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Sunday, April 04, 2010

ADB, Inc. Game Night, 31 March 2010: Space Hulk

Steve Cole and Steven Petrick report:

31 March, 2010: We decided to have game night because Joel (the new graphics guy) saw the SPACE HULK game and wanted to play it. We're supposed to have game night every week, but it hasn't happened this year. We asked Customer Service Director Mike Sparks to join us.

Petrick: SVC's report on game night serves as one of those examples of the fog and confusion of battle. SVC did the report and recreated (staged) the photos of the action. But as he was not originally planning to write the article, he went by memory.

Steven Petrick and Mike Sparks took the Space Marines.

Joel Shutts and I (Steve Cole) took the Gene Stealers.

Being a game company, we ignored the scenario book and made up our own scenario. Basically, I snapped together every tile I could, leaving only six in the box. The "close" part of the starship maze was connected to the "far" part by two passages. There were three ways into the close part. The mission was to retrieve two "computer cores" which the scouts had noted an hour earlier before they moved deeper into the ship and were never heard from again. Petrick and Mike had 12 Marines, including the Lieutenant-Librarian, two sergeants, the "claw guy", the Gatling gunner, the flamethrower, and six basic Marines with storm bolters and power fists. A few Genestealers had moved into the "near area" (wandering around aimlessly) and Petrick quickly killed them, sending half of his troops down the right-side corridor and leaving the other half in the "near area" to guard his left flank and escape route.

Petrick: I did not leave "half" the troops to cover the rear, but a "third" (four men). Three shooters and the flamer. SVC did not remember for sure what I had left as a rear/flank guard, and just winged it. Of the other eight men, one (when the second horde began collapsing the rear guard) did face to the rear to cover the hallway behind the main body, and at that point sort of became part of the rear guard, but he was still with the main body, just covering the now open approach into the main body's rear.

The Genestealers of "Brood #1" came in from the back left corner and divided into one team trying (in the "far area") to block the route to the computer core and the second team trying to outflank the Marines through the "near area".

Lieutenant-Librarian Petrick is convinced that attacking in SPACE HULK is all but impossible, and that the defense is supreme. Being told to attack down the corridor and seize an objective left him chanting "We are doomed" over and over.

Petrick: My observation about the dangers of getting into hand-to-hand and advancing into masses of Genestealers when you could not use ranged weapons was largely borne out when you consider:

1.) the first Genestealer horde was divided in attacking the front and rear/flank of column, and suffered very significant losses before the second horde showed up, but despite this was still able (in the forced close combat) to kill seven of the eight Marines in the main body (despite that group including literally all of the "special melee weapon" equipped Marines).

2.) The rear guard, despite having just four men, none equipped with special melee weapons, but able to employ more ranged fire, managed to defeat not only the elements of the first Genestealer horde that were originally in the area they were covering, but almost single-handedly stopped the second horde. (Almost only because we found out after the battle that the Brood Lord was immune to the flamer.)

My US Army experience leads me to ask "where are the grenade launchers which would make advancing with the Marines more plausible".

Lieutenant-Librarian Petrick had used three turns of psychic storms on the compartment held by Genestealers without much effect, killing only about three (total). He all but refused to advance, and Joel (who was fully running the Genestealers by this point, as I had shown him enough of the rules to get the job done) also refused to attack, confident that he only had to block the way to the computer core. I suggested that Petrick send Sergeant Rock (with the hammer and shield) into the compartment on a suicidal berzerker attack. Sergeant Rock killed six Genestealers before one of them cut him down.

Meanwhile, back in the "near area", Mike Sparks (who had also learned the game very quickly) had taken over the Second Squad and was holding the flank. He had (with some suggestions from Petrick) set up a three-way ambush, with three stormbolter Marines on overwatch guarding the only axis of attack. (The Genestealers could have gone further around to their left, but this would have taken a while and the Marines had also blocked that route with stormbolters and overwatch fire.) Joel had tried sending a couple of Genestealers into the kill zone with the obvious effect. I told him to build up a pack of his troops, then send one at a time into the kill zone hoping for a jammed gun. It worked, and Sergeant Mike's gun jammed. Joel sent the Genestealer into a side corridor. One Marine missed, and the second jammed. So, the critical corridor was open! The only Marine wih a working gun was blocked by a Genestealer who cleverly stopped moving and triggering overwatch fire. Joel sent the thundering herd into the gap, and brought Brood #2 up the Garbage Chutes (Petrick did not know that was possible). The attack collapsed the left flank, cutting off the Marines!

From that point, the battle ebbed and flowed.

The rest of Horde #1 launched an attack into Petrick's forward Squad and almost wiped it out; one Marine got out, beating his armored feet down the corridor where the Genestealers had been moments ago. (Joel had pulled out Horde #2 and sent them to round up and slaughter Mike's last three Marines, killing one of them quickly and leaving only the gunless claw-man and the gunless flamethrower operator.

Petrick: Which gets you back to the lessons previously learned: If you cannot mass defensive fires to hit the Genestealers repeatedly as they advance, they will get into close combat, and if they do, you are very, very dead. If you advance into melee with the Genestealers when they have lots of nearby Genestealers to charge in, you are very, very dead. This forces stalemates in that enough firepower (short range) or firepower over a long enough distance can make it very difficult for the Genestealers to advance, but if the Genestealers can mass close to the Marines but out of the line of direct fire, say around a corner, they can charge in, as Marine storm bolters jam too often on defensive overwatch for one man to hold a passageway by himself if multiple Genestealers are in position to reach him in a single turn. Thus advancing on a one man front running a Marine column into a Genestealer column is . . . well Custer had a better chance. So the advantage goes toward the side that can fight defensively. Which is why the Marines won the first couple of games so easily, they could mass firepower on Genestealers attacking on a narrow front and pretty much kill them as they came, but the set up this last time optimized the Genestealers being able to mass large numbers near the Marines and then rush into their midst. But for some last minute errors on the part of the Genestealers (before we discovered the Brood Lord was immune) they would have won the game.

Petrick had never used the flamethrower but Mike read the rules and started using it on clusters of Genestealers. (Joel had not read the flamethrower rules and did not know that Horde #2 was a huge target.) Joel sent the Brood Lord after the flamethrower, which killed the Brood Lord. This was where the game collapsed. At that point, there were three Marines and six Genestealers. One Genestealer went hand-to-hand with flamethrower man, who was down to his last shot. Petrick said "flame him" but Mike refused, winning a desperate claw-vs-powerfist battle and then using the last flamethrower shot to kill three Genestealers. The last two Genestealers were shot by Petrick's last man.

While Petrick had spent the entire game saying "We cannot win!" Mike said "Do the math, dude, we if we quit trying to get to the computer and just kill these guys, sooner or later we have killed the last of the two broods and we can pick up the computer cores in a walk." And that's what happened.

Petrick: While Mike was "doing the math", so was I when it came to that last flame shot. I thought one man retreating backwards up a corridor with our available command points had a good chance of stopping four genestealers. A better chance than the flamer guy had of winning a hand to hand fight with a genestealer and then firing his flamer, but I let Mike make that decision and it paid off.

The next morning, Mike and Petrick checked the rulebook and noticed that the Brood Lord was immune to flame weapons, and at dinner that night told Joel that, in fact, he had won since the Brood Lord had not died.

Petrick: I have, since this last action, actually read many (but not all) of the rules, and I have to say I find them somewhat poorly written to an annoying degree. For example, the Brood Lord is immune to the flamer . . . but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that if the Brood Lord is hit by the flamer he takes no damage (clearly, yes), but can he walk through a burning area? (I would say yes, but the rule is unclear as it only says that the area is blocked). If a non-Brood-Lord is in an area targeted by a flamer, he takes possible damage when the weapon hits, and rolls on possible damage if he moves while in the affected area . . . but what about if he does not move? If he does not move while the area he is in is affected by the flamer, does he roll again to survive or not? And if he rolls again, does he roll once, or six times (once for each of his action points spent in the flaming area if he does not move)? There are other gray areas/areas where argument can occur, such as the Brood Lord's mighty strike versus the shield. The shield takes away the highest die roll, but the Brood Lord is allowed to combine his two highest die rolls into one blow. How is this interaction handled?

For pictures, see this link: http://www.starfleetgames.com/discus/messages/12032/25071.html?1270240930