9th Edition: End-of-year Competitive Roundtable

An article by    Competitive Play Gaming Warhammer 30k Warhammer 40k        0

Five months have passed since 9th Edition landed, and a huge number of games of it have been played around the world since then. At the time of release our competitive team put together a roundtable covering how they felt about the new edition, and we’ve gathered the hive mind together once again to see how the group feel about it now.

How do you feel about where 9th is right now?

Wings: Generally very positive with a couple of major exceptions. In every game of 9th I’ve played the rules have felt tight and well directed, and the missions succeed in creating some dynamic games where you’re really having to weigh your priorities turn to turn to try and maximise scoring. From my weekly examination of competitive lists, it’s also clear that the metagame is reasonably diverse and healthy and that there are far more valid unit choices within a lot of factions, a very good sign since 8th’s pressures tended to laser focus lists onto a small subset of optimal choices. My two big gripes as it stands are that there’s too steep a cliff-edge between the decent factions and the bad ones (with Tau notably garbage in 9th to a degree that even Necrons never managed in 8th), and that the missions can too easily create a situation where one player ends up with an insurmountable point deficit quite early on (which is wrapped up with some of the first turn issues).

Cyle: I think it’s a qualified success. I like the removal of unintuitive interactions, specifically around wrapping and stringing out large units in close combat. The terrain rules have been helpful to give language to define some of the nonsense bits of terrain out there and obscuring, while it has problems, has been good for the typical boards that are out there. The missions are an overall failure however, and I’m worried about the next year of haves and have nots with the faction specific secondaries rolling out.

 

 

Gunum: You know. It ain’t bad. I didn’t even get my first game of 9th in until about half-way through last semester. I was a bit off put by the new terrain rules but quickly became a fan. The missions are…. Fine? I honestly really like the dominate missions, it makes even hard come-from-behind games feel like you can bring it back if you play primary hard enough. I also really enjoy that 9th has a -heavy- primary focus. Relic, Kill Points, and all those other silly missions, I’m pretty happy we don’t need to see those in the GT packet anymore. Competitively? Man. I’d love to see some ‘efing Xeno releases. Please GW. Where my Tyranid books. My Fallen need some Xenos to fight.

 

Boon: I’ve had fun with it. In some ways I think the missions played a little more one-dimensionally than the later year of the ITC missions. While their format has freed up some list possibilities, it didn’t take long for flexible factions (Marines/Harlequins) to find cookie cutter lists or options to take advantage while other factions were nearly frozen out entirely. Then there’s the issues with the first-turn systemic advantages. Overall I think its a good start, and GW’s willingness to remain engaged has been a cause for celebration.

 

 

TheChirurgeon: It’s an interesting time. While there’s a very diverse top of the meta with some healthy churn – something that’s actually helped by the slowing release schedule, in my estimation – there’s also a wide gulf between the top tiers and the bottom tiers. Specifically I think there are too many factions in the trash/hard mode tiers. It’s on par with the end of 8th but not as good as it was before the Iron Hands supplement dropped. The new missions are a marked improvement over the 8th edition rulebook and Chapter Approved rulebook missions, but have some clear issues. That’s OK though – they’re on the whole pretty good and I’m confident that GW can get them to great with one or two revisions, hopefully early next year with a GT 2021 Missions pack.

On the subject of rules, I’m torn. 9th edition has the best-written rules 40k has ever had. On the other hand, that just makes the errors and the lack of proper FAQ addressing on some things even more maddening. There are major structural issues with the mission rules around deployment where it feels like GW just missed that the “Declare Reserves and Transports” step needs to be part of a bigger “Deployment Phase” and not just the “Deploy Armies” step and not addressing that is bonkers. The core rules feel like they’re so close to greatness but fall just short in important ways. Overall, 9th edition: B+

Liam: On the whole I’d say my games of 9th have been more enjoyable than the majority of 8th was – and I had a good time with most of 8th. It all just feels a lot tighter and like the decisions you make matter more, and the new terrain rules and missions definitely encourage a more involved playstyle than was common in a lot of 8th. There’s a lot less setting your army up mostly as a courtesy so the other guy has something to point to while he rolls three hundred dice and removes big chunks of it on turn 1 – I was cynical about the general points increase early on, in the sense of believing it hadn’t really done enough to change game sizes, but it does feel like there’s just a bit less on tables and less capacity for most armies to squeeze in absolutely everything they could want and it’s all a bit more thoughtful as a result. The smaller boards are cool too – again, a change I didn’t initially like, but one which actually playing has brought me around on.

The GT missions are the best ones that GW has ever published, which is definitely a low bar considering how bad the missions have often been, but nevertheless. Like Rob my main frustration with it is that it’s like, 95% good and then there’s a final bit of polish that’s just missing. FAQs seem to have taken a step back, becoming both less regular and less comprehensive. When so much effort has gone into making the rules largely very good at handling edge cases and exceptions, it becomes more annoying in some ways that there’s weird little lacunas in there like “when exactly is ‘during deployment’?” The “cliff edge” phenomenon is definitely real, too, and I feel for anyone playing the armies at the bottom of the pack – 40k has always had bottom factions and I suspect there will never be a time that isn’t true, but it’s rare to have a meta that is so diverse and vibrant for most factions and then have a couple of factions just be completely cut out of it.

What’s the biggest difference in how 9th feels compared to 8th?

Wings: Across the board it feels like you’re making more meaningful choices, which is great. List building manages to both erase a lot of the “easy” choices 8th gave you (no more starting every list with 2x Battalion) while opening the door to some wildly out-there concoctions that go all-in on some kind of theme. Meanwhile, on the table, scoring points always means committing your forces and taking risks, vastly reducing the kind of non-interactive shooting blowouts that were all too common in parts of 8th. Finally, reduced HQ slots and weaker character protections definitely brings non-CHARACTER units to the fore, especially in the Fight Phase – you can’t just have a couple of emergency murder-captains as your only concession to melee any more.

Cyle: 9th does feel like more of an active struggle on the board. The gunlines I saw as late as the week before lockdown are unplayable because the mission format forces interaction in the midtable.

Gunum: Not playing ITC missions, hands down. Kill things? Who cares. Hold all the things. I’d give a runner up to list construction, gone are the days of triple battalion to cheese out as many CP as you can. The focus on the list construction via restricting HQ’s by putting penalties on detachments feels really nice.

Boon: The board is so significantly smaller and because of it things are basically always threatening/threatened from the get-go. 8th relied a lot on one or two units that could sling across the field to disrupt gunlines or just outshooting an opponent – now combat can be expected to come much quicker. Moreover, weapon ranges of 24″ were once easily avoided, not any longer – by turn 2 they’ll range anything. Probably another reason Craftworlds, who excelled at keeping the enemy at arms length and pummeling, just can’t appreciably hang around.

TheChirurgeon: The mission structure. The game is just so centered around holding objectives and controlling the board in a way that 8th never felt, even in the ITC/NOVA missions the 9th edition missions are modeled after. It changes the game in fundamental ways, both good – it feels like an interesting game of area control, and bad – not every faction is able to play that game. It’s also had an interesting effect on melee. I think melee isn’t necessarily stronger in 9th, but it is vastly more important – you don’t need melee blenders so much as units that can move onto an objective after the shooting phase is over, and armies now need melee units or all-purpose units a lot more. But in making a game that really advantages space marines, well, Xenos armies across the board kind of took a hit.

Liam: Missions, absolutely, but also what Gunum said above about list construction. At heart I’m a single Battalion guy and I like that that is the default now rather than doing weird things to contort as many CP out of the army construction system as possible. The Command Phase is great, too, neatly tucking the majority of your start of turn admin away into a single discrete section, and regenerating a command point per turn is great – so much of modern codex flavour is tied up in stratagems that it’s a big win to be able to access that stuff throughout.

What has surprised you most compared to your initial impressions?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

 

Cyle: Despite the significant melee nerfs melee is more prominent than ever. Obscuring terrain, smaller tables, shorter games, and missions that require being in the middle of the board have really made melee elements important in a way that I haven’t really needed before.

Gunum: Terrain special rules and their effect on the game. Having -2 movement terrain and -1 to hit terrain on the table can -really- change up a lot. Very important, and much more so then I had originally expected.

Wings: Liking the smaller tables. I was deeply skeptical about this change, more than any of the other major updates going into the edition, but my experience on the tabletop is that it helps contribute to the overall feeling of a tighter, faster, more brutal game. What I was most worried about losing was the space to hang back and shoot against some melee armies, but that’s essentially not a concern because hanging back loses you the game anyway!

TheChirurgeon: I still don’t love it. I think the smaller tables work well for what 9th is doing, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re better thing for the game. The big surprise for me was how much I’d end up liking Shadow Operations secondary objectives, but that’s in part because Deploy Scramblers ended up being the right intersection between “good risk-reward,” and “something you can plan for.” If they can make a second pass at action secondaries that pushes them all to end-of-turn completion, I think it’ll make for a very strong category to build around.

Boon: Honestly? The game doesn’t feel any faster despite losing a full battle round, having fewer models (early edition points increases), and a smaller board. I expected 9th to play faster and… it just doesn’t seem to.

Corrode: I don’t really agree with Boon there; I can’t think of many 9th games I’ve had go to time when it mattered, though I’m usually a quick player anyway. My long-held suspicion is that there’s a lot of players who will simply fill whatever time you give them, no matter how “fast” the game plays or how long the rounds are – never mind people for whom playing a little slower is what we will charitably call gamesmanship. I do really like the terrain changes, both Difficult and Dense, and as much as I don’t think Obscuring is a great rule I do think it mostly does the job for making GW-standard terrain at least usable for a real table. I also like that melee matters a lot, not least because so much pre-9th chatter was that melee was dead this edition and it’s always funny to see that kind of prediction be totally wrong.

How do you feel about the GT missions?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Wings: I am, and remain, the Mission Defender. They have some major flaws, which we’ve covered in exhaustive statistical detail (first turn win-rates and secondary imbalances being most notable) but I enjoy the basic dynamics they encourage, and a lot of the things I’m really liking about 9th (the focus on melee, risk reward on the table, more slots for utility units) are flowing from the Primary scoring structure. I want to see revisions and improvements, but I’m happy with the basic setup.

Cyle: The go first win rate is shameful. I don’t like mission specific secondaries. I don’t like mission specific rules (hello burning objectives and Vital Intelligence(?)).  The secondaries writ large are garbage. I mean, playing for scramblers and Recon, I’m sorry: Engage on all Fronts, is something I naturally did in 8th with most of my armies. Operating in all parts of the board is a good thing and getting rewarded for that directly is good. However when they are the only good options and the third is “hope they lost in list building or I’m Marines/Necrons” is bad design and makes the game feel samey.

I also have some opinions on having 9 missions that all have some very specific rules. Depending on the event, armies can be built around knowing what deployment and secondaries the missions will provide. I think not having random (or a couple random options for the defender or something like the ITC packet) reduces replayability and contributes to the samey-ness I talked about above.

Gunum: Please remove mission #33 from GT packets. Full Stop.

TheChirurgeon: On the whole, B-, but a couple of the missions are very bad and some of the secondary objectives are just a complete mistake. Looking at the analysis of secondaries we did last month it’s clear that some are amazing, some are straight trash garbage, and some are Priority Targets, a secondary you’d be stupid to ever not take. To go-first win rate is a major issue that needs addressing as well. But I think these are things that can be mostly fixed with a second pass on the mission rules – doing things like adjusting scoring on the kill secondaries to make them less format-warping  will go a long way.

Boon: To me they just feel boring. The majority of the missions are essentially the same mechanic but with different locations. The secondaries are generally static because they’re so unbalanced that you’ll only ever select from a few. Factions and lists are a little more dynamic, but the games feel like the same over and over. For what it’s worth, and given their genesis, I had this same feeling about NOVA missions so this isn’t particularly new for me. 100% positional objective based missions just feel one-dimensional and the actions only slightly alleviate this… when they make sense to take.

Liam: I largely like the primary, though it would be nice if it was shaken up a little. I’ve played about 30 or so games of 9th and it hasn’t felt stale yet, though maybe if I was grinding more out it would have gotten to that stage. Secondaries definitely need a lot of work – I’ve complained about them before and those complaints all pretty much still hold. The mission ones are so variable, from “why bother printing this?” to “Priority Targets” and it’s a shame that they’re like that when a little more application could have brought them more in line with each other. The GT pack we’ve discussed to death and I doubt I’ll add anything by going over the same old saws again. I am also not a big fan of codex secondaries at all, on the basis of both equality of access but also a complete lack of faith that we won’t end up with some that are completely busted down the line.

How do you feel about the new style codexes?

Cyle: The new codexes are great! The layout makes more sense to my brain, even if I keep flipping to the back for stratagems. Sell me this without the fluff portion and I’d probably buy more than just the ones for the armies I play.

Gunum: Well. We’ve only seen a couple. But dang are they good. The armies are feeling like they are being designed with how the army is meant to be played in mind. The Necron book is S+ Ultra Gold with its design and feelings of fluff meeting rules. I pray my favored Dark Angel sons only get something as fitting.

Wings: The Necron codex is one of the best books GW have ever put out. The Marine Codex I’m a bit more ambivalent on – it’s a good book, but it’s already served to highlight that CORE is going to cause some weird imbalances between factions. It’s absurdly broad in the Marine book, and once you add Rites of War and the supplements to the mix it means that Marine players have an even more disproportionate range of valid choices compared to everyone else than they used to. Oh, also, I basically like Faction secondaries, but GW have got to stop players using the new supplements getting to double dip, and add some sort of interim options for factions that don’t have their book yet, especially if the release schedule is getting delayed as suggested on Warhammer Community; the current situation creates a fundamental imbalance that really shouldn’t stand for long.

TheChirurgeon: The books are solid so far. Necrons book is great. Marine books less so. The codex secondary objectives seem like a huge mistake, especially for chapters who can use both their supplement and the codex options, and it’s not clear to me that the faction balance is designed with these secondaries in mind. The layout changes also personally irk me – the Crusade rules should have been at the back, after the datasheets, if only so I don’t have to page through 6 pages of those rules every time I need to flip between datasheets and army special rules. At least every book so far has felt powerful, though. It’ll be interesting to see how that holds up when we get to less balanced/all-rounder armies like the upcoming Drukhari book or, down the line, something like AdMech.

Liam: I really like everything about them in terms of layout, design, “feel” etc. except the Crusade rules being where they are. Put that shit at the back where it belongs – I am never going to read any of those rules and they sit in the most awkward possible place, right between the strats/relics/whatever and the datasheets. I also don’t love the random “datasheets” rules section right before the actual datasheets, which feels a bit like a file marked Miscellaneous and I keep forgetting is where some quite important rules are kept. Otherwise they feel like a big improvement on the 8th books.

What do you like most about 9th?

Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Cyle: That a lot of the rough edges have been sanded off and things play pretty close to what is at least my intuitive interpretation of how rules “should” play. If Obscuring wasn’t so dumb I think this would be the most intuitive version of 40k I’ve played.

Wings: The game just feels better designed all round. 8th created a set of strong tools with its core engine, and the designers do genuinely seem to have worked out what their goals are, taken the bits they liked, then tuned everything else to create a fairly well targeted experience. Definitely excited to see what they come out with next.

Gunum: List building, without a doubt. You want more stuff? Pay for it. After what we had to suffer through in the last edition, CP being used as a currency in list design is by far the best choice GW made with 9th.

TheChirurgeon: The game feels like it was designed for competitive play from the ground up, and I think that’s to everyone’s benefit, regardless of whether you’re playing competitively or just planning to do a bunch of Crusade.

Boon: I’d just echo the core rule updates- well thought out for the most part. To add on to something Rob was saying, it seems that with 9th GW has started to take a leadership role in defining competitive play and balance- as the sole authority on the game’s rules this bodes well for the general health of the game as it takes the burden off random groups and organizations to step in as they have in years past.

Liam: It’s just a better game than 8th. Despite the problems I mentioned in the first section, in large part it’s way more thoughtful and considered, and a ton of work has clearly been done to get out of the old “GW rules writing” trap of overly-casual language and ambiguities arising from it. I know that not everyone loves it – the new Reanimation Protocols definitely caused a few more casual-minded players to lose their shit – but it’s exactly the kind of thing I want.

What do you like least about 9th?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Cyle: The game is really fragmented over a million books and the lack of a big winter FAQ is negligent. I’m super worried about the campaign books that were announced and GW’s lack of real communication since the first push of 9th. We have some real unanswered questions and a mission packet that could use some sort of Unaffiliated Event Grand Prix if GW isn’t going to pick up the slack because right now we had to lock the door on our poor Ruleshammer team before they make the news.

Gunun: This may be controversial. But 5 turns. I really like the smaller board sizes, and cutting the game down a turn is supposed to make it feel shorter. But I’ve had quite a few games where I felt, “man, I started moving just a little too late now I’ll never make it where I need to be.” Also, as a runner up, does anyone else feel the game is just –Brutal– right now? So much dies, so fast. I don’t know if that’s just a 9th thing or I just haven’t noticed before. But Gawdamn.

Wings: Along with the issues mentioned in my overall thoughts, I’m not a fan of fixed power/relic/trait choices on army lists. I kind of get that it’s meant to be in line with the overall push towards more meaningful choices, but I think it’s a step too far and invalidates too many options – reduced HQ slots have already capped things enough. The current situation is still better than late 8th where we had a weird hodge podge by army, but I’d rather “select powers, traits and relics” was a step in the pre-game procedure.

TheChirurgeon: Deployment. I understand why people like alternating deployment, but it adds a crapload of time to the game that you don’t make up by removing a fifth turn and runs counter to the notion of making the game faster. With the extra game around declaring transports/reserves early and a few other tweaks, I think you can make full side deployment nearly as tactical. Also, I’ll second moving warlord traits/powers/relics to the list-building step for the same reasons and I think 5 turns is fine in comp play but that structure is an impediment to narrative play (though I know, that’s not the focus here). Also while I’m ranting, the points costs for things in 9th are asinine. The 5-point floor for models makes no sense for things like grots and seeing Chaos FW dreads that can’t get traits cost the same as Marine ones is just so, so stupid.

Boon: The secondaries, especially the psychic secondaries. Holy hell is that an awful category. In terms of the core rules, I’m not very thrilled with the role terrain has played thus far. There’s really only three or four interesting/useful keywords (Obscuring, Dense, Difficult Ground, and maybe Light Cover) and there’s no real substantial guidance on how to use them realistically.

Liam: Alternating deployment. I was a fan of it in 8th right up until we got full army deploy back and I remembered that alternating sucks. I will also third the thing about everything being fixed on the list – as we’ve gone back through updating Start Competing articles over the last couple of months, one of the things we’ve had to take out of a lot of choices is “pick this against X” since that’s no longer a relevant choice. I’m not convinced it saves all that much time at the table (most people, frankly, weren’t flexing their choices that much to begin with) but it does put a whole bunch of things in the bin because they’re too niche to take unless they’re definitely going to get used and you have no guarantee that they will.

What would you like to see in the new year?

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Wings: Better FAQs. Cyle already alluded to this above, but the current situation with these is only really sustainable because of how few events are running. 9th is, in general, a vastly better written game than 8th and doesn’t need nearly as many FAQs, but nearly six months into the edition there are still things from the Core Rules that people don’t agree on, and questions from the newer supplements that frequently appear in our inbox and turn up as comments on every article we put out about them. We have, no joke, had emails in our inbox insisting we change our editorial stance on the RAW for some things, and there are a few people practically running lobbying campaigns across the various social media groups to try and get their interpretations of key rules to stick.

I get that a correction was needed from the way this worked in 8th, where a toxic culture had built up of online brain-geniuses combing every book for exploits then insisting they got to use them until GW put their feet down, and I’m all for encouraging TOs to be a bit more muscular in shutting down bad faith interactions based on intent, but it feels like we’ve gone too far the other way, and I hope there’s some equivalent of a big FAQ coming.

Cyle: All the codexes out and a new GT book. That’s a lot but if we are going down the path of faction secondaries all factions need them right now.

Gunum: All codexes released for primary factions. Khorne Daemonkin codex. Fallen supplement.  Covid to be gone. Wish listing is just a blast.

TheChirurgeon: I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for every army to get a codex, especially given that the plan for “3 books by January’s end” is now “three books by the end of March” but what I would like to see are:

  • At least one update for every major faction (if there are going to be campaign books, may as well make them useful)
  • FAQs released in a timely fashion with a summer and winter FAQ that address major issues
  • A new edition of the GT missions pack that fixes mission structure and secondary objectives.
  • No new Marine books. Seriously, it’s OK to put some time between Marines releases.

Boon: A return of GTs when world events allow for it. So much of this game is driven by ‘the churn’ of new, fresh rules or lists and the events they grind in. Without all of this everything just feels… less interesting. I think holds for GW as well, who may feel a pressure or obligation to issue balances and updates – but what’s the point when nothing is happening?

Liam: I want some goddamn tournaments back although my hopes are fading with every new tier introduced for the “simple” three-tier system over here. Absolutely a shift in the FAQ position to be a bit more expansive – I have no idea why we’re back to FAQs being grudgingly delivered to cover the absolute minimum content but it sucks. I think we have a pretty good idea of what codexes are on the way for at least the first half of 2020 – we know about Dark Angels, Drukhari, and Death Guard, and I will be stunned if the next three aren’t Sisters of Battle, Adeptus Mechanicus and Orks given that we’ve been shown models of those. That’s promising in terms of faction variety (it’s not all Marines!) and hopefully we can get a good mix for the latter half of 2021 too. I’d also hope for at least a couple more big model releases for factions that need it; we know there’s more Marines to finish out that release and a couple of Necron bits, but after that it seems like DG are a terrain piece and one character, and Drukhari might just be Lelith? Sisters and Ad Mech have had big recent plastic waves, so maybe Orks can get something chunky and get rid of their remaining Finecast bits, and hopefully later down the line we get Eldar or something and the plastic Aspects dream can finally be realised.

Any final thoughts?

Cyle: I do like the game and even have fun, despite itself. It’s too bad we didn’t have 2019 numbers of 40k events and players but we are close to the ITC participation level of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. I played in those seasons, and even did reasonably well and I’d certainly take the game that I’m playing now over the nightmare that was 7th or the indexhammer of early 8th. I’m certainly looking forward to 2021, and maybe making a real run at Craftworlds to break the data. They have to be better than that: they are freaking Eldar…

Gunum: 9th has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t have the spare time to play as much as I used to, but I’ve been enjoying all the slammed-hams that I have been able to do. I’ve been putting a ton of thought into the “Go First” boogeyman right now, and I just have no idea how we can possibly fix it without doing something with missions. Move primary scoring to the bottom of the game turn GW. For the Good of All.

Wings: As far as I’m concerned, 40K is in a vastly better place with the advent of 9th Edition than it would have been with 6 more months of 8th, so ultimately the key test has been passed. Now I’m hoping 2021 lets 9th blossom into its full potential.

TheChirurgeon: On the whole, I like 9th. I’ve put enough games in the rearview now to feel like I understand the underlying game pretty well, and I’m looking forward to what they put out in 2020. On the other hand there are still some clunky things that need fixes and sometimes it feels like GW are just refusing to acknowledge that some of these things are actual problems

Boon: I will need to go check myself in for PTSD if GW releases an Eldar codex in 9th (fingers crossed 2021) with no new plastic Aspects/Phoenix Lords.

Liam: I’m enjoying 9th a lot, and it’s a shame that just as we reach what I think could be a new level for 40k – a much better ruleset, and a much better infrastructure for analysing it (not just us, but the great work being done by other sites and podcasts too, and even GW dipping their toes in) – it’s been hard to actually get that much 40k being played. With any luck by this time next year we’ll be back to a thriving scene with all this behind us, and Wings will be pulling his hair out as we have another 10-event weekend to write about in Competitive Innovations.

Wrap Up

That’s where our team are right now, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments or via email at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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