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40K: The GW Designers – A Breakdown

4 Minute Read
Nov 8 2011
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Its time to sit down and take a look at every 40k writer and the codices they have produced.  Lets go.

First some ground rules – we are only looking at the currently “active” codices, so any of the older ones, and White Dwarf offerings don’t get counted.  We will list each author with their work in chronological order.


“The Young Turks”
The following three designers are from the “new crop” of writers brought onboard by GW in the 4-5th edition period and have put their stamp on the modern game.

Matthew Ward
Space Marines – 2008 
Blood Angels – 2009
Grey Knights – 2011
Necrons – 2011

The Tinker – If anyone of the new designers is most willing to try out new ideas, or reach back into the “Stone Age” of Rogue Trader40k for inspiration, its Ward. With Necrons being his first non-marine book its interesting to see this as his first piece of new 40k world building.  It is Ward’s work more than any other that seems to capture the “experimental, lets try it” theme of codex design.  Thus we see fans delighted to see such gems from the past such as conversion beamers, hallucinogen grenades, and the like balanced against Ward’s design sensibility that seems to hold spectacle in high regard with such things as deepstriking Land Raiders, Grey Knight Grenades, the “exploding six” mechanic borrowed for Necron tesla weapons and the like.  Ward above all seems to want to bring a certain level of excitement and drama to the game like no other, fluff be damned.    

Phil Kelly
Eldar – 2006
Orks – 2007
Space Wolves – 2009
Dark Eldar – 2010

The Artisan – Kelly is the resident Xenos specialist and has a highly tuned and balanced sense of codex design.  His older codices have stood the test of time against the newer more extravagant offers from the other designers better than most.  His latest work, Dark Eldar is one of the most balanced, nuanced set of rules to emerge from the design studio in years, with a great depth, multiple options for play, and very very little in either no-brainers, or useless units.  While Kelly seems to avoid the spectacle based mechanics we have seen of late from other designers, his trim and finely tuned codices seem built to last and stay competitive for the long haul.  On the fluff writing front, Kelly does strong solid work that balances being enthralling and keeping an even tone.

Robin Cruddace
Imperial Guard – 2008
Tyranids – 2009

The Mad Scientist – Cruddace gives with one hand and takes away with the other.  He took the dull, largely ignored 4th Edition Imperial Guard army and turned it into a top contender, even years after its release.  Willing to try out new broad concepts such as the mass production of vehicle tank squadrons in the IG codex, to the in-game creation of units in the Tervigon rules, Cruddace certainly doesn’t seem to eschew new design concepts. Where we see issues would be mainly with his costing, leaving many units seeming uselessly costed such as the Pyrovore or Ogryns, or absolute steals such as the oddly out of place IG Psyker Battle Squad.  With Cruddace we see a bit of the spectacle based philosophy of Ward, without the steady artisan’s hand at costing we see from Kelly, yielding overall uneven results.



“The Old Guard”

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These writers represent the classic GW approach to codex design that predates 5th edition.  With the exception of Jervis, all of these designers have moved onto other projects outside of Games Workshop.

Alessio Cavatore & Gav Thorpe
Chaos Space Marines – 2007
Chaos Daemons – 2007

Grizzled veterans of the Design Studio, Alessio (and to a lesser degree Gav) were the strongest proponents of the “less is more” principal than almost any other.  We can see the slimmed down minimalist approach in these books, amongst their last books before leaving GW and headed off into the divergent directions of freelance game designer and author respectively.

Jervis Johnson & Andy Hoare
Dark Angels – 2006

Writing rules since the early 90s with Adeptus Titanicus, Jervis IS institutional memory for the Design Studio.  Dark Angels was the first of the post 4th edition “slim and trim” codex designs, that stripped out a ton of minor “fiddly” bits and painted an army with minimal broad brushstrokes of rules.

Andy Hoare
Tau Empire – 2005


Graham McNeill
Black Templars – 2005

Andy and Graham produced these two oldest books more rooted in 4th edition, and the older Games Workshop design philosophy.  We see the older more detailed presentation of wargear, and unit options than we would never see again.  I view these codices more as historical footnotes, almost living fossils in the game; soon to to be swept away by the new order than anything else.  

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Overall Thoughts
Games Workshop has always stuck with the “one man one codex” approach where a single individual both crafts the background and fluff, along with the rules for the army in question.  It is a very odd juggling act with very disparate tasks and as always we see individuals who are stronger on one side of the equation than others.  You can see the evolution of this career path with some of the Old Guard like Alessio hanging up their creative writing plumes and becoming freelance game designers, while others like McNeill and Gav have put down the dice and become full-time authors.

We are also seeing a relatively young set of fresh minds now  driving the game, as the older designers have moved on. That can be a double edged sword, giving any creative organization an injection of new perspectives and enthusiasm, that has to be balanced by their lack of long term institutional memory.

~So who do you think are the weaknesses and strengths of each of your favorite writers?  Who’s showing signs of maturing as they move from project to project to project and who seems to have a more stable steady approach.  Finally, when those older codex updates come along, who do you hope gets them and why?

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