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Warhammer 40K: Has GW Perfected Campaign Books?

4 Minute Read
Nov 23 2020
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Every edition GW tweaks campaign expansions. They are again tweaking the formula with 9th Edition.

While everyone loves to lavish attention on Matched Play these days, the game in fact grew out of a narrative style of play, and there have been themed campaigns as far back as 40K’s very first expansion book: Chapter Approved: First Book of the Astonomican. This was a book that introduced not only new armies but the entire concept of army lists.

It is easy to think of narrative campaigns and competitive play as clearly separate things, but the history of the game is much more subtle. Oftentimes, entire areas of the game that are taken for granted, such as not only new armies, but types of play, categories of missions, and such came directly from campaign books along the way. The two sides of the 40K-coin are one whole and cannot exist without each other.

In the early editions, we saw campaign & expansions like the Book of the Astonomican, the Realms of Chaos books, and more. These early books were dripping with intricate detail, both in rules and background. They are foundational texts that the modern game is built upon and still call back to this day.

In the middle editions of the game we saw things like the Eye of Terror and Armageddon codexes that both had a strong theme, and added new armies to the game that are critical to this day. This is the origin of favorites such as the Black Templars, Salamanders, Wulfen, and many more.

Later we saw more niche expansions like Planetstrike, Cityfight and their later descendants’ Stronghold Assault and Planetary Onslaught which blew open the game and made it so much more than straight competitive games allowed.

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We of course have to make a special note of Apocalypse. That was just the first in a series of narrative expansions starting in 4th edition that would pull in Forge World unit books, Escalation, Apocaplyse 2nd Edition, and a total reinvention for 8th Edition. Apocalypse formalized the ancient and venerable hobby of 40K mega-battles from WAY back in the day when you and all your friends would grab every mini you owned, a lot of beer, and descent on a friend’s house to burn up a weekend on a 16 hour game.  I participated in several of these back in 2nd-3rd (pre-Apocalypse), and it’s funny how back then, these were the early petri-dishes for the cunning tactics and tricks that would eventually be distilled into hard edged competitive play.

By the later editions of the game, we started to see GW go really into the fancy narrative campaign settings. We way things like Sanctus Reach, and the start of 40k” dual-book slipcover era. This gave us Warzone Damocles, Wrath of Magnus, and fed directly into the masterpiece that was the Gathering Storm Trilogy at the end of 7th Edition.

8th Edition gave us two new narrative vehicles – the two-part thick detailed Vigilus Campaign, and the 9-volume rapidfire Psychic Awakening.  I think with hindsight, the Vigilus campaign was the superior of the two.

At Last – the Present

Welcome to 9th Edition. Now we are diving into it and we are seeing some familiar faces and some new ones. It looks like the just unveiled Warzone Charadon is a multipart narrative book with rules expansions for several armies. Its page-count and number of volumes will tell us if it is closer to Vigilus or Psychic Awakening. Next up is the series of Crusade booklets that are rolling out as part of 9th. We’ve already seen 2 so far, and I expect many more. It may be that this is GW’s two-sided approach in 9th. Generic narrative campaign books with new rules for everyone to buy and integrate into the matched play side of things, alongside the extra granular details of the CRUSADE books for those looking for something more.

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I expect we will see Apocalpyse rear it’s head at some point before the edition is done. Even White Dwarf is returning to its classic old-school glory days with exemplary work like Index Astartes: Tome Keepers in Issue 458. More like that please.

While the game has swung back and forth over the editions between its two sides, 9th Edition is shaping up to be one of the best times to be a narrative player in many editions. I can hardly wait to Forge my Own Narrative!

~When is the last time you played narratively? There’s always today.

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