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.
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.
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.
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.
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…