“We’re ready to enter the tunnels under Vantine Hive,” Brother-Sergeant Artellus called into his radio. “We’re at the elevator shaft leading to the lair of the Chaos cultists. We’re expecting some resistance, but we expect them to see the error of their ways and rejoin the Imperium of Man.”
The flimsy gate closes on us, and the elevator starts to descend into the foul-smelling tunnels under the smog-filled air of Garatus. Then it happened. It was something that challenged all thoughts of a peaceful redemption for these heretics living under Vantine Hive.
[Elevator music starts playing]
“Correction, the mission has changed to seek and destroy. Those savages have turned away from the Emperor’s light and cannot be saved.”
[A short burst of shots ring out and the music stops as the elevator continues its descent into the Hive]
Space Marine Adventures Doomsday Countdown is the latest installment to be an entry point into the Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 universe as a fast-playing cooperative adventure game. In this game, you play as Space Marines who need to seal off sewer tunnels, fight cultists, and deactivate a doomsday device before the whole area is destroyed. Tick-tock boys; the pressure is on!
After setting up your random map of hex tiles you’ll start with all your marines on the starting tile and the cultists distributed to the tunnels and open corridors.
Each marine can take up to three actions which are typically – move, shoot, or interact with their environment. You can move to an adjacent tile for one move action and shooting requires a roll of a d6. The marines hit their target on a three or greater.
Interacting can be sealing a tunnel which has you placing a Space Marine branded sewer cover token on the open shaft, collecting the deactivation codes (you get a token as if the Marine jotted the code down on a scratchpad), or deactivating the Doomsday device, which is sort of why you’re there.
Each team of marines is also equipped with six war gear cards that give one-time special abilities. Each marine can take 3 wounds before becoming incapacitated. And each marine has a special ability that makes them a unique snowflake. Granted it’s a genetically altered indoctrinated dealer of death kind of snowflake but they’re unique and that makes each one special.
Cultists activate by drawing a card from a deck and performing the actions listed which are typically move, shoot, some combination of those, or a few other special cases. After each turn, any cultists that have been wiped from the universe reappear at the unsealed tunnels or ends of corridors like the cockroaches they are. While most of the cultists are functionally the same, there are three with different powers and there are cards to explain them. One cultist has two health points, one hits on rolls of 4 or greater, and the third gets to attack multiple marines on the same tile.
After each cultists’ turn, the d20 timer die ticks down one number. The game ends either when you save the day by disabling the bomb and at least one Marine returns to the elevator. Failure occurs when all three Space Marines have fallen, or 20 turns have elapsed and the archeotech ANNIHILATUS class device detonates.
Space Marine Adventures has a few snippets of flavor text sprinkled throughout the rulebook, including some of the propaganda-like sayings of the Space Marines so the theme is strong with this one. And there’s no way around it—Space Marines look awesome and will likely enthrall those new to the hobby. It’s a great way to get people started down the dark path of miniatures gaming. It’s like Games Workshop said ‘we’ll start you off simple roll a three or more and you get to remove a bad guy. By the way, they mostly need to roll a five to hurt your bad self. If you think these are cool, check out all of these cool sets’. *Reassuringly pats new gamer’s knee* ‘We’ll talk about building terrain later.’
But for a game that is as straightforward as Space Marine Adventures is, it can also get pretty tense. Spreading out allows you to cover more ground but you may not have the ability to fight back all the cultists rushing down your corridor. Or do you group up? Some layouts will favor each strategy and you’ll need to figure out what’s best for your current situation. And unlucky draws of cultists’ activations can have multiple cultists shooting twice at a lone marine. And regardless of layout, I found most games came down to the final few rounds including some missions where the last surviving Marine just couldn’t get to the elevator in time.
All three marines are used in every game making this play best at one or three players but works at two if someone is okay only playing a lone Space Marine.
In previous versions of Space Marine Adventures, there were miniatures for the marines and tokens for everyone else. In this version, there are also seven different cultists, several of whom have slightly different mechanics, which is a nice touch and makes the whole board pop. And speaking of pop, you’ll be moving these baddies around a lot, including removing them from the board when Space Marine blasts them into nondescript piles of goo, and then they’ll respawn again creating a murder hobo’s version of Groundhog Day on your table.
And the miniatures, as you’d expect from Games Workshop, are top-notch. These snap off the sprue and are gluelessly assembled by snapping together. The details are crisp, and you can almost hear them whisper “paint me” as you examine them. It’s subtle, but you can hear it. It’s also the sound of starting another hobby but one that gives your miniatures so much more table presence.
Unfortunately, we go from heavy bolter bursts to shooting blanks with the included mini-campaign as it’s essentially a marathon of three games in a row using the same marines and carrying over any unused war gear cards. Fallen marines are returned as wounded marines for Scenario 2 (they were just mostly dead) but are all dead when they die after that. The first and third missions have the Space Marines sealing tunnels and making it to the elevator while the middle mission is the normal game (including more tunnel sealing). It adds a level of challenge to the game but three games in a row of this felt pretty repetitive as I felt more like a Mario Brother than a Space Marine as I sealed all the tunnels.
Besides being fairly repetitive, my biggest gripe with the game overall is the use of a d20 for the countdown timer as it was a bit fiddly to find the next number in sequence.
Where the game could have more legs than an army of Grots, for completionists at least, is there are four Achievements and five challenges (called Penances) to attempt. Achievements may have you winning without anyone taking a wound or playing with two Penances. The Penances are challenges like starting with Marines down 1 health, subtracting 1 from all your attack rolls, or starting with the timer at 17. These can ramp up the difficulty substantially but are probably only for players who really like this game or complain it’s too easy. I found my win/loss rate around 50% with both outcomes being fairly close calls so it’s not a total pushover as a co-op while it’s also not so punishing that you want to flip the table.
I’m conflicted with these Final Thoughts. It’s a fun game but the gameplay is streamlined to a point that plays started to feel very similar, especially in a compressed timeframe. The modular board set up gave some variability and the constantly advancing cultists allowed for moments of awesomeness in every single game I played. And even as I write this review, I keep eying the box and thinking, I want another crack at that campaign (I previously lost during scenario two).
At its core, Space Marine Adventures is a simple and accessible introduction to this style of action-adventure game where you get to play with awesome toys, err, miniatures but its shelf life may be limited by the narrow scope of the game. However, it’s also a great way to introduce gamers to the hobby portion of tabletop gaming with miniature assembly and painting if they want to take the plunge.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Space Marine Adventures Doomsday Countdown introduces players to the grimdark world of Warhammer 40K with fast and accessible gameplay.
• Gameplay can become repetitive, especially as a campaign
• Die as a countdown timer was mildly annoying
• My son wants me to buy a lot of Warhammer 40K stuff