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Caledonian Deathwatch Network

Game Review: Space Crusade

Developed By: Gremlin Interactive

Platform(s): DOS, Android(?)

Genre: Turn Based Strategy

Overview

Space Crusade is a 1992 video game based on the Space Crusade board game. It was one of the earliest video games of the Warhammer 40,000 series, being released in between first and second edition in 1990. The board game was produced jointly by Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, and included several Warhammer 40,000 miniatures. The game consisted of 2-4 players, with 1-2 marine players, and a 4th Alien player. Taking control of squads of Ultramarines, Imperial Fists or Blood angels, the players would need to guide their squads through several dangerous and challenging maps, defeating enemies, managing squad resources, and achieving critical Primary and Secondary objectives. The video game version of this is literally a digital version of the board game, so much of what I reference in this review will be relevant to both the video and board game versions.

Gameplay

For the more modern gamers amongst you, the closest comparison of gameplay that I can offer you would probably be Space Hulk – although this game is far simpler than it’s younger brother! Each player selects one of the Space Marine squads to use (this is true in both formats), with the remaining player taking on the role of the “Evil Wizard” or Alien Player (Heroquest reference for you all there). Each squad is led by a commander, and a cadre of “expendables”. If you’re playing a campaign of the game (and I highly recommend that you do, as it’s the best way to enjoy the experience), your commander will increase in renown and prestige if he continues to survive, defeat enemies, and accomplish mission objectives. This will extend his wargear options, and allow him to issue more orders to his squad (more on this later).

While all of the marine squads have a good degree of cross over, there are subtle differences between them which allow for some replayability and different tactical approaches. As you might expect, the Ultramarines have some tactically flexible orders allowing double movement, while the siege master imperial fists have speed bonuses for their heavy weapon wielders. These subtle differences just add that little bit of flavour and depth to the game, and make for new and interesting challenges each time you play.

Before starting a mission, you have the opportunity to set your Commander’s wargear and squad composition. The commander has 3 different options:

  • Power Axe & Bolter
  • Power Sword & Power Fist
  • Heavy Bolter

There is a big difference between “light” and “heavy” weapons in the game. A heavy weapon such as the heavy bolter or the power fist can roll the red attack and defence dice (which can roll as high as a 3 for a roll), whereas something more basic like the bolter rolls the white attack and defence dice, which are capped at 2 per roll. When making an attack roll, all the weapon’s scores are added together, and the difference in the defender’s score (if applicable, there’s no defence vs ranged attacks) is dealt as damage to the loser. There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to the configurations – the heavy bolter for example is dangerous at range, but leaves your captain somewhat vulnerable to melee – and you WILL be engaged in melee in this game. Orders and specialist wargear can also be changed between missions (and higher ranked captains can take more of them). These range from medi kits, to blip scanners (revealing hidden enemies) and even digital weapons which offer attack rerolls. For a simple game, there is a decent amount of customisation and tailoring on offer, and it can be fun to experiment with different builds and squad tactics.

The standard game comes with 12 missions, but if you’re so inclined to seek out the expansion packs for either the board game or the video game I believe there are more to be found.  The missions in the game differ from the board game, but the concept is the same, as are the general flavour. Most of the missions direct you to eliminate a priority target(s), or reach a key point on the map. Each mission has a primary and a secondary mission. The primary mission is always known to the marine players, but the secondary is not. This can be learned during certain alien events, but is more often than not discovered after the mission when points are awarded. Points are awarded for completing these missions, as well as defeating enemy units. Large scores award honour badges, and these badges can be exchanged for promotions. This is a key campaign mechanic, as it’s how your commander grows in stature and gains access to more wargear and orders during a mission. This is harder to achieve if you are playing with other marine players – you are all competing to complete the mission first, and rack up the biggest score.

The actual game itself is played from a top down perspective. You control your squad, and can see the surrounding area as shown below:

Each turn you have access to do the following actions with all your marines:

  • Move
  • Shoot/Melee
  • Use Wargear
  • Open a Door
  • Scan for Blips

Commanders can also use orders or any commander only equipment they have access to. When moving through the map, your units are restricted by their line of sight. What this means is that unless they have recently scanned their area, they can stumble across new enemies at any time. This is why it is important to be vigilant and prepare for this. If one of your marines opts to scan during their turn, they may reveal blips in the adjacent areas of the ship.

During the enemy turn (unless they have been revealed), blips move as tokens on the board, remaining hidden until they cross the line of sight of a space marine. It’s important to take blips seriously – while there are many chaff enemies such as gretchin or standard Chaos Space marines, the blip could easily be a Chaos Marine with a Heavy Weapon, or an even more formidable Dreadnought. Planning is key, and if you’re too gung ho with your marines, they could easily find themselves overmatched and overwhelmed. One really neat feature is the isometric view that pops up during attack sequences, zooming in on the units in question.

The alien player will move and act with all of their revealed units every turn, and also move their revealed blips. Additionally, most turns will see an “alien event” being played. This is sometimes good, but mostly bad. For example, your precious heavy weapon unit could be forced to discard his powerful weapon, or your commander might need to report in to the mothership, and can’t move or attack this turn. This makes for a fresh game every time, and adds a nice bit of variety.

Overall it’s a really fun game, with some nice tactical elements and a fun progression system.

Story

Unlike Heroquest where for example there’s the ongoing saga with the Witch Lord villain, there isn’t really a main “antagonist” in Space Crusade. While there are a plethora of enemies to fight and individual missions, there is no overarching story to draw it all together. It’s still fairly cool in terms of the setting though, showing 3 of the most prominent chapters in the Imperium (who are still going strong to this day), and also having early models for some units which are now iconic.

One thing which is very cool, is seeing your commander grow in stature and renown. It’s rewarding to see him grow in experience and power as you continue to survive more missions, and thats probably the main advantage of the video game over the board game. Playing yourself at your own pace, you’re much more likely to complete all the campaign missions and reach the ultimate rank of Captain Senioris.  You will undoubtedly form (Forge?!) your own narrative as you play – I played a mission where my commander was the last man standing, and had to retreat back to his docking claw to win – only to be ambushed literally as I was at the threshold, victory cruelly snatched out of my grasp!

A couple of last thoughts on the setting – in the game there were units called Soulsuckers:

From having had a look at the cards in the original board game, i’m 99% sure that these are meant to be genestealers (which are of course iconic in the Space Hulk board game). There are also “Androids” – i’m not 100% sure on the original timeline for Necrons, but when I look at those units in the game (and the models), I can’t help but be reminded of them. Perhaps that’s something one of you readers can help me out with!

Roundup

 

This game is obviously very old now – but I was able to get it working on my Android device. You can download this game for free at My Abandonware, and it will run on DosBox. There are actually DosBox apps for Android too, which is what I used to play. If you’re interested in playing and struggling with the technicalities let us know, and we will try to help!  I thoroughly recommend that you do, because you’re definitely in for an awesome combination of tactical gameplay and retro goodness! Definitely check this out!

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