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Thread: Let Me Sell You On: Epic 40k

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2005

    Let Me Sell You On: Epic 40k

    Continuing my series on 1990's GW gaming, I've been taking a closer look at the short lived Epic: 40,000 (1997). The spiritual predecessor to Battlefleet Gothic, Epic 40k brought the mass battles game Space Marine into a more streamlined and customizable form. Nevertheless, like almost every game GW put out in the 1990's, Epic 40k has been almost entirely forgotten by later generations.

    To be honest, it wasn't exactly well received in its own time either. Many players of Space Marine 2nd Edition (1991) found that Epic 40k took game abstractions too far and cut out the details that they had found enjoyable. Fans of Titan Legions (1994) complained that Epic 40k did not have interesting or nuanced rules for Titans. Both of these complaints are accurate (and I will be the first to argue that SM2e and Titan Legions are great games, even to this day). The truth is, Epic 40k was very much a different game, albeit at the same scale and scope. It introduced entirely new rules for resolving shooting, including the firepower table and blast markers that would later be used in Battlefleet Gothic (1999).

    In fact, GW pretty much had to make Epic 40k a separate game. You see, the earlier Space Marine 2nd Edition had come at a weird time: just as big battles of Rogue Trader (1987) were becoming the norm, but years before Warhammer: 40,000 2nd Edition (1993) was released. Space Marine 2nd Edition was essentially a faster and better way to play larger 40k battles than Rogue Trader. (For those who don't know, Space Marine 2e plays extremely similarly to 40k, with rolls to hit, saving throw modifiers and so on.) By the time Warhammer 40k was published, many gamers had adopted SM2e as their go-to system for battles. These players simply turned their noses up at 40k 2e when it came out (which, for the record, is crazy—Warhammer 40k 2e is one of the best editions of that game published to date).

    Thus, Andy Chambers and Jervis Johnson were put in a funny position when it came time to design Epic 40k (the 3rd edition of Space Marine). The GW design staff knew, even if we did not, that Warhammer 40k 3rd Edition was right around the corner (to be published the next year, in 1998). They could not repeat the mistakes of Space Marine 2nd Edition and steal the thunder from the new edition of 40k just months before it was published. The new Epic game had to be both mechanically distinct (which incidentally allowed it to be cannibalised later for a space battle game) and also not as rich and engrossing as Warhammer 40k 3rd Edition. For the same reason that I can buy a Milky Way in the U.S. but not a Mars bar, GW did not want to compete with itself (again).

    This initial handicap produced a game that many naysayers would easily write off. GW itself barely supported the game, with no army books, box sets or supplements ever released after the initial starter set. There were a couple abortive magazines; the Epic 40,000 Magazine lasted for 10 issues, while Firepower stuck around for a whole 4 issues. Most of these publications simply copied articles that were first published in White Dwarf, which itself only had a measly nine issues with Epic articles in 1997 and the final pathetic four issues in 1998 with scant references to Epic (only one of which was published after the release of Warhammer 40k 3rd Edition—go figure). Epic 40,000 was little loved by fans or even its creators at GW and would quickly fade into obscurity. This would remain the case until a new edition, Epic: Armageddon, was released in 2003 (largely to reprise the Summer 2000 GW 40k campaign, much like the 2003 Battlefleet Gothic Armada supplement).
    Last edited by Galadrin; 25-09-2015 at 22:27.

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