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40K: Why 8th Edition Made Hordes The Best

7 Minute Read
Oct 12 2017

With horde armies dominating the meta it’s time to take a moment and look at how they become so good in 8th Edition.

Horde armies are all the rage these days. Just the other day I talked about how they have been dominating the meta since day one. With all their dominance it’s good to ask: why and how did this happen? And the truth is that horde armies themselves did not change very much. Most of them work a lot like they used to, but in many cases have gone from being low or mid range lists, to winning lists. In fact it’s not that horde armies really changed at all; it’s that rules of the game changed around them. So what changes in 8th made hordes so good? Lets take a look.

Everything Can Hurt Everything


A lasgun can kill anything in this room

The most widely cited reason for the rise of horde lists was the change to how wounding works. With the new unified stat line anything in the game can now hurt anything else. This means that your basic cultist can wound  a tank, or titan, when before you needed special weapons or equipment. Now this change has obviously been a boon for hordes. Horde lists tend to contain a lot of weak models and guns in them, before this change there were a lot of things in the game that they could not hurt, while the strong units were always able to wound the hordes. In the hordes vs elites fight this change has in fact only benefited hordes, and yet it is only one of many reasons for hordes newfound power.

Toughness and Strength 5 Got Nerfed

Of course T5 models still have their uses…

When 8th unified the statline it also adjusted the rolls needed to wound targets. Now in 40K the three most common strengths/toughnesses are 3, 4 and 5. Out of these horde armies are mostly based around S/T 3 units/weapons, while more elite armies tend to use a lot of S/T 5 weapons and units. Out of these three brackets it is its S/T 5 that suffered the most, in particular in its relation to S/T 3. In these particular match ups S/T actually remained unchanged, wounding 5 on 5s, and 3 on 3s, and being wounded by 3 on 5s and 5 on 3s. This hasn’t changed pretty much ever. However S/T 5 used to wound S/T 3 on 2s and only be wounded on 6s, under 8th it wounds on 3s and is wounded on 5s. This is a clear shift in favor of S/T and horde armies.


Changes to AP Helped Hordes

Just doesn’t seem to work like it used to.

Another major change in 8th was to move AP values from denying/allowing saves to modifying them. While at first this may not seem like a huge help to hordes it really has ended up being. Lets take the common example of an Imperial Guardsperson with a lasgun facing a Chaos Space Marine with a bolter. Under previous editions the lasgun with its ap of – would have allowed the CSM a full 3+ armor save. In return the bolter, which at the time had an AP of 5, would have negated the guardspersons entire save. However under the current edition, while the lasgun and its effect remains unchanged, the bolter is now ap 0 and the guardsperson gets their 5+ save. In essence his unit has increased its survivability by 33% vs one of the most common weapons in the game, while the CSM gained nothing.

Putting These Together

It doesn’t take a horror movie villain to see how these fit together.

Here’s another quick example that shows off how some of these things have come together to make hordes better. Lets take our Guardsperson and our CSM and shoot them with a heavy bolter – another common weapon. Under prior editions the the Guardsperson would have been wounded on a 2+ and gotten no saving throw. The CSM, on the other hand, would have been wounded on a 3+ and gotten a 3+ save. Under 8th Edition the math is a lot different, the Guardsperson is only wounded on a 3+ and still gets a 6+ save, conversely the CSM is still wounded on just a 3+, but now has their save reduced to a 4+. So not only did the changes make the CSM LESS survivable this edition, they also made the Guardsperson significantly MORE survivable. When you compare the changes between the two you see a big shift.

And here is the thing. None of the rules or states for the Guardsperson or CSM changed. Neither got better armor or upgrades, or special rules, it wasn’t the units that changed, it was the rules. And these still aren’t all the changes.


Removing Comparative Weapon Skill

Turns out you can in fact touch this. 

Another, smaller to some, change that was made in 8th was removing comparative weapon skill. In previous editions units would compare their respective weapon skills when making attacks and this would determine the number needed to hit the enemy. In 8th all units have a base weapon skill they always hit on. This hurt elite units a lot. Since most elite units have high weapon skills they were hitting most things on a 3+ or 2+ , and this hasn’t changed. In return however they could expect to wade into low quality troops and only be hit on a 5+ or even a 6+. Now however it is far more common for low quality troops, like our humble Gaurdsperson, to hit everything, be it Nurgling or Bloodthurster, on a 4+, another improvement for hordes.

Leadership Got Less Punishing

It really is a mercy. 

Look, leadership isn’t really an issue for most horde armies, or armies in general. Though in theory it should be a weakness of hordes – most of them have way of simply negating the effects of bad leadership. The infamous Commissars are but one example. However, for those that can’t 8th also made leadership tests less punishing than before. Instead of a everyone is destroyed or no one is lost mechanic they’ve added in a slightly more forgiving system that means horde players no longer have to worry about a botched roll killing off dozens of troops.

Auras are Better For Hordes

8th Edition is when the hippies took over.

Another change that subtly favors hordes is the introduction of aura abilities. These abilities tend to buff units/models within a certain distance of the character. Simple logic says that the more models you can have effected by these abilities the better, and no one can have more models affected than hordes. 10 models getting +1 attack is good, 40 models is amazing.


A Farewell to Templates

Ages long past.

Of course we can’t forget the removal of template weapons in 8th. In previous editions template weapons were the bane of hordes. A well placed flamer or battlecannon shot might hit 8-12 models. Horde players had to very careful with placement of their models and space issues were real. Reducing most templates to d6 or d3 shots was huge for hordes. Not only do they not need to worry about spreading out to avoid templates, but the overall damage output is lower. Overall the changes to templates made hordes a lot more survivable.

It All Comes Together

He Loves it. 

When looked at as a whole its pretty clear that most of the major changes to 8th’s rules benefited hordes. Taken together there was a general sort of moving towards the middle, a flattening out of the curve. The commons bands of stats got pushed to be more similar to allow for higher bands. S/T 4 is a smaller step above S/t 3 than it was in previous editions. More than any edition this has made 8th a numbers game, and a volume game. And hordes are going to win a battle of volume of dice. In the end the cheaper, low powered models in the game got not just more deadly but significantly more durable, while at the same time the rules changed to make elite armies  more fragile.

Its also important to remember that these changes are in many ways the bones of what makes 8th Edition, 8th Edition. These are not unit abilities or army special rules. Nor are they loopholes or mistakes to be errata-ed. The very core mechanics of 8th favor hordes. And it’s for these reasons that I feel hordes will keep running the meta.

That’s all for today folks. Did we miss any reason that hordes got better and do you feel that the rules really are slanted towards them? Let us know, down in the comments! 



Author: Abe Apfel
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