With 9th edition finally upon us, it’s time to talk about the rules! Having had a chance to pore over the new rules from the Indomitus box, the Goonhammer team are offering their first impressions on 9th edition and what it means for different types of play moving forward.
- James “One_Wing” Grover
- Liam “Corrode” Royle
- Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
- Alfredo Ramirez
- Greg Chiasson
- Alice Lirette
- Tyler Moore
- Jack Hunter
- Raf Cordero
TheChirurgeon: There’s a lot more here! There’s a ton to dig into with this book and I’m excited to write more about it over the next few weeks. The rules are significantly better written, there’s a ton of meat to Crusade, and there are new missions for almost every game size. There are some things I’m not wild about, but we’ll cover those later.
Jack This is amazing. Much better organized than 8th, I think we’re going to end up running into many fewer edge case rules arguments. The quick reference bullet points at the end of each long-form section are pretty much perfect.
Liam: This is a way, way better product than 8th edition was at release. It’s immediately obvious how many lessons they learned from the last three years. 8th over-simplified things to fit into an ideal of reducing the rules to as few pages as possible – 9th has clearly been allowed off the leash a bit and the rules sections reflect that, but they’re still more succinct than any previous edition.
Raf: As a product this book is great. It’s 194 pages of lore, art, and backstory all presented like a lush RPG sourcebook. It feels like something I’ll want to spend some time reading over coffee when I’m done painting everything.
Wings: This book is so good. Layout and presentation are underappreciated arts, and it’s wild how far ahead this is in those regards compared to the last edition. The lore sections are utterly beautiful, while the rules are presented in a nice, clean well-laid out fashion that makes them much easier to digest.
Alfredo: My first impression is that for the first time in my life I’m grateful for bullet points. I learn rules fairly quickly but there’s always that one rule buried in 3 dense paragraphs you have to look up in the middle of a game and this new layout is going to vastly simplify that. Even if nothing else changed, this is a great improvement.
TheChirurgeon: The most immediate thing that jumps out at me is that the rules are just much, much better written in the 9th edition rulebook. From summary bullets to clear, concise wording, there’s a ton of stuff that was really dodgy or vague in 8th that they’ve had to tweak over the last three years and it looks like they’ve taken those lessons and applied them from the ground-up in 9th. The result is that there are more words here – there are 40 pages of rules instead of 8 – but the rules themselves are much tighter, and stand up to scrutiny. There will probably still be some weird edge cases, but what’s here is good!
Greg: I love all the fun new things you can do with CPs pre-game. Strategic Reserves are cool, and the changes to the detachment system are so good, other than how it’s going to play hell with my Tau due to their one-commander-per-detachment rule.
TheChirurgeon: The Detachments are also great. I like how the new CP structure works, and how you gain CP over the course of a game. That can really make a difference late, and generally armies having more CP to work with, especially if they weren’t able to soup in other detachments and factions, is a huge improvement.
RagnarokAngel Concurring on the detachment thing. I always felt like the “Detachment grants CP” thing was designed in a vacuum and bafflingly never considered people might try and min-max it. There was very little reason to do more than the minimum in a detachment unless you had some stuff leftover and needed to slot it somewhere. The fact some factions just plain got access to more CP options than others was a horrible imbalance and putting everyone on the same playing field is a lot more enjoyable.
Liam: Everything is just better. The rules are better written and more cleanly presented. They’re not flawless, but there’s definitely been more thought about systematisation and standardisation, and moving from casual or descriptive language to definitive language – Engagement Range instead of ‘models within 1”’ for example. This is an area where GW have always been a bit slapdash and it’s nice to see them catching up to the rest of the world.
RagnarokAngel: Also? Love the new generic stratagems. I felt like not enough was done with them to make them feel like tactical decisions to mess with the flow of gameplay. Stuff like being able to break through the enemy line at the risk of losing some of your guys, or reverse overwatch if someone tries to flee is all really great.
Jack: I love having missions designed for the different points values. I’ve almost exclusively played 2000 point games throughout all of 8th as I found things started breaking as we went to smaller games. I’m hopeful that this clear intent to support those games will give more room to play both short games and balanced intro games against new players.
Liam: Yeah, the deliberate design of accommodating different points values is great. There’s always been a vague “you can play at whatever size” nature to 40k, and the “standard” is set by common acceptance between players, which is fine but the game tended to break down if you went much above or below that size. Now that there’s explicit ways to play which accommodate the different challenges of different points ranges, it will hopefully make bigger or, more crucially, smaller games way more of a thing – which is great for more casual players, or newer ones who don’t want to wait until they’ve painted 2,000pts of an army before they get to actually throw down.
Raf: We watched in 8th as Codexes built complexity and rules cruft on top of a very light rules system and by the end I think the framework wasn’t quite strong enough to support the weight. From the core rules to Crusade this feels like a firmer foundation from which to add Codex twists.
Wings: I’m a game design nerd at heart and I really appreciate how carefully the rules have been constructed. I’ve seen a lot of people poking fun at how wordy some of them are, but that’s good. So many of the problems with 8th came from rules that didn’t adequately cover all bases, or alternatively introduced extra words that were superfluous to the actual meaning, and solely served to cause confusion.
Here that’s just gone – the rules overwhelmingly use the exact right number of words to express both their meaning and intent in a clear unambiguous fashion, and I’m honestly looking forward to vastly less rules misunderstandings across the board.
I also like the overwhelming sense of intent behind everything. I’ll dig into this in my review of the rules, but I get a clear sense that the designers of this edition know what they want a game of 40K to look like, and have used changes to the rules engine as building blocks to achieve that goal. Playing in an edition where the energy and momentum GW built up over 8th is combined with their now three years of learning how to work with this core engine is extremely exciting. I also think we’re looking at a pretty big change to the game, in a way I’m overall pretty hyped for.
Oh, also – there’s a glossary. It defines all the terms. Alllll of them. I’m in heaven.
Alfredo: Two things I’m very excited about are the seeming support for smaller games with bespoke missions and more sensible board sizes. I tend to like infantry-based games without many vehicles and the idea of missions that accommodate smaller engagements in a shorter period of time so I can maybe fit more than one game into an afternoon is very enticing. Whether or not these smaller sizes work in practice is up in the air but something I look forward to testing out in short order. The second thing is Crusade. I will wax poetic about it further down but generally speaking I love love love that GW is taking a stab at a core narrative framework for the game that extends beyond “narrative = asymmetric missions”.
TheChirurgeon: I love the secondary selection aspect of the new missions, but there’s a lot of really bad decisions there. Alternating deployment and the first turn die roll aren’t great, and top-of-turn progressive scoring combined with the shorter game length and lack of endgame scoring scream “GOING FIRST MEANS WINNING” to me loudly enough that I have serious concerns about 9th’s missions. The good news is, that can be fixed pretty easily!
Liam: Yeah this. I talked above about GW having taken big steps forwards in terms of their rules language and so on – the missions are the opposite, with some gigantic backwards steps. Alternating deployment with a straight roll-off for first turn is trash. Top of turn progressive scoring is trash – the player who goes first is always ahead, since they get two turns before the player going second gets to score, and in the last turn they can simply focus on blowing off units on objectives with zero need to think defensively, and the second player can’t do anything bout it. It’s especially galling with the shorter games – if you don’t score on turn 1 and you only have 5 turns, that is a very short scoring window, especially if you’re trying to play in the mid- or end-game to catch up on scoring.
Wings: I do think it’s important to say that while we have some concerns about the missions, for my money they’re a lot better as a day 1 set than last editions and a decent canvas to build on. The main thing I really dislike is reverting out the Attacker/Defender first turn structure from CA2019 and the 2020 ITC pack – given the shorter game length, the second player definitely needs something to lift them up a bit.
Alfredo: I’d argue that comparing these missions to what we got Day 1 for 8th doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’ve had three years to learn from that and GW has gotten significantly more involved in the competitive scene, it’s a shame that this was the best they could produce from all that. One of my bigger quibbles with 40k is the sheer weight of first turn advantage and it’s troubling that this seems to have only been exacerbated in 9th.
RagnarokAngel: Granted we haven’t seen the FAQs yet, but I expected a more radical change than what we got. A lot of the rules changes, particularly the appendix, feels more like a clarification for rules lawyers. I think we all knew that this was not going to be the same leap from 7th to 8th, since this would be carrying over all the same codexes but the core rules feel more like a refinement to 8th in many ways instead of a new edition. This of course excludes a few small but potentially widely affecting changes. Anyone who expected their faction to suddenly get thrust into the limelight is probably going to have to wait a bit longer.
Jack: The new painting rule is a mixed bag. I certainly like having an emphasis on everyone playing with painted armies, but I don’t think this rule was a great way to go about it – tournaments are likely to still have a 3 color minimum (I’d rather not play against an army than play against grey plastic that gets a 10vp penalty), and I think casual friends are going to ignore it in favor of letting people play with their brand new unit, so it’s going to mostly be used by the local pubstomper.
Greg: I feel the same way about the painting scores. I want to love it, because I’m a big fan of painting and I want more people to try it even if they don’t enjoy it or don’t think they’re very good (they are probably good), but it’s going to be a non-factor at events, which already have painting scores anyway, and the worst people in the hobby are going to smugly claim 10VPs over new players with it.
Liam: I own a lot of painted models. I love painting and I think the game is way better when it’s between two painted armies on well-painted terrain. I think the painting points are one of the worst things they’ve introduced in a long time. It doesn’t matter at competitive events, it doesn’t matter for ultra-casuals where either both players are semi-painted or they’re not using matched play missions at all. It’s basically only relevant when that guy in your store is using it as a weapon to beat up on new or inexperienced players. It will likely never affect me, and I’m still mad about it.
Raf: Chiming in with a slightly different perspective. I think the codification of stuff like this in actual rules will do a lot more to push some players than expected. Yes, tournaments already have this and can ignore it and yes, casual players can also ignore it with agreement, but in general there is now a codified nudge to pick up your brush and get battle ready. I’ve already gotten a message from someone at my local store that says “guess I need to start hobbying”; he’s the most hobby reticent of the regulars.
Similarly, the Crusade rule that says you can roll for your upgrade or choose the most Narratively appropriate will nudge a bunch of players into not choosing the min-maxiest option. Will everyone do it? Of course not, but it lends an official weight.
Alfredo: I agree with this in part. I like the idea of GW formally making a hobby a part of the competitive piece, I don’t particularly like how 40k is a broad hobby that involves building, painting and playing but we tend to compete in those areas as completely isolated things. I also think it’s pretty simply to just agree with an opponent that you’re going to ignore the painting score when playing a friendly game or trying out new units. That said, I don’t really see the point of the painting score as is, where it’s just a binary “painted/not painted” check in the box. At that point, it’s just a gating mechanism rather than any real attempt to integrate the whole of the hobby into competitive scoring.
TheChirurgeon: Just seems like unnecessary gate keeping to me. Most, if not all major events already have a painting requirement. All this does is hurt players at RTTs and smaller events who may still be building/testing different army concepts. There’s never a point in a casual game where I’m going to tell someone they lost because I got +10 points for painting my models, and in GTs I don’t expect it’ll come up. I love playing with and against painted armies, but I just don’t think this does what they want it to do.
Liam: I am really, really hopeful that it’s just lazy writing for the box datasheets and you cannot in fact get a 2+ invulnerable save for having a storm shield because of a janky interaction most people don’t know about or understand.
TheChirurgeon: Removing the Prepared Positions Stratagem right as you make first turn incredibly valuable is also baffling. The other thing I’ll point out here is the Blast Weapons page is just an alphabetical listing of weapons, not even sorted by faction. C’mon guys.
Greg: I love it because I get to remember who has a Plasma Exterminator versus a Plasma Incinerator. I do think Blast is going to end up being a smaller issue than it immediately seemed, though. It’ll prevent the bad feeling of dropping 1 battlecannon shot on that mob of 20 Hormagaunts, but with the breakpoints being 6+ and 10+ I don’t know that it’ll be as big a shift as say, the Morale or Coherency changes end up being.
Jack: I can’t imagine the storm shield 1+ save effectively being a 2+ invulnerable thing sticks around. I feel like it was a thing for a short bit with bullgryn, and was promptly patched out of existence. I’m worried about the importance of first turn, given the missions we’re looking at. It’s definitely a fixable thing, and might even be fixed in the Chapter Approved GT mission pack, but as they stand they’re not great.
Greg: I still don’t know how I feel about the five turns thing, but I appreciate the smaller board size because it elevates Moon Base Klaisus to the top of the Realm of Battle rankings, where it belongs.
Raf: Pretty bummed that Sisters of Battle appeared in the launch trailer and website and are nowhere to be found in this initial box or release. Comes off like they want to market some visible diversity with the launch but weren’t particularly compelled to include it. Primaris was a missed opportunity to add women to the Marine force and Psychic Awakening was a second missed opportunity.
TheChirurgeon: The big thing here are the missions. It took us a long time to get to the 2020 ITC packet and, while some authors here might have hemmed and hawed over the removal of Seize (they were wrong. Fight me, Cyle), the current rules were pretty great and made going second something you actually wanted to do. I’m not a fan of the current missions in that regard. Otherwise, I think a lot of this will take time to shake out. It’ll be interesting to see how tournaments change up terrain to meet the new rules, and as much as Games Workshop wanted to suggest that melee is much improved, everything I’ve seen so far says that it’s actually a bit worse.
RagnarokAngel: A big todo is being made about he new painting requirement which is absolutely asinine to me. It’s been an expectation for a long time and showing up with “Battle ready” standard, and is a requirement in a lot of places. I don’t think it hurts anything but it also doesn’t really affect anything. It’s not “is your opponent’s paint job better than yours” its “did you bother to paint your stuff”.
Jack: Barring the first turn issues with the current set of missions, this is going to be the best edition yet for competitive play. New terrain rules will hopefully shake up tournament terrain (I’d like to see more interesting looking stuff, I’m tired of the flat nova Ls), and more clarity in the rules should lead to a lot fewer bad tournament interactions where someone loses more to “gamey” feeling rules than anything else.
Liam: Yeah, I think as a game I want to play competitively the core rules are vastly better than they have been in the past – there is stuff that is going to require an FAQ or errata (hopefully to some extent covered by what’s coming in the faction update FAQs that GW announced a while ago), but it seems likely to be much fewer and farther between than what we saw in 8th edition where 50% of the rules was contained in errata documents by the end. The missions leave a lot to be desired, but they’re also eminently fixable – make the scoring end of battle round and rejig deployment to be more like ITC 2020, and the rest of what’s there will make for an interesting pack to play through.
Wings: So the good stuff first – bringing secondaries into the main ruleset is great, and I’m honestly here for the fact that a lot of them are really hard to max out – I like a lot about how ITC implemented them, but felt maxing them out was just a bit too reliable for skilled players. Having to really fight for the points is a good change. I also like the introduction of Actions as part of competitive play a lot – it opens up a lot of design space, and forces players to make real choices on the board.
Primaries are where I’m still not convinced. I’m a big fan of the NOVA format and this has a lot of elements on it, but unfortunately it’s pared out some parts of it that were vital to it functioning as a whole – and I think cutting the game down to five turns rather than the six that a lot of tournament packs use is the main mistake.
The absolute, key fact I just keep coming back to is this – Tactical Reserves is meant to be one of the selling points of the edition, and a way for players to protect their units. However, in all but one 2000pts mission, the earliest any unit placed in tactical reserves can score you points towards the primary is the command phase of your fourth turn of five. That just feels off to me, and I’ll be interested to see if the now announced Grand Tournament pack makes any tweaks to any of this.
TheChirurgeon: It feels like Crusade is taking over the Narrative play aspects of 40k, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I think Crusade looks awesome. On the other, I think there’s still a place for missions that don’t have a ton of custom secondaries, or for narratives that narrow your secondary choices a bit. I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.
Jack: I don’t think GW ever managed to figure out how to write a narrative play mission that wasn’t hot garbage (it’s not an excuse to just throw balance out the window). I’m glad it’s being nearly entirely replaced by Crusade.
Liam: Yeah, Jack’s right here, past GW narrative missions mostly sucked. It’s weird to me that narrative is clearly the preferred way for GW insiders to play, and yet the rules to support it are always just kind of lazy rubbish that are “Matched Play, but you can break it much easier.” Crusade looks like a big step in the right direction in terms of making it more about developing a cool narrative with your friends rather than “your mission is to leave the board, and you can take planes that fly further than the board is long.”
Raf: I’ve seen lots of “this will be the way I play from now on” from the moment we saw the first videos that gave even minor details, so I think Crusade will be good. We don’t need permission to play however we want and anyone can make an unbalanced narrative mission, so pleased to see GW taking a more direct approach.
Wings: I’m mostly going to let the experts talk about Crusade and Narrative play, but I do want to chime in that I appreciate the complete revamp of their attitudes here. Narrative used to mean “we don’t need to try to make balanced rules”, which was a dumb attitude that lead to most of the narrative content being unusable – our local club tried a Vigilus campaign but abandoned it in favour of a much more rule-heavy escalation league because playing the missions was just dire. Here, the narrative content has had a similarly high level of care and attention lavished on it as everything else, and gives players a strong framework to craft their narrative experiences within. Top marks.
TheChirurgeon: Yeah I mean I think you can make balanced narrative rules and I’m glad Crusade appears to be the start of that, but the problem with the old narrative missions was that they were bad, not that the concept was trash.
TheChirurgeon: I am extremely excited for Crusade. While I’m not sold on the idea that you’ll ever want to play some rando’s Crusade army, especially with the unit upgrades that can be chosen rather than rolled for, I think it’ll quickly become the de facto way to run a campaign with friends, and one that doesn’t need nearly as much GM involvement. That’s great!
RagnarokAngel: I came in being very skeptical about Crusade. Games Workshop has had a checkered history with narrative type stuff and I questioned if they’d have the follow through to do this sort of thing. Thankfully, the basics here are really good. The generic upgrades are suitable enough, I just hope we see more unique options in the future, to better differentiate the factions. As it stands now it’s a perfectly suitable way to do a narrative campaign.
Jack: Despite mostly being a competitive player, I’m incredibly interested in Crusade. I’m a little nervous about the power bumps you can push into a unit, so it may not work so well for a pickup game where someone’s not entirely honest about their roster, but campaigns will be incredibly fun. I can see a ton of future design space for campaign books – introduce some specific relics or upgrade traits based on where the campaign is taking place.
Alfredo: I always imagine Jack playing 40K in some kind of DMZ where players are actively hostile to each other and the social contract has been thrown to the wind. I agree with both Jack and Rob that Crusade will likely not work great for random pick-up games though; Warcry has a somewhat similar structure with Warbands and Quests and while in theory you could just show up and play your warband against any other, it doesn’t really work out all that well without some additional balancing. I think Crusade will fall into a sweet spot between fully unmoderated leagues and the grand endeavour that is a well-arbitrated Necromunda campaign. You’ll need a GM of some sort but a light touch should be enough to keep things on track.
Liam: I’m probably not going to end up playing Crusade very much, but I’m Here for the idea of it, and if anything gets me doing more narrative play it’s something cool like this. A lot of campaign systems I’ve seen in the wild have been basically Crusade anyway but just way less developed. My one reservation about it is that it seems quite complicated to run – there’s a lot to track for each player – but hopefully there’s a technological or other solution to that.
Raf: I am extremely here for Crusade. Almost all of the Warhammering I’ve done across any of GW’s games have been through escalation or improvement-style campaigns. Path to Glory, Warcry, etc all have structured systems for this and I’m happy to see GW put out an official one. It seems clear that what’s printed in this book is a strong generic foundation and I expect the codexes to send us spinning off into exciting new directions. I will definitely be playing this at my local shop and wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the dominant way to play around here.
Alfredo: My overall impressions of Crusade are extremely positive. I think the system will work well as written but it’s also a solid framework for experimentation and customization to meet a particular group or community’s gaming needs. I love that you’re encouraged with carrots (not sticks) to use your own characters instead of named characters and forge your own narrative. There’s a lot of room to really make your Crusade force your own and generate stories from your games in the way that something like X-COM is well known for. And like Raf, I’m hopping with excitement to see what the codexes do to add faction-specific spice to the solid framework the core book creates.
TheChirurgeon: I’m excited. On the whole, there’s more good than bad here, and the clearer, concise new rules and emphasis on fewer detachments and more CP make for what I hope will be a faster, more interactive game. They’re gonna need to fix those missions, though.
RagnarokAngel: Tentatively excited. It hasn’t set my world on fire and I don’t even know when I’ll get a chance to play with the current climate right now. I think the changes I see in general are positive, and shows it’s moving in a good direction. I just think we need to see some codexes before we’re sure where any of this is going.
Jack: I’m pumped. Despite some minor issues, the core rules are much more accessible, and crusade looks incredibly fun. The new missions could do with some tweaks to balance out first turn advantage, but that’s an entirely fixable issue, whether in FAQs, the GT pack, or future campaign books. I can’t wait to get a chance to play.
Wings: I think this is going to be a surprisingly big change for the better. The core rules are absolutely the best they’ve ever been, and that’s such a good foundation to build on. Now give me the points GW. I want to build lists.
Liam: The mission thing still bothers me, but as has been said, they’re fixable. The set that exists right now is fixable, never mind the future packs which GW has told us are going to come into play. So no reason to fret just yet.
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