If we're going to be talking about Victory Point Games' FORLORN: HOPE, we might as well talk about that big elephant in the room right off the bat. It's quite a bit like Space Hulk. There's been a slew of games as of late that seem to be big love letters to Space Hulk (like Incursion and Claustrophobia), but FORLORN: HOPE retains the same Marines vs. Aliens theme. Despite that, FORLORN: HOPE still manages to come off as being a tribute to Space Hulk as much as it takes things in some pretty cool new directions.
I'd like to note that FORLORN: HOPE was designed by a guy named Chris Taylor. Back in 1997, he and few other folks designed a little PC game called FALLOUT. Perhaps you've heard of it. It happens to be my all-time favorite PC game. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he now designs board and card games for Victory Point Games. If you're not familiar with Victory Point Games, you need to understand that these are essentially homemade games. You're not going to get mounted boards, or miniatures, but rather components on par to something you could have had printed down at Staples. That's not to say their games are ugly, and the artwork in FORLORN: HOPE is pretty good. The boards look great, and I really like the alien designs.
If you've played Space Hulk, you might know a bit of what to expect. It's still a game about a small group of marines facing off against endless swarms of aliens in narrow, claustrophobic spaceship corridors. Unlike Space Hulk, there is no timer for the marine's turn. I thought that would greatly lessen the tension the marine player feels, but that really isn't the case due to how the marines use their Action Points. Instead of having every marine get an allowance of Action Points every turn, they share one pool. The marine player determines their Action Points for the turn by rolling 2 six-sided dice, keeping the higher of the 2 dice rolled, then checking bonuses that Sergeants and Lieutenants add. If you roll doubles, you add an additional +1. You can then spend your Action Points on things like moving, shooting, etc. When you decide to take a move action, you only spend one point, and that unlocks the marine's Movement Points (usually 6). Movement Points cover actions like moving forwards, backwards, and opening doors.
You're probably thinking, “Yeah, that's great, but how does this replace the tension of having a time limit?” The real tension comes during the Xenos turn. Just like in Space Hulk, the Xenos get more movement points, and they come in massive hordes. Give it a 2 or 3 turns, there will be more aliens on the board than there ever are during your average game of Space Hulk. There is no Overwatch mode in FORLORN: HOPE. You need to use those left over Action Points to interrupt the Xenos turn in order to shoot, and even if they do, they do so at a penalty of -1 die (most marines normally roll 2). And that's where the tension, and in my opinion, the most fun comes in. The marine player really needs to budget their turn in order to be successful in the game. You might need to take the chance on not shooting when a xenos is about to attack one of your privates just to make sure that the Sarge can shoot when another alien gets near him. Each xeno only gets on attack, so there's a chance he just might live. In my experiences with the game, this makes for some much more intense moments than the sand timer in Space Hulk ever provided.
Combat functions a bit differently in FORLORN: HOPE. Regardless of which side you're playing, attacks are resolved by counting the number of spaces to the target from the attacker, and that's the range. The marines have a defensive bonus, so if the xenos are attacking, this number is added to range, giving you the number you need to beat in order to score a hit. If there's a problem I find with FORLORN: HOPE, this is where it is. With the exception of one type of Blaster alien (more on him later), the xenos need to be adjacent to a marine in order to attack. So the range is one, 2 if diagonal. Add the 2 that most marines have as a defense bonus, and you need a 4+ (or a 5+ if diagonal). Meanwhile, the marine who wait for the xeno to move adjacent to him will hit on a 2+. It seems to make things a bit too easy for the marines, nor does it really catch a certain thematic flavor. I prefer the way Space Hulk portrays an asymmetrical battle between ranged combat and devastatingly lethal close combat. Then again, this game does have more aliens on the board than Space Hulk, so there will be more opportunities to attack. It's just that xenos player will need to starve the marines out of Action Points before they can really do any damage.
My one gripe aside, FORLORN: HOPE seems to be more a more balanced game than Space Hulk. The marines may have a better chance of surviving close combat, but the xenos have some really nasty (and fun) tricks up their sleeves. The xenos player will draw from a “Mutation Deck” at the start of the game. These cards provide some neat twists the marines won't be able to anticipate. I played one game where I was the marines and was about to walk out of the station, winning the game. That's when my opponent played the “Gooey” card, making me paying double the AP to take a move action. I never made it out of the station. There's a variety in the aliens as well, with the stronger, harder to kill Warrior xeno as well as the ranged Blaster xeno (who in addition to having range, will always hit on 5 or 6 regardless of range or defensive bonuses). And most of fun of all, there's corpse bursting. When a marine dies, the xenos player will be able to have a new alien burst out of the corpse. You don't really realize how fun it is until you tell your opponent that you're doing it.. Or, if the xenos player chooses, they can have one their aliens eat the corpse, upgrading it to a better alien. Again, fun to tell your opponent that you're eating their corpse.
In my time with FORLORN: HOPE, I've had nothing but fun. I know that I've made countless comparisons to Space Hulk, but it really has enough tweaks here and there to give it a life all it's own. Plus, it's extremely portable and doesn't take nearly as much table space as Space Hulk or any other corridor games. The scenarios are well done, and with the extra rules online, I've really enjoyed the two solitaire scenarios that are included. Will it replace your Space Hulk? Probably not. Nor does it need to. In short, it's fun, it's cheap (only $30 US on the VPG site), it's portable, and best of all, it's still available while Space Hulk isn't.