Image from Games Workshop
We live and die by the clock, especially in Space Hulk
Look around enough and you'll find there are mixed feelings about using the Space Marine timer out there when playing Space Hulk. Some folks swear by it and others won't go near it. We're trying to capture and maintain that heart in your throat feeling when playing.
According to the rules, the timer exists to, “represent the tense environment and split decision making” required by the Space Marine player. As if the sight of a rampaging horde of Genestealers screaming down the corridor at you wasn't enough. Here's what we've decided to do with the timer in our games:
When we started playing, we did not use the timer. That's right, the Marine player took as long as he needed. That was that honeymoon phase where everyone was still learning the rules. No sense in adding stress and frustration if you're still trying to get the hang of the basic game play. Once we both had a good handle of how the game played, it was time to crank up the stress and make the Marine player start sweating.
I'll be the first to admit I don't exactly like the timer. Especially when I am trying to deal with potential Genestealer attacks on multiple fronts and I need to be very careful with where I place my Marines if I want to think about living through to the next turn. I've also run out of time and lost Marines because I couldn't get them positioned properly in time. That stings like you wouldn't believe.
That being said, I think the timer adds so much more to the game. I wouldn't even think about playing without it now. I even go so far as to be as quick as I can when I'm the Marines so it rushes the Genestealer player. If nothing else, I can give him grief when a game takes an hour and I only used 17 minutes of time.
So how long do we give the Marine player?
We happen to use an older version of the timer.
The Marine player gets a base time of 2:00 minutes with modifiers.
Once the time runs out, you're done.
From that base time, the Marine player gets to add an additional :30 seconds for each Sergeant or Captain in play. That means your standard 5-man squad get's a total of 2:30 on the clock. If the Sergeant dies, the time drops down to 2:00 at the start of the next turn.
Losing your Sergeant means losing that additional :30 seconds. We later decided that the Marine player gets to keep those additional seconds in the event the Sergeant moves off the board as part of the mission requirements. We figure he didn't die so he's still able to coordinate the efforts of his men in completing the mission. It's a small thing, but those add up for the Marine player when a million Genestealers are bearing down on you faster than you can handle.
The timer doesn't affect just the Marine player
Now this means the Genestealer player needs to be paying attention and helping out too. We don't stop the clock to resolve shooting or close combat. The Genestealer player will pull casualties and make board adjustments as the Marine player goes. We've found this to be more than sufficient for any single squad mission and just enough time for dual squad missions provided the Marine player doesn't mess around and gets right to work.
If you don't use the timer
I would suggest you start. It will change the way you play the game. If you're still learning the rules, don't stress over it and just leave it off to the side for now. Once you have a pretty good grasp of the rules though, add it in. You can always start out with the current amount of time (3 minutes I believe with the sand timer) and slowly reduce the time as you get faster at making decisions as the Marine player.