Some Warhammer 40k Tough Love. Over a year into 8th edition we are finally getting a handle on what the game is really about.
In each edition there has been a “key skill” that competitive players must master to dominate the game. It normally takes 1-2 years for this to be uncovered and mastered as the game evolves. In 8th it has taken a little longer than average as the edition was a complete reboot. It has taken much longer for everyone to get a feel for the game as the codexes all had to be redone – something that didn’t effect the last few editions. We still aren’t completely through all the faction codexes, but we are far enough for 8th to feel complete.
Past Tricks and Tips
In some past editions the “key skill” it was exotic positioning and actions in the assault phase – like character positioning and attack allocation in 3rd edition. In some it was order of operations and pulling of casualties in the shooting phase – such as nob bikers distributing wounds, or 2+ tanky characters on point tanking all the hits for squadmembers behind them. In others editions it was precision positioning in the movement phase to generate bonuses – like the plethora of multiple squads interleaving models tricks from the days of yore . In 7th it was list construction to maximize Formation advantages. I’m sure you all remember players showboating around like they were tactical geniuses, when really they were just taking to the field with 33% more stuff on the table due to the free model giveaways from certain formations.
Onto the Present
But in 8th the critical skill is Strategem and CP min-maxing during list construction. While Formations went the way of the Dodo, Stratagems and CPs are the new “hotness” this edition. They are fundamentally a fantastic idea, and give each army a lot of flavor. Everything was working relatively well during the Index Books period and during the early codex releases. But slowly and surely as hundreds of Strategems got added to the game over almost 20 codexes – things would inevitably fall through the cracks and exploits would be uncovered.
8th itself is a very different beast than past versions of the game. The unified Datasheets have put everything from Grots to Titans on the same playing field and leveled the game in a way unseen in 20 years. The rock-paper-scissors mentality of past unit types (infantry-vehices-monsters) has given way to something cleaner and simpler. There are no more impossible situations you can get into and enough dice can answer any problem. 8th has no more “my marines can’t hurt the Wraithlord!” moments. The core rules however removed so many items from tactical consideration like careful maneuvering, facing, and morale that simple allocation of force (throwing enough dice downrange) is the primary mechanism for achieving victory. Stratagems and CPs act as force multipliers in this equation; granting free abilities and actions to the armies that have them over opposing armies that pay the same points but don’t.
This of course puts us exactly back to where we were with 7th’s Formations – two armies can spend the same points, but one can have a giant on-table advantage the other does not – due to how you arranged your list. Sound Familiar?
Parallels From a Galaxy Far Far Away
It is a very close approximation to what happened in the #2 game out there – X-Wing. In its 1st Edition one card – Push the Limit fundamentally changed what the game was about – action economy. And just as FFG removed Push the Limit from X-Wing’s new edition to regain control and move the game back to being focussed on maneuver, not free action optimization; GW will have to tame Stratagem/CP optimization. They will have to do it one way or the other – the exact manner is unimportant. If they don’t, Stratagem/CP optimization will be what 40k becomes about for the rest of this edition.
That is – until the next edition arrives and resets the min-max clock.
~What do you think 40K’s rules should be be fundamentally about?