Way back in olden times, in 1988, Games Workshop decided to get into the giant robot craze with a boxed game called Adeptus Titanicus. The premise was simple: in the broad Warhammer 40,000 universe, there was plenty of space for walking death machines. Why wouldn’t there be? There were barely in control psychics, ravening alien hordes, space orcs and dwarves, and the insidious influence of Chaos. Giant robots made perfect sense.
They were called titans, in 40k‘s parlance. Stories tall, bulky, and with weaponry more powerful than anything else (at least on solid ground), there was something immediately alluring about them. Whoever was doing the concept art and sculpting at the time nailed it; they looked, for lack of any other way of describing it, like 40k, the way they were slightly too big while still having a clean-lined profile.
The problem was that you can’t really do a game with lots of giant robots in a then 28mm scale game. To give perspective, the current Forge World Warlord is nearly two feet tall when assembled. Not really practical for most people.
My Table’s Not That Big
The solution was to make the scale smaller, and this is where the story of Games Workshop’s greatest defunct game series takes shape. The original Adeptus Titanicus was brilliant, a crunchy counter to the popular Battletech. But that was only the start: it proved popular enough that the smaller 6mm scale (Epic, as it was called) was expanded upon in further games. There was Space Marine, which added tanks and, yes, Space Marines, followed by Orks, Eldar, and all the rest. Entire ranges of new titans and tanks were released, many of which only made it into 40k much later.
It was my favorite non-skirmish game they ever did. Then it disappeared, with the last official release in 1997. The Epic scale games were gone, outside the obligatory internet community keeping it alive in fan updates.
Until now. Adeptus Titanicus is back. It is, as it was 30 years ago, about giant robots and only giant robots. The Warlord titans have been updated, the scale increased to 8mm to get a little more room for customization. But this is the return of the giant, the one which enchanted more than any other when I saw it the first time.
It’s not the same rules, it must be said. There are still cards representing your titans, which you use to track damage and void shields. It’s still got a lot of granularity, much more than the average game of 40k—just as one example, you have to track how your engine is being used, whether you’re pushing it harder for more juice in a dangerous situation in exchange for a risk of catastrophe. Think Battletech’s famous heat tracking system except more.
For all that, it’s a game in love with an old school rules aesthetic, however, it’s a much cleaner playing game than the old version. Games Workshop has a better handle on how to make game aids than they did in the Golden Age, and it shows in Adeptus Mechanicus. Tracking every 45 degree angle could’ve been a pain, but the inclusion of sturdy plastic templates. The old Epic system of laying out your titan’s cards, then placing damage tokens on them and praying nobody breathed too hard on them is gone; in its place are cards with holes punched in them, with plastic push-fit counters to fill spaces marking damage, energy use, and the like.
The net effect is that it plays new but feels old. This is clearly the exact effect Games Workshop wanted to elicit: very early on in the rulebook is a shout-out to the Adeptus Titanicus of the past, with a nod to the new version’s direct inspiration by it. What this means is that, if you’ve only played Games Workshop games since the turn of the century, you might be in for a new experience. Again, this is crunchy and granular, less satisfying fistfuls of dice clattering around, more pre-planning of movement and resource management.
It’s good. I got to play around enough with my review copy’s one Warlord titan and a spare base to get a feel for the basic game, sans the advanced rules which add special orders, military buildings, and other cool doodads. But the star of the show is my half-complete Warlord titan.
It’s an amazing kit. It builds easily and looks gorgeous. Why didn’t I finish it? In a first for me, and as a reflection of just how taken with this game I am, I’m going to magnetize the weapons so I can switch loadouts, and I don’t have any 5x1mm magnets. For now, I wait on an order before I finish building. Note that Games Workshop actually made spaces for this size magnet in the kit, a further sign that this is probably a game for the harder core end of the hobby spectrum.
The game comes with a controversial price, one which needs elaboration. A lot has been made of what seemed to be a $290 price point for what was called the Grandmaster edition, which came with two Warlords, six knights, terrain, and every rulebook and card made for the game. That’s a lot, way outside the impulse buy range of even comfortably middle class people, and people (including me) recoiled from the price.
The thing is that the $290 figure is mostly illusory, due to the way Games Workshop funnels people toward big boxed rulesets with hefty discounts on the contents. It seems like folks saw the only big Adeptus Titanicus, figured that was the preferred buy-in, and balked. That’s certainly what happened with me and my crew.
Having seen the actual game and contents, it’s clear the pricing is way more palatable. The rules at $60 includes all the cards and templates, plus a sturdy (if simple) organizer; that’s a decent deal when looked at in the context of hardcover rules. $110 is a lot for a Warlord, but it’s not much smaller than a 40k Knight, which is around the same cost. So this is a bit on the boutique pricing side, but not at all as I initially feared.
It remains to be seen whether this heralds the return of a new 8mm version of Epic. I hope so, desperately, but even if it doesn’t, it looks like Adeptus Titanicus is being given consideration as a third core game, with lots of room for expansion. It strikes the right balance between honoring its past while not being beholden to it, making it both a worthy successor and the start of something new.
Are you planning on playing Adeptus Titanicus? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Image Credits: Games Workshop