I've been playing Warhammer 40,000 back since the Rogue Trader days. This was the first new rules set I was a little uncertain about - all the other sets have been in fantastic boxed packages with so many miniatures you could hardly go wrong, but here I had to shell out almost $50 just for a rulebook. But, I had to try it anyway...
This review will be looking at the main Warhammer 40K rulebook. This rulebook is not really intended for new players – they have the Battle of Maccrage boxed set for that, which contains introductory scenarios and a simplified version of the rules. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t comment on that.
Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop miniatures wargame – meaning you use little metal or plastic models to represent your troops. A typical soldier is somewhere around an inch and a half tall. You and your opponent each maneuver your troops around, doing your blast to blast the other side apart!
While the game is set in the 41st millennium, its really a techno-fantasy game more than a science fiction game. Most of the civilizations in it, humans included, have slid backwards in technology in the age of war. So you’ll find troops with nasty rocket firing assault rifles, alongside assault troops with chainswords, fighting against warp daemons summoned from the warp to devour their foes!
Basically, you each pick an army and a scenario for the battle, then each side takes turns. On a turn, you move all of your troops in three main phases:
In the movement phase, all your units (surprise, surprise) MOVE! Most units move 6”, but many units like vehicles, bikes and troops with jump packs can go faster, some up to 24”. Mechanics for getting through difficult terrain are quite simple – you roll 2 dice and pick the highest for how far you can move. This means you might get through woods quickly, or become entangled and slowed down a lot and must weight the risks.
In the shooting phase, you get to start blasting things. Each unit can fire at one other unit. Shots are resolved by D6 rolls, with each model having a score indicating how well it hits. Once you have rolled hits, you determine if the attacks cause wounds, based on the strength of weapon against the toughness of the target, and then see if the target’s armor deflects the shot. Armor has a rating, such as 4+, which means you need to roll a 4 or more to deflect a hit. However, many weapons have an AP rating, which is how effective they are at piercing armor. An AP 5 weapon against the 4+ armor wouldn’t break through, and the target would get an armor roll. But an AP 4 weapon would slice right through, negating the armor roll. Any wounds that haven’t been stopped by armor result in models being removed from the squad. A squad that loses too many models will have to make a leadership roll to avoid being pinned down or fleeing outright.
It’s a lot of dice rolling, but its quite straightforward once you get used to it. Usually most of the firing unit and target will have the same stats, so you just pick up the appropriate number of dice and roll away, maybe including a different die for the stray special weapon in the squad.
One important thing is that movement and firing are related. Many weapons fire less effectively on the run. Rapid Fire weapons, for example, which are most of the general purpouse weapons in the game, get two shots up to 12” away. If you don’t move, you can fire a single shot at target units from 12” to the weapon’s maximum range, allowing for long range fire. Heavy weapons are often quite devastating, but can’t fire at all if the unit moves. You have to balance mobility versus firepower.
After the shooting phase, you have assault. Assault represents a mix of actual hand to hand combat and close in firefighting. Troops can make an extra assault move to get into the fray, but once again there are some balancing acts. If you fired heavy weapons or rapid fire weapons, you can’t assault at all, so you need to decide if its better to use your shooting, or close in for a firefight. Assault is both risky and rewarding. Both sides get to strike in hand to hand, so you can take losses on your own turn, but a decisive assault can easily break though the enemy lines.
After one side is done, its over to the other player for their turn. Normally, games will last for a set number of turns. At that point, you might either check to see who has completed objectives or use a victory point scoring system.
The rules are nicely written. They take up a lot of space – the basic rules are maybe 50 odd pages, but a lot of that is nice full color diagrams and examples. The basic rules are presented in one chapter, then additional chapters add in all the extra bits like tanks, heroes, and special troops types. Its hard for me to judge since I’m so used to the system, but I think it would be relatively easy to learn.
The rest of the support material is great. There is a basic random scenario system that’s really well designed for situations in which both players just agree to a point value, bring an army, and play. The scenario variety helps ensure that an army that is too narrow may find itself at a disadvantage, and encourages more balanced armies.
There is then a large section of “advanced” material, which includes a variety of more advanced scenarios, and some special ways of playing like Combat Patrols – fast, very small scale games, Kill Teams – special scenario style games where one elite force must complete a mission in the face of more numerous opposition, great for infiltration style and cinematic style games, and campaigns.
There is also a fairly large section of flavor text for the world. Its got a lot of color and a lot of variety on the information, covering all the major races and many events of the 40K universe, but I find that there really is not enough detail on each alien race to get much of the flavor for them.
There is also an assortment of information on modeling and painting.
There is one thing that is critically lacking – there are no army lists whatsoever. This means if you just buy this book, you have all the rules…but no forces to play with. Since the new army rules are coming out rather slowly and are a separate book for each faction, there is no easy way to get playing. This game absolutely should have a few sample troops for each race, or this information should at least be available for download. A very major flaw in my opinion.
Overall, I think the game plays great. It lends itself to very fast moving and exciting games, with lots of different army and tactics options you can use. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to get into a heavy duty wargame.
If you played third edition, you won’t find a whole lot has changed. Mostly, there have been a few streamlines and simplifications. A lot of rules that used to require individual breakdowns are now simplified – such as damaged based on majority toughness and cover based on unit majority. Rules for different troop types are more consistent. The rapid fire change, permitting units with rapid fire to fire twice while moving but then not assault at all, makes quite a difference to play. The more ‘basic’ troops often gain quite a boost in the damage they do, but it gets rid of the “I might as well assault because otherwise I will be assaulted”. Overall, I think the tweaks improve the game.
I'd like to point out that I've seen a fair amount of comments about the game is "not realistic". What this usually seems to mean is "this doesn't have the level of detail I want", or "this doesn't have my pet mechanic". There is a certain level of abstraction to this game; its designed for large scale games with lots of troops and makes some abstractions and simplifications. Take it for what it is and its great.
Marcel van der pol
If you want to start playing this game and don't own anything at all, you may want to pick up the Battle For Magragge boxed set rather than the rulebook.
The box contains models for two sides: Space Marines (the most popular army) and Tyranids (think 'Starship Troopers' or 'Aliens'). The models represent a sufficient force to start playing the scenario's in the box. The box also contains the rules, but doesn't include any of the background material, scenarios, modelling and painting guides etc included in the hardcover rulebook.
Once you have played a few battles, you may want to start collecting an army. However, if you want to collect any of the following armies, you want to wait untill the rerelease of their army list and new miniatures line.
All other armies are quite new and can be collected quite easily without a lot of problems.
Just a quick addendum to the list of armies to be updated in the near future:
1) Tyranids were re-done in early 2005 - have at 'em if you're interested in that army! (The've got some really neat new/updated models and rules too)
2) The Tau are being re-done in early 2006. If, like me, you want to get into collecting these guys, hold out a few more months!
3) The Eldar are due out mid-to-late 2006. If you can wait that long, by all means do and see how they turn out. However, if you can't wait that long, have no fear. If GW sticks to their guns in how they're updating codices, very few, if any, of the models you pick up now will become obsolete. Their points cost and certain abilities may be tweaked, but you should have very little to fear in the way of obsolesence.
4) There's no indication that the Orks are getting a revamp any time soon. At least, not in 2005 or 2006. So, if the greenskins are interesting to you, by all means pick some up and start a WAAAGGGHHHH!!!
5) Last but not least, at least 2 of the Marine codices have been updated - the basic Space Marine codex (you can use this for Ultramarines, Do-It-Yourself Marine armies, or a large number of other marines armies) and the Black Templars codex. There are at least 3 other marines codices due in the coming years - Space Wolves, Blood Angels, and one other I fail to remember. But none should be out for at least another year, so you should feel free to use them as well!
There are at least 3 other marines codices due in the coming years - Space Wolves, Blood Angels, and one other I fail to remember. But none should be out for at least another year, so you should feel free to use them as well!
Dark Angels; reputed to be next (in 2007.)