TABLE GAMES REVIEW: Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

International Tabletop Day on Saturday 5th April is nearly here and as part of our 7 reviews in 7 days we put on our armour to do battle in Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game .

What does the box say?

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a co-operative card game set in the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000. Players must work together as an alien menace threatens to devour their hopes of survival.

Genestealers have infested a remote Space Hulk called Sin of Damnation and a small squad of Space Marines has been sent to purge this alien threat. The odds are overwhelming and survival is unlikely. It is a bleak undertaking.

Enter the Blood Angels.

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Intro
Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, players control combat teams of two Space Marines with different, but complementary, abilities. Working together, the players must survive wave after wave of enemies. If you don’t all work together, everyone will die and the Genestealers will spread throughout the universe, wiping out all other life. The stakes are high and the setting is decidedly bleak.

Based on the ever-popular but rarely in-print Space Hulk, this release from Fantasy Flight Games has evolved from simplified wargame to cooperative card game. Cards and tokens have taken the place of tiles and miniatures in a game where players work together as a squad of Marines fighting against automatically controlled alien aggressors.

Fantasy Flight have taken this approach before, converting established systems into card games with sleeker, more elegant mechanics. For those unfamiliar with WH40K, Genestealers or Space Marines, imagine “Aliens: The  Card Game” and you won’t be too far off.

Components
Cards represent all the game characters, locations, events and actions, while custom dice are provided for combat resolution.

Location cards are used to represent the rooms and corridors that the squads move through, and to indicate the position of Marines, Genestealers and various pieces of equipment or scenario-specific items. Positioning is a tactically vital part of the game and is incorporated into the design of the components themselves. This approach to physical layout supports players’ decision-making and avoids the level of abstraction that was sometimes the downfall of a previous generation of games.

As is now expected from Fantasy Flight, the quality of the game components is high, but (also as expected) the layout of the rulebook could use some work. It’s not a complex game, but it’s worth familiarising yourself with the book before you begin or there will be a lot of flicking back and forth trying to find out how certain rules apply in certain situations as you start to bring combinations of actions, special abilities and weapons into tactical play.

It is worth noting that the squad types are identified by colour, and there has been some criticism of this online from players who have problems with colour vision. There is squad text on the cards as well, of course, but not being able to instantly see the colour patterns may mean some of the immediacy and game atmosphere is lost. If this is something that is of concern to you when thinking about buying the game then we would suggest having a look at some of the online videos of games in progress to assess whether or not it would impact your experience.

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Gameplay/Mechanics
The setup and game flow are fairly simple once you have played a couple of rounds, and are unlikely to overwhelm new players. Players choose from six different combat teams, consisting of two Space Marines, each of which has a different ability that can be used in certain conditions as well as personal and weapon stats. Each squad has its own “Action” cards, which are given to the controlling player and will be used to issue orders in the “Choose Actions” phase.

You will need to have tactical flexibility in order to respond to what the game throws at you, so the choice of which squads to take on a mission should also be a team decision. There is little point in everyone taking characters with the same kind of skills.

During the “Choose Actions” phase, each player must secretly determine which of the following Action cards they wish to play on their Space Marines: “Support”, “Attack”, or “Move and Activate”. You can’t pick the same Action card next round, so choose wisely. You will need to take weapons, initiative, special abilities and any location conditions into account when issuing orders. You need a good mixture of active and support actions in play each round or your squad will fall.

In light of this, we found that the “secret” aspect of issuing orders a bit strange in a co-operative game, leading to occasional frustration. The same approach was taken by FFG in Gears of War, with the intent of preventing more argumentative players from dictating the flow of play – but in real terms it offers little but minor inconvenience.

Actions are taken in strict order, dependent on the cards selected, while attacks are resolved using the specialist dice included with the game. The number of dice rolled depends on weapon and abilities, with a Genestealer being killed for every skull result rolled. Moving allows you to change your position and facing. This is important as your attacks have a limited range and you can only affect targets in front of you.

Support actions grant you a reroll token to place on any marine, which can be used when attacking or defending. Action cards also have special rules, allowing each squad to have its own unique flavour. Consistent success will rely on players using their squads effectively.

After player actions are resolved, the Genestealer swarm makes its attacks. Again, the dice mechanics are simple. If the roll is less than or equal to the number of Genestealers in that swarm then the Space Marine will be hit.

Finally, a random event card is drawn and resolved. Some events are helpful to the marines and some to the Genestealers, providing another random element to the game. This unpredictability is balanced against the Space Marines’ ability to use target prioritisation and manoeuvring to maintain situational control, but essentially the Death Angel boils down to the players competing with the unfavourable mathematics of the system.

When the proper conditions have been met, generally on elimination of all Genestealers in a location, the next location card is revealed and terrain laid out accordingly. If the Marines have fought their way to the final location, they must achieve their ultimate mission objective to win.

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Feel and Atmosphere
Despite the simplicity of the mechanics,  Death Angel can become surprisingly tactical as you position your Marines for attack and defence. It’s also crucial to plan actions for the next turn, considering how abilities will stack, or you can quickly find yourself unable to take a useful action and be overrun.

Once the game gets going, and you no longer have to consult the rulebook,  tension can mount as the atmosphere grows increasingly desperate and exciting. However, it is worth knowing that you may not hit that sweet spot right away, even as an experienced gamer.

The pace of the game fluctuates from simple, quick turns of deployment and rearming to frantic combat.  Play time varies depending on player numbers, experience and what happens in-game, but  sixty minutes seems about average once everyone is familiar with the rules.

We have only played the game with two players, but reports are that  it works well as both a single player and multi-player experience, scaling well from anywhere between 1 and 6 players (8 with expansions). It is not necessary to have any background knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe to play this game, as it is entirely self-contained.

If all Space Marines perish, the players collectively lose. Conversely, if at least one of the surviving Space Marines completes the objective, the players all win! This is a very different way of playing, and if all the Marines that one player controllers are killed very early on it may be an idea to divide up who remains, particularly if there are only two of you playing, or you could find one person playing a solo game against the alien deck with one or more observers.

Comparisons with Space Hulk
Although the play sequence is quite simple compared to previous miniatures-based versions, it still allows for a lot of variation and tactics. The game can be quite punishing, but it certainly does encapsulate the danger and claustrophobia that the original Space Hulk board game conjured up, without the need for the artificial constraint of time limits for turns. The action resolution mechanics keep all players involved at all times, minimising the “you-go-I-go” syndrome, while the overwhelming odds mean that you must work together to survive.

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Pros and cons

Pros

  • Collaborative play is really the heart of the game, not just an afterthought where multiple players are playing “side-by-side” rather than together.
  • High-quality game components, both in material and design.
  • Good evocation of the Warhammer 40K universe. WH40K players will be pleased to see most of the expected Space Marine weaponry and character types in play.
  • Straight-forward mechanics with a reasonable  amount of depth, variety and strategy to gameplay.
  • Significant re-playability due to the mechanics of terrain, spawning, location and event cards.
  • Expansions available with new squads, enemies, weapons and locations. 

Cons

  • Rulebook layout, logic and sequence can make it hard to get to grips with the base rules at first.
  • The potential for tactical play only really reveals itself over time. Success generally hinges on minimising the effects of the crushing mathematics of the system.
  • Difficulty might be off-putting to new players. Small mistakes can easily have game-ending consequences, and even solid play is not always rewarded with victory.

GS RATING: 3/5

For more board game reviews on Geek Syndicate go HERE

Source: Space Hulk: Death Angel
Reporters: CY DETHAN AND NIC WILKINSON

 

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One comment

  1. I agree with much of your review. I like the game, and being essentaially a couple of card desk, a few tokens, and one die, it is very portable. Like you wrote, one weakness is the poorly written manual that will have newbie players flipping back and forth to figure out the next step.

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