Final Thoughts on “Space Crusade”

I finished it off a while ago, but here I want to talk about my thoughts on the Amiga version of “Space Crusade” after having worked my way through all the missions included on the disk.  I managed to complete the primary mission in all of them — although sometimes without any marines surviving — except for the last one where I was supposed to destroy the “Cube of Chaos”.  And I would have completed that one if I hadn’t sent one team of Marines after the secondary objective, as I only had a Dreadnought and a few other enemies to kill off when the team was wiped out, so having another Commander and a couple more guns available probably would have let me finish it.

In playing the game, I for the first time learned how it actually worked.  If you had a marine shoot at someone — or an enemy shot at them — the game rolled a set number of dice defined by the attacker against a defined number for the defender that you had to overcome with your total on the dice, and subtracted one “hit point” if you hit.  Marines were I think four or better, little gremlins were a one and so on and so forth.  Soulsuckers, on the other hand, except in any situation where they swarm you over with them, pretty much can’t be hit at range, which means you have to engage them hand-to-hand.  Hand-to-hand combat is different.  Each participant gets a roll of a certain number of dice based on their own abilities, and whichever of them rolls the highest number wins.  Obviously, the more dice you get the easier it is to roll a higher total, but a one-die gremlin can roll 3 and if your Marine’s two die don’t add up to that or more (ties mean that nothing happens) then they would kill the marine.  What’s really interesting about hand-to-hand is that it doesn’t subtract one “hit point”, but the difference between the two rolls.  Since most units only have one hit point, normally this doesn’t matter as any loss is an automatic kill.  However, in the case of Commanders and Dreadnoughts who both have more than one hit point, it matters a lot.  This means that Commanders are great against Deadnoughts because they can survive losing combats and with good rolls can take them out easier and faster.  However, it means that if they lose hand-to-hand combats they might lose a lot more of their hit points than you’d like them to, even against weaker opponents.  And they can only fight hand-to-hand.  But they get four dice — most of the best other units get two at most — which means that they are likely to outroll their opponents.  But if a gremlin gets a two and they roll a 0 and only have two hit points left, they can be killed.

What this means is that the game is really luck-based.  However, the RNGs seem to be biased to the low-end, so there are a lot of misses, which avoids it being slaughtered.  Still, since there are so many enemies with both ranged and melee attacks eventually the numbers will catch up with you and your Commander will take hits and your marines will get killed.  This ultimately makes the game a pretty brutal one, explaining why I ended up “winning” missions with every marine killed.  In the later missions, getting back without a loss is pretty much impossible.

The bad thing about the game, though, ties back to the number of misses:  the game is plodding for the most part.  The marines in general don’t get a lot of movement points, so it takes a long time to get to the mission objectives.  Along the way, they will encounter a lot of enemies who will all take shots at them and move towards them (especially if they are revealed by a scan).  That takes a while, and since most of them miss it ends up being anti-climactic.  In general, marines can only take out an enemy at a time — in hand-to-hand if attacked they can take out more — and they miss at range at lot and so it can take quite a while to clear out enemies.  Once you’ve cleared them out and completed the objective, it takes a long time to walk back to the area where you can leave the ship, with little to do … unless the game spawns a Soulsucker, at which point if your Commander is already dead the rest of your marines will likely soon be.  There are a lot of times where all you can do is watch the game and pick from some small options at some point instead of doing anything tactical.

That’s ultimately why I could, in general, only manage to play one game a session.  When things were hot and there were tactical decisions to make, the game was really fun.  When I was facing attacks from weak enemies that generally didn’t hit but fired anyway, in general I was slightly bored but could see an important goal in the future and so could stick with it and still have fun.  But walking back after completing the objectives felt way too much like make-work and so usually sucked all the fun out of the game, forcing me to stop until the next day when I could start with a fresh attitude towards the game.  Thus, I found the game fun, enjoyed playing it, and would play it again at some point, but wish that they had taken out some of that dead time so that the game wasn’t so plodding.

The next game I’m supposed to be playing is “Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds”, with a plan to play through all the campaigns.  I was working through the meatier tutorial missions, and in the last one I was told to fill in the gaps in the wall but to make sure that I put a gate in so that I could get out.  I did, and then filled in all the gaps, and then found a strange gap that I couldn’t fill in in the normal way, but filled it in anyway and went on with the next things I was supposed to do.  And then noticed that a worker was walking around outside the walls wandering back and forth and not coming in.  And it was a nova crystal miner.  Then I tried to move units through the gate and discovered … that there was a wall behind it and so nothing could go in and out.  What I think happened was that when I found a worker free and found that “gap” something was standing by the gate, close enough to have it open, so it looked like a gap in the wall instead of an open gate, and so I blocked it up not realizing that that was where my gate was, which was probably why I couldn’t fill it in straight across but had to go out and then back again to make that wall.  So after deliberately trying to avoid blocking myself in I did exactly what I was told not to do.  I quit that mission and haven’t had the time to go back to it yet.

3 Responses to “Final Thoughts on “Space Crusade””

  1. Andrew Says:

    Having played the boardgame several times and the computer version a little, let me offer some comments on mechanics:

    White dice have 0,0,0,0,1,2
    Red dice have 0,0,0,1,2,3

    When shooting, you roll damage and deduct armour. You can score more than 1 hit, but this only matters for dreadnoughts (bad guys) and commanders (good guys), which are the only units with more than 1 hit point. Marines have 2 armour, so a standard bolter shot (2 white dice) will take them out 1 in 12 (3 in 36 to get 1+2, 2+1, or 2+2). Enemy grunts have 0 (gretchin) or 1 (orks) armour, so go down a lot more easily. Genestealers – uh, Soulsuckers – have 3 armour and Dreadnaughts 4. As such, Dreadnaughts are immune to light weapons fire and pretty difficult to damage even with heavy weapons (need 2+3, 3+2 or 3+3 on 2 red dice).

    Melee works as noted, but there’s a lot more variety in the dice. Gretchin roll 1 white die, marines (good & bad) and orks roll 2, Androids and Soulsuckers roll 2 red, and the Dreadnaught rolls 2 red AND 2 white. Friendly marines can be upgraded to roll 3 white dice and marine commanders can roll anything from 2 white to 2 red + 2 white, depending on their weapon choice.

    The 3 player factions are not well balanced against each other.

    All marines except for the commander are highly expendable. Every shot from a grunt opponent has a 1 in 12 chance to take out a marine, which means you’ll expect to lose a marine every 2-3 rounds even if you are only facing gretchin, orks and chaos marine regulars. Marines basically exist to get your commander into the fight.

    Both marines and commander vary wildly in effectiveness between the 3 factions.

    The Blood Angel marines rock melee. Bolt pistols (+1 white die in melee, available to all factions) significantly improve marine melee capability, but the Blood Angel also get Close Assault Blades, which allows them to initiate melee on a diagonal and penalises the enemy by 1 die. This is especially brutal against gretchin (who now roll NO dice) and Andriods / Soulsuckers (who now roll only a single red die vs 3 white).

    Meanwhile, the compulsory heavy weapon Blood Angel is usually fitted out with an assault cannon (to help his brothers if they get overrun by orks and gretchin) and tries to keep up with his fast-moving brothers.

    The “photon grenade” order (-1 melee die to all enemies for a round) also makes a big difference when used against the bigger foes.

    The Imperial Fists specialise in heavy weapons. Suspensors allow the heavy weapon marines to move at full speed. They usually specialise in the assault cannon and plasma gun, both of which are more useful and flexible that the rocket launcher.

    imperial fists can lay down withering fire and are the most effective faction at cleaning out trash. Despite their firepower, they struggle against the tougher foes and are very vulnerable to elite enemy melee units.

    The Ultramarines are the jacks-of-all-trades, which basically means they can never bring their maximum abilities to bear. They cannot melee as well as Blood Angels nor shoot as well as Imperial Fists.

    The same issue occurs when we consider commanders.

    In most situations, Commanders should choose the Power Sword (melee only, 2 red + 2 white). A commander with a Power Sword is equal to a Dreadnaught in melee (before upgrades or melta bombs) and can dominate any lesser foe.

    The Power Axe trades off some of that melee power for a bolt pistol, which means the commander can no longer dominate melee in exchange for gunnery that is no better than a common marine.

    The Heavy Bolter is objectively weaker than an assault cannon (both use 2 red dice, but the assault cannon can hit multiple targets). Imperial fists can upgrade it to a Combi-Weapon (which adds a plasma gun). This isn’t a bad choice, but further weakens the Imperial Fists in melee and focuses them entirely around clearing trash.

    The commander bias towards melee synergises perfectly with Blood Angel strategy, and the +1 armour upgrade renders the commander almost immune to Riff-raff.

    The Imperial Fists must choose between focusing solely on suppression fire or equipping their commander for melee and using him to protect the rest of the team. The drawback for this is the Imperial Fist commander gets neither a melee re-roll or a survivability upgrade, which is a problem given how easily marines die.

    The Ultramarines don’t have a specialisation so they usually end up playing as a weaker version of the Blood Angels (melee with bolt pistols is usually superior to shoot-outs). With a Power Sword, the Ultramarine commander is equal to the Blood Angel commander but he does not get access to the “photon grenade” order and his team is less useful in support.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I think the video game is a lot more restrictive in how things work. For example, the Gretchin still got to roll 1 die against the Blood Angels, although the Imperial Fists did seem to have the suppressors so all their characters moved at around the same speed no matter what weapon they had, which was not true for the other two chapters. I might have missed the customization options, but all three squads had the exact same loadouts, at least by default, including Power Swords for the Commanders. Given that default loadout, I found in the game that the Commander was more an escort for the marines to absorb hits that would take them out, since the various heavy weapons were too useful against a lot of lined up enemies to ignore, if you get a good hit.

      I always played with all three squads, and didn’t notice the sharp differences in performance that you noted. The game might have gone with the same loadouts and most of the same abilities to keep the squads balanced since it’s supposed to be multiple players somewhat working together and the chapters being unbalanced might hurt that. Or that might follow from the fact that I didn’t customize anything.

      I think the enemy rolls were changed as well. I hit the Soulsuckers at least once or twice with 2+3 and 3+3 on a ranged shot and the hit bounced off, and did manage to make a hit on the Dreadnought with ranged fire, although that likely was the smart gun type weapon that would take out an enemy and if there was anything left over would allow you to target something else, so not a standard bolter weapon.

      I never did try the grenade that they had out. I can’t remember what it was, but it didn’t seem useful when I looked at what it did, but I might not have been understanding it correctly.

      Anyway, though, thanks for filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge here. The rules and differences are definitely interesting, even if the game might not have fully implemented them.

  2. Accomplishments Update | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] games are a bit hit and miss.  I did manage to finish all the missions in “Space Crusade” and only didn’t win the last one.  I also managed to play a fair bit of “The Old […]

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