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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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

5th Edition: A Retrospective

It's been a hell of a ride, hasn't it?

The game has changed a LOT since 5E came out; some of it was things GW did differently, others were things that changed around them. So let's all take a stroll back through memory lane and see how we got to where we are now.

Setting the Stage
Of course, in order to do that we need to remember what things were like BEFORE 5th Edition came to visit us all, and to be frank... it wasn't pretty. 4E was kind of a mess- they had spent the entirity of its lifespan trying to fix and re-fix the mistakes of 3E and 3.5E, frantically whacking down each new mole as it raised its head. Many armies were still sitting on old models, old books, or both- SW, DE, Necrons, Witch Hunters, and Daemon Hunters still had books from 3rd Edition when 5E raised its head, and Tau and Eldar were both sitting on 3E books with one or two cosmetic changes. Blood Angels didn't even have a real codex, getting stuck with a garbage .pdf file much like what Sisters have now (and about as effective.)

With CSM, Daemons, and Orks coming out at the tail end of things the new books had drastically shook up the roster of top builds; Lash and Orks had both made major waves on the tournament scene (and, unlike in 5E, they actually were good back then) and Daemons enjoyed a brief window of effectiveness before the new book rendered them obsolete. Clown Cars (Falcons with Holofields and filled with Harlequins), Nidzilla (7-8 monstrous creature Tyranid builds with minimum troops), and LaspPLas (five-strong Marine squads with a Lascannon and Plasmagun) were the boogeymen of the tournament scene, though in many cases not as effective as people tended to believe. Vehicles were basically garbage, since glancing hits could kill you and transports of any kind were a deathtrap; skimmers were somewhat of an exception to this due to some special rules, but for the most part anything with an AV was avoided like the plague.

The explosion of the internet and filesharing had also made leaks a huge deal for the first time- the Ork codex, for example, was leaked in its entirety almost a full month before its official release, and even the 5E rulebook saw quite a bit of unofficial previewing before it was to actually come out.

Like a Boss
When 5E hit- and, shortly thereafter, the Space Marines book- it broke everyone's conceptions of the game in half. 4+ cover, the inability to consolidate into combat, Defender Reacts moves, the removal of the "kill zone" in CC, and newfound transport survivability- as well as the paradigm of cheaper transports for all armies- turned the game upside down. There was plenty of panicking and scurrying, as would be expected, but sites like Bell of Lost Souls (yes, that BoLS) and others were starting to gain popularity for distributing tactics and information, which brought "netlisting" into the game for the first time.

The new rules brought several builds to the fore, whether rightfully or not- Nob Bikerz with wound allocation made for a difficult unit for many armies to remove, and Lash of Submission continued to be a bane of armies that had not yet gotten on board the mechanized bus. Other 4E builds quickly slipped in popularity, however, and many players grumbled about the cost of upgrading to 5th Edition- buying tanks, re-arming special and heavy weapon troopers, altering HQ models and sarges, etc, drew a lot of ire from the player base. As a result, the concept of "playing a 4E army" became rather commonplace for referring to those generals who couldn't or wouldn't change their forces to adapt to the new edition.

The new Space Marine codex also brought something unique: a Space Marine army that didn't suck. Despite being the nominal poster child for the game since its beginnings, Space Marines had always been stuck with a very awkward set of rules that tended to make them second-class citizens to the "specialist" Marine codices and, even when not them the xenos codices. However, with the 5E book, for the first time ever the vanilla Space Marine book was arguably the best codex around. 35pt Rhinos continued the trend from the CSM book, but getting cheaper (and better) things to put inside them as well as a plethora of new toys, most all of them at discounted prices compared to the older books, meant that SM were a force to be reckoned with in both assault and shooting.

Derps Ahoy
Their glory was eclipsed almost before it started, at least in most people's eyes, with the release of the Imperial Guard codex, however. Guard had been one of the many "also-ran" armies from the previous edition, where their shoddy armor save had no cover save to pick up the slack and their tanks were horrifically fragile. The new codex, however, improved many of their stats (for example, upgrading from AV12 on the sides of Leman Russ tanks), decreased costs (5pt Guardsmen instead of 7pt), and gave them a plethora of strong shooting options, including the still-loathed Vendetta and Manticore. Suddenly, the realities of 5E were brought into sharp focus as cheap transports, efficient shooting, good utility, and highly mobile troops all came together.

Space Wolves brought a stronger melee element to the game and showed many of the older armies what a deathstar REALLY was. While Nob Bikerz had obviously existed before, as had Abby and Friends as well as other powerful melee units, Thunderwolf Cavalry and Wolf Lords came into focus as the melee frontrunners of the game (even while TH/SS Terminators continued to outperform them in many ways), especially supported by the other parts of the SW army. Grey Hunters brought the first clear cries of codex creep to the mainstream as well- while IG and SM had been "better" than other books, they were clearly different from those books in many ways; Space Wolves, on the other hand, seemed to be just a superior version of regular Marines, especially in terms of their heavy weapon support and troops. This was the start of many complaints about counts-as armies as well as grumpy old-timers who "played them before they were cool." Razorbacks, however, had yet to come into popularity at this point, as the possibilities of such firepower simply hadn't come to the attention of the community at large.

The release of two Marine codices so close together brought a lot of complaints from the player base as well, which were to be reiterated for the remainder of the edition's lifetime (and, one can assume, the rest of the game's as well.) It also set the general patter of Marine-other-Marine-other that held true for effectively all of the schedule.

Tyranids were next in line for an update and were, perhaps more than any other book, preceded by a flurry of rumors that would later be proven to be utterly false, though the community has learned virtually nothing from that lesson. The actuality of the book was a bit more disappointing, however; despite tons of hype about the Mawloc and other new units, the new 'Nids failed to make the same splash on the tournament scene that IG and SW did, and over the next several years they slowly lost ground to other armies, especially with the release of GK and DE. Despite these problems, the presence of a strong melee army with abundant T6 multiwound models supported by hordes of smaller bugs- and virtually all of them scoring, at that- was enough to force many players to reconsider the firepower their lists might bring to the table.

MEQ, MEQ, Goose
Blood Angels brought renewed cries of cheese forward as they became "even more betterer" Space Marines, packaged standard with FNP and FC. Being even closer to the vanilla codex in terms of structure, the similarities (and, in some cases, superiorities) were even more obvious to many and a renewed wave of abandonments of the "obsolete" SM codex followed, along with a new wave of complaints about counts-as. Despite this, however, BA was perhaps the least-groundbreaking of the Marine codices in terms of tournament appeal. On the other hand, the advent of cheap, Fast Razorbacks brought the idea of Razorspam lists into the common awareness, which drove extensive changes in the list-building stratagems of SM and SW armies. Moreover, the BA book itself brought all-reserve armies to the fore for the first time with so-called "jumper" or "DOA" builds and their variants; such forces could not only arrive from reserve accurately and consistently but also had options for starting on-table and moving to their targets quickly, making them a threat in multiple ways. The sheer number of MEQ bodies with Feel No Pain, supported by Meltaguns and effective melee units, was enough to overwhelm the defenses of many armies.

A new wave of FAQs that "fixed" some of the older books (giving them access to the upgraded costs/stats on gear) also breathed new life into the Black Templars and Dark Angels codices, giving them a second chance to perform competitively, albeit with limited options. These FAQs also drove another nail into the coffin of the Tyranid army, explicitly denying the potential of reserve builds and crippling their psychic defenses. These marked a new era of FAQ policies for GW, with their staff being more timely and more useful in answering actual issues that had been brought up and helping to unify the player base's understanding of how the rules worked. Though many facets still left something to be desired, it was a tremendous step in the right direction in terms of communication and professionality on the company's part.

The release of Dark Eldar was, in many ways, an example of the best of what 5E design was capable of. Long a laughingstock of the community for the shoddy models and slim, virtually anemic codex, the heralding of the new book's release was met with skepticism and apathy on many fronts... until the models and rules were sighted, that was. With a brilliantly-revamped line of minis and a codex that was on par with any of the Imperial releases, DE went from being a joke to a top-tier army in an instant. Struggles with the model line early on (especially the excellent Venom) caused some hiccups, but they have since solidified a strong place in the lineups of usual characters and picked up a real following, something most would have thought impossible before. Their blindingly-fast vehicles, efficient specialist units, and kooky wargear items also forced many lists to adapt to the possibility of being hammered hard by a foe they might not be able to catch easily- Dark Eldar shooting shower the 40K world the value of extensive anti-infantry firepower (previously the domain of some IG lists only) and also of mobility even when lacking resilience.

Following almost immediately on the heels of Dark Eldar was another huge event in the tournament scene, though this one originated not from Games Workshop itself but from the players- and one player, Mike Brandt in particular. That event was the creation of the NOVA Open, a huge new tournament that drew the attention of the competitive community for its highly balanced scenarios and judging as well as its professionalism and roster of famous internet personalities. While BoLScon and Adepticon had both been major events for many years previously, NOVA brought a new paradigm of play to the fore, that of the competitive player, and contrasted sharply with GW's view of what competition was like (in the form of 'Ard Boyz.) The ranks of attendees would swell quickly in the years that followed as the event expanded and many smaller tournaments across the world copied the format in attempts to spread the mantle of good competitive play- and good play in general- to places where the perception was only that competition was only for jerks.

Games Workshop introduced an all-new material for its minis with the resin Finecast line, though unfortunately the release was marred by rather atrocious quality control on the company's part- to the point that some retailers actually returned their entire stock of products. Later waves of product would significantly improve these issues and the medium possessed many advantages compared to the older metal figures, but the poor initial handling left Finecast ultimately marred in the eyes of many players.

However, the biggest, baddest revamp of them all was about to rear its head in the form of Daemonhunters ne' Grey Knights. While GW's new secrecy policies made information on them prior to their release somewhat scant, the furor once they were shown was... almost unbelievable. Abundant melee and ranged weapons that seemingly outclassed every other army in the game, absurd special rules and wargear, and "clearly superior" options like the Dreadknight had many players crying chicken little, complaints that have been basically continuous since despite middling tournament performances in most cases. GK armies excelled at bringing deathstars- and anti-deathstars- as well as mid-range shooting that could go toe-to-toe with the very best in the game and come out ahead, coupled with an unrivaled flexibility in bringing both melee and firepower to the table.

Following the GK whinefest was another debacle, albeit one lying down the opposite direction of the road. Sisters of Battle, AKA Witch Hunters, had long been rumored to be getting a new release and they finally did... in White Dwarf. With no new models. And their old ones repackaged in extra-expensive and extra-inconvenient forms. In short, GW gave SoB players a huge middle finger and told them to wait another edition or two before they might possibly be allowed to get a real codex. Especially when one looks at what was done with DE and GK this is extremely sad, as they clearly could have been so much more with but a modicum of effort; Sisters thus hold the booby (hur!) prize of being the lame duck codex of 5E, having absolutely no effect on the tournament scene whatsoever, except insomuch as the final removal of Allies from other armies limited them.

However, the edition ended on a positive note with the release of the Necron book. Though not as flashy as many of the others, the stolid implacability and capacity to output huge amounts of reliable shooting made Necrons an instant contender for the top slots in tournaments. Above and beyond that a rather timely FAQ release that answered many (if not all) of the questions and fixed some other races' problems came as something of a shock to they playerbase. Though the full effects of their release never had time to make themselves known, the abundant AV13, unshakeable vehicles, universal Ld10 and resilience of Resurrection Protocols, and Entropic Strike/Tesla all made Necrons a very unique and deadly force on the battlefield. Necrons' ability to shut down long-range shooting in the early turns with Solar Pulse made Night Fighting relevant for the first time in the edition's history and their ability to virtually laugh off S8 guns forced many armies to reconsider their firepower or risk being unable to hurt a whole line of chassis.

The End of It All
So here we are, born to be kings... no, wait, I'm sorry, here we are at the end of 5th Edition. That's better. Ahem. Anyways, we have come a long ways from the early days of this edition, and to be honest most of the changes are good. Where previously rumors were largely hearsay and speculation, BoLS, Faeit, and other sites have produced a consistent (if not always accurate) output of information on upcoming releases. Whereas before top tournament lists were basically just whatever boogeymen people had imagined up, now we have access to better data on which lists- and which players- are actually winning as well as more balanced tournaments to give us good results based on the armies themselves.

We're just now seeing what it is that 5th Edition will bring and it seems like it's going to be another huge change, but as players we can only cross our fingers and trust that our luck will hold with the game. 5E has been a prime time in the game's history, showing many of the largest improvements in philosophy and content that the designers have managed yet. If 6E can follow in those same footsteps, the game is in good hands. If not... well, the game has had some shocks in the past; I suspect it will survive, if not unharmed.

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