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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Downs of 5th Edition

Last post we looked at the positives of 5th edition and there were quite a lot. The general consensus of these positives was Games Workshop had moved Warhammer 40,000 in a good direction. Balance was good, rule set was better and the game was overall a more enjoyable experience, both casually and competitively. Not everything is perfect though so let's look at some of the negatives of the edition we've played for the last three years.

Transports are too relevant -

Making tanks relevant again was great, both from a gameplay and econmoic stand point. However, the dial has probably been turned a bit too far in this regard along with associated point decreases - transports are just really, really good and for a lot of armies, can promote a game of hiding. I personally believe their army design has been a lot better from Blood Angels onwards in encouraging hybrid lists, particularly within the construct that not only can lists be built with foot and mech units but units in transports fight very well outside of said transports. Whilst full mech lists can be made from these armies, the army design feels more geared towards this latter construct and if this continues, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Regardless, the 5th edition vehicle rules are very forgiving. Destroying tanks is difficult without lots of firepower with the vehicle damage chart enabling tanks to take multiple penetrating hits and not suffer lasting damage. Passengers of transports care little if their transport dies as well though non-MEQ units care that little bit more with lower toughness and armor saves. The result is vehicles are no-brainer choices and games can occasionally be frustrating despite using every tactical nuance you have to defeat your opponent. Add in there are scaling problems with the 35 point Rhino being nearly as survivable as a 250 Land Raider against a meltagun and going for the cheap and plentiful route has many, many advantages over the few but strong route.

What needs to happen? A combination of changes to vehicles and their effects on passengers (-1 on pinning tests? bring back shooting from top-hatch = open-topped?) and how weapons interact with the damage chart. Whether AP2 gets the same bonus as AP1 (+1 on the damage chart) and AP1 gets a further bonus where even if they glance, it counts as a pen or the damage chart is completely overhauled, something needs to happen. Point scaling for expensive tanks also needs to be addressed whilst maintaining a balance for vehicles as well - you don't want to simply nerf meltaguns so the big tanks are more usable and change the damage table so tanks are paper thin again. 5th edition nearly has it right for tanks, there just needs to be some tweaks.

Assault is the red-headed step child of shooting -

It's been the popular saying of 5th edition for a while now but the game is certainly based on shooting. Whilst there are successful assault units and aggressive armies, the simple change of disallowing consolidation into combat means even the noobiest of players can stop an assault unit in its tracks with a simple sacrifice unit. What's the problem with this? Army constructs get minimised and whilst there are still a ton of different variants of a shooting force (mobile, static, midfield, aggressive, backfield, move and shoot, etc.), there are a bunch of assault based constructs you simply don't see because of it. Despite cover being really easy to get and Run! allowing assault units to cross the board faster, there's minimal scope for heavy hitting assault units to deal with more than one unit a turn and not get shot to death in between dealing with those units.

By making assault as viable as shooting, there will be a greater pool of army choices and a great sense of tactical options on the tabletop. Not to mention for those people who just want a hack and slash army - they can satisfy that without gimping themselves competitively.

Combat & wound allocation mechanics -

5th edition is all about streamlining and it's done a pretty good job except for two major cases - combat and wound allocation. The constructs themselves are easy enough but unless you know them very well, they are time consuming when certain situations arise (i.e. multiple wound units with different wargear being hit by guns with varying statistics or multiple units in combat with attached characters, etc.). Even if you do know the rules well, when such situations arise ensuring all the rules are being followed can be tedious and this slows down games.

These rule concepts need to be streamlined to ensure they fit within the faster game mechanic. Nothing sucks worse than not finishing a game at a tournament thanks to time consuming rules such as the above. It may be no fault of either player but rather just having to go through the motions of ensuring the rules are followed in those situations takes time. If these concepts were adapted to take less time and fit within the streamlined concept of what 5th edition has strived to be, less rule issues will arise and games will generally go smoother and quicker - all good things.

Cover is too good and too easy to get -

Universal 4+ cover is fine. The way the current cover system works is fine. Both together? It can be considered too good. Ironically, despite aimed to help hordes and assault armies get across the tabletop, the increase in cover availability and strength has made it easier for smaller model count armies and mech armies to do well, as those units will always be getting a 50/50 save at the minimum. Whilst getting a 4+ save more often than not for a five-six point Guardsman or Ork is pretty good, the ruleset encourages armies with enough shooting which can destroy such cheap infantry despite cover. The move away from armies dominating with static gunlines wielding mass AP3 or better weaponry is great but rather than allowing horde/assault armies to cross the table, it's helping mech armies be too strong. Consider with a 4+ cover save and the vehicle damage chart, a 35 point Rhino effectively has a 2+ save against all penetrating hits. Ouch.

If the universal save of cover is reduced, you're still getting an improved save on masses of cheap units and the AP2/3 guns will gain more relevance again whilst not being the only thing sought after with their points increase. The more elite armies (i.e. Marines) are therefore still getting the benefit of cover but it's less drastic compared to previously and most importantly, your average vehicle 'save' goes down, which would drastically help mitigate the advantages vehicles have currently. Ensuring this doesn't go too far is important though...

Marines, Marines, Marines -

It's been a common complaint for a long time and whilst each of the armies is quite different and produces very different lists with corresponding playstyles, the fact is each of the MEQ based armies is successful within the 5th edition paradigm. This is a combination of a couple of factors with the most obvious being they've all been updated in some way for 5th edition (new army books for Space Marines, Space Wolves, Blood Angels and Grey Knights; FAQ/errata for Black Templars and Dark Angels). Only Chaos are floundering and for some odd reason people don't like to associate them with other Marines ^^.

Compounding this, Marine armies benefit nicely from the 5th edition ruleset. Prolific cover means all that AP2 firepower from 4th edition is far less effective. This concept has moved 5th edition firepower to a more torrent based approach meaning Marine armor comes into play quite often. Cheap transports and good Toughness, Armor Save and Leadership mean their vehicles are very effective and they care little when their transport explodes. They have prolific access to some of the better weapons of 5th edition including the missile launcher, autocannon and meltagun whilst being excellent shooters across the board.

What this has led to is more than half the armies out there being Marines and despite their differences, this can get repetitive playing against. The problem? Marines sell so Games Workshop would be silly to decrease the number of armies there are based on this construct and releasing them spaced between the non-Marine books isn't a bad idea if all the non-Marine books are matching the Marine books in terms of what they bring to the table (i.e. Tyranids).

We're moving out of 5th edition without everything updated -

This is pretty simple - not everyone is on the same playing field and that makes people unhappy. Whilst the customer base seems to be bored of 5th edition, I put this largely down to the rumors of 6th edition. People want to move on when things are bad or when something new is around the corner. Things aren't bad for 5th edition but the possibility of 6th edition looming has people anxious for it to arrive.

If a level playing field had been established, and Games Workshop has done a decent job of doing this so far, it would be a lot easier for them to establish a ruleset moving forward which isn't going to screw over current edition books.

Company philosophy and rules writing -

It sucks. The concept of the game being fun is fine but rules are written for a reason. Write clear and concise rules and man-up when you make mistakes and correct them. Be definitive rather than this 4+ roll-off crap. Whilst the Internet has created a clear divide between the super casual gamer and the gamer who likes to be competitive, you can cater for both. Ironically, 5th edition has done this quite well and if the game continues in this vein, you'll be satisfying both of the extremes. However, Games Workshop can generate more money by actively acknowledging they are trying to satisfy both sides. I feel the recent codex designers are trying to do this through their books but the company philosophy is still wishy washy. Support tournaments and your own game. You'll like the rewards.

And this stems directly to rules writing and playtesting. From what I've seen, the playtesting component of 5th edition is higher but could still use a massive improvement, particularly in relation to writing rules. There is always going to be some confusion but when each codex needs at least 20 clarifications? Not good enough. Months of development go into these books and tightening the rules before it goes to print is going to benefit everyone - both casual and competitive gamers.

Terrain Randomness -

Nothing sucks more than losing a game thanks to a random roll. It's a game of dice so it's going to happen and you should be putting yourself in the best position to win regardless of dice but sometimes it just falls that way. Moving a unit through difficult terrain for example and consistently rolling snake eyes. Six turns, 6". Awesome. Whilst some randomness is always going to be built within the game (i.e. random game length is a very necessary control mechanic, same as seize the initiative), when it can be controlled for, quite often it should be. Terrain is one of those factors and whilst it can add a bit of excitement, from a game balance perspective, ensuring the terrain effects are consistent across games would create a more consistent game.

On the flip side, the Run! rule certainly helps modify this (as well as vehicles being go or not with a 1/6 chance of not going) as it gives you two bites at the apple and puts more emphasis on tactics with less emphasis on dice. If you know your opponent is going to move X" through terrain for example, the game is more consistent and can be planned for better. Conversely, one could argue that the general who is more capable of dealing with the randomness deserves to do better...


This isn't really all the issues of 5th edition and we could at length about the missions and company philosophy but these points have been discussed before and could be posts all by themselves. Suffice to say that whilst 5th edition is the best game Games Workshop has ever produced from both a casual and competitive point of view (so you know, their whole customer base), it has its issues. Many hope that 6th edition is a refinement of 5th edition which addresses most of the points above and follows through on the promise the last few army releases with a move to an effective hybrid game of mech and infantry working together.

In the next post we will look at what I feel some of these refinements should be.

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