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…

Adeptusly Titanicus

Recently I decided to get back into playing Adeptus Titanicus. It was a decision motivated by a few factors. The first was that it was a game that just Ian, of The Chaps, and I played and although we played infrequently they are some of the best nights I’ve had in the 23 years I’ve been wargaming for. It was as much to do with the company as the game or the game outcome but there is something immensely satisfying about stalking Titans through cityscapes hunting one another. So I suppose I’d like to rekindle some of that fun and general tomfoolery.

The second motivation is I deeply and truly love the Imperial Titan models. Well, all Titan models really, but the Imperial ones especially. They are a triumph of design perfectly balancing the asethtic of each faction whilst making it perfectly clear to even the most untrained eye that they represented an unholy amount of arse-fuckery.

Warlock titans
The third and final factor I suppose comes from the fact that bar Hero Quest and Space Crusade, Adeptus Titanicus and Epic was the point my brother and I properly got into the hobby. We’d been playing Hero Quest and Space Crusade for over a year, writing quests/missions and ever-expanding the game with home-made files etc. But where it changed was whilst on holiday, on a balmy evening in Torquay, Cornwall. I couldn’t tell you the exact year but I suspect around 1990/1. I, rather typically, had already blown the paltry amount of pocket-money I had saved whereas my brother, ever the tight fisted frugal one, had managed to save up and had money to burn. And he came across this…

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I’m not sure if, at the time, he knew what he was buying. Or maybe he’d seen a picture or two in the couple of issues of White Dwarf I’d bought using money I’d saved that our mother gave for sweets after school. Neither of us could have known that this simple box of 6 ‘detailed’ plastic model kits would be the start of our love affair with Epic and beyond that wargaming as a whole.

I rather suspect it’s because of this seemingly innocent purchase and the later acquisition of Space Marine that I have such a fondness for ‘Epic’ scale games be they on the ground, churning through Victorian seas or in the depths of space. It may have also had something to do with the awesome artwork knocking around at the time.

TitanArt

So you can imagine my excitement when Epic 40,000 came out. Especially when you consider that it was then that the new look (current) Warlord Titan came out. As I’ve written about before it is, and possibly always will be, one of my all time favourite models. Even though they’re often badly cast and are an absolute bastard to put together, I can’t help but love them. If nothing else they’re bloody great war engines that can lay waste to an entire city.

More than that though, the Warlord Titan is the natural evolution of a model that fired the imagination of an 8-year-old boy into embracing the hobby that I now couldn’t be without. And they’re bloody great war engines that can lay waste to an entire city.

Titans

It is little wonder then that after Epic 40,000 turned out to be a complete dogs dinner, and it wasn’t financially viable for myself, or Ian, to collect an Epic Armageddon army that Adeptus Titanicus was the obvious choice. Although the rules aren’t going to win any awards it is immensely fun. And there are few things more satisfying than charging a Reaver Titan with a close combat weapon into close combat against a Phantom Titan and hacking its leg off. Granted the resulting critical caused the reactor to blow killing the Reaver along with the Phantom but it was still totally worth it.

There’s a nice symmetry to coming back to Adeptus Titanicus considering, although we never played the original rules, it was that game and those, iconic, beetle backed behemoths that got my brother and I into the hobby. I like to think that my continued excitement for the hobby still comes from that point when my brother lifted the lid and we saw the models for the first time. I try to channel the wide-eyed wonder of 8-year-old me seeing something so awesome and complex he can’t comprehend it.

I also suspect this is the reason I get so cross when wargaming companies let us down. Their job is to make each and every one of us feel as excited as an 8-year-old and more and more that gets forgotten.

Whatever the reason for me rebuilding my Titan force (having sold it during a particularly brutal period of skintness years ago) I feel that same sense of giddy anticipation that I felt when I first played Epic across my mini-snooker table and my brother convinced me that Howling Banshees were long-range troops and Dark Reapers close combat specialists.

The cost of the models and idiocy/greed of some sellers on eBay will mean that it’ll most likely be a slow burn project, but that’s okay because rest assured the God Machines of Mars will stride once more.