Commentary Corner - 9th Edition: The Story So Far

Commentary Corner - 9th Edition: The Story So Far

Just in case you've been living under a rock, the brains trust at games workshop have been busy developing a new edition of the Warhammer 40,000 ruleset that we love so much. They've released promo happy snaps of a new box - and because I am a soulless consumer, I cannot wait to spend money on it.

With the promise of a new edition comes a promise of new rules. The leap from seventh edition to eight edition was significant, whereas ninth edition provides the promise of something closer to a refinement.

Because I am a tedious arsehole, I'll try to provide links to the relevant warhammer community articles when I talk about changes. Because, despite there being a refinement, there are a lot. Games Workshop has done a lot of learning in the last five years with regard to their online presence and social media strategy - as a result, the rumor mill isn't really in overdrive and more requoting of direct facts and snippets from the mothership.

Thus making this kind of editorial piece on the new edition possible.

Just before we go too far down the rabbit hole, I would like to point out that I have no tournament pedigree. The speculation contained herein will have inherently less value than the insight provided by a top-level ITC borderline professional 40k player. If I am the only information source you consume about Warhammer 40k, you will soon find the space groats drinking from your skull and laughing.

Rather than do some insipid 1000-word recap of everything from the rumor mill, I'm going to construct 'winners and losers' style column - in order to be better in touch with the kids, y'know?

Winner - The 'Assault' Phase

It's no secret that for a long time, shooting has been the best way to conduct the majority of your business on the tabletop. A wise man once said to me a long time ago that shooting was the primary function of every army and the assault phase was just to tip the scales.

('Assault' in this phase is my terminology for the combination of the charge and fight phase. Now you know.)

This new edition has promised a wide-selection of new options for would-be close-quarters combat armies to be able to achieve these goals. The first is a change to overwatch which limits overwatch to a once-per-phase application. The only exception to this rule is Tau:

The clause that launched a thousand vitriolic posts.

With the exception of Tau, this is a significant change and a significant departure. It doesn't remove the risk entirely - but it's not automatic anymore. There's also a bit of skill test at play here - do you save your command points for other units? Do you take a risk to make a big play? With command points as valuable as they are, the choice to overwatch may be a decision which might see a tight game's balance swing. Time will tell if it's a good change or so much wallpaper paste.

Limiting overwatch also helps reduce gametime by removing a layer of dice rolling. Often, new and intermediate players (like myself) will take overwatch shots - even when there's little chance of meaningful impact. Waiting whilst your opponent rolls overwatch dice for two bolt pistols against a Daemon Prince with eight wounds - that's garbage. It also means there's an element of 'shields down' - once that overwatch action has been taken, it's just numbers on dice to get in.

Overall I like this change - I look forward to really testing out how meaningful it is as a gameplay change.

But that's not all - there's now a stratagem to inflict mortal wounds on your opponent when they fall back:

This is a crap stratagem and not really likely to be used unless you're playing an army with large unit sizes like Orks. A unit of 30 theoretical boyz has marched itself across the table without taking any casualties, jumped something soft and weak, which then attempts to fall back, then gets shredded as the Ork player rolls tons of sixes.

I'm like a nervous consumer. I'm not buying it. But the good news is that I don't need to buy it and neither do you. This stratagem is entirely optional and will likely lie unused for the duration of ninth edition. At least they tried.

The new terrain rules also provide some benefit. Gone now are the days of true line of sight - and break out the laser pointers. Most important for assault armies is this little clause:

Those 40k ruins you bought on ebay? They're mostly 5" or taller. Again these rules really need to be tested out, but this change shows significant promise. No more threading the needle, no more "this dude can see your dude through a window so can therefore be shredded like cheap lettuce". You're behind it, you're gone - you're in it, you've got cover. The more terrain you can find of that height, the friendlier it will be to get to grips with your opponent.

There are some other terrain keywords - and not all the terrain rules have been provided from the mothership - so I'll have to withold some of my judgements until I really read the book. Because some terrain rules, without context, read like word salad. This is from the Tyranid faction focus:

What?

Eugh, what a mess - and I've read the great gatsby.

I want to stress that whilst these changes all help armies that have a focus on close quarter combat, this is in no way a silver bullet. Shooting will still be dominant, but these changes make assault playable. I've seen some enthusiatic articles from amateurs like myself suggesting this puts assault 'back on the menu'. But the truth is if you engineer your army to dominate one phase (unless it's shooting), you're starting off by shooting yourself in the foot. If you're setting out, new rules in hand, to make an all-assault army, you are setting sail for fail.

Loser - The Fly Keyword

After writing several paragraphs on overwatch, it's now a bit anticlimactic to mention a minor change in the next edition - fly. It's buried in this article, too. Here's the important bit:

As the more qualified chief playtester says, the fly keyword doesn't let you fall back and shoot anymore. It's tough to say how significant this change will be, but it's not nothing. Infantry flying units, such as Crisis Suits, Inceptors and Suppressors all hate this change as they are not vehicles and as such cannot then shoot their way out.

Still the change is minor at best. Tau armies in 40k haven't depended on Crisis Suits for a long time - and the Crisis Commander is usually entirely off limits to any form of assault. Inceptors and Suppressors have weapons with enough range they can stay safe - and vehicles? Well, let's just talk about vehicles...

Winner - Vehicles (and also monsters, I guess.)

Anecdotally vehicles in eighth edition seemed to get along just fine. Like any other unit they're dependent on force multiplication to truly shine and some are better than others. But, either Games Workshop needs to sell more vehicles, or they got sick of people not using vehicles. Or maybe that's all baseless speculation.

Vehicles, oddly enough, suffer from the fact that once your opponent is able to engage your motor pool in close quarters combat, the show is pretty much over. That is, unless you're able to maintain offensive pressure and remove the engaging units. Or fall back. Or use a strategem to make the vehicle fight more effectively in close combat.

Well, as per this article (and some others) Games Workshop has decided that vehicles needed a boost. Boy, did they get one.

Vehicles (and monsters - I keep excluding them - #monstersmattertoo) have now been given the ability to use their shooting weapons on the units they're engaged with. Straight upgrade. That Leman Russ carpark you hit with three dudes and a can-do attitude? Well, you'd better check yourself - because those support weapons are going to turn them into mulch.

Of course, that's the dream. But the reality will be somewhere in the middle, no doubt. These changes make Guard happy, but they also make Tyranids make happy bug noises.

Those Carnifexes equipped for a mixture of combat and melee? They now do both - straight upgrade. It gets even better with the change to heavy weapons:

In the article, posted here for effect.

What this promotes is for vehicles (and their players) to play aggressively with their vehicles. If your opponent has a way to overpower them in combat, neat. If they don't - well then you're halfway up the board with your armor column and your tanks are shooting and fighting and rolling. Same with Tyrannic monstrous creatures - well, all monstrous creatures with guns, I suppose.

Other units will love this change too - Land Speeders? Flyers? Dreadnoughts? Put 'em on the list.

The changes to weapons overall from 7th to 8th were some of my favourite. Having Heavy weapons only affect infantry is a worthy trade-off for vehicles becoming more effective. But, expect the violence to go up a notch as vehicles cease to become soft targets in close quarters.

Loser - Multiple Detachment Lists

Even the rawest of 40k players knows that 8th edition 40k is a game dominated by detachments. In list building, there's a careful balance between the need for command points and the requirement to have actual units on the board.

Well, no more.

Clearly concepts like the "Loyal 32" and other low-cost detachments intended to farm command points aren't really in the spirit of the game. I've never used one, but I have been reliably informed that they are near mandatory in high-level play due to the impact of stratagems.

Now detachments cost you CP to build:

I like the change - and I look forward to making the most of a single detachment. But this means that there is a built-in cost to allies. Currently it might cost you some army-specifc rules. Now, it'll cost you 3 CP.

Take, for example, the double battalion list I used in my 2,000 point battle report. That will now cost 5 Command Points (3 for the extra detachment and 1 each for a relic and extra trait).

I also like that there's no benefit to using a Brigade. In standard play, a brigade signalled an intention to stuff your army full of as much low-cost junk as you could, because the need for command points outweighed the desire to have anything cost more than a twix in your army. Under the new system, you just get more room for stuff - not neccessarily ideal.

Overall, a positive change. Again it remains to be seen what impact this will have on garagehammer and ITC-level play. But it is difficult to see these changes representing anything other than a step towards normalcy in list building.

Winner - Blast Weapons

When 8th edition did away with blast templates - there were question marks over blast weapons. How would they function? How effective would they be? Does taking a weapon like a large blast and converting it to a Heavy D6 weapon really make sense?

Well it was really determined that unless you had a way to provide consistency in the volume of firepower (pound them to dust for Guard, nova-charging for Tau battlesuits) blast weapons are a bit naff. The chance cubes really don't provide an equivalency - and the only reason you're using 'blast' weapons is because they're the only option you have or because there isn't a better weapon available.

So now we have this compromise. Blast weapons, when directed against their preferred target of units with models in them, now provide a guaranteed number of hits, dependent on unit size. It's an additive weapon characteristic - so you can have a 'blast' weapon that is a heavy weapon, for example. Note this change doesn't apply to auto-hitting flamer weapons, because that would be wild.

It's a good change - and a straight upgrade, much like the changes to vehicles. You can argue blast weapons can't be fired in combat now, but there weren't any weapons with that ability in the previous edition. So it's not really argued in good faith. It does mean that Leman Russ with a battle cannon you charged can't use its battle cannon to remove you from existence. It'll just use it's other weapons for that instead.

It also means Imperial Knights get a shade better. You know, if that's really what is important to you.

So those are the clear winners and losers from 9th edition so far. It's certainly been an exciting review season. 9th edition, carefully managed and playtested like 8th was, fills me with optimism. We'll have to see what the rest of spoiler season brings but I'm excited.

There are a few line ball calls here as well. Morale has had some alterations. Now when you fail a leadership check, you only lose one model but the rest of the unit makes a panic check of sorts - now called 'Combat Attrition'.

So you've gone from one round of heavy losses clearing a unit off the board with the subsequent morale phase, to maybe having a few models unit stick around even when most of their unit has been turned into paste. But it also means that first fail when the unit is in decent shape can be far more costly.

Jury's out on this one. I think I like the new version slightly more. But it'll take some more information to know for sure.

There's also a new way to deliver troops to the battlefield - That being strategic reserves. Now you can spend CP (which you have more of) to put units into reserve and sic them on your enemy later in the game - with lots of restrictions, of course. If your opponent bulldozes all the way to your deployment zone, you can then put your models within 1" of theirs - including starting them in combat. Yikes.

It's a far cry from the tactics of reserving everything in fifth edition though. Maybe you try tucking a unit away in the hopes of catching your opponent with his pants down. Maybe you just use terminators. Dealer's choice, really. Likely to be marginal - unless it becomes successful.

Overall, 9th edition looks promising. It's not the dramatic, world shattering overhaul of previous editions and is more 'exerting subtle influence'. In a way, it almost seems like 8.5 edition. Time will tell how accurate that statement is.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

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Rowan Naveau

About Rowan Naveau

I'm Rowan (Vulkan) - and this is my blog. Here you'll find a stream of consciousness about video games, wargaming and just about everything else.