For over 2 decades, I have enjoyed the fierce battles brought on by my Warhammer hobby. While I have mostly only played Warhammer Fantasy Battle (not the Age of Sigmar flavor either), I have come to notice certain trends in how Games Workshop produces their games. When a new edition would come out, I would be excited for the rules changes, and often the changes were good. I would look forward to a good meta shakeup, having grown tired of seeing the same stuff on the table each and every game. But there were times that an edition just missed the mark for me.
A great example would be Warhammer Fantasy Battles 8th edition. When I first played this edition, I was enthralled with some of the rules changes. The common magic items list was nice and lengthy. Armies were a lot larger in number (and monsters a lot larger in size). But as I played the edition, I began to really hate it. The spells were over the top (as they were in many editions), with spells like Dwellers From Below being played for the win so often that I began to despise the magic phase. Magic has always been powerful in Warhammer, but it seems like I was losing exclusively because of it in (and the following panic tests) most 8th edition games I played.
The 8th edition meta was solved rather quickly as my opponents would simply take the best unit, in large "death star" blocks. List-building became a practice of simply taking the best stuff, and as little of the not-as-good stuff as required. This was present in all editions but seemed to be most egregious in 8th. By the end of 8th edition, I had decided that I was done with the edition and actually stopped playing the game that I have always loved. Sure, I'm always up for a game of 4th-7th edition, but I most likely will never field an army under the 8th edition rules ever again.
Did I take my ball and run home? Yes. But after years of playing Warhammer, I have come to a point in my old age that I prefer to enjoy the game, over simply striving to win. And since "fluff" players are like unicorns in the area I live in, I have resigned myself to the odd older edition game here or there, and other games until Warhammer: The Old World comes into play.
Irresistible Force makes sure the trick is complete.
It is no secret that part of Games Workshop's approach to game design is to tailor the rules to produce more product sales, often at the expense of the game's balance. That being said, Warhammer 40,000 has stood the test of time and remains the top sci-fi miniatures game to this day. So entrenched in the Warhammer World are the fans of this game that even if they don't like an edition, or if their army takes a solid beating with the infamous "Nerf bat", they will still suffer through editions, shelving armies in favor of other, more competitive armies, or just taking their lumps like a true fanboy.
The reality of the situation is this, the design team at Games Workshop are doing their best to make the game its best, within the limits of what they are able to do as far as marketing and product sales strategy allow. The most recent reviews for 10th edition appear to be mixed online, with many welcoming the changes, and others feeling like the game is taking too many steps backward in certain areas.
I admit that I am not a Warhammer 40k enthusiast, though I do love the 40k world and miniatures for the game. 8th edition 40K was my only serious attempt at playing the game, and my first few games of it were a blast. It was when the meta started coming into play, and my opponents got to be more sweaty with their lists that the game lost its fun factor for me. I would often be tabled by turn 2 due to the outrageous amount of damage output my opponent's Astra Militarum would dish out. And if I took my big gun and one-shotted his Baneblade, he would lose his marbles, meaning only one of us was having fun most games. I don't know if this sort of thing has been remedied in 9th or 10th edition, but in any case, there will always be power builds, sweaty meta chasing, and all of that which this game (and most popular games) is well known for.
How to Make Your Warhammer 40k Experience A Fun One
So how do we put together an experience that is fun for everyone, in a new edition that you may or may not like? It's important to know that, no matter what the game designers do, it will always be the player's responsibility to make sure the wargaming experience is fun for everyone involved. This means introducing fair house rules and making agreements with opponents on what is permissible as far as army builds go.
Embrace House Rules:
One of the beauties of Warhammer is its flexibility. Just because a rule is printed in the new edition doesn't mean you must adhere to it religiously. Embrace the concept of house rules, which allow you and your gaming group to modify or introduce alternative rules that better suit your playstyle and preferences. Discuss and collaborate with your fellow players to find creative solutions that enhance your gaming experience. Remember, the key is ensuring everyone involved is on board with the changes.
Now, there will always be sweaty players who want to staunchly adhere to the printed rules. If you're not enjoying games with such players, I suggest that you simply quit playing until you have a better opponent to game with. Delve into the hobby side of the game, and prepare some awesome miniatures for your future battles, but don't let try-hards ruin the gaming side of the hobby for you.
In my over 20 years of playing Warhammer, I never considered this approach because I wanted to play so badly. It's an interesting thing to learn about human nature, that even though you may share a love for a hobby with someone else, that doesn't mean you're compatible dance partners when it comes to actually engaging with the hobby. Different people get different things out of the hobby. Heck, some people wrap their identity into how successful they are at playing games, which is kinda sad really. What I am saying is, it is OK not to play, if you're finding your games are making you like the game as a whole less. This may be controversial, but this is what I have found to be the best approach for me.
House Rules Ideas
While I am mostly a Warhammer Fantasy player, I think some of these ideas may translate well to Warhammer 40,000. Most of these aren't ground-breaking ideas, but they are something to consider.
Singleton - Kinda like Magic the Gathering's Singleton format, I have noticed that games of Warhammer that restrict every unit to 0-1 do help introduce more list building creativity. In 40k, this may not be as much the case, as I remember you only needing one Baneblade to wipe out a good portion of the enemy, but it could possibly help still. The idea is that in the event that units are simply too good not to take in duplicates, limiting these units opens up lesser quality units to being considered as a choice.
You-Go-I-Go, with a Kick - This is one house rules idea that I have been dying to try with Warhammer 40K. Perhaps the biggest issue I had with 40K 8th Edition was waiting for my turn to come around, only to find that my army has already been decimated. By sharing each phase of a turn with your opponent, player engagement would be a lot more active. You could even alternate activations within a phase, so your opponent activates one of their units, then places a token showing it has been activated, then you do the same, etc.
The kicker is, instead of removing casualties during phases, you set wound markers beside units so that they can get a chance to perform an action before casualties are removed, which would happen at the end of each phase. So if your unit gets wiped by a mortal wounds crazy sniper unit with re-rolls to hit, you can at least get to use them one time to do some sort of damage before they drop.
Another interesting idea as far as You-Go-I-Go goes is to steal an idea from the amazing Bolt-Action game system. Throw a colored die in a bag for each unit within your army, and the opponent does the same with a differently colored die. Draw the dice out of the bag to see who activates. This can be done during a single phase, such as shooting, as it could be too time consuming to do each phase, but it makes for an interesting dynamic.
Modify Cover Rules - It seems like terrain, at least in 8th edition, was very seldom useful as a defense against the more destructive attacks. Don't get me wrong, a half-blown away ruin probably won't stop a mortar, but it does take away from the tactical part of the game if there is nowhere to run, or hide from these attacks.
If you really love realistic rules, you could randomize wounds dealt between the terrain and the unit within, so that the shot still has a chance to injure the troops. The troop-terrain ratio could be based on the cover provided by the terrain; so a heavily fortified terrain piece may be hit on a 3+, and the troops occupying it can be hit on a 1 or 2, whereas less fortified positions would be hit on a 5+, the troops on a 1-4. This makes, in my mind, terrain much more useful, which is what I think the game needed. Attacks with "Ignores Cover" could simply hit the unit instead of randomizing. Cover adding a single point of save to units is rather underwhelming to me, but then again the technology probably punches through walls without much effort. But for gameplay purposes, it seems like you are a sitting duck a lot of times, especially against more powerful attackers.
Seek Out a Compatible System:
For competitive players, maintaining reasonable balance and fairness is ideal. If the new edition's rules create imbalances, consider adopting a comp system (composition system) that works for your gaming group. Comp systems aim to address potential issues by establishing additional guidelines or limitations on army composition, unit selection, or point values. However, it's essential to respect your opponent's preferences and seek their permission before implementing any comp system. Collaboration and open communication are the foundations of a healthy gaming environment.
With some time, tournament organizers may release interesting comp rules which can be used for your games. Using these rules is beneficial in that the source of the rules is from outside your gaming group. Having a third party provide you with some balancing house rules means you can't make the argument that someone is trying to pull a fast one on you by nerfing your stuff, and not their own.
It is also beneficial to join Reddit and/or Facebook groups that provide house rules for these games, as oftentimes they have done a lot of the leg work and are pretty good. It may be a while before such rules are produced for the new edition, but this is something to keep an eye out for if you're wanting to try comp rules.
Explore Older Editions with House Rules:
If the new edition still fails to meet your expectations, don't hesitate to explore older editions of Warhammer. Combine your love for nostalgia with the power of house rules, allowing you to tailor the older edition to your liking. Modify, tweak, and experiment with rules from previous editions to create a unique and refreshing gameplay experience. By revisiting older editions, you open up a realm of possibilities and add a touch of variety to your gaming sessions. You will most likely have difficulty finding someone to play older editions with you, but you may be surprised. Some folks may not like the new edition for whatever reason, so it's worth talking to other enthusiasts to see what they prefer. You never know.
Facing a new Warhammer edition that doesn't align with your expectations can be disheartening. However, by embracing house rules, seeking out compatible systems, and exploring older editions, you can regain control over your gaming experience. Remember that Warhammer is ultimately about fun, camaraderie, and creativity. As long as you and your fellow players are engaged and having a good time, the specific rules of any edition become merely a framework to build upon. So, adapt, collaborate, and enjoy the ever-evolving world of Warhammer in your own unique way.
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- Jay C. Shepherd
- Content Creator
- Jay is a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and professional wrestling fan who loves all things 80's, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and of course, video games. He is one of the rare few that believes that one can be a Trekkie and Star Wars fan at the same time.