So let's get into it-
These are the rules you need to play the game. Separating them out is a good idea, and they are even available as a separate fold out sheet. This will make learning/teaching the game much easier and also shows how much less complicated 8th Edition is compare to 7th. I'm in favour of this as, contrary to popular belief, a simple rule set doesn't always translate to simple strategy and tactics. A lot of the same depth is there, while some of the changes add more wrinkles to your classic battle plans.
So, the overview of the turn sequence. We are given a definition of the term Battle Round and how each turn within the round breaks down into
- Movement Phase
- Psychic Phase
- Shooting Phase
- Charge Phase
- Fight Phase
- Morale Phase
The morale phase stops there being multiple Leadership tests each turn for each unit. It all happens at the end of the turn, which allows all the casualties taken in a turn affect the morale of the unit.
A nice and clean phase order, that's familiar to veteran players of 40k. As usual, having a definition for a Round and a Turn lets some effects take place in different places. Not much else can be said here.
The Movement Characteristic has returned! Harking back to 2nd Edition, each unit has it's own movement value. No longer are the Aeldari held back by your tyranny of 6". This means that some units/armies are better at repositioning. It also moves a lot of the detail to the Datasheets and allows different Vehicles to move at different rates, rather then being lumped into broad categories like Fast and Skimmer. Fliers tend to have a minimum value now, which means if they can't move that far, they die!
Two new additions to movement; Advancing and Falling Back. Advancing replaces running. Rather than being done in the Shooting Phase, you simply roll the D6 and add it to your move, sacrificing your ability to Shoot or Charge later in the turn (barring special rules a unit may have). Falling back is no longer based on morale. It allows you to leave a combat you are locked in, sacrificing your ability to Advance, Shoot or Charge that turn (again, barring unit rules). This lets you get units out of combats you don't want them in and open up with your other guns on the opponent's combat troops. It's an additional layer of tactics. Do you move a unit out, or let them fight the combat? Do you shoot the squad in your lines, or ignore them and shoot something else while your own combat troops move in?
Movement stats! I cannot over-state how happy I am that these have returned. I've complained about their loss since 3rd Edition removed them. My Eldar move faster than many other races without having to have tacked on Special Rules. Different units will have differing ability to reposition. Advancing is cleaner than Running, as you are less likely to forget a Unit. Falling Back adds a degree of protection from Assault Armies, as multiple charges are easier and Consolidation can actually be used to drag other units into your combat. Sometimes though, Falling Back won't be the correct choice, and knowing this will make a difference.
This phase has had yet another massive revamp. Psychic powers don't have a great history for consistency across the editions of 40K. Now, there are few Psychic powers Psykers can use, and the amount they can cast is fixed. Each power has a fixed value, you roll 2 dice and try and get equal and better than the value. If your opponent has a Psyker nearby, they can deny by rolling 2 dice and getting higher than you did. If they don't have one close enough, they can't deny. This quietly brings back Unstoppable Force, as if you roll a 12, they can't roll a 13 on 2 d6.
Perils happen on a double 6 or double 1. Then the Psyker takes d3 wounds. If they survive and rolled enough for the power to go off, it goes off, if they didn't roll enough it doesn't. If these wounds kill them, however, not only does the power fail (even if it was a double 6), but everything within 6" takes d3 wounds from the psychic backlash. I've already seen this happen in a game and it was devastating due to the high amounts rolled for all the wounds.
A streamlined version of a system that had become bogged down. You can choose your Psychic powers in this edition, so no more Daemon-Psychic armies having to spend 20 minutes generating random powers and remembering which model/unit has which power, followed by half hour long psychic phases where you have to work out how many dice you need, allocate them to the powers you want and start rolling. Even typing that description took a while. This isn't hugely different from the old 3rd Edition system of making Leadership tests for powers, except it's all done in one phase and your opponent can try and stop powers if they have Psykers as well. The strength of this phase will depend on what Powers they print. No sign on Invisibility yet...
This phase takes up the most pages of all the phase, because they use it to introduce concepts like Strength, Wounds, Saves, etc. that will also apply in Combat and via certain Psychic Powers.
There are a lot of changes, that will take some getting used to but aren't fundamentally different to previous editions. In fact, this is where the game becomes a hybrid of 2nd Edition and 7th Edition. You still can't shoot into combat, but you can shoot all of your ranged weapons and choose different targets for each weapon. The different weapon types have various effects on how they shoot; for example Heavy Weapons have -1 to hit if they have moved.
Ballistic Skill has changed from referencing a table to being a fixed X+ number on your unit's datasheet. Unless there are modifiers to the roll, then that is the number you will need if you want your shots to hit, though a 1 always fails (regardless of modifiers but after re-rolls).
The Wound table has also changed to be much smaller. If you are of Strength equal to their Toughness you need a 4+. Higher; 3+. Lower 5+. If it's double or more; 2+. Half or less; 6+. Done.
Your opponent then allocates the wound to any model in the target unit they want (even ones out of range/lie of sight of the attack) and makes saves. Rather than AP nullifying saves completely, it is now a modifier to the armour save. So attacks mostly still let you have an armour save, but in some cases make that save worse. Obviously, sometimes the modifier can be large enough to remove your save. Luckily, Invulnerable Saves are still a thing, and they still ignore AP. Cover gives a positive modifier to your Armour Save. Then, if you fail, the chosen model takes wounds equal to the weapon's Wound characteristic. Excess wounds from that hit don't carry over to other models. Then you resolve the next hit. A new thing here is Mortal Wounds (from Age of Sigmar). They DO carry over across the unit if multiple Mortal Wounds are allocated. They also ignore both Armour and Invulnerable saves, making them very potent. The wounds inflicted by Perils of the Warp are Mortal Wounds, so a Psyker dying to Perils can easily cause damage to your army.
Every unit can split it's fire now. No more having your anti-infantry weapons sit silent while your anti-tank weapons fire. Even then, everything can potentially injure everything, so it's less of an issue. I'm actually not in favour of this change. I don't mind having weapons that have no chance of hurting certain units. It makes me think more about positioning and application of correct firepower/resources. Mortal Wounds allow for some interesting abilities and weapons though. Cover being a positive Save mod is interesting as well, though some of the usual suspects ignore this. Templates being replaced with random shot values will take some getting used to as well.
You can choose to Charge multiple targets with each charging unit, as long as they have a chance of reaching them all. You declare a unit and it's targets, then your opponent can Overwatch with all the target units. Overwatch still requires hitting on a 6+, and ignores modifiers for Ballistic Skill. If the Charging unit survives, it rolls 2d6 and if that would be enough distance to get within 1" of a target unit, then you move in. if it isn't you don't. Then you move on to the next unit you want to charge with. Enemy units can keep firing Overwatch every time they are targeted with a Charge, until a unit reaches them.
This doesn't feel any different than 7th to be honest. I know that you can keep firing Overwatch, but that assumes that each charge fails. Only having to get within an inch means everything essentially charges 1" further, I guess. I do like that nearby Characters can call an Heroic Intervention as a charge response and join in the combat.
Firstly, all the units that Charged activate. One at a time, you choose a unit, work out how many attacks it has and then choose which weapon to use for each attack if the unit has multiple melee weapons. Weapon Skill works the same way as Ballistic Skill; a simple X+ stat. Your opponents Weapon Skill is irrelevant. Damage and Saves also work the same way. When you activate a unit, it Piles In 3" towards the nearest enemy model and after you resolve it's attacks, you move 3" towards the nearest enemy model again.
Once Chargers have activated, starting with the player whose turn it is, players take it in turn activating units that are in combat and haven't already activated this phase. This back and forth, like in Age of Sigmar, allows you to tactically choose which units fight first as you try and resolve the important combats or kill/cripple units before they have a chance to activate.
I like the back and forth activation idea in Age of Sigmar, and it works well here too. Chargers striking first is good too. This rewards proactive movement and careful activation choices. It is a shame that relative close combat ability doesn't matter anymore though.
At the end of the turn, starting with the turn player, you look at each unit that took any casualties that turn. Add up how many models it lost, add 1d6 then subtract your Leadership. If the result is greater than zero, that many models flee the unit and are removed from play while the rest stay in the fight.
I like the flavour of this. Models lost here have either fled due to cowardice or stopped to help the fallen and are too busy first aiding to take further part in the battle. It's nice and simple, and there are a variety of rules that interact with it that aren't just immunity. T'au Bonding Knives let you ignore 6s on this roll. Harlequin Death Jesters choose the first model removed by falling back if they have attacked the unit. It also means that units don't run off and ruin your positioning, they are either where you want them in the fight, or dead.
Gone are things like Armour Values for Vehicles. Now everything has a Toughness Stat, Armour Save and Wounds value. Standard Infantry will tend to have 1-2 wounds per model, while Monsters and Vehicles will have lots more. Monsters and Vehicles also tend to have some of their stats be variable based on how many Wounds they have remaining, usually degrading as they become more injured.
Everything having similar profiles means there is less to explain to new players. Keywords also make special effects and buffs work really well. Characters can't join units, but can't be shot if they start with less than 10 wounds. Weapons are better against Vehicles and Monsters if they have a higher Wound stat. Lascannons do d6 wounds per hit, for instance, which you need when Wave Serpents have 13 wounds and Wraithknights have 24.
Three Ways To Play
There are now three suggested ways to play.
Open Play - grab some models and have a game. To make this easier, each datasheet has a Power Level so you can easily work out if the forces are roughly balanced. When working out which upgrades the models have, just look at the models you are using. Then set up and play a game.
Narrative Play - use your game to tell a story. Follow specific missions with build instructions and victory conditions and play it out. Can your favourite character get revenge on their mortal enemy? Can your small force survive an ambush long enough for reinforcements to arrive? These games may not be balanced, but only if the story needs them to not be and you want the challenge.
Matched Play - This is the tournament standard, and I imagine will be the default way many of us will play. Units and upgrades have points values, there are Detachments you must organise your army into with mandatory and optional unit type choices. This generates a number of Command Points which can be used to trigger Strategems like re-rolls. However, each Strategem can only be used once per phase, which make Charging being it's own phase better as a Command Point re-roll there wont stop you using one in the subsequent Combat Phase.
Not a fan of open play. It's a good idea for teaching the game, but the rest of the time you can just use an agreed point value for a fair game rather than agreed Power Level. Narrative play will see more missions printed as they do various campaigns. Story highlights for the Ultramarines versus Death Guard on Ultramar are probably coming, especially a showdown between Roboute and Mortarion. Matched play will be most people's default.
Each type comes with it's own missions, and Matched Play even brings back the 7th Edition Eternal War and Maelstrom missions, with a new-ish Objective Deck.
While there is a Strategem that lets you discard and re-draw from the deck, there are still some cards there that may not be achieveable for your army simply based on the composition of the forces involved. Big Game Hunter, Scour the Skies, Witch Hunter and Master the Warp still exist. Also there is the awkward combo of Advance; have none of your units in your deployment zone, and Hold The Line; have 3 units in your deployment zone. Prepare for people complaining they have been screwed by drawing both at the same time having already used the re-draw Strategem or having run out of Command Points already
This section brings us the Detachments, Command Points and Terrain rules. It also brings a host of optional "expansions"
These aren't truly expansions, but other ways of playing the game. They don't differentiate between Open, Narrative or Matched play either, so can be used in any mode. They are probably better here than trying to shoehorn them into having their own book each.
These are additional special rules that can effect your game, based on where the battle is happening. Night Fight, Psychic Maelstrom and a world erupting are the ones in the book, but I expect more to come in future.
Fancy a change of scene, or rules for fighting on interesting planets? Here you go. Hopefully they will eventually print more than just the 3 we have here. They are kewl, but I wouldn't want to use them all the time.
This is a short ruleset for fighting a battle where the Defender is trying to stop the Attacker from creating a Beachead for a larger invasion. It adds rules for Fortifications, as well as some unique abilities to spend Command Points on.
This feels more like a specific mission than a different way of playing. It even wants the attacker to have a higher Power Level than the defender. It makes a good opening mission for a campaign though.
Cities of Death
This adds rules for fighting in an urban environment with plenty of ruined buildings, with things such as faster movement on open roads and Grenades being more lethal in buildings.
Great ruleset if you have a lot of ruin/urban terrain. Easily added to any of the missions as well.
Rules for laying Seige to the Defenders Fortifications, with the goal of destroying them all.
Like Planetstrike, this feels like an additional mission rather than a ruleset.
Death From the Skies
Rules that add a Dogfight Phase between the Movement and Psychic Phases, where Flyers shoot only at each other, and relative facing modifies the Hit Rolls. With this varient, Flyers that leave the table can come back on, rather than counting as destroyed.
Basically, an extra phase that lets Flyers fight Flyers without distracting them from the rest of the battle. Not sure about this one, would have to try it in a few games first.
Rules for multiple players fighting to control an Objective Marker in the centre of the battlefield.
Not really needed, but having a King of the Hill victory condition is kinda kewl.
Rules for different ways of running campaigns in 40K.
Great starter advice for running campaigns.
And that's it...
Those rules, and a short example of play take up about 100 pages. And you only need the Core to play, which is 13 of those.
All in all, I'm in favour of this Edition. The changes aren't really as drastic as the Datasheets make it look. I'm willing to lose the uniqueness of vehicles if it makes the game simpler to learn. That way we can all get on with the harder task of learning to be good at the game.
Next, I'll have a look through the Asuryani stats, and see how my Iyanden army may have changed through this edition. I'll also take a look at the Avatar of Khaine and see how he has fared over the years, and illustrate how he has changed from 2nd Edition through 8th.