Retro-Hammer: Space Crusade

Welcome to Retro-Hammer, a series here at Master of Magics that has a look at the long and varied history of Games Workshops product line. Since the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have been around for quite a while (and Games Workshop itself has been producing games even before these were a thing) it is unsurprising that there are a decent number of weird and wonderful things that have been produced by our favourite miniatures company.

Today we jump back to 1990, a place in time when flannel shirts were all the rage and The Simpsons was the hot new show everyone was talking about. It was also the year we were introduced to Space Crusade, the dungeon crawling adventure game set in the grim dark future of the 41st millennium.

Released by Milton Bradley Games, Space Crusade was an officially licensed board game that had players take control of squads of Space Marines as they battled alien adversaries in the deep depths of a space hulk. It might seem strange from a modern standpoint, but in the early years Games Workshop were more lose with the brand and would partner up with other parties. This was done in order to introduce more people to the hobby, as they were not as well-known at the time.

This was in fact the second game released by Milton Bradley Games with the Games Workshop licence, following hot on the heels of the incredibly popular Hero Quest. Similar to Hero Quest, Space Crusade was a dungeon crawler with one player taking on the role of the enemies (the Alien Player) while one to three other players would each take control of a squad of five Space Marines. However, unlike other dungeon crawlers where the enemy player takes on the role of a dungeon master, Space Crusade had them function simply as the adversary to the other players and wouldn’t have them set up scenarios or plot hooks for the other players.

The Alien Player would however, have access to a wide range of enemies to try and destroy the Space Marines that dared explore the dark depths of the hulk. Alongside more well-known enemies like Orks, Grots, Genestealers and Chaos Space Marines, there were more unique foes such as Chaos Androids (which look a lot like Necrons) and Dreadnoughts, that had more in common with the ED-209 than the more traditional life supporting boxes of death we have in 40K proper.

Each of the Space Marine players would select a squad of five Marines, representing either the Ultramarines, Imperial Fists or Blood Angels. Four of these would be armed with either bolters or heavy weapons, while the leader (referred to as a Force Commander) would have their own selection of wargear. There was also nothing stopping you from equip most of your Marines with heavy weapons, allowing you to run a squad with an Assault Cannon, Missile Launcher and Plasma Gun (yes, in Space Crusade Plasma Guns were heavy weapons). But this kind of fire power did come at a cost, as Marines with heavy weapons would be slower than their brethren armed with bolters.

The Space Marines would also have access to wargear cards that would help them during mission, while the Alien player would have an event deck that would introduce random elements to hamstring their opponents. Each mission would have a primary and a secondary object for the Space Marine players to complete, while the Alien player would try to eliminate them before they could accomplish these tasks. At the end of the game, players would receive points for completed tasks and the player with the highest score would be the winner.

All things considered, Space Crusade was a fun little game, if a little simple compared to 40K proper. It sadly wasn’t as popular as its sister game Hero Quest, but still had a decent following and still has many fans even today. This might be because the game itself wasn’t released in North America, denying it to a wider audience. It is also interesting to note that the game was called Star Quest in some European countries, presumable to help associate it with the very popular Hero Quest.

Milton Bradley Games would release two expansion for Space Crusade while they had the licence. The first introduced the Eldar as an addition playable faction, with a fifth player taking command of them as they worked to complete their own objectives. The second (Mission Dreadnought) give the Alien player access to more Chaos Androids and even a Dreadnought building factory, that produced even tougher versions of the standard machine. But it wasn’t all bad, and the Space Marine players would get access to more troops and addition heavy weapons, including a Tarantula weapon platform.

There was also some digital ports of the game that were made for systems like the Amiga and ZX Spectrum. As far as I can tell, this was a fairly faithful interpretation of the game, and were well received upon their release. It also has the best intro screen of any 40K game ever made hands down, and no I’m not joking.

Games Workshop would move on from their partnership with Milton Bradley Games, later releasing an in-house version of the game called Advanced Space Crusade. However, this was a very different game and had more in common with games like Space Hulk than the original. It would instead place one player in control of a squad of Space Marine scouts fighting Tyranid Warriors in the bowels of a hive ship, and would move away from the dungeon crawling roots of the original.

If you wanted to try Space Crusade yourself in the modern day, you would either need to find a friend who has a playable copy of the game (like me) or try and pick up a copy second hand on eBay. But be warned. Most of the complete and in god condition copies of the game will go for a pretty penny, so unless you are very committed to the nostalgia of early Games Workshop products you might be better off asking if any of your friends have a copy, or looking for a port of the video game.

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Or you could stay tuned to our content here at Master of Magics, as when the quarantine is over I intent to player the campaign through of my version with some lucky individuals. Just need to see if I have the time to repaint my minis before we play.

We hope you have enjoyed our exploration into the retro past of Games Workshop’s product line. What would you like us to talk about next? Let us know in the comments below or find me on twitter @MTGTengu and maybe we will talk about it next time.

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