September 10, 2014 by dracs
Space Hulk is, arguably, one of the most popular board games of the past three decades. It has gone through three versions since it first appeared, helped to influence the main game of 40k and has a special place on the shelf for many gamers. With the new version just around the corner, we thought we’d step in the Beasts of War TARDIS and go back in time to see just how this classic has come along.
First published in 1989, two years after Warhammer 40,000 first came into being, Space Hulk brought gamers a simplified form of the Games Workshop miniatures in a board game format. As opposed to the grand, sweeping conflicts of Warhammer 40,000, Space Hulk placed players in the claustrophobic confines of a Space Hulk derelict, with one player taking command of ten Space Marine Terminators (in their first gaming appearance) and the other the endless tide of Tyranid Genestealers.
The game drew upon films like Alien to create an atmospheric gaming experience, making use of hidden play elements with the Genestealers initially being represented by blips to help instill tension. Space Hulk’s simple play style was much praised and it won the 1989 Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game.
The following year saw two expansions added to the game. The first of these, Deathwing, let players take on the role of the Dark Angels now famous first company.
This expansion brought in much more than a simple paint change, providing rules to allow solo play, as well as multi-level environments, adding a new dimension to Space Hulk with the inclusion of ladders and pit falls. Most excitingly, Deathwing also saw the introduction of new special weapon options, such as power swords and grenade launchers, and the appearance of Librarian and Captain. Not only did this revitalise the simple game play, but it also helped give the game a new sense of narrative depth and character.
After Deathwing came the Genestealer expansion, bringing all manner of psychic carnage to game.
This expansion introduced the Grey Knights to the game, as five librarians with force halberds go up against what has to be one of my favourite parts of Warhammer 40k lore, a Genestealer Cult and its hybrid forces. Now you’re up against Genestealers with guns!
Genestealers introduced a complex psychic system using 44 psychic combat cards to represent their power. This added an interesting new tactical challenge to the game, and the fact you were now facing Genestealer hybrids mixed it up from the endless wave of bloodthirsty aliens that had come before.
Various campaign and expansion rules were later published in White Dwarf and compiled together. Rules are available letting players field forces of Eldar, Eldar Harlequins, Traitor Marines and Imperial Guard. Later Games Workshop board games would draw heavily upon the Space Hulk formula, with Space Crusade and Tyranid Attack both featuring similar elements. However, players would have to wait until 1996 for a new edition of Space Hulk.
The second edition of Space Hulk featured revamped artwork on the tile sections and new sculpts for the miniatures, with the terminators now split into two five man teams, complete with assorted weaponry, each led by a sergeant.
This new edition also saw a number of changes to the rules from the first edition. Space Marine players could no longer use their action points during the Genestealers go, while the sand timer which had been used to limit turn time in the previous edition was done away with completely.
Changes like these reduced the game’s tactical complexity, making it even more accessible to new players. However, many reportedly preferred the challenge of the first edition game, viewing second edition Space Hulk as suffering from something of a dumbing down of the rules.
Unlike its predecessor, the second edition of Space Hulk didn’t receive any cool expansion, although new scenarios and rules were published in White Dwarf, letting players use Wolf Guard Terminators and even introducing air ducts to the games.
Unfortunately, fans were in for an even longer wait for the third edition, which wouldn’t see the light of day until 2009.
Produced as a limited release, Games Workshop sold out of this new board game three days before it had even been released! The game went back to the first edition rules, with only a few changes, such as the addition of “on guard” actions, the equivalent of a close combat overwatch for the marines. It went on to win another Origins Award, as well as a Golden Geek award, and was nominated for a number of others as well.
What really marked this game out was the increase in the level of production from its predecessors, featuring, in my opinion, some of the best game pieces of any board game, and even of Games Workshop miniatures in general.
With sculpts like these, it is no wonder I still occasionally see them pop up as part of people’s armies. Each of the Terminators was also assigned their own identity, once again adding to the narrative feel of the game and bringing in an extra level of investment as you tried desperately to keep your Terminators alive.
It was just a shame that this game was a limited edition release, meaning that instead of a new gateway board game supplemented with interesting and imaginative expansions, it proved to be a purely collector’s piece.
Over the years, Space Hulk has maintained a strong following among gamers. It has been turned into a card game by Fantasy Flight Games, a number of different video games, and let’s not forget, a cartoon by FlashGitz.
All three of these different versions of Space Hulk can now fetch as much as £100 on eBay, with an unused copy of the third edition set fetching a whopping £260 on Amazon.
It has taken a long time for Space Hulk to once again return to our gaming tables. Although it looks as if this new one is essentially a reprint of the third edition, it is still a welcome sight. Personally, digging through its past has left me really wanting to try out the previous editions to see how they hold up, especially using some of the rules for other races and the Genestealer Cult. I can but hope that Games Workshop will continue to support the game after the initial release.
Which version of Space Hulk is your favourite? For that matter, which Games Workshop board game are you most fond of?
All images used from BoardGameGeek