“Bigger is better” is the philosophy adopted by many Warhammer 40K game and mod designers who don’t think that bloat exists. I, however, prefer smaller games, since they go faster, give me an excuse to spend time individualizing miniatures, and make each Space Marine more special. So what can I and similar righteous weirdos expect in the upcoming 8th edition?
Due to the fact that power creep is a prominent design bug in 40K, Space Marines and their equivalents (MEQs for short) die like flies these days. Yes, super human power armored soldiers, the pinnacle of human fighting potential in the fluff, the heroes of most 40K novels, are really not that special on table top (or video game -XO note). So what will the new edition do to increase the survivability of our armored potato men?
One big thing will be the new armor penetration system. Previously, you either had an armor save, or the weapon completely negated it. In 8th edition, it is now a modifier to the armor save and the weapons have been rebalanced with that in mind. An AP -1 weapon will now take the super 3+ save roll (you need to roll 3 or more on a regular six-sided die a d6) to 4+. Many weapons, like the new and rebalanced AP -3 power swords will still leave a Marine with a 6+. Granted, you don’t really hinge much on rolling a 6 on a d6, but every little bit helps. Combine with the new wounding rules that dictate that a weapon needs to have twice the Strength than the target has Toughness means that Space Marines will be harder to wound and will save more Wounds.
Another great thing is that damage no longer spills over (mortal wounds aside). This means that if you do three hits with a weapon that does 2 damage, you will still only possibly kill 3 soldiers in a squad. Combine that with blast and template weapons losing templates in favor of a (usually) randomized number of hits, your soldiers will have an easier time on the battlefield and you will have to worry less about the exact positioning of your dudes.
Challenges are now also out, so your heroes and characters won’t get locked in melee combat that, mysteriously, also spilled over wounds to the other soldiers in the squad. It was a horrible system put in place to solve a horrible problem, which might have been tacked on to solve an another problem altogether. However, this is less of an issue now that characters no longer join units. Instead, they give their conferred abilities in a bubble. It doesn’t mean that they are easy targets, either: you won’t be able to shoot roughly human sized characters unless they are the closest enemy unit.
Speaking of closest units: vehicles will now have more respite. At small numbers, this is even more important, since losing your dreadnought in an under-1000 points game can remove an important part of your melee or ranged capability. Previously, horrible (so, Tau and Tyranid) players abused the fact that their heavy hitters were Monstrous Creatures instead of vehicles, which kept them safe from being exploded via a lucky melta shot. But in 8th edition, vehicles have Wounds, Toughness and Armor Saves just like those critters, with operational efficiency decreasing along with Wounds. So they are theoretically easier to hurt, but harder to take down, because there’s no more table to roll on that could make your perfectly healthy tank explode.
So you have stuff that’s more survivable. What can you do with it? Many new things, apparently! 8Th edition being the game-wide rebalance that Warhammer needed for ages, aims to make previously no-show units viable in game. So you will have Chaos Space Marines appearing in Chaos Space Marine armies (I think it says something about both the system and the players that a situation like that developed), Rattling snipers will now be useful for their ability to target characters, and so on. And having more diverse armies means more diverse tactics (right up until the point where netlists with the “right” army compositions appear).
While I lament the fact that 40K isn’t adopting any system that would play with battlefield initiative or unit activations, the game will now have Command Points and stratagems to spend them on. The most simple stratagems will allow you to reroll dice, make a unit pass morale tests or attack in melee out of sequence. Additional stratagems will be provided by missions and scenarios. So this brings a certain resource management flavor to 40K.
The out-of-sequence attack brings in an another new feature: he who charges into battle attacks first. Except for a few particular melee units and upgrades, this will always be the case now. No longer can the players feel safe in the knowledge that their higher initiative soldiers will hit first on defense, cutting down a number of attackers before they can even do a thing. Charges will be a lot scarier!
Speed of Play
Another thing to make melee scary is Weapon/Ballistic skill stats were dropped in favor straight up rolls to hit. This is great news for Guardsmen who will no longer be forced to abysmal rolls by the higher WS of their opponents. It also serves to greatly streamline the gameplay, since you will no longer have to bother with calculating the rolls. This was already a needless complication where BS is concerned, since nothing really ever affected BS. And while melee rolls were determined by comparing your WS to that of the enemy’s, this was rarely that important for most units.
What will be important to most units is the new morale system, which is just a carbon copy of Age of Sigmar’s Battleshock. If you lose soldiers during a turn, that squad has to roll a d6 and add the number of losses to the result, then compare the number to their morale stat. If the roll and losses combined exceed morale, the difference between those numbers shows how many of your soldiers defect (or retreat with the wounded, are killed by psychic backlash, etc). This will work out a lot faster than the previous system of routing squads and trying to roll to rally them.
An another thing concerns the much-maligned (and rightly so) psychic phase. While it still exist as a phase, everything else has been replaced by… the magic system from Age of Sigmar. Now you don’t have to count psychic charges: you psyker can cast as many powers as they know, as long as they can roll for it. And yes, Perils of the Warp still exist, so your psyker might still explode (literally, dealing damage to unit up to 6″ away). Unfortunately, psyker powers will be one of the easiest sources of mortal wounds those ignore even invulnerable saves thus removing your prescious soldiers even faster. I think taking a Space Marine Librarian in low point games will be frowned upon.
While one can write about many other new things in the game like 2 Wound Terminators or the new breed of Primaris Marines 8th edition seems like a great thing in this day and age. Speedier games are great for us time starved gits, and less time spend looking at the rulebook means more time fighting. And when you fight those small battles, you can totally justify kitbashing each one of your Space Marines to look like the legendary soldiers they are!