Space Crusade: Retrospective

One of my favourite boardgames as a kid (and I still love them today!) were the two Milton Bradley dungeon crawler adventure boardgames Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Both were based on the universes of Games Workshop (Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 respectively) and introduced a lot of kids, myself included, to those universes.

While Hero Quest remains beloved and well-remembered even today (and a great many modern “dungeon crawler” boardgames owe their existence to that game, I’d say), Space Crusade has always been a bit more obscure. Perhaps because (AFAIK) it wasn’t released in the USA, or because the later Games Workshop game “Space Hulk” became such a cult favourite and is often seen (even by those who know of Space Crusade) as the “superior” boardgame.

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Space Crusade Boxart

However, as a kid, I played the heck out of Space Crusade. Not only did it introduce me to the whole universe of Warhammer 40k, but – as a kid too young to see “Aliens” yet – it introduced me to the whole concept of “space marines versus monsters” and even the concept of “survival horror”. Facing overwhelming odds, creeping around watching “motion trackers”, letting rip with massive weapons, all this I first experienced here.

I loved Hero Quest (and still do). I’d also consider it the better game of the two. However, I’m a sci-fi fan more than a fantasy one, so Space Crusade was always going to win my heart.

Modular boards made replayability high (though not as high as Hero Quest’s system, IMO). The stat tracking “consoles” were fun and tactile, while the 3D plastic miniatures were something way beyond what most kid’s boardgames used for pawns back then. The way you could attach different weapons to the miniatures, however, was perhaps my favourite thing about the whole game. The one thing I missed from Hero Quest was the “exploration” and “RPG” aspects, which allowed you to search for treasures and upgrade your character; in true WH40k tradition, Space Crusade marines were much more disposable and the gameplay focus much more on “kill anything that moves!” Dakka-dakka-dakka!

Space Crusade also introduced me to the WH40k concept of “Marine Chapters”, with Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Imperial Fists represented in the boardgame. This meant that I was biased when I finally decided to buy some “real” GW miniatures in high school; I was already indoctrinated to pick Space Marines for my forces, and my Space Crusade nostalgia for them saw me choose Ultramarines to paint them as. To this day, even though they’re popular to hate on due to oversaturation in official media, I’m still loyal to my beloved “Smurfmarines”. 🙂

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Mission Dreadnought Boxart

There were two official expansions for Space Crusade (contrast that with seven for Hero Quest!). I had “Mission Dreadnought” (which added awesome extra-heavy marine weapons and super powerful enemies to the game) as a kid, but only learned the other (Eldar Attack) even existed as an adult! It is a rarity today that commands a very high price, and I sorely regret not owning it. I would say that the fact I never cared about the Eldar faction in WH40k would have changed had I owned this expansion in childhood!

When I was older, I played Space Hulk, a game I also loved, but for some reason I didn’t find it quite as engaging as Space Crusade. Maybe it was the slower pace or lack of variety (in enemy forces, and even Marine armament, at least “out of the box”)? I do enjoy it (even more since I was by then a die hard “Aliens” fan by the time I discovered Space Hulk)., but Space Crusade is inexplicably the game I come back to more often. Maybe it’s just that sweet childhood nostalgia?

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Space Crusade computer game

My other strongest memory of Space Crusade comes from the video game adaptation of it, or rather, my trials to acquire it. I first learned of it as a kid through a computer magazine cover floppy disk which included a demo… except it was for the Amiga version and I had a PC! I was furious, but was unable to find the game to buy for a good year or so, instead looking longingly at those lovely Amiga screenshots. Mind you, when I finally got the PC version it wasn’t as much fun (IMO) as the boardgame version anyway.

A couple of months ago, I saw that Games Workshop was selling a new “kid friendly” boardgame called “Space Marine Adventures”. Although a far cry from the amazing model selection provided with Hero Quest and Space Crusade back in the 80’s, the simple gameplay and brightly coloured marine pieces it includes instantly reminded me of Space Crusade. I can’t help but wonder if this game will – as Space Crusade was for me – be a gateway to so much more for the unsuspecting kids who buy it…

 

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Space Crusade components (not my photo)

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