7/03/2014

Thoughts On... Warhammer 40,000 - 7th Edition

Type of Hobby: Miniatures Wargame
Number of Players: 2
Publisher: Games Workshop
Price: £50

The Latest Grim, Dark, Future
Comes in a fancy sleeve. Fancy.
I've been playing Warhammer 40,000 since the mid 90s and the second edition of the game so it's somehow very strange to be writing my thoughts on the seventh edition of the rules. Nonetheless, they arrived a couple of months ago after a very short gap since sixth of just less than two years. 

I don't think anyone was expecting a totally new direction after such a short hiatus, yet this is more than just a simple rules tidyup, with massive changes to the way the Force Organisation Chart works, alongside a new Psychic Phase and a new set of missions with variable objectives. 

Three Books for the Price of... Uh... Well...

It's impossible to let a Games Workshop product escape discussion without some talk of its price and the steep £50 price tag attached to these books certainly merits comment. It's only been two years since sixth edition and that book wasn't cheap. I think being expected to spend another £50 on the game, albeit in the form of three very pretty books, is a little cheeky. Worse, I think £50 is a very high addon to a game that, due to the high price of miniatures, paints and other hobby things already has an incredibly high price of entry. Still, this is par for the course for Games Workshop and most of us have come to expect it, even if we're not happy about it. I don't know what it would take to change this that wouldn't be incredibly destructive to the company which, despite it's flaws, I still love dearly.

One, two three!
For your £50 you get three books, each about the size of the Space Marine Codex. They're full colour hardbacks, which has been the standard for Games Workshop for some years now. They're full of beautiful pictures and artwork, which is something Games Workshop has always excelled at. If nothing else, you at least feel like they may be coming close to being worth the cost. 

Number 1 is 'A Galaxy of War' - this is the book that contains all the hobby information that was previously in the back of the rulebooks. It features an introduction to the hobby; the trio of painting, background and playing and finishes off with photographs of the 'Eavy Metal painted miniatures from the studio, which are always nice to flick through. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected, and I think anyone new to the hobby coming across it would be suitably excited by what they've gotten themselves into.

Number 2 is 'Dark Millenium', which contains all the background contained in the previous rulebook, along with some new stuff. It is, sadly, mostly reprinted but it's a perfect primer for someone new to the game and setting. 

Number 3 is 'The Rules', which is where most of the attention will go for the majority of people and where, shockingly enough, you can find all the rules to play the game.

The most interesting thing about the use of three books is the order they are numbered in. Hobby first, background second, and game last. This says a lot about how Games Workshop views their product, and how they'd like it to be perceived. While presenting the hobby aspects and the background over the rules is admirable, I wonder if there's a disconnect between what gamers actually want and how Games Workshop is selling their product. This seems especially relevant with the recent rise of pre-painted and/or pre-assembled miniatures games like X-Wing and Dust Tactics. Perhaps this reorganising of the content is a reaction to that, an attempt to sway things back the other way. 

The New Grimness

Lost in the warp since '98!
The single biggest change is the (re)introduction of the Psychic Phase. It's nice to see that it isn't just a copy and paste of the Magic Phase from Warhammer Fantasy Battles, although I wouldn't have blamed them if that had happened! Instead you're trying to get a 4+ on at least one of your dice for each warp charge point the power costs to cast (usually one or two). You generate the amount of dice you have to play with in your pool randomly, but also get a dice for each level of Mastery of your psykers. Powers can be denied in a similar way. It's not over complicated, but there's enough nuance there that there's potential for interesting decisions in game. That's all I ask for, really. It's certainly more robust than the rules were before, which I always felt never really did psykers justice. They're a big part of the 40k lore and its great to see them put back in the limelight. 

Alongside this new phase is a new lore - Daemonology. This is a twin faceted lore with both Santic and Malefic powers. The Santic powers are mostly for use by the Grey Knights, although most can take them at a cost and they're filled with buffs and powers designed to defeat daemons. They're cool, but not really interesting. It's the Malefic powers where things get exciting - and more than a little bit heretical.  The Primaris Power is 'Summoning' and is a foul ritual that allows you to summon forth heinous Daemons from the warp. The rest of the powers are similarly sacrilegious, with terrible effects. One even lets you sacrifice your psykers very soul to summon a terrifying Greater Daemon. What's fascinating about this lore is that it's not the exclusive domain of the evil powers; almost anyone with a psyker can choose to take these powers. I've seen many cry foul at this, but using evil to defeat evil (and the risk that accompanies this act) is a key part of the Warhammer 40,000 setting for me. It's something that was explored in depth in the brilliant Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett and being able to struggle with those same questions on the tabletop is going to create a lot of exciting games at my table. 

Another much talked about addition to Warhammer 40,000 is the Maelstrom of War missions. All the previous Eternal War missions are still there, but it's these six new missions that really add something interesting to the game. They remind me a lot of the old second edition mission cards. Using a 'deck' (you can buy an actual deck, or use the d66 table in the book) of objectives, which change throughout the game as you complete them. I'm a fan of the idea, as it creates dynamic and unpredictable games. Unfortunately, the execution isn't perfect. Firstly, the 50% of the objectives are identical, which is a real shame. They're the ones that deal with taking points on the table. A roll of 13 to 'Capture and Control' objective 3 should, in some way, be different to a 33 to 'Storm and Defend' objective 3. The Ork Codex has revealed that each race will, in time, get their own deck of Tactical Objectives so I'm hopeful that eventually this problem will sort itself out. There's also the risk that one player could get a string of objectives that he simply can't complete (either through them actually being impossible, like harnessing the warp without having a psyker; or because they're unreasonably difficult, like taking an enemies objective the other side of the board) whilst his opponent gets away with really easy objectives. Law of averages says this should even out over time, but it's going to be an occasional frustration. Again, I'm hopeful that the faction specific decks will fix this, but it's a problem that should have come up in playtesting and shouldn't be there in the first place.

Warhammer 40,000 has also done away completely with the Force Organisation Chart! Well, almost. You now have to choose between an Unbound army, which can contain anything you want (subject to some restrictions on the Allies Matrix), or a Battle-forged Army - which is subject to the old FoC and gets some pretty nifty bonuses. Firstly, you can reroll on the Warlord table of your choice (which are all much more useful than they have been previously!) and, crucially, your troops choices can hold an objective against anything except Battle-Forged troops. That's a great way to keep troops important to a list - especially seeing as everything scores again now. 

There's a lot of potential for fun lists with Unbound, although I think you need to be careful that the benefits outweigh the cons. As a Space Wolf player, I'm sorely tempted to put a Leman Russ or two into my army. Seems fitting and I miss them. 

Lost in the Warp?

Where have you gone?! 
There are notable casualties in this latest edition of Warhammer 40,000, however. Where have the Fortifications and Mysterious Terrain gone? I liked both of those things! Fortifications live on in Stronghold Assault, but taking them out of the core book still seems cheeky to me. Guess my Aegis Defence Line is just terrain now.

Losing Mysterious Terrain is an omission that I suspect a lot of (dull) people will be pleased about. My group will be coming up with our datasheets for these, I think. I felt they added a lot to the game, an air of uncertainty that was interesting to play around with. I think they needed more beneficial elements, and probably a higher chance to have nothing unusual happen, but the idea was solid.

A Billion Changes, Across A Billion Worlds

There's lots more, smaller, tweaks throughout the book. And some bigger ones - Lords of War are now part of standard games now. So bring that Baneblade. I like a challenge. 

Ultimately, though, the game is still the same sort of Warhammer 40,000 we've had since third edition came out in '98. Which is fine. I'm not sure it's worth £50, though. At least most of the changes are good, it's just a shame we've had to pay so much, so soon.

Oh well. Anyone fancy a game?