As you’re all probably aware if you’ve read my blog over the last month or so, I am on a real 40k hobby streak right now, getting loads of models from my backlog painted, and playing far more games than I have otherwise played all year! While I am loving the 40k life right now, I’m also starting to think a lot more about it and feeling a bit flummoxed at times by how dense 9th edition has become. I think in pretty much all of my recent games, we’ve been playing very much with the rules as they’re presented in the Codex and Rulebook, but there is a real wealth of other stuff out there to make games truly immersive.
Now, that’s the positive way of looking at things. The other side of the coin, of course, is that there’s just too much going on, and the rules are scattered over so many different books etc, that it’s nigh-on impossible to keep track of everything. The Warhammer Community website issued a “content validity” document in April which showed whether the content of supplemental books such as Psychic Awakening or the War Zone supplements were still to be considered valid for games of 40k, yet one of the more bonkers things about all of this is, while War Zone Charadon is deemed to be current and valid, you can no longer buy these books from Games Workshop. Which is a shame, as the Charadon book has got some truly amazing rules for the Drukhari Wych Cult.
Part of this is possibly due to the way that 40k is being organised into Seasons now. Every six months, we’re getting a change to the rules and a change to the official tournament mission pack. We’ve already had the Nachmund Season come and go, and we’re now in Nephilim, which has seen a fairly major change to the way command points work as well as providing a raft of new secondary objectives. These kinds of things are good, for sure, as changing secondary objectives across the board is a good way to balance the game and prevent some armies from running away with victory while others are struggling to scrabble round for maybe a couple of points per turn. Changing up the core objectives as well keeps things fresh, because a lot of games can feel quite same-y when you’re trying to score linebreaker, or slay the warlord each time. I’m terrible at deciding which to choose regardless, so tend always to fall back on the regulars – so maybe it’s just me!
The War Zone supplements have presented us with a real delight in terms of mission objectives though. There’s a mission in Charadon Book 2 that have impacts on aura abilities, visibility for shooting attacks, and you can force an enemy unit that fails morale to shoot itself. Octarius gave us Shadow Missions, allowing units deployed into reserves to actually do stuff while they are off the table, which is kinda fascinating really. It’s always great to get more options for what you can do in-game, but it does mean there’s another book on the table with yet more rules to keep track of during a game that is already fairly complex thanks to the number of Codex rules you have to keep a track of!
Whenever I read about the rumours of a 10th edition coming up, and they seem to be getting more steady lately, a lot of the comments tend towards the fact there are too many stratagems out there, and a not-insignificant number of them only actually apply to one unit, which almost begs the question of why they aren’t a unit ability on the datasheet. For example, the Canoptek Scarab Swarm self-destruction stratagem is only usable by Canoptek Scarab Swarms, so why is it a stratagem and not a unit ability? The argument, of course, is usually to do with balance, and by forcing you to pay for it, it helps to keep the model on a level.
The number of stratagems available to armies has grown significantly with the supplement books, as well, making things yet more complicated. The arguments for making unit-specific stratagems more like the Command Abilities in Age of Sigmar is quite strong, and keeping the actual number of stratagems down to maybe a half-dozen core stratagems, and a half-dozen army-specific ones. I do like the fact that there are things like Co-ordinated Engagement for Tau, which just specifies two friendly units and one enemy unit; having things that you can use across a number of different units in your army, depending on how the battle is going, is incredibly useful, and I think reflects the actual purpose behind stratagems in general, being moments of tactical planning that are based on the ebb and flow of the battle.
Having four (or more) pages of stratagems in your Codex, as well as the page of core stratagems in the Rulebook, as well as a page of stratagems for certain armies via the supplement expansions, just makes things go a bit crazy really. There are already a lot of things to keep track of, and I’ve lost count of the amount of “aw, I meant to do x” moments I’ve had. I’m not a professional 40k-player, it’s meant to be a fun game, but it does almost demand more dedication than you think, trying to keep so much straight in your head. Having the deck of cards does help, as I have found in recent games by laying the stratagem next to the unit I intend to use it on. However, I do find that there are some of these that I just never use, which is an interesting thought in itself. Are these stratagems, which pair up specific units (like Monoliths and Core infantry, for example) trying to dictate to us how to build an army? Or are they better off left as a special rule on the Monolith datasheet?
If we’re wishlisting for 10th edition, then, I think I would like the number of stratagems to go down, and units to get special abilities back. Command Abilities are something that could help with this balance, if an ability would potentially be too powerful when left as a kind of “always on” thing. I would like to see the number of supplements either slow down, or remain in print long enough to get them and play with them. I think terrain rules are also in need of some sort of overhaul, because they are in danger of becoming a bit too much as well. I’m all for environment and terrain rules, but they need to be much easier to manage during the course of a game. Terrain features with upwards of six keywords can become unwieldy during the game, as they slow things down while you try to remember how they all work.
I suppose a lot of this does boil down somewhat to the fact 40k is currently a weird amalgam of a sandbox-style game, with the design team giving us rules to cover all sorts of things to make games fun, fresh and exciting, but also trying to keep stuff balanced for the tournament folks. I’ve seen a lot of comments around the 10th edition rumours from people who are saying that GW should stop getting tournament meta-chasers to playtest the game, which does make some sense, really. The game is ultimately what you make of it, though, and there is plenty to enjoy about 9th edition, regardless of what this post might make you think I believe! Hopefully when the inevitable 10th edition does roll around, we’ll be able to enjoy it for a long time with no pandemics getting in the way, anyway.