I’ve figured it’s about time to give 8th edition a review. I’ve now played quite a few games, quite a few codices have been released, GW’s had the opportunity to fix mistakes with Chapter Approved and FAQs, and we have a fair few tournament results to judge the health of the competitive meta. As a side note, this doesn’t look at any of the fluff, just purely the ruleset.
The central theme of this edition is directed at taking 40k from an adapted skirmish game to an squad-based game. As an example, you now draw LoS from any part of the model instead of the weapon. Synergy is another keyword in 8th edition rather than the spamming that was common in 7th.
The arguably biggest change isn’t intrinsic to the game; GW have ditched their old policy of not altering rules or FAQing issues. FAQs and point changes are now constantly updated to better balance the game.
One refreshing change is the 7th edition Team Idiot is back with a vengeance! Chaos Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and Tyranids are all extremely competitive choices, with an Orks codex likely to bring them up to scratch with the rest of the old Special Teams!
Unit balance is hugely improved, in general. You can take pretty much any unit and they will largely function as you imagine they would. While some more balancing would be good (I’m all for dropping the price of basic SMs and CSMs by a point or two), it is largely pretty good.
What is more important than whether a unit is “good,” is how does it synergise with your auras/buffs, Chapter Tactics/Legion/Hive Fleet bonus, Stratagems etc. As an example, Possessed on their own aren’t amazing, but due to their Daemon, Mark, and Legion keyword, they benefit from anything that buffs Daemons, Mark, or Legion. This is also reflected in army variety on the competitive level, especially the ITC.
New and Changed Features
The rules themselves are now 8 pages, and anyone who can read can learn them. It is somewhat misleading, as all the USRs have instead been moved to the unit entries/datasheets, which probably amounts to more words.
The to Hit for WS and BS is now rolled into the model profile, which does streamline it. However, I don’t think it’s a move forward; at best, it’s a sideways move. Nobody had trouble remembering the to Hit chart (it was the minutiae USRs), and it feels decidedly odd when Guilliman’s guard is as bad as everyone else’s guard. It may be easier for newbies, but I think this is a step backwards.
The Strength vs. Toughness chart is gone, being replaced with half or less S vs T being a 6+, less being a 5+, equal S and T being 4+, higher S than T being 3+, and double S vs. T being 2+.
This is a good change; it makes for a more dynamic and fast-paced game, and even though a T8 Land Raider can theoretically take a wound from a lasgun, it’s highly unlikely (though I’ve still taken the last wound of a Leman Russ with an autogun-wielding Cultist). However, this has effectively made things deadlier, and because, in my opinion, firepower is very cheap, this has had the (unintended?) effect of requiring much more LoS-blocking terrain to avoid tabling. E.G. the LVO has made the first floor of buildings now LoS-blocking.
Terrain is handled differently (and probably worse) these days. It’s clunky, but it kind of works. Cover is now a flat 1 pip-improvement on your saving throw, while AP has been changed back to being a modifier on the save, which is a huge improvement (though technically a step back).
Templates & Scatter
Templates and scatter dice are removed. As a horde player, this speeds up the game. I’m no longer deploying units of 30+ models in bizarre circles or spacing every single model 2″ apart. This abstraction really helps. While I know many people are disappointed, and I understand it, I find this a wholly positive change.
As scatter dice are gone, Deep Strike has changed massively. While the USR is gone, many units have the same rule, which is essentially deploy the unit at the end of the movement phase at least 9″ away from enemy units. This speeds things up and changes the emphasis from (un)lucky scatter dice rolls to deployment and unit positioning, which to me, is a vast improvement.
Also, you now have to deploy half your units on the table in Matched Play (more on that later), so null deployment is not a possibility any more.
Keywords have been introduced. These can be Vehicle, Character, Black Legion, Tyranid, Hive Fleet (Leviathan), Chaos, Heretic Astartes, Biel-Tan, Aeldari etc. These effectively tie together what Psychic powers can affect, and your army composition etc. More on keywords in the specific subsections.
Characters, a keyword, can mostly no longer join units, but can only be targeted in the shooting phase if they are the closest model or have 10+ wounds. They now mostly give various buffs to nearby units of their subfaction or faction.
As an example, a Chaos Lord provides a 6″ aura that gives any unit from his Legion the ability to re-roll any to hit rolls of 1, while Abaddon gives auto-pass morale for Black Legionnaires within 12″, and re-roll all missed to hit rolls for Black Legionnaires within 6.”
You also pick your Warlord Trait, which is something I long wanted to see, both for narrative and competitive reasons. This has had an unintended consequence: people now daisy chain their units back to characters. Regardless, this has partially killed the suffix-Star, but you do have shooty-Stars with certain Characters, such as Guilliman. This was an issue in 7th that the GW team made fun of (which is ironic granted they made the rules that encouraged that kind of play) and said it would be solved in 8th, but it still exists, albeit in a different and lesser form.
The Psychic Phase has changed for the better. Each power is now generally keyword-specific, which limits the possible abusive combinations. You pick Psychic powers at the start of the game, and you cast them successfully if you can match a specific number on two dice, with any double 1 or double 6 resulting in D3 Mortal Wounds.
The most contentious issue was Smite (see below), which GW has addressed through point cost increases and making it 1 more difficult to cast per previous attempt in the beta rules.
Mortal Wounds is a new thing to 40k. These are wounds that you don’t get any saves against, but you do get what used to be Feel No Pain against them. There are several sources for these, from Psychic powers (Smite) to certain weapons. GW has addressed this with the new beta rules, making the most common source of Smite increasingly difficult to cast.
Building Your Army
The game itself has been split into Open, Narrative, and Matched Play. There are missions for all of these things, with various levels of restrictions. The notable difference here is that now we have a codified way of playing anything from “bring what you want” to more tournament-oriented play. Open Play is something we’ve honestly always had. Who hasn’t just thrown together some models to play against a sibling or friend? I don’t mind having it codified, mind.
In the Narrative and Matched Play, you use Detachments to build your army. That’s right, formations are gone! And good riddance! They are replaced with the aforementioned Detachments that give you extra Command Points (CPs), depending on the specific Detachment, with Troop-heavy Detachments giving more CPs than other Detachments.
Your Detachments must all share a Keyword, such as Imperium or Heretic Astartes. However, there are issues with the Detachment system. It allows for so many combinations it essentially plays as Unbound, which can lead to some lopsided games. The other problem here is armies with cheap HQ and Troop choices can spam Battalion Detachments for a wild amount of CPs, with the Imperial Guard being the worst offender. For Matched Play, this seriously needs a tightening.
The difference between Narrative and Matched Play boils down to two things: in Narrative Play you use Power Levels (PLs) instead of points, and in Matched Play you use points and a specific Psychic Powers can only be attempted once per turn (bar smite).
PLs works by each squad costing a certain amount of PLs, and adding models costs a certain amount of PLs, while equipment costs nothing.
Now, to me, I do not honestly see why anyone would use PLs. There are some serious discrepancies between units and I don’t see why points are difficult. In the age of Battlescribe and the like, this is not difficult. If you’re three points over because of how you modelled your unit, ask your opponent. They’ll almost always be okay with it unless it’s a tournament, where PLs won’t work anyway as they open themselves up to abuse as equipment costs zero.
Using Command Points (Stratagems & Relics)
Stratagems are abilities inherent to your codex. Using them requires Command Points (CPs), which you have a finite number of depending on which Detachments you have and possibly your Warlord (e. g. Abaddon gives 2 extra CPs if he’s your Warlord) or Relics.
As an example, Endless Cacophony is a Heretic Astartes stratagem that allows any Slaanesh Biker or Infantry unit to fire twice in the shooting phase. These are usually fluffy
CPs can also be used on Relics, which replaces magic items. These are much more limited than before, with each Faction only having a few, with usually one extra for each subfaction. Streamlined, but less focus on “Your Dudes.”
Points of Improvement
How morale works is a gripe I have with 8th, and one I was worried about from the announcement they would use Battleshock. You now take the number of models removed and add d6, then minus the Leadership value of the unit, which gives you the result of models you will now remove.
This has the (unintended?) effect of either meaning you need to ignore Morale (Boyz, ‘Nids, and Conscripts pre-nerf) or you can’t take large units. It’s disappointing, as the Fearless/Always Running Away-paradigm was something GW said they would address in the lead-up to 8th edition.
One real source of annoyance is the removal of many units from codices. Eldar Autarch options have gone the way of Biel-Tan, Rough Riders are gone, roughly 60% of CSM HQs have gone the way of the Drop Pod, and Heralds of Slaanesh on Steeds and Chariot are MIA.
While still available in the indices, this still means you need to wham 40-50£ for just your own units’ rules. The official statement is units without models don’t get rules in the codex to save space. As there are many OOP models that still have rules, such as Cultists with Flamers, and that many factions straight up never had models for some units, GW’s explanation reminds me of the Spanish saying “crappo de toro.”
I have a sneaky suspicion it has got something to do with IP, as I believe, following the Chapterhouse lawsuit, that unless GW have models for it, anyone can make the models. GW should just have made a free PDF codex available with constantly updated rules and points rather than having each player carry a Jedi library to games. However, that is nothing new to most of us, but it can deter new players.
The BRB states a 2,000pt game should take between 2 and 3 hours, which was true on release. The introduction of Stratagems, expanded Psychic powers, a plethora of unit abilities etc. in the codices has slowed the game down again.
One of the reasons I wanted to delay the review was to get a more complete picture of the game, which really affected this part of the review. A 2,000pt game takes 3-4 hours at least. How psychic powers, abilities, Stratagems, etc., interact with each other is one of the main causes of this.
It’s even so bad these days that the LVO, the biggest 40k singles tournament in the world, will introduce chess clocks to speed things up due to how few games made it to time. This was a step forward and two back. This will affect some after work games and tournaments, but shouldn’t be a problem for most games.
If I have a big gripe (and I do), it’s they didn’t change from a You Go, I Go-system to a unit activation-based system. With how cheap firepower is in general, T1 can be utterly devastating unless you have some way of mitigating it. LoS-blocking terrain only gets you so far.
Interestingly, it’s rumoured GW refusing to implement an activation system was one of reasons Andy Chambers left. Combined with cheap firepower, The YGIG has meant turn 1 is absolutely devastating unless you can bunker up behind LoS-blocking terrain.
This is such a large gripe, it pulls the ruleset from a solid squad-based game to a middling, somewhat archaic-feeling game. The long downtime and lack of interaction (while better) just doesn’t make up for potentially an hour of doing nothing.
A board game comparison would be Axis & Allies vs. Twilight Imperium 4th edition. One is clunky and slow, where the source of the fun is wild dice throws and the company, while the other is an example of sleek and elegant game design with the game itself being fun and challenging.
All in all, the game is the best it has ever been. While I lament the move from “Your Dudes” to “GW’s Dudes,” I love the move from “Adapted Skirmish Game” to “Archaic Squad-Based Game.”
The game is fun because of the setting, not because of any good ruleset. The ruleset itself would be considered good in the 90’s, while compared to modern games like Bolt Action, it really comes across as clunky and old-fashioned. It is, however, fun. It is still a beer and pretzels game, but you can have fun pick up games, and you don’t need to talk your opponent as much pre-game to get a balanced game as you did in 7th.