Sunday, 26 June 2011
Death Angel: getting to grips with two dimensional Space Hulk
So we got a chance to play Death Angel last Friday, the card game inspired by the Space Hulk boardgame/miniatures game from Games Workshop. I've not played Space Hulk since the early Nineties, but Death Angel looked like it might be quite fun, in that it allows up to six players to work as a team against the Genestealer menace.
On the surface, Death Angel looks complicated, but really it isn't. Each player controls one or more 'squads' of elite Blood Angel space marines. Each squad consists of two marines, distinguished by colour. We started off with three players, and a fourth player arrived later, so we ended up laying on a full unit of 12 marines.
The game involves a 'line' of marines moving through four locations on the space hulk Sin of Damnation. To win, you need to make it out of the fourth location. In reality, you have five, because you begin with your default starting location, the Void Lock.
Moving from one location to the next occurs when you have exhausted that location's reservoir of 'blip' cards, which resolve into Genestealers. Each location brings with it its own challenges for the marines, as well as occasional bonuses (we found an artefact in the Temple of Baal, for example). Each turn, each squad of marines can take one action out of a menu of three. These are Move/Activate, Attack (i.e. shoot at Genestealers or melee them), and Support (provide support counters to marines in the line, which allow them to re-roll dice). The Support action is quite interesting in that it lets you provide support to the points in the line where the Genestealers are most likely to attack.
In addition, the action cards also have squad-specific or marine-specific attributes - including the use of the flamer, the power shield (an invaluable piece of kit which stops a Genestealer swarm in its tracks), and the lightning claws.
I really enjoyed the game, but it seemed almost too easy for us to complete our mission. Either we were lucky, exceptionally skilled, or we mis-interpreted something. I'm keen to give it another go and see how we do. We moved through all five locations - including the void gates where the mission began - losing only three marines, and even one of these turned out only to be wounded, and was restored to us via an event card (he was left for dead, and then caught up with the line later on - dude!) We took two marines KIA, and left the hulk with 10 left alive, which sounds like a fairly decisive victory for me.
We were, however, able to corral most of the Genestealers into attacking two of the marines who had the best hope of fighting them in hand to hand combat, one of whom had the Block ability and plenty of support counters.
Some key questions emerged in the course of play, which we answered on the fly, but which I have sought to find the right answers to:
1. If a Genestealer is spawned by the event card at the end of the round, does it get to move as well (if its movement symbol is on the event card)?
2. Can marines split their fire between different swarms?
3. Can marines target Genestealers of specific symbol types?
Answer: yes (nothing in the rules to say you can't)
4. Is there a limit to the number of support counters there can be on a single marine?
5. Is the block special ability eligible for re-rolls?
The problem with co-op games is that if you win decisively with your first game, is it really hard enough or are you going to win 8/10 times you play? In this case, there's no point really playing it. You want a success rate, even for a seasoned group of players, of around 50%. This is what we tend to get with Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica. Either we're getting something wrong here, or Death Angel is slightly too easy. We did have the full complement of marines, so the threat level may indeed increase with fewer marines, but we were playing with the location cards designed for 3-6 players, so were facing the correct number of Genestealers.
A re-read of the rules may shed some more light on this....
STOP PRESS: upon re-reading the rules, I've found one which might potentially make the game a bit tougher. Namely: you cannot play the same Action card twice in a row. Our strategy relied heavily on one marine being able to use the block ability every turn. Without this, it may well have been a very different game. We shall have to see how it plays next time around with this additional little handicap in place!
It is also worth noting that support tokens cannot be used if you are being attacked from behind, only if you are facing the target. Special marine abilities can be used regardless of facing, but not the support tokens.
Also, each terrain card can only be activated once per game round. In cases like the control panel in the launch control room, only one support marker can be placed on this card every turn.