9th edition Speculation Train: What can we take away so far?

May 28, 2020

Well what a crazy few days, Games Workshop really blew the lid off Warhammer 40k 9th edition, with a full court press once the the factory reopening happened. Between two Twitch streams we are really starting to get a pretty clear outline of what Warhammer 40k 9th edition is going to be like.

Before I talk about what I think so far, if you are not caught up, you can go check out the compilation of Warhammer 40k 9th edition rules which will be continuously updated things are released. As well, if you rather just watch/listen to the video version of this post click on the YouTube video at the end of this article. 

So while Games Workshop claims to not be reinventing the wheel, 9th edition is certainly looking like its own edition, not just 8.5; sure the core mechanics ain’t changing, but how the game will be played is certainly completely different from what we have become accustomed to.

The change to how Command Points and detachments works guarantees that, with the point level of the game determining the number of starting CP. In practical terms, the incentive to take a Battalion or Brigade detachment are gone, as players can fill armies with the other detachments without worrying about having enough CP. Unless, the “core” detachments get some other bonus, we will see an even more skewing to the most point efficient units as possible. This means that the most elite killy or tanky units will be king to start 9th edition, especially if you can stack specific unit stratagems on them. We also don’t know if the detachments we currently have even exist, so that could be another balancing effect. This though does feel a bit like 6th or 7th, where certain stratagems replaced formations (Riptide Wing) as the go to  basis for army construction instead of unit taxes. 

To pile on a bit, the nerfing of hordes by the changes to tanks and shooty monstrous creatures, on the surface make elite units even more deadly as they don’t have to worry about the being bottled up by hordes of infantry if they have the newblast weapon support. Once again I don’t have to take an inefficient troop tax to get the most out of these elite units. 

This working theory also depends a bit on how the missions end up being fleshed out and if ITC adopts them immediately. Done right, missions might be able to mitigate elite armies or deathstar type units by making it impossible to dominate the game (outside of tabling) because they can’t score the needed points over time or all at once. At the very least the intention of the new missions will certainly try. I can see a world where we get the return to a classic struggle; Deathstars vs. MSU, keep in mind the majority of play-testers, came into their own between 5th-7th editions, so I can easily see old habits infiltrating the game, even subconsciously. 

Diving further, MSU (Many/Multiple Small/Minimum size units) seem to have gotten a big boost, with hordes losing steam, and now you can take the best MSU units, not just the troop battlefield roles ones. This is a world where things like, Reivers, Havocs, Dire Avengers, bike, and jump pack units of all stripes take a step forward.  9th edition counter lists, might want lots of little units, dealing lots of damage or getting to places where more plodding units are at a disadvantage, while at the same time dying and not costing you the game. Especially, bumper units, like ones with invulnerable saves slowing down elite units for critical turns.

You mileage will vary if the world I just described is a good or a bad thing. There are some confirmed great things coming I like; being able to attack units leaving assault, along with tri-pointing models looks to be out the door. We don’t know exactly the changes are to overwatch, but it sounds like they are getting some sort of nerf. Then we have the hinted at reworking of morale to become more dynamic. “Combat Attrition” as the developers described it, sounds a lot like units get weaker as they take casualties instead of just losing models. Complementing for what I am calling “terror units” like Reivers, Night Lords, and various other negative Leadership producing effects, which the designers hinted would be getting buffed/expanded. Then we have the cleaning up of Flyers which sounds like they come in, blow something up, and then leave the field, just not having the flyer base not interact with ground units alone is a worth it.

My favorite addition to the game is easily “tactical reserves”, as you can now bring in units in various turns and at various locations on the board. This will automatically add a new tactical element to the game, as it is certainly an attempt to check alpha strike armies. You can see from various Psychic Awakening stratagems, how this was teased out. This will also maybe keep horde armies in the game, and make screens even more important to overall strategy.

Finally, we have to talk about terrain. Terrain was the big unexplored country of 8th and so it makes total sense this was going to get a rework. You also can’t talk about terrain without cover. I am feeling like we are returning to a more 7th edition version of cover, but with a twist where beyond different save bonuses, we get certain terrain effects maybe similar to Age of Sigmar. Gone though is the true line of sight just a bit, as you no longer can shoot through peep holes or snipe a modeled wing sticking out just a milometer. If the unit is in the terrain it is counted as “obscured” for the sake of simplicity.

The danger and why I am personally not hopeful about these terrain changes, is enforcement of them.

Every time, Games Workshop has tried to put terrain in 40k it instantly gets too complicated or just too annoying to remember or utilize. This is partly because players and stores traditionally just never had the right terrain or enough of it. Thankfully laser cut terrain has helped a lot with this problem, still unless it is strictly standardized for matched play, I can see a lot of players crying that terrain lost them the game and not the opponent. As well, overdone terrain rules can only exacerbate other problems, like if elite units/armies are set to dominate then we are looking terrain making them impossible to stop from getting to where they need to be. It also means if left unchanged indirect weapons are even better now. What about the time sink it might cause to add terrain properly to your game? Still, getting players to actually use terrain is going to be the biggest challenge, otherwise we will end up back to only six pieces of ruins and nothing else littering all battlefields. 

Of course the fun with these kinds of posts is looking back and finding out you were completely wrong, so I am sure me and many others will be eating crow soon enough in way or another. 

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