In early 2009, we launched a new feature called Co-Op Casual Fridays. This series was intended to cover games that were intended for young gamers, or more casual fans. In the more than two years that have passed since we launched that column, we've covered the LEGO series, all manner of music games, and many other casual-friendly favorites.
Over the past year or so, we've given increased coverage to cooperative board games, and Co-Op Casual Fridays seemed like a natural fit. These articles have proven to be extremely popular; it turns out that people who enjoy co-op in video games also like playing board games were teamwork is important. And so, today, we have decided to retire Co-Op Casual Fridays in favor of a "new" column that will cover board and card games exclusively: Tabletop Co-Op!
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is one that is familiar to most gamers. The complex miniatures wargame has been around for many years, and many video games set in that far-flung, war-torn future have been released in that same time frame. The Dawn of War RTS series and the recent third-person action Space Marine are perhaps the most notable. A cooperative card game, featuring a group of Space Marines cleaning out an infestation of alien Genestealers from an abandoned spaceship, was released last year.
Space Hulk: Death Angel The Card Game (henceforth referred to as Death Angel) is a fast paced game of teamwork and coordination. Up to six players can work together to take down an unrelenting horde of Genestealers. Twelve Space Marines, grouped into six teams of two, are controlled by the players. Space Marine cards are arranged in a vertical column at random, with half facing left, and half right. At the top of the column, a location card, with different terrain effects and other modifiers, is placed. The location card also determines where, how many, and at which facing the Genestealers are spawned at each round.
A key aspect of Death Angel's gameplay are action cards. Each squad of two has its own set of three action cards. In addition to describing the special abilities of each squad, these cards are used to indicate which of the three basic actions the squad is using: support, attack, or move/activate. Support lets you place a token on any Space Marine that allows him to reroll any die. Attack actions are resolved by rolling a special die; if a skull turns up, one Genestealer is reduced to a pile of goo. The move/activate card allows a Space Marine to switch to an adjacent position, change his facing, and activate a terrain feature (like opening a door).
Players have to be very careful about which action cards to use, as the squad cannot repeat the same action from one round to the next. Since Genestealers spawn like mad, and each squad can only attack every other turn at best, you can imagine that there are some significant choices to be made each turn. It is here that the cooperative elements are perhaps the strongest. In order to succeed, players must use their team's special abilities to the greatest effect, and plan with one another to maximize efficiency. You might decide to swap positions with a Space Marine in mortal danger, and die to a flurry of claws and fangs, just so the other guy can use his special ability to take down a whole column of Genestealers, for instance. The feeling of teamwork, fighting together against overwhelming odds, is quite strong and extremely enjoyable.
Make no mistake: Death Angel is a very difficult game. Event cards come along that can totally wreck your careful planning. Sometimes, the dice just don't go your way, and Brother Leon won't kill a single Genestealer, even though he used his Full Auto ability to roll three attacks. I've played it half a dozen times, and we've only won one time. But even in defeat, the game is wickedly fun; sometimes, a lone Space Marine will take down an entire column, going out in a blaze of glory, prompting one to cry "For the Emperor!"
If you are a rabid fan of the Warhammer 40,000 setting, a lover of tactical decision making, or you just like co-op games in general, Space Hulk Death Angel The Card Game is absolutely worth a purchase. The cooperative elements are very solid, the art and flavor of the cards is suitably epic, it plays in a very reasonable time frame, and it costs less than $20. I highly suggest you grab a copy and send a whole horde of vile Genestealers to an early grave, or at the very least obtain a glorious and honorable death while trying.
*Feature Image Courtesy of BoardGameGeek user Dofin*