Ron Swanson Game Design: Adeptus Titanicus Edition

A lot of people have very fond memories of Epic. For some it was their gateway game into the wider hobby. For others, it had a scale and majesty that made more sense to them, especially in the smaller-scale days of editions past. And for some, it was actually being able to regularly field the heavy hitters of the setting – Baneblades, Titans, Thunderhawks and whatnot.

So when Adeptus Titanicus came out, with little bits of future proofing, a fair number of people immediately began pushing for the game to morph into nuEpic, with rules for squadrons of Leman Russ tanks and Space Marine squads running amok between the feet of giants. I think that’s a bad idea.

I’ll let Ron Swanson explain why.


In my mind, there needs to be room for a game to focus on doing one thing, and doing it well. In the case of Adeptus Titanicus, this is titan combat. If you read Titanicus, or Titandeath, tanks and infantry aren’t units on equal footing. They are abstract threats, background noise. You don’t match wits with the commander of a tank squadron. You match wits against another Princeps. But while the feel of the narrative is an important consideration, there are a couple other reasons why I think AT would be poorly served by turning into nuEpic.


I’ve written before about different types of balance, and in this case I’m talking about “Balance Within” – that is to say that each unit in an army list has a clear use and a place in the army. At the moment, I think AT is doing really well here. Each type of Titan has a clear purpose (or array of purposes), and no one is going “Oh, you brought Warhounds. How adorable…”

Now there are certainly loadouts that are more or less useful (Gatling Cannons on Knights falling into the ‘less useful’ category) because AT isn’t perfection itself, but by and large there aren’t options that are just pathologically bad.

The more units you add, the less that becomes true. Especially when they start operating at different scales. Let’s think of all the ways one could imagine to take out say…a Warhound…that exist in the setting:

  • Other Titan
  • Knights
  • Massed Leman Russ Vanquisher/Destroyer Tank Hunters
  • A Shadowsword, Valdor Tank Hunter or other superheavy
  • Massed Heavy Weapon bearing infantry (i.e. a several Legion Heavy Support squads with Lascannons)

Do we really think there won’t be an obvious best from that list? That one won’t accidentally be really good at some aspect of Titan killing, disproportionate to their points cost? And will we be lucky enough that it happens to be one of the first two? Especially given the advantages we’ve discussed to taking lots of something? The more units you add, the more likely it becomes that, when designing lists, there emerges an obvious first choice.

The Gameplay Experience

Right now, AT is a game about Titans. Because of this, and because there are relatively few units on the board, you can make deep choices about those units. Individual components can fail – and be repaired. Different parts of the Titan can be suffering damage, and this can involve repercussions. You have to decide if its time to push the reactor, and if a full-on alpha strike with every weapon you have is worth the future consequences.

You can get away with that because other things are abstracted away.

Knights have a simplified version of this. Superheavy tanks would likely simplify it further. Massed infantry? They need almost an entirely different ruleset. And in that, you lose the fundamental mechanical feel that makes AT what it is.

Consider 40K, a game that is pretty much the definition of half-assing many things. Titans don’t particularly feel like Titans in that game – they feel like cool looking but largely stationary fortifications. And the game tries to represent supersonic, void-capable fighter jets in the same system as individual infantry platoons – and largely fails to do so, restricting aircraft to an operational theater the average human soldier can sprint across in a handful of turns.

Whether you like flyers or not, I don’t think many people would argue that 40K captures the proper “feel” of flyers. And when Games Workshop attempted to graft it on to 40K…well, that didn’t go well either.

The worst case version of this would be one player with a Titan heavy force and the other one going primarily infantry/vehicles, who would essentially be playing entirely separate games.


First, this is definitely a…peripheral…problem compared to the other two, but one near and dear to my heart. One of the appeals of AT to me, as a hobby-focused player, is that with such a small model count for most games, you can really lavish attention on your Titans. And as long-time readers of this blog probably know, I’m a basing nerd. AT-scale Titans are an excuse to go hog wild with basing, creating little mini-dioramas with 6mm infantry figures, crushed buildings, etc.

And I like that. Space Marines setting up missile launchers on top of buildings. Units advancing in support of Warlords. A park featuring abandoned artillery positions as an objective, or just terrain.

But if you have other units on the board? That’s an invitation for ambiguity. “Are those real Earthshakers?” “Oh, I thought that squad was decoration. Do you mind if I take back my move?” etc.

Plus sort of clashing “The Marines crushed beneath the unrelenting march of my Titans are Ultramarines, but you’re playing Iron Hands…” visuals. Like I said, a petty concern, but one that would lessen the game for me.

What I’d Rather See

A key concept I’ve embraced for the new, breakneck release pace of GW games is “Not everything has to be for you.” Warhammer Underworlds? Not my bag. Wrath and Rapture? Not my armies. Necromunda? Realistically, my local scene can’t sustain the type of campaign Necromunda really needs.

I’d rather see Adeptus Titanicus remain a game about Titans, with the other bits abstracted out. Keeping it a game of making in-depth choices about a small number of fairly complex models. The bellowing of warhorns and cries of “Engine Kill!”.

Does that mean I don’t want to see Epic? Absolutely not. I’ve love Epic. I’d love Heresy-era Epic like it was my own child. But in my mind, Epic is a game of massed formations, that occasionally features Titans, but which should well, and carefully, represent Land Raiders, Tactical Squads, Leman Russ squadrons, etc. That deserves a system that puts them first.

Epic – and Titanicus – both deserve rule sets that whole-ass one thing.


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1 Comment

  1. 100% agreed! I honestly think a lot of the issues with the last couple of editions of 40K are because they’ve been trying to broaden the scope too far, and it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put together a game that can allow for reasonable levels of focus on everything from individual soldiers to war machines that consider skyscrapers to be petty obstacles. I feel like this has been a failing of most versions of Epic as well.

    A new Epic would be great, too, but yeah, it should focus on larger Units (Companies and such), and leave the individual soldier focus to 40K, and the Titan focus to AT. Let AT just be a game that’s all about Titans, where anything smaller than a Knight is just flat out irrelevant.


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