Games Workshop just dropped their first BIG FAQ for Warhammer 40,000. Meant as an interim measure between editions of Chapter Approved, it's meant to bring "balance" to the game. It was so heavily anticipated, that traffic crashed the site. It's also caused quite a stir on Social Media, so here are my thoughts on the changes, the effects they will have and the reactions I've seen thus far.
The FAQs are due for release in March and September. They delayed this one so that they could use AdeptiCon as a data point before making some final decisions. On the one hand, this is a wise idea. Big events like that make great sources of data on the competitive scene. On the other hand, they probably should have taken that into account when they announced the FAQ dates. Hopefully, they will evaluate this process and make changes for next year.
Beta Status Removed
Two rules had been introduced as Beta rules, to be tested and then implemented fully in the future.
Armies were taking multiples of their cheapest Psykers, and casting Smite as much as possible to cause Mortal Wounds, bypassing high Toughness and decent Saves. This made expensive models that rely on those things for survivability easy to kill.
The Beta rule attempted to mitigate this by increasing the difficulty of each successive Smite. This hampered Thousand Sons and Grey Knights, who already had rules modifying their damage potential with Smite. The finalised rule removes the problem for them.
Everyone had pretty much adopted this rule when it was in Beta, and they were happy with it. This change allays some of the problems, but still leaves Horrors in an awkward spot, especially as they only cast on one die. That may cause this rule to be modified again in the future, but equally, Horrors are pretty good anyway, with their Splitting ability.
I'd been enforcing this rule since it was in Beta, and liked it. Too much access to Mortal Wounds stops the tough, survivable units from actually being tough and survivable. While Mortal Wounds appear to be a counter to them, too much in the meta removes them entirely. And it's not like massed Mortal Wounds are terrible against Infantry either.
A lot of people I've spoken to since 8th Edition came out have been confused by the Targeting Character rule. Especially when the Beta version of this rule clarified the intent. They question why a shooting unit would be distracted from a Character by a unit they cannot see or otherwise interact with.
This is one of those Game Balance versus Reality Simulation things. While it may not seem realistic, it's a rule that exists to protect those characters. Especially since many of the ones it protects would otherwise easily fall to basic infantry guns. Warlocks, for instance (and foreshadowing) have so few wounds, low toughness and okayish save that statistically, 8 Guardsmen in Rapid Fire range can easily kill one. So this rule exists to make those characters playable.
This rule is more of a clarification than a change. I like it because it gives Characters the protection they used to get from joining units, without having to tie them to the unit. Which is key in an edition full of characters with area effect buffs.
Welcome to the new Beta
The above has been replaced by two new Beta rules. Expect everywhere to use them because Beta status doesn't matter, and then they will become full rules in the next big FAQ.
This change is to address the deep striking alpha strike armies. It's actually doing a lot for "one" rule.
Firstly, they change what they meant by half your army setting up on the board. It takes the restriction of half your units and adds half your Power Level as well. It also clarifies that units inside Transports count, which had been questioned by some people. This ensures that Reserves follow the intent of the rule, rather than the previous practice of putting the bare minimum units on the field. This change is good.
Secondly, if you bring your Reserves in during your first turn, they can only arrive in your Deployment zone. After that turn, they can arrive as normal and if they haven't turned up by the end of they 3rd Round they are destroyed as before.
This is an attempt to reign in alpha striking. It's to stop armies leaping straight into your front line on the first turn. It allows you time to prepare for their Reserves if you are going second.
Does it achieve this though? Between armies that are exempt from the first turn restriction (like Genestealer Cult), armies that can deploy closer via scouting (like Raven Guard) and armies that can double move (Tyranids, Harlequins, Chaos, Blood Angels), the armies that really want to get a unit into your lines on their first turn still exist. I guess that this limits them to only making it in with one unit but it still lets them get the jump on you. And that's before we take into account deployment distance, and redeploy abilities (like the Deceiver)
I'm seeing a lot of arguement online that this change hampers assault reserves and doesn't effect shooting reserves. I've long been an advocate for wanting to hold reserves back, as while the alpha strike is the obvious tactic deploying your reserve units when they can have maximum impact seems best to me. It's a tactic that is better for the shooting units, certainly, as assault units may not be able to deploy close enough to their targets. Shooting units tend to not need to be as close as possible for maximum effect.
However, while it allows opponents time to fully organise a screen, it also gives you time to clear out that screen. I believe this does fulfil it's intent of making more interplay between armies. It doesn't impact the exceptions I listed above though, so your mileage may vary.
The other complaint I see is that gunline armies have more time to deal with your army. I guess this will mean you have to rebuild some armies to allow for this. The counterpoint I'm seeing most often is that you have to have enough line of sight blocking terrain to compensate. My counterpoint is that if half your army isn't on the table, the gunlines can't shoot it all. Again, this is going to take some time to adjust to.
It will be interesting to get some play in with this rule from both sides. Can you make a Reserve-based assault army that survives? Can you make a gunline army that completely stops them being viable?
I think that this rule will require the most playtime before a proper judgment can be rendered. I'm optimistic, but I hear the complaints of others. It probably doesn't help my side that my armies aren't Deep Strike Assault armies.
"Soup" is something often complained about online, and it's an issue that puts me in two minds. On the one hand, from a flavour point of view, armies like the Imperium rarely actually field pure forces. While Marine Chapters may prefer to work solo (especially Blood and Dark Angels), the Astra Militarum rarely does. It's often supported by a handful of Marines, Knights, possibly supported by Skitari. Inquisitors grab whatever forces they need from what's available to do the job. Deathwatch and Custodes are elites that join larger armies when their expertise is needed
On the other hand, armies (should be) designed with weaknesses on a Codex level. Astra Militarum have easily killed infantry and next to no close combat ability, much like T'au. Marines lack numbers, Harlequins lack firepower and Sisters of Battle lack plastic models. "Soup" allows you to get around these weaknesses, for the armies that have convienient keywords. Guard give Marines numbers, Marines give Guard close combat capability. Craftworlds give Harlequins range, Daemons give Chaos Marines numbers.
Orks, T'au and Necrons get? Their built-in weaknesses and no support from the other factions. Orks will never have better shooting than Gretchin, T'au will never have better close combat than Kroot and Necrons will never have numbers. So why should some armies get rewarded while these ones suffer?
The part of me that loves the flavour of the 41st Millenium loves that the keyword system allows the "Soup" armies to work. My Imperial and Eldar collections are based on this. I want to be able to play games that put me in mind of Valedor or other conflicts I've read about. The competitive side of me doesn't like that some armies have a mechanical way of eschewing their weaknesses.
However, this rule doesn't solve that. It stops you making a "Soup" Detachment. Saint Celestine can no longer lead a mix of Guard and Marines, supported by Assassins and Greyfax, all in one Detachment. It just means you have to spread those forces out across multiple Detachments instead. Take an Astra Militarum Brigade for bodies and Command Points, take a Blood Angels Vanguard for assault squads and an Imperial Knight for a firebase.
The forces that were abusing this beforehand are the ones without Codexes. Once a force gets it's Codex, Chapter Tactics (or their equvilent) are enough incentive to keep your Detachments pure. It feels like this rule has been brought in too late to punish the armies that don't have a book yet, without actually stopping the "Soup" everyone has been complaining about.
Do Games Workshop need to stop "Soup"? From their probable point of view, no. It allows players to build to fit the flavour and also encourages them to buy models they wouldn't otherwise buy. As for the tournament complaints (this will become a post on it's own at some point), the short answer is also no. Tournament players will also look to the most efficient thing, regardless of flavour. Forcing them to go mono-faction will just show you what they believe the strongest faction is, rather than the strongest "Soup".
So, yeah, this rule is fixing a problem that goes away as we move away from Indexes. Not sure it was needed. They have even needed to put in exceptions for Sisters of Silence and Legion of the Damned, while also making yet another change to how Ynnari armies are built.
Tipping the Balance
Some tweaks have been made to rebalance a few things that have been deemed problematic.
Battalions and Brigades now give you more Command Points. They have said this will help 'Elite' armies, rewarding them for filling the Detachment minimums. They reportedly struggle to get enough Command Points to use their Stratagems. So this boost helps them out.
While this does help those armies when they take a Battalion, it also really helps Astra Militarum who have no problem taking multiple Brigades in an army. I myself have fielded a 1500 point army across 3 detachments that had 18 Command Points (Brigade, Battalion, Supreme Command and Lord Castellan Creed). With this rule, it now has 23 Command Points (although the Supreme Command of Inquisitors is now nullified because it contained an Assassin).
While this is a positive change for all armies, as they should all be able to easily field a Battalion, it does feel a little bit like the rich get richer. Especially Imperial forces who can squeeze in a cheap Astra Militarum Brigade (609 points) and gain 12 Command Points. Tyranids can also achieve this. Take the Astra Militarum Brigade and a Genestealer Cult Battalion for +17 Command Points and you still have 1135 points for your Tyranid Detachment giving you at least 21 Command Points for all your Stratagems.
Tide of Traitors
This Stratagem has been errated to be once per game. I'm guessing this is too strong with a large unit of Cultists, because Drukhari have a similar Stratagem which does it to Wracks. A squad size of 40 makes this more effective than a squad size of 10.
Word of the Phoenix
This has had it's Warp Charge value raised from 6 to 8. No complaints here, it's a ridiculous Psychic Power.
From now on, abilities that let you ignore wounds don't stack. This only really effects the first couple of Codexes, as all of the newer ones have had this written into their abilities. If you didn't see this change coming, then you weren't paying attention.
The biggest concern that tournament players have had for a while is "Spam"(why the food obssession?). Players taking the strongest unit they can in an army and fielding as many of that unit as possible.
Now, 'as possible' is 3. This doesn't apply to Troops or Dedicated Transports. This mitigates the "Spam" that tournament players are complaing about. It also only applies to Organised events, same as the Detachement limit, so it doesn't hurt your collection or your casual games at home.
It's a shame that this had to be put in as a rule, but I see it as a positive overall.
A handful of units have had their points changed. I will talk about the ones that effect me.
Lord Commissars and Commissars have both dropped in points. This is because the changes to their abilities, in previous FAQs, make them less useful than they were. It also makes the Commissar the cheapest Elite choice for filling out a Brigade.
Roboute Guilliman has gone up to 400 points. This is his second points increase. He combines excellent buffs with Primarch level stats. I'm hoping this will be his last increase.
Farseers, Warlocks and Spiritseers all increased in points. The Asuryani Psychic Powers are fantastic and key to how the army works, so I guess these units need to go up in cost slightly. It sucks for the Warlock, as they are very fragile and now cost more. I can see this starting to push them out of armies.
Dark Reapers have also gone up in points. Their ability to always hit on a 3+, regardless of modifiers, and their weapon options make them a really potent unit. They had also become one of the poster children of "Spam".
I only run one of each of this things, but looks like my army needs to make some changes.
The rest of the points changes affect armies or units I don't have, so I couldn't tell you if there were increases or decreases.
I see most of these changes as being positive for the game. The change to "Soup" feels too late and the change to Reserves will require actual play to see the effects. The FAQ does show Games Workshop's committment to improving player's experience, especially at tournaments. We shall see what still sticks around for the second Big FAQ of 2018 and Chapter Approved.