Cover of the first edition of Space Hulk
|Designer(s)||Richard Halliwell, Dean Bass|
Space Hulk is a board game for two players by Games Workshop. It was released in 1989. The game is set in the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000. In the game, a "space hulk" is a mass of ancient, derelict space ships, asteroids, and other assorted space debris. One player takes the role of Space Marine Terminators, superhuman elite soldiers who have been sent to investigate such a space hulk. The other player takes the role of Tyranid Genestealers, an aggressive alien species which have made their home aboard such masses.
In Warhammer 40,000, the term "space hulk" is used to refer to any massive derelict space ship. Due to the shifting, immaterial nature of the Warp, an otherworldly realm through which space ships may travel between the stars far quicker than they would be able to through real space, some space hulks are jumbled and twisted agglomerations of multiple vessels lost to the Warp throughout centuries or millennia. Space hulks may house more than just Genestealers; other threats aboard can include human followers of the dark gods of Chaos, nightmarish Warp Daemons, and Orks who use space hulks as their "standard" method of interstellar travel.
Genestealers were described in an entry of the "Aliens and monsters" section of the first edition of Warhammer 40,000 (the "WH40K - Rogue Trader" manual), but they were very different from their Space Hulk incarnation, which was more influenced by the xenomorphs depicted in the Alien franchise. Since the 1990s, subsequent games like Warhammer 40,000 and Epic have absorbed them as part of the overall Tyranid army where they serve as the shock troops, although their origins are not related to any other Tyranid broods. A force composed purely of Genestealers can still be fielded as a sub-type of the Tyranid army, in what is known as a Genestealer Cult. The Cult is described in the in-game background as an infiltration force that weakens a target planet, by infecting the local population and causing civil unrest, in advance of the arrival of the main Tyranid hive fleet.
Space Marine Terminators are described in game lore as first company veterans in each Space Marine Chapter, having earned the right to don the sacred Tactical Dreadnought Armor or Terminator Armor. Space Marine Terminators were originally only used in Space Hulk-type scenarios and not the open battlefield, but rules were added in White Dwarf magazine and subsequent releases of Warhammer 40,000 and Epic for their deployment in conventional battles. Most Warhammer 40,000 army list game rules restrict the deployment of Terminators to a small part (1-2 squads of 5 men each) of a player's Space Marine army since they are considered elite troops. The Dark Angels' Deathwing Company is unique among Marine first companies in being composed of only Terminators. The Dark Angels can field a Deathwing army which features an all-Terminator force, along with including Land Raider tanks as transports and Dreadnought walkers for support.
Besides a space hulk, similar skirmishes between Space Marine Terminators and Genestealers can also be set in other environments. One such notable engagement was during the Second Tyrannic War, underneath a Brotherhood cathedral in the city Lomas on the planet on Ichar IV, when Ultramarine Terminators cleansed a Genestealer Cult. The Ichar IV uprising was a harbinger of Hive Fleet Kraken, the second major Tyranid invasion of the galaxy.
The game is set on a modular board made up of various board sections which represent corridors and rooms and which can be freely arranged and locked together like a jigsaw puzzle to represent the interior of a space hulk. One player controls the Space Marine Terminators, and the other player controls the Tyranid Genestealers.
It is an asymmetric game.
- First, in that the two players have different forces to begin with.
- Second, in that the two players may have different objectives to fulfill during a "mission" (the in-game term for a particular scenario of the game).
- The Terminator player may have the objective of destroying a specified area of the board or a specified Genestealer piece or some other objective; and the Genestealer player may have the objective of destroying a specified Terminator piece or all of the Terminator pieces or some other objective.
- Third, in that the pieces of the two players move differently.
- The Terminator pieces move slowly; the Genestealer pieces move quickly.
- Fourth, in that with regard to combat, the Terminator pieces excel at ranged combat, but they are weak in close combat; the Genestealer pieces excel at close combat, but they cannot perform ranged combat at all.
The pieces are moved by the players through a system of "action points", where each piece has a certain amount specified for it. A Terminator piece has few action points; a Genestealer piece has many action points.
The game is notable for its hidden play mechanics, from which it derives much of its playability and tension.
On the one hand, the Terminator player has a variable number of "command points" available each turn which are only revealed to the Genestealer player after they are used up; these command points may be used to move the Terminator pieces either during the Terminator player's own turn or during the Genestealer player's turn. (In the second edition, the extra points were not hidden from the Genestealer player.) On the other hand, the actual number of Genestealer pieces in play is hidden from the Terminator player, because the Genestealer pieces come into play as "blips" which can represent: 1-3 creatures (0-3 in the Deathwing expansion and 1-6 in the Genestealer expansion) in the 1st edition; 0-6 creatures in the 2nd edition; 1-3 creatures in the 3rd edition; and 1-3 creatures in the 4th edition.
In the basic version of the game, playing as the Terminators can be engaging and tactically challenging, partly because the Terminator player is constrained by a time limit for their turn, while playing as the Genestealers can be very straightforward. To overcome this asymmetry, players are encouraged to play each mission of the game twice, swapping between playing with Terminators and playing with Genestealers. The fairly fast play time (around half an hour per mission), driven by the Terminator player's time limitation, makes this feasible.
The Deathwing expansion pack for the first edition included rules for playing the game as a one-player game—that is, playing the game as Terminators using different mechanics for moving the Genestealer pieces. The Genestealer expansion pack for the first edition included rules for human-genestealer hybrids, which could carry weapons and equipment, and for a Magus and for a Patriarch, adding more depth for the Genestealer player. However, these additions were not carried over in the second or the third or the fourth editions, although the third and the fourth editions did include rules for a Broodlord.
The first edition of Space Hulk was released in May 1989.
This edition was further expanded with additional scenarios and rules in articles in the magazines White Dwarf and Citadel Journal. The early articles from White Dwarf were collected and published as two separate expansion packs, and most of the later articles from White Dwarf were collected and published as a book:
- Deathwing, a box set, was released in 1990. It introduced the Deathwing Company (First Company) of the Dark Angels Space Marines Chapter, including the Captain and the Librarian and additional Terminator weapons into the game, which greatly expanded the tactical possibilities for the Terminator player. Among other things the expansion pack also featured rules for the Space Marine player to play the game solo, and it included additional board sections.
- Genestealer, a box set, was released in 1990. It introduced the Genestealer Cult including Human-Genestealer Hybrids and the Magus and the Patriarch into the game, which greatly expanded the tactical possibilities for the Genestealer player. Among other things, the expansion pack also featured rules for an elaborate system of psychic combat, and it included additional board sections.
- Space Hulk Campaigns, a hardback book, was released in 1991 and later reprinted as a paperback in 1993. It introduced rules for Imperial Space Marine Terminators against Chaos Space Marine Terminators, and rules for Space Marines in Power Armour, and it included additional board sections.
The second edition of Space Hulk was released in April 1996.
This edition featured revamped board artwork and miniatures. It featured two identical plastic five-man Terminator squads with standard weaponry and assorted Genestealers.
This edition significantly simplified the rules compared to those of the 1st edition, and it offered less opportunity for expansion, due to the specific dice used for the game. A critical change was made to the Command Point system, no longer allowing them to be used in the enemy turn, altering the strategic complexity of the game. The rules for the heavy flamer were also changed, and the difference between the standard weapons and the area effect flamer was reduced.
This edition was further expanded with additional scenarios and rules in articles in the magazines White Dwarf and Citadel Journal, such as "Defilement of Honour" which involves rules for air ducts, a new kind of board section which allows Genestealers to move off the main board and back onto it from one place to another place, and "Fangs of Fenris" which involves Wolf Guard Terminators of the Space Wolves Space Marines Chapter. However the articles from White Dwarf were never collected and published as any expansion pack.
The third edition of Space Hulk was released in September 2009.
The mail order stocks sold out three days before release, and most Games Workshop retail outlets were sold out within a week of release. Games Workshop announced no plans to reprint this edition of the game as it was intended to be a limited release.
This edition featured new sculpts designed specifically for Space Hulk, instead of being shared with the sets for the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000. Advancements in sculpting and moulding have allowed Games Workshop's Alex Hedström to add a greater level of detail to the miniatures. Each of the twelve miniatures representing Terminators has a distinct appearance, such as Brother Omnio being shown consulting a scanner mounted in his Power Fist. The miniatures representing Genestealers were depicted in various poses, with one bursting up from the floor and another climbing down from the wall. The counters and the board sections of the game were made using new debossing techniques which applied shallow depressions into the cardboard. These board sections were additionally much thicker and heavier than those of previous editions. The Games Workshop studio and box art represents the Blood Angels Space Marine Chapter.
The rules were modernised to some extent, but were largely similar to those of the 1st edition. One critical rule change was that a Terminator jamming his gun on overwatch does not lose the overwatch status. Also, a new rule, allowing a Terminator to go on guard (essentially a close combat version of overwatch), was added.
The fourth edition of Space Hulk was released on September 20, 2014.
Although the Games Workshop website sold out of Space Hulk less than 24 hours after it was available for pre-order, most stores had a number of copies available to buy on release day. The game was largely a re-release of the third edition with a few rules tweaked. It featured additional board sections and missions, plus refreshed graphical presentation of the existing art assets.
Three expansion campaigns were released specifically for iPad. These campaigns chronicle other Space Marine chapters, and they include rules for additional Space Marine Terminator troopers and weapons.
- Space Hulk Mission Files: Dark Angels - Bringer of Sorrow
- Space Hulk Mission Files: Space Wolves - Return to Kalidus
- Space Hulk Mission Files: Ultramarines - Duty and Honour
Numerous video games based on the Space Hulk board game have been released.
Space Hulk, released in 1993, is a real-time tactical game for PC (MS-DOS) and Amiga, developed and published by Electronic Arts. Using overhead maps, the player orders the Marine squads, and controls individual Marines via first-person shooter interfaces. The game features a time-limited option to pause the action while enabling the player to continue issuing commands. The Space Marines featured in this game are the Deathwing (1st Company) from the Dark Angels Chapter.
Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels was released by Electronic Arts in 1995 and 1996, on PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and 3DO. The sequel to the 1993 video game, Vengeance of the Blood Angels combines first-person shooter gameplay with real-time tactical elements.
In 2008, a small group of hobbyists released a PC conversion of the board game, along with assorted scenarios, for free over the Internet. However, within a month the game was removed from the developers' site. They noted that the web download traffic was creating problems, and that Games Workshop were threatening legal action due to THQ's current ownership of the Warhammer 40,000 video game license. According to the development team, their attempts to negotiate for the release of the game with THQ were refused, resulting in the game being rebranded under the name "Alien Assault". A fan-made game called NetHulk  is currently available as freeware. It allows two players to compete head-to-head over an internet or LAN connection, or in a hotseat mode. The game's rules do not strictly adhere to the board game, but are a hybrid of the first and second editions. QSpacehulk is another fan-made freeware available which strictly follows the rules of the second edition.
Space Hulk is a video game for PC (Windows) and Mac and Linux by Copenhagen-based game developer Full Control ApS. It was released in August 2013. The game has received mixed reviews, holding a rating of 59 (out of 100, based on 4 reviews) on review aggregator Metacritic.
Space Hulk: Deathwing is a tactical first-person shooter developed by Streum On Studio released in 2016 for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. It expands the gameplay environment, beyond the narrow maze-like corridors of the original board game and earlier video games, to include massive space ship interiors such as a cathedral. The story is co-written by Gav Thorpe, a longtime Games Workshop author and games designer.
One official card game has been released.
Space Hulk: Death Angel — The Card Game is a card game using a special die for one to six players by Fantasy Flight Games. It was released in 2010.
Four expansion packs have been released:
- Death Angel: Mission Pack 1 Expansion
- Death Angel: Space Marine Pack 1 Expansion
- Death Angel: Tyranid Enemy Pack
- Death Angel: Deathwing Space Marine Pack
Reception and impact
Space Hulk won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1989. Its first expansion, Deathwing, won Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1990.
Matt Forbeck comments: "Space Hulk taught me more about elegance in design than any other game. It's an icon of well-nested mechanics that build a system far greater than its parts. Better yet, every part of the game works to support not only each other but the game's underlying metaphor, giving a united play experience that's unmatched."
- UK White Dwarf WD112 04/1989
- UK White Dwarf WD113 05/1989
- UK White Dwarf WD196 04/1996
- UK White Dwarf WD197 05/1996
- UK White Dwarf WD257 09/2009
- "Space Hulk Update". Games Workshop. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
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- "Rebranding of TDSH". Teardown. Archived from the original on 2009-11-28. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- NetHulk Archived 2009-02-05 at Archive.today
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- Hall, Charlie (2018-10-09). "Warhammer 40K games are a dime a dozen, but Space Hulk: Tactics shines". Polygon. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
- Forbeck, Matt (2007). "Space Hulk". In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 284–287. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Space Hulk Rules. Games Workshop. 1989. ISBN 1-869893-69-7. - included in the game box
- Deathwing Rules & Missions. Games Workshop. 1990. - included in the expansion box
- Genestealer Rules and Missions. Games Workshop. 1990. - included in the expansion box
- Space Hulk Campaigns (softback ed.). Games Workshop. 1993. ISBN 1-872372-65-1.