The Incredible Shrinking 40K Edition Lifespan

The 40K Editions are getting shorter and shorter lifespans, it that good thing?

I want you to take a look at this chart from Lexicanum:

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader  1st 1987 6 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition Rulebook  2nd 1993 5 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 3rd Edition Rulebook  3rd 1998 6 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 4th Edition Rulebook  4th 2004 4 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 5th Edition Rulebook  5th 2008 4 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition Rulebook  6th 2012 4 Yr
Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition Rulebook  7th 2014 2 Yr

That is a list of the Editions of Warhammer 40,000, the years they came out, and the total lifespan of the edition (I added that last one).

See anything interesting in there?

It’s 2017 and with 8th Edition coming soon, it will have a 3 year lifespan.

The pattern is clear, the game is getting shorter and shorter editions as a trend. There are two questions to ask here.


Is it a good thing or a bad thing?


Well that’s the easy one, there are a number of new things putting out a new edition does for a game.

  • It puts out a mandatory new product for all existing players, spiking sales.
  • It spikes interest in the game.
  • It resets the meta.
  • It presents a new window to acquire new players.
  • It gives the manufacturer an opportunity to discard unwanted designs and roll out new ones.
  • It gives the manufacturer an opportunity to keep up with the competition.

Now some of this sounds nefarious, but really isn’t.  No company is perfect and every ruleset has some design features that don’t turn out exactly like the designers wanted. You should also factor in changing fashion in the industry. Certain “waves” of game design roll through now and then and everyone wants their game to have the newest coolest game mechanics that the cool kids are all playing.  Additionally many of popular games in the industry are quite complex and have a steep learning curve. After several years of use, the players get quite skilled and it can be a steep barrier to entry to new players. A new edition resets everything and levels the playing field.

Good or Bad?

We’ve talked about the why of changing editions, but are shorter editions inherently good or bad?

That’s a tougher one.

  • If an edition drags on too long, the game gets stale and can be seen as “old fashioned”.
  • It an edition gets updated too often, it can act as a force of disruption and offer players not only an opportunity to enter – but to depart.

Often you will see customers debating the “real motive” of the update. Was it really needed? Was it simply a money grab? Was it trying to fix something that was deeply wrong? Was it done to take X,Y & Z from that other hot game and integrate them into this one?

Such are the grand debates that rage at FLGS’ around the globe.

3rd Edition came out in 1998, the same year as The Big Lebowski

Really How Old is 7th Edition?

40K is of course never as simple as it seems. While the individual editions come and go, many players have limited memories of the very early editions where the game was quite different from the current rules.

Rogue Trader was the original and a quasi skirmish RPG-ish system that almost required a neutral party to keep things on track. It lasted 6 years.

2nd Edition was a big reimagining of the game into a larger scale affair and set it on the path of pure competitive play, with a set of still complex rules and detail. It lasted 5 years.

3rd Edition saw the game move to a structure that would be familiar to players today. The vehicles rules moved to AV values, the movement stat was removed and the model count went up again as the game became a company level affair.  I would argue that every edition from 3rd till 7th have been gradual evolutions of the foundations laid down in 1998. By that model the game we play isn’t a 3 year old 7th Edition, but 19 years old.

It may indeed for time for the game to get a major overhaul. No matter what happens, don’t be afraid, 40K has been through major changes and reboots twice before – and it came out just fine.

The grimdark (& the dude) abides.

~How often do you think the game should get a new edition?


  • I’m loving shadow wars Armageddon. It’s the perfect ‘gateway game for new players. One box and a rule book. Bam.

    • memitchell

      An idea 20+ years in the REmaking. 😉

      Glad you like it. So do I.

      • Damon Sherman

        2nd edition had it’s merits,but man I wouldn’t want to play it any higher than like 500-600 points. it’s the same reason warmahordes rarely play 200pt games.

        • eldannardo

          My fav edition – looking to recapture the feel with Shadow War 🙂

          • vlad78

            Your fav edition? Really? Mine was RT for small games and 5th for bigger ones ( codex creep notwithstanding). I think 2nd was in retrospect the worse by far and just a flawed middle ground between a real wargame and rpg. Hth rules were terrible, psy rules were also terrible unless you restricted the power level to 3, and heroeshammer was also bad, too few game turns, save modifiers made infantry too fragile, transports and bikes were much too expensive in general, vehicles rules were clumsy, wound allocation was just bad, transports were deathtraps… all of this making a very static game.

          • Shinnentai

            I think you mean save modifiers made Space Marines too fragile 😉 (and I do agree that they went overboard on the save mods).

            3+ saves notwithstanding, I would have thought infantry generally lasted longer in 2nd ed than 3rd onwards. -2 to-hit mods for hard cover, and basic weapons were only +1 to-hit for short-range, rather than doubling damage output.

          • stinkoman

            i liked the to hit modifiers for cover way more than i like cover saves.

        • Shinnentai

          Nah – 1,500 to 2,000 points in 2nd is fine so long as you dont play horde armies I think. If you look at old battle reports that doesnt usually buy you many figures (a tactical marine was 30pts).

          Massed Close combat was the main thing that could slow the game down. That and a whole squad throwing grenades (so much scatter!).

          • stinkoman

            oh and if they threw blind grenades at an ork horde (like ive never rushed a horde with bikers throwing blind grenades), be prepared to get lunch.

        • stinkoman

          500pt game… so one tac squad and an HQ?

      • vlad78

        The idea’s great, the execution is quite lacking. Shadow wars ruleset is just a joke compared to its competition, it’s totally obsolete. I assume all GW customers are filled with nostalgia.

        • stinkoman

          yeah, i like it out of nostalgia, even bought some MDF terrain kits that mimic necromunda terrain. But i wouldn’t say it’s lacking. it is different than most newer games. not every game should work the same. i love infinity (models are excellent) but not really digging some of the rules.

          • marxlives

            It’s not it is different but if you play different boxed skirmish games outside of GW, there is just a huge rule disparity in quality. Infinity rules are….well freaking area tight. The only thing I don’t agree with is the static deviation distance for AoE’s which they would do deviation and distance roll like WMH or CMoN’s Dark Age. But man, I could give you a list of boxed skirmish games whose rules are way more interactive, exciting, with a more sound design logic before hitting Shadow War.

    • eLCee

      I agree with you and this is why the limited release was even a more stupid idea. Several “small scale” Standalone games with similar core rules would have been as good as a 40k Starter kit.

    • ZeeLobby

      Yeah, I guess I’d be more impressed if anyone who’d written that ruleset still worked there. I’m still waiting to see if GW can produce novel gameplay. Maybe Shadowspire will be that?

  • Damon Sherman

    The change from 2nd to 3rd was pretty intense. there was a complete overhaul to what seemed like at first to be a better game. But, GW is the master of fixing one problem by introducing a new,even more horrible problem.

    • Shinnentai

      I was a complete fanboy back then, so didn’t realise at the time, but looking back, our 3rd ed games were nowhere near as fun as 2nd ed. 3rd ed really sucked a lot of character out of the universe, along with a lot of the tactical options.

      • Heinz Fiction

        I was very sceptical about 3rd edition. After my first game though I knew I’d never go back to the overcomplicated mess that 2nd edition was.

      • kobalt60

        3rd edition was the first time i realised GW was prepared to set the game to ‘easy’ level, and dumb it down for the short attention spanned amongst us

        • Damon Sherman

          2nd edition was absolutely draconic. 3rd ed over streamlined everything.

        • mysterex

          Not that easy, wound allocation and casualty removal to deny enemy attacks was a bit or an art form.

      • Damon Sherman

        Combat got a lot faster. Having to every combat individually really sucked. Also the old Psyker phase was miserable. You got to play a game of cards every round.

    • ZeeLobby

      Ah, yeah. 3rd was when we actually started playing by the rules, so having really started at that point, I don’t feel like I missed out on much. It was a lot of fun, so I guess I was lucky I dodged the 2nd edition comparison. The one thing 3rd did seem to do was make the game more approachable to more people maybe?

    • stinkoman

      i was a big fan of 2nd edition. i think more so because i was younger and my friends and i didnt have ready access to wargame sites where we could netlist and tourneys outside of gamesday didnt exist. we also had a closed group of friends at a FLGS that played this “niche” game at the time. it was simpler and more cinematic. more enjoyable form of hero hammer and we played till the last guy died, which made for some cool stories.

    • Raven Jax

      No matter how much you love AoS, I think we can all agree that the roll-out was mishandled horribly. I’m not hopeful about how GW starts off on 8th Ed. for 40K.

  • Sleeplessknight

    The different editions of the game are a case of planned obsolescence. If GW came out with the perfect edition of the game then people would only have to buy their rules once and after that, nobody would buy the rules ever again.

    I am certain that every time a new edition of the game comes out, GW will claim to fix the problems of the previous edition. However, GW will also intentionally create some new problems they can fix in a future edition of the game and keep us in a never ending cycle of book buying.

    • David Leimbach

      I agree completely and its obvious, however this is also what keeps the game dynamic and alive.
      This is less of a “they’re making me buy new stuff just to keep playing the game I love” and more of a “this keeps the lights on and the game I love from getting stale.”
      It’s frustrating to have an “under powered army” or having combos in the game you hate to play against, however you just have to wait a bit and the game will evolve.

    • Munn

      If they were THAT good at designing games, there wouldn’t be other game designers. Take off the tinfoil hat, does GW have some corporate mandated shenanigans they do to try and boost sales? Maybe, probably, but what you’re suggest is such a complex tightwire that being able to do it consistently without killing the game would make you the designer equivalent of god.

      • DJ860

        Yeh a little too tinfoil hat for my liking.

        As much as I’d like to think they’d have the skill to build a perfectly balanced set of rules, but then purposely add in some destructive breadcrumbs to create a deteriorating ruleset over time, I don’t really see it.

      • ZeeLobby

        LoL. This. This is definitely NOT a case of “planned” obsolescence. This is a case of trying to write a good game and each edition improving some bad aspects, and creating brand new ones, haha.

    • Frostasche

      Let us just assume there is such a thing as a perfect ruleset. So with your logic thought through: GW game
      designers are the perfect game designers, because they are capable of creating a perfect ruleset that you could play for hundreds of years and never wish to
      change anything? They are just hiding their godlike perfectionism, because they are so awesome, that after just one edition, they would be jobless,
      because no one would need anything else then this masterpiece?

      Even the biggest GW fanboy would not believe that.

      The simple reason why the lifespan decreased is that is how the world works. The technological advancements have brought an overall speedup of the iteration
      processes everywhere not just in the editions of 40k. Look at the releases of operating systems, the lifespan of phones, cars, pen&paper rpgs editions, board games,
      pc games…

      • euansmith

        I think that one issue with GW game design over the years is that the designers tend to play a different game to many of the players.

        The designers have generally been “narrative” players who play within their own group. They don’t need to be able to get in a quick pick-up game as they can arrange games around the office.

        As a result, “balance” tends to be subservient to “cool”. So they put in points, like this is a competitive game, but don’t apply a consistent metric across their range.

        • ZeeLobby

          They’ve definitely always been a relaxed crowd, having known and met some of the originals. That said, they used to have a decent sized community of people who enjoyed the competitive side as well. Sadly most of those were removed with a forced exodus before they went through their “we’re a miniature company, not a gaming company” phase.

      • David Leimbach

        Interesting idea – that the internet lets players break editions faster and faster…

      • ZeeLobby

        As game rules go more and more digital you’ll see these updates even faster. This is true for the whole industry as well, not just GW.

  • Karru

    I’d say that a game should get a new edition around 6 months after the last army the game had was updated to the same standard as everyone else.

    This has always been the biggest problem with GW. They release new editions and forget some armies completely. Dark Eldar suffered from this for a long time, same as Necrons. CSM suffers from it currently and nothing has been done to fix it. They just “fake fix” it with all these extra books.

    No matter what the game is, it should always be the main goal of the makers to make sure that all factions and armies are up-to-date to the latest standard. 7th would be around for 20+ years most likely if GW did that, because now they would either have to update all the books to the level of Orks, Imperial Guard and Chaos Space Marines, looking at their quality compared to other books released in between.

    The lack of consistency from GW is the issue with this. They keep changing up the formula between books so much that their philosophy of “throw something at a wall and hope something sticks” is very bad for the overall status of the game. They don’t test the books at all, so it is completely based on luck if those books actually work out. Unfortunately, vast majority of the time, they don’t. They end up at the useless territory or at the best mediocrity. Very few gems are made, but that’s because they are usually released back to back while GW is still in that same “mindset” and don’t want to mix up the formula again for a bit.

    • Nwttp

      I think they slum on army books because only a fraction of people buy them, where as they expect everyone to buy their rule books

      • Karru

        Well, I was answering the original question of “How often do you think the game should get a new edition?”

        It’s not a surprise that GW would release new editions every so often without updating all the books. One of the reasons is that they can redo the SM codex again so they can sell it once more. It’s a double dip tactic. They release the main rulebook that almost everyone has to get and then they release the SM book which majority of their playerbase has to get.

    • Valeli

      Mmm. I very much feel like my Sisters have been abandoned at this point, despite the release of a new St. Celestine and her two pals.

      I’ll see what 8th edition ends up doing, but as a result of the above (plus a general subjective dislike of the direction the game has been plodding in) I’m considering e-baying them off at this point.

      I’d miss them from a sentimentality PoV, but have seen no signs that GW plans to do much with them in ages, and wouldn’t mind a few hundred dollars at this point if I could find a taker.

      Anyways. I fully agree that every army should get updated once per edition, regardless of why a new edition is being made. GW’s pacing has been problematic with various lists, at various points in time, and that’s a real cause of frustration for the affected people.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah, especially for a ton of Xenos that have limited ally options as well. It’s what’s driven most of our group away.

    • ZeeLobby

      Lack of consistent faction updates is probably the number one thing I hate about GW games. And now that other companies have shown that all factions can get updates all year every year, I really have no desire to go back to purchasing an expensive army which will only be updated or get new units once a decade. I mean even just getting 1/2 new units for a faction each year keeps the game much more interesting. I know they tried to do this via allies, but many would prefer the faction they like to get new things.

      Maybe as they go more digital this will become a thing, but as we’ve seen in AoS, there still seems to be favorites who get the lions share of attention.

      • Karru

        Yeah, this is the thing I too dislike about GW.

        It’s that uncertainty that can push people away. I recently got into Flames of War again and they just released the V4 rules. They are currently focusing on Mid-war but they released a modified (and free) ruleset so people can also play Late War and Early War using the new rules. While it might take some time before they get to Late War stuff which I prefer, at least I know for certain that they’ll release updated books once they start rolling out that Late War stuff again.

        GW has this habit of making people uncertain about their purchases.
        “If I start this army now, what are the odds of them getting an update?”
        “Will my current army be made irrelevant or illegal?”
        “Will they get updated models or new equipment?”

        Because GW is extremely inconsistent about their releases and have invalidated entire armies before that were legal in earlier editions, it makes people very reluctant to buy more stuff. They can go wildly of the tracks between releases, as could be seen with the Grey Knights/Dark Eldar releases compared to Space Marine, Tau, Eldar and Necrons. An army can quickly go from mediocre to utter garbage in a single day thanks to GW. It’s not a matter of “minor” modifications to lists even. Then you have the fear of new editions. I mean, vast majority of Assault heavy armies like World Eater CSM and some Dark Eldar lists were made completely worthless when 6th rolled in. Assaulting from Transports no longer worked and Assaulting was made nigh useless.

        That’s why people are very afraid of any change from GW when it comes to new rules. Since they have no consistency, people are reluctant and do not trust GW to do anything right. It is not hate for hate’s sake, it’s all thanks to GW and their ineptitude.

        • ZeeLobby

          Yeah, lack of consistency is definitely a huge issue for them. They seem to just go wherever the wind (or money) goes. I’d be massively curious to see what their 5-year plan is . I have to assume they have one, but with the way they release things, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was extremely vague and imbalanced.

          • Shawn

            And I think the lack of direction, may be due, in part, to the board of directors, whose primary goal is to make money. The path that goal takes is secondary to any profits.

      • Shawn

        And, sales aside, I think some of that has to do with the factions that the game designers actually play.

      • mysterex

        Not sure I agree, I’ve got 3 armies and the codex for each each contains useless units that I haven’t seen anyone play. IMO releasing models for them was just a waste and now we’re probably stuck with them in future codexes.

        I’d rather see armies contain a smaller number of units that are all useful, look good and fit well with the theme and background.

        • ZeeLobby

          Right, my approach was more a realistic change I think GW can and actually would implement. Not necessarily the entirety of what they really should do. The thing is they have designers. They HAVE to keep producing new kits year round. It also generates sales for them.

          In the perfect world, they’d reduce the number of availabe units per army, and actually fill design space with new units that are unique, but fitting. In the real world they could at least improve internal balance by better costing and placing units within a faction, and improve external balance by at least sharing the release across all factions throughout a year.

    • Raven Jax

      I would completely agree with you on everything except for CSM. I think the new books did a good job in updating a lot. My friend has used the new books to bring some very powerful CSM forces to the table (the caveat being we play casually, not competitively)

      • Karru

        Actually, if you really look at the latest books, it didn’t “fix” that much. All it did was shift things around a bit.

        Cult Marines are basically worthless now. Plague Marines have been replaced with Death Guard Marines, World Eater Marines are better than Berzerkers and Thousand Sons keep being a joke.

        I am not saying the release was bad, it’s the opposite, but the bad thing here is the book it is supposed to supplement. Since the CSM book is so bad, no matter how much you throw supplements at it, you won’t fix it. CSM has been in a need for a new book since October 2012, but nothing has been done to remedy that. It’s like adding DLC to a game that is completely unplayable due to optimization and bugs. They spend all that time and effort adding into the broken thing instead of fixing it and then adding all that stuff.

        • Raven Jax

          I agree that the codex should receive an update before GW releases a new edition. Isn’t CSM still from 6th? But I think we’ve got to agree to disagree on the new books. I think it’s a question of what you want out of CSM and whether or not you got it out of the new books. Sounds like you didn’t get what you were looking for, but I know a lot of people who did.

  • Mike X (Official)

    For the record, I wrote that edition timeline originally on the Wikipedia article, which Lexicanum just copied over. It irritated my OCD that there was no date stamps for the rulebook versions. And believe me, finding the years that second and third editions were released was a real pain.

    • Loki Nahat

      why? it’s on the inside cover printing details

      • Mike X (Official)

        I didn’t start until 4th edition, and I never bothered to ask.

    • Shinnentai

      6th ed duration was a typo I assume?

      • Mike X (Official)

        I wrote the original, which was just publication dates. Someone else did the math and reformatted it into a grid since then.

        • Ben_S

          And formatted it wrong…

          • Mike X (Official)

            Not my circus, not my monkeys.

  • Gurtball

    I have a lot of hope for 8th edition. I had been gone from the hobby for many years (not really been into it since the Tau were released). Started buying some Tau stuff just before the release of the new line of battlesuits … started reading up on the 7th edition rules and then completely lost interest in the game. Hoping for a more interesting game! Meanwhile I’ll play Shadow War!

  • Tom Evans

    I dropped out of 40k because 6th was such a short affair. I didn’t feel like the books I had bought earned their value. When 7th came out, no one wanted to play 6th, so I took a loss.

    That was not an easy loss to take and lead to me leaving the hobby for a time. Age of sigmar has been the olive branch that is coaxing me back in. Shadow war looks great too.

    • vlad78

      Funny AOS coming after the 6th edition disaster being axed and replaced by 7th convinced me to stop for a while.

    • Heinz Fiction

      I found myself in a very similar situation. I’ll definitely not buy a new rulebook when I hardly had some games with the old one I just bought. Also 7th edition looked even worse than 6th which really is a feat to accomplish

    • Ben_S

      I was drifting back around the tail end of 5th. I played a handful of games of 5th, without ever buying the rules, because I knew that 6th was due. I bought Dark Vengeance soon after release but, again, only played a handful of games before 7th dropped. I decided I wasn’t going to buy that box again.

      (The difference is that AoS killed my interest in Fantasy.)

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah. I got back in early-mid 5th edition, and had a blast that entire edition. Then 6th dropped and fliers and super heavies started taking it’s toll. When 7th dropped and it fixed very little that was imbalanced in 6th, our group just lost interest. We still played for about a year, but then we just started moving on to other stuff.

        Fantasy was never that big locally, but we read a lot of the novels, and followed the background. Sadly we thought maybe AoS would get us all back into the Old World and was more of a Skirmish edition, but once they blew up the fluff, most people just didn’t care enough to try it (well, and the complete lack of points). Now they just play other things. I’ve thought about trying to re-convince them to get back into it, especially with yearly updates hopefully coming from the General’s Handbooks, but now their invested in other games, so it’ll be a real battle, and I just know that if they don’t immediately enjoy it it’ll be a permanent write-off.

    • Xodis

      Same here. I tried some 6e games with CSM and completely dropped them soon after. Gave me time to work on my Eldar who came completely OP so I didn’t get too many games with them either lol.

      AoS brought me back into the GW fold, and Shadow Wars got me excited for 40K again. I really hope 8e hits a home run otherwise I have enough CSM to sell/trade and complete armies for multiple different games lol

  • euansmith
  • neverness

    The numbers are wrong regarding 6th edition. It was replaced with 7th just shy of the 2 year mark. Had it actually lasted 4 years the outcry and rage over the arrival of 7th would have been far less.

    • Ben_S

      The numbers are somehow out of line – it starts off with 6 next to Rogue Trader but, by the end, the 2 of 6th is shown next to 7th (which will presumably be 3).

      Given there are seven dates, there should only be six gaps between them…

  • David Leimbach

    They just can’t design for buying preferences and local meta.

    There’s internal codex balance. Why take unit x when unit y does the same thing but cheaper. This varies greatly and depents a lot on the writers skill.

    There’s overall game balance. Unit x is great at attacking and unit y is good at defending. Ideally undermost situations, if you take the right amount of each, the game comes down to strategy and luck.

    Then there’s local meta balance. You like metal boxes. Unfortunately everyone in your play group likes metal box smashers and takes wayyy too many of them than is normal. Metal box smashers are all pretty much equal to each other. Too bad you don’t fee like buying a whole new army full of “metal box smasher” smashers. Go on the internet and moan about 40k is rock-paper-scissors.

    There’s no way GW designers can design for all of these possibilities.

    • Xodis

      I honestly cant see a scenario where 2 codices with proper Internal and External Balance can be destroyed by the Meta balance without house rules or deviations from the RAW.

      The reason Meta balance is so important currently is because there is practically Zero Internal or External codex balance.

  • Lee Brown

    Surely the 6th edition run from 2012 to 2014 is a 2 year run and not a 4 year run?

  • Patriarch

    Those maths are off. 6th edition only lasted 2 years (2012 to 2014); this means anyone not buying their copy on day 1 had only months before it was invalidated.

  • Kinsman

    On the flipside they’re realizing they screwed up more quickly?
    I don’t know, I’m reaching. True, but still reaching.

    • Shinnentai

      Nah, they’ve just been screwing up more quickly XD

  • Xodis

    Its a good idea that they may be moving away from needing a new rulebook every few years and moving on to a “living” ruleset that just continues to expand with the game.
    Its a bad idea if the new GH for 40K changes the rules every couple years and is just new editions by another name.

  • TheWanderingJewels

    I got out after the Ward/Cruddace effect destroyed the Tryanids as a viable force in the Game. It only got worse for me after what happened to the Sisters. Seriously, not everyone plays SM or CSM. Ork players know this pain as well

  • the_wheel_turns

    I gave up when 3rd Ed came. Turned a fun game into a boring one.

  • Drew_Da_Destroya

    I would argue that every edition from 3rd till 7th have been gradual evolutions of the foundations laid down in 1998. By that model the game we play isn’t a 3 year old 7th Edition, but 19 years old.

    I mean, if you ignore how version control works, Windows 10 is a platform that has been working for 31 years! Amazing!