The new edition of Warhammer 40,000 has been in stores for a couple of days now, and I feel much more comfortable giving my thoughts about it now than after the first read-through. It’s one thing to read the rules and figure how you think the game will be different. It’s another entirely to experience it. In the past couple days, I played a pair of games with Eldar using a Battle-Forged list with a handful of psykers, and a pair of games with Space Marines using an Unbound army of Terminators.
The Minor Changes
Before I get into the major stuff, I want to point out that there are a LOT of “minor” changes you’ll want to keep an eye out for in the new rulebook. This can range from characters no longer having Snap Shot, to tanks being WS1 even if they don’t move (and only being reduced to WS0 if immobilized). One of the “minor” changes is that a unit that destroys a transport is now able to assault the unit that had been inside the transport (assuming they would normally be able to charge that turn). That can be a pretty big deal against armies that lean heavily on transports. Night Fighting also got a serious shift by being changed to simply giving everyone Stealth, no range limitations or measuring involved. The change in charging through difficult terrain to a flat -2 modifier makes it easier to judge charges, as you can measure the range and add two inches to get your “real” target distance.
New Vehicle Chart
The new vehicle chart certainly lends more long-term survivability to vehicles. When you’re smacking into Rhinos with krak missiles and can’t blow them up, or have to temper your rejoicing when you roll a 5 with a lascannon or a 4 with a multimelta, it’s a real change from the past. Having a full 1/2 chance now of only getting Crew Shaken with a hull point knocked off can also be major in the long run, as it leaves valuable transports capable of continuing to move. But it does make extra armor a little less necessary.
The Psychic Phase
Now for one of the big changes: The new psychic phase! With the Eldar I got a real chance to try this out; with the Terminators I had a single Mastery Level 2 Librarian (and forgot the psychic phase twice in my second game with him).
In a nutshell, the Psychic Phase rules toned down psychic powers a lot. While some of them might seem more potent, at least in the core disciplines, you can’t get off nearly the number of spells you could before. My Eldar build (Farseer, Spiritseer, four Warlocks) would have been able to get off around eight powers a turn, no problem (one or two less depending on what powers the Farseer had). Now, I can maybe get three powers, four if I’m very lucky. You’re forced to pick and choose which powers you want to try to cast and make real decisions. It’s unlikely to see an Eldar army running around with Conceal everywhere any more. So if you really want your squad to be invisible (now being a nastier form that only lets enemy units fire Snap Shots at the unit and roll 6’s to hit in assault), you might have to skip out on casting another buff. Trying to get combinations of powers to work together (i.e. one of my favorites, Runes of Battle’s Horrify and Telepathy’s Psychic Scream) is a lot harder, and the aforementioned combo will chew up about five dice if you want to give yourself a good chance of getting the power off.
Strings of bad luck can also shut down your psychic phase. In my second game with the Eldar (allied with Space Marines against Tyranids and Chaos for fun), the Tyranid player had three spells end up not going off in one turn because of no rolls of 4+. He had a nova power to drop in the middle of my army with a flying Hive Tyrant, right beside my Seer Council, and put a number of dice into making sure he got it. As I hadn’t used any dice that phase, I was able to throw all twelve dice I had into nullifying the power, which I succeeded on with seven successes. It was very odd to see the Eldar and Tyranids struggling to get much out of psychic powers.
Meanwhile, the scrappy Terminator Librarian got a handy power that forced a unit’s weapons to Get Hot, and had some laughs with that one, and in his second game he actually managed to get off a couple of powers that killed four Inquisitorial henchmen.
Psychic powers will be handy, but you can’t lean on them at all, and you’ll need to be very careful to “pick your battles” in the phase, especially if you want to get off a combination of powers.
I’m going to say this as mildly as I can: Tactical Objectives are freaking awesome. The missions accompanying them also make them more fun.
Three of the four games I played (all but the 2v2) used the new Maelstrom of War missions; two of them were Tactical Escalation, one of them was Cleanse and Control. Cleanse and Control is pretty straightforward as you get a total of three active Tactical Objectives every turn (if you’ve completed some, draw new ones in your next turn to get back up to three). Tactical Escalation gives you a number of Tactical Objectives equal to the turn number, so as the game goes on, you get more objectives to achieve. (Deadlock is the polar opposite of Tactical Escalation; you start with six Tactical Objectives and the maximum you can have active is reduced by one each turn, forcing you to discard extras if you haven’t completed enough, representing lost tactical opportunities as the battle stretches on.) Only one mission has you keep your objectives secret from your opponent (Cloak and Shadows), otherwise your opponent is always aware of your objectives (and vice versa).
The Tactical Objectives made battles slightly chaotic at times, as you’d find yourself having to shift the focus of your army to another part of the table at any given time. You’d also sometimes consider whether making a sacrifice was worth the extra Victory Point(s). For example, should I shoot more into one unit to destroy it to earn a point for Overwhelming Firepower? Should I kill that transport that’s easy to pop, while risking a charge from its dangerous cargo in the following turn? Should I forego shooting with my Land Speeder and move Flat Out to get into my opponent’s deployment zone for Behind Enemy Lines, especially if he has the ability to destroy the Land Speeder in his next turn? All of these choices are important as the battle rages on, and it can get especially tense if both sides have to grab the same objective to score.
This kind of chaotic battle isn’t enough for everyone, and it can be hard to adapt to ever-changing objectives as the game goes on. If you can handle it, though, I highly recommend it.
Unbound Armies vs. Battle-Forged
I know the Internet is abuzz with how to break the game with Unbound armies. And that’s a sad thing to see, because you can do some seriously fun things with Unbound. I wanted to test out Unbound, and use some of my Space Marine models I don’t get to use much. I have a trio of characters in Terminator armor (Chapter Master, Librarian, Chaplain), so I built a 2000 point list with the three of them, plus five Terminators with a Cyclone in a Land Raider, five Terminators with an Assault Cannon in Reserve (Teleport Homer on the Chapter Master), six Assault Terminators (two with thunder hammer) in a Land Raider Crusader, a Dreadnought with lascannon and power fist, and a Dreadnought with lascannon and missile launcher. This is a “First Company Army,” representing the elite of the chapter going to war. I have to seriously thank my opponents for being willing to go along with testing an Unbound game against their Battle-forged armies.
The Objective Secured rule for Battle-Forged Troops choices was pretty important at times. Against an Astra Militarum army, I couldn’t claim an objective with a squad until I killed off a platoon command squad standing close to it. My second opponent purposely maneuvered Troops choices to contend or hold objectives, forcing me to deal with them to gain or even at times regain control of an objective. When his Valkyrie was harassing my army, I lucked upon a Mysterious Objective with Skyfire… but it only applies to a unit holding the objective (which can get ugly when you realize a Land Raider Crusader can hold an objective). My opponent moved up a squad of Battle Sisters to claim the objective and deny me that ability until I took them out. It’s a nice equalizer, used smartly.
An Unbound army that isn’t done just to be game-breaking and nasty can add an interesting challenge to the game, or just let someone use a combination of troops they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, at least not without getting cheeky with the rules. I could have left out one character (i.e. the Librarian) for a pair of Scout Squads and swapped out the Dreadnoughts for Predators, keeping my army relatively the same in terms of effectiveness (perhaps more so as you can’t “nullify” sniper rifles, and Predators are more survivable) while becoming a Battle-Forged army (2 HQ, 3 Elites, 2 Troops, 2 Heavy Support). An all-bike army would similarly be an Unbound list that wouldn’t be terribly nasty to play against.
Unbound armies can allow for some interesting thematic battles. For example, one player mentioned the idea of a trio of Deathstrikes being protected by heavy weapon squads, with the opposing army representing a force that broke through the front lines to attack the Deathstrikes in the rear. Such an army would obviously have to be Unbound. A perfect mission of choice for such a game would be Big Guns Never Tire, setting up objectives closer to and/or in the defender’s deployment zone, so that while the attacker would be running up VP for every unit they destroy (given than the defender would be entirely, or at least almost entirely, Heavy Support units), they’ll still need to push forward and grab the position in order to solidify their objective.
While 7th edition still hasn’t fixed the issues with assaults being simply not worth the time, I’d have to say that I still recommend it. And picking up a set of the Tactical Objective cards, if you can.
The new psychic phase makes psychic powers less “automatic” and more of an actual tactical decision in playing the game. Minor changes across the board add some new quirks to the game, such as making light vehicles more survivable (especially useful with Transports). Tactical Objectives add a whole new level to the game, and make for some interesting games of armies chasing each other all around the board trying to achieve multiple goals in an ever-shifting battle.
There is certainly room for breaking things, and I wish there was a bit more of some effort put into preventing those, but ultimately most games should be fine. Unbound as a means to build a power list is an awful thing; Unbound as a way to put together an army with a story is a good thing. At the end of the day, it’s really on the players – or event organizers – to make sure that their games are as enjoyable as possible.