Welcome to something new. This is a series I’m going to continue, for real this time, where I discuss and contemplate games as I play them with my seven year old daughter, Lila. It’s a fresh perspective and will hopefully present new ideas and philosophies I can formally share with you.
So, Space Marine Adventures. Just what a seven year old girly girl wants to play.
Before I played it with her I played it alone. This is the smart move as it means I can teach without flipping through the rules. Seven year olds have even less patience than the not-quite middle aged men I normally play these things with.
This is a cooperative game, just like the previous two Space Marine Adventures titles, where you field a group of three macho power armored psychos fighting for the Imperium. In this one you’re shooting your way through a hive world and cutting apart loathsome cultists while shouting lewd taunts. Well, that’s at least how I ran it by my lonesome.
These heathens deserve death for their heretical beliefs, but doubly so because they’ve secured a doomsday device. Fortunately for the good guys, the codes to deactivate the archeotech bomb can be quickly pilfered from a console just a few movement actions away. If you manage to grab the codes, deactivate the device, and then make your way to the exit lift – all while severing every chaos-worshipping head that pops into view – then you win.
Here’s the thing, this game is too easy. It’s a perfectly fine simulation of three juiced warlords that strap state-of-the-art technology around their bodies running through lesser humans that don loincloths, tattered vests, and animal skulls. Every once in awhile the ugly looking one with the heavy stubber (a big nasty machine gun) will hit you and cause a wound. But each of your warriors has three such wounds. It never feels dangerous. It’s presented as a risky gambit of sorts, but it’s as if the Suicide Squad was sent in to deal with a rogue Boy Scout troop.
The box shows a suggested age of 12+. So I figured it would be a bit of a challenge if Lila lead the squad with my wizened tactical brain offering just light support. She’s seven, not 12, and this is exactly the type of subject matter a father shouldn’t be foisting on their child. But she’s seen Jaws and sort of played Mansions of Madness with me. She will be alright. Hopefully.
So first I ask her if she even wants to play. She looks at the game set-up: awesome minis, neat labyrinthine corridors, and of course dice. She hesitates.
Lesson number one Lila: board gamers like to push games. If they are dead-set on playing something, they will make you play it.
She’s sort of into it. We high five when the dice go hot and boo when they run cold. She understands the basics and makes some solid decisions and some poor ones. We actually need to use some of the wargear cards, these one-time special abilities, to stave off Brother Gallain’s death. I put the wargear cards away in my second solo play as they simply weren’t needed, so I’m pleased that they find use in this play.
After 30 minutes or so we win. This time it’s more like the Suicide Squad taking on two Boy Scout troops – the little bastards fought longer but they still didn’t have a chance. All the impoverished residents of Vanatine Hive celebrate, as they have before and will again if I pick the dice up once more.
Sure, If I let her play it alone and offered literally no advice, I suppose it wouldn’t be. But she’s seven, not 12.
There are some beautiful things about this game. The quality is nice. The tiles are thick and glossy. The minis are push-fit yet still wonderful. Everything feels solidly constructed and given thought.
Except perhaps the rules. I really enjoy setting the game up, randomly dealing out tiles to form an unpredictable layout of the hive. But even this element amounts to nill as it doesn’t contribute meaningfully to play.
Yes, occasionally you will get an enemy spawn tunnel way off in a corner presenting a bit of annoyance as you’re required to seal those in addition to silencing the bomb. But as long as you manage your three actions per Space Marine with minimal care and don’t leave yourself positioned poorly at the end of your turn, there’s simply nothing to worry about.
This is due to a confluence of systems. The enemy AI is derived from a random card draw and is rather milquetoast. Usually they all move one space, sometimes they shoot, other times they do both. Most won’t have line of sight to one of your warriors so they simply waste the shoot action. If they would move onto your space they attack instead, but they just don’t move with enough urgency to really matter.
Most enemies hit on a D6 roll of 5+, a couple of specialists instead on 4+. But your marines, able to unleash hell multiple times per activation, land their shots on 3 or higher. If you take care to position Brother Siceran in line of sight to the target, you can take advantage of his Auspex device and re-roll a 1 or 2 on the die. So two rolls of 3+ to get a hit. With the lone exception of the cultist leader, all enemies wither under a single blow.
It feels like using a boltgun as a hole punch.
The timer for the game is also far too long. You’re given 20 turns but we usually disarm the bomb nine or 10 in at most. If I played again I wouldn’t even use the included D20 to track the countdown as it’s a waste of time.
This is all so sad. The Space Marine Adventures series featured two very solid games. The first was a dungeon crawler with a steady Pandemic-like outbreak mechanism. You had to manage the Necron spawns carefully or they would get out of control. The second offered a solid tower defense system that saw you get pressed by enemies converging on a central point.
These weren’t can’t miss bangers, but they were enjoyable and they served their purpose on a Barnes & Noble shelf offering a gateway to the hobby and the plastic narcotic. Doomsday Countdown on the other hand is incredibly dull. It’s as limp as the 37 cultists we just shredded.
Even with an injection of house rules such as drawing two enemy AI cards, or adopting some of the official hindrances on the back of the manual, it may get more difficult but there’s simply not much here to explore. Tactics are limited to reducing sight lines and optimizing actions.
There are a list of achievements to gun for, which is a nice addition, but this doesn’t add any meaningful longevity to play. The first Adventures title had a small amount of sealed content you unlocked over the course of a mini-campaign. The achievements here would have served well to gate a few special cards and liven up the experience.
An attempt was made to bolster depth with a single page of rules laying out a mini-campaign of three linked missions. This doesn’t change anything in a meaningful way however, as it bookends a very standard game of Doomsday Countdown with two similar sessions requiring abbreviated objectives. The only interesting part is that those special ability cards carry over and any slain marines come back with low health for the next mission. Overall it’s a very thin campaign mode mirroring the shallow heart of the design.
After our play I asked what she thought.
“Dad, it was fine…but I like Bluey and Youtube. I don’t really like Space Marines.”
Ouch. Well, I don’t particularly like these Space Marines either.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.