout that was almost too big for my games table!
The Terminators begin the game isolated with one model in each room and entirely cut off from their squad mates. However my girlfriend quickly realised that there was strength in numbers and so the Marines moved to link up with each other as soon as possible.
Realising that the Heavy Flamer was a vital piece of hardware she quickly maneuvered it into to a position where it could do the most damage. 
Whilst the Space Marines took their time to link up with each other the genestealers exploited this delay and began to build up their strength whilst waiting for the opportunity to surge forwards and rend the Astartes to pieces of flesh and armour.
'They're coming out of the God-damn walls!' Stealers and blips everywhere!
Space Marine Terminators nervously rack their stormbolters and prepare to dispense the Emperor's judgement!
However whilst their mass-reactive rounds shredded the chitinous bodies of many a foe there were just too many of the aliens. Soon the smoking bolters had jammed and the xenos were able to close the gap... in the furious melee that followed the Terminators stood little chance and their screams filled the dank corridors of the Space Hulk as razor sharp claws slew all but one marine...
...Luckily that surviving marine was wielding a heavy flamer which he then used to purge the corridors of the encroaching genestealers, buying himself time to barricade himself in a nearby room.
However his refuge was short-lived and soon the hideous forms of purestrain genestealers were again converging on his position.
Despite the potency of his flamer his luck couldn't hold out forever and soon he was eviscerated by a blue and purple monster!
The second mission was even more fun than the first, and there were some really tense moments as lone Terminators cautiously traversed the dark corridors desperately trying to link in with their stranded brothers. It was inevitable that the Marines would all perish in a suitably horrific manner, but the question remained...had they achieved their goal of slaying 30 genestealers?

Well a quick tally revealed that these noble scions of the Crimson Fists Chapter had managed to kill 53 xenos, nearly double their original target. Whilst they may have died to a man for the Emperor they had achieved a Pyrrhic victory and their sacrifice would long be remembered by the sons of Rynn's World. 

Finally we decided to play through the third mission in the campaign booklet: Rescue
In this mission the Marines have been sent to retrieve a C.A.T. (Cyber-Altered Task unit - not a meow meow, much to my girlfriend's disappointment) from the Space Hulk and return it to the landing boats so that the Astartes Commanders can analyse it for intelligence. Again a fairly simple mission but just look at that map...that's a long way to go, and there are a lot of genestealer entry points!

However to make things a little easier in this mission the Marine player has two squads of Terminators to achieve their goal with: Meet Squad Gonzalez and Squad Rodriguez...Ave Imperator Rex
Again another big board that only just about squeezed onto my table! The two Marine squads start the game entering from different entry points. One marine in the far squad is already carrying the C.A.T.
Having learned from previous encounters the Astartes are quick to make progress through the Hulk, leaving battle brothers at key junctions to secure potential access points as they go.
The Marine squads split their manpower in order to cover as many lanes of fire as they can...but will it be enough?
Within moments individual Astartes warriors begin to find themselves surrounded by legions of alien scum.
Luckily the mighty storm bolter proves to be powerful enough to take care of even the most stalwart of foes (though apparently this confidence isn't shared by the flamer marine who decides to leg it and leave his sergeant to it!)
...before returning later with his tail between his legs.
Once again the all-consuming power of fire proves its worth as room after room is cleansed of the enemy's taint.
In a short while the two squads of Marines have linked up in the hope of providing an impenetrable wall of ceramite to cover the C.A.T's egress from the Hulk
But the aliens are not stupid and they use this opportunity to move into the Astartes rear-ward lines...
Quickly slaying those Marines who have been left behind to secure the exit route.
With casualties mounting and their escape route compromised the Marines know that they must move quickly if they are to escape with their prize
So all efforts are now focused on re-securing their route out. 
However the aliens move to envelop the Imperial forces in a pincer movement and soon the Marines begin taking heavy casualties on both sides.
With another build up of enemy numbers the Marine player starts using her flamer as an area-denial weapon, setting the corridor on fire in order to impede genestealer movement options.
Before subsequently using it to clear an entire corridor of aliens...
With only the C.A.T. Marine left in play and multiple 'stealers on the table I thought I had the game in the bag, however once again the Emperor smiled on the Imperials and blessed them with enough CP's to enable a successful sprint off the table edge!! Aggghhhh foiled again!
Well that was another nail-biting mission with loads of twists and turns, there were numerous points where I could literally taste victory as my alien hordes moved in for the kill. But at every opportunity I was narrowly beaten, whether it be by the horrifically accurate swathes of overwatch fire or sheer power of the flamer templates.

Nonetheless it was a well deserved Marine victory and though nine out of ten first company veterans lay slain, their geneseed rotting in their irreplaceable armour the C.A.T. was successfully rescued from the ship!! Good job Astartes!

What an absolutely great weekend of gaming that was, we both thoroughly enjoyed it and I was sad to be packing my models away by the end of it. Space Hulk is an absolutely great game, the rules are so simple you can pick them up really quickly, but the game and tactics are actually fairly complex and reward astute strategic planning far more than sheer bloody minded dice rolling!

I had forgotten just how fun this game was and why so many of my weekends were spent playing it back in the very early 1990's. Now that I have played it again I shall definitely be looking to get it out more frequently and my loving partner has already agreed to play missions 4-6 with me in the very near future! Hooray.

I am lucky in that I already own the two expansions (Deathwing and Genestealer) so I can really expand on the basic game once we are happy with the rules, and by sheer luck I went on eBay this evening and picked up a copy of the long out of print Space Hulk Campaigns book for £20 in an auction, this is a real bargain as it never sells for less than £55-90 when it appears at a 'Buy it now' price.

Overall a very good weekend!!

I shall of course update you with any future forays into the exciting world of Space Hulk!!


  1. Woooo! So cool! I never got to play the game :(
    I have the third ed at home, but still no luck, really need to do something about it!

  2. It is an absolutely awesome game. Second edition wasn't great but I have a mint copy of third and it seems to be very similar to first! You should definitely get it out and have a play!!

  3. Such a great game. I'm amazed to see a victory by the marines in the CAT mission - from what I remember it was almost impossible for the marines to link up - generally they would be solidly slammed at that point by a horde of genestealers coming down the double corridor in the middle of the map. One of the only winning strategies was to lurk in the nearby room, wait for good command points and then have a marine belt down the corridor with the CAT, before a waiting flamer marine sealed the section behind him.

    By the way, are you sure you are using the flamer correctly, in the picture labelled "With another build up of enemy numbers.." the flamer appears to advance to the corner before blasting the whole line of blips, but the first blip is already in the same section as the flamer, so I don't think he would be able to fire. I think 2nd edition had completely different flamer rules where individual squares were hit.

    1. I presumed it was the whole section in front of the marine as opposed to him as well!! Hmmmm I did think the flamer seemed a tad overpowered! I might review that!!

  4. Great stuff; really awesome!


    1. Cheers mate! I'm glad you liked it! It's great to get a bit of Space Hulk was the game that introduced me to the hobby!!

  5. Space Hulk is one of my favourite games of all time. Love it. Got all the editions of it, but missed out of the 1st Edition expansions. Looking forward to your forays in those dark corridors.

    1. It is definitely one of the best games GW has ever released, I have great memories of it and it has aged really well. I was reading through the Deathwing expansion last night and it seems pretty cool, ( the narrative by William king is awesome) so I think I'll be gaining this a go! Might even paint up some white terminators for it!

  6. I know I'm a little late to the party here...but I've just started my quest to assemble a complete set of 1st ed Space hulk rules and figures and these AARs are wonderful inspiration...and serve to confirm my drive to pull this game together. As a father of two and a gamer whose friends are also full employed and have little time to play this seems a perfect game for evening adventures! thanks!

    1. Cheers Blue! I'm glad you're enjoying them and even happier that they're serving as an inspiration.

      This game is perfect for your needs. It requires limited models and much less time than a 'normal' game to set up and play. Sometimes when I fancy a game but can't face setting up a huge battlefield and opposing forces this little gem hits the gaming spot!