Nostalgia is a powerful thing. How you remember the games that you played many years ago can be very different from the reality. They were the games that defined your history in gaming so you place them upon a pedestal.
Space Crusade is one such game. It introduced me to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, opened my eyes to the world of tactical miniatures games and cemented my love of hobby board games. But is it any good, or do the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia obscure the reality?
A new Space hulk has been discovered by the Imperium of Man, and the chances of a millenniums old spaceship appearing from the warp and not be filled with the agents of Chaos is quite frankly next to zero so you take the role of a squad of Space Marines from either the Blood Angels, Ultramarine or Imperial Fists chapter, while another player controls the alien menace occupying the ancient space ship and blast the crap out of each other.
The first thing you notice about Space Crusade is the physicality. Not only do you get the miniatures we are now used to but you also get little stand up doors and bulkheads and the bulkheads make a real difference. They make the game pop, for want of a better word; it gives the game a sense of heft and makes it feel more intimate.
The second thing you notice is the miniatures, considering Space Crusade came out at the start of the nineties, some of the miniature sculpts stand up against many more recent games. They're also made from a very hard plastic that means the miniatures themselves are highly durable.
But how does the game play? Should it be held up as a classic or forgotten to the annals of time? Well the one thing I can say is that it is surprisingly fun. The game is very light; it was aimed 10 years olds and it many ways that shows.
The rules are simple and lack any tactical depth but also mean that the game is very quick to play. In fact this light gameplay is one of Space Crusade's most redeeming features. It never gets bogged down in over complicated rules or analysis paralysis inducing tactical decisions, instead it's all about getting your models into the right position to bring their weapons to bear and using your equipment and special weapons at the right time.
The other advantage of being so light is that it's also very quick to play; a typical mission can be completed in less than an hour. It does however take a bit of time to set up, what with the 3D board and all the doors and tokens, so you best get a few games in before you pack it away. This helps because Space Crusade is designed to be played as a campaign with the Space Marine players gaining experience from every mission.
The one thing that really surprises me about playing Space Crusade after 20 years is the balance. Combat is a simple system of rolling the custom dice; for ranged compact you merely need to get over the targets armour value, for close combat both side make a roll and the winner causes that many would, which for most miniatures means instant death.
With so many zeros on the dice combat can feel very swingy but at the same time feels thematic, a gretchin armed with the equivalent of a pee shooter is going to have trouble taking down a power armoured Marine, but if enough gretchin let rip then eventually a lucky shot is going get through.
The Space Marine players gain points for each enemy they kill, but lose points for each Marine that dies. The alien player merely gains points for how many Marines they manage to kill. The Space Marine players also gains points for completing the primary and secondary missions, which could involve moving to a particular room, or destroying a particular alien.
It's a testament to the balance of Space Crusade that most games come down to just a handful of points between the alien and Space Marine players. I should say that the game didn't really work as a two player game unless the Marine takes a couple of squads.
I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by Space Crusade, I was expecting the game to have aged badly and not capable of holding a torch to modern game design.
I was wrong because Space Crusade is simply a lot of fun. At first the simple rules can feel too abstracted but you soon realise that these simple rules are what keep the game moving, allowing it to flow. In fact I think there's a lot modern board game designers can learn from Space Crusades ability to just get down and play.
Space Crusade has not only stood the test of time, I now suddenly want it back in my collection. So who's going to reprint it?