9th edition Speculation Train: Is Close Combat back on the Menu?

Jun 19, 2020

Well, well while we didn’t get a bunch of new rules information for Warhammer 40k 9th edition this week, what we did get was a few whoppers. The release of the new rules for Overwatch and Character targeting looks to really shake up the current meta. While we are still weeks away from release, taken as a whole Warhammer 40k 9th edition is starting to look like an edition where Assault and close combat armies are about to make a major comeback. 

Since 4th-5th edition shooting has mostly dominated Warhammer 40k, with very few exceptions when things like deathstars and unkillable units would randomly make a dominating appearance. Games Workshop unhealthy fear of allowing units to get into combat always tilted the game towards guns and away from swords. It was thanks to really random rules interactions that Assault armies would ever stand a chance. Games Workshop might have had good reason to fear Assault, because the core rules of close combat usually meant once you made contact things would die really quickly; making shooting units pointless the second anything got within 1″, but conversely assault units would end up doing nothing as they got obliterated off the board having never taken a single swing.

So what hope does 9th edition give us for Assault armies? Well most of what I am about to write, taken separately will seem obvious, but if you can contextualize them all together you will see why Assault and Close combat looks ready to become king.

Let us start with the big one and that is table sizes, if most players move to the smaller minimum size Games Workshop calls for in a 2k game, than we are looking at armies being closer together. It will make what was typically a turn 2 charges into turn 1 affairs, along with many units have the ability to pre-move this can put units close to any zone of the board. Sure this also means that the majority of guns in the game will also be in range, but with a new emphasis on line of sight blocking terrain, units will have a easy time as well getting into position than any edition before. 

It is also kind of a tell by Games Workshop with the changes to tanks and monsters; they anticipated that units will be locked in combat, and leaving tanks without a means to respond was untenable. Along with Blast Weapons, their is an anticipation that shooting armies will only have a few turns max to balance the onslaught of charging units. Making matters even more precarious for shooting armies, are the changes to Overwatch, which a majority of units will now be unable to stop charging units from getting into their lines. 

Then we have the Strategic reserves, which while we don’t have the full details, we do know that it will allow any unit the ability to come in from various parts of the board. So even if a dedicated Assault unit was in danger of being blown off the board in the first round, now they can come in where they need to inflict the most damage. It also isn’t like players won’t take advantage Assault units that can leverage stratagems or wargear to make any strategic reserve charge a guarantee. 

Missions will also play an important part, which once again while we only have seen one Eternal mission so far, we can see where this is going, with objectives being placed in the center of the board. We know from Games Workshop game designers about increasing the importance of mobility, changes designed to mitigate Alpha Strikes, and an aversion to Castling, coming through in the mission design of Warhammer 40k 9th edition. Games will now be decided in the middle of the board where assaults and counter assaults should in theory dominate. 

We also have seen some fringe benefits for Assault units, like being able to attack when units leave combat. We should expect more around the edges bonuses to increasing the potency of Assault units.The Psychic Awakening books, has given many specific units more defenses, making formerly fringe Assault units suddenly able to handle a round of shooting before engaging the enemy, this all helps to close the shooting vs. assault gap ever so slightly. 

The Assault units and armies should be a bit different from 8th edition, since the changes to Characters and point increases, we might see less Smash Captains, more things like Assault Marines hitting the board. As always we don’t know the full rules, but a lot of these changes really seem more and more catered towards Assault. It shouldn’t be a surprise Warhammer 40k 9th edition could look a lot more like Age of Sigmar, where shooting takes a backseat and the game is played in the mid-field instead in each others deployment zones. 

Personally, if the dream of Assault rising comes to pass, it will the first time for many players of Warhammer 40k to play in edition where hand to hand combat is determines the victor.