Saturday 21 November 2015

Review - Space Hulk: Death Angel - Space Marine Pack 1

Space Marine Pack 1

Space Hulk: Death Angel - Space Marine Pack 1
Designed by Corey Konieczka and Andrew Meredith
Published by Fantasy Flight GamesFor 1-6 players (in conjunction with the Death Angel base game)

It's an exciting time to be a boardgamer.

Games Workshop, one of the most inaccurately named companies in existence, has finally put legions of fans and former fans out of their misery.

No, GW hasn't despatched the Execution Forces of the Assassinorum to silence the growing dissent. Instead, someone in the ivory tower actually realised there are loads and loads of people who want to buy Games Workshop board games and specialist games. Necromunda, Epic, Blood Bowl... They're all coming back, and I've been suffering nosebleeds and dizzy spells since the announcement.

Spearheading this return to the world of boardgaming is Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth, a cool skirmish game set in the 30K universe at the point Horus decides it is time to overthrow the Emperor. Naturally, I had to have it. But while my copy was on route (review imminent, folks!), I took the opportunity to revisit one of the games Fantasy Flight Games released in conjunction with Games Workshop: Death Angel.

Death Angel, as you will know if you have read my review, is an absolutely superb distillation of the classic Space Hulk board game, condensing all the tension and excitement into a compact card-based system that allows for solo or co-operative gameplay. I am a huge fan, and it is one of my three go-to games for solo gaming experiences (the other two being Assassinorum: Execution Force, and Mage Knight).

In my experience, a game of Death Angel is a little bit like that classic heist movie, The Italian Job. Even when the mission seems to be going your way, there is always a chance that things are suddenly going to go drastically wrong and one mistake, or one piece of bad luck, is going to cause your well-laid plan to skid off the tracks. More often than not, at some point you are going to find yourself hanging over that cliff, scrabbling for a goal that is gradually slipping away from you.

And that's just playing the base game. 

Fantasy Flight Games has since released numerous expansions for Death Angel, to keep the challenge fresh and exciting; and the mission pack and Tyranid enemy pack that I reviewed previously ramp up the challenge to brutal levels. 

I mean, the challenge was brutal before; but playing with those expansions is a bit like asking someone to punch you in the face every time you draw a card. 

So, what does Space Marine Pack 1 bring to the table (other than one of the most generic and bland expansion names in the history of gaming)?

Well, like the other mini-expansions, all you get is a small set of cards; but those cards pack quite a punch. Fortunately, this time, it is not a punch to the face. 

These cards are from Fantasy Flight's print on demand service, so they are not the same quality as the cards from the base game; but I actually quite like them. They shuffle well, thanks to a sleek finish, and I have never felt the need to sleeve them for protection. (But then, I have never felt the need to sleeve any cards. That's just how I roll... er... draw... whatever.)

You get two new combat teams, each comprising two cards representing the marines and three cards for their attack, move, and support actions.

And these new teams are all kinds of crazy.

The first one includes brother Adron, who just happens to be packing a cyclone launcher on his back. Now, if you have ever seen a cyclone launcher, you will know quite how stupid it is to carry one around an alien-infested spaceship. When that thing fires, it's going to do more than blow the bloody doors off.

Space Marine Pack 1 - Brother Adron

While it may be a thematically odd choice for close-quarters combat in cramped corridors, the launcher is an awesome addition to any squad, with the potential to insta-kill three genestealers at a range of up to five spaces, regardless of facing. The exact range depends on the roll of a dice, and rolling a 0 causes a misfire, but when things get hectic, this is an excellent way to level the playing field. An excellent way to level everything, actually.

Additionally, Adron's team has a support action that puts a target lock on a genestealer swarm, allowing anyone to gain a reroll in attack or defence against that swarm, and a double move action that makes the team incredibly mobile.

Space Marine Pack 1 support card

The second team features a Chaplain who offers some much-needed defensive abilities. His attack denies the genestealers the chance to retaliate, his support action boosts defensive rolls, while his movement option allows up to two additional space marines to adjust their facing. Anyone who has watched a lone genestealer sneaking up on a sergeant understands just how important facing can be in this game. The ability to turn on a dime, so an outflanked marine can take advantage of support tokens to improve his odds of survival, should not be underestimated. 

So, what you have are two counterbalanced teams that bring very different options to the table. If you take both squads, you have awesome killing power, excellent defensive options, and plenty of flexibility for facing any new threats head on.

If I'm being honest, playing with the Chaplain's team is less fun. Hunkering down and soaking up those hits may be the best way to survive, but tanking your way to victory lacks the flair (and impact) of lighting up a corridor with a cyclone launcher.

It may be because I have used these teams less frequently than those from the base game, but in my opinion, they seem more powerful and more useful. This is good news, as the space marines really need some extra "oomph" to take on the missions and tyranids from the other expansions, and these teams are also useful for setting the game to "easy" mode for new players.

Space Marine Pack 1 randomisation cards

But picking the most powerful teams every time isn't any fun, is it? That's why this expansion also includes a small deck of cards for randomly allocating teams. Each card has an icon representing one of the new squads, or one of the squads from the base game. Simply shuffle and deal. You may get lucky, and have a cyclone to help clear out the alien infestation on your next mission.

Then again... you might get lumbered with Brother Claudio and his damned lightning claws. When that happens, there is a pretty good chance you are going to end up hanging off that cliff.

In which case, you better hope the Chaplain has come along for the ride.

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