Space Hulk: Ascension is not the first board game that has been adapted into a video game. Bloodbowl and Talisman have both been available for many years. However, both of these games have been faithful adaptations of the original board game, including the virtual moving of dice and – in the case of Talisman – virtual moving of miniatures. However, Space Hulk: Ascension has blended the rules of the original board game with the opportunities offered by digital format.
In many ways, the core concepts of Space Hulk remain unchanged. Each unit has a set number of action points (for movement, attacks, doors, etc), with the heavily armed and armoured Terminators having four, whilst vicious Genestealers have six. Similarly, movement is handled in much the same way with each forward movement or 90 degree turn, requiring an action point. The creators sought to faithfully replicate the laborious movement of the hulking Terminators, however this drawn-out process can thankfully be side-stepped by increasing the game-speed, so you do not find yourself twiddling your thumbs waiting for your terminators to finish moving.
The main difference between the two versions of Space Hulk is the combat mechanics. Unlike the board game, where combat – be it melee or shooting – was resolved using a series of six-sided dice (aka D6), the video game version uses percentage based attacks to determine the likelihood of success, much in the same way as X-Com does.
This new percentage based system makes sense, given the digital nature of video games, and whilst the simulated dice rolling found in Talisman and Blood Bowl replicate the tactile nature of board games, it feels like an unnecessarily antiquated technique that we could do without.
Another change to the combat mechanics are rules for ammunition (in the original it was assumed each weapon had infinite bullets) and for weapons overheating. The latter rule is an adaptation from the board game, which was normally occurred during Overwatch.
Despite this change of combat resolution, Space Hulk: Ascension nonetheless reflects the core fundamentals of the original; namely that Genestealers are lethal at close quarters and Terminators need to be able to effectively deploy their firepower in order to succeed.
Overwatch remains a similar constant, with the 2AP cost of overwatch allowing Terminators the opportunity to fire at moving targets during the Genestealers’ turn. Again, these combat opportunities are resolved through percentage based systems.
One of the new elements that fans of the original may lament is the inclusion of RPG mechanics. In the original game, each weapon came with its own points cost, the limit of which was based upon the difficulty of each mission. Terminators that have survived missions in the video game can use the experience points they have gained (through achieving objectives and killing genestealers) to acquire new abilities (increasing their number of action points, the percentage chance of success in combat, etc) and equipment (such as Lightning Claws or – my personal favourite – the cyclone missile launcher).
Most of the weapons and equipment remain the same, much of which admittedly comes from the later board game expansions Genestealer and Deathwing. Later missions also include the opportunities to deploy Terminator Librarians, the core rules of which remain the same as the original.
Whilst Space Hulk: Ascension remains faithful to the core mechanics of the original board game, the designers have nonetheless seized the opportunities available to them in a digital environment to enhance the gameplay.