At Adepticon 2023, Games Workshop announced that Warhammer 10th Edition is imminent, set to release in the [Northern Hemisphere] summer. Nobody was exactly surprised at the news, because apparently it's time for a new edition based on GW's established pattern of a new edition every 3 years. That seems like a short lifecycle to me, but it's 2023 and I guess things move pretty fast.
My impression is that most people are pleased at the news, not because it's a new edition but because it's been explicitly stated that it's a simplified edition. It seems that a lot of Warhammer enthusiasts think recent versions have been over-complex, poorly organized, and generally unwieldy. I agree, and I'm looking forward to 10th Edition, and here's why.
I have a good number of Citadel miniatures. I enjoy painting them while listening to books from Black Library, or watching Warhammer TV. I'm a gamer, and yet I haven't actually ever played Warhammer 40,000.
In fact, many Warhammer enthusiasts play wargame rules from Wargame Vault or [the inappropriately titled] One Page Rules. I was underwhelmed by One Page Rules, but I do play other systems, like Reign in Hell with the Oculus Spear expansion, Space Station Zero, and Mechaforce.
I did read the Warhammer 40k 9th Edition rules after acquiring some Space Marines, and after reading them I simply declined to engage. The rules weren't just complex, they were (in my opinion, at least) clumsily complex. It's 2023 and we humans have been gaming a long time, and we've been describing how to play a specific set of rules for just as long. At this point in game development, even a complex game ought to be advanced enough to condense a complex-feeling experience into minimal game maintenance.
Lots of rules get written to produce a specific feeling in a game because the rules writer wasn't able to produce that feeling in just one rule. It's one of those unobtainable ideals, of course, like trying to write the perfectly short sentence. At the most extreme, you'd be able to encapsulate everything you wanted to say in a single word...but then you've just off-loaded all of your intent to knowledge your audience must either know or look up, and eventually you'd build up an impossibly unwieldy vocabulary. But I do believe it's possible to provide the feel of a frantic and tense military campaign with, um, some number of rules fewer than those in 9th Edition.
A simple and early warning sign, for me, in these kinds of games are the phases of a turn. In 9th Edition, there are seven phases to each turn.
(This isn't quite as bad as something like, say Magic: The Gathering which not only has some unknown number of turn phases, but the "Main Phase" occurs more than once during a turn!)
There's no mnemonic to help you remember what each phase is, and each phase predictably has sub-steps all its own. And sure, not all phases apply to all armies. An army without Psykers can skip the Psyker phase, for instance.
No matter what, though, seven phases is just too much. By round 3 of a game, your brain's processed a minimum of 42 potential event triggers (7 phases × 3 turns, for two players), even if you did ultimately skip some of them. And that's at minimum. Probably you didn't choose to do nothing during your turn, so you've actually processed a lot more than that.
The thing about rules is that you have to cycle through each one in order to determine whether it applies to the current state of the game. And you have to do that every time the game state changes.
And the game state is always changing.
On top of the standard loop of player turns, there are also rules for armies and units. And you can't choose to forget a rule only to remember it when it happens to get triggered. You have to remember a rule even when it's not triggered, because when and if it does get triggered, you must know that the trigger exists and has a rule associated with it.
In theory, you only have to remember the half that apply to your own army. In reality, though, it's a strategic advantage for you to understand your opponent's triggers too, so you can change your behaviour to avoid providing benefits to enemy troops.
Functionally, that means you have to know the rules for your army all the time, and worse yet you have to temporarily learn as much of the rules for your opponent's army as you play the game, every time you play against an unfamiliar faction.
Game rules are persistent. They're relevant throughout the entire game, and when there are lots of them it only makes sense to make them easy to reference. 10th Edition promises to have data sheets that contain useful data, providing players with not just the stats of their faction, but also the rules unique to that faction. It's on a page you can print out or put on a mobile device and refer to as you play.
It's simple and probably, in retrospect, really obvious. I think it's going to be a huge improvement. It's enough to make me want to play the game, anyway.
Better yet, the rules are $0.
For 9th Edition, the core rules are also $0 (you can download them from the Warhammer website) but the rules for each army type are sold in a "Codex" book that you buy, presumably, along with the army of miniatures you're building. For 10th Edition, though, the Codexes are $0. You buy some miniatures, you build an army, you download the data sheet, and go play.
Definitely enough to make me want to play the game.
I fit into that subset of gamers who sincerely enjoy rules. Game rules are a form of code (specifically, an algorithm) and observing how one situation is affected by a rule differently than another situation is one way I explore a game's world. It's surprising and fun when you notice that this Space Marine is within one inch of that Space Marine, so this one gets a bonus to his ballistics skill. It's terrifying when this alien gets to move farther than it could at the start of the game, because now it's on a type of terrain that it prefers. And so on.
I really like rules. It's part of the fun. But I like beautiful rules more than clunky rules.
I'd probably buy more miniatures and more books, were the rules not actively discouraging me from doing so. I'm interested in a bunch of different miniatures, but I'm not buying a whole army to not play the game they're intended for. Why would I collect, for instance, a box of Adepta Sororitas when the rules to use them cost extra money, and those rules are clunky and require me to memorize seemingly arbitrary turn phases, and add a bunch of paperwork at the table?
On the other hand, I enjoy playing the Warhammer Quest: Black Stone Fortress board game. I felt confident buying it because I knew I enjoyed all the things in the box: the miniatures, the lore, the genre, and the rules. If I see one of the expansions for it, I'll probably buy it, too. And I intend to try some of the other games, like Boarding Actions and Necromunda. I want to try all of these because I've seen them played, and I like what I see.
I started out in the Warhammer setting through its lore. I've found that I enjoy Citadel miniatures, and I enjoy painting them a lot more than I enjoy painting the cheap D&D miniatures I've had access to previously. I'm actively looking for an excuse to buy more of these gaming products, because I enjoy gaming. But the rules have to stay out of my way. Luckily, I really like what I've seen of 10th Edition so far, and I'm looking forward to finding out more.
All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.