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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Joys of 5th edition

The whole Internet seems griped with a despondency geared towards 5th edition currently. Let's blame all these rumors about 6th edition and everyone waiting for the change-up it will bring. However, there's still a good solid six months before we get to that stage (whether for the better or not shall be seen) so plow ahead we shall! I'm quite looking forward to the beginning half of this year for example with three NOVA based tournaments all happening in Australia - 3++con, Centurion and Event Horizon. Regardless, 5th edition does seem to be coming to a close so I'd like to take a look at both the positives and negatives of 5th edition and how I feel this should translate to 6th edition. I'll do this over a series of posts and we'll start out with the positives.

Mech was made relevant -

Specifically transports. Whilst many people gripe about the mechanisation of today's armies, the simple fact of the matter is 4th edition actively discouraged jumping in a transport more often than not. Whilst some vehicles like Holofalcons still had their day in the sun, most armies avoided using them and for good reason. Whilst the damage chart was a lot less forgiving compared to now, passengers were greatly affected when their transport was simply penetrated, let alone destroyed. It can be argued the dial has been swung too far in the other direction and mech has become too strong but this was certainly a good move in terms of game balance and sales.

By returning one of the most basic features of 40k back on (so to speak), not only does Games Workshop sell more product but players have a lot more choice and options in terms of building armies. As we will discuss later this importantly plays a big role in how the game develops on the tabletop.

Game balance -

And speaking of game balance, 5th edition has started a move towards this for Games Workshop and whilst there are still some quirks in this regard (i.e. really crappy choices, some units being very, very good choices and the few 5th edition flubs of Tyranids and Sisters), it's a move in the right direction. Of the eight full releases of 5th edition (Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Space Wolves, Tyranids, Blood Angels, Dark Eldar, Grey Knights, Necrons) only one hasn't lived up to the rest. Whilst the Internet may argue over which is the best or whether or not Dark Eldar and Necrons are 'up there' - all the books have pretty good balance internally and there isn't a giant gap between the worst of them and the best of them.

Add in some of the older books transferred decently well and certain FAQs which updated other books to ensure they also transferred well and there is a relatively deep field of potential armies who can do well in an all-comers environment.

Within the 5th edition ruleset itself as well, balance was generally achieved throughout the game. Come-backs can and do happen, going first doesn't mean auto-win whilst the tactical advantages of going second are off-set by the ability to alpha-strike your enemy whilst mitigated by seizing the initiative. There is certainly more which could be done here, particularly making more foot lists relevant though Hybrid forces are more the dominate factor now anyway but no longer is the game decided on single die rolls early in the game when using balanced lists.

Balance is important for fun - something Games Workshop seems to care about more than creating a competitive scene but balance obviously helps there as well. We obviously all see the moaning and griping about how OP this or that is and if such imbalances do exists, games don't become enjoyable as they are one-sided. By fostering both internal and external balance, Games Workshop has generated a more fun and competitive environment even if it doesn't want anything to do with the latter.

FAQs/erratas -

Which brings us to the next point (how unusual). Games Workshop finally stepped up their ability to FAQ armies well and whilst this was really evident with 8th edition Fantasy in updating all of them at once, 5th edition 40k saw this process as well. Whilst they certainly weren't perfect, their timing and scope compared to previous incarnations was appreciated. Erratas finally changing rules to update with editions (hello Dark Angels and Black Templars) was a welcome sight and something we can look forward to for 6th edition.

However, there is massive scope for improvement here. Erratas should be enabled more to retroactively fix balance and ensure edition changes are smoother. This doesn't need to be whole-scale but something as simple as giving old Necrons Stubborn and Gauss weapons Rending or dropping the price of all AV12 Eldar vehicles by 10-20 points, etc.

With Games Workshop finally giving a damn and making these documents in a much quicker fashion than before, issues from their sloppy rules writing can be rectified quickly and the game can actually be enjoyed rather than quibbled over. Again, there's still run for improvement on a significant scale but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Some answers in a timely manner are better than none.

Emphasis on movement - 

This is part and parcel of mech becoming relevant again but 5th edition placed a more important factor on moving. 4th edition had a lot of gunlines and the game would often become who could throw the most amount of dice at the opponent or if an assault based army got into combat with a gunline army, how many units they could consolidate into. With the improvement of mech, the addition of the Run! ability and a mission emphasis on midfield with objectives, gunlines became a lot less viable and implementing tactics through movement became a lot more prominent.

And this is really the kicker for 5th edition as movement is the basis of strategy within most games. Many will gripe that 40k has jack all tactical thought and it's all about throwing dice. Many are wrong and whilst 40k may not have the tactical depth of other games such as Infinity, the trade-off is having larger armies go to work over a couple of hours rather than days and there is still quite an extensive level of tactical know-how within the game. This all starts and ends with movement as that is where you have the most control as the controlling player and by emphasising this in 5th edition, the game of 40k has moved to a more tactical game.

Rules streamlining -

A lot of people seem to hate True Line of Sight (TLoS) yet it makes the game run a lot smoother. You get down and look - shoot whatever you can see. Whilst it is annoying needing to be precise in how you hide things or having a tiny sliver of a tank poke out and only get a 4+ cover save but it makes the game run a lot faster. The majority of 5th edition has done this both within the rulebook and armies themselves (no more variant chapters, biomorphs, etc.). Whilst there seems to have been a smaller move back in the other direction (book keeping with Necrons for example) and a couple rules which were time consuming to say the least (wound allocation), 5th edition moved towards a faster game despite encouragement for higher point levels.

Furthermore, there was a removal of restrictions. Infiltration, deep-strike, scouts, etc. could all be used in every game and there was no longer a requirement of opponent's permission for use of characters. The removal of 0-1 and 1+ choices indicated some within Games Workshop cared about the game as a whole rather than the half-assed attempt Jervis has always given.

There is still further stream-lining to go in the way rules are written but making the game feel the same without all the tediousness or massive memory loads (those traits do what now?) means games are generally going to be more fun. There will be slow moments still (wound allocation, assaults, etc.) but for the most part games go faster whilst still keeping to the core of what makes 40k fun. This allows more smaller games to be fit into a time frame and larger games to be fit into a time frame normally accommodating smaller games. Yay for fun.


There are a lot of positives about 5th edition and whilst it is by no means perfect, it is leaps and bounds better than anything Games Workshop has produced in terms of a balance rule-set. They still have the fun fluff and amazing plastic kits that many of us were attracted to initially but they have finally put together a ruleset that is not only fun but quick (ish) and balanced. Hopefully 6th edition will improve upon this...

Next article will look at the downsides of 5th edition - it's not all roses!

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