Death Angel Review

Space Hulk Death Angel card game review
Space Hulk, considered by many to be a seminal work in theme driven games. Space Hulk, released 3 times with the latest version considered the best ever. Space Hulk, a game now so rare and highly sort after that those copies get sold on eBay for over a £200 even though half the bits are missing and the Blood Angels’ captain has been eaten by the dog. Space Hulk; a game I probably won’t play unless I sell the rest of my board game collection. Death Angel; a card based game that takes the theme and concepts of the original Space Hulk board game and makes a tense co-op game that you can buy for under £20, result!

Death angel order cards
You can't play the same order two turns in a row, so choose wisely.

Death Angel is a clever rejigging of the classic Space Hulk theme. You and up to five other friends (you can play this game solo) take control of a squad Terminators; armed to the teeth Space Marines in heavy power armour as they enter and explore an abandoned space ship while trying not to get eaten by the Genestealers that have made it their home. The basic concept borrows a lot from the Alien movies and the Genestealers jump out of side vents and generally rip through tactical dreadnought armour like it was a wet paper bag. Death Angel is a card based game that simulates your team of Terminators stomping single file through a cramped, dark, alien infested spaceship. Genestealers will come at you from every angle and start forming larger and larger swarms ready to tear you asunder. Your aim is to progress through a number of locations killing everything in your path. If you reach the last location you will be presented with your final, game winning, objective. The game works using a column of cards to represent your squads’ location and facing. Architectural features will be placed around the squad and these are generally where monsters spawn. Each turn you’ll get to play one action per combat team (a pair of marines); move, fire or support. Move and fire orders are pretty obvious while support gives you a handy re-roll that can be used later. The rub is that you can’t use the same order two turns in a row so you have to think ahead about your options. Each order also has a timing number dictating when your order takes place. Player will control anything from one to a number of squads and in a multiplayer game you’re not allowed to tell players which order card you’re about to play. It’s a bit of an odd rule that doesn’t add much to the game. As with any co-op game you’re going to be discussing the options and tactics and I don’t really see the point of not choosing the final card. Where it does come in is if one of your team mates is a bit of a dick and plays a card you hadn’t discussed, therefore screwing up every else’s plans.

death angel card game setup
A squad of Terminators explores the Space Hulk

This game is hard, and I mean bloody hard. Death comes easily, when the genestealers attack a simple dice role determines the fate of your marines; roll lower than the number of aliens and your marine bites the dust. No hitpoints, no armour roles, he’s out of the game and the genestealers close ranks on the rest of the squad. Thankfully, you do have some serious firepower at your disposal. The assault cannon and flame thrower offer particularly devastating attacks. For all its simplicity Death Angel does very well at evoking the theme. The bulky armour and tight surroundings hinder your troops’ movement and this feel is apparent. You can never get all of your marines quite where you want them and bringing one marine into firing range often ends up putting your favourite soldier right into clawing range of a large swarm of genestealers. It also evokes the issues of working as a team. As mentioned you can discuss strategy but if one of your teammates does something stupid you tend to end up hating that person for the rest of the game as your favourite trooper is now genestealer fodder. Other players tend to get in your way, shove you in the wrong direction or just plain waste their turn. As soon as marines start dying it all gets even tenser, the amount of genestealer isn’t reducing but the amount of weapons you can bring to bear is.

Death angel event cards
Event cards happen every turn and are just another excuse to screw you over.

You shouldn’t have to talk about the rule book in a review but Death Angel’s rules need singling out as a pile of messy, confusing, labyrinthine drivel. It’s like asking someone for directions from London to Birmingham and instead of saying the obvious “get on the M40” they have taken you that overly contrived route that avoids those pesky motorways, allows you to stop for lunch in Bristol and take in the views of the Cotswolds; basically sending you well out of your way and making you do things you didn’t plan on. Rules are written in a non-sequential order, constantly referring to other pages and often use 10 words where 3 would have sufficed. When you start to understand the game it’s a fairly straightforward sequential affair and nothing, and I mean nothing, happens out of the sequence, so why not write the rules in that bloody sequence?!

Space Hulk Death Angel card game
Brother Scipio is surrounded, he won't last much longer.

The designers of Death Angel have achieved exactly what they set out to do; create an abstracted low cost version of Space Hulk that replicates the claustrophobia and instant death of the original board game. Unfortunately, it can't stand up against the full game experience and this overshadows the game. Death Angel is not an amazing game, nor is it a terrible game; if fulfils the requirements of being completely average, above average at best. It’s a game that you play, enjoy, then pack away and put it back on the shelf. A few weeks later you’ll look at it and say to yourself “I should play that again” and you probably will. You won’t be trading it away instantly nor will you be begging for a second game.  This may sound a bit damning but sometimes it’s okay for games to be average. We need average games to distinguish between the really good and the really bad. You need a game that sits in the middle and doesn’t get burnt out through overuse or get thrown away in rage. Death Angel is one of those games and you let it sit in your collection safe in the knowledge it is at hand when you feel the need to board an ancient spaceship and try not to get eaten by the occupants.

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