So, those of you keeping up with my new What I’m Playing gadget (in the blue sidebar) you’ll notice I’ve been playing a lot of Space Crusade.
Now, as has been noted many times throughout this blog, I play games primarily with my family and most often with my youngest brother (who suffers from a form of Cerebral Palsy) and Space Crusade is one of our latest family games.
I own a large number of high plastic content games. D&D the Board Game (plus both expansions), Heroquest and Darkworld (plus the two expansions) and I generally dislike playing these games for one simple reason… They are just too simplistic. After all, why play these when you could be playing real D&D?
I always assumed that Space Crusade was the same game as Heroquest, but set in space, I was wrong! I also assumed it was to Space Hulk, what Heroquest is to Warhammer Quest. Space Hulk, along with so many other GW side projects, like Bloodbowl, Mordheim, Gorkamorka, was something I always wanted to own and never did, so when we found Space Crusade in a charity shop for £5 I thought, “Eh… Close enough”
So… In Space Crusade you control a group of Space Marines from one of three chapters, Ultramarines, Imperial fists or Blood Angels, tasked with boarding a space hulk and destroying all alien life aboard (at least in most cases that’s the mission.) Meanwhile a mishmash of alien critters attempts to take down your marines.
Yup, so the story element of the game is pretty threadbare and the presence of Gretchin, Orks, Chaos Space Marines, Necrons and a Dreadnought all aboard the same vessel remains an unexplained mystery… but are the game mechanics the game’s hidden gem?
Well… no, probably not. Before each mission all the players have a lot of choices to make. You have 4 Marines and a Commander and you need to equip them. The Commander has 3 weapon options, the Marines have four. In addition to that you have to then chose one of four orders and four of eight pieces of equipment. That’s a lot of choice! Interestingly each chapter has unique equipment that makes them all play a little differently. I don’t think much thought was put into balancing the equipment though.
Once they marines are set up they can enter the board which is constructed from four pieces that can be assembled in different ways to make different maps. It would have been nice if these were double sided for additional variety. Although that said, the layout of the map has very little impact on the game at all because it is always, essentially, a square. There are no special room effects, no indication of where monsters should be placed, it looks and feels featureless.
So, each Marine can move once and shoot once or fight in close combat, exactly like Heroquest. Marines carrying heavy weapons can only move 4 spaces (except the Imperial Fists), all other Marine’s can move 6. When a Marine enters a board quarter for the first time the Alien player can place as many Blip tokens as he likes anywhere on that quarter. These are face down tokens with a picture of an Alien on the back. I like this concept, it has a very space-horror-film feel about it, you know there are Aliens out there but you don’t know what they are. I play the Alien player and I generally just put the blips down without looking at them, that way I am not accused of favouritism when I decimate a particular team with the Dreadnought.
Once the Blips are placed the player may then move and shoot with all his other Marines. Once all three Marine players have gone the Alien player draws an event card. Most of the time these aren’t that useful and some of the time they help the Marines. However nothing beats drawing the Genestealer card. This allows you to immediately place a Genestealer (An incredible close combat alien) and attack a Marine, usually killing it and netting yourself 10 points and nearly always when that Marine was one turn away from escape… Bwahahaha!
Once the event has been drawn the Alien player may move all of his blip tokens on the board and attack any Marines that are visible to his Aliens. Unlike Heroquest and other games the Aliens in Space Crusade can open doors and move out of their starting rooms. This can be a lot of fun as you can chase Marines that are trying to escape and they have no idea what is following them. Also, as blips have a move of 5 they can overtake and cut off the heavy weapon Marines that can only move 4.
Combat in Space Crusade is nothing spectacular either. Most of the time you’ll miss. The most common Aliens roll 2 white dice, which have 4 zeros, a 1 and a 2 on them. Marines have an armour value of 2, meaning an Ork or Gretchin has a 3 in 36 chance of killing any given marine. The heavy weapons that the marines carry however do significantly more damage, but they can also be pretty devastating to anyone stood nearby. Luckily, taking out another player’s Marines by accident with your Plasma Gun or Missile Launcher can be very beneficial.
This process of the move and shoot continues until the all the Marines have returned to their boarding crafts. At that point everyone works out their scores. 30 points are award to the player who completes the Primary Mission (usually kill the most aliens, or take out a specific alien or group of aliens) 15 to the player who completes the Secondary Mission if it came up in the Event Deck. Minus 10 points are awarded for every heavy weapon Marine killed and minus 5 for every Bolter Marine killed and minus 10 if your Commander is killed. Each Alien taken out is worth 2, 3, 5, 10 or 25 points as printed on the token. The alien player gets points for every marine killed, either 5 or 10 depending on their weapons. Whoever scores the most points wins the mission.
As you can see this game is significantly different to Heroquest. Although it employs the same move and attack turn order, the concept of co-coordinating a squad makes this a totally different gaming experience. That said there is more dumb luck involved in this game than there are tactics. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to someone who likes Chess for example. But there again, I don’t think MB and GW were aiming to create a tactical wargame, I suspect they wanted a fun, all out, blood bath and that is exactly what this is.
If you read everything I just wrote and thought, “This sounds crap” then you would be justified in asking, why is it getting played so much? And here is the answer… This game is fun! Sure you can try and plan and develop a strategy four turns in advance, but as soon as a horde of aliens rushes at you, you’ll just start shooting and running back to your ship! The number of critters the Alien player can throw at the Marines is immense, no matter how safe you feel behind all that armour, the shear number of attacks that can come your way can devastate your team. Nothing beats the shock and awe of the mighty Dreadnought. Entire teams have been decimated trying to take this titan down for the 25 points it is worth. In addition, its double width base can cause Marines to become trapped in a room unable to escape it’s fire.
The board may be featureless and the aliens un-explainable, but this game is driven by instinct and adrenaline. A single attack can turn a group of big tough Marines into quivering wrecks that turn tail, and run, with whatever is left of their squad, back to their ships.
It is mindless, it is simple, but it is brutal… and I like that!
As Campaigns go, Space Crusade is poorly designed. After all the points are totalled players compare their scores to a table to see if the can earn Honour badges, which give them access to additional equipment, or a rank which gives them an additional Order card. The first player to go up four ranks wins.
Of course, in general, this reward scheme means the first player to win the first game will go on to win the campaign because they have access to better gear and orders sooner. Also, because the campaign is point driven and not story driven it really doesn’t feel like it has a beginning or an end.
I do however like the fact that the Alien player can win too, (I am currently winning) because it gives me a good excuse to not hold back.
Fiddly As All Hell!
The title of this section says it all. The board design for this game is appalling. Each of the four sections clips together with the weakest, most pathetic clip ever invented. Getting the first two pieces together is easy, but adding a third knocks the clip off the first. This is, without a doubt, the most irritating game set up imaginable!
Ok, so we know the game is fun, but not deep and that the components are fiddly and the randomisable board is actually rather bland, but what about quality?
Firstly, this is what you get inside:
50 Citadel Miniatures
5 wall clips
24 doors with bases
64 full colour playing cards
12 chapter cards ( 3 sets )
28 alien event cards
1 Primary Mission token
1 Secondary Mission token
6 Honour badges
12 Rank Badges
4 marks of Chaos
32 Blip Tokens
32 Reinforcement counters
1 alien control panel
3 commander scanners with adjustable sliders
3 Marine reference charts
3 Marine docking boards
3 airlock doors
6 special combat dice
1 24 page Mission Manual, with 12 missions
1 Rule Book
The miniatures are the standard 1 piece models from the 40k boxsets available in the 90’s. Which means, for the £5 I spent, I got a lot of good quality plastics. The tokens aren’t Fantasy Flight quality but they are quite nice. The cards are pretty standard for the time when the game was made. The boards are a little disappointing quality wise and very difficult to clip together. The scanners, although a cool concept, really are way too big for what they do. They are used to track your minus points (just count up the marines of your colour that the Alien player is holding and mocking you with.) to track your commanders 6 hit points (use a 6 sided dice) and which of your weapons have rerolls.
The reference cards and equipment cards all have plenty of information on them. The dice are custom dice and quite thematic to look at. However, of all the components, my favourite are the docking boards. So completely pointless really, but I just love setting them up and then going “Ptsssh” as I remove the airlock door and let the Marines board…
So, there isn’t much more I can say about this game. It isn’t going to win any accolades for the design or originality, but there again I can’t think of any other game in my collection that is so brutal. I can’t think of any other game that creates the same sense of fear. One minute you can be decimating everything in sight, the next minute your commander is standing there, splattered with the blood of his four comrades.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend this game at the prices currently set on ebay, but if you find it in a charity shop (and believe me, there are other copies out there) then snap it up, because there is very little else that can give you this much fun and fear for less than £5.