The term "space hulk", from which the game gets its name, is used within the Warhammer 40,000 universe for any masses of ancient, derelict starships, asteroids, and other assorted space junk that eventually merges into one massive form, ranging from the size of a small moon to a large planet, which drift through the territory of the Imperium.
Because a space hulk may contain lost information or ancient technology, the Imperium often sends teams of Space Marine Terminators to search for and recover these valuable items. The space hulk may not stay in realspace for very long, eventually slipping back into the Warp, so retrieval operations must be rapid and efficient.
Tyranid Genestealers often make homes of these space hulks, attacking those who come aboard in order to spread their genetic code further afield. The game pits an investigative force of Space Marine Terminators against such a coven.
Games Workshop re-released a limited edition of the game on August 18, 2009. It features unique figures and it is unclear if the rules matches those of the First or the Second Edition of the game, including Librarians, Space Marine captains, most of the weapons available for Space Marine Terminators and a new Genestealer miniature, the Brood Lord. This limited edition revival was intended for use by two players. Another limited edition of the game was released on September 20, 2014.
The original board game has served as the inspiration for a number of different Warhammer 40,000 video games -- both tactical turn-based and first-person shooter -- based upon it.
The game is set on a board made up of various corridor and room tiles which can be freely arranged and locked together like a jigsaw puzzle to represent the interior of derelict space ships. One player controls the Space Marines, and the other controls the Genestealers.
The game is notable for its hidden play mechanics, from which it derives much of its playability and tension. The actual number of Genestealers in play is hidden from the Space Marines because they came into play as "blips" which can represent 1-3 creatures (or 0-6 in the Deathwing expansion and Second Edition).
On the other hand, the Space Marine player has a number of "command points" available each turn which are only revealed to the Genestealer player after they are used up. (In the Second Edition, the extra command points are no longer hidden from the Genestealer player.)
Space Hulk won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1989. Its first expansion, Deathwing, won Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1990.
In the basic versions of the game, playing the Genestealers is very straightforward; so simple, in fact, that Space Hulk is quite playable as a solo game. Playing the marines on the other hand is engaging and tactically challenging -- partly because the Space Marines player is constrained by a time limit for his turn.
To overcome this shortfall, players are encouraged to play each game twice, swapping roles after the first play. The fairly fast play time (around half an hour per game), driven by the Space Marines' time limitation, makes this a reasonable solution.
The expansion packs for the First Edition add Human-Genestealer hybrids, which can carry weapons and equipment, to the Genestealer player's forces, adding more depth for the Genestealer side.
The First Edition has two expansion packs:
- Deathwing focuses on additional Space Marine weapons, Space Marine Librarians, new features and rules
- Genestealer introduces Genestealer hybrids, greatly expanding the tactical possibilities for the Genestealer side, and an elaborate system of psychic combat.
Further scenarios and rules were released in the White Dwarf and Citadel Journal magazines. A hardback book, Space Hulk Campaigns, was released in 1991 and later reprinted as a paperback in 1993. It contained much of the magazine material, including rules for Traitor Terminators and Space Marines in standard power armour and some new board sections.
The Second Edition of the game has no expansion packs, although additional scenarios and board sections were released in White Dwarf magazine. While it features better board artwork and Terminator models, it is significantly simplified from the original rules and offers less opportunity for expansion.
A critical change was made to the Command Point system, no longer allowing them to be used in the enemy turn altering the game's strategic complexity. The flamer rules were also changed and the difference between the standard weapons and the area effect flamer was reduced.
Space Hulk 1st Edition and its expansion complemented their rules and missions with a compelling story, drawing the player into an intriguing sci-fi world.
The Genestealer expansion describes the heroic battles against a Genestealer patriarch and his retinue. Ironically, neither the Deathwing or Genestealer scenarios are situated in a Hulk.
Official support and player community
Games Workshop hasn't added Space Hulk to its collection of "specialist games," but it has made a version of it available on its website.
However, a hardcore player community still exists that still contributes to the existing game, generally based on elements in the ever-expanding Warhammer 40,000 universe; thus custom rules and accessories can be found on various sources around the Internet. Many contemporary miniatures of Warhammer 40,000 can still be used to replace or complement those of Space Hulk.
Three computer games were made based on the board game, the first, Space Hulk, for the PC and Amiga; and the second, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, for the PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and 3DO game consoles. Both of these were tactical action shooters based on the boardgame rather than reproductions of the boardgame.
In 2005, a mobile phone version of the Space Hulk boardgame was released. This game replicates the board game's play mechanics and allows play as either Space Marines or Genestealers.
An open source fan conversion of Space Hulk based on the Second Edition rules can be found at SourceForge
In 2013 Full Control Studios released a Space Hulk computer game for the PC, recreating the board game in a digital space.
- Space Hulk (1989) (Board Game)
- Space Hulk Deathwing Rules & Missions (1990) (Board Game Expansion)
- Genestealer Rules & Missions (1992) (Board Game Expansion)
- Space Hulk Campaigns (1993) (Board Game Expansion)