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July 23, 2003

Favorite Games XXII

A couple of my faves from the miniatures-happy loonies at Games Workshop today...

Space Hulk is a two-player game deserving of far more respect than it ever got. Players control either a small squad of highly trained Space Marines with top-of-the-line hardware or an endless horde of hive-mind insect-like horrors from a distant world. If it sounds like a certain James Cameron move, you'd be only half-right, but you'd be in keeping with many of the game's critics. Unlike the film, these Space Marines are in massive armor, called Terminator suits, that renders them the kings of the AD 40,000 battlefield, vulnerable only to the heaviest weapons and with enough firepower to cut down whole enemy squads in one burst. Meanwhile, their enemies, the Genestealers, are quick, crafty, and armed with claws that tear that thick Terminator armor apart like it was tissue-paper. It makes for a tense match-up. The game's main strengths come for the dramatically different way each side plays, but the good balance the game achieves despite that. Marines are few in number (many scenarios have a squad of only 5) and move openly on the board; marines armed with some of their better weapons (such as flamethrowers) have to keep track of ammunition. Genestealers, meanwhile, are represented by cardstock tokens ("blips" on the marines' motion detectors) as long as they are out of sight; when seen by a marine, these tokens can turn out to be nothing... or as many as nine angry monsters. Marines have all the advantages at range, but once it gets close-in, the two sides are about equal... And when it's dozens-to-one, being equal is being dead. By the book, the Marine player has to work under a time limit each turn, which prevents being overly analytic and often causes mistakes, such as walking down a path that will lead to more activated blips when a shorter alternate path existed, though the game works fine if you ignore this rule. Games can be played as simple bouts or as a series of missions, with pre-plotted campaigns included in the basic game and its expansions. Expansions also added additional units for both sides (Terminators armed for close combat, Terminator Librarians with psychic powers, Genestealer/Human hybrids who could use guns and psychic abilities), not to mention rules for bringing other Games Workshop 40K troop types into the game. Space Hulk wasn't cheap, due to the large number of plastic miniatures and cardboard hallways and rooms included in the box, but it was well worth the price. Games are tense, close-fought, and well-paced, with most decided only at the very end as the last couple of Marines struggle to meet the objective.

Talisman is an often-reprinted GW boardgame, which unfortunately has become somewhat less great with each edition. Of course, considering how well it started, that's not quite as negative as it sounds. Players take on the roles of various adventurers wandering a danger-strewn fantasy world trying to get to the Crown of Command, an artifact that will give them everything they want. On their way, they must face dangerous terrain, fickle magic, deadly monsters, and each other. An exceptions-style game (ala Cosmic Encounter), each character has a special ability or two to help them out. Most of the game, you move by rolling a die and deciding which way (clockwise or anti-clockwise) to move, and thus which of two spaces to land on. Some spaces have pre-printed hazards, some require you to draw from a deck. Most encounters result in you either gaining new treasures, companions, or powers or losing existing treasures, companions, powers, or life points. To win, you must get enough power to fight past the Crown's guardian spaces (the middle of the board is made of up some pretty ugly hazard spaces), then use the Crown to eliminate all other players. The basic game had numerous characters, monsters, spells and treasures, but expansion sets really brought the game into its own. They added additional sub-boards (for a city, a dungeon, and even the veil of time itself), many more characters, numerous new monsters (one whole set centered around adding Dragons and dragon-related treasures to the mix), and even alternate end-games. It's random and pretty silly, but it's a great sort of beer-and-pretzels fun. Newer editions got fancier (three dimensional boards, miniatures rather than cardstock stand-ups for your character), but that made the cost so high you couldn't pack in all the expansion sets, and that's no good. Oh, the game has flaws (the Crown of Command end-game leads to a sometimes long and tedious series of die-rolls before you actually get to win, for example), but it's still one of the greats. Certainly worth digging out and playing whenever willing folk are at hand.

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Posted by ghoul at July 23, 2003 06:19 AM

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Ahh, many, many weeks of time lost to Talisman and its expansions. While fun, it had a habit of getting wearisome if you played it too much.

A classic, nonetheless.

Posted by: Scott at July 27, 2003 05:45 PM

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