For those who might not have heard, games Workshop has announced the dawning of Warhammer 40K’s 8th edition, and have a FAQ up before the ruleset has even dropped (an unexpected occurrence they even lampshade in the FAQ itself). I’ve previously left my thoughts and impressions leading up to and following the release of Age of Sigmar, but I wanted to touch on what my impressions are of the upcoming 8th Edition (I’ve seen it jestingly dubbed “Age of Emperor” as well) and how I think it will stack up to AoS and previous editions of WH40K.
Things That Were…
From the retrospective view, I think 8th will be fantastic from a casual gamer perspective. First, though, I should qualify what my assumptions are going off of: namely, that WH40K 8e will be akin to Age of Sigmar in terms of a very, very small primary ruleset, distinct unit datasheets with all special rules and such self-contained there, the rules and datasheets being free and comprehensive, and that per their FAQ comments, the game will release with point-balanced setup options in addition to freeform and “historical recreation” rules.
The biggest thing this calls me back to is the WH40K 3rd Edition, aka “The One with the Big, Self-Contained Rulebook.” I have a used, well-worn and well-loved copy of the 3e rulebook, and it is my gold standard for how to lay out a game rulebook both in terms of content (complete army lists for every army barring some Space Marine subfactions iirc, complete rules including scenarios and a surprisingly decent long-term campaign outline), as well as general layout (fantastic ratio of fluff and images to rules, knowing when to use art, model images, or just quote snippets). 8e sounds like it will harken back to the most important parts of the 3e rulebook, namely the complete unit listings as well as the full rules.
Better still, going off the AoS template means we can expect to see similarly-streamlined primary rules, and keeping the bulk of complexity and interactions to a unit datasheet rather than a bunch of special rules with limited application or occurrence. Overall the biggest aspect that will be missing will be the fluff and art, but I feel it’s a very fair tradeoff to put that into a General’s Handbook equivalent in exchange for having the free rules be complete and readily available.
That said, moving on to comparisons to Age of Sigmar!
Things That Are…
So, there are two avenues to approach the current Age of Sigmar versus the upcoming 40K 8e: rules and fluff. I wanted to tackle them separately, as I think they have a much different success rate.
The Rules: So rule-wise, I think AoS came out of the gate incredibly strong in all but three areas, areas I mentioned in my previous comments on playing AoS. The first is the lack of points when released: from what I have heard, the General’s Handbook solves these problems, but I have not had a chance yet to get a copy, and it is vexing that this isn’t available online (again, devoid of fluff/art would be completely fair) as that is probably my largest lasting criticism of the system. It sounds like 8e will be releasing with the points values immediately available, so hopefully this problem shouldn’t recur for 40K.
The second is that AoS did away with ranks of units. Now, this is a big issue for Fantasy as the game’s roots hail from historical wargames, of which ranked warfare was a big part. In later editions of the game flanking had less and less of an effect (coming to an abrupt head with the Steadfast rule and resulting immunity of huge hordes to being flanked), so I think the impact it had on that aspect of the game was significantly reduced before AoS did away with it entirely, but I feel it’s still important to mention.
Lastly, and this feeds back into the second point, was the argument that most battles tended to devolve into a scrimmage near the center of the map, or around whatever primary objective was on the table. I did notice this when I played, albeit in a small game, but I think this issue will be more pronounced to players familiar with Warhammer Fantasy rather than 40K; in my 40K experiences, central tussles like that are commonplace, and often lack the clean lines of demarcation that ranked warfare would display. While I think this complaint is valid in that it changes an underlying aspect of the “feel” of fantasy Warhammer, for 40K I think it will be completely on-par with how the game has operated for decades, if not its entire lifespan.
As an afterthought too, moving from AP back to saving throw reduction is a spiffy idea imo, and will really help units like Tau Crisis Suits who currently suffer from being multiwound, but having a Toughness and Save that means they get automatically instagibbed by a Krak missile.
The Fluff: Whoo boy, this is a big area where I think the New Games Workshop™ have recognized the wisdom in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Age of Sigmar completely nuked multiple factions and absolutely gutted most of the lore, basically starting from scratch in multiple ways. While some decry them, I do really like the look and lore and winkwinknudgenudge aspect of the totally-not-Space-Marine Stormcast Eternals; however, they’re the only notable new faction lore-wise. The new look for Chaos,
Elves Sylvaneth and Orcs (Orrucs?) are nice, and the new Dwarves Kharadon Overlords look amazing and could give Mantic Forgefathers a run for their money (more on that in a bit), but so far the lore just hasn’t been engaging in the same way as the old Warhammer lore had been. That is one big downside of basically shitcanning three decades of worldbuilding and starting from scratch, and while I have every confidence it will eventually become awesome again lore-wise, these things take time.
Meanwhile, for 8e it looks like they learned from the disastrous End Times series and descent into mashing the big reboot button. Instead, the Gathering Storm series for 40K has helped make some big fluff adjustments without completely decimating everything. The destruction of Cadia helps advance the plot (as well as theoretically force them to retool a new Imperial Guard unit set, for once…), and the awakening of Roboute Guilleman…
Holy crap. This is big.
So, I was actually only mildly surprised that they woke him up. The series of 30K/Horus Heresy Primarchs they’ve been churning out of Forgeworld means it only makes sense that the desire to see Primarchs walk the stars again would spill over into 40K.
However, I was completely caught off-guard (in a good way, mind you) by Roboute’s reaction to seeing the Imperium ten millennia after he took his near-eternal powernap:
This is amazing. Like, beyond the slight possibility he has started an Ultramarines Tumblr account now, this sets up dozens and dozens of splinter lines for an author or GW as a whole to split the Imperium apart into smaller subfactions. We now have a very real possibility of a second civil war in the Imperium, between those loyal to the original vision of the Emperor (a secular, logical, empire) and those loyal to what it has become (rule by fear, idolatry, exploitation of people to achieve any and all goals).
The other Gathering Storm stuff I believe has also indicated a condensation of all of the Eldar under a single banner, which would mirror the occurences of the same for the various Elf factions in Warhammer Fantasy. These are all nifty, but again I think they pale in comparison to GW not only waking up a Primarch, but then using said #woke (literally and figuratively) Primarch to explicitly lay the motivation and groundwork for a second Imperial Civil War.
Things That Have Not Yet Come To Pass
So, with all that said, where is 8e going, and where could it stumble?
Overall, I think 8e is going to explode in popularity. The revamp will simplify the rules, as well as make them freely available; both of these are currently huge impediments to someone looking to play without downloading rulebook scans, and the changes will allow anyone with even cardboard counters to start trying out new units and even armies without having to shell out for a $30 rulebook.
Rules-wise, the Age of Sigmar template for rules will meld perfectly to 40K. There’s no loss of regiments to worry about, and apart from vehicles and fliers, the rules are likely to be no more complex than they currently are for AoS; on that note, they could even work to fixing fliers so they feel more like fliers rather than big, slow gliders filled with missiles and bullets.
Currently, the biggest drawback for Age of Emperor and Games Workshop as a whole is their prices. There’s been some really promising pushback on the pricetags, especially with the Build+Paint series they’re releasing, but the prices need to drop a bit more on more items to really start drawing people in; imo, a Space Marine squad at a $20 impulse-buy pricepoint would be perfect, and could really help them make a killing once the popularity of the game starts to expand.
Also, I need to quickly go on a brief tangent about the Build and Paint series. See this?
So this has a Dreadnought, 5 Terminators, and some terrain, in addition to paint and decals. Pricetag? $40 on Amazon. On GW’s webstore, the Terminators would be $50 and the Dreadnought would be $46; that’s a huge price savings, and while it’s likely due to stiffer poses and less bitz as the models are from previous starter sets and just being repackaged, the push for cheaper entry-level items is a brilliant masterstroke imo.
One huge example for this is the Battle for Vedros starter set, which comes out to $50, a very-easily-in-impulse-buy-range $25 per player if you split the cost with a buddy. It looks like it’s a reboxing of the Assault On Black Reach, with around half of the non-singular models or so per side, but that pricepoint is imo exactly where they want to be to draw in interested players.
In the Other Corner Of The Ring
So, as you may have known if you’ve visited my blog before, I’m kind of very interested in Mantic Games and their line of products, and so it is worth discussing how I think their large-scale sci-fi wargame offering will fare against 8e.
In a word? Poorly. For three different reasons:
The Rules: Right now, Warpath is imo not a strong enough contender to recapture the folks lost from the transition to WH40K 8e, and the number of folks lost I think will be exponentially smaller than those lost going from Warhammer Fantasy to Age of Sigmar. The Fantasy to AoS transition melded well with the just-in-time update of Kings of War to its Second Edition, and that game system is rock solid. The players looking to find the regimental wargame they’d lost were satisfied, and all was right in the world. Age of Sigmar is booming in popularity thanks to the General’s Handbook and a series of good marketing and game design decisions in general, but that lost segment of players who wanted square-based regimental battles is probably lost forever, split between Mantic and 9th Age (the latter of which enjoyed a burst of popularity, but seems to have quieted down since).
However, I do not believe the loss of players from Warhammer 40K will be anywhere near as large. It will be nonzero, to be sure, but the rule change will be exponentially less jarring. In addition, Warpath simply isn’t ready yet: the game still suffers from workable-but-unintuitive Nerve/Resilience rules, tacked-on and imbalanced Commands, and utterly useless and randumb Secondary Objectives. It works for casual play, but is in complete shambles when it comes to tournament readiness; if you recall from the criticism of Age of Sigmar, this was one huge strike against it as the lack of point values meant tournament play and balance was near impossible.
Overall, while Warpath has oodles of potential, I think the advantages it once enjoyed by being a possible alternative to 40K that had free rules and faster gameplay are about to evaporate. That means it will have to stand on its own merits, and while I believe it has many, they will likely be insufficient to create a stream of disgruntled 40K players migrating to their system.
The Cost: Right now, Warpath stuff is relying heavily off of their Kickstarter, which heavily focused on plastic kits versus resin/PVC sets. I think this was a really good idea, as right now it means their units are about half the cost of similar Games Workshop models. However, historically their non-plastic prices have been significantly higher, roughly the same cost as Games Workshop sets, and their quality is generally below that of a GW sculpt. These factors combine to mean that unless they continue to offer significant price savings, their models may well not be the first choice for someone looking to purchase new models. I think they can maintain these low prices if they stick to plastic kits, but the higher tooling cost will mean a slower model release schedule and/or more reliance on Kickstarter to fund plastic sprues.
In addition, the new not-Dwarves for Age of Sigmar look fantastic, and imo can really give Mantic’s Forgefather s a run for their money. It will be interesting to see if we start to see any crossover between the ranges as players kitbash the two flavors of Space Dwarves.
The Fluff: Mantic has a problem with providing stories to fit their universes, and have a notable tendency to leave gaping holes in their backstory rather than just dive in and fill the gaps. On the one hand, I understand wanting to avoid painting yourself into a corner by removing the ability to narratively do a thing you wanted to do, or promising a unit that never ends up getting made, but honestly?
Just go for it.
Right now, in preserving the Warhammer 40K lore, GW has maintained one of the most well-developed sci-fi settings out there, and possibly one of the best-fleshed-out fictional settings overall alongside titans like Star Wars and Star Trek. They have dozens and dozens of books, thousands of pages of art and models, and a strong tendency to never use a paragraph of lore when a page of lore could be crammed in to fit. At this point, Mantic’s lack of fluff and vocalized reluctance to develop said fluff has driven away interest and created a cornerstone of support for Ironwatch Magazine as a story source for fluff-hungry fans. While I like tooting my own horn as much as the next person, I’d much, much prefer to be filling in the blanks of Mantic’s stories rather than having to craft them from whole cloth.
I feel that while filling that fluff deficit won’t help boost popularity enough to draw away any more converts from 40K than Mantic was already going to get, it certainly won’t hurt, and would be to their long-term benefit to develop those stories now, so that they can be fleshed out and expanded over time.
Overall, I am very, very excited for Warhammer 40K, 8th Edition. I suspect their popularity and especially that of 40K will go from “strong” to “outstanding,” if the reception to Age of Sigmar releases versus those of Warhammer Fantasy is anything to go by. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of prodding and changes it will elicit in competitors like Mantic, and whether that helps encourage them to pursue practices I’m hoping for (like continuing to release plastic-only kits and kicking their storywriting into high gear).
So what are your thoughts on the upcoming release of 8th Edition? Let me know in the comments and reblogs below. Cheers!