Thursday, September 6, 2018

'Adeptus Titanicus': An Opinion of the Redux Version

The new edition of 'Adeptus Titanicus' was released a week or so ago, and having had great nostalgia for the original 1988 version (ye gads, has it been that long), I felt compelled to pick up this new release. 

I have to confess, my love for GW ended years ago when the company inexplicably dropped its support for the 'Specialist Games' line. Originally kept as a sort of boutique niche for 'veteran gamers' (whatever that means), Specialist Games had under its umbrella many of the great fringe titles that GW had created over the past 30 years. Mordheim, Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic, Gorkamorka, these are just a few of the great games that were nestled under the 'Specialist Game' badge. Nonetheless, mismanagement and benign neglect caused the line to falter and it was quietly deleted from the corporate website. (Note: There is a 'Specialist Games' section at Forge World, but it's a shadow of the original catalogue.) I found that this decision, along with GW's IP suicide of killing off Warhammer Fantasy, caused me to throw in the towel and move on to other things.

Nevertheless, to its credit, Games Workshop has recently realized the value of revisiting its veteran titles, and has been steadily reissuing refreshed versions of many of their old classics. Space Hulk, Necromunda and Kill Team have all made their entry back into the market, and so I was cautiously optimistic to hear that Adeptus Titanicus was due for a redux as well. 

After selling a kidney, I managed to source the 'Grand Master Edition' (don't laugh, that's really what it's called), which includes two Warlord titans, six knights, a schwack of plastic modular buildings, dice, markers and the rules. Over the past week I've managed to get the models built and blocked in to get them on the table to try out the rules with the guys. 

So, now that the titans have fallen silent and the smoke has cleared, here are a few of my first impressions of the game, the models and the cost to get in.

The Rules 

Whereas 'Epic' was all about huge, sweeping battles in microscale, 'Adeptus Titanicus' takes that same scale (well sort of) down to a tactical level. The new version of the game is actually very similar to the original 1988 version, placing players into the role of a 'princeps' (squadron leader), managing a small group ('maniple') of war machines. These can range from the huge Warlord titans down to the nimble, single-piloted knights. Think of the game as running a flotilla of warships - the titans are the battleships and cruisers whereas the knights are your destroyers.

The rulebook is a very nicely produced 97-page hardbound volume, with a handy ribbon page marker. It has an index for quick navigation, but sadly no one-stop alphabetical glossary to aid mutton-headed players such as myself.

The rules are clear, concise and easy to understand. After pinning-down the basic mechanics, we were basically up and running within a half hour. It's relatively easy game to jump into, but the order system adds nice bit of depth and additional friction.  

The heart of the system is the 'Command Terminals', which are sort of the heads-up display of your titan. These terminals display the basic stats of your machine (various skills, command rating, movement rates) along with details regarding its mechanical layout (the structure of its head, body, limbs and weapons). Arguably two of the most important status tracks relate to your titan's fusion reactor and void shields. Basically, if these babies go down you're about to enter into a world of hurt. 

The rulebook also has a good section detailing Open Play, Narrative Play and Matched Play. Our group enjoys creating narrative-driven scenarios, but I quite like the rules mechanics behind the matched play variant, which helps players quickly set up a game that has each side working towards a unique goal while trying to thwart your enemy's efforts. 

Currently the game focuses entirely on engine-to-engine combat, so there is no smaller vehicles or infantry included. I can understand this being their initial approach, but 30K (and 40K) is all about combined arms, so I hope they release rules to accommodate, at least in an abstract form, the effects of tanks, aircraft and infantry. I think that one could easily use a variant of the rules they have for the Knights' formations ('Banners') to reflect these smaller units. Something to think on for future games.

The Models

One of the Warlords and a Knight. Sylvain's excellent scratch built refinery is in the background.

Regarding the miniatures, the first thing I'll talk about is the scale of the models. The AT has been designed to scale with a 8mm human figure, not the time-honoured 6mm of previous versions of Epic. Yes, WTF. This decision seems blatantly aimed to poke those with older collections in the eye. Sure, you can still use the rules with your old models, but it is a bit annoying that the new models have been purposefully designed so as to not blend in with existing titan collections. Nevertheless, I really liked the new model designs so I sucked it up, but I have to say that this was a bit of a douche move by GW. 

As I've not worked with any GW models for years, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of this release. The detail of the plastic is very crisp and one can easily see the effort that was put in with the overall design of the parts and their assembly. 

The Warlord model is composed of over 100 separate pieces, so its not an insignificant bit of kit, but the overall build turned out to be a breeze. There were several places in which a modeler might think they could make a mistake, but the designers have created the parts in such a fashion that it's very difficult to go off the rails. A real pleasure to work with.

As a thoughtful option to future-proofing the model, the weapons have been designed with indentations to fit 5mm x 1mm magnets, enabling builders to easily magnetize their weapon loadouts, allowing easy swaps depending on the scenario. A nice touch.

As a suggestion, I would recommend painting the core chassis separate from the armour plates, as there are a LOT of nooks and crannies to the final assembled kit. I painted all my armour plates right on the sprue and then cleaned up the attachment joins later.

I painted this first Warlord in Legio Gryphonicus livery, but Sarah quickly reminded me that it looked like the colours for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers... Well, so much for being part of a winning team... I remain a bit of a muppet when painting vehicles - I don't do them enough so it always seems like such a high-wire act - but it came out alright in the end. I still need to apply the decals (ugh), but the core of it is there.

The one caveat I have with the Warlord kit is that the it only provides one weapon loadout: two Volcano Cannon arms and a carapace Apocalypse Launcher (yes, the names of these things are hilarious). An additional weapons selection would not have gone amiss to allow more flexibility with the base model. Instead, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be paying through the teeth to acquire more weapon upgrades later down the road (see 'The Cost' below).

The knights are much simpler kits and again, very easy to assemble. I think I had all my six assemblies clipped-out and put together within half an hour. Easy peasy. 

One trick I'd suggest is to assemble the lower body separate from the upper armoured carapace and head. This will allow you to simply spray/brush the arms and legs with your favourite metallic paint while keeping the upper armour plating clean for your choice of colours/heraldry. 

The new terrain kits are genius as well. They can be assembled in a multitude of layouts, and are cleverly designed to stack on one another, allowing you to create some very impressive structures for your titans to take cover behind (or gleefully destroy).

Nonetheless, I still miss the old card buildings from the '88 version which allowed you to easily bring together a cityscape for not a lot of money - these new models, while very nice, will be very expensive if you're wanting to fill a 6 x 4 table (again, see 'The Cost' below). 
Sarah calls the 3D printer 'The Jello Maker'  

Thankfully there is an easy workaround on the terrain as there is an embarrassment of riches in 3rd party models available all over the market. Also, if you have access to a 3d printer, there are many excellent designs available for free (Thingiverse), or for a very modest amount of money from designers online. For example, I printed off a set of these models below for Byron which he got from a kickstarter (which now can be sourced from here).

The Cost (and Lifespan)

Okay, I'll be frank right up front: the cost is where Adeptus Titanicus falls down for many people - it's a very expensive game to get into. In reality we shouldn't be surprised as GW is notorious for its cartel-like cost structures and Adeptus Titanicus simply follows suit. When I say 'many people' what I mean is that there are loads of GW fans that won't blink an eyelash at the price, but to the general public this is an expensive indulgence.

To put it in perspective, the scenarios provided in the rulebook (all of them looking quite fun I might add), ask for a MINIMUM of 1250 points, but usually require forces weighing in at 2000 points or more.  A single Warlord, kitted out with it's various weapons comes in at around 500 points, so you really need a 'maniple' of titans to make the game sing, say a Warlord, two medium Reavers and a detachment of knights (approximately 1300 points). Okay, here's the rub: a Warlord kit runs at $130 Canadian ($110 US/£65) retail, a Reaver sits at $70 ($60/£35) and a box of 3 Knights is $40 ($35/£20). So, just in models one needs to plump down around $310 CAD for a modest single detachment. (And we won't even get into the insane pricing GW has set down for the poor antipodean souls out there.)

Cost aside, there is also the fact that the game has been designed with a single genre in mind, meaning that unlike the other GW boxed sets, you can't really use the Adeptus Titanicus models for anything else but AT. None of the models can be repurposed for 40K (obviously), but also by their conscious decision not to scale it to match their previous efforts, the miniatures can't easily be used with older Epic titan collections either. 

Relating to the point above: One point to remember, for those who already have existing Epic titans, you're in luck as you can just pick up the rules and Command Terminals and you're off to the races. (A great point raised by Ratmaul in the comments below.) 

With all this being said, am I unhappy with my purchase? Absolutely not. I love the setting, am really enjoying the rules and am very impressed with the models. But it really is a one-trick pony.  In the end, I think its pricing structure and distinct scale will relegate Adeptus Titanicus to being a niche product. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't be surprised that within two years AT is almost forgotten, becoming one of those fondly remembered but little played titles.  Nonetheless, if you love the setting, like the new models, and can stomach the steep price you will be treated to a very solid game using some of the nicest miniatures on the market.