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Space Hulk: Death Angel The Card Game – A Review

11 April 2012 2 Comments

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game by Corey Konieczka – Published by Fantasy Flight Games

 ” ++Incoming Transmission Level Red ++

Blood Angels Mission Briefing 7362-1

Brother Sergeant Lorenzo:

Assemble your Terminator squad and assault space hulk ++Sin Of Damnation++ via boarding torpedo. Extreme Genestealer infestation aboard. Your objective is to destroy the forward Launch Control Rooms. Expect heavy resistance. Estimates: 44% chance of mission success with 86% squad casualties “

 * * * * * * *

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a co-operative card game for 1-6 players set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Each player takes control of at least one, 2 man team of Space Marines, each with different powers and abilities, on a mission to clean out a Space Hulk (a giant derelict ship that has been infested by Xenomorphs called Genestealers). If you are unfamiliar with Warhammer 40k and its fictional setting, imagine the classic movie, just add in a dark dystopian future, psychics, power armor, an immortal emperor, and creatures from the Netherealms… None of which really matters too the game play, but it does add to the theme!

What’s In The Box

 

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game comes in a very compact box that includes 128 cards, 12 Support Tokens, 6 combat team markers, and 1 combat die for an MSRP of $24.95.

The cards themselves are made of a decent quality card stock, not the best or the thickest I have ever seen in a game, but good enough that I didn’t bother sleeving the cards. The art is fairly well done with full color artwork on the cards representing different locations, 12 unique Space Marines, Genestealers, and finally Broodlords. Fantasy Flight actually included different and unique artwork for the cards, adding multiple different images for the Genestealer cards, giving the Space Marines themselves their own images, and adding unique images to the backs of the action cards showing the 2 Space Marines from that team.

The rulebook is 32 pages long, but this is a smaller than average sized rulebook, so don’t get discouraged into thinking this is an overly complex game. It is decently organized with gameplay examples, images, and has a bare bones turn summary on the back page of the book. Having said that though the game does have some rules that are very easy to overlook, hard to remember your first couple of plays, or are just very situational (support tokens seem to cause the most headaches). I think the game could really benefit from an example of a full round of play with pictures to really help get the concepts down.

The included 6 sided die is actually pretty neat, it is numbered from 0 to 5 with 1, 2, and 3 also having an image of a skull engraved into the corner (skulls represent hits by the Marines). The die is very well made, has a good heft to it, the numbers are easy to read, and the numbers and skull images are actually engraved into the die adding to the longevity of the die.

Finally we are left with a handful of cardboard tokens. They are thick and pleasing to the eye. Nothing too artistically grand mind you but they look nice and are more than adequate for the job.

Components And Presentation Verdict:9.0/10Overall the components are pretty well done. I could be nit picky and request a slightly higher quality cardstock on the cards, but these aren’t too bad to begin with and this isn’t a deck builder requiring constant shuffling of cards. The only honest complaint I can levy is that the rules contain a fair amount of minute details that are easy to forget when first learning the game. The only remedy I could suggest is for a full sample turn to be included in the rules.

How Does It Play?

 

Before we can easily explain the gameplay, it would probably be best to describe what the various components are used for.

The biggest concept to understand in Death Angel is the Formation. Since Death Angel doesn’t use a game board of any kind, it abstracts the concept of locations where Marines are positioned by introducing the Formation. Each Marine is lined up in a single horizontal row and the Marines will always be part of this formation. Marines can switch spots in the formation and face left or right in the formation but must always be in the single file up and down formation. Terrain cards are placed along side the formation in set spots, and only the Marine in that exact spot in the formation can interact with that terrain card. Genestealers also interact with the formation and interact with one Marine at a time. If they kill a Marine then they move one space over to the next Marine as the gap created by the dead Marine is closed. As the Marines explore the Space Hulk, Genestealers and Terrain cards will always be placed to the left and the right of the formation and this is how the Marines interact with the game.

Support tokens have multiple uses and will be your bread and butter when it comes to survival. The main way to gain a support token is by playing the “Support” Action Card. Each time a player plays this action card they gain 1 (not 1 per marine, 1 total) support token to place on a Marine. Support tokens have many uses, the main being allowing the reroll of a die which can be an absolute lifesaver! For example a bad roll that would have killed your Marine can be rerolled by discarding a Support token. The trick is this can only be done if the Space Marine is facing the direction of the attack, making facing and position in the formation absolutely integral to victory strategies in this game. Support Tokens can also be used to interact with various Terrain Cards, the most common use being placing support tokens on doors by using the “Move + Activate” Action Card. Support Tokens placed in this way can actually destroy Genestealers during the Travel sub-phase, which helps since Genestealers normally move with the Marines when a new Location card is played.

Each Space Marine team gets 3 action cards; Support, Move + Activate, and Attack. The Support Action card allows the player to gain a Support Token to place on any Space Marine. Move + Activate allows a Marine to move positions and facing in the formation and then interact with Terrain Cards when and where that is applicable. Finally Attack allows a Marine to Attack Genestealer(s) spawned alongside the formation and within range.

While each team gets their own copy of these 3 cards, they are not exactly the same for each team. For instance one teams attack card allows Brother Leon (one of that teams members) to attack up to 3 times instead of just once. While another teams Attack Card states that each time their attacking space marine rolls a 4 on their attack die they can slay up to 3 Genestealers. Each teams 3 cards are unique to that team, the powers are not sharable with another team, and if the card is specific to one team member and that team member is dead then that special power is lost (but the basic ability of the card is still usable).

Each card is broken down with a number in the upper left corner signifying when in the turn the card activates, with the lowest numbers activating first. Across the top is a bit of thematic flavor text. Underneath the artwork lists what kind of card it is (Attack, Move + activate, or support). Underneath that in the text box is listed any special powers attached to the card when that card is played.

The Void Lock and Location cards represent locations on the Space Hulk the marines will be infiltrating and interacting with. On the upper left and the upper right these cards list what 4 Terrain Cards and where in the formation the Marines will encounter them in this section of the ship. The lower left and lower right list how many potential Genestealers the players will run into (referred to as the Blip Piles). Across the bottom a number in yellow shows how many Genestealers will appear at a major spawn and the number in white is how many appear on a minor spawn. Finally the text box lists any special conditions or rules for this section of the ship.

The Event Cards serve many functions (including making you pull your hair out in rage… but I digress). Event Cards appear once per round and for the most part exist to make the game more difficult for the Space Marines. Some like “Flanking Manoeuvre” (yes that’s how it is spelled on the card) causes all Genestealers to move behind the current Marine they are engaged with (which can be absolutely deadly since it negates the use of support tokens if a Marine is attacked from behind). Another is “The Swarm” which adds 2 Genestealer cards to [b]each[/b] Blip Pile. Not all of them are bad though, some actually help the players like “Full Scan” which actually allows a player to discard a card from one of the Blip Piles. Another is “Cleansing Flames” which allows a player chosen by the person who drew the card to roll the die. If the chosen player rolls a skull, then they slay 2 Genestealers engaged with their Marine. The trick is the Event deck hates you and a Broodlord will shuffle all the bad cards to the top when you are not looking. I have actual photos of this happening… Sadly they were taken with my Iphone so they are too blurry to make out.

The bottom of the cards lists the 2 possible locations that will spawn Genestealers and whether or not it will be a major or minor spawn. To the right of that is a symbol showing which Genestealers will move and which direction they will move. Above this is a text box that serves the purpose of making your life as difficult as possible, adding random effects and situations that need to be dealt with along with the Genestealer threat.

The Genestealer cards are actually pretty simplistic game function wise. Each Genestealer effectively can take only 1 “hit” so there aren’t any obtuse hit point rules that need to be adhered to. They simply show a symbol in the lower left hand corner of the card. If the symbol shown on any Genestealer in a swarm matches the symbol on the current Event card, then all Genestealers in that swarm will move as indicated by the Event Card. Genestealers are referred to as Blips when they are face down in their draw pile.

Terrain cards are also pretty simple to decipher and represent the locations that Genestealers will spawn from. You will want to keep your Space Marines facing towards Terrain Cards at all times if possible else risk getting attacked from behind and risking a nasty death.

The upper left hand corner is color coded to match the Event Cards. If the color on the bottom of an Event Card matches the color on the upper left corner of the Terrain card then that location will spawn Genestealers this round. The upper right hand corner has a symbol matching the Void Lock/Location Cards letting you know if the Terrain Card will be part of the current Void Lock/Location. Finally some Terrain Cards have specific game mechanic text on them.

Finally the Space Marines themselves have an Arrow depicting facing and a number above some flavor text stating the range of said Marines attacks. Also there is an arrow in the upper right and lower left as a movement reminder and a symbol under the Marine’s picture denoting which team the Marine is part of (nice touch for those who have issues with colors). Facing is a very important aspect of the game; Space Marines attacked from behind are at a severe disadvantage and cannot use Support Tokens for re-rolls.

Rulebook turn Summary.

Setup

1: Setup the decks – each deck is shuffled

2: Setup Starting Locations – The Void Lock Starting area is chosen, depending on the number of players.

3: Setup Location Deck – Randomly choose which locations will be encountered during the game by shuffling each location deck separately and drawing one card from each location deck as instructed by the Void Lock Location Card. The chosen locations are kept face down until revealed through play.

4: Choose Combat Teams – Each player chooses at least 1 team of Space Marines to control (how many teams you control depends on the number of players).

5: Setup Formation – The Space Marines are all shuffled under the table (since they are double sided it needs to be a blind shuffle) and then placed on the table in the starting Formation

6: Place Support Tokens – Within easy reach of all players

7: Setup Terrain Cards and Blip Piles – The Void lock Card will tell you how many Blips in each pile and where to place Terrain Cards.

8: Spawn Genestealers – Draw an Event card and spawn Genestealers as directed by the event card but ignoring any other effects of the card.

The object of the game is for the Space Marines to travel to the final location in the location deck and then complete the winning condition on the final card or wipe out both Blip Piles and all Genestealers in the Formation while at the final location. If this is accomplished before all the Space Marines are slain, the players win! If all Space Marines are slain then the players lose.

Each round of the game is broken down into 4 phases

1. Choose Actions Phase

Each player secretly chooses which Action card he would like to resolve this round (Attack, Support, or Move + Activate). Players cannot select the same action they performed the prior round, making it impossible for a team to attack twice in a row for example.

2. Resolve Actions Phase

Players resolve the Action card that they chose during phase 1. These cards are resolved in ascending order starting with the lowest numbered Action cards first.

3. Genestealer Attack Phase

 Each swarm of Genestealers attacks the Space Marine that it is engaged with. If they manage to slay the Space Marine, then they move 1 space in the formation to the next Space Marine possibly creating a larger swarm in the process!

4. Event Phase

The current player says a silent prayer (this is optional but recommended), draws the top card of the Event deck, and then resolves it.

 

These 4 phases are repeated until one of the two Blip piles is completely depleted. When this occurs, the Main Phase is halted and the Travel sub-phase begins.

1. Place New Location Card

The next location card is flipped over and placed on top of the current location card making sure not to cover the bottom of the Void Lock card.

2. Place Terrain Cards

The prior Locations Terrain cards are picked up and new Terrain cards are placed according to the new Location cards directions.

3. Discard/Refill Blip Piles

If there are any Genestealers left in Blip Piles they are discarded and the Blip Piles are refilled according to the new Location card. The important thing to remember here though is that Genestealers currently engaged with Marines in the formation are not discarded and actually travel with the Formation to the next location

4. Follow Location “Upon Entering” text (if there is any)

Once the Travel sub-phase steps are completed, gameplay continues with whichever phase of the round was next in the sequence of play.

 A sample game might look something like this:

It’s still early in a solo game and so far the game is well under control. The Formation looks like this;

Brother Scipio is facing left – At the Door – Facing 2 Genestealers

Brother Zeal is facing right – No terrain – No Genestealers

Sergeant Gideon is facing left – At the Dark Corridor – No Genestealers

Brother Noctis is facing right – At the Ventilation Duct – Facing 2 Genestealers

Lexicanium Calistarius is facing right – At the Corridor – No Genestealers

Brother Omnio is facing left – No terrain – No Genestealers

The door has 1 support token on it and so does Brother Zael.

Purple has Support and Attack

Grey has Attack and Move + Activate

Green has Attack and Move + Activate

It would be really great to get a support token on the door this round but we have some challenges. Brother Zael isn’t facing the correct way to hit any Genestealers neither is Brother Omnio so unless they can move they will not be able to attack this round. If Grey team attacks there will not be a good way to activate the door this round. Only half of the Green team can attack anything and Sergeant Gideon is actually in a good position especially with his support power. Hedging our bets this is what we decide to do. Purple will use Support, Grey will Move + Activate, and Green will Attack. The moves will actually happen in that initiative order (we see this by looking at the number in the upper left hand corner of each card.

First Purple resolves Support adding a Support Token to Brother Omnio. The Special power of Purples Support is moving a swarm of Genestealers one adjacent space over. We decide to move the swarm on Brother Scipio up one putting it at the bottom of the Formation facing Brother Omnio.

Next Grey performs Move + Activate. The facing and location we have for the Grey Team is actually good right now so we jump directly to adding 1 Support Token to the Door. Greys special power on this card allows us to remove 1 card from any Blip Pile which we do ending Greys action phase.

Finally Green Team takes it’s Attack Action, Brother Noctis opens fire and rolls a … 4! Greens special power on its attack card is each time you roll a 4 destroy up to 3 Genestealers from the defending swarm. This destroys the 2 Genestealers Noctis was facing leaving only 2 Genestealers on the bottom of the formation.

Now it is time for the Genestealer Attack Phase. There is one Swarm facing Brother Omnio, the die is rolled producing a … 0! This would normally slay Omnio but luckily he has a support token which we happily spend to roll again producing a… 5! Omnio is safe, for now…

Now the Event Phase begins. We draw “The Swarm” place 2 Genestealer cards into each Blip pile. This also provides 2 lesser spawns one on a yellow location (the door in this case) and the orange location (the dark corridor in this case). Each of those locations gain 1 Genestealer. Finally the Event card shows that any swarm with a Genestealer card that has the tail symbol on it will flank! One of the Genestealers facing Omnio has that symbol so the entire Swarm of 2 moves around and flanks him! Brother Omnio is now in danger of being destroyed if these 2 Genestealers are not dealt with.

The round is now over and a new round begins starting with the Choose Action Phase.

Simplicity Of The Rules: 6.75/10Overall the rules are not terrible; the difficulty comes from minute but integral rules that are easy to overlook. For example the Support action only grants 1 Support Token total not 1 token per Marine you control, spending Support Tokens when attacked from behind is not allowed, or forgetting to have engaged Genestealers carry over when travelling to new locations. Repeated plays will make these issues go away; assuming players take the time to reread the rules after every play until all the minute details are down. I definitely recommend a few solo plays before breaking this game out with friends.

Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?

As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.

Space Hulk – Death Angel lists as a game for 1 to 6 players ages 13+. The artwork used in this game is on the darker side, but does not cross over into the gory category. The imagery is about on par with what you would see in the movie Aliens, especially with the artwork on the Genestealer cards themselves. The rules are also a bit rough to digest, especially with the already mentioned circumstantial rules. It can be a bit confusing to have a rule that works one way half the time and another way the rest of the time. I can almost guarantee you will forget or misinterpret a rule the first time the game is played. Once all the rules are learned and memorized though this isn’t as prevalent an issue.

When you take the rules and images into account 12+ seems like a good minimum age for this game.

Family Friendliness Verdict:6.5/10 Death Angel isn’t really a great family game for a couple reasons. The largest strike against it is the fact that it plays best with 1 or 2 players. Death Angel is a co-op game that can be brutal and sometimes the only way to win is to make sacrifices, as in sacrificing your Space Marines to insure the survival of the team. Add in player elimination, and younger players may not exactly think this fits the definition of “fun”. Dominant personalities can be a problem in any co-operative game and Death Angel just seems to really contribute to this kind of play style.

Death Angel really shines best with fewer players, going from a forgettable game with 6 players and ending up being an absolutely fantastic solo game. I know I may take some flack for that comment but any game that has player elimination, disparaging power among the different teams, and cards and situations that will require you to sacrifice a Marine, just screams for a lower player count. It is quite possible to be eliminated early in the game and have nothing to do but just wait for the game to finish in a 6 player game. Yet in a 2 player game, with each player controlling 3 teams of Space Marines the chances of one player being eliminated are pretty slim (and if it does happen the other players doom can’t be too far away).

Pro’s

  • An absolutely brutal yet fantastic solo card game
  • Captures the Space Hulk theme rather well for a card game
  • Different teams with different powers and abilities
  • Randomizing layout adding to replay value
  • Fairly quick play time with games taking less than 45 minutes
  • Once the rules are down pat the game flows well

Con’s

  • Learning those rules down pat can take a few plays
  • Player elimination in a 6 player game can be frustrating
  • Some teams are more valuable then others leading to a feeling of I don’t want to play the “Red Shirts”
  • This game can be EXTREMELY random and luck of the draw based. An unlucky series of event cards can bring even the best teams to their knees. It is rare but can and will happen.

But Is It Fun?

 Death Angel is probably going to be my first (and hopefully only) game review to receive 2 different scores. The fun of the game as a solo or 2 player game is great with tense decisions, skin of your teeth moments, and a quick enough play time to get in just one more game when you are slaughtered. Yet a 6 player game just seems to emphasize the games faults, player elimination being most predominant. It is debatable about which teams are better than others, but players can agree that some teams are definitely better than others. If you are stuck with the perceived “less useful team” any “Take one for the Team” cards are going to target your team. If you have a bad situation forcing you to choose between killing Valencio or Brother Zael, 99% of the time the answer will be obvious. If Valencio was your last Marine it’s now time for you to sit out the rest of the game.

Death Angel is also a game about damage control for better or worse. It’s not a question of [b]if[/b] a card draw will hamper your best laid plans, it’s an issue of can you hedge your bets and anticipate where the most damage is going to appear next. Plus luck can play a roll in this game. One lucky Genestealer can slaughter a Space Marine while another nimble Marine can fend off 3 Genestealers for multiple turns. Finally as already mentioned the Event deck can really just beat you down mercilessly it’s all in the luck of the draw. Some Event cards can single handedly wipe out half of all the teams if they pop up and you are unprepared. That is truly the nature of the game. If you enjoy a game that can really kick you in the teeth but make you want to keep trying this is the game for you. If randomness and luck are anathema to you or you like 5-6 player games think twice before taking the plunge.

Overall Final Game Verdict: Solo 9/10 Large Play Group 6/10  If you are looking for a challenging game with some great replay value for 1-2 players, for the price you can’t go wrong here.

For the truly masochistic there are also some expansions that add to the challenge of the game.

~ Michael Von Kirchmeyer

Michael
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Space Hulk: Death Angel The Card Game - A Review, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

2 Comments »

  • The Gentleman Gamer said:

    I have to agree with you 100%. This is a game I’ve played on a number of occasions and it only seems to work particularly well (both in atmosphere as well as in terms of the playability of the rules) when you have a low group number.

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  • Grumsh (author) said:

    Thanks for the reply. I have not tried it yet but I am told the Tyranid expansion helps the gameplay with larger play groups. I plan to give it a try when I get through my current backlo of games.

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