Welcome to a change of pace on the blog today, as many know GW are moving away from Specialist Games this means as a community we have to keep them going! Now Blood Bowl is the shining light as they have a worldwide fan base keeping it going already and Epic 40K is not far behind.
With that in mind I have been privileged to host an article written for Battlegames Magazine by Gary Pready, now it is more aimed at historical gamers but you know what it is worth reading for anyone.
So I will pass over now enjoy the article I did
An epic adventure
I want to tell you all about one of my very favourite wargames – Games Workshop’s Epic: Armageddon. You may remember that Epic was pretty big news back in the nineties. In fact, I find that many gamers still have a few tiny little space marines knocking about in the loft (cute, aren’t they?), even though the figures probably haven’t been out of
their box for fifteen years. Nowadays, however, you don’t tend to hear too much about Epic. Which is a shame as, to my mind, the most recent version of the game is a minor masterpiece.
Epic: Armageddon (I’m going to call it “E:A” for short) snuck onto the scene in 2003, to very little fanfare. If you have memories of playing Epic before 2003 then you may need to forget most of what you know while reading this article, as E:A is actually a completely different game to the previous editions, though it uses the same 6mm miniatures.
Now, I know that many of you reading this are probably not sci-fi gamers. Even if you are inclined towards sci-fi, there is a reasonable chance that the 40k universe makes you wrinkle your nose. It tends to be a love it or hate it thing. Not everyone likes the idea of (to pluck out a random example) genetically modified supermen punching flying tanks with giant electrified boxing gloves. Some people, I’ve no idea why, think it’s a bit silly.
If you’re one of those people, there’s no need to flip the page with a disgruntled tut just yet. E:A is an excellent and “realistic” wargame, filled with elegant mechanics and tactical complexity; parts of it could serve as fine inspiration for those of you who game WWII or the modern era and enjoy tinkering with rules.
If, however, you do love the 40k universe, then you may be in for a treat. I think E:A offers the finest way to capture the baroque grandeur of the setting. Would you like your city-sized spacecraft to bombard the battlefield from low orbit? While drop pods stuffed with assault troops descend like hail? Do you fancy watching titans stomp through city streets, duelling above the rooftops, levelling skyscrapers with their quake cannons? Good, then follow me…
If you’ve always dreamed of, for example, fielding the entire Deathwing (the famed elite first company of the Dark Angel space marines, for the uninitiated), deploying via five massive Thunderhawk gunships swooping onto the battlefield, then this is the game for you. In fact, not only is the example above possible in E:A, but it would actually make for a slightly smaller than average-sized game (though quite an unusual army list).
I’ve decided to approach this article by picking out the main things I enjoy about the game and explaining why I like them so much. Hopefully this will provide some detail of how the rules work, as well as scraping the surface of the tactics that are such an important part of the game. That’s more than enough preamble, so let’s get going…
There are no “player turns” in E:A. There is no movement phase or shooting phase of the kind you will often come across in other games. Instead, each player takes it in turn to activate a single formation (a platoon of tanks or a company of infantry, for example) which then performs an order, moving and shooting and whatever else, all at once.
A company of Baneblade super-heavy tanks takes devastating damage
The first benefit of this from a game play point of view is that it keeps both players involved the entire time. There’s no waiting half an hour for your opponent to finish his turn here (unless he takes half an hour to move each and every
formation, I suppose).
More importantly, this structure forces you to think not only about what you want to do but also when you should do
it. This brings an extra layer of strategy to the game. Often you will want to opt for the most obvious route: hit the enemy’s big guns with your big guns before they have a chance to attack. But just as often you will find yourself locked in a cagey game of cat and mouse, stalling and stalling to force your opponent to commit his most powerful formations first, so that your own can operate unmolested.
There are plenty of orders your formations can choose from when t
hey activate, offering a satisfying range of tactical possibilities:
- Advance: Take a single move and shoot at full effect.
- Double: Move double distance but shoot at reduced effect.
- March: Move triple distance but do not shoot at all.
- Sustained fire: Stand still and shoot with an increased chance to hit.
- Engage: Move in for a close assault.
- Overwatch: Stand still and save your shooting until your opponent’s turn.
- Marshall: Don’t do much, except recover from an earlier pounding.
Captain Sicarius of the Ultramarines and his terminator bodyguard secure the wreckage of an Imperial scout titan
Now we move on to one of the finest little rules I’ve come across in any game. Blast markers. Every time one of your models is killed in E:A you place a small counter (referred to as a “blast marker”) next to the formation. I’m not normally a big fan of games which require a lot of clutter on the battlefield, but in this case I’m more than willing to tolerate it. I’ve also seen some people make a real virtue of this necessity by modelling their blast markers as tiny explosions made from wire wool stuck to pennies. These look very pretty indeed when surrounding your beleaguered troops on the table (and even prettier when surrounding the enemy’s).
Blast markers are an instant visual representation of how much of a bad day any given formation is having. They have several effects on the game. For a start, having any blast markers at all means that there is a penalty on the die roll to activate the formation, so troops under fire are less likely to complete their orders as intended. Each blast marker also means that one model in the formation is suppressed and cannot shoot. Therefore, the more punishment troops take, the less effective the return fire of the survivors will be. Once a formation builds up as many blast markers as it has remaining models, it automatically breaks. It retreats and can do nothing more until it attempts to rally at the end of the turn. Finally, a blast marker advantage offers a nice bonus when engaging in close assault, making it absolutely critical to soften up a position before sending your lads in. All formations have a chance to remove some blast markers at the end of each turn, or by taking a Marshall order if things are getting somewhat desperate during the turn.
It should be noted that, when you shoot at an enemy, you automatically place at least one blast marker on the target, even if you inflict no damage at all. This does a great job of modelling the confusion caused by coming under fire, even if that fire is not terribly effective.
I love this elegant blast marker mechanic. In a simple and visual way it brilliantly deals with morale and the disruptive, suppressive effect of firepower. When playing E:A you will often find yourself scrabbling around for some troops, any troops, to lay down that crucial blast marker. You may not even care if the attack damages the enemy or not; the automatic blast marker it causes could be enough to tip a subsequent assault in your favour.
It wouldn’t be the 40k universe without swords made out of chainsaws and tanks getting punched. But an engagement in E:A is a more subtle affair than you might imagine, and in many ways it forms the crux of the game. When a formation takes an Engage order it represents more than close combat. It is a hotspot of close range violence flaring up as your troops advance on a position. In fact, a single Engage order in E:A is intended to represent everything that might happen in a normal game of Warhammer 40k played with 28mm figures.
Your troops don’t have to be in base contact with an enemy to be effective in an engagement; every model within 15cm can join in. All troops have a close combat ability (used when in base-to-base contact) and a firefight ability (used when within the 15cm engagement bubble). So a battle tank, for example, is likely to struggle if caught in base-to-base contact (6+ to hit) but can do much better at fending off assaulters with its machine guns if in firefight range (4+ to hit).
At the end of an engagement you tot up the casualties on both sides to decide the winner. You also add in the score of a D6 and several crucial modifiers to reflect any advantage in blast markers (hence the importance of softening up your target), greater manpower or the presence of inspiring leaders. The loser breaks and retreats from the position, with more troops cut down as they flee, depending on the severity of the defeat.
A game of E:A is usually won through its engagements, because this is often the most decisive way to drive your enemy from a position. But the truly clever thing about engagements is that every model within 15cm gets to join in. This includes models from completely separate formations, even if they have already activated during the turn. This instantly opens up all kinds of tactical possibilities, and much of the skill of E:A lies in the ability to spot opportunities to manoeuvre so that your best troops get a chance to fight several times in a turn. When you combine this feature with the integrated turns, you will find that planning out your attacks in a game of E:A quickly becomes very tactically interesting indeed (or sometimes brain-bending, depending on what mood you’re in).
A squadron of Vulture gunships hunting for targets
To give you an idea of how all this plays out, a typical thought process I would go through during a turn of E:A might be as follows. Let’s say that I would like my infantry company to engage a tank platoon hidden in some ruins. The odds are not stacked in my favour, however, as the enemy is on overwatch, so will fire at me as I advance. So I decide that I need to soften up the tanks before my infantry engages them. If I can inflict a blast marker before I engage, even if the softening up does no actual damage, then I will earn some very helpful bonuses in the engagement. I have some aircraft available to fly past and let rip with a few rockets. That would do the trick. However, if I choose to activate these aircraft first, then the turn will pass to my opponent before I have a chance to charge in with the infantry. I notice that my enemy has a titan (a giant and terrifying robot, if you’re not in the know) positioned to the rear. It is out of range at the moment but, if I let the turn pass back to my opponent, maybe he will choose to bring the titan up to support the tanks in the ruins. That would be bad news all round as, if I go ahead with my planned engagement at that point, the titan (now being within 15cm) could join in the firefight to help out his little friends. This would certainly end badly for my poor infantry. At this point I might consider “Retaining the Initiative”. This allows you to activate two formations in a row, without reply from your opponent. This would solve my problem perfectly. It’s not that simple though. There is a penalty for retaining the initiative, and a pretty good chance that my infantry would fail to follow orders at all if I try that. My elaborate plans would then lie in tatters.
E:A constantly presents you with choices of this kind, which is one of the reasons I find the game so absorbing to play.
You can, of course, use E:A to play any scenario you wish. The vast majority of games, however, tend to use the “Tournament Scenario” from the rulebook. This is not at all as limited as it sounds, because the Tournament Scenario is an absolute belter. It makes for some truly balanced and exciting games that often go right to the wire.
At the start of a game each player takes it in turns to place three objectives, one on their own table edge and two in the enemy’s half of the battlefield. These objectives form an important part of the Tournament Scenario, but they are only a part of it. You win the Tournament Scenario by achieving at least two “Goals” by the end of turn three. If neither player has managed this (or if you have both scored the same number) then the battle continues to a fourth turn. If there is still no outright winner at the end of that then the game is usually called a draw, with a tie-break based on enemy formations broken and destroyed.
The Goals are a varied bunch, requiring manoeuvre and subtlety as well as brute force. To win, you must achieve any two of the following:
- Blitz: Capture the objective on your opponent’s table edge.
- Take and hold: Capture any two of the three objectives in your opponent’s half.
- Break their spirit: Destroy the most valuable enemy formation.
- They shall not pass: Allow no unbroken enemy in your own table half at the end of the turn.
- Defend the flag: Hold all three objectives in your half of the field.
If there wasn’t already quite a bit to think about in a game of E:A, this little lot will certainly keep you on your toes. The last couple of turns of any game will typically involve trying to work out which Goals you and your opponent are in a position to go for and what you can both do to achieve/prevent this. The very last activations often consist of sneaking a formation forward to seize a crucial objective or trying to gun down the last few models required for the “Break their spirit” goal. It is one of the most challenging and fun scenarios I have come across in any game.
A horde of orks assaults the Imperator titan Dominus Rex
There concludes my tour of some of the things I like so much about Epic: Armageddon. It really is a great game and I’d encourage anyone to take a look at it. Getting in to the game can be a bit of an adventure at first because Games Workshop no longer actively supports it. However, the rules are available for free download on their website, and the key figure ranges are still sold online. There are also a number of other manufacturers of 6mm sci-fi miniatures out there who can do a great job of plugging any gaps in your collection. The best place to go to find out more about Epic is the Tactical Command website at http://www.taccmd.tacticalwargames.net.
So what are you waiting for? Polish your power armour, rev up those chainswords and unleash the mighty god-machines! The battlefields of the 41st millennium await you!