An Ode to Richard Halliwell
+++This blog post has been edited to reflect the fact that Richard Halliwell was not also known as "Richard Helliwell" as a joke, like I had thought (but with the shenanigans the Games Workshop design studio got up to in those days, could you blame me?). In fact Richard Helliwell is a different person, who also worked at Games Workshop, but is very much alive and runs Infinity-Engine Miniatures. Sorry for any confusion+++
Today word has been spreading around gaming social media that influential British game designer Richard Halliwell died. For those who never picked up an '80s-era British war game, Richard Halliwell was the co-creator of Warhammer alongside Rick Priestly and Bryan Ansell.
Before that he worked on Reaper, also with Rick Priestly, a fantasy war game that had some rules that became re-purposed for Warhammer. Before that, he worked on Combat 3000, which was a rule set that (from what I've heard) was designed to use some of the figures from Asgard Miniatures (Ansell's company before Citadel Miniatures). Though the influence of Warhammer cannot be overstated, I wanted to talk a little bit about a game he designed that blew me away, and really stood out for me as something special: Space Hulk.
Space Hulk is a board game that can best be described as Aliens in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. A team of space marine veterans armored in the most-powerful suits in the Imperium board derelict vessels known as space hulks (amalgamations of ships lost in the warp and fused together due to the maddening abilities of that interdimensional plane) to find ancient pieces of technology. The catch is that often these hulks are homes to vicious and cunning aliens known as genestealers, who are the spearhead of Tyranid invasions.
It's a two-player game where one person takes on the role of the space marines, and another the genestealers. The board is a maze of passages and rooms and is set-up to the specifications of the scenario being played. The scenario will also mention the forces the space marines have at their disposal and the victory conditions for them. The genestealer player has the advantage that they just have to kill the space marines, and they often get an unlimited number of genestealers to do this. The space marine player has a limited number of actions each round that they can take, so often they plod along shooting and advancing in the hopes that they can keep the genestealers at bay long enough to complete their mission.
The game is incredibly easy to play, but has often been thought of as an incredibly challenging game for the space marine player. I can't say I've won too many missions, but I never turn down a game. The beauty of the game is that mechanically it's a puzzle, but a puzzle that has an inescapable theme. It's wholly impossible to separate the mechanics from the world, and that's why I think this game was ahead of its time. Even though there are two players in the game, all the focus is on the space marines. The genestealers don't even appear as models on the board until their tokes (representing blips on a scanner) appear within line of sight to a marine, thereby becoming visual. Ammunition is scarce and its loss adds a tension that you'd feel if you were watching Aliens on the big screen, but from a board game it's just a stunning piece of design.
Sadly the game is hard to find and incredibly expensive these days. It's a mind-boggling question as to why Games Workshop doesn't keep this game in permanent print, but if you can get your hands on any edition of it, you should. The 1st edition has the most material for the game including two expansions and a plethora of White Dwarf articles. The 2nd edition is the largest departure from the original, but is still very good, and atmospheric. The 3rd edition (and its subsequent reprinting) is the one I own and is the most-beautiful of the three. It has the least expansions for it, but any material from the 1st edition can be converted to 3rd with little effort.
Another game you should check out is Block Mania, a Judge Dredd board game that was originally done by Games Workshop but is now back in print through Rebellion (the current owners of 2000AD and Judge Dredd).
The miniatures gaming world is a little lighter today for his passing, but his contributions have undoubtedly made this world richer through his efforts. So it goes.