Thursday, 16 February 2017

8th edition 40k - the burning eye looks forward


Greetings all - so I figured it was about time to turn my mind to producing a thought-piece again for the blog, I've done a lot of hobby stuff, a few reviews, even battle reports, but it feels like a while since I wrote something that was just me putting thoughts on paper.

I decided to try and crystallise my thoughts on 8th edition 40k. What will it be like, how do I feel about it, what impact will it have on the hobby and my enjoyment of it?


Let's deal with the obvious elephant in the room though first shall we? AoS. Three little words that strike fear into the hearts of all 40k gamers out there - we saw what happened to warhammer fantasy, the cataclysmic End Times, bringing about the destruction of the old world as we knew it, and the wholesale ripping up of the rulebook. Gimmicky things came in (not quite as bad as some of the more unusual rules from MtG such as your creatures can't be blocked if you're wearing jeans) which many people didn't like, points went out of the window, which to my knowledge no-one was happy about, and the game rules became so simple that we saw any relative interaction between two combatants for example being dumbed down to the point of being ridiculous. How it is possible that every troop type in the game will always have statistically the same chance of landing a blow on an opponent regardless of that opponent's skill baffles me.

BUT

Are we really to believe that all the hatred and vitriol that spilled in their direction from fantasy gamers didn't make itself known to the people of significance at GW towers? You can bet your backside that Mr Rountree saw that video of the guy burning his army.

Since then, we've seen much more engagement from the company with the community, the General's Handbook was not only released to re-introduce points values for those who felt bereft without them, but it was also only released after some efforts to discuss it with the community (albeit over a fairly short time and with limited interaction).

We've then also seen the 40k FAQs, what must have been a truly massive project even for a company like GW, to engage fully with the community in that fashion, and even to respond to some of the most ridiculous questions I think I've ever seen asked anywhere (no, buildings can't scout!).

There's always that nagging feeling though isn't there, that no matter what impact something has on the community or the hate that something might generate, that they just might do it again, but this time to our beloved 40k.

And that I think is the worry for me. Viewed with the cold logic of the mechanicum, it makes no sense to do to 40k what was done to fantasy, the game thrives, business is good, and more importantly, people are starting new armies all the time!

I'm not a magos though, and I've loved 40k and its setting for over 20 years. It's not GW's universe, it's mine, and it's spent a long time being mine and I don't want it to change. It's not mine of course, but in a way, we all have out own little bit of 40k (well, those who engage with the idea and don't just play the game to win and never read a scrap of background material) and we don't have control over the background, so the idea that someone else could come in and rip it all up and change things makes us nervous, and I'm no exception.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, and it's not that GW have said they're not doing End Times for 40k (I've been at seminars before where they've said there were no plans to move the clock forward, and they'd simply explore campaign events that had happened in 40k's history). No, what I'm talking about is that you ask the people that play AoS what they think of it, and they're happy. Sure, there will always be the people who were burned and will never touch a GW product again, but I genuinely think they're the minority.

So, what does all this mean for 40k? Especially since I've never played AoS.

Well the bottom line is that the company seems to have accepted that the community wants to be able to match armies against each other in a simple way, or in other words, we like points values, so I can't see them disappearing - they have after all been introduced to Age of Sigmar.

Will we see the simplification of rules for 40k to the extent that happened in fantasy? I don't think so. Regardless of how they want to simplify the basic concept, 40k has had more layers introduced over time (and relatively recently in terms of death from the skies for example) and I think it's more complicated to address all those things by simplifying the rules to that extent. Let's take an example, shooting at flyers. If each model has a fixed number on which it can hit something, how do you then represent the difficulty of hitting a flyer with the same weapon? Marines aren't going to be hitting them on a 3+ I'm sure, so you would then need some way of modifying the hit roll or improving flyers to the level that they don't need to be more difficult to hit (which means a lot more hull points, or perhaps jink not affecting their shooting), at which point you might as well stick with the system that we have now - it works.

Will we see simplification? Absolutely. Will we see a 4-page rulebook? I very much doubt it.

Let's have a look at a few ideas though.

I go-you go

There are plenty of games out there now that look at an alternative method of players taking turns at the game, from randomly drawing dice from a bag, to players having an action point total they can spend to activate units, and also allowing units to activate in response to actions on the table.

In some ways, GW have moved away from this as a concept - it's in the dim and distant past, but overwatch used to be a tool to do just that, allowing a unit to forego shooting in its own turn so as to gain the option of doing so in the opponent's turn.

It's messy though, and if you have to interrupt one action to allow another to complete, where does it stop?

Personally, I like the method of player turns, some people grumble that it leaves them doing nothing for a while (and with psychic heavy armies I can sympathise) but I'd counter that argument that those players aren't really thinking about the game in that case - I always put my opponent's turn to good use, thinking about future actions and strategies.

I'd be shocked if 40k took on a different method of dealing with the turn structure.

Changing the dice

For several editions now, 40k has been firmly wedded to the idea of everything being based on a D6, and I can completely understand why - the scope of the game means lots of shooting happens, which requires lots of dice, and if you're requiring your players to have lots of different types of dice then they're spending money on them instead of models (yes, of course GW could make and sell the dice, but you can bet they're sales percentages of all dice sold for use with 40k is miniscule compared to their sale percentages for all miniatures used for the game). Whilst I'd love to see terminators become difficult to kill again, I don't see them introducing additional types of dice into the system (again, realistically we're looking at simplifying thing, not making them more complex).

No hit and wound tables

This is possibly the one I'm most 'worried' about. I've long been one who would like to see the combat hit chart in particular changed as I think it disadvantages the highly skilled against the rubbish (why is there no option to hit in combat on a 2+?) but I wouldn't want to see combat get dumbed down to the point of fixed values. A Dark Eldar Archon for example should always find it easier to hit a gretchin in combat than a Howling Banshee Exarch!

Similarly, I'd hate to see the wounding table bite the dust. It's simple to understand and really doesn't slow the game down at all in my experience (so long as a player knows what toughness their models are).

That being said, given its use in AoS I wouldn't be surprised if this were changed, especially as the Battle for Vedros stuff seemed to work on this basis.

No codices

Hmm, interesting. I've seen it suggested, and whilst looking at AoS isn't necessarily a clear indicator of how things might pan out in 40k in the future, GW have always been concerned about including not only the basic rules for all of their models, but also showcasing them in fully painted full colour photographs and also explaining in detail the background behind the army. For a universe as rich and detailed as 40k, I really can't see them stepping back from that and not having a codex available for each faction within the setting, though I could see them potentially producing a few 'grand alliance' type books. Precisely how these would work however would be interesting, and far more difficult to justify than in AoS - can you really call tyranids and genestealer cult a 'grand alliance'. Sure, they fit into the idea of 'destruction' as would Orks, but I can't see them wanting to encourage those armies to be used side by side.

Again, I think codices will be around for a long time to come, after all, they are a profitable way of collecting all the information about a faction into one place, and much as I'd love to see it, I can't imagine they will want to make them available for free as a pdf.

Rules bloat

This is where I think we'll see the biggest changes. I remember way back when 3rd edition was released, it was a huge change to everything in terms of both how a force was collected, and how it fought. Subsequent editions have introduced new factions, and added to the proliferation of universal special rules as well as faction specific rules.

I can't see much happening with some of the faction specific stuff until codices are rewritten, but I certainly can see things changing with the universal ones (concussive is one I rarely see actually used in a game, and soul blaze is another that could quite easily be deleted or changed without anyone complaining, or possibly even noticing).

There are plenty of categorisations that could do with simplifying too - one of my own personal bugbears is how bikes are dealt with! Here's an example of what I mean.

Space Marine - T4 3+Sv
Space Marine biker - T5 3+Sv

Scout - T4 4+Sv
Scout biker - T5 4+Sv

Dark Eldar Wych - T3 6+Sv
Dark Eldar Reaver - T4 5+Sv

Eldar Guardian - T3 5+Sv
Eldar Windrider - T4 3+Sv

See my point? There is no consistency here, without exception bikers get an extra point of toughness, but their save is all over the place - I can accept marines staying as a 3+ due to their armour (after all, that results in landspeeders not counting as open topped etc) but why then do scouts not get the benefit when a land speeder storm is open topped.

The Dark Eldar bike makes sense, 1pt improvement for both toughness and save, but then the windrider throws it all out of balance again with a increase of 2 pts on their armour save.

Consistency of these types of rules make all players more capable of playing the game without poring over the codices of their opponents - if I knew that being on a bike meant +1T and +1Sv then all I need is the basic stat of the opposition infantry and I can work it out myself instead of asking every turn.

Just a last thought too - I read today that there are some suggestions that 40k may be looking to introduce a title such as 'Age of the Emperor'. This seemed to cause vitriol amongst the more vocal members of the community (no, I'm not shocked!) but for me this really doesn't mean anything. 40k has already been through several different ages, with the Age of Strife, the Age of Darkness, the Dark Age of Technology and currently the Age of the Imperium. Referring to it as the Age of the Emperor simply follows the idea that the story is moving forward into something else. It doesn't necessarily follow that it won't be grim and dark, and that the future is all rosy and bright, simply that the Imperium actually has an Emperor again (it may even be Guilliman, and whilst I have no particular love for the Ultras Primarch, I wouldn't be upset if it were).

So there you have it - a few thoughts of mine on what an 8th edition of 40k might mean. I tried to stay away from making predictions, perhaps I'll do that in a later post and see how wildly inaccurate I can be!

Till next time,
TBE