Played from the perspective of either the Space Marines – the Blood Angel Chapter – or a brood of Genestealers, Space Hulk Tactics is a new take on the awesome board game that has received not only numerous tabletop editions, but also several digital versions to satisfy an ever-growing fan base.
Space Hulk Tactics stays true to its tabletop roots rather than going all out FPS – see Space Hulk Deathwing – with the action played out in first and/or third person perspectives. The game also takes place over a series of turns, which are limited in number to prevent either side from hunkering down and defending an area – unless the objective demands you do just that.
Essentially Tactics is another Space Hulk story – a Space Marine Chapter in search of hidden treasures, lore and/or fallen brothers embarks onto the mass tangle of ships that make up a Space Hulk to battle the vicious Genestealer horde, escaping with their prize(s) – and their lives. The game has always been brutal whether you are playing the card game, tabletop or any of the digital iterations. Tactics however is far from brutal, on occasion the going does get tough but death isn’t permanent.
This may come as a huge plus to those that are put off by permadeath – there is nothing worse than leveling a character over a series of missions only for them to have their eyes clawed out by a savage Genestealer attack – but with death only as a mere setback, it sure does make the game easier and eliminates any tension and brutality that Space Hulk is renowned for. It does however give players an additional tactic to exploit. Much like Pawns in Chess, you can manipulate a Genestealer attack by sacrificing team members, safe in the knowledge that they will live to fight another day after becoming overwhelmed.
Now the ‘Tactics’ part of the title… a hand of cards can be used to bolster moves and plays or converted into additional AP that can prolong a team’s turn – AP dictate how far you can move and how many times you can shoot or interact with something. Should you decide to play a card, command points must be used to activate its ability – 1 command point is awarded per turn. It’s a neat twist on the classic turn-based Space Hulk gameplay and used correctly, can really turn the tides of battle. It also makes predicting an enemy’s move far harder as you can never be too sure when or what they will play from their hand.
Progression is a real incentive during the campaign – unlocking better gear, abilities and perks. After each mission you can use what you have learnt to improve your team and give yourself a better chance of getting good cards. It’s a neat touch that gives you a reason to explore every nook of the Space Hulk map rather than beeline for the final objective area.
Like most Warhammer games there is plenty going on with multiple rule sets and dice rolls. Warhammer games can often be overwhelming, but Tactics does well to hold your hand, negating the need for a large codex that is often at the side of a tabletop game, ready to be dipped into when a particular rule or move is needed to be referred to. Should you want to know about these, each weapon has a wealth of information to be studied, but you needn’t worry about remembering it all, pretty much all information can be whitewashed allowing you to purely focus on each mission rather than what’s going on behind the scenes.
Despite a ’story’ linking the missions together, there is little to connect you to the world of Tactics. The story is delivered via a series of comm links with oddly placed cutscenes. The game also advises you play as the Blood Angels first, although if you choose Genestealers, you not only get a more enjoyable campaign, but it doubles up as an excellent prequel to the Blood Angel campaign. The Genestealer campaign is also the game’s biggest accolade and a first for video game adaptations. Not only do you need to mix up tactics, but also it’s unusually good fun to try and outmaneuver the heavily armored Terminators and blindside them into deadly melee combat.
During the Genestealer campaign you take on the other better known Space Marine Chapters, each of which are playable during Skirmish mode. Each Chapter has their own skills and weapons; it’s here that Genestealer players get the bum hand. While there are several types of Genestealer – including a Brood Lord – the Tyranids are entirely absent, which would have made a welcome and new addition to Space Hulk.
Despite mixing things up with a hand of cards, there just isn’t enough to breath life into the old ceramic boots of Space Hulk. You plod through a series of corridors, set your troops to cover one another and make your way to an objective. There is little more to the game than this other than getting one huge dose of Space Hulk nostalgia.
Rather than focus all their efforts on an accurate recreation, it’s a shame that more wasn’t made of the card system or any other opportunities to enrich the game – split level maps, new weapons, new Xeno strains – the direction they could have taken Tactics in is endless. I appreciate the authenticity of the game, but that’s been done to death over the years. Without any bells and whistles, at times I have to admit to falling victim to a feeling of boredom, taking undue risks just to spice things up.
After playing numerous digital iterations over the years Space Hulk really is best played on the tabletop – if that isn’t possible or you stupidly sold your copy of the game then definitely pick up Tactics.
For those looking to experience the game for the first time, find someone who has a physical board game and play it properly first!