Review - Space Hulk: Tactics

As a kid, I remember going into school on the last day before the Xmas holidays. Everyone had brought in toys, board games, Gameboys, all that jazz. In amongst the various Monopoly boards, Scrabble tiles and Buckaroo pieces was a box containing the Space Hulk board game. The cover art instantly hooked me and I spent the rest of the day convincing the owner to play it with me. I never saw the board game again (despite asking Santa), and eventually, I moved on and forgot all about it. A few years later, my younger brother got into 40k, collecting the figures etc. I started to see the artwork and books around the place, and over time, grew to love the art and the lore. Flash forward 20 odd years and, while going down the YT rabbit hole one day, I started watching 40k lore videos. Nestled amongst them was an advert for the (at the time) upcoming Space Hulk Tactics video game, and it was a turn-based strategy, a genre I've got a serious soft spot for. I was immediately interested and waited on the release with growing interest.
The developers own description pretty well sums up what you'll be getting into.
Space Hulk Tactics is a turn-based strategy game set in the Warhammer 40k universe, pitting squads of Space Marine Terminators against swarms of alien Genestealers, aboard massive amalgamations of abandoned starships called Space Hulks.
Based on the classic Games Workshop boardgame, Space Hulk Tactics lets you pick between these two factions in full campaigns, solo vs A.I, or competitive online play. A new card system enhances the turn-based strategy gameplay, ensuring no two games are ever the same and giving you many more tactical options on every turn. With a map creation tool also available, you will never run out of new scenarios to play.
So, at its heart, it's an asymmetrical, turn-based strategy game. One side plays as the Space Marine Terminators, genetically modified supersoldiers that are both heavily armed and heavily armoured. The other side plays as the Genestealers, an alien hive mind that can absorb DNA from others and alter it's structure, evolving into new forms, each one more dangerous and more vicious than the one before.

Although all modes are unlocked from the beginning, if you aren't already familiar with the rules of the board game or find dice rolls, calculating modifiers and percentage chances a bit confusing, I'd HIGHLY recommend doing the campaign first. It'll take you through the ins and outs of the game, introducing new weapons and character classes as you go. You'll get to experience the different environments and their hazards, as well as the enemies and mission types. This gives you a chance to learn the more obscure rules and nuances of the game, and how it all works, before going into a ranked or competitive match.
As I said earlier, this is an asymmetrical strategy game so both sides play a little differently. I suggest beginning with the Space Marines, they play pretty straightforward and their gameplay style will be familiar to anyone who has played XCOM or something similar. You'll start by placing your squad onto the "board". The starting location will be chosen for you but you will be able to decide what character starts where. You'll advance forward through the maze of corridors and small rooms, taking shots and using overwatch to block or stop enemy advances. When an enemy is encountered and you take a shot, your chance to hit is calculated using dice rolls, but also gives a percentage-to-hit chance if you prefer that. A successful hit means a kill. No hitpoints or medkits in this one, so consider the options and chances before committing to an action. Every square moved, every 90° turn, every shot or action will cost them Action Points (AP) to perform. Once these AP are spent, it's time to end the turn and let the Genestealers take theirs. As they do, you'll see "blips" appearing and moving on the board, think of the motion detector from Aliens, but these won't actually be revealed until line-of-sight contact is made. When spotted, the blip will reveal itself and its contents will appear on the board. A blip might be a false alarm or house as many as 3 biomorphs.  You'll avoid, outwit, defend against or just plain destroy these Xenos swarms as you proceed through the ruins of the dilapidated Hulk, trying to reach the objective. These vary from simple "Escape the area" or "Purge the Xenos" missions to slightly more complicated ones, where a certain amount of computers must be accessed, something collected or a certain enemy killed.

The Tyranid Genestealers however, play slightly differently. Instead of fielding a squad all at once like the Marines, they instead can spawn a certain amount of "blips" per turn. Blips can vary in strength and their contents can range from 0, used to misdirect, to the most powerful ones that contain 3 Biomorphs. This means you have a constant stream of biomorphs appearing on the board, their numbers swelling every turn. Biomorphs are, on the whole, much faster and more agile than the Terminators. This means they have more AP per character and have no cost for turning. This allows them to move further, and change direction without penalty, making them much more mobile than the Space Marines. In order to be victorious, they must use their higher numbers and AP to surround and overwhelm the Terminators. Being able to spawn reinforcements is the main "pro" of the Genestealer side and can be used to great advantage. Their main "con" however, is that they're melee fighters only, having to risk the marines ranged weaponry to get close enough for the kill.
There is something that can change the tide of battle though, pushing it in favour of your chosen side. The card system. Each character type (from both sides) has a selection of cards associated with them and having them in your squad/swarm adds their cards to your deck. Every turn, you'll be given a hand of 3 cards drawn randomly. Used cards are discarded and replaced with deck cards at the turns end. All cards have two uses, you can "play" them or "convert" them. More powerful cards cost more to play but also convert into more resources. How "play" works is obvious, you use the card and receive the relevant effect. This might be an increase in hit chance, lower enemy defence or, in the Genestealers case, even allow weaker blips to become stronger Biomorph types, giving them new abilities and advantages. How "Convert" works is different depending on who you play as. When the Space Marines convert a card, it becomes squad AP with better cards turning into more AP. Any marine can then use these to move, take shots etc allowing them to do more with their turn, increasing their effectiveness above the normal range. 
Genestealers, however, use converted cards to spawn new "blips". The better the converted card, the more Genestealers a blip will contain. They even have a dedicated phase during their turn totally devoted to converting cards and spawning blips. This is how they introduce more biomorphs to the board, allowing them to swell their ranks to even greater numbers. 

So, at its heart, this is what battles boil down to. A small, compact team of Marines, slow-moving but with ranged weapons, against a constant stream of fast-moving and agile melee fighters. This back and forth provides the main thrust of the game, and various level modifiers and limits ensure it never gets stale.

Once the campaign is done, you can try the Skirmish mode. Here you can customise your own squad of Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves or Ultramarines, as well as your own hive of Genestealers from the Pure, Behemoth, Leviathan and Kraken strains. Loads of visual customisation can be made, with faces, paints, armour pieces, adornments and accessories all having options to choose from. Personalise your squad/swarm before letting them loose on the large collection of different maps and missions, both official and community made. Test yourself against the A.I or against other players. Create your own maps and missions using the map editor and even see how you compare to your friends by checking out the ranking system and online leaderboards. 
Ultimately, I really enjoyed my time with Space Hulk Tactics. It has the gothic, grungy look I love from the 40k universe and, while never amazing, the art-style of the game is well done, for what it is. The first person view is good at getting across the dark, claustrophobic feel of the interior of the Hulk, and Genestealers look particularly scary in this mode. Unfortunately, I found it almost impossible to plan my moves with this camera and quickly changed back to the "traditional" view. Luckily, a simple "up" on the D-pad allows instant switching between the 2 views. Another gripe was with elements of the Space Marine campaign. I found the upgrade process a little grindy at times, especially early on. Also, the rules for characters, abilities and weapons can be a little text heavy, making them seem more complex and confusing than they really are. My fear is that some people might see the wall of text, with dice rolls and modifiers everywhere, and feel it's not for them. Stick with it though and the charms of the game will quickly shine through. I'd tell all strategy game lovers to Try it, it provides something familiar with one playstyle, and something a little different with the other. I'd class it as a "Must Buy" for fans of the board game, it feels like a pretty faithfully done adaptation and its board game roots feel obvious, but are also a good fit. Certainly, one to take a look at, especially if you need something to fill an X-com sized hole in your life!

Developed by Cyanide Studio
Published by Focus Interactive

By jonnydarkfang
Gamertag - jonnydarkfang