Or: How Kill Team and Titanicus are different games.
I’m sitting here writing this on literally the eve of Adeptus Titanicus going live, and I’ve been thinking about some of the preemptive critiques of the game – one of which is, understandable, the pretty steep buy-in price, especially for the larger bundles. And while there are always critiques of Games Workshop’s pricing (though less than there have been in the past), they’re particularly severe at the moment?
I think part of the problem is that the game is suffering in comparison to the recently released Kill Team. What follows is why I think that comparison is…well…wrong.
This starts by exploring my thoughts on Kill Team.
There is a strong desire to play “small 40K” is a strong one. It’s been strong since I started playing in earnest back in 3rd edition. Some people call this “40K Lite”, but I’ve always found that name to be a little…dismissive. But there’s been a strong urge to capture that 40K feel, using 40K models, but on a smaller scale. And there have been a lot of attempts at it. Zone Mortalis – and Variance Hammer’s 8th edition adaptation CQB is in many ways an attempt at this. All the various iterations of Combat Patrol are attempts at this – trying to get the feeling of one or two squads and maybe their APC. And then there’s Kill Team, the “Dirty Dozen”-style game that’s gone through at least one iteration per edition, bouncing from a White Dwarf ruleset to lurking in the back of a big black book to it’s newest life as a full-on boxed game.
And there’s definitely a demand for something like this. Shadow War: Armageddon, the first and woefully under-supported foray into this genre for modern Games Workshop sold out in literally less time than it takes for Alaska Airlines to get through the priority boarding groups on a 737. And right now various gaming social media groups are filled with people showing off their new Kill Team ideas, and taking cool perspective shots of snipers lurking in ruined buildings.
So…it’s in-demand, it’s good, and at $130 it’s relatively cheap.
But here’s my assertion about Kill Team: It’s not a game. It’s a supplement.
It is literally small 40K. Or inverse-Apocalypse.
That’s not to say it isn’t an awesome supplement. But supplements should be cheap.
But as a game, compared to something like Necromunda (it’s logical comparator), it’s relatively shallow. Character advancement and customization isn’t as much of a thing. The campaign system is clearly made for relatively short, self-terminating campaigns.
It’s also a great introductory game. The core rulebook is $40. If you’re willing to share with friends and pass the rulebook around (as we were when I started playing Mordheim and took my first steps into this hobby), the total buy-in for each player, even assuming that you don’t have any figures already, is like $50. Call it $60 for your share of the book for a group of four friends. And while it’s a supplement, it also comes with functional enough rules to make it enjoyable. It might be small 40K, but it’s still a proper game. It’s got real rules, and tactical depth, and an intro game of Kill Team is a proper game of Kill Team, not the strange abbreviated game you see occasionally in older 40K starter sets.
And finally, it’s a cheap game for Games Workshop to make. The unit packs are already developed sprues – and they’re packed based on GW’s convenience, otherwise they’d be more functional, “actually 100 pt. Kill Team” sets. Outside the terrain pieces that I expect they’re using to drive sales, there’s nothing new about the Kill Team sets, and the inclusion of exclusive cards in the sets (one of the few things about Kill Team that genuinely annoys me) means they’re driving sales of models that have likely reached near saturation (how many among us needs a Galvanic Servohauler and hasn’t bought on yet?). It’s a clever strategy, and it’s likely making Games Workshop a fair bit of coin, but when it comes down to it, the $160 Kill Team game is not the game GW is hoping you play.
They’re hoping that you start eyeing that Start Collecting box and going “You know…”. Kill Team is a supplement. A prelude. And while GW’s margins are good enough that there’s no way it’s a loss-leader, it’s definitely an on-ramp to bigger, more expensive gaming.
So…so far I’ve spent over 700 words in an article about Adeptus Titanicus talking about…another product entirely.
Why? Because the only think Kill Team and Adeptus Titanicus have in common is the timing of their release. They are, in other ways, very different beasts, and that’s what makes the comparison unfair I think.
There are really three ways where the two do not resemble each other:
Adeptus Titanicus is a Full Game: The game is intended to stand alone – it’s not a supplement. It’s not “another way to play 40K” or a way to leverage your collection in new and unique ways. Can it tie in with a 40K game? Sure. I’ve got every intention of running a narrative campaign someday with a Titanicus side-game running to impact things on the ground. And the really expensive set at $290 (according to what I’ve seen) is close to a full “one and done” product – potentially for both players. Sure, you’re gonna want to buy a Reiver and a Warhound or two, but from the granularity of the gameplay we’ve seen, that’s probably a pretty full gameplay experience. And maybe some more terrain, because one of the great fundamental truths of the universe if you can never have too much terrain. And I’ll admit, I am treating it as a two-player set – outside mainline GW games (AoS and 40K) I don’t ever assume I’ll have opponents unless I provide the armies. That goes for SAGA, Dropzone/Dropfleet Commander…and it’ll go for Titanicus too.
Adeptus Titanicus requires new models: Obviously. Shrinking down modern Forge World/GW designs for Knights and Titans isn’t an insignificant task, even in the CAD era. It requires design time and expertise, and it involves new plastic molding. Kill Team just…doesn’t. There’s not a lot of upfront investment they had to make in bringing Kill Team to market, whereas Titanicus has to shoulder the entire cost of bringing that line into being – there’s no other use for that scale, nor any preexisting products for it.
Adeptus Titanicus isn’t an entry point: There will invariably someone here who points out that how they got started was Epic. But by and large, Titanicus isn’t an on-ramp for anything. It’s an accessory product. It’s under the Horus Heresy badge, which has never exactly been about inexpensive games. But it’s not being positioned as an easy way to start playing. It doesn’t mostly follow the rules for one of the mainline games. It’s for people who want to yell “Engine Kill!” and worry about getting their void shields back online. And – for the most part – those people are pretty deep into the hobby already.
A closer comparison to Titanicus is Necromunda – again, it’s a niche product, required new miniatures, and is not really an entry point – all the Necromunda gangs in the world won’t turn you into a 40K player. And unless you’re interest only in the two gangs that come in the box, you’re looking at a similar price point if you want all the various accessories, game aids (cards, etc.) and the like.
Market segmentation is a thing. There’s a reason Volkswagen sells both Volkswagen and Audi branded cars. There’s a reason Apple clawed back their computer segment from the brink of oblivion off a 2×2 table of “Entry-Level” and “Professional” laptops and desktops.
Now, am I saying Titanicus is priced correctly? No. We’ll see what the market decides – and I certainly don’t blame anyone for deciding it is. I’ll admit that personally, it’s at a price where honestly, I’m likely to play it rarely enough that it stings. I’ll still probably get it, because I’m a huge Titan fanboy, but I get it.
But talk about that on its own merits – not by comparing it to an entirely different product with an entirely different intention and market in mind.
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