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…

Digital vs Analogue

I love technology. I love the pace at which technology is developing. I love all the weird and bizarre gizmos and apps that are becoming available by the week. I’m certain I can find some kind of techno-wizardry that would help in every aspect of my life if I looked hard enough. Yet, for one of my favourite hobbies, I find myself shunning the digital way and yearning for the good old fashioned book in my hands with which I can flick through faster than you can say ‘I’m sure I saw that rule around here somewhere’.

It would be easy to say that this is because of all of the most obvious failings of a digital product; making sure your tablet/phone is charged up, harder to flick through, the expense of a tablet, the lack of a physical product to hold and feel etc. but I don’t think that’s what really bothers me.

What does bother me, is the uncertainty of digital products.

What does that mean? It means I have an iPad today, what happens tomorrow when I don’t have an iPad? What happens if my device breaks and I can’t afford a replacement? What if I move to a different platform altogether and can’t transfer those books over with me (the recent GW epub/mobi codex releases ease concerns slightly on this front, but I’m pretty sure that going from an iPad to an android device still means you’re not bringing your iBooks collection with you). How frequently are the codices going to be updated with FAQ related revisions? How are they going to alert me that the book has been updated with the aforementioned FAQ revisions? Will they just update my codex without warning me and make me look like a complete tit when I insist X is Y but it now turns out to be a bushel of apples? Is my ageing device going to be guaranteed against future software updates? For apps across multiple systems, are my purchases in one app  going to be available on the other? Hell, am I going to be able to use my purchases between two devices on the same operating system or am I going to be locked down to one device?

Christ, what if my wife needs the tablet to do the food shopping on on games night?!…I’d have no hope.

My mind is awash with questions that I haven’t seen answers for. The answers may be out there, but as a potential customer sitting on the fence, the answers to those questions need to be more prominent. Granted yes, some of those questions are down to me to answer (“will the wife ever give me the iPa.. oh.. that’s a no then“) but the others that are outside of my zone of control are still valid questions.

When I buy a book, I know that it’s going to be the same book I’m flicking through from one day to the next and I know that (heaven forbid) barring a flood and/or fire, that book is going to be there when I need it, whether I want to just take a 5 minute flick through it or take it with me for a week-long tournament. I also know that I don’t need to pack a charger for my book. I can also read my book in strong sunlight (not really an issue here in Blighty but applicable to some all the same)

What I’m really really getting at is… if you’re going to be offering a digital product and you want to maximise the uptake of your fandangled digital contraption, you need to make sure your customers know exactly what they’re getting not just right now but in the future too.

The problem arguably is that publishers are rushing headlong into the next-gen age without full understanding the technology they’re working with, the responsibility they as the publisher has, or what – if anything – they should communicate to the customer. And surely publishers should operate across multiple platforms and multiple reader apps in the same way as publishing in different languages for different markets? If purely to make it as appealing to the market as possible.

The staggering uncertainty with the future of digital print, the lack of clarity from the publisher and the basic issues of having to take a power lead with you for a gaming weekend means that we’re years away from the good old-fashioned rule book being challenged let alone threatened.

Musings on 6th Edition Fluff

By now most, if not all, of you would have seen the leaked White Dwarf pages that went up on blogs all over the world this week. I resisted because, well, what would be the point? Especially as so many of my fellow Alliance members had gotten there first.

It has, however, given me time to reflect on the prominence of the Dark Angels in the new edition and the slight shuffling on of the canon from the previous version.

So, based on certain rumours, the Tau are now under the protection of the Space Marines. Or at least the Ultramarines and their successors which rather suggests that the Emperor knew that there would come a time when Chaos would return to the galaxy in a level of force akin to the Heresy. It also makes me think that he was aware of and/or had a hand in the genetic manipulation of the Tau alongside the Eldar. Which if nothing else makes you realise where Alpharius and Omegon get their pragmatism from…

More over I’ve been thinking about the Dark Angels. It’s quite telling that we’re on the cusp of the 42 Millennium, the Golden Throne is failing, and the fate of the Imperium hangs in the balance and there is a sudden emphasis being placed on the 1st Legion. The Dark Angels have always been a mysterious bunch and all the evidence suggests it is because of the betrayal of half the Legion during the Heresy. And although they bear those scars with great shame, the true cause of their secrecy is the realisation that came with capturing Luther and his eventual confession. The great secret that the Dark Angels keep is, whereas the Space Wolves are the Emperor’s executioners, the Dark Angels are or will be the executioners of the Emperor.

From broken lips Luther told his captures that the Emperor was a true immortal, a being destined to be reborn for all eternity and by keeping him trapped within a shattered physical form humanity was preventing his rebirth and with it their very salvation. This secret was the Dark Angels’ alone to bear and with their stoicism they would see it done.

Cypher’s quest to kill the Emperor is a well established part of the background, his motivations supposedly sinister. And wherever the lost son of The Lion makes planet fall the Dark Angels descend to allegedly bring him to justice. It’s no surprise to see Divination as one of the Dark Angel psyker traits for 6th edition. In the resulting engagement Cypher makes his escape and with each new appearance he gets closer and closer to Terra. The assumption is that the Dark Angels are trying to stop Cypher but I propose that they are trying to help him by covering his tracks and sowing misdirection as on the surface the Dark Angels appear to be doing little more than thwarting heretics. But think about it, Cypher is from a time when the Emperor was not a God – a truth all Space Marines hold – and so often times Cypher is doing little more than opening the eyes of those he comes into contact with. The Imperial Creed demands action is taken. The Dark Angels prosecute the campaign as far as they need to then withdraw. His escape is assisted by the fundamental and intentional conflict within the chapter structure. Battle brothers don’t know the true extent of the Dark Angels’ role in things to come, whereas company captains are initiated into the Deathwing and so, to a point, do. They accept the grim task ahead of them with the redoubtable determination we’ve come to expect from the First Legion. As a result the Dark Angels hamper their own efforts to capture Cypher and further turn the wheels of destiny towards the inevitable death of the Emperor.

This isn’t to say that the Dark Angels are heretics or traitors. Far from it. Arguably only the Dark Angels and the Space Wolves see things for that they really are and the grim roles they must play. The Dark Angels know that the Wolves will be set upon them once their work is done. And probably deepens the resentment that runs between the two Chapters. Especially as the Wolves know they were powerless to change anything as for the Dark Angels to succeed they must fail in their most basic duty. To keep the Emperor safe. The Dark Angels understand that by allowing the Emperor’s shattered mortal form to die he can be reborn and will signal for the Primarchs to return and herald a new age of reclamation. Although I suspect that it’ll be The Lion himself that ends his father’s life as he was always destined to carry a terrible burden. Indeed there’s every likelihood that he saw this possible future which is why the weight of the Legion was so heavy on his shoulders. Combined with my note about the Tau ostensibly being anti-Chaos weapons it all seems to point quite strongly that humanity is on the brink of either destruction or redemption but it’ll come at a terrible price and its survival may come at the cost of the Imperium itself.

This is purely speculation but it’ll be interesting to see where the new Dark Angel codex will be taken and whether or not the rumoured ‘Warhammer 41,000’ will ever come out and how that follows on but I suspect a lot of questions will be answered in the coming months.