Something Special

Following the excellent posts by The Shell Case team on the passing of the Games Workshop Specialist Games range I thought I’d offer my own thoughts as it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Epic I may never have gotten into wargaming at all.

As Phil and I have recounted before, we got our first taste of the Games Workshop universes through Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Looking for extra cool stuff for those games led us to White Dwarf magazine, and it was in a copy of White Dwarf (owned by Phil as it happens) [I’d saved up my pocket-money and everything. – Ed] that I first encountered Epic. More specifically I encountered an Epic battle report between Blood Angels (backed up by Imperial Guard super-heavy tanks and Warhound Titans) and the Thousand Sons Chaos space Marines (and an assortments of daemonic and monstrous allies, including Magnus the daemon primarch and a Khornate Lord of Battle). After more than twenty years, it’s difficult to remember exactly what it was about the game that was played out in that article that won me over. It probably had something to do with the Titans, and the diversity of troops on the board from chaos trolls to the Stormhammer super heavy tank, but mainly the Titans. For those  of you too young to remember the Stormhammer, imagine a Baneblade with two turrets with twin cannon and four sponsons. [They were…ahem…epic. – Ed]

At the time I had assembled a motley collection of slightly random miniatures for use in Space Crusade (including the old RTB01 Space Marines) but the first miniatures I bought seriously with the thought that I might actually use them in a ‘proper’ Games Workshop game were a box of six of the classic plastic Warlord Titans. [Which he bought in a toy shop whilst on holiday in Cornwall of all places. – Ed] These sadly never got at much use is I might have liked. But at least one got deployed in anger a few times.

Once I finally got my hands on the Space Marine box set (Epic 2nd Edition for those of you keeping track) I was hooked and accumulated quite a collection. Enough to have a 2,000 point army for most of the available factions (even the Squats), albeit not necessarily very competitive ones, and certainly not very well painted ones. I certainly played the game a lot, though. Long before I was able to persuade my parents that I really did need a 6′ x 4′ expanse of chipboard to play one, we roughed out a playing area on the floor using white card with deployment zones handily marked out in biro. [Oh God! I’d repressed that! – Ed] Several glorious battles were fought out, and one or two humiliating fiascos.

This was the era of 1st Edition 40k and 4th Edition WFB, and it wasn’t for some time that either of those games tempted me into straying from my 6mm legions. But peer pressure eventually took its toll as none of my friends were into the 6mm side of things.

I enjoyed Epic. It was a cool concept and the rules were enjoyable to play.  Some individual unit rules may have been absurdly complicated but the overall system was straightforward. Though I remember some of my 40k playing friends complaining about how it didn’t quite match how things worked on a 40k table. Things only improved when Titan Legions (essentially version 2.5 of the game) came out and I could start using entire companies of Titans.

I sometimes wonder if Epic would have been consigned to the slow death of the Specialist Game section if Epic 40k (version 3.0 of the rules) hadn’t tanked so badly. While I see what they were trying to do, the total rule change (it was literally a new system designed almost from scratch) alienated many and ultimately it was a bland over-abstracted system that was still inexplicably fiddly at times. The final version, Epic Armageddon is a much improved version, being based on the similarly excellent Battlefleet Gothic.

Of course, the damage was done by that point, and Epic has gone the way of all the Specialist Games. A loss made all the tragic by it having once been a core game the way 40k is. I will miss Epic, and will probably regret never getting back into it while I had the chance, but I could never quite bring myself to give Games Workshop money for a game or miniatures they were blatantly never going to update or support.

While I appreciate that Games Workshop is a company that sometimes has to make hard-nosed business decisions, and that the Specialist Games were not very profitable, I can’t help but wonder if things might have been different if they had invested a bit of effort into making them more profitable through further development. Certainly the Necromunda or Mordheim rule sets were ripe for redevelopment into a full-blown skirmish campaign game for their respective universes.

Some might say that the development of Apocalypse for 40k makes Epic obsolete. But Epic would allow battles beyond the reach of even the most ambitious Apocalypse game, and what’s more would probably still be over sometime before two o’clock the following morning. So many units and concepts that started out in Epic have been extrapolated into 40k – Whirlwinds, Vindicators, Mantacores, Falcons, Leman Russ tanks, Baneblades, Deathstrike Launchers, Trygons, Vypers, Daemon Engines. And the list will continue to grow. It shows how much the 40k universe owes to that game and maybe one day, the demand to deploy whole titan legions against each other will reach a point when a new version of Epic might be feasible.

Until the day when the God Machines stride again…

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