Warhammer 40K: 8 Editions of the Grim Dark

Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition is here and to celebrate we wanted to take a look at the previous editions.

It’s been a long road – Over 30 years and 8 Editions of Warhammer 40,000 have been produced and fans world wide have been drawn into the “Grim Darkness of the Far Future.” Today, on this very special day, we want to go on a trip down memory lane and remember all the editions that have come before:

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader

The first rule book for the Warhammer 40,000 game, Rogue Trader was published in 1987 and written by Rick Priestley, and was quite different to future versions of the game. Largely a cross between Role Playing Games and Table Top Battle Games, rather than an out and out Table Top Battle Game, Rogue Trader contained much more background on the wider universe, races and technology found in the Warhammer 40k universe than later editions did, and for this reason is considered a prized collectors’ piece.

The book is considered much less imperio-centric than later editions, as it employed a much broader spectrum of views within the narration than was common in future versions and proactively encouraged mixed faction forces.

Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition

The second edition Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook was published in 1993 as a softcover book and was included with the second edition starter set. Its companion books (Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (2nd Edition), Codex Imperialis, Codex Army Lists) were devoted to background, wargear and army lists, while the Rulebook detailed how to play the game. It contains 8 pages of full-colour images in the centre, a weapon summary and quick reference sheet at the end. The combat rules and shooting were identical to those of Necromunda. The much more complex nature of the rules meant that games were intended to be played on a much smaller scale than the current Warhammer 40,000 rules.

Warhammer 40,000 3rd Edition

The 3rd Edition Rulebook, also known as the Big Black Book, was first published in 1998 with the third edition of the game. The book contained rules, that although very similar to the first two editions, were much more austere, removing many of the more difficult ideas of the previous versions in an attempt to streamline the game. This was heavily criticized at the time by more veteran gamers, who had become used to the tables, charts and templates that had been employed previously, as it was seen as being too simplistic and had eliminated much of the fun for that audience. Nevertheless, the modesty of the newer rules opened the game out to a wider (and much younger) audience.

The book itself was written from a much more imperio-centric point of view, and contained large quantities of information on the basic structure of the Imperium, from Imperial planetary classifications to the Imperial dating system and more. It also departed from the previous edition in its much more pessimistic outlook; Appearing much more grim and dark than it had previously. Lines between good and bad were blurred to the point that they were almost unrecognizable. In addition it contained background for many armies as well as simplistic, pre-codex army lists for the Space Marines, Dark Eldar, Tyranids, Eldar, Chaos Space Marines, Imperial Guard and Orks, as well as a small Sisters of Battle list with various heroes of the Imperium such as Confessors and Preachers.

Warhammer 40,000 4th Edition

Warhammer 40,000 4th edition rulebook. The previous edition of the game, published in 2004, released as both a hardback book and in a reduced format in the Battle for Macragge boxed set. This edition of the game has relatively few differences to its predecessor so almost all supplements produced for 3rd Edition work with this version.

This edition of the rules took a much more objective look at the background of the 40k universe, yet still remained largely focused on the human perception of the world.

Warhammer 40,000 5th Edition

The hardback book has 304 pages and the cover is printed in colour with the majority of the book being in full colour, although the Reference and the Rules sections remain white and black. However, those are less than one third of the book.

Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition

The hardback book has 432 pages and the cover is printed in colour.

Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition

The first 144 page book, A Galaxy of War, explores the art of collecting and painting your own force of miniatures.

The history of the 41st Millennium is presented in the second book, Dark Millennium. In 128 pages it describes the crumbling Imperium of Man and their many enemies, within and without, which wage war against humanity and each other.

The final volume, The Rules, is a 208 page book contains all the rules for playing games of Warhammer 40,000.


Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition

The Book
A 280-page hardback, this is the essential book for any fan of Warhammer 40,000 – everything you need to know to collect, build, paint and play with Citadel miniatures.

The Core Rules explain everything you need to play to play Warhammer 40,000. Moving, shooting, using psychic powers, charging, fighting and morale tests are covered, giving you the basic framework to play with. You can play a game using only these 8 pages, bolting on more advanced and complex rules when you and your opponent are ready.

For more on this history of Warhammer 40,000 check out Lexicanum


8th is out now, but which edition is your favorite and why?



  • ZeeLobby


    • lunahula .

      Yeah, it’s something that always concerns me overall is that Imperium and Chaos but mostly the former get a lot of attention and that’s understandable. It does however make being a xenos player rather a labour of love. I would quite like to collect Eldar but some of the miniatures are ones that came out in the early 90’s still. Aspect Warriors excluding Dire Avengers. Then you have the main troop choice of guardians being quite a dated plastic kit with nothing of the kind of poses or options present in say a space marine tactical squad. Genestealer Cults relaunch has been quite cool to get such good models, but it was a bit flash in the pan in terms of a big reveal and few months of looking at them and there now looks to be no future releases on the horizon for them.

      I understand that the Imperium factions are always going to be the big draw. It would just be nice to get more love into some of the really dated and seemingly unloved miniatures of Xenos armies.

      • Eldar Guardians aren’t less posable than Space Marines.

        • Shinnentai

          I agree that they’re equally poseable, but Iunahula said the *variety* of poses and options, which are very limited on the Guardian sprue (even requiring a poorly sculpted failcast conversion kit for Storm Guardians).

          You might argue that tactical marines don’t come in that many different poses, though the other compatible marine kits certainly expand the options a lot.

          • Well, if you incorporate other kits too, then I think it would be unfair to leave out all the Aspects having uniquely designed armours 😉 Anyway, my point was that the amount of posable components is the same in the kits.

          • Shinnentai

            Yeah you’re right – GW haven’t had time to update the plastic Guardians in the 17 years since their release because they’ve been so busy working on the plastic Aspect Warriors XD.

          • lunahula .

            You just have to think that every time we get something like the new deathwatch miniatures, a new army revamp and every time a new edition comes around a whole load of space marine and possibly antagonist force miniatures. For anyone not collecting those armies you are forever on the edge of ‘Will it be my favourite force’s turn next?’

            I would quite like to collect sisters of battle / sororitas. However the metal models for those came out around the same time as metal necrons. Since then Plastic necrons of various kit shapes and sizes have come and gone. The sisters of battle on the other hand have remained as badly ageing metal casts sold for an exorbitant ammount only through the GW website.

            I notice that a lot of ‘key troop’ or ‘key unit’ choices in a few imperium armies and a lot of Xeno’s armies are really very dated kits. I have 20 or so plastic cadians banging around, because the green stuff putty work involved to make their arms fit less badly is just very morale damaging.

            At the current rate we will probably see Double Primaris marines come out just after sisters of battle move to resin fail cast. I get why, it’s that space marines and imperium in general are more relatable, while space marines are kind of the iconic unit people recognise when thinking warhammer 40,000 or games workshop in general.

          • Shinnentai

            Yes, Cadians were released 2003, and are looking pretty outdated. Would be nice to see some greatcoat Imperial Guard though I suspect Scions will have to tide IG players over for a while.

            Sisters of Silence actually make great Sororitas if you swap the heads out for the fantastic sculpts from Statuesque Minis. I’d already made a small force using Dreamforge Game minis but might jum over. Only problem is Sisters of Silence are pretty pricey.

            Currently painting up some Squats using Kharadon minis – surely the most undersupported army of all XD

          • That’s not what I meant 😀
            And even worse, I don’t think we will see new plastic Aspects. Same as we won’t see new kits for Minimarines again. GW will focus on Ynnari I guess – replacing old Craftworlders over time.

          • lunahula .

            I don’t mind getting a Ynarri focus if it works and we have miniatures for it kind of thing. Armies sometimes evolve into different ones. It’s more the kind of drag of those armies and miniature lines that are just forgotten really. As for statuesque mini-heads, I have umm quite a few ;D I was going to convert the cadians… then I looked at the cadians and thought that was a damned insult to the heads. So will likely use them about the place on things like Scions.

          • UnpluggedBeta

            We just need less imperial/chaos releases in general.

          • lunahula .

            I don’t begrudge them getting their releases. It is rather that I feel dissapointed at the limited releases for other factions.

    • Heinz Fiction

      Indeed, 6th and 7th edition were rather bad. They tried to add a lot of cool things to the game but did it in such a poor way that they turned out to be more of an annoyance. I think the rule framework of 8th is better suited to handle this stuff.

    • GrenAcid

      More like
      Differently Great(play loud angelic music, tears of joy and happines)
      Have potential

    • Severius_Tolluck

      Yeah most people came simply to read the rules or assemble starters. They would gather around the one or two games played though, too shy to try themselves. I spent most of my time rather then learning, building models myself. However I did get a game in late. The other store I tend to go to ran events but had more a huge flames of war game going.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how big 40K gets again. There’s just so much else going on these days. Groups vanished during 7th. I’d totally organize a new one, but just don’t have the time or dedication. It’d definitely flounder and die under my leadership, lol.

  • Shinnentai

    After 3rd Ed burnt so many of the concepts of 2nd Ed, it’s been interesting to see some of them slowly return in more modern guises over subsequent editions : running, overwatch, throwing grenades, and now movement values & save modifiers.

    2nd Ed had its issues but I still think it has a couple of lessons to teach future editions, such as having to sacrifice normal firing to go onto overwatch, and to-hit modifiers for cover (instead of save mods).

  • Alienerd the unbannable

    You start out saying how the general rules of each edition are different, and by 5th edition… “It is printed in colour with some of it in black and white”. Such reviews XD

    • Shinnentai

      I assume the author got as bored as most of the rest of the community did with the endless minor tinkering with the base rules of each new edition soon rendered meaningless with one overpowered codex or another.

      • Alienerd the unbannable

        If that had been added as a P.S. at the end it would have made this the best article ever.

  • Karru

    5th edition will always remain as my favourite edition. Mostly because it was the edition I started in, but also because I find it the best edition in general. It had a solid basic ruleset with fun and balanced tactics available to most armies. What I mean by this isn’t the ultra cheese lists that broke the edition, such as the late GK lists and such or even the Ork Nob Bikers.

    What made it awesome was the fact that both Shooting and Melee were equally viable. Melee could try to close the gap or punish the enemy hunkering down on their side of the map by outflanking the enemy and then charging them. Ranged units had devastating weapons, but had their downsides. All in all, it has been the perfect edition in my mind always because of this. The base ruleset didn’t favour either tactic over the other like the later editions did.

    • Porty1119

      I enjoyed 5th; quit after it was replaced.

      • Spacefrisian

        I liked 7nth, than free stuff from formations became a thing. The edition was fine without them….I like being unpopular with the masses.

  • Herbert Lawrence Praskey

    It would seem the cover for 8th is trying to evoke memories of 4th and 5th edition. I first started with 6e, so I wouldn’t know if there’s anything special about those editions. Also wanted to point out that Rogue Trader art is best art. Can’t beat a marine using an Ork head as a stick grenade.

    • ZeeLobby

      I mean they were the golden age of GW. It’s when their profitability and popularity in the gaming community peaked. Not shocking they want to try and emulate those eras.

      • Herbert Lawrence Praskey

        Ah, like I said, I got into Warhammer during later editions, so I don’t really have any perspective on what the older editions were like.

  • Chad Underdonk

    ‘ow many ‘oomies must an ork gun down,
    before ‘e is finally a Nob?
    Da answer my friend,
    is Dakka in da wind.
    Da answer is Dakka in da wind.

  • Davewasbaloo

    Having played a couple of games of 8th, I really like it. I do miss the fun sense of humour of Rogue Trader. And I love Xenos (which is why I have no interest in Horus Heresy). But I am really loving the new edition, with a couple of exceptions (the shooter should be able to designate what models are killed – like in the early editions). But it is much better than 6th and 7th.

    1. Awesome
    2. Good
    3. Good different
    4. Ok
    5. OK
    6th Hmmmm
    7th Some nice touches
    8th Excellent – Necrons, Nids and Orcs are viable again 🙂