10 Reasons Why E40K is Great!

This article was not written by me! Sadly, the original author is unknown to us, but if anyone knows where it originally comes from please let me know so we can link to the original instead! I'm reposting it here, as an easier way to point those that are interested in reading it or for new players asking about the quality of this edition! Having it collected on an easy to link post will save John, from over at Vanguard miniatures, from having to repost it in individual comments every time the 3rd Ed. rules are brought up on the Epic Space Marine 40k Middlehammer group, over on facebook!

I've left the list as close to the original posting as it is from the source I've taken it from, though I will jiggle the format where I can to make it fit the blog better, as it was broken up into several long comments on faceboook. I've added my own stylisation to some of the paragraph breaks as well, tweaking them to fit better on the page, as the format was shoddy from copying from facebook- but the words remain all the original authors own. 

Its long read, without any visual breaks. Perhaps if time allows, one day I'll add some visual flair to the whole page.

With thanks to the original author, for putting this piece together in the first place, to John @ Vanguard for championing this piece every time the Edition wars break out over on the forums and of course, AC, JJ and the rest of the folk behind the games creation.


10 Reasons Why E40K is Great!

The other thread reminded me of why I enjoy Epic 40,000 so much, so I thought I'd create a list. Please feel free to comment, discuss or come up with your own entries.

Let's start with #10...
10: Army Morale
Army morale was an excellent system that served to reward good strategy while also providing a suspenseful timer to the game. I remember a lot of games coming down to the wire (as in this one: link) with morale scores neck and neck. Army morale was such a unique way to determine victory because it allowed you to truly design any scenario that you could imagine (and indeed, the recommended battle objectives made great use of the morale system). It was also a great way to represent the overall depletion and exhaustion of the force, in addition to the morale-like effects for blast markers, pinning, retreats from combat and other rules. You had to play smart and pull back damaged detachments or you would find your army cohesion quickly unravelling and any hope of achieving your mission becoming increasingly distant.
No other edition of the game even attempted to use something as advanced as Epic 40,000 army morale, which makes it a unique and excellent feature of the game.
So the next item in the list was actually higher up in the first draft, but I decided to move it here as it is important to consider in all the points that follow.

Without further ado, #9…

9:Ease, Simplicity and Speed
While not an actual rule per se, the simplicity and speed of the game mechanics are carried through all the other rules. Epic 40,000 (or E40k, from here on out) was designed to cut down on the bulk from the excellent SM2/TL game (Space Marine 2nd Edition/Titan Legions). While SM2 was a lot of fun and could play very big battles, it would also slow down massively, especially once you added in the Titan rules from TL. The prime design directive of E40k, then, was to boil the idea of truly massive, epic-scale conflict down to a lightning fast play experience. Given the scale of the game, the designers achieved this remarkably well!

Every action in E40k could be resolved by a single die roll. No "roll to hit, roll to wound, roll to save"… Your attacks would just be a toss of the dice and everything would be determined. Close combat technically took two rolls (roll to see who wins, roll for damage), it was also lightning quick. Rallying likewise only took a single roll, and there was no rolling for other morale systems (of which there are several, baked right into the game mechanics and operating "underneath the hood," so to speak). 
That E40k was able to keep this simplicity given its extreme flexibility (more on this later) was itself a feat. Your detachments included a vast array of troops and vehicles, yet most infantry were simple variations on the faction's basic infantry. E40k did this by assigning a special trait to represent different versions of infantry. Thus, you would only need to remember the basic Space Marine profile (there were only 5 "stats": speed, range, firepower, assault and armour), and then modify it by the universal special trait for heavy weapon units, jump troops, infiltrators, assault troops and so on. Each trait pushed the basic unit to be specialized for one battlefield task, allowing you to combo troop types for tactical advantage (much, much more on this later!). 
While you could play very tiny, small scale games (which was a ton of fun), E40k was really at its best handling truly massive armies. Despite being contained in a digest-sized book that was physically 50% smaller than SM2's core rulebook, the page count of the E40k rules was only three-quarters that of SM2, totalling some 48 A5 pages. It could play as big as SM2, but only a lot more quickly and with a lot less referring back to the rules and army rosters. While the simplicity chafed some, it also enabled a new way to play on an epic, strategic scale. Ironically, when the game's predecessor SM2 came out, a lot of players jumped ship from Warhammer 40k to Space Marine 2nd Edition, precisely because it was a micro-version of the former and made Warhammer 40k redundant for many people. E40k is distinctly not a micro-version replacement Warhammer 40k—rather, it complimented Warhammer 40k 2nd Edition while providing an entirely new experience of warfare on a planetary scale.
Epic 40k is what we're discussing here! To shed further light on that. 
Let's continue on to #8…
8: The Close Combat System 
My favourite aspect of the close combat rules in E40k is the notion that a single round of close combat represents an entire game of Warhammer 40k being played out. This seemingly minor insight led Andy Chambers to define the innovative relationship between the two games and come up with several key ideas. For example, if a single close combat represented an entire game of 40k, then a detachment (the maneuver element in E40k) should represent an entire 40k army in miniature. Thus, E40k detachments are not homogenous, but comprised of a mixture of many different troop types (Land Raiders, Space Marine Scouts, Dreadnoughts, Terminators, Assault Bikes and so on). Furthermore, if close combat represented a 40k battle, then most infantry weapons would only be effective at close combat ranges. Thus, there was no need to represent small arms like bolters and lasguns in the normal shooting rules, making a strategic difference between the heavy weapon assets in an army and the regular line infantry. This was an important distinction that EA carried on when it was released years later. This all may seem unimportant, but the practical effect was to zoom the commander's view in Epic 40k out to a strategic distance, lifting the player from the mud and blood to see the bigger picture at an operational level. 
The close combat system itself was thus fairly simple, even abstract, but the simplicity belies the amazing array of choices that a commander had in front of him. In effect, when you issue an assault order, you may move a detachment to close assault an enemy detachment. Each side counts up the total assault scores of all units in base to base contact, adds 1 for each unit that is within 15cm support range (which represents small arms fire at a distance of a typical 40k gaming table) and then compares the values. If you exceed the enemy, you gain a +1, +2 or even greater bonus on a opposed die roll to see which side "won" the close combat (you also gain bonuses for attacking a well-suppressed enemy, having more psykers in the combat and so on). The amount by which your roll beats the enemy's die determines the target number for killing enemy stands in base to base contact. For example, a roll that is 3 pips higher than the opponent's roll results in the loser being "driven off", with stands on the losing side taken casualty on a 3+, while the winning stands fall only on a 5+. The loser then retreats 20cm and any stands that cannot get at least 15cm away from an enemy are automatically destroyed. 
At first blush, this just looks like a numbers game with a bit of chance to it. There are an immense number of strategies packed into this system, however, that rely both on your detachment choices as well as your tabletop strategy. For example, enemy stands block movement so that you cannot charge "past" or through them. Stick them with a frontline unit, however, and you can burst through the enemy's front lines with cavalry or jump troops to strike deep into their formation at vulnerable units in the rear. This matters not only for targeting low-assault enemy stands to increase your ratio… Remember, only models in base contact can actually be destroyed in the fighting. If you want to take out that pesky psyker or a 50 point supreme commander (or even just some annoying artillery that has been vexing you), this is how you do it. Because armour doesn't matter in close combat (rather, kill chances are decided by the first die roll), this is also the perfect way to take out heavy tanks… Get in close and shove a few meltabombs up their tailpipes!
But that is not all… Remember how retreating units that don't escape 15cm are automatically destroyed? Flank wide with cavalry units and encircle the enemy detachment from the rear. When the enemy flees, he will be falling right into the arms of your cavalry picket lines. Want to keep the enemy from doing the same thing to you? Be sure to keep some skirmishers on your flanks to catch enemy flankers with the 10cm opportunity fire rule.
Lining up your assaults and making sure you have the right amount of assets (assault troops, but also close support troops, cavalry, jump troops, infiltrators and so on) was an art form that would make Sun Tzu blush. The best assaults were precision strikes, following careful encirclement and suppression by artillery, that took out marked targets and led the rest into deadly ambushes. It would not be enough to say they simply required combined arms… Rather, the deeper and more complex your appreciation of combined arms, the more devastating your assaults. It was truly a system that was easy to learn, yet difficult to master.
Of course, many found the single die roll to determine the overall victor was too swingy. Admittedly, even Jervis Johnson himself changed this to a 2d6 roll in his home games. Yet, the swing of the battles was better controlled by another mechanism—the vital resource of the strategy cards, which we will discuss next!

So I lied, I decided that I am not going to do the cards system for #7, as I like those rules too much to put them this early in the list. Instead, let's talk about…

7: Initiative and the Turn Order

The initiative system is admittedly nothing revolutionary. Indeed, this humble little rule is best defined by its inherent simplicity. Yet, it both "gets the job done" admirably and gives the higher initiative player a well-defined but not overwhelming edge. On the operational scale represented by Epic 40,000, initiative represents organizational and command structure advantages. In game turns, this means the army with the highest strategy rating (Space Orks have 3, Eldar have 5 and so on) puts three tokens in a cup while the opponent puts only two. Each turn, there are four times where you draw a token from the cup to determine the order of play (movement, shooting with regular units, shooting with titans and the assault phase). Thus, the army with the lower strategy rating can at best hope to go first in two phases, while the army with the higher strategy rating might go first in two or sometimes three phases. This technique is a quick and dice-free way to determine the order of play in each phase that gives a well-defined but not overwhelming advantage to the more strategic and organized faction.
The sequence of the game is an interesting mixture of alternating units AND "I go, you go". The former is used for the two shooting phases, where it is important to allow both players a chance to resolve shooting so as not to give an undue advantage to the player with initiative that phase. Players go back and forth picking one detachment and resolving fire before passing the action back to the opponent. "I go, you go" is reserved for the two movement phases (movement and assault), in order to preserve the feel of grand maneuvers on an operational scale.
Movement in Epic 40,000 is not tit-for-tat, where you wait around to react to the opponent's move, all the while shifting some small, sacrificial unit to delay revealing your own hand. Rather, movement represents sweeping mobilizations across a major battlefront, where an entire field army takes part in a large scale operation or advance. The feel of movement in Epic 40k is, well, suitably "epic," as you maneuver your entire force. Unlike in other editions of the game, moving first provides a good balance of advantages and disadvantages. While you do reveal your plan of attack in doing so, moving with initiative allows you to seize vital ground (as enemies cannot come closer than 10cm to your stands) before the enemy has a chance to do so. It gives you a chance to take the high ground, dig into the rubble of urban terrain and deploy area-control in a game that is so much about formation and position. In the assault phase, initiative gives you an important advantage in lining up your close combats and driving off the enemy, before they come back with their inevitable counterattack. If you go second in the assault phase, you had better hope that you thought ahead and created a "defense in depth" to counter the enemy's push.

The initiative rules are simple and humble, but they provide much of the epic feel and scope of the game.

Ok, with the initiative system covered, we can now pick up where we left off with the combat system. So without further ado, let's take a look at #6…
6: Fate Cards

Back in the 1990‘s, every Games Workshop game came with cards. Cards, like special templates and counters, were a source of good production values in a game. In conjunction with boxed game sets, they allowed GW to demonstrate "value added" to their games and products. This wasn't only aesthetic, however. Cards expanded the experience of play into new dimensions. Not only did they add a tactile element to gameplay, but having certain cards in play would have countless ramifications, so that no two scenarios were ever perfectly alike. Cards allowed you to hide your strategy, adding to the fog of war, while also constraining your tactical options to the cards that were drawn. They were a vital but limited resource, requiring careful planning and timing. They also allowed strongly thematic and, dare I say, even entertaining and humorous elements to be injected seamlessly into the game.
The main purpose of fate cards in Epic 40k was to reroll an undesirable close combat roll. Close combats were decided with a single d6, which made even heavily one-sided fights dangerously unpredictable. On the one hand, this mechanic made close assaults highly undesirable without considerable preparation and advantage. Close combat is not something you engaged in without proper planning and forethought. On the other hand, it also made fate cards (of which you only received two or three for the entire game) a critical resource. You had, at most, two or three close combat fights where you had strong assurance of a victory. When those critical, turning-point moments in the game were was something you had to agonizingly decide for yourself. Suppress the enemy with artillery, pin them in their positions, soften their front lines and send in your best assault troops under cover of fire, but do not go into combat without a fate card.
Of course, you never had enough fate card for every critical fight. Close combat (I failed to mention earlier) was the only way to force the enemy to retreat, so it played a vital role in any attempt to wrest ground from the enemy. You often have to bank those precious fate cards for other theaters and other contingencies, meaning close combat often held the thrill and suspense of a throw of the die. But these are decisions that fate cards empowered you to have. When do you want to risk it, and when are risks acceptable or unacceptable. Would a +3 modifier be enough? Perhaps not if you roll a 1, but anything higher than a 3 would be a sure thing. Is this the assault that will be the crux of the whole game, or is that fight still ahead?
This is not the only function fate cards had, however. The secondary (and sometimes only) effect of a fate card ranged from rallying a suppressed detachment by removing some blast markers, calling in orbital bombardments on enemy positions or even zapping a pesky enemy stand with one of your nearby psykers. (The latter could, of course, be countered by a nearby enemy psyker, leading to miniature psyker duels in the middle of the battle).
While these cards had some thematic effects, fate cards were massively expanded by new cards released in GW's magazines, including 8 unique cards for each faction and a whopping 16 cards for the Imperial armies (Imperial Guard and Space Marines). These were heavily themed and faction-specific, creating a unique feel to each species on the tabletop. Eldar focused on deception and graceful maneuvering, while Orks hardened their troops and Tyranids infested and consumed the very earth around them. Chaos channeled the corrupted energy of the four ruinous powers to transform themselves and their enemies, with the boon of each power having a different feel on the battlefield. The Orks and Tyranids (as well as Tzeentch) even had unique psyker effects that better modeled their alien mindsets.
The designers used the Imperial fate card set to showcase 16 themes that embody the 40k universe in the form of "tarot" cards, a nice reference to the Imperial cult surrounding the worship of the God-Emperor. There are cards that play to the weaknesses in the xeno-factions (for example, "The Savage" tarot card forces a Space Ork detachment to assault, while "The Harlequin" causes an Eldar unit to despair and lose hope). Other cards reference different elements of the 40k universe, including "The Assassin" (which has a chance to kill an enemy stand of your choice) and the "Fabricator" (which summons the Machine God of Mars' power to repair a damaged titan). Other thematic cards include The Space Marine, The Hulk, The Inquisitor and so on.
Given the scale and scope of the game, these cards not only add thematic flavour to each faction, but also serve to inject a strong feel of the 40k setting into the game. While the game plays out on an epic scale, the fate cards communicate what fighting over a planet would feel like in the 40k universe. They also add another strategic resource for a player to deploy and a unique twist in every battle.
Moving right along to #5…


While earlier editions did have rules for titans and massive war engines, they never felt fully integrated. SM2 had rules for the Warlord titan in the boxed set and, several years later, Titan Legions revised and updated those rules, adding the massive Imperator and Mega Gargant titans to the game. While titans added a great deal to the game, they also slowed gameplay down considerably. Even the humble Warlord, workhorse of the Titan Legions, had six void shields, specific saving throws for each of the twelve unique hit locations per side (a total of 34 locations) and five different critical damage tables (a total of 19 unique effects). Because of the amount of time to work out titan attacks and damage, relatively few games were played with more than a couple titans per side (leaving titan vs titan conflicts for the older, simpler Adeptus Titanicus rules from the late 1980's). Titan Legions was definitely an innovative ruleset… It used custom hit location dice, tons of unique damage tables and an arsenal of weapons and upgrades. It felt a bit like playing Battletech in the middle of your Epic Space Marine game. Despite the fun, this was also something of a downside, as the detail slowed down the game and sometimes felt poorly integrated.
When E40k came out, the designers took the chance to rewrite the rules for titans and bring them mechanically in line with the core game. The rules also greatly expanded the category of titans to include massive war engines, such as the Imperial Baneblade super heavy tank or the Space Ork Gibletgrinder battle fortress, in order to ramp up the battlefield mayhem of these war machines. All war engines (from the massive Imperator Titan to the humble Eldar Scorpion super heavy grav-tank) now had "damage capacity" which determined how many hits they could tank, once Void shields (if any) were depleted. Just like Battlefleet Gothic, each damage point has a 1 in 6 chance of causing further effect on a 2d6 critical hit table (unique to each war engine), which disabled weapons, movement and other systems (which might then be repaired during the course of the battle). Finally, each war engine had a unique 1d6 catastrophic damage table, resulting in a spectacular display when the titan was finally brought down on the battlefield.
War engines, including titans, follow the normal rules governing units, with some small modifications. They have their own (very high!) assault score, as units do, but may be attacked by more than two enemy units in close combat at a time (up to half their starting damage capacity). This is crucial for overcoming titans' high assault scores, and it turns assaults on titans into dramatic conflicts that are the centerpiece of any battle. If the attacker is able to storm the lower levels of the titan, the attack rolls from close combat are the best chance at taking these leviathans down (as they ignore both Void shields and the high armour scores of titans). Titans may also move and shoot, even in combat, although they attack in a second shooting phase after normal unit fire is resolved (representing the time it takes to line up their cumbersome ordnance). They rumble slowly across the battlefield, taking ponderous turns and crushing everything underfoot. Although they do not take orders like units do (and thus cannot march to increase their speed or overwatch to increase their accuracy), they can move, assault and fire their weapons at full strength.
War engines also have access to a deadly arsenal of "super heavy weapons." These are weapons that modify the normal firepower-based attack rules, from the Eldar pulsar weapons to the Imperial vortex missile (which annihilates everything within the blast radius) and the Space Ork "Super Lifta Droppa" (which does what it says on the tin). While firepower-based weaponry remains the core attack system in the game (and indeed, Titans are often bristling with weapon batteries that use these rules as well), the super heavy weapons rules add a unique feel and variation to those rules. They are "epic" scale weapons with truly dramatic effects on the battlefield, removing swathes of poor bloody infantry and leaving craters in their wake.
The rules for war engines and titans achieve the aim of reprising and amending earlier editions. War engines still feel very unique on the battlefield, as they should. They are ponderous, towering leviathans capable of reigning death all across a massive battlefront. The fight to take down a titan is a suspenseful and thrilling moment in the battle, and titans exit the conflict as thunderously and destructively as they entered. Although titans have a memorable and remarkable effect on the game, the designers were careful to make sure that titans did not slow down the game at the same time. While bringing their own unique feel to the game, titans are also fully integrated in the rules so as to keep Epic 40,000 churning along at full speed. Given how lightweight and quick Epic 40,000 is, this is a truly impressive feat. War engines are also well balanced within the rules. They are very effective and deadly, yet it is also quite possible to take them down with good strategy. Titans become something like massive, mobile terrain on the battlefield: a contentious objective that is fought over tooth and nail, eventually to fall in dramatic fashion. Although the earlier Titan Legion rules still very much have their strengths, no edition of the game has quite captured the cinematic nature of titans as well as Epic 40,000 has.
Continuing on to #4…

4: Campaign Potential and Narrative Feel
Probably one of the most under-appreciated (or at least little remembered) strengths of Epic 40k is the potential it has for narrative and campaign-play. No other edition is set up so well for this, in large part to the inspiration E40k takes from historical wargames, particularly older WW2 tabletop games.
The result is that E40k feels like the only edition that would be perfect for playing asymmetrical battles, where one side has a far higher point value than the other. In fact, this is the exact premise of E40k's most beloved scenario, Fog of War. In this scenario, each side draws a secret mission (there are 13 in all, making every play-through unique), with considerable variation in force size and objectives commensurate to the forces one receives. Guessing the enemy's intentions, while achieving your own objectives with the limited resources at your disposal, makes Fog of War feel more like a game of Kriegspiel than a game tailored for tournament play.
The other scenarios are similarly well-designed and interesting. There are six more "generic" battles for pick-up play, each of which takes a classic mission and gives it a unique twist. This includes missions like Dawn Attack (where the attacker launches a surprise assault on a well-fortified and concealed enemy position while the defender waits desperately for reinforcements) and Planetary Assault (where the defender deploys over the entire table surface and the attack arrives in random clusters of drop pods).
These scenarios are greatly facilitated by the inclusion of special rules to cover multiple objective tokens (take & hold, rescue, bunker, capture and cleanse) which can be mixed into a scenario to give it thematic focus, as well as excellent rules for hidden setup, fortifications and razorwire, drop pod deployment and air support. The hidden setup rules are especially good, and allow you to place counters that represent occupied positions or "dummy" positions (which can even turn out to be minefields and booby traps). You can use "recon by fire" tactics to suppress a hidden position, which may end up being a waste if the counter is a fake. The drop pod rules draw inspiration from classic WW2 wargaming—you release tiny, numbered pieces of paper onto the table from 30cm and place units wherever the leaflets flutter to on the battlefield.
Noticeably, there is little overt concern for "balance" in all this. Scenarios with fortifications suggest that the defender can place as many as he please, although the player is warned that "the more fortifications there are in play the greater the risk that they will be overrun and occupied by the enemy." Razorwire and minefields can give an edge to the defender, while drop pods and reserves can tilt the balance to the attacker. Instead of thinking in terms of symmetry and balance, players are expected to focus on the strategic and operational challenges before of them, think of the resources they have and test their mettle as supreme tacticians on the battlefield. Operating under adverse conditions is part of the play experience itself. If a battle does go lopsided, players are encouraged to swap sides and play the scenario again from the other perspective.
While the pick up and play battles are interesting and fun, E40k's ability to tell a story really takes off with the five historical refight scenarios. These exemplify E40k's strength at campaign and narrative play, and feature extensive historical backgrounds for each battle (which span the Warhammer 40k history) and truly unique landscapes and forces (each of which can be built with the box set). There is a brave Space Marine strike on a lone Ork Great Gargant, a race to relieve an overrun Imperial position in open terrain, a Spartan-style defense of a mountainous pass and the infamous defense of the bridge crossing over the Sulphur River while being hounded by enemy airpower (with an alternate set-up for a "Market Garden" type mission). More than simply add new scenarios, these missions demonstrate what you can do with detachments, creative scenario-writing, terrain layout, alternative objectives and so on. While the forces are largely balanced in points, the spirit of the scenarios seems to suggest "throw your toys on the table and play whatever scenario you can dream up."
Finally, later publications added a tremendous amount of campaign potential to E40k. Battlefleet Gothic, which used the same core mechanics as E40k, took epic-scale warfare into the stars. Andy Chambers even put out a great guide for combining the two games, so that a planetary assault mission in BFG would be followed by a sequence of games in Epic 40k to determine the final outcome of the operation. Chambers also released several campaign formats for linked games, as well as campaign experience for detachments and extensive battle honours for titans in every faction. They are still some of my favorite rules, as they effortlessly track the progress and setback of detachments through the course of a campaign (as it becomes battle-hardened or replaces fallen veterans with fresh reinforcements).

Ahh, I forgot one more interesting part about the potential for scenario play. Consider this an addendum to #4! The extensive terrain rules really bring the 40k universe to life like nothing else before. There are no fewer than 8 different unique worlds (Hive, Agri, Desert, Ice, Forge, Primaeval, Death and Daemon Worlds) upon which to wage your apocalyptic conquests and a total of 65 distinct terrains and weather conditions to represent them (approximately 8 unique types per world). There is even an extremely easy "plug and play" guide to creating your own random terrain chart for any other kind of world you can dream up (or more practically, to fill out with the terrain pieces you actually own). The terrain for each world is extremely thematic, with quick to learn but extremely atmospheric special rules.
For example, Death Worlds turn woods into dangerous terrain for infantry. Under the normal dangerous terrain rules, every unit must roll 1d6 and on a 1 they are halted (perhaps by thick vegetation) and must roll again. On a second 1, the unit takes a hit (and is swallowed up by man-eating trees or some other horror). As another example, the area immediately surrounding a Forge World furnace is also difficult terrain for infantry, as the intense heat and bursts of sulfurous flames drive back the ground troops. But that is not all: sandstorms add blast markers as they twist about the battlefield, lava flow tunnels form natural fortifications for desperate close-quarters fighting, icebergs form floating landscapes that change the table every turn and agri-colonies are held by frightened frontiersmen and their families who take pot shots at passing units. There are even recommendations for many more terrain types, including crashed spaceships, generators that release random electrical discharges and more.
Alright, we've narrowed it down to the top three! For #3, we'll be looking at…
3: Firepower and Blast Markers
Probably the most well known aspect of E40k are the firepower and blast marker rules, which were also used in Battlefleet Gothic and even inspired some of the rules in EA. For those not familiar with BFG, the firepower system is an extremely elegant way to build all the usual to-hit factors seamlessly into the background of the rules, allowing you to make fewer rolls to determine shooting. In E40k, this process works by first counting up the firepower of the stands in range of the target (for most stands, this means 1 or 2 firepower a piece). Then you cross check your total firepower (say 17) with the target type (say vehicle or infantry detachment in the open) on the firepower table and find the number of dice to roll (in this case 9). There are different columns if your target is marching, in the open or in cover, as well as if they are regular ground units (vehicles or infantry), war engines or immobilised war engines (the columns overlap, however, so that there are only 3 columns, despite all of these factors). You then roll the dice and if any beat the enemy's armour, you cause a hit (the heaviest tanks are only hit on a 6+, while the lowliest infantry are hit on a 3+).
There are a number of reasons that this system works so well. Firstly, it is extremely fast and cuts the usual three rolls (roll to hit, roll to wound, roll to save) down to one. Secondly, it means there are basically no modifiers to remember, as they are all worked into the table for you (infantry do get +1 armour in cover, however, in addition to the column shift on the firepower table). Thirdly, it instantly resolves that old question "can the regiment see?" (If individual stands cannot draw line of sight, they do not add their firepower to the attack). Fourthly, it effortlessly handles split-fire (you can divide up the firepower to attack multiple enemy detachments as you please). 
Finally, it makes formation extremely important: "hits" must be applied to the closest enemy stand that they could affect first. This means you can hide your valuable support weapons behind lines of infantry, just as you can advance your infantry behind their empty transport vehicles for cover. If the enemy swoops around your flank, then they have more choice about who to pick off with their attack.
But the most beloved aspect of the firepower rules is how it interacts with blast markers. Hits do not cause blast markers, as they would in other games (like EA or even BFG). Rather, before an attack is rolled, the total firepower of the attack determines how many blast markers are added to the target (for example, our 17 firepower attack above would fall in the 16-23 range that causes two blast markers). Blast markers do not necessarily represent casualties, but rather suppression, so it matters little how "accurate" the attack turns out to be. Blast markers pile up slowly but surely, keeping a detachment from moving (if they fail a leadership test, which involves rolling 1d6 higher than the number of blast markers on the detachment) and reducing their firepower totals by the number of blast markers. In the above example, if our unit had 3 blast markers, they could only move on a 4+ and would have -3 firepower (17 would be modified to 14, but if they split their firepower to attack one enemy with 11 and another with 6, this would become 8 and 3, because of the difficulty of coordinating multiple fire programs while under suppression). Detachments lose 0-5 (1d6-1) blast markers each rally phase, meaning about 2.5 blast markers on average, so heavy suppression can keep most detachments fully pinned while you maneuver to launch your assault.
Firepower is an excellent system for resolving epic-scale ranged warfare. It is quick, easy, flexible, elegant and effective. While other games also used blast markers, none felt quite so well-designed and integrated as in Epic 40k (although BFG comes very close by treating blast markers as space debris). Both are lightweight, yet surprisingly powerful game mechanics that are central to the feel and experience of Epic 40k gaming.
The second best thing about Epic 40k, in my opinion, is the thing that is perhaps the most beloved to E40k fans generally. Most E40k players will tell you they were sold on the game when they first learned about this, and it remains one of the endur
ingly unique features of this edition. Of course, I am referring to…
2: Detachment Flexibility
Like previous editions of Epic, the basic maneuver element of the game is the detachment. Other editions each had a twist on the idea of the detachment: in SM1 you could build detachments of any size, in SM2 you could have a tremendous variety of detachment types, in EA you could append small supporting units to detachments. But in each case, detachments were largely fixed and defined. The core of a detachment was always a single type, whether infantry, tanks, walkers or otherwise.
As mentioned earlier, Epic 40k introduced the idea that a detachment represented an entire army of Warhammer 40k models, just as a single combat represented an entire battle in Warhammer 40k. Yet, Epic detachments were always fairly homogenous. Warhammer 40k armies, on the other hand, were anything but. A typical Dark Angel Space Marine army in Warhammer 40k could have a tactical squad, some devastators, a couple of assault marine teams, a dreadnought, a few Ravenwing bikers, a landspeeder and a razorback. Or it might have some scouts or some Deathwing terminators in a land raider. Epic had never been this flexible.
Not so in E40k. In E40k, you can build a detachment any way you please. The detachment type (Space Marine Armour Detachment, Imperial Guard Infantry Detachment) frame your options in extremely general ways and you are let loose to make any formation you can imagine. In fact, there was a recommendation (either in the rulebooks or perhaps a White Dwarf article) to model your first detachment on your Warhammer 40k army, which you could do perfectly piece for piece (the visual effect of this in the article was stunning).
Why does this little rule matter so much? There are several major advantages. Firstly, you could play with all your toys. There were no more "left over" stands that couldn't fit into an official formation—odd units that were left out and doomed to collect dust on your shelf. Secondly, you no longer had a fixed number of 11 or 12 detachment cards to work off of—there were infinite possible combinations of detachments, ranging from the smallest formation to massive detachments that rolled across the battlefield. If something didn't work out last battle, go back to the drawing board and tweak or even throw out entire detachment designs and try something radically new. Flexible detachments made the experience of playing your faction virtually inexhaustible. Thirdly, the elegance of the game rules meant that mixing different unit types was completely painless and didn't slow down game play at all. After all, other editions of Epic could be house ruled to have flexible detachment construction, but this would quickly drag the game to a standstill while each individual attack and special rule was worked out. Of course, other editions of Epic, some say, have "more detail" in the individual unit stats, so they are happier to play slower or more rigid games. Epic 40k units, they say, are too "plain and vanilla" (please read #8 as to why I think they are not).
But this is exactly what E40k fans got and what latter-day critics did not. Something incredibly subtle and yet also incredibly revolutionary. While units got all the special rules and individualized stats in other editions of Epic, which gave them a deep sense of theme and atmosphere, the unique feel in E40k goes to… detachments. And detachments, in E40k, are something YOU, the player, designs. Detachments, not units, are what hold all the juicy, rich setting details and unique characteristics. Thedetachment is where the Deathwing terminators are crashing down in drop pods, assault marines are backing up predators, landspeeders are swooping in behind scouts, assault bikes are roaring alongside land raiders. And detachments are far, far more than the sum of their parts. They are the infinite and clever combos that you, the player, invents. It is how the units of the detachment work together that gives the thematic feel to the game, not individual stands in a vacuum, and you are the one that is designing that feel. While a special rule to represent some unit in any other edition of Epic is neat, there is nothing to compare to the thrill of telling your own story on the tabletop with your army. And then, you can always write a new story and dream up a new army, all using the same miniatures (and not leaving any to collect dust on the shelf).
You could still make a detachment of War Walkers or Night Spinners! Page 13 of the Armies Book gives advice for this. After about a half page of mulling over the possibilities, they basically say "be sure to talk it over with your opponent." To me, the War Walkers sound fine (although they are not usually that common, you certainly could build a scenario to explain why there was a War Walker detachment). I might be a little concerned about the Night Spinners… Those things are downright scary, even as limited support choices! Nevertheless, the possibilities are pretty limitless. Inventing a scenario with your opponent, I believe, is THE premier way to play Epic 40,000. It is such a scenario game at heart.
Finally, the number one reason that I love Warhammer Epic 40,000…
1: Scope and Scale
This was basically present in every other point, yet it is so difficult to quantify. Epic 40,000 just feels, well… truly epic. It is not a game of battle. It is a game of planetary conquest. You feel like a high commander, marshalling your forces along an entire strategic front. Your primary concerns are not about the individual weapons of your troops, but rather about much grander resources… Army morale is steadily slipping away, do you have enough time to achieve your objectives? Will your reserves arrive on time to make a difference? Do you push ahead quickly in the face of hidden enemy forces, or do you advance more cautiously? Does a detachment have enough firepower to challenge an enemy position, or do they have to wait for support? The player's view in Epic 40,000 is zoomed out to see this bigger picture. While other editions give you plenty of detail, they do not give you a compelling reason to play Epic over other detailed games, like Warhammer 40k for example. Epic 40k does, as it is a completely different play experience.
I could wax poetic about this one point… It is truly the thing I love most about Epic 40k, but instead I will conclude briefly and allow the conversation to open up. In particular, there are many more honourable mentions that did not make this list. The air support rules, for example, are wonderful and fit the game perfectly. They are both fast and thematic, with excellent rules for dogfights, attack runs, interceptions and troop landings. Epic 40k also saw some of the most beautiful GW miniatures ever produced, from the insanely detailed vehicles to the largest variety of plastic troop types ever made.
But most of all, I hope this list starts to set the record straight. A lot of memory surrounding Epic 40k, in some corners of the 'net at least, is strangely negative (something Paul Ricoeur called an "excess of memory" and an "excess of forgetting"). In short, memory is not a perfect representation of the past… It is something we use to justify our choices in the present. Sadly, in order to praise a game we enjoy now, many of us feel the need to crap on older editions of that game. While no edition of Epic is perfect (or any other game for that matter), we tend to misrepresent the past most strongly in the case of the Epic 40k 3rd edition.
While it is true Epic 40k did not receive much overt support after the first year, this actually had much less to do with sales and much more to do with Games Workshop's (then) new policy for supporting non-core games for only a year or two (see, for instance, Warhammer Quest, GorkaMorka, Necromunda, Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic and even Mordheim). While Epic 40k rustled some feathers for older players used to earlier editions, the new players it drew in were devoted and enthusiastic, as evidenced by the strong convention presence and countless fan sites devoted to the game in the earliest days of the internet (many of which can still be found in archived form). The Epic 40k community is much smaller now, but no less passionate and devoted. One only has to look around to see their accolades for the game.
In the end, different games fit different personalities and play styles, and no game will work for everyone. Yet, for that very reason, you should ask yourself (as we have): Could Epic 40k be "your" Epic?


  1. loved this...epic was a lovley massed fast play systemwith real world tactics....3rd was my bag...but started with 1st ed...never played 2nd.


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