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Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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Space Hulk: Death Angel--The Card Game

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Games are not movies or stories; they're vehicles for creative decision making.
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"Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade." (Marcel Proust)
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As noted at the end of my last blog post, I set up SH/DA once I had cleared Magic Realm off the table. I've been playing it ever since, and I completed three or four games so far. So, I thought I'd take a few minutes to reflect on that experience.

First off, it's unusual for me in several ways:

1. It's a card game, and lately I've been telling myself I don't like card games much.

2. It's almost a designed-for-solitaire game, and I used to say I didn't like those as well as just playing both sides of a two-player wargame. (Actually SH/DA is a cooperative game, but I only see myself ever playing it solitaire.)

3. Its theme is completely alien to me: I know nothing about the Warhammer universe except that there is such a thing, and I've never seen any of the Alien movies all the way through.

4. It's getting played--repeatedly! Usually I spend all my time thinking about games rather than playing them.

So, what's this unusual game like for me?

I'll have to say it's compelling, for one thing. I've come so close to victory a couple times that I really want to see if I can make it all the way. And setup is so quick and easy that every time I finish a game, I figure I may as well just set it up again. Once it's set up, it's very easy to get into; and once I get started, I don't want to stop.

On the downside, this game has an unusual feel to it. Some parts of it get on my nerves or don't rub me the right way.

The beginning of each round is a little puzzle. You have to decide what each team of space marines is going to do--move, support, or attack; and no team can do what it did last turn. Mostly you want your marines to kill the enemy, the genestealers; but if all your marines attack this turn, none will be able to attack next turn, and you may be overwhelmed. So, you pick and choose and stagger your actions. In addition, each team has unique special abilities, and those may figure into your plans also.

What I find weird about that first phase is twofold: (1) such detailed planning seems incongruous with a man-to-man shoot-em-up; it'd be better suited for a strategy-level game; and (2) most space marines have a range of 2, so if they're facing the right way, there are almost always two or three choices as to who does the shooting--so I end up shrugging and making an almost random choice as often as not.

The attack, once you decide who will make it, is resolved with a single die roll. If a skull turns up, you kill one genestealer. Certain space marines get more than one roll or some kind of special attack. But that's about it: just roll a die and hope somebody dies.

After the attack, the marines defend against any surviving genestealers. That's also done via a die roll. Roll higher than the number of attackers, or else your space marine gets ripped apart.

Aside from special abilities, the only thing that can affect those die rolls is support. A team performing the Support action places a token on a marine. During attack or defense, that marine can play the token in order to reroll the die--provided he's facing the enemy at the time.

The die rolls may be too big a factor in the game. It's certainly disappointing, after planning out your tactics, to have everything hinge on a couple die rolls. Sudden death is all too common--and the space marines seem to suffer from it more than the genestealers. It may be possible to accomplish the mission, but you'll almost certainly lose more than half your space marines along the way. There's just no good way to protect them, other than careful support and a streak of good luck.

Defending is followed by an event phase, where a card draw results in some random happening. Then more genestealers are spawned, and some of them may move around (often flanking your space marines). There are two "blip piles" of facedown genestealer cards, one on each side of your formation. When either pile empties out, your marines travel to another part of the ship they're clearing out.

In the solitaire game, there are four parts of the ship to clear. Last night, I made it to the fourth and final part. Unfortunately, I had only one space marine left by then. Fortunately, he survived the genestealer attack and was able to make a heroic charge and kill three genestealers next turn. Unfortunately, two genestealer "brood lords" had appeared, and they killed him.

* * *
So, what about those four "unusual" things I listed at the top of this post?

Quote:
1. It's a card game, and lately I've been telling myself I don't like card games much.

Well, I have to admit that cards are convenient; they make for quick setup and a fast-moving game. Ordinarily I prefer to see everything laid out on a mapboard. But the abstract space-marine formation and terrain features convey the impression of traveling through a derelict spacecraft. As in games like Up Front, cards work sufficiently well here. In fact, I like this better than UF, because in SH/DA it's always clear where the friends and enemies are in relation to each other (I was terrible at picturing that in UF, with its range chits).

Quote:
2. It's almost a designed-for-solitaire game, and I used to say I didn't like those as well as just playing both sides of a two-player wargame. (Actually SH/DA is a cooperative game, but I only see myself ever playing it solitaire.)

The challenge is a driving force in this game. Almost accomplishing a mission motivates me to try again. If I were just playing both sides of a two-player wargame, the ending would be anticlimactic: one side would win and the other would lose, and since I was playing both, it wouldn't matter that much to me. Having a real goal to aim for does add a certain amount of tension.

Quote:
3. Its theme is completely alien to me: I know nothing about the Warhammer universe except that there is such a thing, and I've never seen any of the Alien movies all the way through.

It's still a combat game, and I've played enough of those that the setting doesn't matter much to me. The artwork and flavor text capture my imagination well enough. And maybe it's better that I don't know anything about the Warhammer universe; it ends up being more exotic and mysterious to me. Though game play is rather abstract and dicey, the "realism" (rich, detailed theme) is important to me; if I didn't feel like I was leading a group of space marines on a combat mission, I would not want to play the game at all.

Quote:
4. It's getting played--repeatedly! Usually I spend all my time thinking about games rather than playing them.

Playing SH/DA makes me glad I placed an order for Phantom Leader the other day. That's another solo game that supposedly plays in a series of short missions. I can see myself getting into that.

As to SH/DA itself, I expect to grow tired of it before too much longer. At least for now. I've set the game up again, so I'll play at least once more--maybe tonight. But the fiddliness of a game whose outcome depends so much on die rolls is beginning to wear on me. So, I may have to put the game away until next time the mood strikes.

The game I want to get onto the table next is Firepower. It's my newest acquisition, and I haven't played it since 1985. So, I want to give it a shot and see if it brings back memories or opens up future possibilities.
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Subscribe sub options Tue Apr 3, 2012 4:23 pm
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