Review: Warhammer 40K 6th Edition
Remember that moment on the show Reading Rainbow, when LeVar Burton would say “But you don’t have to take my word for it,” and then with a little “duh-da-dump” musical cue the shot transferred to some woefully 1980’s garbed child in bad glasses who would explain the plot of a book to you? Well, the first thing to say about Warhammer 40k 6th Edition by Games Workshop is “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Instead, players must read and memorize this edition for themselves. Already I have observed a number of games where players made 6th edition rule judgments of dubious qualities to one another without taking the time to just look up the rules. The primary thing people should take from this new edition of the rules is that the games we play will not really give us the true feel of the new edition until both players have read and memorized the rules, instead of just trusting others to have read the rules and jumping into new games.
Now that I got that admonition to read the rules before deciding on whether this edition is better or not (not to mention playing a few games), let’s discuss the brand new edition. For many players of Warhammer 40k, a new edition seemed like an unnecessary thing—especially when Sisters of Battle had only a White Dwarf update and other codices could be revised for 5th just fine. So why a new edition at all?
A central suspicion of many players about Games Workshop is that a new edition, coupled with an expensive new miniature material for some models (Finecast, check out Enrico Nardini’s editorial on the subject here) and an across-the-board price hike on kits, represents gouging their fan base for money. While the price tag is indeed hefty on Games Workshop products, it is important to consider the nature of the industry to understand the “why” of a new edition. As pointed out by gaming blogger Sam White in a guest article on the Apocalypse 40k blog, miniatures don’t exactly spoil—so Games Workshop has to deal with the fact that their product is useful to the consumer perpetually (check out the full article by Sam here). While Sam’s article deals with the reasoning behind price hikes, I think that the logic applies well to new editions of the game.
One of the big new elements of 6th Edition is the arrival of Flyers in regular games of 40K. Games Workshop has put out 3 new kits already this summer, and more will no doubt follow. They likewise released a prompt FAQ that dealt with existing flyers and winged monstrous creatures in other armies. An addition like this seems to be a clear component of the “models don’t spoil” conundrum. In order to keep existing players purchasing their goods, Games Workshop has to make models that no one has yet to generate new purchases. 6th edition represents a rules-set that is modified for that very reason. Consider additional rules like psychic powers, with the add-on pack of psychic cards that players may like to purchase, and changed rules such as weapon AP affecting vehicle hits—again with special dice that can be bought to track these. As with flyers, a new edition means new products that need to be bought.
A final change with 6th that has many players excited and/or nervous is the addition of Allied Forces. Seen through the lens of the business needs of the company, this is an ideal plan. Allies represent a gateway to purchasing more models in different lines than someone has previously collected. Tau players can recruit Orks to beef up their melee potential, and Space Wolves players will be tempted to spend their money on some Imperial Guardsmen to support their existing force, rather than spending that cash on a new air-brushed Viking playing a guitar on the side of their van.
Many of the other new changes in the edition represent a subtle balancing act in the rules. Shooting-heavy armies will enjoy the ability to get an extra round of shooting at charging foes, and the unpredictability of charge ranges being moved to 2d6” rather than 6”. On the other hand, assault armies will like the addition of more frequent Night Fighting rules in missions (changed to give cover saves and static maximum ranges rather than the annoying nonsense it was before) and the potentiality of the charge range change (a lucky unit could squeeze off a 12” charge, and the average charge is still an inch further than before). The other big balance are Hull Points on vehicles making them more vulnerable to massed weaker fire, which combined with units not being able to capture objectives while embarked, marks a shift away from the “Imperial parking lot” style army lists that could dominate the metagame.
The main change that is already being seen in games and reported on internet forums is that players have to make a new calculus of units—good units in 5th may be less useful in 6th, and vice versa. For instance, Tyranids (my current army of choice) have seen the mighty Genestealer much reduced in effectiveness—they cannot charge when arriving from outflanking, and units get a chance to pepper them with overwatch fire before they reach combat. But on the other hand, the less popular Biovore has now become a sniper extraordinaire: with the rules for barrage artillery being that casualties are removed from the closest to the center of the blast first, an on-target barrage shot can now target a character in a unit and force a whole lot of “Look Out, Sir” saves to protect the model. Every rulebook has similar changes: there will be new power combos, and old tricks that are not so good any more. The nature of the edition change is flux, not “better” or “worse”.
Speaking about the product itself, as usual with Games Workshop, the production value is top-notch. The book contains plenty of good new art despite the usual repeats, and a fair amount of new fluff and description (compare to the current Warhammer Fantasy Orcs and Goblins army book where most unit description fluff was cut-and-paste directly from older editions of the army book). New players can learn a great deal about the 40K universe here. The main disappointment on the production side is the lack of any forthcoming models displayed in the miniatures sections. The model galleries are the same exact models we can see online and in army books—so those portions are nothing but repeats.
Overall I am pleased with the direction that Warhammer 40,000 has taken with the new rules. I understand the financial frustrations of players when it comes to the new edition, but I also understand Games Workshop’s intentions and don’t necessarily fault them for it.
+ Excellent art, design, and layout
+ Rules-set retains the basic feel of 40K while giving players a chance to revisit their principles of army building
+ The balancing act of the phases of the game has been done quite well—each time you feel that the game has shifted too far toward shooting or assault, there is another rule that tugs the other way.
+ Well written sections in the end of the rulebook for developing new missions
- Models displayed in the rulebook are the same we’ve always seen
- Terrain rules for Mysterious Forests (akin to the Warhammer Fantasy ones) bring the same stupidity and annoyance to the 40k universe
- Rules developed to promote new lines of models sets a problematic precedent for future editions
The Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition main rulebook and supplemental products are produced by Games Workshop, and are available at most local hobby stores. The newest edition is a re-vamp of the existing rules that remains a good rules-set to run large scale sci-fi conflicts with 28mm miniatures, while including new elements to take games further. The Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition rulebook has a suggested retail price of $74.25.