Ultramarines: The Board Game

What do the A-Team, skinny jeans, and the Scythes of the Emporer have in common? 

If you can’t figure it out, that’s ok, I can’t either and I wrote that sentence.  I was trying to make a kitchy start to this write-up highlighting how things from the past are dusted off and past off as new.  Clearly there’s an abundance of movie remakes out there, coupled with the absurdity of 80’s fashion being renewed (seriously guys, it looked bad back then, what makes you think it’s going to be better now?).

Anywho, the trend of remakes isn’t limited to fashion and hollywood.  The guys over at Fantasy Flight have been polishing off some old games and tweaking them as new.  Coupled with GW’s recent release of Space Hulk, my interest in such classic GW games has only been renewed.  So, when I found a copy of Ultramarines on ebay for a reasonable price, I jumped at the chance to purchase it.

Components

The game includes a box, three dice, a deck of event cards, some tokens, and 20 plastic scout figures that are identical to the scouts used for 40k at the time.  Though I find them fairly appauling, several people who weren’t playing during first and second edition seem to like the mohawked scouts of old (is that perhaps another example of retro 80’s coming back in fashion?).  It also comes with a set of board tiles that look identical to those found in Space Hulk (on either really heavy paper, or really thin card stock–whatever the case, they won’t take much abuse, and don’t lock together well).

Since I purchased the game used off ebay, my game wasn’t 100% complete.  It was missing one of the army cards (which didn’t matter, because all the forces are identical,  but it is somewhat sad to think I don’t have the army card for the force that shares it’s name with the game itself).  I’m also fairly certain that the game came with five scouts of each of the respective colors, but the contents included six grey scouts when I purchased it–though that’s nothing a little paint couldn’t fix.

Rounding off the contents, there’s a “rulebook.”  I use the term lightly because it’s really just an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, folded into a booklet that contains the rules.  Essentially, they’re:

  1. Move (d6 for each model)
  2. Shoot
  3. Assault (if you haven’t shot)
  4. Standing up (for wounded units)
  5. Teleporting Artifacts

Objective

Each player assumes the role of a squad of space marine scouts, sent to a space hulk to recover some alien artifacts.  Each player is given five scouts of one of the following chapters: Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Blood Angels, & Scythes of the Emperor (where, might I ask, are the infamous Space Wolves?!?).  Each scout moves around the hulk and tries to recover mysterious artifacts.  Once in his possession, he can move them back to his room of origin and wait for them to be teleported out to be claimed as a scoring point for him.  The player with the most objectives at the end wins!

It’s a simple enough premise, but there’s an alternate way to win.  For anyone who’s ever played Pirates of the Spanish Main, this should sound familiar.  While there’s an objective to the game, an alternate way to win is simply to destroy your opponent.  So, while you can certainly win by capturing the objectives, you’re really better off killing your opponent’s models and claiming an automatic victory at the end.   Before we had any idea what we were doing, I immediately latched on to this strategy as my own, so in the game we played.  So, for each room my opponent placed models in as his starting area, I took the room immediately adjacent.  Once the game began, I charged as much of my force as possible into the room with guns blazing.

Building the Map:

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Before we could play the game, we had to set up the board.  The game’s answer to this, is to simply allow the players to alternate placing down board sections to “make the most interesting spacehulk you can,” given further encouragement that “if you find it’s not working, just start again.”  These are clearly the sort of haphazard directions I’d expect from a game released during the Rogue Trader era, but they also make things quite dynamic and interesting.  All in all, just setting up the board was quite fun–except the corridors aren’t all standard sizes, so often times, they wanted to overlap.

Rolling Dice:

Each scout gets one shot or two hand-to-hand attacks per turn.  The seargent gets one extra of each, and the Heavy Bolter armed scout gets two extra shots (or can use a special “hellfire” round–which is roughly equivalent to a heavy flamer for those people who’ve played 1st edition Space Hulk).  Comparitively, these are almost exactly the same as scouts would get in the current edition of the rules: two weapons gives them two shots in assault, or they can fire a pistol one time.  Likewise, the sarge would get terminator honors (for an extra attack), and the Heavy Bolter is still heavy3.  Somehow though, I doubt GW is using this game as the basis for the evolution of 40k… but I could be wrong.

Anywho, what makes this game unique from the rest of the GW line-up is the way that you roll dice.  It combines the roll of “to-hit” and “to-wound” in a single roll by incorporating the box lid into the game itself.  You must “drop” each die from at least 30cm (that’s 1 foot) into the box top; where the die lands determines whether it’s a hit or miss, but if the die bounces out of the box, it’s an automatic miss.  At first glance, it would seen that there’s about a 60% chance to hit on each drop, but due to the misses all being in the corners, the odds aren’t quite as good as they seem.  Once hit, scouts can wound each other on a 4+, and kill each other on a 6+ (wounded scouts fall prone and have a 50% chance each subsequent turn of standing back up).

It’s certainly a unique spin on a tabletop game, and we enjoyed the fresh perspective on things, as well as their classic American Indian style of “using the whole animal.”  What other game is there that incorporates the box it came in with the game itself?

Twists and Turns:

In order to add a bit of mystery into the game, they throw in a deck of event cards.  Each player is dealt three cards to begin with, and may draw one more card at the end of each turn.  The cards can be played at any time, and include effects like:

  • Medi-packs and Reinforcements, which allow wounded units to stand up, and dead units to be replaced
  • Grenades of all sorts: Frag, Melta, Blind, & Vortex (does anyone else miss blind-grenades?)
  • Movement impairment in the form of closing doors and cave-ins
  • In true Space-Hulk fashion: a Genestealer!   This one really caught me off-guard the first time a round.

 In the end of our game, my all-out assault strategy worked like a charm.  I had managed to kill 9 of my opponents scouts, and–to add insult to injury–I trapped his last scout in a dead end corner of the board with a Cave In card.  We played one more turn after that, so he could unleash the genestealer on my seargent.

Conclusion:

Even though we’d never played it before, we read through the rules in under five minutes, and five minutes of board construction later, we were playing.  It’s a fast paced game with enough unknowns (courtesy of the event deck), to make things interesting.

Really though, it’s not all that different than Space Hulk, or any of the other GW board games released in the early 90’s, with the one exception being the integration of the box lid with the game itself.  It’s also long out of print, making it difficult to find.  On the other hand, it was fun to play, and relatively quick.

So, in the spirit one of my new favorite podcasts, the D6 Generation, I’m going to post my review using their rating system (where 2+ is the best, and 6+ is the worst, with re-rolls being worth half a point).  After playing the game, my review is a 5+, with a re-roll.  Though the game is fun, and I’m glad I own it–it’s certainly nothing special.

For those players who already have Space Hulk, you could very easily convert that to these rules.  All you’d need is 20 scout models, three dice, a box lid, and a deck of cards to use as random events.  Granted, you’d have to make the cards yourself, but it’s cheaper than buying this old game online.  Otherwise, you could wait to see if GW re-releases this game as well… but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you…

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4 comments on “Ultramarines: The Board Game

  1. A little late on the comment here, sorry. But, as for what other game incorporates the box? The old Battle Fleet game did. Same sort of setup. Also, those scouts were used in the old game where you sent them into a tyranid hive ship and had them fight equally crappy plastic tyranid warriors. I had the game, but the name escapes me now. At least scout vs scout on neutral ground is believable!

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