With the end of 2021 only days away, we’re looking back at the year that was, chock full of releases, excitement, and changes. In this first part of a two-part series, we’ll primarily be focusing on 9th edition’s competitive play – how the meta evolved, what Games Workshop did to adjust things, how 9th edition is shaking out, and where we might be headed in 2022. Then in part 2 we’ll take a look at the more casual side of things with an eye toward narrative play.
The First Full Year of 9th Edition
Rob: We had less than half a year of 9th edition when it released in 2020, and you could argue we had maybe a quarter at most given the constraints on in-person play and the delay between the game’s release and the launch of its first codexes in September. 2021 gave us a full year of 9th edition, dramatically reshaping the game and how its factions play. As the year has gone on we’ve firmly jettisoned a number of holdover rules and add-ons from late 8th edition, such as the bulk of the Psychic Awakening campaign books, most of which have either been incorporated into 9th Edition Codexes or re-printed with 9th Edition wording in Campaign books. Though if you were upset about the lifespan of those campaign supplements well, you’re not unjustified.
Wings: To be fair on that point, had COVID not shut down competitive play for the majority of 2020 players would have gotten more use out of them, and early 9th would have been extremely skewed if lots of factions hadn’t received some late 8th re-tooling.
Rob: That’s true, though it also probably means 9th would have released earlier, and Codex: Death Guard would have come out in November/December and made War of the Spider obsolete just as quickly – COVID delayed a lot of those. It’s OK though, because I think the 9th edition Death Guard Codex is brilliant, and the model all books should be trying to follow from a design standpoint.
Nine New Codexes/Supplements Released
Rob: Only two standalone codexes released for 9th edition in 2020: Codex: Space Marines and Codex: Necrons, with four supplements adding chapter support for the former. 2021 improved on that with a whopping nine books dedicated to factions (seven codexes and two supplements), and it would likely have been more if not for supply chain issues and slowdown.
Wings: This has thoroughly reshaped the game, as we’re now very much living in 9th Edition with a few 8th Edition hangovers rather than taking our first steps into the Edition. 9th Edition books have tended to be much more focused than 8th Edition ones, providing strong incentives to build to your armies themes, and rewards for sticking to a single faction rather than building soup lists. In general, this has given players of each faction some pretty exciting mechanics to work with, and has produced some real standout books, with the Adepta Sororitas and Thousand Sons Codexes (plus the Black Templars Supplement) being particular highlights, with great internal balance and great tools for players to build with. The Drukhari and Adeptus Mechanicus books were, of course, also stuffed with delights for players of the factions, but maybe a little too stuffed, with some consequences for the competitive scene that we’ll get to.
It’s fair to say that despite the issues that some of the books caused, the general quality of Codexes is massively higher than in 8th Edition – every book other than Necrons (which has started seeing some targeted improvements to compensate) has given rise to enduringly viable competitive builds, and they’re notably much better at rewarding you for using iconic units than 8th Edition was. Even the codexes that have ended up problematic have generally ended up so because they over incentivise some units (with an especial pattern of units that underperformed in 8th getting buffed too hard), or provide the players with too broad a set of valid choices, allowing them to create armies that could counter almost any opposition. As we’ll see, however, over the course of this year Games Workshop have adopted a far more active attitude to balancing their game, and the top books have seen some tweaks made to try and bring them down to the level of the pack. That process is ongoing, but things look bright for the next year, and it looks like we’re going to hit the back half of the Codex release cycle at a serious pace.
Rob: That’s something I’ve generally noticed when going back and working on Start Competing articles – the subfactions that have the most play now are ones that make specific units or strategies you want to take much better and incentivize certain builds, rather than what we saw in 8th edition where more generalist abilities had a lot more value. Though some of that is also just that -1 to be hit isn’t nearly quite as good as it used to be.
Wings: The other particular trend we’ve seen with subfactions, which I’ll talk about more later, is that any which provide buff support that applies to non-CORE units tend to see disproportionately high amounts of play, because the boosts they provide to vehicles (in particular) cannot be easily replicated anywhere else.
Four Campaign Supplements
Rob: In addition to those nine codexes, Games Workshop also released four campaign supplements: Two each for Charadon (The books of Rust and Fire) and Octarius (Rising Tide and Critical Mass). Each of these came with new matched play rules, in the form of additional codex supplements and armies of renown.
The Codex Supplements in these campaign books essentially act as added content for the game’s codexes, fleshing out the rules for a particular subfaction. So far we’ve seen these for Admech (Metalica), Adepta Sororitas (Martyred Lady), Drukhari (Cult of Strife), Orks (Blood Axes), Tyranids (Hive Fleet Leviathan), Imperial Knights (House Raven) and Astra Militarum (Cadia) forces, and generally speaking, each of these adds powerful new rules to the faction that have immediate competitive implications.
Wings: Some of these have proven pretty controversial, most notably the Cult of Strife, which I think is widely agreed to have been A Bit Much, generally being a dominant part of Drukhari lists throughout most of the year, only finally ebbing in popularity as Talos have encouraged Realspace Raids, specific metagame considerations have uplifted Test of Skill, and the price on Succubi and Wyches has been raised significantly. The issue with it was that it just handed a Codex that already had a spectacular toolbox of tricks even more that could be seamlessly integrated into existing builds, plus provided a critical mass of ways you could upgrade a Succubus into a nightmare blender, which lead to successful builds running three of them.
Later Codex Supplements have done a much better job of providing alternative things armies can do rather than making the rich richer, with the Martyred Lady supplement in particular spawning a valid competitive build that’s quite different to other Sororitas lists, and this is a healthy way for them to operate. The exception to this rule is the Leviathan Supplement, which is very much a flat-out upgrade on anything else Tyranids can do, but that serves the clear function of bridging an 8th Edition book into 9th till their new Codex release, which is another perfectly healthy way to use these.
Rob: Armies of Renown are more of a mixed bag. These seem to be 9th edition’s replacements for 8th edition’s specialist detachments, imposing strict limitations on how you can build your army in exchange for powerful new upgrades. And in terms of power level, these are more of a mixed bag as well – some have seen competitive success, such as the Death Guard Terminus Est Assault Force, Freeblade Lance and the Admech Skitarii Veteran Cohort, while others haven’t seen much competitive play. Currently, it doesn’t seem like these armies break the game; the tradeoffs they offer appear to be pretty balanced, and while we’ve seen success from some, there’s never been a point where an Army of Renown build has entirely eclipsed other options that a faction has access to. Of course I say “currently” because the latest Army of Renown release – the Crusher Stampede released not in a supplement but in the most recent issue of White Dwarf – looks extremely potent, and early signs are the the Ork Speed Mob is going to be a big player in events two. However, both of these have some challenges attacking Secondary objectives effectively because of their restrictions, and we’ll find out in the new year whether that’s enough to keep them in check.
And then there are the miscellaneous rules, which add things like Synaptic Links, Rogue Traders, and Be’lakor to the game, as well as a host of reprinted materials like the traitor legion rules from Vigilus Ablaze and Faith and Fury. While Rogue Traders were clearly never intended for competitive play, Synaptic Link rules and Be’lakor have been transformative for the Tyranid and Chaos factions, giving them powerful new tools to work with.
Competitive Play Returns
9th edition launched late in the summer of 2020, during a period when events were not particularly plentiful and in-person gaming wasn’t something people were trying to make happen. But as we pushed into 2021 and vaccinations became widespread, events started to pick back up, slow at first and then as a landslide in the back half of the year, often with multiple majors firing in a single weekend by Q3.
Tracking these events has been a ton of work but very rewarding, and we’ve done so primarily through two article series:
- Competitive Innovations looks at the top lists from the prior weekend’s biggest events, talking about their successes and what makes them work
- Meta Analysis is a more semi-monthly series that looks at player and faction statistics and how new rules are changing the meta
One of the big trends we’ve seen this year is the emergence of massive super major events in the UK, with player counts that challenge the likes of NOVA, Adepticon, and LVO.
Drukhari and Adeptus Mechanicus Dominate the Landscape
Of course it’s impossible to talk about competitive 40k in 2021 without addressing the purple, spiked elephant in the room. Since their release at the end of March, Drukhari have been the game’s most dominant faction, winning a majority of large events and dominating top 4s around the globe. And they’ve managed to do this despite being changed in some form or another a whopping four times:
- Some slight tweaks were made in the FAQ following the book’s release, and some errors corrected, most notably Reaver points
- Significant rules changes in the summer FAQ, removing the ability to use Dark Technomancers on liquifier guns, the free CP from Raiding Forces and nerfing Competitive Edge’s interactions with razorflails.
- Some extra point increases added alongside the rules FAQ, adding to the price of Raiders and Drazhar.
- Additional point increases in the first Balance Dataslate (though also some compensatory buffs, unlocking powerful new builds).
Wings: Where we sit at the end of this is that Drukhari are still the game’s best faction, but not as far ahead as they once were. Both Talos-centric lists and Goodstuff builds using powerful mobile shooting threats and melee trade pieces can take on all-comers – but the best of the other books in 9th are now more than capable of trading blows with them, as Talos are less overwhelmingly mobile than traditional Drukhari lists, and the Goodstuff builds have a bit less stuff than they once did. They’ll probably still need a little further attention as things stand – but maybe not if the next set of points updates brings buffs for other factions, or upcoming Codexes are powerful enough to face them head on.
The Adeptus Mechanicus and Orks Fly Too Close to the Sun
Wings: Adeptus Mechanicus have never quite put up the raw numbers of top finishes that Drukhari achieved, mostly thanks to having far fewer players and being an expensive army to pivot to, but at the top levels of the game they were arguably more powerful. After the Drukhari experience, Games Workshop were quicker on the draw with some fairly significant changes, taking the edge off some builds, but as players learned to stop worrying and love the Stratoraptor, more and more supermajors fell to the robot menace.
Rob: In a similar fashion, Orks were hampered by some initial release delays for key units like the Kill Rig and the wider release of their own Codex that stopped their inclusion at some events, but once their rules were widely available for competitive play they hit the ground running. Or flying, as it were – Ork flyers, particularly the Wazbom Blastajet, are among the game’s most powerful and points-efficient units, particularly when paired with the Freebootaz Clan Kultur. And it is on the backs (fuselages?) that Ork lists quickly rose to a place of competitive dominance.
As a result of some truly dire tournament results involving finals matches where AdMech and ork players essentially tabled their opponents on the game’s first turn, both armies were hit with significant nerfs in the December balance dataslate, the primary among these being that models with the FLYER role are now limited to 0-2 per army. This, coupled with some points adjustments, was devastating (but not completely debilitating) for Admech, while Orks got off a bit lighter and have rebounded with some new builds that lean more heavily on the faction’s other strong units.
Wings: The changes to the AdMech faction in the Balance Dataslate, differing from Drukhari in being almost universally debuffs, dealt a pretty firm blow to the faction and knocked them all the way down to tier 2. At this point, we wouldn’t be totally shocked to see some of these lightened a bit come the spring – one of the advantages of now having scheduled balance passes, as we’ll discuss in a moment.
Games Workshop’s Approach to Balancing Competitive Play
Early 9th edition (most of 2021) saw Games Workshop take a clear, but somewhat unannounced, step back from the regular balance updates that marked 8th edition for most of its lifespan, with slower turnaround times on on book FAQs/errata and no spring Big FAQ or matched play adjustments. There were still updates – most notably we saw major updates to the FAQs and points in January and again in July with the release of new Munitorum Field Manuals – but it seemed like GW’s process with regard to 9th edition was more “hands-off.”
Wings: My take on this is that the release pattern of early 9th generally made a reasonable case that there was always a “next big thing” just round the corner, which discouraged making sweeping changes. The early edition was dominated by Marine Supplements interacting with the Indomitus version of the Eradicator datasheet, which had a nerf coming in the full Codex, plus Forge World tools using various broken 8th Edition rules, which had a complete tidyup on the way in the Compendium. We did also see a revision to the missions and some small point changes in January, again providing a shakeup. This pattern arguably lasted all the way to the summer, where the second 9th Edition Chapter Approved arrived (along with our first taste of some targeted nerfs for DrukharI), but after that it felt like things stalled – Drukhari and Adeptus Mechanicus remained dominant in a period where Codex releases slowed, and things started to feel a bit stagnant (as readers of my weekly column could probably tell).
Rob: It was then a welcome surprise for competitive players in November when GW announced the Balance Dataslate, a competitive play update that changed points, datasheets, and army composition rules, with a commitment to future quarterly updates. This update made it not only clear that we’d receive regular updates in the future, but that these updates could go above and beyond past GW updates, changing more than just points values. While there are some downsides to changing published datasheets, having it as an option is vital in the case that a book gets left behind, and when changes are applying buffs, players of the faction are likely to allow it. We were generally very positive on the balance dataslate when it released.
Wings: While it’s easy to focus on Drukhari still being on top, the Balance Dataslate has definitely improved the competitive environment – more builds are being tried out, more things seem to be able to take a swing at the top spots, and although Talos appear to be over-pushed at their new price, their power has allowed the metagame to dodge what looked like the biggest risk in the post-update world, which was Dreadknights taking over. I think you could construct a serious argument that a metagame without Talos on top may actually be less healthy overall – but also that they may have ended up on top at their old price anyway.
Design Challenges for 9th Edition
Rob: While I still generally think that the core of 9th edition – if not the faction balance – is the strongest framework Games Workshop has built to date, it’s clear there are some challenges they’re dealing with from a design standpoint. Specifically while I think “Power Creep” is the wrong word for what’s going on here – Thousand Sons and Adepta Sororitas were weaker than Drukhari and Admech – there’s clearly a kind of “arms race” they’ve worked themselves into a corner with this edition when it comes to the relative deadliness of weapons and durability of units. Increasing the number of wounds on marines (and several other units) was followed by raising the damage profile on a number of weapons – Splinter Cannons, Heavy Bolters, Psycannons, a large number of weapons on Forge World units in the Imperial Armour Compendium, and improving the AP on a large number of weapons. This was then followed by an explosion of damage reduction abilities across multiple factions.
The net result of this process is that units and weapons designed early in the process appear worse and worse, as they’re neither able to compete with D3+3 damage or double-shooting D6+2 damage weapons, nor able to survive being shot by said weapons. This creates perverse incentives, where it’s almost always better to avoid paying points for 2 damage weapons because they’re likely to be wasted against Ramshackle vehicles, Crusher Stampede monsters, and Thicc city Talos.
Wings: I honestly think Damage Reduction is it’s own special issue, in that 9th has seen it explode from an occasional treat you access via relics or a stratagem to an effect that you can sometimes apply on almost every heavy unit in an army. While the Edition is definitely more lethal than 8th, the actual number of sources of d3+3 is not increasing that fast, it’s just that the places where it is available tend to be highly valued in competitive builds, especially as you increasingly cannot rely on D2 and D3 stuff to carry your anti-tank capabilities. There do seem to be more answers to this arising over time though – high-quality D1 weaponry seems to be getting a bit more common, with Thousand Sons being particularly well equipped to grind chunky targets down.
In terms of the lethality of the Edition, I think the goal for 9th is for everything to be good at their job at baseline, and after the first few Codexes (presumably once real-world information about how 9th played was flowing in), you can really see the design hit its stride in this regard – with occasional exceptions almost every 9th Edition datasheet is at least OK in a vacuum – and that’s definitely a good thing! 8th was riddled with units and upgrades that were just bad and while there are still options that competitive builds gravitate to, units are far less likely to be flat-out disappointing however you choose to equip them.
Rob: That’s true – we saw in Blunderdome that it’s really hard to make truly useless units now with 9th edition books, though Dark Angels certainly gave it an impressive attempt. They’ve done a much better job balancing the options that any given unit has access to, and they’ve done a better job of doing that with point costs as well and baking in costs where it makes sense. Though I do think they’re also still struggling with things like 2-damage weapons now for the reasons we already talked about.
Wings: The challenge that creates is that everything being fine on baseline reduces the power budget available for other effects – and one of the unsung successes of the Edition is that the top-end of what Stratagems are allowed to do has been dialed back quite a bit while keeping them interesting as a mechanic (most notably with the almost complete removal of “generic” Fight/Shoot twice effects). Where things have been a bit more uneven, and something that’s been very visible in the builds that ended up overpowered, is with army-wide effects and Detachment Abilities. Most notably, the single pain point that seems to keep coming back is the impact of traits allowing you to put re-rolls or hit modifiers onto non-CORE units. Units without CORE are now being pretty accurately priced to account for their non-compatibility with many buffs – which is fine until buffs they can benefit from turn up and push them over the top. If you go back over the units that have really dominated this year this keeps coming up – it wasn’t just Stratoraptors, it was Mars Stratoraptors; not just Dakkajets but Freebooterz Dakkajets.
I’ll admit I don’t have a magic solution to this, and don’t think it’s an unreasonable emergent problem to have run into. I agree with the (apparent) goal of every unit being good enough to use in its own right, which I think is particularly important for supporting the new player experience, and I don’t particularly want to see Faction traits get CORE locked, but it’s something to keep an eye on as more books land. Right now, I think the most important thing is for Space Marines and Necrons to get brought up so that their core unit quality is on par with everyone else, and in that regard I’m hoping to see the good work that the Balance Dataslate started continued in the next set of point updates.
Looking ahead to 2022
So with 2021 firmly behind us, what’s ahead in 2022? We can likely still expect a bunch of new codexes, model releases, and updates in the next year that will change the game considerably. Let’s look at some of the more specific things we know are on the horizon, and what we’re hoping for.
The January Points Update
January brings with it the latest edition of the Munitorum Field Manual, containing updated points across the game. The announcement post for the Balance Dataslate stated that the changes for Drukhari and Adeptus Mechanicus had been brought forward from Chapter Approved 2022, so we’re assuming there won’t be any further changes to those in any printed version, but it’s just about possible that a digital update might roll back some of the changes that are driving the success of the Thicc City builds. There are a number of other areas we’d like to see points adjustments, both in terms of making some problem units more expensive and opening things up a bit for units that don’t see a ton of play.
Wings: As things stand right now, I actually don’t think massive point changes are needed in most places – especially as three of the factions that need most help are about to get new books. My list of stuff that needs a look is broadly:
- Cheaper core units for Marines, Necrons and Death Guard.
- Grey Knights rebalanced so Dreadknights are pricier and Terminators cheaper.
- Improvements to Marine, Sisters and Necrons tanks.
- Some help for Guard and CSM to see them through to their books.
- The Volkite Contemptor staked through the heart and buried at a crossroads at midnight, signs put up indicating that this is not a place of honour, things of that nature.
That’s not nothing but it’s far shorter than the list of asks I’ve had going into previous updates, and I’m at least moderately optimistic that I’ll get my wish on a lot of these. Looking forward to finding out.
The 2022 GT Missions Pack
Rob: A new year means a new mission pack – two, in fact (more on that in a bit). We’ve already seen two missions and the secondary objectives from the GT missions pack but if Mike Brandt is to be believed there’s much more in store for us in the new GT missions pack next year. Unlike 2021’s minimal adjustments, the 2022 packet removes mission secondary objectives and dramatically changes primary objective scoring, fundamentally changing missions like Priority Objectives. We don’t yet know when the pack will release, but we suspect it will be in January given how much of it has already been revealed and the announcement there will be a follow-up midway through the year. Though even if it releases before LVO it won’t be used at the 2021 season finale event.
Wings: Very excited for this – I’ve enjoyed the current set of missions quite a bit, but I’m ready for a change at this point, and am a fan of everything we’ve seen so far.
Genestealer Cults and Custodes Are Next in Line
Rob: When it comes to the next books, there isn’t a ton of ambiguity – we know that the Adeptus Custodes and Genestealer Cults are next up for codexes. Performance-wise, these factions almost couldn’t be further apart; Custodes have been above average for most or all of 9th edition thanks to tough multi-wound units that can play missions reasonably well despite their small model counts, while Genestealer Cults have been stuck in the dregs for most of the edition with little stopping power and overcosted key units. At this point the big question isn’t whether they’ll improve in their new books, but by how much and whether it’ll happen in time for either army to make an impact at LVO in 2022.
Wings: Custodes are in a weird spot where we know that whatever their book does they have an existing body of datasheets strong enough for competitive play in the Forge World Compendium, so they’re very likely to be fine. Genestealer Cults is the one to watch – the faction has really struggled in 9th and the 8th Edition book was very divisive even when it was good, so whether the design team rises to the challenge of updating them for the world we currently live in will be interesting to see.
Then There Are the T’au
T’au are a different story entirely, however – they carry an interesting series of hurdles for GW to cross from a design standpoint. As an army with no ability to interact in the Psychic phase and little to do in the Fight phase, they’ll live or die competitively based on their shooting and movement, and will likely be a difficult need to thread – make the shooting too good risk their alpha strike capabilities becoming too powerful. Make it too weak and risk building an army that can’t compete. Neither is necessarily fun to play against. What we’ve seen from Warhammer-Community previews so far is promising, though – the ability to shoot while in combat opens up a new dimension for T’au, and the ability to Fall Back and shoot with Kauyon and the distance-based buffs from Mont’ka seem to encourage a T’au playstyle that is much more aggressive and in-your-face than we’ve historically seen, which will hopefully lead to an army that does damage through shooting, but not necessarily from a distance that makes them impossible to interact with.
Craftworlds Eldar are on the Horizon
Wings: My body is ready.
Rob: The only reason I’m not upset about this is because they’ve mollified me with new Chaos Marine models and possibly new datasheets. I am not particularly excited for Eldar to suddenly become a top-tier army again – as I’m sure they will be, following a book packed to the pointy ears with all manner of elf bullshit.
GW Promises a Big Year for Chaos in 2022
Rob: With their Christmas day reveal Games Workshop have promised a big year for Chaos in store for 2022 and it’s hard to see how it couldn’t be, given that we’re almost certain to see Codex: Chaos Space Marines release in the first half of the year (I hope, anyways), and Chaos Knights and Chaos Daemons are sure to be in the mix as well. That does call for a big year for a trio of factions that have been suffering for most of 9th edition to-date. I’m very excited to see what the next iteration of Codex: Chaos Space Marines has in store for us.
And The Other Factions and Books
Rob: Of course the game’s other factions are likely to see updates as well – Astra Militarum, Tyranids, Imperial Knights, and Harlequins are all in the mix for new rules and there’s ample time for them to all get updates in 2022, which would give us a whopping 10 total Codexes. And of course we’re also likely to see campaign books in the mix again – four, if 2021’s trend continues, with two potentially giving us armies fighting in Nachmund Gauntlet if the “Retrieve Nachmund Data” serves as a preview for 2022 in the same way that “Retrieve Octarius Data” did in 2021. And this all assumes no other surprises in the next year… we’re sure there’s going to be something we aren’t expecting in the next year of releases.
Though this does raise the question of what we can expect to see happen for Space Marines in 2022? It’s pretty much impossible that we’ll go through an entire calendar year without at least one new release for Space Marines. And in that regard, my money is on six. Specifically, I’m betting that we’ll see updates to the six 8th edition Chapter supplements in 2022. Possibly in campaign books, but I think that’s what we’ll get on the marines side of things.
Wings: My big hope here is that GW prioritizes blowing through the rest of the Codexes as quickly as possible in this year (and from what they’ve shown so far they’re going to make a flying start at that). 9th ended up being a far bigger change from 8th in terms of what armies needed to do than anyone expected, so the sooner everyone is working from a modern book the better. That’s especially true now that Balance Dataslates are on the table – once every book is in play, these can focus on crafting a very healthy metagame without needing to worry as much about being derailed by the next book.
Competitive Play Seasons
The other major change, one which Games Workshop announced yesterday, is that we’ll be moving to “seasons” for Warhammer 40k that encompass the time we’ll spend in a particular Warzone. This currently looks similar to 2021’s releases, in that we can expect two warzones in 2022, each accompanied by campaign books, Crusade books, and Kill Team releases, but with the added wrinkle of a new competitive play missions pack to be released in mid-2022.
Rob: I have strongly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, seasons for competitive 40k play is a great idea, and tying seasons to narrative events and changes in the 40k universe is a great idea. On the other hand, I’m worried about tying this to print releases, especially given that rules need to be completed around six months prior to publication if they’re going to be printed – finalizing proofs, translation work, the actual printing, and shipping copies of the release worldwide takes a long time. That means very little, if any, time to incorporate the data and feedback from one season into the next one.
Of course you can solve this challenge by having minimal changes from season to season but as we saw with the GT 2021 missions pack, itself a slight change from the 2020 missions, that this doesn’t sit well with players when it’s tied to a physical release with a price tag. This also doubles the baseline cost of engaging with competitive play. Ultimately I like the idea and I’m excited to see what they do from a narrative and Crusade perspective, but this is one area where I think the season competitive rules needed to be a digital release, or at least something not bound to the realities of print media.
Wings: I am fundamentally a huge fan of this announcement, with my only mild caveat being that I think six months might prove too short for each season. From a competitive play point of view, seasons (or rotating formats) are essentially the industry standard for any kind of e-sport or trading card game, and seeing Games Workshop willing to embrace this is hugely encouraging, and should be very good for the tournament scene. Publishing content aligned to a coherent theme across all game modes makes a huge amount of sense – it helps ensure all players of the game have more of a shared experience of the game’s evolution, and also opens up some design space – you could, for example, write rules in the Nachmund campaign book that directly interacted with Secondary Objectives from the season’s mission pack. Something I thought when I read Retrieve Nachmund Data for the first time was that it would be cool to be able to spend a CP to skip the dice roll – and with the new structure, that could be added as a stratagem in a Codex Supplement or similar.
My only worry with the announcement is how rapid a six month turnaround is, both in terms of player engagement and how quickly feedback from actual play can be built into the books. I do basically think that every six months is the correct cadence to update missions, but if it were up to me I’d be planning a big new release at the start of the season and then a smaller, probably digital, mid-season update halfway through. The announcement seems to imply that it’ll be a full book every six months, but doesn’t say so explicitly, so it could turn out that something like this is planned – we’ll have to see. I do think there’s some risk of players who aren’t grinding tournaments every other weekend getting fatigued by the prospect of buying a new book this often, but there are also easy solutions – my number one hope would be to see a digital version of one of the books each year be included with Warhammer Plus (especially if the mid-year book does turn out to be more iterative than the first), as that would substantially soften the financial blow, and be a good value-add for that service. Going further and making the mid-year release digital-only would be even better, as it would (presumably) allow changes to be made to it closer to release, allowing data from real play to be incorporated.
Even without that, my basic assumption is that players will adjust, and that this new structure will prove very positive for the game overall – and it will definitely be good news for my particular demographic (tournament player/pundit).
Wings: This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but I’m ending it enormously positive about the game. 9th has a huge number of strengths compared to 8th, but for much of the year that’s been masked by the dominance of Drukhari and AdMech. The arrival of the Balance Dataslate, and the promise of refreshed missions in the new year has largely washed away any bad taste left from that, and allowed me to focus on the positives. Some of the Codexes GW have published this year are the best they’ve ever done, new models continue to kick ass, and the direct support for the competitive scene shown off at the Roadshows and by the Balance Update provides some confidence that the game will go to some good places next year. Have there been some wobbles? Absolutely – but I’m very hopeful that we’re now past them.
Rob: It’s been a hell of a year and I’ve already spent twenty posts chronicling my first real push into competitive play. On the whole I’m still very positive on the edition despite Drukhari dominance and looking forward to the Chaos releases in 2022 that will allow me to go back to my beloved Black Legion and Night Lords now that I’ve burnt out a bit on Death Guard. I do worry about balance with upcoming books on the horizon, but the balance dataslate and seasonal approach has made it easy to believe that if there are issues, they’ll be corrected relatively quickly. I was never on board with the thought that 9th was at any point worse than 8th, but I do think Drukhari still need to be adjusted.
That does it for Part 1. Join us again in part 2 on Friday, when we’ll talk about the game’s non-competitive elements and how they shook out over the last year.
Have any questions or feedback? Want to offer your own thoughts on the first full year of 9th edition? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.