Monday, June 12, 2017

REVIEW: The New Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook

I was lucky enough to get a review copy of the Dark Imperium boxset, which comes with the same full, hardcover rulebook for 40k that you can buy separately. Not only have the rules been radically revised, but the background of the setting is moving forward in a big way for the first time in over a decade. So, let's crack it open and take a look inside!

To make this review a little bit easier to read, I am going to break it down into three separate sections, Overall Appearance/Layout, Background Lore, and Rules.

Overall Appearance/Layout

Games Workshop have been slowly refining the look and layout of their books for years now, pushing it a bit further with each release, and with the new 40k rulebook they definitely achieved a solid, attractive, and easily navigable look. The cover art reminds me a lot of the cover of 4th edition 40k, which probably had my favorite cover until now. We have a suitably sci-fi looking hammer on a baroque background featuring the double-headed eagle of the Imperium. Noble on one side, and slowly rotting away on the other. Wrapped around the hammer is the double-headed eagle yet again, this time fighting off a serpent, a classic image we have seen a lot in the Heresy. This nails down a lot of the feel of 40k and the Imperium while also reinforcing the classic hammer motif. It is called Warhammer after all. I like that the hammer's design subtly mimics Ghal Maraz's too.

All of the pages are laid out in a way that's easy to read yet still is interesting to the eye. The background image on each page varies slightly, some black with white text, but most with a heavily textured background that doesn't distract, but conveys the grime and oppressiveness of the 41st millennium well enough. Everything is very slick and I can't find anything about it I didn't like. I'm glad they moved back to this more baroque look to things over the austere white of 7th edition. All of the artwork is awesome, with some classics reprinted and a bunch of new stuff in there as well. There are little quotes of text from either Space Marines or Chaos Space Marines scattered throughout that have a small black and white profile of the speaker. I really liked these, mostly for the drawings, since they had such a striking style. They almost look like a quickly snapped photograph in poor lighting, like from a video recording or something. Each page also has a Thought for the Day at the bottom of it, which for those of you who don't know, is a little saying like "A mind without purpose will wander in dark places." Most people while probably glaze right over these, but they are a nice addition nonetheless and a staple of 40k.

The whole thing is all in color, with quality paper for the pages, and of course, hardcover. A nice addition I used frequently while reading it is a black ribbon attached to the spine that you can use to mark your page. Overall they did a really nice job with the book from a design stand point.

Background Lore

Just like with every Warhammer 40,000 rulebook we have had to date, there is a rather lengthy section detailing all of the background lore and history of the setting. If you're familiar with 40k a lot of this will be known to you already, but I highly recommend that you don't skip everything. Since the timeline and story has advanced post Gathering Storm there are little bits of new information scattered throughout. While there are a few sections that only deal with the new information, all of the older stuff has some new information scattered throughout.

I won't take up a bunch of space here talking about the 40k setting as it has been established for the past 30 years, but suffice to say, it's suitably dark, grim, and awesome and I definitely think you should read up on it. Everything is covered here, so someone brand new to the universe can find themselves up to speed on all of the basics pretty quickly. For returning fans it's a nice recap and it's all written very well and presented beautifully.

The thing everyone is interested in though is what has happened since the Gathering Storm. Well, the answer is a lot! Guilliman has returned and retaken his role as Lord Commander of the Imperium. With the help of Belesarius Cawl, Guilliman has created a new generation of Space Marines, the Primaris Marines. Stronger, taller, and better equipped, they are a definite improvement on their predecessors. Before Roboute was placed into stasis 9,000 years ago he tasked Cawl with creating a new Space Marine, improving on his father's work. With that much time to work on the project Cawl has delivered and also invented tons of new tech to go along with it, like the Mark X power armor. Resupplying the most battered of Chapters with contingents of Primaris Marines and creating entirely new chapters of nothing but Primaris Marines, Guilliman has prepared the Imperium for the gravest threat they have faced since the Horus Heresy, the Great Rift.

After the fall of Cadia, the Warp has torn the galaxy in twain. Where previously the major Warp storms were contained within the Maelstrom and the Eye of Terror, now a gigantic cleft in the fabric of space and time runs the length of the Imperium. When this new Warp anomaly was born it threw the entire Imperium into darkness. The Astronomican was all but blotted out, leaving all of the different worlds of man isolated from each other. No where was safe anymore. The world of Armageddon was assaulted by a huge contingent of Khorne demons, intent on claiming the planet as a new demon world. The fighting got so intense that occasionally the Ork and human forces even had to team up with each other to repel the demons. Though a sense of equilibrium has now returned to the Hive World, half of the planet is essentially a demon world controlled by Khorne. Even Terra wasn't safe at it too was assaulted by a large demon army. Throwing themselves at the walls of the Imperial Palace, the demonic assault was only thwarted by the combined efforts of Guilliman and the Custodes Guard. Truly there is no longer a front line in the wars of the 41st millennium. No where is safe anymore.

As the power of the new warp storms started to lessen a little bit, the Astronomican flickered back into life for half of the galaxy, the part on the same side of the Great Rift as Terra. Leading the Indomitus Crusade with all of the new Primaris Marines, Guilliman set out to push back the forces of Chaos where he could, and ultimately set a path for his own kingdom of Ultramar. The 500 worlds are now under siege by the Death Guard and other forces of Nurgle, all led by Mortarion, demon primarch of the 14th legion. The other half of the Imperium is still completely cut off from the Astronomican and from pretty much all outside help. There are a few stable routes still, one of them, ironically, being near the Eye of Terror. This means that on the other side of the Great Rift each world must fend for themselves and the stakes are higher than ever. The Blood Angels and their successor chapters have been all but ravaged by the Tyranids, but Guilliman managed to make a pitstop at Baal (somehow, since it's on the other side of the Rift, but who knows) and reinforce them with Primaris Marines. Now we join in on the new conflict as Guilliman prepares to face off against his diseased brother in Ultramar and the rest of the galaxy fights for its very life.

There are a bunch of smaller story hooks in here too, like the Tau who have begun their 5th Sphere Expansion after the 4th Expansion got lost in the birth of the Great Rift. I know some people were worried that the return of Guilliman and the apparent advancing of technology from Cawl would lead to a less grim dark universe as hope is rekindled, but let me reassure you, it is still plenty grim dark. Perhaps even grimmer and darker than before. Yes, Guilliman and the Primaris Marines definitely represent a glimmer of hope for something better for humanity, but in the face of the birth of the Great Rift and the return of the demon Primarchs, it's the equivalent of lighting a match in the darkness of the void. The Imperium faces its greatest test yet, and it is barely hanging on. Heck, half of it may very well be tearing itself apart for all we know since it's completely cut off. Without Guilliman's return, I think the Imperium wouldn't have stood a chance. Trust me, it's grim dark.

I love the idea of the Great Rift and the Imperium Nihlus, the side cut off from the Astronomican. It lends itself to so many interesting ideas and potential future stories. I'm super excited to see where they go from here and I'm hyped to participate in the new story as it moves forward. This is truly the golden age for Games Workshop, and the new 40k is helping blaze that trail right alongside AoS. Besides a general overview of the background, each race also gets several pages of lore, most of it familiar to old fans, but there is also new stuff in there as well, like that tidbit about the Tau. The very last section of the lore deals with the most important warzones in the Imperium such as Armageddon, Cadia, and now Ultramar. I'm very much looking forward to reading the new novel, Dark Imperium, set in the new storyline by Guy Haley to see how certain story hooks are handled. I think one that a lot of people are eager for is to see how the normal Space Marines view the Primaris Marines and whether they accept them in with open arms or are resentful and distrustful. There's just so much room to explore new ideas, and we'll finally move into the 42nd millennium!

The Rules

It's no secret that this is a complete overhaul of the rules for 40k from the ground up. The core ruleset for the game now only takes up eight pages! While that's still double the length of Age of Sigmar's rules, it's a significant reduction from past edition of 40k. For anyone familiar with how AoS plays, the new 40k will seem very similar to you. They definitely borrowed heavily from AoS when they were making it, and it's for the better. It's a little more nuanced then AoS, but for the most part they play very similar to each other.

One of the biggest changes is that every model now has its own Move value. No longer do all of your infantry models move 6". Everything can now move more realistically according to its background. For instance, Plague Marines move one inch slower than normal Marines to reflect their shambling nature, where as Eldar will move much faster. This may take some getting used to for existing 40k players, but once you start playing you'll notice how much better it makes the game. You'll also start memorizing what moves at what speed fairly quickly. Difficult Terrain is gone as well, so no more having to worry about rolling to see how far you go. Some people may think this takes away some of the simulation effect in the game, but the tradeoff you get for increased fun and streamlining of play is definitely worth it.

I'm not going to go over every change here, since Games Workshop has already done a pretty fantastic job of showcasing the rules changes over on the Warhammer Community site, but I will talk about some of my favorite changes that stood out to me. Your Ballistic Skill and Weapon Skill are now fixed values instead of checking a chart. For instance, Space Marines are 3+ for both, which is what they were in the past editions anyway, so they just cut out a step of having to check a chart. There's still a chart to wound, but they have simplified it a ton. Essentially it's if the target's toughness is double your strength you need a 6+, if it's just greater than your strength, then it's a 5+, if it's the same it's a 4+, if the toughness is lower than your strength it's a 3+, and lastly, if you strength is double the toughness it's a 2+. This means everything can hurt everything. This may seem bad at first, but trust me, after playing AoS for two years I can tell you it's a big improvement. They counter this by giving everything more wounds, which is no longer capped at 10. A standard Marine character will have around five wounds, which means even though they can be hurt by more stuff, they can also take more damage.

Vehicles have changed a lot as well, since they now have wounds, toughness, and an armor save just like Monsters. Now everything is hurt the same, making it all more streamlined. Vehicles will generally be pretty tough, with some of the bigger ones having around 20 wounds. The Psychic phase has gone to a simple two dice system now. Want to cast a psychic power, then just roll 2D6 and see if you rolled higher then the warp charge value on the power. If you did, then it's cast! No more dice pools. Want to Deny the Witch? Then do the same thing and just roll higher then the player who made the psychic test. There is still Perils of the Warp, but now it just deals out mortal wounds to you.

Mortal Wounds are another addition that AoS fans will be familiar with. The way damage works now is each weapon will have an AP value and a Damage value. The AP value will be a -2 or some other number, and that's how much you must subtract from your saving throw. Models that have invulnerable saves can use those instead of their normal armor save, and an invulnerable save is never affected by AP. So if a weapon has reduced your armor save to a 6+ but you have a 4+ invulnerable save, you can roll that instead. The Damage value could be 1, 3, D3, D6, or any other number. This is how many wounds it will knock off your model if you fail your save. Unlike in AoS this damage doesn't spill over onto other models. So if you shoot a Damage 3 weapons at a 2 wound model, that extra point of damage juts disappears after the model is killed. This means you'll really want to think before you shoot your D6 Damage lascannon at a unit of 1 wound models, however you can also split your unit's fire now. You can shoot your bolters at the guardsmen, the lascannon at the Leman russ, and your plasma gun at the ogryns. Mortal Wounds on the other hand ignore all saving throws and also spill over onto other models. So, if you do 6 Mortal Wounds to a unit where each model has 2 wounds, then you'll kill 3 models. It really works quite well.

Characters can also no longer join units, but don't worry, if they aren't the closest model to the enemy then they cannot be targeted, except by certain weapons like sniper rifles. The Fight phase works just like the Shooting phase in terms of hitting, wounding, and dealing damage. Charging is still 2D6, but you no longer get an extra attack for charging. The bonus you do get though is that all of your charging units get to attack first. There is no longer initiative, and normally you and your opponent alternate activating units to fight. This is just like in AoS, and I think makes for a much more tactically satisfying game. Charging breaks that rotation though, since all of your charging units fight before any of the enemy units, bar some special rules on certain units.

The Morale Phase is lifted straight from AoS' Battleshock phase. For those unfamiliar with it, you roll a dice for any unit that lost models in the turn. You then add the number you rolled to the number of models you lost, and compare it to your leadership, if it's higher than your leadership then you lose the difference in models. For instance, if you lost 5 models, and roll a 4 for your morale check for a total of 9, and you are only leadership 6, then you lose 3 additional models. This can represent them running or getting dragged down in combat, but either way you just remove the lost models from the game. No more units running away. It really cleans it all up a bit and makes leadership vital. There's a ton more I could go over, like how you can shoot pistols at the unit you are engaged in combat with, and being able to fall back from a combat, but like I said before, you should check out the Warhammer Community site for their great coverage and pick up the rules as well. The last big change I will mention is the unit Dataslate. There are no longer any universal special rules that you'll need to keep checking back on. Instead, every special rule for a unit is on its dataslate or at the start of that army's special rules, like Know No Fear for Space Marines. It makes everything much more compact and means the GW can add special rules for new units and armies when and where they need them.

Besides the Core rules they also include a basic mission that's great for playing right away, and three ways to play the game. This is Open, Narrative, and Matched Play. Open is pretty much just put whatever models you want on the table and have fun. Narrative is what it sounds like, playing a game that's trying to tell a story. This mode of play utilizes Power Levels instead of points. Each unit has a power level, which is kind of a generic points cost for them. So even if you tool them up with specialized gear, they still cost the same power level. It's essentially the way points in AoS work right now. They also give you six missions to play for Narrative Play. These all include an attacker and a defender and generally encourage having slightly unbalanced games to tell the story of an ambush or a heroic last stand. There are a couple of other special rules here for use in the scenarios, like sentries, and such. They finish it off with an example of a historical battle you can re-enact.

The next mode is Matched Play, and is what most 40k players will be familiar with. It uses points like we had before, with every model and weapon option costing points. They give you 12 whole missions here, six Eternal War missions, and six Maelstrom of War missions, the latter of which utilizes Tactical Objectives just like in 7th edition. There are a few other rules for Matched Play like each psychic power may only be attempted once, and all reserves and summoned units must have points set aside for them earlier. With those missions we wrap up the Core Rules, and move onto the Advanced Rules.

The first, and most important Advanced Rule that you will probably use in every Narrative and Matched Play game you play is Battle Forged Armies. This is to encourage you to collect a cohesive force. Every unit now has keywords on its Dataslate, including faction specific keywords like Imperium, or Eldar. A Battle Forged Detachment must consist of units that all share a similar keyword. An army can consist of several detachments, and there are several different detachments to choose from, but all the detachments in your army must at least have one common keyword. This means you can have a detachment of Space Marines and another of Astra Militarum in the same army, since they both have the Imperium keyword. The Patrol Detachment only requires one HQ and one Troops choice for instance, where as the Vanguard Detachment requires one HQ and three Elite choices. This can allow you to build some pretty themed forces. If you want to do all Fast Attack you can do it, or all Lords of War. There's even an all HQ detachment. Having a Battle Forged army also gives you command points. You have three command points base and certain detachments grant you additional command points. You can spend these command points on Stratagems throughout the game, which do different things. Command Re-roll lets you re-roll any one dice and costs one command point. There are three basic Stratagems that every army has access to, and certain scenarios grant you additional ones. GW has also said that Codexes in the future will have army specific Stratagems and Detachments.

In addition, the advanced rules also have a couple of terrain rules like for forests, or craters, above and beyond the basic terrain rule that grants your units +1 to their save. Battlezones are kind of like Time of War rules and provide a few additional rules if you choose to use them in your games. There is one called Night Fight, which has rules for how to play a game that takes place entirely in the dark of night. These seem like an awesome addition to me and I am super excited to see what ones they come out with in the future.

Lastly, they provide brief versions of the Planetstrike, Cities of Death, Stronghold Assault, and Death from the Skies expansions. Along with a page of rules for each, they also each get a unique scenario. While these seem completely playable on their own to me, they imply that these are just teasers in a way, until the re-release the full expansions in the future. The Cities of Death rules seem like a lot of fun to me and will probably be the first one I try out. To finish it all off they have rules for playing multiplayer battles, and campaigns, and then an Appendix with a bunch of extra background information on things like Demons, the High Lord of Terra, and Abhumans.

I took the rules for a spin this past weekend and built a roughly 1,000 point army list with my old Death Guard army taking two units of seven Plague Marines, one with two Plasmas, the other with two Meltas, a unit of 20 Poxwalkers using my old converted Plague Zombies, a Foetid-Bloat Drone using my Blight Drone model, the new Death Guard sorcerer using my old Forge World sorcerer, and Typhus himself. Following the suggestion in the book, we just played on a 4' by 4' table and my friend played with the Primaris Marines from the starter set. Having played AoS for the past two years and my last game of 7th edition I played was also around two years ago, I have to say it played super smoothly. It felt enough like AoS that I knew what I was doing, but still felt distinctly 40k. Having played 40k since I was 10 years old, and having been heavily invested in AoS since it came out, I knew both worlds, and was able to adjust to the new rules easily. They really are about half way between the old 40k rules and the AoS rules.

My Death Guard played the way I felt they should, being heavily resistant to damage, and Typhus completely destroyed all of the Primaris heroes as soon as he got into combat with them. We were just playing the No Mercy Eternal War mission, which is essentially just killing each other, since we wanted an easy mission to start with. I ended up tabling him by around turn four, but we also realized he had forgotten some of his special rules. The Poxwalkers and Bloat Drone didn't do much, but they soaked up a ton of firepower, while the standard bolter, psychic powers, and Typhus' Manreaper did the bulk of the work. It was a ton of fun though, and I'll definitely be getting back into 40k now. It took us about an hour and a half to play a 1,000 point game, which was perfect. We played every phase too, since I made sure to take some psykers. The Death Guard have their own set of three psychic powers, and I love Miasma, which you cast on your own unit and makes all enemy units targeting them -1 to hit. Typhus with that on him was awesome.

This is definitely the best edition of 40k ever and has streamlined the game down to an extremely fun, and fast(er) game to play. In just 281 pages, this rulebook has managed to set the ground for what promises to be an awesome new storyline in the 40k universe as well as delivering the best ruleset yet. It all looks extremely slick too, with tons of great art, and easy to follow diagrams and rules. At only $60 it's definitely a worthy purchase, or just buy Dark Imperium for $160 and get the same exact hardcover rulebook, plus around 2,000 points worth of miniatures. I believe the core rule set will be free online as well, which I'm assuming is just the basic rules, if you want to give it a spin before investing. I promise, you won't be disappointed. Games Workshop has really hit it out of the park this time!

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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