Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When It's Such a Train-Wreck You Can't Look Away: 40k 7th Edition Thoughts

My Space Marine Collection

First Impressions

So the new, unexpected edition of Warhammer 40k is now out, and I've had a few days to process it.

Overall, I am somewhat disappointed.  One book in the set is just a bunch of pictures.  The background book has exactly the same background (and mostly the same text) as 6th edition, but with different pictures.  The rules are mostly the same as 6th edition, with the most notable changes being a new Psychic phase and an even more permissive army selection system.  Maddeningly, some of the most obvious problems with 6th edition remain unchanged: assault is too weak, massed fliers are too difficult to counter, weapons that ignore cover bypass core game mechanics, combinations of certain characters are ludicrously power, and psychic powers can buff a unit into near indestructibility.

What Was GW Thinking?

As a game designer (albeit an amateur one) I have to wonder, why does GW persist in leaving so many obvious problems in place, particularly when it would be quite easy to fix them?  It's tempting to dismiss GW as caring only about sales or just to write them off as completely incompetent, but I don't think either response really explains the new edition.  I notice that they did fix certain elements of the game, just not all of them.

For example:

  • Monstrous Creatures can no longer charge they turn they go from flying high to gliding.  It used to be that they could have all the advantages of a flier's protection, then slam straight into melee at the start of their next turn.  
  • Jetbikes and Skimmers now must choose between getting a Jink Save and being able to shoot effectively the following turn.  This could be abused in all sorts of ways, particularly when combined with abilities that enhanced Cover Saves.
  • Vector Strikes were toned down, so that fliers can no longer zoom around with impunity, decimating any units without leaving the safety of being a flier. 
  • Vehicles are now harder to kill with single-shot weapons, like meltaguns.  In 6th edition, most vehicles died to stacked hull-point loss, but if you got close with a meltagun, or lucky with other weapons, you could pop a vehicle easily.  
  • The Psychic phases has been modified so that, if you have fewer Psykers, it is harder to cast most spells.  In 6th, cheap Psykers almost never failed to cast, and could have major effects on game play. 

This suggests to me that GW is sensitive to certain balance issues, some of the time.  The issues they have chosen to fix, however, are those that you will might encounter in casual play.  If you have a small collection, or some restraint in building lists (say a list with only one Riptide or a combined-arms Marine or Eldar list) these are the sorts of problems you would notice and want fixed. 

On the other hand, GW seems stunningly indifferent to the sorts of problems that only occur for players with large collections or who are pushing the mathematical limits of the game. A Tau or Eldar army's capacity to stack lots of Ignores Cover only becomes evident if a player takes lots of the relevant units.  As Reecius points out in the link below, it is only when you have lots of Psykers that the new phase becomes absurd. Special characters' combinations only become evident if you play with them frequently and choose them for game-mechanical benefits rather than their background.

So I think what we're seeing is a game design that only cares about the center of the bell-curve of possible armies, and is indifferent to problems on the extremes.


Where to Go from Here?

People are already considering how to adapt to this edition.  Over at Frontline Gaming, Reecius has sketched out this article on the rudiments of tournament modifications for 40k:


His analysis is spot-on, and I do hope that the community develops a standard(ish) set of standards for open play in tournaments and leagues.  I suspect I will not be playing in any tournaments either way, however, as I am not especially interested in competitive list-design.

I prefer to win than to lose, of course, and I like to play with lists, but what I really want out of a game is for the victory to depend on decisions players make at the table: on maneuver and tactics and a little luck.  If the armies reflect the background, with a preponderance of troops and support, and not just a few tooled up super-units, I think that's desirable too.  On a scale of 1-10, between fluff (1) and unlimited competition (10), I'd put myself at a 6 or a 7.  

I am more interested in  how to create an environment for drop-in or league casual play: a system that encourages people to show up with a moderate list, but avoids puppy-stomping extremes.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Clash of Arms

To inaugurate the finished Free Cities Force Book, I broke out two small forces for the following battle report.

The Forces

The Colonists [743 points]


Command Squad w/5 models [50 points]
Infantry Squad with 8 infantry and 1 gun team [122 points]
Infantry Squad with 8 infantry and 1 gun team [122 points]
Infantry Squad with 8 infantry and 1 gun team [122 points]
Infantry Squad with 8 infantry and 1 gun team [122 points]

Medium tank with Medium Gun [205 points]

The Free Cities [775 points]


Lanceatores with 3 Lances and 2 Reaper Heavy Rayguns [112 points]
Scutari with 7 models [98 points]
Venatores with 7 models and 2 launchers [258 points]


Draco w/ Ramus Raycannon [265 points][

The Game

I decided to try a new scenario (see below), one that brings the foes into combat more rapidly.


I treated each base as providing Concealment but not Cover.  The ruins offered Concealment and Hard Cover to anything firing across their walls.

One objective went in the woods close to a table edge.  The other went in a ruined structure in the center.  Both players put their troops as far forward as possible, while still being protected by cover.  The two armored vehicles faced off in the center, but the Colonial tank had the benefit of concealment.

Turn One

The Colonists went first and advanced their four infantry squads up to the cover of the rockfields and walls on both flanks.  Their LMGs fired at reduced RoF at the Scutari and Venatores.

The Scutari were in Concealment, and of higher skill, so the Colonists needed 6s to hit them.  On the other hand, they only needed a 5 to hit the Venatores.  All the Free Cities models had armor, making them harder to wound.

The buckets of Colonial fire cut down three Venators, including an important Launcher, but failed to do much of anything to the Scutari.

Turn Two

In the second turn, the Venatores advanced into the ruins on one flank, and the Scutari into the ruins on the other.  On the far flank, the Colonists seized a building of their own, with the squad there laying down covering fire.  The other unit and the Command Squad took on the more dangerous task of advancing through the woods.  There they seized control of the red objective.

The ruins granted a 1+ cover save for units inside; both sides endeavor therefore to Suppress rather than kill the squads opposite them.  The Lanceatores and the Draco had clear line of sight, decimating the Colonists in the open.

Turn Three

The Draco took a risk by turning its firepower against infantry instead of the Colonial tank.  If either vehicle could destroy the other, the survivor would be free to wreak havoc for the rest of the game.  The Colonial tank managed to miss again.  

Turn Four 

This was the critical turn.  If the Free Cities legionaries could not contest the red objective, then the Colonists would win at the start of their next turn.  The Draco moved up to the objective, into Assault Fire range.  The Venatores, too, abandoned the cover the ruins to participate in the firefight.

In Assault Fire, the participants all have reduced cover saves.  The resulting exchange of fire wiped out the Venatores.  It killed the Colonists completely, so no one was left to charge.  A good thing too, because in Melee, an open-topped Vehicles is automatically destroyed!  It's a risk getting that close, but one the Free Cities Triarch felt he had to take.

On the other flank, the Scutari were close enough to assault the remaining Colonial squad near the Blue objective.  After inconclusive Assault Fire, the Scutari charged into melee.  There, their superior skill and three attacks each massacred the Colonial infantry, but they ended the Phase Suppressed.

Turn Five

Make or break time for both sides.  If the Colonists could not contest both objectives, the Free Cities would win. The heroic Colonial tank Buttons up and drives towards the reorganizing Scutari.  It kills five of them, and then Charges into Melee.  Neither side is willing to back down, and each combatant makes a ludicrous number of saves over a several Continuing Melee phases, but eventually the tank squashes the defiant Triarch beneath its treads, and the tank rolls forward onto Blue objective.

On the other flank, the Colonists move their last squad into Assault Fire range with the Draco. Because it is Opened-Topped, it could be Stunned on a double-six.  The Colonists are not so lucky, and the Draco kills all the soldiers near enough to assault.

With no remaining enemy troops close enough to contest it, the Draco claims the Red objective for victory!

Closing Thoughts

This game was more of nailbiter than I expected.  (Especially since I was playing both sides.)  The Free Cities infantry are durable, but not unkillable, especially in the open.

The Clash of Arms scenario is I think a great success.  Too often the Symmetrical scenarios end up like WWI with both sides dead crossing no-man's land.  But starting closer leads to more exciting Assault Fire in only a few turns.  I may make it my new default Scenario.

Clash of Arms Scenario

In this Scenario, the players attack each other.  Both their Forces are on the offensive, and have collided.

Attacker and Defender

 Both players build an Attacking list based on 100% of the Points level.

Setup and Objectives

Set up Terrain however you like.

Roll off.  The winner becomes the nominal Attacker.  (This designation has no effect on their list or its support options.)

The Attacker picks a table edge.

His Deployment zone is within 18" of his edge.  The Defender takes the opposite table edge.  His Deployment zone is within 18" of his edge.

The Defender places one objective anywhere on the center line of the table, 24" from both long table edges.  The Attacker places one objective anywhere on the center line of the table, 24" from both long table edges. 


The players alternate placing squads in their deployment zones.  Roll off to see who places first.
Game PlayRoll off to see who has the first turn. 

Victory Conditions

Either player wins, if, on or after turn four, at the start of his turn, he has a Unit within 6" of an objective, and the enemy does not. 

If either army breaks or is completely destroyed, then their opponent wins.

If neither player has won by the end of 10 turns, the game ends in a draw.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Free Cities Force Book


The Free Martians are humans from independent city-states scattered across the ruins of Mars.  These walled communities use stolen or recovered Ancient technology, hand-crafting arms and equipment from materials they barely comprehend.  With their swords and airships, they defend their homes and loved ones against the nomads of the wastes and shield them from the predations of the Ancients.

The Free Cities Force Book is now available by clicking on the picture above, or through the Rules page on the drop-down bar.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014