Space Crusade….. even the mention of it sparks off my imagination. All I need to hear is a whisper…. “space crusade” and my mind is there, in space, with the Imperial fists, fighting for the emperor on board some derelict space hulk… bolter in one hand, gene-stealer in the other and a sprawling corridor of darkness, with the faint and intimidating sound of an approaching dreadnaught echoing around the ship’s hull.
Because that’s what this board game did for me. I didn’t even need to play it. I could sit for hours flicking through the mission book, or examining the miniatures, and that was more than enough. This was the game which truly brought home the Warhammer 40k universe for me; it encapsulated it, and I’ve loved it ever since.
Ultimately, encapsulating the Warhammer universe was probably Games Workshop’s aim here. Warhammer was a well established game & concept before Space Crusade arrived in the early part of 1990. With extensive games such as Space Hulk, setting the mood. The only problem with Space Hulk and it’s counter-parts was accessibility. It was well known amongst it’s aficionados for sure, but the concept wasn’t really accessible for the home markets. Games Workshop sought to change this, and in collaboration with MB Games they released Hero Quest based on the Warhammer fantasy world, and shortly after, Space Crusade, based in a simplified 40k world. They also then complicated it again by releasing Advanced Space Crusade, which was designed to appeal to their core fans, and is much more like the modular, Space Hulk to play. Also, as it’s not licensed by MB it lacks a lot of the components featured in the original version.
I remember receiving my edition for Christmas 1990, and was in fits of excitement…. my parents, less so, probably realising they would now have to sit and participate in said game. Somewhere along the line, my original version has been sold or misplaced, featuring the original gloomy cover artwork, still shown on the manuals. The version I have here is the second edition, with – in my opinion – less atmospheric artwork, by Jim Burns.
The game also spawned a number of computer conversions, which were equally as good. I’ll discuss those further at the end of this video.
Now, although Space Crusade is a simplification on the Warhammer formula, I still couldn’t for the life of me remember the rules, but after flicking through the rule books for about an hour, it trickled back to me. Well enough that I can explain the premise to you in this video. The first task is to set up the board, and make sure you have all the many, many pieces. This is quite a time consuming task, requiring fiddly slotting, placing and manoeuvring. I actually started filming this in the evening and had to continue the following day. But then this is a game that could easily drag on for a number of days, even weeks if you played it as a campaign. I remember it being setup on my parent’s dining table for a number of weeks, before I was persuaded to clear it or finish the game.
How to Play
Before you attempt to play this game, it’s vital that you acquaint yourself with the back story, for no other purpose than simply because I love it. Essentially 25 millennia ago, in a galaxy far, far away… no, wait, wrong universe. *ahem* 25 millennia ago, in apparently the same galaxy, mankind developed the warp drive, this led to vast distances of space being explored, however it also unleashed the forces of Chaos from within Warp space. Some ships entering warp space would be lost for countless years, reappearing many moons later as twisted, derelict vessels. These ships are known as the Space Hulks, and they brought with them the spawn of evil. This spawn fought mankind for many a year until some chap called the Emperor popped up. He created the Space Marines to fight these gruesome foes, and that’s where you come in. Travelling from Alien craft to alien craft, your job is to attach to the side of these ships, invade, destroy and complete whatever objective is given to you in the mission briefing. Talking of missions, there are quite a few you can pick from. Each has it’s own board layout and starting conditions which the space marines and the alien player must abide to. In this mission, the objective is to “Disable the Defence Shield” by walking into the reactor room, firing randomly and scoring 3 or more. The secondary mission is then to destroy the command centre. If neither of these missions are completed, the alien receives the mission points.
The game is playable with between 2 and 4 players. But there must always be one player who plays as the Alien commander. The remaining players must choose between the Ultra marines chapter, the Imperial fists or the Blood angels. So let’s start;
The Imperial fists enter the vessel, commander’s can move up to 6 spaces, light weapon holders 6 and heavy weapon wielders, 4. As soon as a marine enters one of the board quadrants, they must scan the area. This involves the alien player placing down a series of blips out of the line of sight of the marine. If upon moving, a marine then has line of sight with one of these blips, it is turned over and the alien piece is revealed. The worst case scenario at this point is for a dreadnought to be uncovered, but thankfully in this instance it’s just some androids, chaos marines and an ork.
Players can shoot at each other by rolling dice, relevant to whatever weapon they’re wielding. Heavier weapons use more dice and therefore have a greater chance of inflicting damage. If a player rolls more points than a particular miniature’s armour points, that miniature dies and is removed from the board. The marines for example have 2 armour points each. The commander also has 2 armour points, but has 6 lives, which are represented on each player’s scanner.
Each kill gives the player a specific number of points. Marine chapters also have the chance to use order or equipment cards at the start of each round, which can bolster their position. The alien commander must take an event card on each round, which can either be helpful or less helpful. The alien commander can move all their pieces on each round, the same as each marine chapter can. You’d think this gives the alien commander an advantage, having more pieces, but actually the game is pretty well balanced.
Completing the mission gives you bonus points, and once both the primary and secondary missions are complete, the marines can haul ass and escape back to their docking vessel. Points are counted up after all the teams are back, and the player – either alien or marine – with the most points, wins.
You can then opt to play a campaign, where you keep playing mission upon mission, ranking up as you go, until either a marine chapter or the alien reaches the top rank of Captain Senioris or Lord of Chaos respectively. This can result in epic matches which can last weeks, if not months.
Of course, the best time to play is late at night, with the lights low. This is when your imagination can really make the game greater than it’s parts. I can’t quite place why I love this game, but I think it lies somewhere between the imagination provoking Warhammer universe and the amount of tactical freedom you get to achieve your goals. This isn’t a board game where you have to stick to a particular path… you can pretty much do as you please, and whatever you do has consequences. It’s a real strategy based game, and regardless of the setup time, it’s frickin’ awesome.
The Video Game
Of course, setting it up does become a pain in the arse after a while. So if you prefer not having your dining room table consumed for several weeks, then you can always play one of the epic computer conversions. This is also useful if you have no friends, or just stupid friends, who can’t understand how to play the game.
I owned the game on the Spectrum, the Commodore 64, the Amiga AND the PC. I made sure to buy this game for each system, just because it was so damn good. The switch between top down and isometric views adds to the atmosphere dramatically, and all the conversions just seemed to capture the special feeling that the board game provoked. Either that, or I was such a fan boy that I would have loved it even if it was a static picture of a marine letting one rip.
There isn’t any other game like it. No other game manages to capture the absolute magic…. oh wait, except Laser Quest… yeah, that’s essentially the same game. But hey, it’s still great regardless.
Space Crusade, Laser Quest, whatever your pickle, buy it, play it, live it…. just don’t paint the miniatures, unless you’re really good at painting. OK?
Space Crusade for life.