Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and chat in depth about the 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 with Gorlock the Putreficent, an upstanding member of our gaming community.
Gorlock has been a driving force in writing the fluff for the Pegasus Gulf, and has been with us since inception. He has designed numerous game systems in his free time, usually to the great benefit his regular gaming circle. Notably, he has been a lead designer on the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Roll Playing Game system, which has grown a considerable online following.
Gorlock has graciously agreed to provide us his thoughts on 8th edition, giving us a detailed explanation of his likes and dislikes of the new system. While not as enthusiastic of an adopter of 8th edition as the rest of us, his comments reveal some of the drawbacks of the new system, and some musings on how the system could improve with time.
So without further ado. . .
I like to think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to ye olde game design, its my one niche of expertise I think (appeal to authority intensifies).
I mean its better than 7th but that is a low bar, and even that is contestable, because its sort of a baby-out-with-the-bathwater deal. Basically, my beef is that the problems with 7th edition did not come from the core rules; the problems with 7th edition came from the army rules. In my opinion, 8th edition just wiped out everything and went too far.
For me it’s a shame, because the lore is good and the 7th edition core rules were good for the most part. I feel as though they pulled an Age of Sigmar (“AoS”) and hoped no one would notice. AoS suffers from repetitive games, which can become dreadfully boring as the matchups are predictable and the tactics always the same. It mostly suffers from overly simplistic mechanics, some of which were ported into 8th edition, such as battleshock.
I personally think the battleshock is a lazy mechanic, and I was praying that they weren’t going to port it over from AoS. But they did.
Part of the problem with battleshock, and perhaps the biggest thing I’ve noticed overall, is there are zero ways to exert the same level of map control, suppression, or anything like that. The game can quickly just turn into “roll to kill thing”, which is a bland approach to game design.
Now that being said, I do have good things to say about the new edition, and even some of the features ported over from AoS.
For example, porting in the monster wound profile scaling, so a monster at 1 HP is different from the same monster at 10 HP is really cool and I’m a big fan. I think it adds a layer of dynamism to the game that lets you get a lot of gameplay value from “big guys” – both from tactical depth and from the sheer diversity of gameplay received from a single model. It would be particularly cool if there were a number of monsters that actually got better at some things as they get lower, just to sort of swing the gameplay the monster / vehicle chooses to engage in.
Conversely, I wish the same type of complexity could have been brought to core units. While you can “disable” large monsters and vehicles, you cannot “disable” infantry, even temporarily.
Overall, the game in general feels too all-or-nothing for my personal tastes. In my mind, the ideal game has less units on the board, but those units are more in depth and have staying power so it becomes more about control and long term planning rather than short term front-loaded “he who takes first turn wins” mentality of alpha strike gameplay. This kind of gameplay has been a problem for Warhammer 40,000 since 6th ed, at least. A case in point was the Imperial Guard leaf blower list, and the 7th edition transition when the fast and powerful Eldar and Tau codexes dropped into the meta alongside slower-paced books such as Space Wolves and Orks.
To that end, I think a game that relies on hordes of cheap throwaway units that die in droves are the realm of computer games, and a game that relies on hand painted models should throw a bit more weight behind each unit.
This game design view taints my perspective, and not everyone will agree with me on that point. To summarize my previous points, and to raise a few more, I guess I could say I’m most disappointed in three things:
1 – Battleshock
Battleshock tests are a cheap workaround that let the game designers circumvent morale mechanics. I have always felt that the fear mechanics used by Games Workshop, and Warhammer 40,000 especially, had a lot of potential that was entirely squandered. In 7th edition, 80% of armies ignored fear, so it was really just punishment for the 20% that didn’t, and those armies were often armies that were already hurting enough that didnt even need to be punished by it (COUGH ORKS COUGH). But instead of modifying this system a little, or better yet, re-evaluating who should be fearless, they just killed the entire system for a tepid “save or die” system.
I think fear systems can be very workable if you don’t choose to make them complicated, which Games Workshop often did. In 7th edition, morale checks weren’t even complicated, its just that no armies barring Orks, Imperial Guard, and maybe Necrons had reason to fear them.
2 – Cover
The redesigned of the cover system continues to play into the simplification of the game. While I like that moving through cover was pruned (it always felt tedious), cover fundamentally fulfilled a role in old warhammer which was protecting you from low AP weapons. Now that its just a +1 save, and low AP has been replaced with save mod, it is often useless, and only serves to buff armies such as Space Marines that didn’t need to rely on cover in the first place.
However, the bonus to Space Marines still doesn’t help. Because of the continued pervasiveness of high save modifier weapons, we are quickly seeing the return of the low-ap spam seen in 7th edition. Like the changes to morale, this feels like a lazy bandage on a particularly injurious problem. Perhaps another route could have been attaching a “cover save mod” onto weapons, so some weapons could be good against armour, some good against cover, and some good against neither or both. In the new system, if a weapon is good vs armour, its good vs cover too, which means weapons with a high save modifier are always better than their comparable peers. It is a system that encourages spam.
Though this isn’t my ideal, an alternative might be a penalty to hit. It would fit better with their streamlining of the game, and would make cover more meaningful than a save bonus, since the bonus can be easily negated by the singular method of weapon spam.
3 – Save Modifiers
I think I covered it well enough already, but perhaps this deserves to be its own issue.
I think saves are a very elegant way of handling it in a non-small skirmish game, both because of the simplicity but also the engagement and viscerality of rolling dice. It gives an illusion of control to the player being attacked, and actual control if they have shenanigans they can pull with save dice.
I’d like to see a system with 3 separate types of “Baseline Saves” and then Invulns. The three baseline being “Armour” “Cover” and another save, perhaps “Tank” (for vehicles, monstrous creatures, etc). Each save would have separate modifiers.
So something that might be -2 against a guardsman in cover isn’t -2 against a Space Marine, and vice versa, because fundamentally they are differently armoured and I think that would be a cool way to differentiate them both on the table and connect it to lore.
In my opinion, there would be a lot of benefit to implementing a 7th edition AP system, but with the three listed types of armour. It would add a certain level of tactical depth that has been greatly diminished by rolling cover into armour.
In conclusion, while some improvements were made to the system, I think that Games Workshop missed an opportunity to explore interesting new game design concepts, and took a simpler route. The result is a game that while not quite so tactically bland as Age of Sigmar, lacks the depth and lore connections of its previous incarnations. Time will tell how codexes and other supplements change the meta, and whether the quality of the game will increase with the introduction of its new mechanics, or decline with the loss of its old.