[Epic 40K] The Epic Win

This Thursday just gone, I tried a brand new (relative to m’self, anyway) game. I say ‘relative’ because, well, Epic has been around for quite a while. So long, in fact, that while I dimly remember playing one game when it still had ‘Titan Legions’ on the front, it’s been through two total revisions since then. It might as well be a completely new game as far as I’m concerned – especially since all I remember about Titan Legions is being enthralled by the little spinny-roundy void shield counter in the base of each Titan, a piece of business which I still think should have survived into games like Battlefleet Gothic (where it’d have done nicely to indicate the relative positions of ships in the third dimension, and made the whole thing feel a little bit less… seafaring).

Anyway, I also dimly remember promising I’d try to say something intelligent about new games when I tried them out, so here it is; I quite like Epic. I’m not immediately head-over-heels for it like I was with Freebooter’s Fate, not yet, but I quite like it.

The early stages of an Epic demo. Note the presence of an embarrassing, twice-broken, dead-to-the-world digital camera on the left; fortunately, the Blackberry seems up to the job of taking table-wide shots. I’ll be using these captions to demonstrate principles and report on the two turns that were completed before we realised what time it was and decided to go home.

I quite like Epic because, firstly, there’s a lot less sitting around waiting for your opponent to do stuff. While my demo partner Francesco did have to take his time on a few things owing to not having a handy cheat sheet for his Space Marines’ stats (while I did have one for the Imperial Guard I was running), the alternating activations of formations in Epic meant that there wasn’t a whole turn of “err, how do these work again” for either of us to put up with in between doing things we did remember how to do. If we were more competent players, this alternation would also mean a more reactive, shift-in-the-moment style of play, rather than the grandiose structures of combo play that I’m used to with games like Warmachine.

Secondly, it’s pretty flexible. The range of ‘move and shoot’ orders available to units essentially allows speed to be traded for effectiveness; units can be ordered to move three times and not shoot, twice and shoot with reduced accuracy, once and shoot, or not at all and shoot with increased accuracy. Furthermore, if you absolutely need to do two things before your opponent does anything, pulling off some sort of pincer movement or firing two formations at something particularly dangerous, you can attempt to retain the initiative and order a second formation to act out of sequence. What I really like about this system is that failing to issue an order doesn’t have a Blood-Bowl-esque ‘turn over’ effect; the formation can still either move, regroup or shoot at reduced accuracy, and you know that your opponent is only going to be activating one or two of their own formations before you get to involve yourself again.

Thirdly, I love how Epic does terrain. The scale of the game is such that, at long last, an ordinary-sized gaming hill being ‘infinite in height’ despite being smaller than some of the buildings on the table doesn’t seem as ludicrous as it used to be. The small bonus to movement afforded by roads is both attractive and potentially useful for helping slower armies get out to the objectives post-haste. The cover mechanics are simple and intuitive and encourage the use of transport vehicles as ‘mobile cover’, which is a lot less irritating than in 40K when you consider that they don’t eat up huge chunks of the figure case and cost as much as a squad despite constituting next to no part of your army’s points value.

The movement bonus afforded by roads, and the excellent natural armour of the Tank Company, meant that roads were a more attractive prospect than cover for me. This particular Tank Company is about to double onto the mission objective on the road, and then open fire – albeit inaccurately – at some Space Marines who are juuust offscreen to the right there and menacing another.

Fourthly, Epic seems to offer several different ways of ‘winning’ engagements which create some interestingly deep interactions. A formation might ‘win’ a firefight (a sort of turn-within-a-turn representing a battle of the sort you might fight with 28mm models in conventional 40K) by wiping out its opponents, but have taken so many casualties in doing so that its own morale (represented by the blast markers accumulated for being shot at, taking casualties and otherwise finding itself at the mercy of a vast and horrible universe) is very shaky. That makes the formation more likely to break, and requires that an activation be wasted on marshalling the survivors – so there’s winning by killing things and then there’s winning by giving them such a bloody nose that they become a hindrance to their controller.

This Guard formation, for instance, has technically ‘won’ a firefight, having devoured a small Terminator formation and sent several stands of Assault Marines running for the hills. However, so many casualties and blast markers were sustained that the formation broke soon afterwards – I didn’t want to risk losing my Supreme Commander and the re-roll ability he offered, so they spent the rest of the game basically running to wherever it was safest and failing to marshal, rally or otherwise rid themselves of blast markers and get back into the fight. Still proud of them though.

Fifthly, there’s the actual missions; I don’t know if this is standard practice, but the game we played had an interesting set of objectives. A point on the enemy’s board edge, selected by them, which can be held for one Victory Point; two points in their half of the board, selected by you, which can be held together, or any one in combination with the one on the edge, for one VP; and a VP for eliminating your opponent’s most expensive formation, whatever that turns out to be. There’s a required two-VP margin of victory, which – if I’ve worked it out right – affords three ways to win. Hold three objectives; hold any two, including part of the midfield, and eliminate a key target; hold the base-line ‘Blitz’ and eliminate a key target. Furthermore, no victory points are counted until the third turn, a position I remember well from Warmachine.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about that, as it seems to enable the win-before-the-game-has-started approach that I find boring to dish out and depressing to receive. Couple clever objective placement with a crushing alpha strike and you can be sitting on the baseline plus one other objective with your own most expensive unit well hidden or even off the board, and that leaves you with two turns of kicking your heels waiting for the victory conditions to kick in for an instant two-nil win. It’s good tactics but boring gameplay, and I’m more inclined to the narrative/cinematic, against-all-odds, right-down-to-the-wire kind of game myself.

Fortunately, Francesco’s alpha-strike was more of an alpha-flail, possibly an alpha-trip, and he ended up making a desperate run for his cluster of objectives with these Devastators. With a large Guard infantry formation lurking in cover nearby I’m not sure how well this would have worked out for him. I’d hope for the sort of tense draw that I really like in a game – he’d probably have bagged at least one Victory Point out of this, and I’d hopefully have one sewn up in the middle from the Tank Company. That said, I suspect a 2-1 score in the Marines’ favour would have been a more likely outcome, given that Francesco still had his Land Speeders and Assault Marines running around to make a run across the back-line and clear the Guardsmen off all three of his objectives.

Sixthly, for all that it’s a more abstract and grand strategic game than I normally go for, the distinction between forces is very well preserved. The Space Marines are extremely (almost offensively) reliable; they’ll usually be acting first in a turn, their formations will automatically do what they’re told unless morale is very shaky, and they’ll stick around for twice as long as everyone else when the bullets start flying. I’m sure they’re bad at something, but I’m damned if I can see it at the moment.

The Imperial Guard, meanwhile, are largely disposable but insanely numerous; they throw out enough bullets to badly distress small formations and seem to require that their opponents gang up on them in order to make a dent. Furthermore, they have an insane variety of firepower in formations like the Tank Company, which seems to have a gun for every possible target and a wide selection of range bands enabling either long-range pot-shotting or close-range bombardments.

I have to say that I don’t think either force is necessarily my bag – the Marines seem very good at playing a game that I’m not very interested in, while the Guard seem a bit too static, a bit too prone to staying on their side of the board and waiting to see where the fight happens.

That might be why I’ve been looking at Ork army options on Epic UK. I toyed, for a while, with the concept of going completely away from type and doing Eldar, but honestly, I’ve carried the torch for Orks for so long and I don’t see myself bothering to do an Ork army for 40K ever again (so… many… of… them…) that Epic seems like a decent space in which to indulge my Orky tendencies. Maybe I’ll sort out another demo game with the Epic Orks at some point. Maybe we’ll actually get to finish it…

8 thoughts on “[Epic 40K] The Epic Win

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  1. The best thing is the game does all that and still more or less supports all the many moods down the years, because of the number of models that were released and are still out there and the flexibility in basing, and the wonderful magic of a table in 6mm, which better matches the deeper vistas in the art. There are lots of alternative non-GW options too if you’re looking for more choice in models.

    1. I’d be interested in some links to some of those alternative models, as it happens; a goodly amount of stuff is presenting itself on eBay but there are a few things that are proving harder to come by.

      I think that ‘deeper vistas’ phrase nails the appeal of Epic (and Warmaster) to me. Visually, the game looks like a Blanche painting, and mechanically, it lacks that strange dissonance where units of ten men behave like formations of a hundred (which I think Rick Priestley acknowledged as a sort of deliberate mistake in many of his designer’s notes). It looks like the universe that the best of GW’s art and fiction depict.

      1. There’s a good listing here…

        http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=144374

        … and these seem to have been missed:

        http://www.exoduswars.com/Exodus-Wars-6mm/b/1479770031?ie=UTF8&title=Exodus+Wars+6mm
        http://www.microworldgames.com/
        http://www.plasmablastgames.com/shop.html

        I recommend a good look through the product lists – some go on a few pages and can bury good models deep. There’s plenty that’s very suggestive of old friends, but counts-as Orks looks to be a weak link still. The best options I’ve seen based on a quick refresher are these:

        http://www.darkrealmminiatures.co.uk/store/product.php?productid=150&cat=8&page=1
        http://www.microworldgames.com/collections/6mm-fantasy/Orcs?page=2

  2. I’ve played quite a lot of Epic, over the years, starting with Titanicus and Space Marine, missing out Epic 40,000, and picking up again when Epic: Armageddon came out. It’s one of the best GW games out there.

    Your objective setup is a very standard setup. 1 baseline objective, 2 in the opponents half.

    The victory conditions for the standard game scenario though are:

    – Hold all three objectives in your half.
    – Have no enemy models in your half of the table.
    – Hold any two of the three objectives in the opposing half of the table.
    – Hold the enemy baseline objective.
    – Destroy the most expensive formation in the opposing army.

    1 point for each, beat the opponent by 2 points on or after turn 3 to win.

    You *can* win by just bunkering up and going for the first two, but the opponent just needs anything in your half to stop you. And wiping out the most expensive formation is not that easy, as it’s usually going to be the largest formation, or the biggest war engine, and, it’s likely to include something that’s Fearless, solely to stop it getting wiped out by overkill or blast markers.

    The setup does make it not such a good plan alpha-striking across the table and going for tabling the opponent. If you don’t cover your home objectives, a good player will have held something fast to drop on them.

    Marines are filthy, but they’ve got to be used as a scalpel. If you do the big t-hawk assault at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, you lose the hawk and it’s contents. And you can’t afford that. They lack staying power, tend to lose attrition games, and they can’t do a great deal to heavy armour as they lack many Macro weapons, but they are stupid mobile, and have a horrible habit of ending up with lots of remnant units that give them the activation edge, and which can still put out the blast markers in places you didn’t want them. The Thunderhawks are so very good at dropping in to contest or claim an objective late in the game, stopping you from winning.

    I hate playing Marines.

    Guard, I’ve struggled with, but I think that’s because I didn’t use them in mobile enough formations (and going to a tournament with a war-engine-hunting list was just dumb). One of the Guard lists, for instance, uses Valkyries and Vultures instead of Chimeras and Lemans, and they’re crazy mobile, and I haven’t figure out how to beat them yet…

    There’s a small, friendly tournament circuit still kicking around. They’ve been reviewing and developing army lists over the last few years with the aim of making balanced lists covering all the 40k races for tournament play.

    http://epic-uk.co.uk/wp/ has the lists and a schedule of tournaments, if that’s of interest.

    http://www.taccmd.tacticalwargames.net/ is where the players discuss stuff, and post pretty pics of painting projects.

    (I’ve got three painted armies, enough stuff for five more, (no Orks among em,) and I’ve recently been tempted to start picking up bits for Feral Orks… Argh…)

    1. On the matter of objectives and missions – that might have been what we were playing. I’m not sure. I had a lot to take in, it was late, and I was tired, and this blog post was written days after the fact. I take your point though, the deeper mission you present seems slightly less encouraging of “win before we start” play.

      On the matter of factions – those remnants, I think, are what make the Marines so vexing. It seems like a Marine formation can take a bit of a mauling and still remain in the game, albeit relying on team-ups with two or three others to really accomplish anything – but then, that [redacted] 1+ activation roll means the [redacted] tin gits are very likely to pull off their [redacted] double-whammies.

      On the matter of links – I had known about Epic UK, but not the other one – cheers very much for that.

      On the matter of Orks – I may have, ahm, gone bargain hunting on the ol’ Bay of E this weekend. Not to an insane degree, but let’s just say that things are in motion.

      1. As much as there is a plethora of armies to play, I kept ending up against Marines when I was playing tournaments (health reasons are keeping me from committing to tournaments these days), and while I could get draws, the 1+ activation roll, plus TSKNF, plus the manouverability, meant actually taking wins against an opponent who knows what they’re doing is a hard job without the right army.

        On TacComms, you could do worse than to give Evil & Chaos a poke. He may still have access to some good alternate Ork infantry models. I’m PitFiend on there if you want to mention that I suggested him to you.

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