It’s well documented that I embarked on my adventures in wargaming at the tender age of 7 when I got a copy of Hero Quest. However, I didn’t properly understand just what I was letting myself in for until my brother got a copy of Epic: Space Marine. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get to grips with the game. It wasn’t helped by the fact that back there and back then I generally speaking wouldn’t read. Anything. So my brother had to teach me the rules. Granted, once I had them down I was a contender despite the game being, at times a great lumbering beast that’d take all day to play.
But we absolutely loved it and were fielding legions worth of Space Marines and a dozen or so Titans between us by the time we reached secondary school and we met people who played 40k. Even then it took a little while for us to be swayed by a game that, as far as we could tell, had less cool shit in it and demoted you from Warmaster to Captain. However, despite moving into the 30mm world Epic still remained forever in my heart as genesis not only for the hobby but for the 40k universe as a whole as it’s near limitless ambitions meant that it was forever fleshing out, expanding or explaining leaving 40k in its wake to rip off the best bits.
As time wore on 40k began to leave Epic behind, despite the release of Titan Legions and the truly mental Imperator Titan. When it eventually resurfaced much to my heart skipping delight it was in the form of Epic 40,000. If I’m honest, it was a bit shit. And not because it contained a fraction of the plastic its predecessor had in the box.
It was a remarkably ambitious shift in rules and I totally saw what the Games Workshop was trying to do with it. It was a bold effort to strip down the long-winded infantry engagements that were often an inconvenient necessity of Epic into something more interesting, more decisive and quicker. Blast markers were, in theory, a brilliant idea. Firefights as a concept was inspired. Attack runs from flyers elegant. The Death Ray special rule…not explained and over powered but still. The reality, however, was that largely down to shoddy and poorly written rules, everything was complicated, unclear, laborious and, as a result, longer than it should have been. And unless you were Space Marines you would never ever ever win.
Epic 40,000 was a failure by any measure, but not for lack of trying on Games Workshop’s part. The models were good and the plastic scenery was amazing and highly sought after to this day. Pages of errata and FAQs followed on from the release as well as a magazine intended to make it good not shit. Desperately trying to salvage what was the crown jewel in the GW crown.
There were some gems buried amidst the unpolished turd that was Epic 40,000. For a start, flyers were far more devastating. As was anything with super heavy or Titan somewhere in its description. In fact there was no point in taking anything else. On the up side, it was also the first time we saw the current design of the Thunderhawk Gunship and Warlord Titan. Fighta Bomma’s also came screaming into the 41st millennium to harass the forces of man to the present day.
The design of Land Raiders was moved forward and formed the basis of the current plastic kit. The design itself became a Forge World Heresy-era (ish) kit. But that hull design was, again, genesis for how Space Marine vehicles would look for the next 16 years and beyond. It also, most importantly of all gave us the mechanic that would later be revised and applied to the truly tremendous Battlefleet Gothic and by extension Epic Armageddon.
Sadly by the time Epic Armageddon was released, after years of fucking about and delays and a truly overwhelming amount of community support, the game was doomed. The tragedy is that Epic, back in the day, was just as prominent and just as important as Warhammer & Warhammer 40k. Necromunda & Mordheim were always intended to be secondary systems but Epic was core. And, if I’m honest, should have remained so. I suspect economics and space in the store had as much to do with its down grading as anything else but the fact remains that Epic, whatever its iteration, was never meant to find itself first under Fanatic and later Specialist Games. It was never meant to have the support yanked out from under it.
Epic Armageddon, despite a phenomenally good rule set which catapulted it into the stratosphere of all time wargaming greats, it was never going to be enough because it coincided with the decision to produce the entire Epic range in metal. Making everything mind bendingly, and unsustainably expensive, even by Games Workshop standards at the time. And, as with all the Specialist Games at the time suffered from some terrible sculpts.
And the beautiful thing was that, despite its obvious ousting from its former place of glory the fans loved it. And still love it even now. More so even.
But what makes Epic so great? It’s really not just the rules, although the current rules are brilliant, it’s the sheer ambition and imagination that has always come hand in hand with Epic. As I mentioned above, it allows you to be a warmaster. To command legions of Space Marines and company upon company of armour. And because of its…ahem…epic scale, it had room for all the truly mental stuff like the Chaos Daemon engines. Stuff that we’re starting to see crop in 40k and Apocalypse now.
To this day Epic will always hold a very special place in my heart. I will never forget the feeling of excitement I got going into Games Workshop High Wycombe and handing over £5 for a Space Marine Legion or Space Marine Land Raider box. And the funny thing was that it didn’t occur to us back then not to collect all the armies. We had thousands of stands of infantry. Hundreds of tanks. Dozens of Titans. And we had them all on display. Even when Hive War came out I got the supplement and a fairly decent starting army for my birthday and I can honestly say I’ve never felt that kind of wondrous excitement since. Granted I’m a seasoned and bitter old wargamer now but I like to think that I can still be surprised and still be excited by my hobby, but Epic was and is special just for its simple, unabashed desire to live up to its name. Yes it sometimes missed the mark and yes sometimes games would take days because rules just weren’t clear enough or there was too much shit on the board, but that was fine because it was always enjoyable. And that was its real secret weapon. It was eternally fun.
Knowing the game will no longer be produced and that the current generation of young gamers, and those that follow them, will never get to play it, or even hear of it, makes me immensely sad. More so than any other of the Specialist Games we’re paying tribute to all this week. Because Warhammer 40,000 as it is now simply wouldn’t exist. The ambitious nature of Apocalypse is in response to Epic’s passing because on some level the Games Workshop understands that we all want to conquer worlds, not just city blocks.
There is an argument that Apocalypse is commercially driven and on some level that’s probably true, but I also have to believe that on another level Apocalypse exists so gamers like me can look at the Heldrake, the Lord of Skulls, Stompas and Super Heavies and be cast back to that time when we commanded those genuinely apocalyptic forces. And we can smile to our selves and think: I can remember when you could fit one of those in the palm of a child’s hand. And Super Heavies they were 3 for £5.
All that aside, nothing will ever change the contribution Epic: Space Marine, Epic: Titan Legions, Epic: 40,000 & Epic: Armageddon made to the Games Workshop hobby. Its rules, models and background continue to inspire even now. And to this day the Titan Legions rule books have some of the best fluff and rules ever written.
If we have to say good-bye at all, and if Epic Armageddon were its swan song then its melody would make grown men weep. Epic, from the bottom of my heart, I salute you.