Well, well it has finally arrived after a short two-year span, 6th edition is dead, replaced with 7th edition, the brand new spanking version of Warhammer 40k.
The game has changed, with the return of the psychic phase, and a set of new "score as you go" missions. Fundamental changes are going on, all set to the background of Games Workshop IP and revenue struggles, and 7th edition is just one part the larger puzzle.
This review will only tangentially delve into the what Games Workshop is thinking, but instead focus just on the Rules presented, and what it mean for most players.
Many in the Warhammer community have already likened 7th edition to nothing more than Warhammer 40k 6.5 and on the surface this is true, but if you delve deeper into the specific changes you will see a completely different game than before.
The key to understanding just how different 7th is. first avoid getting caught up in all the polarizing changes, like the new Psychic Phase or Unbound. The bigger changes come in the form of new missions and the ability for every unit to score on objectives. Then there are the host of minor changes in this edition, adding up to a better game.
Before we get to the meat of the review I would like to touch on the notion 7th is "Sandbox Warhammer 40k"; while Games Workshop has done everything to make the game more "open" Warhammer 40k will always be very structured, more than any other wargame, just because of the sheer scope and history of the universe. Then you layer on player desires to add restrictions, you will indubitably have a game far removed from what Games Workshop is attempting to sell.
At its heart, a game of Warhammer 40,000 is a shared experience between fellow hobbyists - and it should be as enjoyable and fulfilling for all players as possible.
Chapter I: Introduction
Chapter II: Core Rules
Chapter III: Unit Types
Chapter IV: Battlefield Terrain
Chapter V: Preparing for Battle
Chapter VI: Appendix
The layout and format of the rule book is easily the best GW has ever produced. A large part is the rules being split off from the fluff elements of previous rule books. You will quickly notice how everything is nicely referenced and important rule details repeated throughout the book. The appendix is helpful, by providing the most pertinent information you will need to run a game. A lot of extraneous verbiage is gone, as complicated rules are better formatted and blocked to be easily understandable. Since the rule book is broken off from the other books, you will find less filler, like overused quotes and pictures; replaced with decorative drawings, used to break up the text between important segments.
Example: the Assault Phase Summary is segmented by a great picture of Flesh Hounds, and on the next page red, white, and black sketches are used to breakup each bullet-point. The simple three color palate GW uses throughout adds depth, improving on the two color simplicity found in older rule books. Little things like better bold text, underused in previous editions, now actually highlight most of the important rules.
The rest of this review will focus only on the big changes found in the rule book, followed by a summary of the little changes.
The first big change you will notice is of course the Psychic Phase. Already this addition is becoming the focus of much ire within the community. These Warhammer Fantasy style rules, are a long time coming for 40k, and provide a new interactive element to the game. In most games, each play can participate in the psychic phase by casting and denying powers. The bait & switch tactics players will find in the psychic phase will keep both sides engaged; even with stopping spells hard to come by, the joys of actually rolling enough 6s to Deny a power will have dramatic effects. The tweaks to the old psychic disciplines are for the most part better, and shows GW trimming down poor rules to more digestible sizes.
The mechanics for the Psychic Phase doesn't seem to be the problem for many players, but instead it is the new disciplines of Daemonlogy eliciting the most hate. On one hand this is typical GW, snatching defeat from almost certain victory, than on the other side the complete over reacting by hardcore players. The crux is the ability to summon infinite Daemon units, if you take a certain warp charge heavy lists. On paper and in some practice this is a very broken combo, but in actuality any sane player will find just how boring and time-consuming this type of army is. Not to mention the infinite models you will need to buy to effectively exploit the discipline. Sure, you will find that one player with the resources to do it, but really will he find any one to play? Not to mention, I hardly think we have found the most broken lists possible in just one week from release.
Overall, the Psychic phase will be played between a few psykers on each side, providing a small, but fun addition to most games.
Choosing Your Army...
The next big change is arranging your army for battle. GW has decided to allow any combination of models to become an army, in the form of Unbound. Personally, Unbound seems like a reaction by GW to children who only buy what they think looks cool, and don't understand why they cannot play whatever they want. The design team has taken this and done what they can, shrouding it in some sort of "Forge the Narrative" asinineality to trick veterans into thinking its palatable. The only real danger with Unbound, as I have mentioned it before, is exactly how will GW Game Store managers be directed to teach the game to new players? If Unbound is standard in most GW stores, it could inadvertently create large swaths of beardy players, who don't know any better when they play in the real wargaming world.
Enough about Unbound, the people reading this won't be fielding those armies outside of Apocalypse, instead a bigger change dealing with the degrees of Battle-Forge armies. This Unbound lite is the real Trojan horse for GW. As long as you take 1 HQ and 2 Troops you can keep on spamming detachments all day long. Gone is double-force org, replaced by infinite force org for any point value. Quickly, most players have moved to limit the number of times you can double up on detachments, but finding the right balance isn't easy, the community is already pretty divided on this point. Personally, the path to salvation is by limiting the point totals for games, but with everyone wanting to use all their toys it will be extremely difficult to build consensus.
Beyond the debates of what you can and cannot take, there is one change in particular, and it is the biggest change few are talking about. Scoring Units, everything can now score from the expensive Land Raider to the lonely Ripper Swarm. Added on top of everything is the Objective Secured rule allowing Troops units to claim objectives even if an enemy scoring unit is in range of the objective, unless the enemy unit has the Objective Secured as well. And as currently written Dedicated Troop Transports also have Objective Secured.
This will change the game completely. Everything is a threat, target priority based armies will take a hit, and by extension gun line armies. It also means Elites have a role, and troop killing specialists will be in higher demand. It will also mean blob squads will be in full effect, as they try to deny people objectives and limit units from destroying them. Coupled with vehicle changes, high AV tanks will also see more play. In missions with many objectives, battles will be fought over the entire board as each player must create mobile armies with the flexibility to contest and score everywhere.
Just think how big this change is; the type of armies we will see by next year won't look like anything you will see today. Now, things might get out of control, and once again it could be because GW hasn't thought out just how potentially broken something like mass transport vehicles could have on the new edition. While everyone is focusing on mass summoned Daemon armies; already players are quietly breaking out the old MSU spam lists of 5th edition, and taking them to the next level waiting bedevil a whole new generation.
Maelstrom of War Missions...
Finally, the last big change in 7th is the new Maelstrom missions. These missions have a mechanic that allows players to score points every player turn. These victory points are determined by a random set of cards with various simple conditions and values. As is customary with anything random, the hardcore scene has decided already to hate these missions. I agree to a certain extent, they are too random, but the potential is there to make for very unique games. No longer is everything building to some final land grab, but instead each turn acts like a mini-game, as each player tries to accomplish their specific goals. You will run into problems as a few cards cannot be completed for many lists. Discarding and redrawing tactical objectives is too limited, you will find players can get behind early if someone gets a crappy draw.
In practice, so far, even with this kind of randomness the scores often end-up being close at the end of the game. More importantly, and completely overlooked by the competitive crowd, is the Maelstrom missions can give an army which has no business competing a fighting chance. With only minor tweaks, like discarding unachievable cards, and giving the player going second a chance to deny victory cards for the first turn, you already have better game. If it turns out Maelstrom missions are really too random, they are still designed as plug & play; tactical objectives are broken into types, so I expect players fully capable to decide which groups of objectives to use or not use.
The Maelstrom missions, are a good first try by GW at this sort of thing, and they should be encouraged to improve on what what they already have. At they very least these missions are fantastic for pick-up games where you don't know exactly what your opponent is bringing, and you don't want each other outclassed. Tournament Organizers, should also find a place for these missions by integrated them into the Eternal War missions.
War by a Million Changes...
The rest of the rule book is filled with minor to medium changes; Super Heavies to removing mysterious terrain, it is clear GW has been listening to some extent. Then there is the massive amount of streamlining, like terrain rules. GW has also done a good job of fixing many problems, with a few notable exceptions-- fixing re-rolling saves, limiting Ignore Cover USR, and the lack of a Warp Charge cap. The best development from these small changes is more reactive decisions players can make. Deny the Witch dice, Jink, Challenges, Over-Watch, all show GW attempting generate more tactical decisions and interactions between players.
This doesn't mean problems don't persist. Like the missing Fortification units, forcing players to buy Stronghold Assault. Then you have silly money grabs like special Battlefield Terrain rules for only GW terrain kits. The Forge the Narrative branding also needs to change, because most players don't have the resources or the time to create these glorious narratives GW imagines we are all salivating to accomplish. You can still see the insular environment preventing GW from making simple popular changes everyone would embrace.
The attempts to open the game up will mostly fail, as most players want structure, Warhammer 40k isn't an improv acting troupe, where everyone wants to try out random new creative things. It is a military game where you usually have a winner or loser, this invariably leads to some tension no matter how open a player is. If only GW actually chose to lead, and not just tell players to play nice, future editions could really be something.
As it is 7th edition is a vast improvement from 6th and any problems are blatantly obvious and/or easy to fix. That is where the lovely rule open structure GW has created actually works; almost everything in the rule book acts like independent interchangeable components, where you can remove one and not feel like you are penalizing certain armies or players over another. As with any review, this isn't the final verdict, and who knows if GW stock price collapses again, we could see 8th edition in six months!
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