Reflections on 5th Edition

I threw the subject of tonight’s post open to Twitter and the idea that appealed to me most was Reflections on 5th edition Warhammer 40,000 as we hurtle inexorably towards a new (and expensive) version.

The Games Workshop is a touchy subject for most at the moment. Between price hikes, an obvious shift towards a more junior audience and continuing controversy surrounding Finecast there aren’t many who have a kind word to say about them. It’s a company at odds with itself and, in many ways, the Imperium of Man is a metaphor for its bludgeoning approach to business, the protection of its IP and the oft poor treatment of its retail staff – it’s adoring and loyal servants.

With so many rumours flying about 6th edition with it just weeks from release it seemed only proper to talk about the current, soon to be obsolete, edition of the game before the rulebook is consigned to eBay, recycling boxes or loft spaces.

Looking back, I was quite excited about 5th edition, as I was about any new rulebook. There was an awful lot of naysayers at the time slagging the Games Workshop off for releasing another rulebook, especially as the changes were relatively few.

The changes, though, however small made a big difference and signalled an end to the tinkering to the ‘core’ rules that 3rd and 4th editions went through. It’ll be interesting to see how much of those rules change with 6th edition.

The ability to go to ground suddenly gave armies like Imperial Guard a fighting chance when slogging through no man’s land, facing disciplined fire from Space Marines and other armies with high strength basic weapons. It’s a very cinematic rule and depicts infantry hurling themselves into foxholes, craters or against low walls as bullets, shells or plasma bolts explode all about them.

Running meant that agile armies were actually as agile as they were supposed to be. Horde armies could surge across the battle field. Combined with going to ground, forces could become a rippling, seething, mass of horror on a board whilst a static gun line tried to contain them.

Using vehicles became far more tactical and a little more straight forward with varying speeds. Defensive weapons were reclassified so Land Raider Crusaders stopped being the most horrendous vehicle since Warhounds were introduced to the battlefields of Warhammer 40,000. However as with the addition of any new rules it meant  more rule flicking than I’d like but did away with a host of special rules to represent more agile craft.

The assault phase went through some changes that were published in the White Dwarf just prior to 5th edition coming out and the finished result was a little on the confusing side and even now I still have to refer to the book for resolution. The funny thing was that unless you could isolate and overwhelm a faction or counter attack, assaulting the enemy line with anything less than force strength was suicide.

The most significant change was true line of sight. It meant that models had to be positioned correctly. Gone were the days where you could justify cramming your blokes into a tiny building but arguing the whole squad could see out because there was a tiny view port. A simple enough change that had wide-reaching implications on how the entire game was played. And, in many ways, our expectations from other games. True line of sight brought with it a degree of purity to game play quite at odds with so many rules, particularly in the Codices that promoted the wankiest of gaming.

5th edition codices themselves were simultaneously great and allowed for some of the most ridiculous exploitations of rules ever. I spent half my time being annoyed at all the mad as bat shit rules and loops holes that kept popping up as the codices went through the latest iterations. I suppose, in many ways, that’s why I embraced the Ultramarines way of doing things so whole heartedly. It cut out a lot of the crap as the game became increasingly bloated with special rules to the point that you couldn’t assume anything about the models arrayed before you on the board. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

Despite all that I’ve always felt that 5th edition was the strongest to date. By no means perfect, but it was also the edition that was brave enough to shift the background along a little bit as well as firm up the rules. It made long term gamers start to fear that the Imperium would not prevail. It was also the backdrop for some of the best Black Library novels to date – Horus Heresy not included.

So as the 5th age of Warhammer 40,000 draws to a close I find myself strangely sad at its passing. Partly because I worry about what will happen with 6th edition but because 5th edition has given me more hours of entertainment than any version of the game before it. It also saw me set my sights on, and achieve, collecting two companies of  Ultramarines.

What fate awaits the brave warriors of Macragge and the Imperium of Man, I wait with bated breath to find out.

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