I bought the first edition of Space Hulk in 1989 when I worked at a comics and games store in Huber Heights, Ohio just outside of Dayton. We played it a fair bit, and it quickly became and has remained one of my all-time favorite board games. I even painted a few of the miniatures. Alas, a couple of years later I parted with my copy, giving it to a dear childhood friend who had done me a good turn when I was in a jam. Parting with Space Hulk coincided with lots of life changes, including becoming more serious about my classes in college, joining the college newspaper as the Entertainment Editor (writing weekly movie and album reviews, covering campus plays and student photography exhibitions, etc.), and finding myself in some serious romantic relationships. I had a full plate, and all gaming ground to a halt for years afterward.
The second edition (1996) of Space Hulk came and went out of print without making even a blip on my radar, testament to how little connected I was to gaming in the 1990s. A fit of nostalgia prompted me to track down an unopened copy on eBay in the early 2000s, and I got a handful of games in, but not being plugged into any local gaming community, I couldn't find another player as excited about the game as me. In fact, the few friends I did have at the time who gamed were in the thrall of a budding euro game fixation, and Space Hulk is anything but that (thank god!).
When nearly 15 years later Games Workshop finally decided to bring the game back into print in 2009 with a third edition (and reinstating the timer mechanic!), it was a reflexive purchase. A strong motivating factor for buying another set was a hope with seeds planted at the very beginning of most every Space Hulk fan's fantasies: the idea of linking boxed sets together to create a huge multiplayer version of the game. In the end, the new edition's tiles had all been redesigned, making for a less-than-ideal aesthetic marriage of the two editions. But the dream of a sprawling multiplayer Space Hulk game has deep roots, and wouldn't be abandoned lightly.
The Internet proved others had done it, and you can find tantalizing images online from conventions and elsewhere of eight and ten players sitting around a table in a massive Space Hulk game. It seems a complete inevitability that, when I formed my monthly game group, the Second Saturday Scrum Club, a few months ago with my friend Jared as a charter member, the long-held fantasy was fated to materialize on our game table.
Everything started to snowball during the long rides Jared and I took back and forth to Havre de Grace, Maryland a couple of weeks back to attend the two-day Barrage convention (recap). Just the month before the Scrum Club had a playtest of the dungeon crawl game I've been refining on and off for a few months, and Jared was inspired to see if there was a way to adapt the "room feature" cards from my game to Space Hulk. We pleasantly whiled away the hours in the car and at lunches that weekend brainstorming all sorts of ideas and rules for what could be found in various rooms that players enter on the map. It also helped that at Barrage we found a really great deal on a painted Space Hulk set and also bought fistfuls of painted genestealer models, putting the idea of a large-scale game closer in reach.
Then Jared went off and did the hard work of thinking through a scenario, building a giant map with all of the various board pieces that would eventually fill up the entirety of my 38" x 94" dining room table, and coming up with various ideas for how player's could build their own units of Space Marines (not to mention all of the furious painting of models Jared has been doing for a couple of weeks). It was an impressive feat, and our near-daily exchanges about the game made me excited and proud to see what he was pulling together. I helped where I could, offering feedback or asking probing questions, usually about the cards, a wholly new mechanic for Space Hulk. I gave the card text a copy edit, laid them out, and printed the two decks up for our game, one for "inner" rooms and one for "outer" rooms on the game map.
|I designed these cards to be laser printed on perforated sheets of Avery business cards (10 cards to a sheet).|
I was also a little concerned about how, with this many players, folks were going to be able to keep track of what their individual marines could do, how much ammo they still had remaining, etc., so at the last minute I threw together a half-sheet unit roster with the rules on how each weapon worked in the game.
|The shooting/close assault tables were excised from the excellent quick-reference sheet created by The Esoteric Order of Gamers, who have made a number of such sheets for other games.|
Finally, the second Saturday of February was upon us, and it was time to put this game on. It took three full Space Hulk sets to piece this all together. In attendance were charter Scrummers John Sears, Walt O'Hara, Francesco Nesci, Jared, and myself with special guests, Garrett O'Hara, Matt Sahr, and Steve Braun (who folks may remember from my posts on Historicon and Barrage). Jared and I played the genestealers, while everyone else made their own units of Space Marines.
Click any photo to enlarge.
|Jared in pre-game set up on my dining room table. "Hmmm...how does this map fit together again?!?"|
|Three sets of Space Hulk, one massive map that stretches about 38x90 inches.|
|"I am the lord of Space Hulk! To know me is to know true fear!"|
|Creating their unit lists before the game begins.|
|John Sears: "My squad. These poor blokes are doomed." (photo: John Sears)|
|The whole gang (except for me taking the photo). (standing: Jared; clockwise from top: Garrett, Walt, Steve, Francesco, Matt, and John)|
|Genestealer creeping up on a Space Marine.|
|Jared explaining the effects of one of the room cards that was just drawn.|
|These marines drew the "Breach" card, which creates another genestealer spawn point in the middle of this room. Watch your back, Marines!|
|(left to right: Walt, Joe, Matt, John) (photo: Walt)|
|Genestealers about to race around that corridor corner in the hopes of taking the Space Marine from behind.|
|Walt feeling devious.|
|One of the room cards in the foreground. This one introduces an unexpected Chaos Marine hunkered down in this room. He goes on the hunt for the nearest model regardless of side!|
|While there was carnage all around, I think only one unit suffered a total party kill. Pretty remarkable for a game of Space Hulk!|
Concluding ThoughtsI had a great time, and I think others did, too. It was literally a decades-long desire that got satisfied by last night's game, which isn't something you get to say often. I know Jared wants to run this at a convention sometime, and this was a good opportunity for him to learn what does and doesn't work in a game of this scale and with the new mechanics (like the cards).
One thing that was clear from the onset is that unless everybody sitting at the table is a veteran Space Hulk player, the three-minute time limit for the Space Marine's turn is an unrealistic burden. It does change the feel of the game to dispense with the timer, but with six Space Marine players, some of whom had never played the game before, it was going to be too onerous to expect them to complete all of their moves in three minutes. We started without the timer with the hope that after everyone got the swing of things we'd introduce it into the game in a later round, but it never got to a point where that was realistic. The Space Marines ended up winning, and at least partially because they had plenty of time to coordinate their moves to maximum benefit.
In the end, though, it didn't matter who won or lost because it was a great time hanging out with good people playing a game on a scale that few Space Hulk players have ever been able to. I think Jared will easily incorporate the lessons from the playtest and concoct a massive Space Hulk convention game that folks will be eager to play and then recount to their friends years afterward.