Ah, another week and another Games Workshop Specialist game for me to crack open and give some thoughts on. This time I'm taking a look at Adeptus Titanicus: The Horus Heresy, the first offering in a possible specialist game focusing on Knightly Houses and their battles. For those of you less familiar with the Warhammer 40K Universe Titans are massive war-machines, far beyond the size of even cities, that act as the final word in armed conflict. Each Titan is piloted by the coordination of multiple pilots who meld with the machine itself ala Neon Genesis Evangelion or Pacific Rim. Typically the models for Titans are not suitable for play in Warhammer 40K as they're far too many points but this game puts them front and center by drastically scaling down the models and putting the spotlight on these so called God-Engines.
So what is Adeptus Titanicus? As of now it is a stand alone miniature wargame that, like Games Workshop's other Specialist titles, borrows heavily from the mechanics of Warhammer 40K, their flagship game. It pits two players against each other as their Titans clash on the field of battle with the mechanics largely revolving around resource management and positioning along with the element of luck that's baked into all wargames.
Existing fans of Warhammer 40K will recognize a lot of the mechanics within the game but it differentiates itself by giving each Titan a Command Terminal, a large sheet that shows their stats and weapons. The game also brings back some older ideas such as Template Weapons, Firing Arcs, and Turning/Rotating as part of movement. If you're totally new to even the bones of the Warhammer 40K System the game does a great job at separating itself into two halves, one teaches you the basics such as attacking, moving, and managing the Titans while more advanced rules provide Missions, Stratagems, Formations, and all kinds of fun stuff. So let's dive in!
How Does It Play
I'm going to focus on the "Basic Rules" for now as they're also the meat of the system. When playing Adeptus Titanics both players setup a table, between 3x3' and 4x4' and populate it with terrain. Fortunately the Two-Player Starter Set comes with some terrain and Games Workshop sells more, of course you're welcome to use your own. You also need some basic things like dice (which comes in many varieties, some specific to the game), a way to measure distance, templates, models, and the various reference materials for your models. Nothing out of the ordinary for a wargame.
Right away the Command Terminal cards are the focus of a player's attention and with good reason. These will details the stats of the different Titans including Command, Ballistic Skill, Speed, Weapon Skill, Manoeuver, and Servitors. These values are all fixed and only change with damage or very special types of movement. Also on the card is the Weapons slots of the Titan, its Void Shields, Plasma Reactor, and the various Structure portions such as Head, Body, and Legs.
Each Titan is slightly configurable as Weapons are not set in stone but instead assigned as the player sees fit based on available options. Since individual parts of the model can and will take damage the placement of Weapons is important but not so much so that a wrong decision will ruin a game.
Basic play is divided into five Phases: Strategy, Movement, Damage Control, Combat, and End. Each of these Phases is shared between the players in a "You go, I go" fashion so one player would move a Titan, then his opponent would move, then back to the player, rinse and repeat. I thoroughly enjoy back and forth systems as it keeps both players engaged and guessing as to what will happen next.
In the Command Phase Titans are given Orders which can allow them to perform certain moves if they pass the check. These are used more in the Advanced Rules but cover things like moving extra fast but not being able to shoot, making extra repairs, aiming, and so on. This is the Phase where you'll setup what a Titan will do so the ability to pre-plan is rewarded.
Next is the Movement Phase where Titans are moved based on their Speed. Because of their enormous, pondering nature a Titan can only move forward at full speed and must pay 2" of Speed per 1" used when backing up or moving to the side. Titans may also turn 45 degrees during a move a number of times equal to their Maneoeuver and as you may have guessed the smaller and lesser armed Titans are also easier to get around the tabletop.
The Damage Control Phase is where Titans try to do things like repair damage, raise their shields, manage their plasma engines, and so on. It's rare in Adeptus Titanicus for a model to removed in one go, instead Titans are picked apart as various systems fail under sustained bombardment until something goes critical. By mitigating this you can get more mileage out of a Titan, although you can only do so much per turn. When multiple systems require your attention that's when it's time to make hard decisions.
Possibly the most active Phase is Combat where Titans take turns shooting and punching one another. A Titan can only shoot something it can see and most weapons only make use of the front arc of the model, making positioning a key skill for play. Titans which are being attacked also have less protection on their flanks and rear which means flank attacks, high speed, and the benefit of numbers all have a role to play.
Attacks are resolved by rolling the dice indicated on the weapon and applying modifiers such as range. For each hit scored a Titan must test against its Void Shields, successes negate the hit but failures weaken the shields until they eventually collapse. Once the shields are removed a Titan will start taking hits to its structure, gradually wearing down until a Critical Hit is achieved when the structure can't take anymore punishment. This is where truly crippling damage, or even destruction, can be found.
Most weapons in Adeptus Titanicus have special rules which indicate a preference for a specific role. Some are good at long range, some up close while others do more damage to structure than shields. This allows a player to kit a Titan for a particular role, to be a jack of all trades, etc. and then put that to use on the table.
Finally we have the End Phase which exists solely for end of round effects. These are not very common but do come up more in Missions and with Advanced Rules, so it's important not to breeze past it.
The overall feel of the game is one where you're fighting multiple battles at once. Not only are you trying to wear down enemy Titans but you're attempting to keep your own upright. Since Titans degrade slowly there's more immediate decisions to be made on balancing offense versus defense, focusing or spreading attacks, and so on which will typically give a player plenty of choice. I found this to be a more satisfying experience compared to small scale games where models are removed nearly instantly and huge swings are common.
Once the basics of the system are understood it's recommended that players move onto the Advanced Rules. These details things like Terrain, Orders, Stratagems, Machine Spirits, Plasma Overload, Squadrons, and the different play modes. I'm not going to go extremely in-depth on these as they mostly add to existing rules, providing more tactical depth.
Stratagems and Orders perform similar functions in that they enable a Titan to do something it ordinarily couldn't, or do something that it can always do but better. This includes everything from moving several models at once to bringing Titans on from unexpected places. Fans of Warhammer 40K will recognize both of these well as it's necessary to balancing your pool of resources against what they can do.
Machine Spirits and Plasma Overloads are also similar rules and detail what happens when a Titan is pushed to far. A reactor overload is never good and can cause anything from additional damage to complete destruction, adding more risk versus reward gameplay as Titans ask more and more of their engines. Machine Spirits represent the consciousness and will of the Titan itself and when they take over the Titan has to make actions outside of the player's control.
Missions add quite a bit of depth to a game that would otherwise quickly descend into just attacking each other, providing the usual assortment of destroy this object, hold this point, keep this area clear, and so on. While the Missions aren't inspired they are very straight-forward and add dimension to the main rules which is exactly what they should do.
Adeptus Titanicus is unabashedly a Specialist game, meaning there will be limited or irregular support for it moving forward. The models that are included with the game are also not for use in any other game which diminishes the value proposition of the product compared to something like Kill Teams or Shadow Wars: Armageddon.
With that said the system does a great job of recreating what it's like to command a few Titans, the ponderous nature of both damage and movement feels very weighty and the moments of glory for Critical Hits are very enjoyable. There is also infinite replay value as with just the included rules you can create many different armies and individual Titans which combined with Missions and varied Terrain create a familiar but new game each time you setup.
I would recommend Adeptus Titanicus to players who love that aspect of the 40K universe and want to experience it on the tabletop. If you're a fan of things like BattleTech or MechWarrior you're also likely to enjoy the setting and pace of combat. Finally if you're looking for a game that has some depth, works well on repeat 1 versus 1 play throughs, and doesn't require much or any additional purchases than this would be a solid title to have on your shelf.
As for cautions I would keep Adeptus Titanicus away from younger children as the rules and play will be hard for them to grasp, I would also stay away if you're looking for something with a competitive play scene or if you're hoping to expand the game regularly. There are other, similar, titles that will get you more bang for your buck in that regard.