The Wargamer’s Guide to: Warhammer 40K: 8th edition

Warhammer 40,000 has a long and storied history spanning three decades. There’s even a perfectly mediocre miniature to commemorate the date! Over the years, the rules have been iterated and improved several times. Is the new 8th edition what we have been waiting all these years?

Unlike the previous few editions which froze the setting in permanent near-apocalyptic state, the new one shook the setting up quite spectacularly. The Eldar god of death was born, shattering the Craftworld of Biel-Tan. Cadia, the planet that stood guard over a giant tear in reality called the Eye of Terror, finally fell leading to a massive hellrift that bisected the galaxy. And finally, Roboute Guilleman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines, one of the genetic sons of the God-Emperor of Manking, is awakened to lead the fight against Chaos (and, by extension, anyone else who doesn’t have the decency of being human and worshipping God-Emperor). Finally, we’ve turned the page!

The Primaris Marines seem to be more proportionate than the regular ones.

Did the ruleset do the same? You could say that:

  • Army builds, buffs and abilities rely on keywords.
  • Psychic powers are no longer random.
  • AP now reduces instead of ignoring armor.
  • In melee, the chargers strike first, and there’s no need to compare Weapon Skills to strike.
  • Vehicles have received stats just like infantry, getting Toughness and Wound scores, as well as an armor save. This solved the problem of vehicles being much more fragile than monstrous creatures, where the later operated like beefy infantry, and weren’t prone to exploding via unlucky rolls on vehicle damage table.

Universal Special Rules (USR) were axed in favour of giving every unit its own rules, which is a troublesome change. In Age of Sigmar, where six shield-bearing units are likely to have six slightly different shield rules, so do units in 8th edition have a lot of roses-by-any-other-name rules. Just adding the USRs and their explanations to the unit entry would have worked perfectly – as it does in games like Dark Age. Now, it just makes it hard to memorize – and to update.

This is likely one of the symptoms of trying to make the ruleset smaller. Age of Sigmar‘s short ruleset (to the point where it’s reprinted in full in every AoS book) is one of its selling points. Unfortunately, the resultant 40K ruleset has already produced as many pages of FAQs as the length of the core book itself. Writing rules was never GW’s forte, and it shows in the way the rules had to be patched up, especially for the competitive scene. The fixes range from simple clarifications needed to weed out win-at-all-costs munchkins, to such questions like “if the enemy unit is taking up the second and third floors of a ruin and there’s no way to place your miniature on those floors, how do you measure charge ranges?”

The solution is to play on an empty table!

It doesn’t help that some rules fell not only to cheesemonger readings of rules-as-written, but also to baffling decisions behind rules-as-intended. The chief offender is the rule that states that modifiers apply after rerolls. Previously, you determined the number you needed to roll by taking your stat and applying modifiers. Then you rolled the dice and rerolled them if you could/wanted. Now, you roll the dice, maybe reroll them and only then add modifiers, which can turn even your reroll into a failure. This interacts with rules in such ways that makes plasma guns explode easier when shooting at tanks that have poppped smoke. Playtesters drawn from official tournament organizers pointed this out, but the writers chose to ignore it.

Of course, while I like to complain a lot, there are good things, too. Power Levels are an alternate way of organizing an army which is convenient for friendly matches or building scenarios. They don’t take the specific equipment of a unit into account, which lets you indulge in toys as well as boys (common army building wisdom being that the latter go before the former). AP, which previously either negated armor entirely or did nothing at all, has been replaced by a modifier to an armor save roll. This is great news to the likes of Imperial Guardsmen, who rarely ever experienced the fun of rolling armor saves before. Cover now provides a bonus to said armor saves, which makes Space Marines and other heavy armored infantry appreciate cover more, too.

Since vehicles now have wounds and armor saves just like regular infantry, heavy weapons have been overhauled. They usually cause multiple wounds on hit, but, crucially, the wounds no longer spill over. So you can use a lascannon to inflict a six-wound shot on squad of Guardsmen, but you will only destroy one trooper. Shoot it at a tank, and the vehicle owner will have start checking wound tracker, which has a loss of unit capability as it takes damage. Heavy weapons are now easier to use, too, as moving and shooting with them inflicts a simple -1 to hit.

Devastators rejoice before being promptly discontinued.

Formations have been axed, although detachments remain. However, detachments are now just normal ways to organize your army instead of a way to layer additional rules upon other additional rules. Universal detachments range from regular Combined Arms Detachments, to specialized ones that lean heavily on one troop class. Detachments also provide Command Points, which can be spent on various tricks – some provided by your army, others by the scenario – though using them to reroll dice is probably the most common and universal use.

So the”Age of Emperor” – an outright (Age of) Sigmar-ification of the ruleset – didn’t happen. However, 40K did ape the worst mechanic of AoS: mortal wounds that are inflicted without any regard to toughness or saves or anything that doesn’t specifically negate them. They would be a good mechanic to remove deathstar units that have so many rules working for them that they wouldn’t die even if you dropped them off the table. However, the AoS-like keyword system currently prevents creation of such combinations, so mortal wounds only serve to facilitate the worst wargaming experience in 40K: removing your soldiers without being able to do anything about it. This is especially poignant for armies like Thousand Sons, which are lousy with psykers, the least of which having the potential to barf out 3 mortal wounds a turn.

At least you don’t have to roll for random psychic powers – or warlord traits. This was a horrible idea that took away the power to build an army that is really yours, borne out of inability to write balanced choices (if some are blatantly better than others, people will only ever take them, and complain about lack of balance – but if you make them random…). Now, you can choose them freely.

Fancy buying some Datacards with all those new psychic powers?

Speaking of characters: they can no longer join units, and their buffs work like auras powered by the keyword system. No more Dark Angel librarians in squads of Imperial Guard Conscripts. However, new rules state that characters below 10 Wounds (so basically anyone human or Space Marine-sized) can’t be fired upon unless they are the closest target, preventing sniping via artillery (templates no longer exist, either). This also killed the horrible challenge rules which never added anything good to the game.

Closing Thoughts

So, the rules are a mess of good and bad stuff, which is not unexpected when it comes to Games Workshop. How about the material component of 8th edition? The Dark Imperium starter box provides a good way to start a new Space Marines or Death Guard army. The Astartes component is around 830 points. That’s just one box of Space Marine Scouts away from a normal 1000 points army!

That’s a whole lot of dakka.

However, the newly introduced Primaris Space Marines – bigger, better, and having 2 wounds – do not bode well for the existing Space Marines armies. It’s likely that regular Space Marines will be phased out within an edition or two, and I’ll be very surprised if we ever get a non-Primaris unit released. So far, it has all the hallmarks of a rebuy-your-army cash grab – Primaris Marines can’t even ride in normal Space Marine transports. They could have rebalanced the game by giving regular Marines two wounds, but then you wouldn’t need to buy the new plastic models.

Indices are another disappointment. All army lists had to be updated at once to match the 8th edition, so they released a few barebones books to give you the army lists to tide you over before the full Codex releases. Unfortunately, those books were not free, (unlike the Battletomes released at the start of Age of Sigmar) and now they are becoming obsolete as the new full Codex books are released.

Warhammer 40,000 8th edition is without a doubt an improvement over the bloated 7th edition, but it is still a flawed release; Hampered by suspicious business practices and shoddy rules writing. The players seem to enjoy it so far though and hey, at least the plot is moving forward. If all else fails, Necromunda is set to be out by the end of the year with all new rules.