Image from Games Workshop
There is a process for changing rules
For as odd as it may seem, we found that we needed to use some guidelines or rules when it came to making rules changes in Space Hulk. While nothing is ever off the table completely from discussion, we have found there are certain concepts we just don't want to be altered. There's no scientific approach to this, it really comes down to intuition and how we imagine it should work.
Right... because that can't possibly cause any problems.
We all come to Space Hulk imagining how it would be in "real life" in addition to how we want it to play out. The challenge for us is communicating that to each other and finding a common ground. You need to hear the other person out and be open to trying different rule adjustments. I'll tell you that on more than one occasion I've thought my friend's initial idea was way too far out there until he explained it and even then, we tried it out in game play.
To date, most of our work has focused on the Marines as the Genestealers are a formidable force as it is. That being said, you don't have to give a benefit to the Genestealers when a penalty to the Marine player may accomplish the same thing. The opposite is true as well... there is a balance to be found.
So why would you want to change a rule?
There are a few reasons we will make a change to a rule:
1. We feel it's too powerful (relative to other things in the game)
2. We feel it's not powerful enough (again relative to other things)
3. It's a clumsy/ineffective game mechanic for the effect desired
4. The existing rule just doesn't feel right (how's that for a catch all?)
What "rules" do we use to change the rules?
Overall, there are three concepts we've come to adhere to. These concepts sort of guide us in making rule changes.
Concept 1. Marines are not and never will be as fast as Genestealers.
No matter what we may change, we don't want the marines moving about at the same speed as the Genestealers. In our mind it's just not possible to move about the confines of an unknown, potentially unstable hulk in bulky Terminator armour at the same speed as a Genestealer who is much more suited for the environment and knows his way around ship.
Concept 2. Marines will never be as good as Genestealers in close combat.
Sure, Marines have lots of cool weapons that are extremely powerful, but we're talking about a quarter ton of pure killing machine that moves at lightning speed that knows nothing more than killing. Marines may be good, but they just aren't that good no matter how many years of training in the simulator they think they have.
The Librarian can come close and a good Sergeant or Captain can hold his own for a moment if lucky, but those are the exceptions and not common by any stretch.
Concept 3. There is no need to make a new rule when an existing rule will work.
This is perhaps the biggest one for us.
And the most important we've found for keeping the simplicity and speed we enjoy. As we've gone about making our changes to Space Hulk, we've worked hard to stay away from adding new rules and game mechanics to the game when not absolutely necessary. The beauty of the game lies in the speed and simplicity and the moment you start adding new rules, charts, modifiers... you add to the complexity and begin to slow the game down. If it slows the game down, it's most likely not the best mechanic for what we're trying to do.
So how does it actually work? Changing a rule that is.
We usually sit down before a game and catch up on hobby talk. In that, we talk about things we'd like to see in the game. Not necessarily new rules, sometimes it's just an idea or a feeling about an existing game mechanic. From there, we start tossing ideas back and forth about how and what may need to be changed if anything to get us to what we want to see happen. Sometimes it's just talk and that can go on for weeks and sometimes we come right to the solution in less than a minute.
A couple of examples then...
A simple change we made a while ago involved the Chainfist. It's always been one of the weapons that's just been there for decoration. Looks super cool but doesn't do anything really. Sure it can shred open a door in close combat, but who doesn't shoot them out in advance to clear fire lanes or just push the button when you get there? Let's face it, it's a rare occasion you actually need to cut down a door in close combat. We decided that anyone who has what amounts to a chainsword on steroids mounted to their hand ought to have some kind of bonus in close combat. The first suggestion my friend made was perfect and from that moment on it was changed. Simple as that.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Librarian. This guy is a bit more complex than simply tossing in a bonus for a chainfist and he's gone through a few different changes so far for us. While we like what have for him now, we're constantly evaluating it to see if it strikes just the right feel overall.
Once we have our new rule decided on, it becomes a matter of playtesting the new rule to see how it fits in with the rest of the game. Does it do what we want it to? Is it too far or have we not gone far enough making changes? At this point we are trying to "break" the new rule and see if all we did was create another problem elsewhere. If it holds up to that kind of scrutiny and does what you're looking for it to do... you're probably close to a keeper.
The concepts we hold to help keep us in line and maintain the simple and fast qualities of the game. The two qualities we enjoy most. When we add or remove a rule, we are trying to add to the overall experience of the game. There are some rules I don't care for, but I'll tell you they add a tremendous amount to the feeling of the game and ultimately add to the experience. And for that reason, they stay.
A final note on the kind of player you probably should be
I think it's worth mentioning that it takes a certain kind of player to do this. Maybe not a certain kind as much as a certain approach or maybe an "open mind" about playing a game with "unofficial" rules. Rules that may be unbalanced in favor of your opponent and you don't realize it until you've played a half dozen times or so. You've got to be open to this style of gaming and I realize it's not for everyone out there.
As my friend mentioned to me the other day, we don't play a "win at all cost" type of game. We play for the heart pounding feel of the game.