Space Hulk: Death Angel – A Condensed Review

Two cats looking at the Space Hulk: Death Angel box.

Today me and the cats are taking a look at Space Hulk: Death Angel, designed by Corey Konieczka and released by Fantasty Flight Games in 2010. In 2017 FFG lost the license to publish games set in the Games Workshop universes, and this card game of tactical combat in the Warhammer 40,000 universe went out of print. You can still get it for a reasonable price on the second hand market, though. But do you want to? Keep reading to find out.

What to Expect

I’ll blatantly say it right away: I really like this game! It’s not without its flaws, however, and it’s probably not for everyone. Expect a confusing rule book, some strangely worded cards that you might have to look up on the BGG forums to be able finish the turn, and a somewhat fiddly playing experience. Once you get past these issues, expect a pretty big tactical gaming experience for such a small box and so few components. Expect a game where carefully planning a turn or two ahead will definitely pay off. Expect intensity and few moments to catch your breath. Also, expect losing to an unlucky die roll or card draw once in a while. And last but not least, expect an incredibly nerdy and juvenile macho theme and a trip to a dark future where there’s only war. Being incredibly nerdy myself, I quite enjoy playing a game set in the Warhammer 40K universe once in a while. Now let’s have a summary look at how the game plays.

Components and Gameplay

In this game, your job is to lead three small teams of Space Marines through a Space Hulk, a massive derelict space ship infested by vicious aliens – the Genestealers . The game comes with 128 quality linen finish cards, some cardboard tokens and a custom six-sided die. The cards represent your teams, the enemies, different locations, events, and the actions your teams can take.

Somebody is playing Death Angel and a tabby cat is sitting on the table watching.
Mysan is keeping an eye on my progress.

Upon entering the Space Hulk, the Space Marines are placed in a vertical row. Think of them as a column of soldiers entering a hostile environment. The placement of the cards represent the relative spatial orientation of the combatants and the surrounding structures. Depending on where in the Space Hulk your Marines are currently located different terrain cards will be placed along the sides. Each Space Marine is facing either left or right and can only attack targets on the side they’re facing. Their weapons have different range. The enemies will be moving around and attacking from both sides of the column.

Each turn, each of your three teams take one action. Each team has a movement card, an attack card and a support card, but the cards all have unique abilities apart from those three basic actions. The action cards played will be unavailable on the turn after they have been played. This means for example that a team can’t attack on consecutive turns. This makes for some interesting planning.

After the actions are carried out, the Genestealers attack the closest Space Marine. Then you draw an event card with instructions for the Genestealers’ movement and the spawning of more Genestealers, and a special event that feels more likely to be bad than good. If you manage to use your limited options in the most efficient way, fight your way through this mess and destroy the launch control of the Space Hulk, you win. Yes! Sometimes you actually do win.

A game of Death Angel The Card Game in progress on an oak table.
When the only Space Marine who doesn’t have any re-rolls left fails to dodge the attacking Genestealers on the turn after an event card had Brother Zael’s heavy flamer malfunction, you don’t feel so sure of yourself anymore, do you?

If you want to know more about how to play the game and how it looks, watch this exceptional video by LonelyMan BGs.

Pros

+ Interesting tactical choices every turn.
+ A surprisingly mean and challenging game in a small box.
+ A strongly thematic experience; the names of the cards (“Promethium Tank” and “Spore Chimney” for example), the great artwork and the uncertainty of the dice rolls, does a great job of immersing you in this horrible vision of the future.
+ Quite a lot of variety, since part of the setup is randomized.

Cons

The rule book is something of a mess – not the worst, but definitely annoying.
The game is out of print.
The theme most certainly is not for everyone.
Moving cards with little counters on them around is a bit fiddly. This is a very minor issue, though.

A Neutral Point

This is a high skill, high luck game. It’s hard to win if you play poorly, but you can certainly lose despite playing well. I like that, but some people might not.

Target Audience and Final Thoughts

Anybody who wants a tactical skirmish game for solo play should have a look at Death Angel if they get the opportunity. Anybody who used to play Warhammer 40K and wants to return to that messed up world for 20-40 minutes or so would probably enjoy this game as well. I don’t like this game as a co-op, but some people do enjoy it that way. To me it’s a solo only game, and one of the best in that category.

Once you get past the rule book this game’s a blast! If you have strangely deep and somewhat rectangular pockets, you could bring this game with you anywhere! Look patiently on the used market. You can still find it for the manufacturers suggested retail price once in a while.

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