I missed out on Space Hulk when it was re-released in 2009. I snatched up a copy when it was re-relesed again last year, practically rabid with anticipation at finally getting the chance to play this grail-game that had first grabbed my attention back in 2001 or so (after seeing pictures of Bruce Hirst’s custom tiles – the Fieldstone Dungeon ones, not the newer sci-fi ones that he designed for the 2009 re-release). However, after several plays, it left me feeling kind of flat. It’s not a terrible game, just… well, as I’ve said about GW’s rules and mechanics before, mediocre at best. It was probably cutting-edge and exciting when it was first released, but mechanics have just improved and evolved so much since that time, and in 2014, I was playing a board game where I count spaces on a grid to move my troops one square at a time and resolve combat by simple opposed d6 rolls with a modifier here or there. Yes, there are a few other rules that add a little more depth, but that’s the core of the game. Some people love it for its raw simplicity; simplicity is something to strive for, and is what creates elegant, tight designs. But simplicity without depth and substance is boring. The Space Hulk miniatures and cardboard components are incredible, but they are merely a veneer covering up and distracting from a lackluster gaming experience below. I sold my copy to help fund the purchase of newer games.
The point of this extended Space Hulk anecdote is that it captures what I think will be a potential problem with the resurrection of Specialist Games: Games Workshop just doesn’t have the chops to create game mechanics that can compete with modern-day games. Games like Necromunda, Man O’ War, Blood Bowl, and all of the others will definitely appeal to old-school fans and grognards who played these games back when they were cutting edge – before the golden age of tabletop games that we are currently in and its embarrassment of riches in the sheer number of quality games that are available. But after the initial wave of excitement born from nostalgia wears off, will these old games be able to hold their own against the current generation of games?
I want to stress that what I’m saying is by no means intended to disrespect the importance of these classic games. There’s a review of DOOM on Amazon where the reviewer describes it as “very poor.” He was soundly taken to task by another reviewer who pointed out that calling DOOM “very poor” by circa 2000 standards (when the first review was written) displays a stunning level of ignorance about the history of video games – an ignorance which is not a crime in itself, but definitely something that precludes one from offering a meaningful review of a game that had already been out for seven years. (Of course, there are many other indications in that 32-word review that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the larger point remains valid.)
DOOM had a profound effect on the video game industry, but releasing the original game today in its original form in the hopes of it becoming a best-seller would be a laughable business move and a disgrace to its legacy. Trotting out games that were retired long ago may be nothing more than a callous attempt by Games Workshop to cash in on a market that their fans have been clamoring for something to fill for a long time, and which in many cases other companies have filled with their own games; or they may mistakenly believe that Specialist Games can still compete in the modern gaming market. It’s possible that they may update these games with modern design and mechanics, but this doesn’t seem likely for a company whose most popular game has seen its core mechanics remain largely unchanged over the course of seven editions and nearly 30 years.