Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Warhammer 40K: 8th Edition- Games Workshop

One of my goals for 2018 was to play a game or two of Warhammer 40K 8th edition.  I have been playing various shades of Warhammer 40K since Rogue Trader days.  I played 1st edition, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition; before finally dropping out of the rat race that was Games Workshop edition changes.  I just couldn’t keep up anymore and found myself exhausted.  Half the time I was actually playing some bastardized hybrid of Warhammer 40K editions: 1-5; as I misremembered rules and stats and ended up with some amalgamation of rules instead. 

However, I had heard some good things about these 8th edition rules and I figured why not?  I have tons of models just sitting around.  I mostly use them to play Rampant Stars, Tomorrow’s War, Konflict 47, Starship Troopers, or whatever other Sci-fi games we want now.  I figured it might be fun to use them in the actual game universe they were intended for!  Plus, some of my old gaming buddies who had fallen away in the past, wanted to try it to get back into Warhammer 40K.  Who was I to argue, I would love to get back together with them and play some games.  With that, I let my buddy cobble together some leftover marines to field and army of Dark Angels to play.

The new rules are only 12 pages of quarter sheet rules in really small font.  Does this mean the game is more streamlined than ever before?   Let’s find out.  This will not be an exhaustive and definitive review of all the changes, for that you will need to go somewhere else. It is the snap judgements of a veteran player after a few games.

Things I Liked
They finally got rid of Template weapon and guess range weapons.  If I had a dollar every time that became a point of contention during a game, I would still be able to buy a new Warhammer 40K army!  Instead, weapons have a certain number of hits or random number of shots.  No templates.  That sped up play a lot. 

Next, they got rid of the Armor and Armor Penetration process for vehicles that had been with the game since late Rogue Trader days.  Instead all units simply have a Toughness.  Damage is resolved by a dice roll of Strength vs. Toughness.  Once a vehicle was reduced by a certain number of wounds, it would impact the ability to fight.  This was a much smoother system than the old Armor Penetration and Vehicle Damage tables.  However, each vehicle has a unique table, which is bad.   

Morale had also been simplified.  It reminded me a bit of Dragon Rampant where a failed morale test just caused additional wounds on the unit.  This represented soldiers running, becoming ineffective, or hiding.  Medium sized units seemed to be impacted more than larger or smaller units, but overall still an improvement.  Much easier to figure out and determine than fallback etc. 

Many people hate it, but I still kind of like the Hit-Wound-Save model.  This is still the core of the game system for mechanics.  I like it as it allows the opponent to do something other than just remove models.  They made some tweaks to the Save mechanics where everyone has an armor save and weapons have save modifiers that reduce it.  Many units also have an additional invulnerable style save that they can take and the player must choose which one they are using, but most of the time the answer is a no brainer.  I prefer this method to the 4th and 5th edition AP system.

Things I Did Not Like
Some key, core components are still problematic for me.  However, I don’t think they will ever “change” as they are integral to what makes Warhammer 40K, Warhammer 40K.  The first and biggest issue is still the I-GO-U-GO nature of the game.  I do not think I-GO-U-GO is inherently bad, but at the scale and size of a game as you are being asked to play in Warhammer 40K it is tedious.  I basically spent long periods of time watching my opponent do stuff and commenting on what they were doing.  It felt like I was a commentator at a Football game, who could only talk about what was happening instead of playing.  I would prefer to have had some way to react.  The Overwatch system allows some limited shooting when charged, but it was very unsatisfying.  Basically, I just stood there and watched.  This could be greatly improved with some sort of alternating activation of units, and then being able to use “Command Points” to either interrupt or chain activations.  However, that would take the game so far away from Warhammer 40K that it might as well get a new name.  Ultimately, this made the game very dissatisfying to play.    

The other big drawback to the game is simply that it has no unified system to do stuff.  The Hit-Wound-Save system is to roll a d6 and beat a Target Number established by a table.  That is the bulk of the system.  However, morale is completely different you roll 2d6 and try to beat a stat with some mods.  Sometimes a weapon gives multiple hits, other times multiple shots, and other times it is roll a d6 and consult a chart.  The core rules are better at this, but the simple rules bloat of Warhammer 40K with all the factions and gear means that it very challenging to know what does what without lots of looking at books, cards, etc.  Overall, this lack of a unified system to do anything means you are looking at rules all the time, even if you are relatively proficient with the 12 page base rules. 

On a related note, the sheer vastness of Warhammer 40 with all of its various factions is itself annoying.  Players want their factions to do special and unique things.  Therefore, the designers are coming up with hundreds of different ways to “skin a cat” to make that ‘unique” faction experience.  This leads to rules bloat and If This/Then That rules.  Beyond this, some of the other rules are nitpicky. 

I also am not a fan of the random charge range.  To me, this adds just one smidgeon more to luck than I would prefer, in an area where I would prefer skill and judgement.  Commanders need to know how far a unit will move, and randomizing that in the charge seems a bit odd to me.  It could be argued that instead of the skill of judging distance, it changes the skill to judging probability.  However, Poker does judging probability better and you do not need expensive 3D models to play it.  It makes more sense to me that a tactile pursuit like wargames would benefit more from spatial skill than probability skill.  I would tolerate random charge moves if randomized movement was fully integrated into the game with a base movement and a variable add-on/subtraction to move/charge distances.  However, now this is just a special mechanic because it can be special!  On the other hand, I also do not like it when units can just do whatever you tell them, and this at least adds a bit of mystery to whether the charge will succeed or not. 

Meh and Other Uncertainties
Hand-to-Hand is needlessly complex.  A game of units should not be so overly concerned with who can attack who in hand-to-hand and in what order.  In addition, shooting is also similarly nitpicky with who can see what and where true Line-of-Sight matters.  It is still a bit easier than previous editions as you can split fire and do some other interesting things.  Warhammer 40K should really adopt the leader model approach like Chosen Men to streamline moving, shooting, and hand-to-hand.

Psykers are back and have their own phase.  They can theoretically do psychic powers, shooting, and hand-to-hand all in one turn.  I imagine this will only get more and more abusable as more powers get added to by various factions.  Otherwise, they were just a bit of chrome add-ons for flavor.

There are some core scenarios in the book to help players get away from Kill’em All style missions.  That is good a thing!  They also did a lot of work with deployment zones and setting up the game to try and keep it replayable and avoid falling into the samey-samey mission/deployment zones all the time.  That was a big improvement.  These rules are only part of the larger rulebook and not the 12 page booklet.  However, the deployment zones, along with who goes first, and scenario objectives should allow a lot of variable games to be played.  You can even try to steal first turn, but it is a simply die roll with no risk/reward for trying to steal it.    

Games Workshop also added Command Points to the game.  These allow you to trigger special abilities or re-rolls.  They add a bit of resource management to the game that was sorely needed for an added layer of decision making.  All armies get a few base commands, and as your codex comes out you get more.  It is only a matter of time before those will get ridiculous and way out of balance.  However, I like the initial idea a lot. 

It looks like Games Workshop actually woke-up and took a look around at the rest of the gaming industry and decided to try and compete a bit with modern designs.  I applaud their efforts to try and streamline and modernize their core game.  Ideas such as Command Points, removing Templates, and consolidating Stat lines are great strides forward. 

However, there are still some design decisions at the core of the game that continue to make it unappealing to me.  Lack of a coherent system and the I-GO-U-GO turn sequence combined with the game size (# of Units being played) is unattractive to me.  There were just long stretches where I as a player was not making any decisions, only reacting with dice rolls.

Will I play this again?  Probably.  Some of my old buddies are jumping back on.  However, I image that as more Codex and rules come out it will turn into a bigger train wreck as it goes.  I remember the days of playing Warhammer 3rd Edition with the Ravening Hordes black and white army lists.  That was an effective and streamlined game that I could finish quickly at reasonable points.  However, once more Army Books were released it became more and more of a tangled mess.  I expect 8th Edition to be no different, and the few Faction specific books I have looked at have not made me feel any better. 

I have been on this merry-go-round before, and I got off.  I am not eager to get on it again.  I am definitely not spending more money for another ride.        


  1. GW is still addicted to the illusion of complexity rather than trying to make an elegant game. This is especially obvious in Age of Sigmar, where you have units that can chose between a weapon option that hit on 3+ and wound on 4+, or a second one that hits on 4+ and wounds on 3+. I can see the thematic, narrative sense in this, but, it is simply noise in terms of the game.

    Another thing that annoys me, is List Building. This is held up as being the be-all-and-end-all of good play, with claims that 85% of games are won at the list building phase. This is a result of GW's philosophy of giving every single unit its own bit of a special sauce; with special rules and wargear sprinkled willy-nilly across the factions.

    The result of this is, of course, poor internal balance of Codices; so that some unit options are obviously better than others. As a result, internally, some units will never get taken, limiting the player's real, effective choice; and, externally, some codex's best list will simply over powered the best list from another codex.

    I don't mind the random Charge Distances, as it actually takes a lot of complex "real world" effects, to do with local ground conditions, initiative, awareness and fog of war, and replaces it with a die roll that is loaded towards a 7" move. It also makes it possible to do away with a lot of complexity in Deep Strike mechanics.

    I think that One Page Rules do a better job of turning the 40k setting in to a playable game; or Rampant Stars, of course ;)They also provide a level of complexity appropriate to a reinforced company level battle, rather than GW's roleplaying levels of faff. Still, I guess it is a step in the right direction.

    I should get back to my attempts to convert the LoTR rules to a sci-fi skirmish setting.

  2. I could be interested in seeing GW moving away from the Codex model of releases, to an Army in a Box model instead. They could concentrate on producing a fun and balanced force in a box and sell that.

  3. I can's see an update comment button, so he's my third random idea sparked by your review.

    I think it is a shame that the game has lost facing and firing for vehicles. I can see that they did this to simplify the game. However, their solution makes flanking vehicles no longer and effective tactic. Also, the way you can measure from any part of a vehicle mini most terrain items pretty much pointless too.

    I'm with you on the "measure from the Squad Leader" idea, and would add a similar rule to measuring from some marked point on vehicles too.

  4. Great comments as always Euan. I am glad my review sparked your thoughts. There is a lot of flase "complexity" in the game. I read a quote from Rick P. on this and he claimed it had to do with the target market of the game. Teens and early twenties like more crunch to memorize while old grognards prefer less crunch and more result. I don't know how true it is, but that was his justification for the false complexity of 40K.

    I like the LOTR rules and would love to see a Sci-Fi skirmish version of it. I look forward to reading your efforts!