40k 6th edition: a tasting platter

This weekend marked my first opportunity to play Warhammer 40k with the brand new, 6th Edition rule set.

I will not deceive you: I approached the experience with some trepidation.

There are several reasons why the change in rules gave me a tickle of anxiety:

Firstly, as a prodigal player, 5th was the rule set that I came back to. It wasn’t just an iteration of the game – it was definitive for me, the only 40k which I had clear memories of playing.

Secondly, 5th edition had some problems; by the end, one in particular was serious. Vehicles were disproportionately durable and, as a result, they were ubiquitous. This trend, once solidly established, divided the various factions into two distinct tiers: the haves and have nots of efficient armoured units. In a further evolution to the metagame, the armies which had both strong vehicles and easy access to anti-vehicle weapons formed an upper strata amongst the available options.

By the end, it was Tankhammer 40k – and it was miserable. I feared that, if the issue wasn’t dealt with in the new edition, I wouldn’t want to play the game for another 4 years.

Finally, I was nervous about how it would impact the collection of models I had painstakingly assembled and painted over the course of several years.

Rules changes had already proved relatively expensive for my Tyranid beasties – a new army reference book released two years ago turning many of my favourite units into over costed underperformers – and so I was pessimistic that the refresh would nerf a host of the new models I had bought since that overhaul. As a new poppa, I am not replete with spare funds, so I knew that no large scale replacement programme could occur this time.

While it’s certainly early to make definitive judgements, I think I can say that from my first experience with the rules, the nightmare scenarios have been averted.

While there are certainly some changes in the way the game plays – as there should be to keep it fresh – the largest share of the fundamentals have remained constant. This game feels clearly like an evolution of 5th edition, not a ‘tear it down and start from scratch’ project.

The changes that have been made seem intended to achieve one of two things: fix a known problem, or expand the scope of the game. Nothing feels as if it has been tweaked for the sake of it.

A couple of excellent examples spring to mind.

Games Workshop have ‘fixed’ vehicles by introducing ‘hull points’ – essentially a wound statistic for armoured units. In the past, many weapon strikes on vehicles would result in glancing hits which achieved little; now, such hits remove hull points, with the result that armoured targets are far less likely to swan through multiple game turns absorbing overwhelming amounts of fire to no end.

By the same token, they’ve expanded the game by introducing a whole new set of rules for flying monsters and vehicles. Before, a flying vehicle would simply be a tank that moved slightly further… Now, it has a range of different qualities such as being harder to hit whilst in motion, lightning quick progress across the board, but counterbalanced by lack of manoeuvrability whilst zooming around – all elements which are very evocative of jet-propelled war machines and simultaneously give the game additional depth.

The last of my major concerns, about the forced retirement of chunks of my army, was the most resoundingly quashed of all… Because the new rules have given me back my favourite unit of all time, the flying Hive Tyrant.

Relegated to the bench after the Tyranid army revision made him as durable as a heap of shaving foam, the increased threat range and new protection afforded to this huge green monstrosity whilst in flight makes him a genuine option again.

In fact, I was so taken with his apparent improvements that I decided to run two in my test game against a friend’s space wolves. The results were, frankly, incredible.

Both equipped with two sets of twin-linked devourers – which, to those unfamiliar with Tyranids, amount to giant bio-machine guns – they rampaged around the field raining death on several forlorn units of space marines.

The new rules dictate that flyers which soar above the field of battle must move a minimum of 12″ in a straight line and can only turn up to 90 degrees – representing the difficulty of flying at high speeds and theoretically making it tough to stay focussed on a single target without landing. Well, that may be the intention, but my Tyrants were able to fly squares around the enemy with considerable ease, comfortably hosing destruction onto various squads without really being threatened themselves.

Of course, I’m not foolish enough to think this will be the norm in 6th edition. Our experience of dominant flyers tearing up the game suggests that anti-aircraft fire will quickly become ubiquitous in most lists… Which will make Tyranids poor relations once more, as we really don’t have any. C’est la vie.

Other aspects of the game remain unexplored for me – the all-important ‘Allies’ principle, which allows players to selected units from the forces of other aligned armies, counted amongst them. However, I’ve certainly seen enough to make me want to play on and find out what’s to come.

6th edition feels like a well considered product, which is a welcome outcome for those of us who had become frustrated by the clearly inadequate play-testing regimen for 5th. I sincerely hope they keep up the same attention to detail as more armies are revised… It only takes one or two poorly thought-out, over-powered units to slip through the net to create a stifling play environment for everyone.

So if you’ve been taking a break from 40k, or if you’re a curious soul wondering if you should dip your toe in the water, my message to you is this: it looks to be a game worth playing… And I, for one, intend to play as much as possible over the next few months.