[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 13 ]
“By our fury, they shall know the Emperor’s name! Forward and destroy the infestation my Brothers!”
Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a cooperative card game for 1-6 players from Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop set in their Warhammer® universe. You are a squad of soldiers clad in powered-up, mechanized armored suits rippling with weapons making your way through a giant space “hulk” of a starship, infested with aliens called Genestealers. You don’t need to have any knowledge of the Warhammer® intellectual property – just think of it as your space marines doing battle with xenomorph aliens from the popular movie franchise Alien. Since this is a cooperative game with all players trying to win (or lose) together, this makes a great solo adventure. But don’t get your hopes up, the aliens in this game are relentless and don’t often lose.
You start by selecting your marines (or choosing randomly) which come in pairs, each assigned a color. Each pair of marines comes with a color-matched set of three action cards. Each pair of marines has different abilities than the others – some may be better at attack, or defense, or movement. The “board” is set up with a set of locations at the top with the top-most card flipped to show where you are and also displays setup information. Beneath are your marines randomly distributed in single column but the first three face to the left and the bottom three face to the right. On the location card will be the terrain cards that get assigned to spaces on either side of the marines. These include ventilation ducts, doors, control panels, and hallways. Most objectives require you to make your way through the space hulk to the last location and escape with at least one soldier still alive while other objectives may require a different end game requirement. Finally, to the left and right of the location card are small piles of face down Genestealer cards, called blip piles (again, think of space marines in Aliens and their motion trackers), from which aliens will spawn and attack your marines from each side in the column formation.
Each turn involves four phases. First is the Actions Phase where you choose which action cards you will activate – one for each set of marines. However, you cannot choose the same action card in a set in back to back turns. Second is the Resolve Actions Phase. Actions are now resolved based on the lowest numbered card first. Some action cards apply to both marines while others may only apply to one of “Your Brothers.” When using an “Attack” card, the dreaded “skull” die is rolled. A skull indicates you have killed an alien (50/50 chance). A player can also choose “Move and Activate” which allows you to change up your formation and move marines around, change their facing direction and activate a location. The last type of card is the “Support” which allows the player to place support tokens on marines to allow for re-rolls of the die or allow for activations when subsequently playing “Move and Activate” cards.
Once all of your actions are done, then it’s time for the Genestealers Attack Phase. The more aliens in the swarm adjacent to a marine means it’s easier and far more likely that the marine will get attacked! One hit on a marine and they are eliminated form the game. Once each swarm on each side of your marines attack, you flip an event card and follow the text in the Event Phase. (hint: it’s usually bad) Also the card will indicate where more Genestealers spawn, from which blip pile they come from, and specify their movement within your squad’s formation. The game continues until you make your way through all the locations in the scenario and complete your objective or the aliens eliminate all your hardened space marines.
After one or two plays you’ll understand how to play the game. But, don’t be fooled! This is game is hard…really hard. The skull die is unforgiving. Even with a 3 in 6 chance of rolling a skull, it seems they never come up often enough. The randomness of the die roll is what makes the game exciting. Reading through the forums on BoardGameGeek online and you will notice a recurring pattern – loss. But quite honestly, if it were too easy, this game would not be as popular or fun as it is. When you do win, often times, you will do so with a lone marine or, if you’re lucky, two left – and it feels really good!
It is quick to set up and as your marines get killed by aliens you can return their cards to the box which makes clean up a breeze. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game makes top 10 solo game lists every year since its initial release in 2010. There are a couple of expansions that offer some more scenarios as well as some additional soldiers to choose from for your squad. It’s an alien beat down that is thematic, challenging and a rousing great time!