Space Hulk, an accessible miniatures game/Aliens ripoff set in the universe of the far more complex Warhammer 40K, was a gateway to the world of tabletop and miniature gaming for me. Along with Escape! 404 it was one of my all-time favourite games, and still is. I didn’t have the money or maths skills required to put together and play a 40K or Warhammer army but I was entranced by the grimdark world I found in the rulebooks and codices for those games. For my twelve-year-old self, the 40K and Space Hulk universe was an intoxicating mix of the titillating and the recognisable. It was both edgy and safe.
The game itself is an excellent microcosm of the gritty universe in which it is set. The artwork is strong and evokes the “oil and incense” atmosphere of the Monastery-Starships of the Imperium of Man. The Genestealer models were exceptional and remain unmatched to this day. The same cannot be said of my Space Marines, which looked like hamsters. Their quality on the board, however, depended on your skill as a painter.
I always played Space Marines, facing off against the horrifying Genestealers. Each side faces different restrictions and has different advantages. The Space Marines are limited in number and slow, facing harsh real-world time restrictions for their activities, but have powerful weapons and a wide array of tactics available to them. The genestealers are limitless in number and do not face time restrictions as they are so much faster than their opponents but are somewhat vulnerable to Space Marine weaponry and have a smaller pool of tactics to work from.
Dice rolls determine the course of fate, but the system was fair and pliant to skill. The player never feels as though the outcome is random but that their actions bring about consequences. This is a major plus in a board game.
Unfortunately, the 1st Edition is ultimately a broken mess on the rules side and it’s very easy for players to find themselves outside the rules or smashing up against a brick wall of rules inappropriate to the board in play.
The Genestealers expansion was more of the same, and very welcome. Variety was added to the scenarios and the ruleset, though in the case of the ruleset this caused yet more breakage and confusing bloat within game systems. For a game that was, at heart, a simplification of 40K combat, complexity ended up becoming a high barrier that Space Hulk didn’t overcome until the 3rd Edition.