Tuesday, July 3, 2012

40k 6th Edition's Wall of Text (Oh, and a Review)

Finally, the long-awaited opinion piece on Warhammer 40,000. I know you all sit with baited breath, hoping that the critiques I sling like shuriken out of a catapult match yours if only because the enjoyment of our glorious pastime is made all the sweeter knowing that a rad dude such as myself can finally put word to that which you've known all along.

However, I realize that not everyone has the luxury of time that I have, so to keep it short and concise, I'm going to tell you (once again, I believe) that I enjoyed the game I played of 6th edition, and from reading the rulebook, it looks like it's going to be a good edition to play games in. This is coming from a gamer, whose last favorite edition was 2nd, and has played the other editions of 40k simply to stay in vogue.* To keep this article organized, I'm going to tell you what I liked, and what I didn't, then I'll go into some detail about the changes, and the book, itself, so that if you're on the fence you can at least begin to judge for yourself whether this edition is for you, or you're going to pass.

What Carmin Liked:
As I said in a previous post, I miss the theme and character that once seeped out of the walls of this game. 3rd edition did a lot to clean up the game and make larger games run smoother, but what it lacked was the character that made 40k so enviable. Granted, the success of 40k means that it'll always be somewhat enviable. 2nd edition 40k had its copycats, and so did 3rd edition. This edition has tried to keep the flow of the post-2nd edition ruleset, while injecting some of the character from previous editions. This seems to be the track on which Games Workshop is running their train. While Warhammer has never really had as big a jump from one ruleset to another the way 40k has, 8th edition still is a newer ruleset with older bits tossed in. This placates me.

So what is this character I talk about? Let's start with characters: Characters are defined as anything from a sergeant or exarch all the way up to Mephiston. They have a few special rules which make them more than just dudes with higher numbers on their profile. Now they can declare challenges against one another (and intercept challenges from enemies), they can target specific models out of an enemy unit in the shooting phase or during an assault if they're particularly skilled, and they can cast psychic powers if they're so gifted.

Ah, psychic powers, how I've missed you. I loved the psychic phase from 2nd edition, and while it's not back in 6th, psychic powers have been designed to fit into the ruleset as is, rather than jammed in there awkwardly. I have to hand it to the GW design team on this one. When I first heard that there wasn't to be a psychic phase in the game, I was a little disappointed, but after having read the rules for psychic powers, I'm more appreciative of the person or people responsible for this iteration. Your psykers can cast powers just like they have since 3rd edition, which is during their normal activation, except that now certain powers can only be cast during specific phases during the model's activation. Blessings and Maledictions can only be cast at the beginning of the Movement Phase while Witchfire spells can only be cast during the shooting phase, etc.

The coolest part of this change is the way psychic powers are chosen and cast. You choose them the same way one would choose magic spells in Warhammer: roll on a chart, or draw a card (if you have the cards). You can substitute one power for the signature power (I forget if that's the name for the type of power, or if I'm just stealing that from Warhammer's spell lists. I don't have an open rulebook in front of me) which is separate from the other 6 powers of that discipline. You get one power for each Mastery Level you possess. Most psykers only have Mastery 1, but certain other ones have higher Masteries. These Mastery Levels also dictate how many "psychic points" (again, unsure if this is the terminology) you get per turn which can be used to cast powers. Most powers have a Mastery of 1, while others have 2. I don't think any have 3 or higher, but I wouldn't rule these out for future supplements (Ooo! Can you imagine how cool a Storm of Magic-type supplement for 40k would be?). After you've spent the points to cast a power, you make a psychic test based on your Leadership. On a double 1, or a double 6 you attract the ire of warp daemons and you lose a wound instantly with no saves of any kind. If you rolled a double 1, though, it still goes off. The only thing your opponent can do is to "deny the witch" with a single d6 in order to nullify any power directed at her troops. If the targeted player rolls a 6, then the power is nullified.

Characters also get rolls on what's called Warlord Charts. There are three: Strategic, Personal, and Command. You roll on these charts and they give your general a little something extra to use in the game, and can be a great way to lend a narrative to your games. 

Adding to the character of the game are a few little things such as removing models from the front of a unit/squad, making it so that if one model in a unit moves, the other models don't necessarily count as moving like in previous editions (now a model doesn't count as moving unless it actually moves, regardless what its buddies do), and adding the Overwatch and Snap Fire rules.

Now the "Overwatch" rule is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike 2nd edition, you're not really waiting for an enemy to do something, necessarily, it's more of a reaction to take down a charging enemy. If an enemy moves into assault with you, each member of a squad that doesn't use a blast or template (flamers still can overwatch, though) can make a roll to hit on a 6, regardless of the firer's Ballistic Skill (BS). They then roll to wound and save as normal. These shots don't cause panic or morale, or count towards the combat results, but they do even the playing field somewhat. Snap Fire doesn't necessarily make the game more characterful, so I'll talk about it in a different section.

Image courtesy of the Total Wargamer Blog

The change to vehicles is a much-welcome one in my games. Now vehicles are easier to take out because they effectively have wounds just like in the pre-Vehicle Manual Rogue Trader game. Glancing Hits just take off a hull point, while Penetrating Hits take off a hull point and give you a roll on the vehicle damage chart (which is more like the 3rd edition vehicle damage chart). Most vehicles have 3 hull points, but smaller ones like Land Speeders have 2, while larger ones like Monoliths have 4. This makes vehicles less hard to kill, which was well-demonstrated in my game where I took out a Rhino on turn 1 with my Wave Serpent (something I couldn't have done with any ease in 5th edition).

Finally, the terrain rules are very similar to Warhammer's wacky terrain rules, which I can't get enough of. A lot of gamers have expressed a dislike to these rules, and, though it may be cruel of me to say, that makes me like them even more. They just go to enforce that miniatures gaming isn't chess, and (in my opinion) shouldn't be. Even the best-laid plans can fall victim to the alien worlds we fight on. In my game there were a bunch of forests on the table, each one did something different, such as provide +1 to the cover save, or try and suck out the brain of my Striking Scorpion with the hopes of him killing off the other members of the squad in his brainwashed death throes. Even the objectives you need to capture aren't a sure bet. They can do anything from provide you with a shield generator, to explode on you!

Overall, the game is more thematic. There are even text boxes on certain pages labelled: "Forging a Narrative," which give you meta-gaming ways to add back story to your games.

What Carmin Didn't Like:
I think everything I wanted to change but didn't was expressed in a previous post, so I'll try and be succinct here. I would've liked the army composition chart gone. If you want to hear why, you can read this post. However, a friend told me his opinion, which is that the Force Organization chart actually keeps some armies in check, such as Orks, and Imperial Guard who can buy Fast Attack and Heavy Support choices inexpensively (relatively). Allowing the Orks only three choices for Fast Attack, for instance, forces them to choose what to bring, rather than just being somewhat of a smorgasbord.

I would also have liked to see movement rates brought back. I don't think it's so hard to have Eldar move 5 and Space Marines move 4 again. I don't necessarily think the current system is stupid, it's just that I like movement values better.

Rules Changes:
I've already gone over some of the rules changes in the preceding novel-sized write-up, but I'll summarize some other rules that are new.

Snap Fire is a catch-all word for situations where you can't fire with any great accuracy, and thus are relegated to hitting on a 6 (regardless of the firer's BS). Situations where this could arise, would be firing on Overwatch (as I described earlier), and if you have a heavy weapon that moved. That's right, heavy weapons can move and fire, provided it doesn't use a blast or flame template.

Wound allocation is also a big change, and one that was confusing to read. It's definitely something that you need to try out on the battlefield in the heat of the moment. Reading them, I was simultaneously confused, and skeptical about them. Yet they work. Give 'em a try.

Allies are back! There are three stages of ally: Battle Brother (where they're as good as your main army's units except they can't enter each others transports); Allies of Convenience (they act as separate armies fighting the same enemy); and Desperate Allies (they get no benefit from each other and need to roll animosity if they're within 6" of each other). Allies also have their own force organization chart that's separate from the main army's one. The ally's chart makes an HQ and a Troop squad compulsory, but beyond that will let you take 1 Elite, 1 Fast Attack, 1 Heavy Support, and 1 additional Troop.

There are also a myriad of other rules changes that are smaller than the ones I've mentioned (and thus I can't recall them right now). They are also legion! More rules have changed in this edition than since the 2nd/3rd switch. Some of note: Vehicles ramming, Tank Shock's less powerful, Jump Pack units get impact hits, no more kill points in missions (thank the Emperor!), more missions (thank the Emperor!), and flyer rules (that I have not read yet, but the general consensus is that they're good).

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the following have returned to the 41st Millennium:
Zoats, Slann, Imperial Beastmen, and Squats.

That's right... Squats... And they're not called Demiurg, they're called Squats.

You won't see any pictures of them, but they're there in the Appendix under Abhumans. YES!

What Else is in the Book?
If you're wondering if $90CDN is worth it for the book, I can only say that it's really up to you. Like a lot of Games Workshop's stuff the value has to be discerned by the hobbyist. I found it worth it to get the rules now and play now, but it could easily have been not worth it. It's full-color, and hard-backed with a bookmark ribbon. Like GW's other products it is high-quality, but when compared to a book like Paizo's Pathfinder Core Rules ($54.99CDN) or Fantasy Flight Games' Black Crusade RPG Rulebook ($64.99CDN), or even Flames of War's Rulebook ($62.99CDN) it's expensive. It's got itself ~440 pages, but so do these other books.

You won't see me join the "GW is a rip-off" bandwagon, because I'm an adult, and can learn to manage my hobbies like a responsible grown up, but be prepared to hear a lot of that, because many gamers aren't as mature as I am.

After the rules, you are given a very comprehensive background section (which I've yet to read, but it looks like it goes into some great detail), complete with pull out panorama paintings. There's a miniatures gallery, and a hobby section that's very basic (but remember, this is a rulebook). There's a "Gaming" section that gives you some alternate, narrative, missions to play (think historical re-fights), as well as advice on campaign and tournament gaming. Finally there's an appendix which goes into some esoteric knowledge of the 41st Millennium such as how to field dress a lasgun wound, and the aforementioned info on abhumans.

Anyway, I hope this was of some help. If you've still got some questions but don't have the book, or anywhere to ask them without flame wars, please post in the comments below, and I'll try and answer them. I'm one chapter away from finishing the rules, and then I'm going to tackle the other sections of the book (even though I've read the background to the universe more than one should over the course of 16 years).


*I'm being somewhat glib. I don't want it to seem like I didn't enjoy my sojourns into this universe. I've had some immensely good times with 40k from 3rd edition to 4th edition, and bonded with many a friend over 25mm round bases during that time. But all along my heart did belong to 2nd edition despite it's crummy close combat rules and skewed method of choosing wargear. I definitely need to play more than just one game of 6th edition, but already it looks like I might finally be able to make peace with the way 40k is and is going to be (only 14 years later, huh?).


cmg88 said...

Ah, 2nd edition! I've never truly forgiven GW for the jump to 3rd. I do miss that old clunky monkey, but I guess we can't continue to live in the past.

I got my start in the 40k universe with Space Hulk when it very first came out, which was in the Rogue Trader era if I remember correctly. From there it was a natural leap to 40k a couple of years later.

6th does kind of harken back to those glory days a bit, so it's not so bad.

Shawn Ratkovich said...

I started my 40k run at the beginning of 2nd ed and quit just after 3rd. Then I lost all my minis and had to start over. I've only just recently been building up my force (which is going quite well) and have yet to have a game of 6th. Anyways, as I'm keeping track of what units I have to work with, I've seen the huge flaw in the force chart as you've mentioned. for example, I've got 2 x 10 man assault squads, a bike squad and a land speeder, yet no matter how many points a game is, I will never be able to use them all at once whether it be a 1,000pt game or 100,000pt game because the force org chart only allows up to 3 fast attack units no more. % works so much better.

Carmin Carotenuto said...

Though keep in mind, you can take a new Force Organization chart after 1999 points, even if the original detachment isn't full yet. You'd have to fill in the requisite HQ and 2 Troops in the new detachment, but it would also allow you to take another allied detachment.

Shawn Ratkovich said...

Thanks for the info, I'm not all caught up on 6th ed rules yet, but it's still a PITA messing around with charts like that (as I was just re-organizing my current total force)