Monday, 14 August 2017

Warhammer 40,000 Core Rulebook - Essential Rules (8th Edition Review)


So, after a very long delay we're back to this. With the lore done, here we are onto the major rules themselves. Now, this is going to be a little different from our usual format for more than a few reasons. For starters, this isn't a codex and it lacks the usual elements we would focus upon one by one such as the units, wargear or individual qualities most of these books would be judged by. In addition to this, what we have here is a framework or general skeleton of a bigger game, which lays down the foundations and leaves it ready for later releases to slowly build upon them. So, what we are looking at is less of how well balanced an army is or how competitive it might be, than the platform they will be using and how it might relate to later books. Specifically how easy it is to read, how cumbersome many of the essential rules are, and ultimately how it manages to overcome the failings of/improve upon the last edition.

So, we'll be breaking this down stage by stage into how well it executes and details the basic phases of the game, and how it alters its basic metagame. 


Phases


Most of the core phases have been kept to more or less the same structure as usual, with the Movement phase, Psychic phase, Shooting phase, Charging phase, Melee phase and finally resolving events with Morale before starting over. Despite a few variations and expansions upon this idea over the years, it's effectively the same general system we have seen since the Third Edition reworked the game from scratch, and arguably even before then. However, there have been a few distinct changes here to each one, particularly the stages and elements you need to go through in order to complete one after the other. 

To break them down one at a time:


- Movement is now vastly more rapidly paced and lacks many of the elements which previously slowed things down. For starters, terrain is no longer an element which slows your troops, but it still remains necessary to use it to create bottlenecks or block line of sight to certain targets. An odd choice to be sure, but combined with the new transport rules, it seems to be angling to limit the dominance of gun orientated armies. A squad can now disembark within "3 of a transport without the requirement for access points before it moves, and then act as standard with movement, shooting charging and all the rest. This means squads have a standard movement of "9 from a transport and a potential charge range of "21.


Furthermore, on a somewhat related note, while they might have previously been treated as mobile bunkers for attack squads in various armies, transports are now a much more hazardous environment to be trapped within. Squads can no longer shoot out of their vehicles and troops as a whole  seem to be encouraged to ditch them to accomplish their main objectives. As an exploding vehicle can now inflict far more wounds on anyone inside it, remaining in there is hardly an option. They're not useless ,and the assault cannon Razorbacks are still a deadly force to be reckoned with, but there's a distinct push to restrict a few of the more armoured ranged play-styles when it comes to armies.


- The Psychic phase is a difficult one to judge as we only have a few basic rules to work with thus far, and a great deal of it is heavily reliant upon the specific spells and stats of each army's psykers. More so than any other phase here, it seems to have been the most streamlined and generally focused compared to some of the more diverse if unwieldy mechanics from past editions.


The risks and general dice rolling is still present here as it still includes Perils of the Warp and requires you fail while unleashing certain spells. However, the difference here stems from how these elements are divided up. You no longer have every single psyker contributing their abilities to a single pool of psychic energy, which cancels out the "batteries" some units effectively turned into in certain forces. You know the sort, the kind which accompanied the Crimson King in Wrath of Magnus, where they seemed to exist to fuel the powers of others. This means that every individual psyker is now wholly reliant upon fueling their own abilities, and rolls 2D6 against the risks of the spell they're facing off against. Sometimes it fails, in others it can get through. Furthermore, Deny the Witch rolls can be made several times per turn, for as many Mastery levels as the target has.


On the whole this is very much a toned down and back to basics approach, closer to what we had a couple of Editions ago with psykers. Many concepts and ideas have been streamlined to the point where you have simple and direct actions and reactions to certain risks, rather than multiple random chance tables or things spiraling out of control. This more direct nature sadly means that things like Perils of the Warp have been boiled down to the psyker taking D3 wounds should he fail it, and it will not bleed over into any nearby forces. With that being said though, you can simply choose which powers you want to take now. Plus without the ability to basically funnel an army's entire psychic potential into a single model, some of the infamously cheesy lists from the Craftworld Eldar or Thousand Sons. As a result of this it seems to be both a step backward and forward, costing us some of the freedom of previous rules while leveling the playing field. 


With this being said however, the basis is set to rebuild the psychic phases from scratch once again, as every army will once again have wholly unique psychic abilities to call upon. So this seems less like scrapping the entire system than pausing to take a look back at just what was problematic in the past, and trying to build a better alternative. Troubling, yes, but it's not wholly bad by any means.


- Shooting is up next, naturally, and this is a notably odd one. As before, streamlining the whole experience has been the big focus of this new edition and that's a point we'll be getting into later on. However, with most of these you can typically see just what helped to influence the basic concepts or serve as a guideline to the new rules. With shooting it's a little more difficult to pin them down, as the concepts are focusing more upon mobility with a few basic limitations.


Armies which rely upon heavy weapons now lack the ability to simply Snap Fire at enemies while racing forwards and instead have a simple -1 modifier to hitting their intended target. This extends to vehicles as well, meaning that you might find it difficult to have a Leman Russ racing forwards and nailing a transport with its lascannon. Interestingly however, this is also counterbalanced by the fact that every single squad in the game now has access to Split Fire. It's no longer limited to a special rule or the realm of the Space Wolves, as you can opt to have every model with a different weapon pick out a separate target. This naturally means that adding on a few anti-tank weapons to your basic infantry units is now infinitely more desirable. You no longer have anyone armed with a rifle ineffectually twiddling their thumbs while the lone man with a rocket launcher tries to hit his target over and over again, and mixed Devastator squads now have a major advantage.


However, shooting does not rain supreme in this Edition as there are a few distinct limitations and problems. For starters, units with rifles cannot fire when an enemy model is 1" away from them or even closer. Something which is admittedly not much of a limitation, but it can allow certain high speed armies to disrupt enemy formations and movement with a little careful planning (plus the new Assault rules we'll be getting to next). More importantly though, this new rule offers far more benefits to squads wielding pistols. They lack this limitation in any way and, combined with the new rule stating that all models can fire all of their weapons in a turn, it makes it easier to soften up a target while closing into melee range. 


With that said however, weapons with the Assault rule also take a -1 modifier when targeting an enemy unit. Something which will severely cause problems for units such as Eldar Guardians, Tau Fire Warriors (well some of them anyway) and some Sternguard units after their initial drop. While it does serve to make flamers and template weapons a much more reliable option when engaging at close range, this sort of sweeping change seems to do as much bad as good. While it can certainly push things back towards favouring melee and close range assault forces without damaging gunlines, it limits the choices many armies require to compete against their rivals.


Now, none of this is to say that gunlines themselves have emerged unharmed from this, as there are a few distinct changes which will seriously hurt the likes of the Astra Militarum Imperial Guard. The major one which has turned a lot of heads are a few of the alterations to how cover saves work, which has reduced them from substitute cover saves to limited bonuses. Say you have a squad of Tactical Marines hiding in a bombed out building, specifically behind a few ruined walls. Well, rather than being the sort of chest high walls which Gears of War devs seem to think is utterly bullet proof, they instead only offer a modicum of protection, often only +1 at the most. This does help basic troopers to a degree, but it means that their troops lack much of the added protection they could previously take for granted. A problem which has only been enhanced by the fact more weapons can now completely ignore cover thanks to the sheer power behind them.


What you might find interesting, however, is how the changes to cover benefit much heavier troopers far more than low save cannon fodder. The likes of autocannons and heavy bolters can now rapidly cut through most expensive squads due to how the AP rules have been altered, specifically in that there aren't any. Instead the whole system is more akin to the Second Edition rules where heavier guns can reduce the save of a target, to the point where the usual invulnerable Terminators will be rolling +4 saves against some heavier guns. As such, bigger mob units which are capable of soaking up more firepower by sheer weight of bodies (or big template weapons) tend to have a much bigger advantage in long range slugging matches. 


While the above point might severely limit how certain armies are played and encourage certain Marine forces to either engage in risky assaults or more defensive moves, you can see the logic behind it. It does push to create an awkward if immediate balance between most armies and, as mentioned in the Psychic section, it's the sort of sweeping change which hinders much of the previously established invincible lists. Unfortunately, with this being said, the fragility aspect seems to have been taken to an extreme with vehicles. While we will go into more detail in the actual Vehicles section below, the new AP rules means that any gun can hurt a vehicle on the roll of a 6+. This has led to a few infamous combinations, either through sheer luck or concentrated fire, where squads armed with basic rifles can blow up Super-Heavy Walkers. As a counter to make them a little more cautious it's not too bad, but it also means that APCs are more vulnerable than ever to being blown up far from enemy lines.

- So, now we get to the Assault phase, which is a very difficult one to judge. It has seen a shift away from one standing rule, that Initiative plays a very important role in deciding the outcome of events. Rather than having the unit with the faster reaction time draw striking first, it's simply instead down to the unit which charges first. It's something lifted from Age of Sigmar to speed things along, and make direct engagements a little faster, while retaining the usual race advantages via special rules. So, the eldar of all breeds often strike first, but it is down to a special rule over Initiative itself.


Once they're charged in, each player takes turns activating and moving in one unit at a time a-la Lord of the Rings, until everything is bunched together or focused upon specific targets. Like before this really is meant to streamline the process but that seems to have ditched a few of the more fun options in combat. You can argue that comparing Initiative and all the special rules associated with it slowed things down, but the game has also lost Challenges for those heroic duels and the advantages which come from units carrying multiple melee weapons. Furthermore, much of the intended scaling between abilities seems to be off. As how easily you hit a target is down to Weapons Skill now, you would think that would be an easy thing to control. Instead, unfortunately, you can end up with situations where one of the single most powerful beings in existence can have the same chance to hit a target as an unnamed captain. This is one of those cases where simpler did not immediately equate better as, while it served to speed up the game, it could have easily been left as it was.


Perhaps the most noted change overall though (and one of the better ones) is how one certain ability once unique to the astartes has been distributed among all the armies here. If you truly want to pull back from a fight, then squads have the ability to move out and walk away from a melee at the start of their turn. While this sacrifices their ability to shoot, advance or charge, it does allow other units to target the enemy forces engaging them in melee. So, for the Tau Empire and Imperial Guard, having daemons in close combat is no longer quite the death knell it once was.


- Finally we have Close Combat as a phase, which has definitely been buffed up from the previous incarnation of this game. The changes here largely boil down to the weapons once again, thanks primarily to the differences in AP and the removal of a few key special rules within the book. For starters, we no longer have Unwieldy to worry about, and both power weapons now use differing AP values from one another. The idea is effectively what you would expect, and in concept it's not too dissimilar to how some of the prior weapons were differentiated from one another.


To give the short version - Power swords have a greater penetration than axes but lack the sheer strength bonuses of other weapons. Power Fists now only have a -1 to hit over their usual disadvantages, and can inflict multiple wounds at twice the user's strength. Unfortunately however, it's only striking at AP-2 so power armour can shrug off certain blows if they're lucky. Mauls meanwhile largely act like swords, but sacrifice some of their AP for Strength. It's a decent balance between the various options if a little strange one given how it alters certain well established weapons rules, but you can see the logic behind how each basic weapon is balanced against the other. Plus, it has to be said, it helps that basic melee weapons such as chainswords just grant one extra attack as standard.


On the whole, this is certainly direct and simplified but it's hardly all that bad. There's not nearly so many pauses or gaps in the game where someone's scrabbling around to double check rules, and it offers what is typically quite a clunky and slow system some much needed speed. There is a great deal of Age of Sigmar present here, and to a lesser degree other smaller games such as Infinity which focus upon implementing rules at the right time and the death toll can be staggering. The much more limited cover system in particular seems to be more in-line with the kind of thinking which brought about that game.


Atop of this, morale has also undergone a few basic changes on the whole. Well, sort of, it's basically gone from the typical series of counters and knocks to drive one another back to Age of Sigmar's Battleshock. You roll 1D6, add together how many models you have lost and compare it to your leadership value. So, while the likes of Khorne Berzerkers can hit hard and shred their way through most squads, there's more of a chance that a swarm of Termigants could turn the tide against them with some lucky rolls. The basic skeletal structure we have here isn't bad at all, and it's certainly an improvement over past options, but combined with the elements missing from the assault phase and it lacks the additional layer of complexity which often made melee combat fun. Still, at least it's viable to run in and start cracking skulls over shooting, so beggars can't be choosers.


Unit Types



Infantry - The treatment of infantry on the whole is a stark contrast to the previous Edition. As you might have guessed from the previous segments, their damage potential has been seriously improved over what we had before. Many are capable of overwhelming their foes through sheer firepower and, given the opportunity, their ability to focus their fire upon multiple targets makes them far more threat than before. While most basic troops cannot hope to stand up to some of the Elites choices or more dedicated specialist forces, unlike before they're not just fodder. Rather than simply being an add-on to take certain objectives or fodder to protect HQ choices and super-heavy units, and the fact that they can also take advantage of certain cover saves which are impossible for vehicles is another bonus.

Ultimately their treatment under the new rules focuses upon offering less downsides and allowing them to chip away at bigger units as needed rather than just being stonewalled. They can certainly still be overwhelmed by a tougher unit or generally overcome by superior firepower, but there's more of a chance that they might go down swinging. With this being said however, some aspects did push this a little too far unfortunately. The statement that squads can bring down Super-Heavy Walkers is certainly something of an exaggeration, as they required hundreds of shots at a time to punch through. The level of attrition required would need several full squads firing away at it for most of the game to truly overwhelm it. At least in most cases.

As you might guess, there are more than a few squads or army types which have a big advantage when it comes to whittling down vehicles. The Craftworld Eldar and Tau Empire are the big ones of course, especially the former of the two. Against a weaker Knight type walker, a hundred or so shots from squads of Dire Avengers can utterly overwhelm it. Something which sounds like a massive amount, until you take into account the likes of Bladestorm and what sort of impact Doom can have on this. Well, if they can do that to a battle hardened machine, you can imagine how quickly they can cut through a metal box like a Rhino or Chimera APC. Most games tested while writing this analysis saw the weaker armoured APCs being shredded by most lists, and quickly cut down if they were ever in the open. While it's certainly true that these were never the most durable of vehicles, comparing one Edition to the next displayed a much higher mortality rate among such vehicles, as they were rapidly cut down by most relatively standard Ultramarines armies outfitted with lascannons and bolters.

The few exceptions where the tanks lasted against infantry was only thanks to effectively spamming the machines and performing a full scale Rhino rush. Even then however, more than half of the squads they carried were often left to leg it towards enemy lines over the course of the last two or so turns before they got within range. Plus, even without this, the fact that vehicles can no longer disengage from melee meant that more than a few could be swarmed or simply roadblocked by the right sort of squads. Unless we see a few major changes in how vehicles are listed, it looks as if infantry will be the dominating force for this latest Edition of the game.

Vehicles/Walkers/Flyers- Carrying on from that last section, you're likely wondering what has changed to make vehicles so susceptible to more attacks. While certain designs and more armoured elements are still very effective in the right list, the big change here stems from how armour values are treated and countered. The entire old system is completely gone, from hull points to standard armour values on every side. In its place we have a more general profile system more akin to monstrous creatures or generally bigger beasts, meaning that they are using the same sort of baseline profile as infantry units. While they thankfully do have reasonably high Toughness value and a multitude of wounds to help offset this, this does unfortunately open it up to the sorts of problems outlined in the previous section. A problem which is taken further when you consider that a vehicle's overall stats will suffer as they take more damage, lowering their Weapons Skill, Strength, Ballistic Skill, and Attacks depending upon the vehicle in question.

Another definite issue stems from how each vehicle handles combat. Tank shock no longer exists, and without it there's no rapid way to simply push through swarms of enemies. Instead they move and charge into combat, something which initially looks like a good idea due to each vehicle's high Strength stat and sheer volume of attacks, until you note the abysmal Weapons Skill most of them are lumbered with. As they act exactly like troops in this regard, it means that it's much more difficult to simply reverse and pull away from combat as older vehicles used to do so. As if this wasn't enough, vehicles have also lost Relentless, so the mobile firepower you're used to relying upon isn't nearly so effective as usual. As a whole, this means that your average Predator or Hammerhead Gunship is going to be much more of a static emplacement than usual, and it will be easier to bring down over time.

However, this isn't all bad. There are more than a few notable benefits to certain armies in this book, especially in some unexpected quarters. For starters, Goliath Rockgrinders from the Genestealer Cults are remarkably effective now, as they're cheap, fast and can hit hard at close range. Khornate vehicles can have a few bonuses thanks to upgrades in their codex, meaning that they can help to break gunline armies if luck is on your side. Plus, and it has to be said, Dreadnoughts have seriously benefited from the new changes. The older walkers which still used armour values had areas which could be more easily exploited by long range guns or well honed tactics to take down a major keystone of most armies. By removing that and upgrading them to Toughness 7, they can wade through most troops and rip through units with four attacks per turn on their basic stats line. The same is true of those which you can find in Codex: Orks and the smaller walkers used to augment most armies. While they can rarely take whole flanks on their own or simply annihilate squad after squad, they're usually enough of a walking battering ramp or force multiplier to turn the tide in most fights. The same can actually be said of Super-Heavy walkers as well, such as Knights, as they're certainly more vulnerable and open to attacks, but they can still take hits. Plus, anything which is armed with a battle cannon and a close combat weapon twice the height of most men is always going to be a danger to almost any army.

As for flyers, well, there's little to really say. They have a few bonuses and advantages over the older generation now in terms of how an army is structured. Rather than competing for a single slot with other units, you can now more freely include them as an addition to your army. Furthermore, some flyers have both a minimum and a maximum movement distance, reflecting how they need to move at supersonic speed. Some can pause to hover such as Valkyries, but this largely has them operating in a similar manner to vehicles at these points.

Verdict



This seems to have been intended as a major shake up as the rules more than anything else, but it is certainly still an effective one. Many have compared a lot of the decisions here to the Second Edition, but the truth is that it's more a few concepts or ideas from that era adapted into a much more rapid and fast flowing structure. The whole system here seems to have been whittled down, breaking free of much of the heavier stats, rules and points which had been seriously dragging out even smaller scale games or limiting the potential for more rapid engagements. As such, it seems to have altered the basic meta to free up things, removed a lot of the special rules which had started to choke out the game, and brought the focus back to the army as a whole.

Previous reviews on here of codices over the years have criticised a few distinct points in particular: The encouragement to only have massive armies, the narrow focus upon HQ choices, and promoting Super-Heavy units at the cost of all others. Often to the detriment of more general front line troops. This new set-up addresses all of that and, while certainly far from perfect, offers a level playing field. It's still relatively complex and engaging enough for older veterans to get used to, while keeping the door open for new blood.

None of this is to say that the new system is perfect by any means. A few points are definitely overly simplistic, weaker vehicles are going to need a lot of love if they are to remain competitive and certain new shooting rules have negatively effected some long standing units. With that said, it's not hard to see how a few tweaks to one unit or another couldn't remedy this while sticking to this core system and balancing out the various forces. It will need a lot of work to be sure, but it's hard not to feel much more optimistic about this new structure compared to the older focus upon bigger mini-Titans.

Still, that's just the core rules and points done. Join us next time when we finish off this book with the missions and a few more special rules.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure where you get the -1 to hit for Assault Weapons from, that's only when models Advance, i.e. add d6 to their movement. Considering models can't normally Advance and shoot at all, that's a powerful bonus, not a detriment. Since all models can charge after firing now anyway, it makes Assault Weapons better as mobile firepower. I think that's a good change.

    Overall I'd say it's a big improvement and a very successful attempt at streamlining. There are a few issues, though, like the confusing way re-rolls and modifiers interact, and how things like plasma overheating are affected by to hit modifiers (stealth fields make overheating more likely, for some reason), but that's nothing that can't be fixed at some point.

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