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“Operation Red Nose”: the HFC Game Meeting March 2011

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on April 5, 2011

"Operation Red Nose" - 4 days of eating, drinking, and non-stop gaming!

This years’ HFC & Friends Game Meeting was again held around the days that are known in Germany as ‘Karneval’ or ‘Fasnacht’ and which is a time when folks start wearing silly costumes, drinking a lot and dancing to a very weird form of music 😉

Since we don’t belong to those who take part in such strange rites, we usually use the time to prepare ourselves with beer, food, and games and then just close the door for a few days of gaming. A good friend of ours, Wolfgang,  who is living in Mainz (also a city which is ruled by the ‘fools’ during this time) then comes over to join us and so he arrived on Friday, quite early. Denny and I got some new cool games over the year which he didn’t know yet, and we were also eager to get some multiplayer games going with games we could only play with two players so far, so we were looking forward to some great game sessions.

When Wolfgang arrived, we started with a little chitchat and had a beer for starters and then we prepared the gaming table. He was very interested in trying out some LCGs about which we talked before and he had some first impressions about the core gameplay of these sort of card games when he played Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox 360 (it’s not a LCG, but not actually a CCG either, so it’s a game in-between with pre-built decks and limited possibilities to customize your deck). But he at least knew the basic gameplay and he liked it, so he was interested to see how a real LCG would be played face to face.

Call of Cthulhu (LCG)

The first game: Call of Cthulhu (LCG)

The first game on the table was Call of Cthulhu (FFG), which is the easiest of the three LCGs published by FFG so far. Since we all love Arkham Horror and the Lovecraft theme, this game seemed to be a good introduction to the LCG genre. We set it up, I explained the basic Sequence of Play and then we started playing right away, using the player aid sheet that we had printed out and laminated before, to make things as easy as possible.

Wolfgang chose the Miskatonic University deck and I played a Shub-Niggurath deck, all of which were mono decks. By now, we own enough Asylum Packs to play all factions of the game as mono decks, and although for some players out there this doesn’t seem to be the best way to play the game competitively, we decided to use mono for Wolfgang’s introductory games for several reasons. First, it’s easier for a new player to see how a faction in a pure format is played, how it feels, and he will soon realize the strengths and the weak points of that faction. To know the specific strengths and weaknesses of a given faction is an important prerequisite for deck customization.To give Wolfgang a very harsh and brutal impression of each fashion, we even removed the neutral cards from all decks, so that he could feel the raw characteristics of each faction without any fine tuning and balancing. The intention was to show him the options for deckbuilding and deck enhancements by chosing a certain focus, adding neutral cards, or even by building a combi deck with a second faction, which will eventually lead to a deck that works great. If you don’t know the characteristics of a certain faction, you don’t really know how to counter their weaknesses or how to maximize their strong aspects.

CoC gaming table

Apart from this, we generally don’t mix all factions wildly together because we love to play the game based more on theme than on raw competition power, so Denny and I also chose our decks based on the humans vs cultists dichotomy that is part of the Lovecraft stories. Denny is playing all cultist/Old Ones factions while I am playing the Syndicate, Miskatonic University and the Agency. In our games, we pimp these factions with neutral cards but seldom mix them with the other factions, it just feels right for us to actually play from a certain story perspective.

The first game indeed showed that the Miskatonic University (with all their professors and students, who are well-educated and learned in old scriptures dealing with arcane content) is a difficult faction to play without any neutral cards. The MU is quite strong in the arcane and investigation struggles, but really weak in terror and combat. That means if you are sending out some of these academics to investigate what’s happening, they might have the knowledge to solve the arcane and investigation struggles but they are easily frightened by anything supernatural. So before they can use their strengths to get some success tokens on a story, they often will flee the scene because of a lost terror struggle or be dead and out of the game after an attack by the monsters lurking around.

Shubb-Niggurath vs. Miskatonic University

Shub-Niggurath, on the other hand, is quite strong in terror and combat, but lacks on the investigation side, so usually this deck doesn’t score a point in the investigation struggle, even if no one is around to stand against them. Therefore, bringing success tokens on the story is taking some time and the fastest way to achieve this is by eliminating the opponent’s characters with terror and combat, so at least you get the additional success token for being unchallenged in a story. The match MU vs. SN seemed to be a bad choice at first and very unbalanced as the first game was a complete domination of my Shub-Nigurrath faction over the MU, who never really got thru because of losing the first two struggles (terror and combat). Afterwards, we decided to play a second game with the same factions nonetheless, because Wolfgang didn’t want to base his judgement about this particular faction on his first game alone, so now feeling a bit more competent and knowing what the MU faction can do – and what not, we shuffled the cards and started again.

This time – and that’s the beauty of the game, really – things went completely different and not really well for me. I wasn’t able to bring out characters in the first turns at all and in later turns only some weak ones while Wolfgang had some great guys on the table, who were able to limit my actions and could control the game by their various character abilities. He hit me fast and hard with some spells, which limited me even further and he actually rushed me and won quite easily this time. Since I couldn’t send out some of my better characters to challenge him, he had not to deal with the terror and combat struggles as much as in our first game. Some of his abilities changed all terror or combat struggles into ones that could only be won with investigation icons and since that’s not the strength of Shub-Niggurath, I usually lost these as well as the genuine investigation struggles. So the second game ended with an easy victory for the MU and it was a good example how even such an unbalanced combination of factions in a game can be won by the faction that is considered the weaker one if things go right for them.

Still, the MU usually has a hard time alone and makes for a much better support faction in a combi deck, so a strong partner who can deal with terror and combat is able to cover their backs, while they can use their arcane and investigation icons to keep standing after being involved in a story and collect success tokens on a regular base.

Generally, Wolfgang liked the game and stated “that it demonstrates very well the strong aspect of LCGs –  very simple game mechanics, but still lots of tactical/strategic options and the possibility to play it according to your very own ideas with the customization of the decks”. This ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ nature of the game appealed to him and so he said: “Let’s try out another LCG!”.

Warhammer Invasion (LCG)

The next game: Warhammer Invasion (LCG)

So we prepared the gaming table for the next LCG, one step up in complexity and options (complexity is a relative term here, of course, because compared with a consim, all LCGs are quite simple) and that was Warhammer: Invasion.

Warhammer: Invasion is based on the Warhammer Fantasy universe, a different universe than the known Warhammer 40k universe, and we only own the core set so far. Thus, when using only the core set, you simply choose your faction from the pre-built decks in the box, spice up this basic deck with 10 random neutral cards and you are ready to go. Wolfgang stuck to a human faction as he did in the previous game, so he chose the Empire. As in CoC, Denny and I had divided the factions among us – she’s playing the Orcs, the Chaos etc. and I’m going into battle with the Dwarfs and the Empire. I didn’t have any problems with Wolfgang’s choice because this would allow me to play a faction which was completely new to me as well. I wanted to try out the Chaos, so after choosing sides and dealing out the neutral cards, we laid out the citadels and the war-horns were blowing…

The Chaos was crushed by the Empire

Using our player aid sheets and the rulebook, we got into the game easily and it didn’t take long before we were engaged with each other, thinking about our possibilities. I had some form of deja vu however, because I couldn’t really bring out many characters. What I had on my hand was expensive and so I had some troubles to defend my citadel while lacking the force to really attack his one. The game went on with some discussions about the rules and the card wordings, which is still a general problem of this whole genre. You are easily disappointed when you come to the game with a consim mind, expecting some clear and extensive rules about all details of the game. One has to adapt to a very literal understanding of the cards’ wording to not get into trouble about how some cards are used and especially when to use them.

In the mid game, I was able to bring out better characters and at least could stand against the fast Empire deck for some time, but in the end I lost. Apparently, you have to get used to the abilities and characters of the Chaos faction if you want to be successful, so we decided to shuffle the decks and used the same cards for a rematch.

This time I had some great cards in my starting hand and was able to bring out some good characters and cards that created corruption to the enemy, while my characters could gain strength thru their corruption! I had some nice little synergies in effect and prepared for some major attack… when the Empire cleared the battlefield with a card that killed all characters in play who were not in a zone with a developement! I didn’t have any developments in play because I planned to use my cards offensively and Wolfgang had only a few characters out and one developement which saved a good character.

As scary as the dark forces of Chaos: The cake, forged by orcs in the depths of Mordor, made of blood and steel

So I saw myself totally open to the enemy with all my good cards and my smart little synergy plan destroyed in one single sweep. Things went bad again for my Chaos faction from then on, I didn’t get any good cards anymore or at least not cards I could afford with my now limited resources and from my citadel I could watch Wolfgang preparing for battle with more and more troops. In the end he had out a dozen cards both for the attack and the defense while I could barely bring out a little demon then and now before everything was killed again and so that game ended also with a glorious victory of the Empire over the Chaos.

This game was even more appealing to him because of the nice touch of options you get with the three zones in play, but the cards and rules questions that came up were a bit disappointing for him. The problem is not so much the fact that a game which uses many different cards and effects and time frames to play cards and defend against cards, has some ambiguous aspects in the wordings of rules and card texts, but the unsatisfying situation that there’s not really any answer to get by the designer(s). When you look for some answers that might help you to clarify specific points, you usually only have the official FAQ and the forum over at FFG or BGG.

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Posted in Events and Conventions, Gaming this weekend, HFC, Wargaming in general | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review: Space Hulk – Death Angel, The Card Game

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on October 26, 2010

Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Hulk – Death Angel, The Card Game

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Published in: 2010
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Topic: Fantasy / Sci-Fi (Warhammer 40k universe)
Game Type: Card Game
Contents: 1 rulebook, 18 Action Cards, 2 Brood Lord Cards, 30 Event Cards, 36 Genestealer Cards, 22 Location Cards, 12 Space Marine Cards, 8 Terrain Cards, 12 Support Tokens, 6 Combat team Markers, 1 die

HFC Game-O-Meter: E


Our Rating (1-10):

 

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 7.5
Playability: 9
Replay Value: 8

Overall Rating: 8.5

PRO Easy game with interesting mechanics, captures the Space Hulk atmosphere, lots of tactical decisions, can be played solo or with up to six players, good artwork, can be played quickly…
CONTRA …but can also be quite long sometimes, possible quick elimination of players, rules suffer from necessary back and forth flipping, a few points not well explained

 

Introduction

Space Hulk – Death Angel, The Card Game (SHDA) is a new game published by Fantasy Flight Games. It is set in the Warhammer 40.000 universe created by Games Workshop, also known as Warhammer 40K or simply 40K. This is a huge sci-fi gaming universe in a far distant future and several tabletop systems and roleplaying games as well as books are based on this specific setting.

Game components

Space Hulk is one of  the many spin-offs within this universe and a board game published by Games Workshop which deals with  the battle of the Space Marines (a Templar-like order of genetically enhanced super-soldiers who act as a special guard in the military ranks of the Imperium of Man, one of the factions in the 40k universe) against the Genestealers, an aggressive culture of aliens. Generally, the Space Hulk theme is very close to the story of the Alien movies, which are also about a troop of humans dealing with aggressive aliens infesting a space station. A Space Hulk in the 40k universe often is an ancient starship and it is supposed that many of these are drifting around in the far dark corners of the universe. Sometimes, such a vessel is found when it drifts through the territory of the Imperium, and the technology that can be found in these relics is often something that the Imperium is interested in, so when such a space station is found, squads are sent in to gather information, technology blueprints, or similiar things of interest.

But it seems that these old vessels make for a great breeding ground for the Genestealers, so such a trip into the Hulk  usually leads to some serious fighting before the Marines can find the secrets they are after. The aliens reproduce themselves by introducing their genetic code into a host of a different species which eventually leads to the birth of hybrids. More detailed information about the Genestealers can be found in this article.

The board game Space Hulk is actually quite expensive and hard to get (it contains 64 board sections or room tiles, doors, plastic Citadel miniatures and much more stuff ), and we don’t own it. We never played any game based on the 40k universe before and the only game in our collection that comes close to the topic is Doom – The Boardgame. From what I have read so far, it seems that Doom is quite similiar to the theme of Space Hulk, but is not as detailed and rich in gameplay.

Lately, we became very interested in the new LCG format of several card games published by FFG and when Space Hulk Death Angel was announced, we followed the game development very closely because it was announced as a cooperative game – which is something we like in both video games and board/card games. It turned out that SHDA was not another LCG but a ‘normal’ card game, so there’s no starter set followed by several expansions and no deck building involved here. Instead, it’s a stand alone card game, so you get everything you need in the box (although FFG is known for publishing expansions to many if not all of their games, so it might be possible that we will be seeing some add-ons for this game in the future).

Presentation

The game comes in a small box that contains a 31-page full color rule book in the size of the game box, two shrinkwrapped packages of 128 playing cards, a counter sheet with 18 game markers and a red die that has the numbers o-5 and 3 skulls printed on it. There’s no map included since the game uses a more abstract way to create the environment of the Space Hulk.

The strong cards are made of glossy coated cardboard - very good quality

FFG often uses big game boxes where the package is quite spacious compared to the content, probably making room for possible expansions which will follow the basic game, but the SHDA box is exactly of the size the content needs and that may be a sign that no expansions are planned.

The artwork of the box is great and shows the formation of Marines fighting their way through a horde of aliens in a tight corridor. The quality of the contents is very high as well, the cards being thin but nevertheless sturdy and their surface is somewhat roughened so they don’t stick together as it is often the case, especially with new cards. The cards have a good feel right from the start and are protected by a form of glossy coating.

The cards are divided into several card types (actions, Brood Lords, events, Genestealers, locations, Space Marines, and terrain) and they are richly illustrated, so they are able to evoke the specific environment and atmosphere where the game is supposed to take place. The markers, divided into support tokens and combat team markers are also of a good quality, using thick cardboard and nice artwork, too.

Great artworks and top-notch quality is something we actually expect from FFG by now, since every game we own by this publisher is of an excellent production quality – and that’s really where FFG gives you a lot for your money. Of course, a good-looking game doesn’t have to be a good game, so let’s start with the rules to get an impression of what to expect.

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Posted in Fantasy Games A-Z, Futuristic Games A-Z, Games A-Z, Reviews, Space Hulk:Death Angel, Warhammer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Gaming this weekend: Entering the Space Hulk…

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on October 4, 2010

The game box is rather small, but the contents of a very high quality and with an attractive artwork

Because I had a rather bad cold, Denny and I couldn’t actually meet and play for the  last 2 weeks (except online on XBox Live for extensive Halo Reach sessions…). This weekend was the first time for us to sit down at our gaming table again.

The week before, we had ordered the new Warhammer 40k game by Fantasy Flight Games: Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game which is already out of print as I read recently (surely FFG will re-print  it again rather sooner than later, since it seems to be such a huge success). This weekend’s focus was to learn and play this game. To get into the mood of monster hunting, we also watched Starship Troopers on DVD in the evening, which kinda seemed to match the theme of the game nicely – elite soldiers hunting nasty aliens 🙂

So let me give you just a few thoughts about the game, the review will have to wait until we played a few more games, so stay tuned!

Death Angel is the card based version of the board game Space Hulk (which we haven’t played so far, it’s hard to get for a reasonable price and since we already own Doom – The Boardgame, which seems to be very similiar gameplay-wise, we didn’t have Space Hulk on our radar) but contrary to the latter, Death Angel is a cooperative game. Each player commands one or more teams of Space Marines (depending on the number of players, the game can be played with 1-6 players) which form a military formation that enters a Space Hulk (a term for the remains of an ancient starship or space station) to investigate what’s up in there and to reach and check out a certain location. Players form their formation, they start in a preset location and try to make their way through the Space Hulk, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

a Genestealer swarm

The station is not empty but filled with aggressive aliens called Genestealers and indeed watching the movie Alien gives you a pretty accurate picture of what the Space Marines teams can expect to find in the confined rooms and corridors of the space station.

The game is a bit tricky to learn at first, because the 32-pages-rulebook is often explaining things on several pages, referring to other paragraphs, so you have to flip through the RB  back and forth to get the hang of the mechanics. After the first game, though, you realize that the game is quite easy and not really complicated and you can enjoy the often tough decision-making required to keep your men alive without further referring to the rulebook. If you are curious about the game mechanics, the rulebook can be downloaded here from the official FFG support website (PDF, 1.9 MB).

Setup. The game certainly requires some table space

As you fight spawning swarms of aliens, which tend to come out of the usual ventilation ducts, doors, and dark corners or even sneakily flank you and attack you from behind, you try to make your way to the final location. In this destination location, there’s something you have to do, like activating the launch procedure of a space vessel to get out of there or whatever (usually a task that needs some time to accomplish…) and in the mean time, your number one priority is actually to stay alive.

Each team has 3 Action Cards, but no Action Card can be used twice in a row, so you have to plan ahead

Each player has 3 Action Cards (Support, Move & Activate, Attack) for each of his two-men-teams, and some of the Space Marines have  special abilities as described on the Action Cards – which often come in handy when the formation is in a desperate situation (and there will be many of such situations before you reach your destination…). But be careful – once you used one of the three possible actions, this action can’t be used again in the next game round. So everybody going with guns ablaze when some aliens get in the way isn’t such a good idea because then no one will be able to attack again in the next round – players are required to plan ahead.

The Genestealers spawn in the Event Phase, depending on the location card you are currently in and the terrain cards in play, so the players have to discuss their options and try to support each other  in order to keep the enemy off and to minimize casualties.

Combat is brutally short and simple – the Space Marines hit when they roll a skull on the die (the game uses one  special six-sided die with numbers ranging from 0-5 and 3 skull symbols), killing one alien card of a ‘swarm’ (one or more Genestealer cards in a specific position) – 50% chance of killing one swarm with the attack… Then the Genestealers attack and they will hit when the die is equal to or less than the  number of cards in the attacking swarm – and since the die ranges from 0 to 5, the larger the swarm, the larger the chance of a successful Genestealer attack, and even a lone swarm has a 1/3 chance of success because of the “0” side. Any Space Marine who is successfully attacked is… slain and out of the game immediately! No health bar, no hit points.

A Space Marine card

A swarm can easily move around the formation of Marines or follow the group to a new location, different swarms can merge into a larger swarm or flank a Marine, so it’s quite a task (but essential!) to make sure that such a swarm doesn’t grow too large. A swarm with 5 Genestealer cards will hit – and instantly kill – a Space Marine with every number rolled on the die. Even a swarm with only 3 cards will hit and kill on a 0,1,2 or 3…

Although combat is very brutal (and the game can be short because of this, but doesn’t have to, we played a good deal longer than the 30-60 minutes mentioned on the game box), luckily some Marines have some cool weapons or special abilities which modify the combat in their favour. For example, there’s  the guy with the flamethrower who doesn’t  hit on a skull but uses the actual number rolled to kill a corresponding number of Genestealers, the one with an auto-gun, someone with psychic abilities, or a Marine who is stronger in the defense than in the attack and so on.

If the Event Card has the keyword "Instinct", the current player has to decide alone which Space Marine will be the target of the card effect

Then there’s the Event Card deck which is the “AI” of the game, providing events and spawning and moving aliens. Events most often make the situation worse, but sometimes allow the players a bit of relief in all the tension by giving them more options to get rid of these nasty aliens.

So the formation of battle hardened Space Marines makes their way through the dark corridors of the Space Hulk killing aliens, supporting each other, discussing what to do next, while the players get silent when another brave soldier is ripped apart or they cheer up and laugh when that big swarm actually misses and Brother Claudio gets into berserk mode and kills the entire swarm with his claws.

The game plays very smoothly, has interesting mechanics, requires lots of decision-making  and coordination between players. All players can only win if they are working together and they must make good decisions to achieve that objective. The game provides a good atmosphere, especially if you are a fan of the Warhammer 40k  universe (but knowledge of this universe is not required). If you are able to get a bit “in-character”, it’s a great game experience you can find in that rather small (and inexpensive) box.

Our first impression is very positive and you may wait for our review of the game to learn more – or just go and get it yourself 😉

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