Warhammer 40,000 10th edition rules

Wargaming in the grim dark future

gaming rpg scifi

Warhammer 40,000 is, first and foremost, a tabletop war game. It's also the catch-all name given to a vast fictional universe that includes Space Marines, several species of aliens ("xenos"), independent Rogue Traders, and more, all of which are explored through books, video games, animated series, card games, and board games. Originally, though, Warhammer 40,000 was just the name of a humble little war game, a futuristic iteration of the Warhammer fantasy war game. The latest version (functionally the 10th edition of the game, although its publisher doesn't identify it by edition number) of the core rules were released for $0 on the Internet on 3 June 2023, and I've read them through and played a quick test game. This is my review of the rules.

I don't normally play Warhammer 40,000. I play other games by Games Workshop, and I buy and paint their miniatures, but Warhammer 40,000 the game is a little too big for my current needs. I keep tabs on it just in case I find the opportunity to play it on a regular basis with other people, but currently I'm enjoying solo war games like Reign in Hell: Oculus Spear and Space Station Zero and my own micro skirmish game Skuffle Wammer. Aside from that, I play some Warhammer roleplaying games when I can, and I devour Black Library books and a few different Warhammer 40,000 video games. In other words, my interest in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop war game is casual at best, in fact almost academic, and not based on hours and hours of game play.

10th edition

The core rules are 60 pages. That seems like a lot to get through, but there's plenty of whitespace on each page, and several pages are just graphics for either decorative purposes or to serve as examples (there are two pages of photos of sample battlefield and terrain, for instance). Additionally, all key rules are summarized as bullet points throughout the text so if you're familiar with how war games work, you could probably skip over most of the detail and just hit the breakout boxes.

The way I see it, there are two parts to a war game. There's building your army, and then there's playing the game.

Building your army

Building an army is barely mentioned in the rules. Even when it is, the rules refer you to "other publications, such as Codexes and the Munitorum Field Manual" to learn how to do it.

I'd have written that differently. For instance:

Before playing, you must choose an army. Armies are defined by books called Codexes, or in the Munitorum Field Manual. Browse available armies at games-workshop.com or in your local Warhammer store, and then purchase a copy of the Codex or Field manual for the army that appeals to you. These books tell you which Citadel miniatures you need to buy and paint to create a playable army.

That, to me, is a lot clearer, and it doesn't assume that the reader is willing to go to a Warhammer store and unravel the mystery of how to get started. My local Warhammer store is fantastic, and I love going there, but even at their most helpful, the people in the store have to try to relay a lot of information to anyone expressing interest in the game. It's a lot to explain, and even if you manage to encapsulate Warhammer 40,000 the game, then it's up to the customer to figure out where to even start looking.

Luckily, the Leviathan and Combat Patrol boxed sets exist now. They're armies in a box (two armies, in the case of Leviathan).. You don't have to figure out your own roster, or even know what a roster is. You buy a box, you play the army. That's exciting, but I think this rule book would have done its reader a favour by mentioning those options.

Playing the game

The war gaming part of Warhammer 40,000 is divided into phases. The previous edition, in my opinion, had too many darned phases. Each phase was presented as having several steps within it, so in the end a new player would have to remember around 21 theoretical steps (some of which wouldn't be relevant, based on the army).

The new 40k has just 5 phases.

Actually, it's almost only 4 phases. When presenting rules or any kind of algorithm, it's often not the literal count of steps that matter, but the perception of them. I think it's totally fair to say that the Command Phase is less a phase than it is a thing you do at the start of a new round. It's a trivial step, so you just remember that at the start of your turn, you get a Command Point.

I remember the actual phases as CMS (like "Content Management System") and CF (like the top-level domain). This mnemonic is strongly biased toward my IT background, but it works for me. Here are the five phases:

  • Command: Give yourself 1 Command Point (CP). You can spend CP during the game to grant your army special abilities.
  • Movement: Move each unit up to its Movement attribute (listed on its data sheet).
  • Shoot: Make ranged attacks using your Ballistic Skill (BS, listed on the unit's data sheet).
  • Charge: Move within melee range of your enemy.
  • Fight: Pile in and attack your enemy with your melee Weapon Skill (WS, listed on your data sheet)

It makes sense. It's intuitive. It's easy to remember.

Honestly, I think it's even simpler than it looks. Here's how it actually feels:

At the start of your turn, earn a Command Point. Then proceed through these 3 phases:

  • Movement: Move each unit up to its Movement attribute (M)
  • Shoot: Make ranged attacks (BS)
  • Pile-in: Move within melee range of your enemy, and attack (WS)

There's an argument that in simplifying the expression of the rules, I'm just loading the phase with extra stuff to remember with no reference. In the core rules, for example, the Fight stage already secretly has the Consolidate step, in which models shuffle forward to fill in any gaps in a mob of melee fighters. So really my "Pile-in" stage encompasses movement, fighting, and consolidation. Does it help to conceal these steps? After playing my test game, I think it does.

Regardless of how you look at the phases of the newest Warhammer 40,000, I think it's brilliantly simple. The rules are easy to remember and easy to understand.

There aren't many phases, and many of them don't even feel like phases. Both the Command Phase and the Fight Phase are the logical end to an obvious trigger. When a new round starts, you're in the Command Phase long enough to record a +1 CP. Once a unit charges, then it gets to make melee attacks. You hear it once, and it becomes an obvious part of the game.

Dice and data

Honestly, there's not much more to comprehending the game than that, aside from the actual mechanics. Those aren't that complex, either. When a unit takes an action requiring a dice roll, you roll a D6 for that action. Sometimes you get to roll several D6, because you have lots of models doing that action. Success is determined by the unit's data sheet. For instance, if a unit has a Ballistic Skill (BS) of 4+, then the unit's ranged attack succeeds on a 4 or greater (meaning a 4, 5, or 6). An armour save succeeds based on your Save attribute (SV). And so on.

A new player is likely to have to refer back to the rules to remember what exactly takes a die roll. for instance, it might seem confusing at first that Movement doesn't require a dice roll, but a Charge does. Then again, a data sheet has a Movement attribute (M) and no Charge attribute, so it makes sense pretty quickly once you think about it.

There are mechanics that get a little complex. For instance, resolving an attack can seem tough. There are a lot of different values referred to in the rules. You have to make attack rolls, and then you have to roll the hits (based on your opponent's Toughness score) to see how many wounds they impose, and then your opponent gets to roll to save. But notice that you only have to worry about half of the values. Toughness and Saves are up to your opponent, so you're only rolling the Attack and Wounds.

In other words, reading about it is more complex than when you do it, because you're reading about the actions and values both players take during an action. When you do it in the game, you're doing half what you read about. When it's being done against you, you're doing the other half, but it's a different situation, so your brain can switch out of Attack mode and over to Defence mode.

Yes, you're remembering two different algorithms: one to attack, and one to be attacked. But these components are connected to physical situations, and they become easy to remember when you play them out. By the end of just one test game, the algorithms for each situation were down to muscle memory.

Too many dice rolls?

The one minor complaint I have, personally, is how often you're rolling dice. I simultaneously love rolling dice and hate how much time it takes. I wonder what it'd be like to have, for instance, Battle Shock as an automatically triggered event. The first time a unit starts a round at half strength or below, the unit is Battle Shocked for that round. There's no Save, it just happens by default (certain units may be immune to Battle Shock, to mix things up).

Then again, that takes away some powerful randomness, and I'm sure there are plenty of players who wouldn't want to give that up.

And anyway, I'm not sure that anybody is asking for the Warhammer 40,000 game to be quicker. Two hours for a war feels about right, and I think for a lot of players, that's what you're signing up for when you play. For something quicker, there are skirmish games. The relative complexity of the 40k rules are part of what makes it a war game and not just a skirmish game.

Simplified not simple

The goal, stated over and over on the promotional material, has been to make Warhammer 40,000 simplified but not simple, and I think that aptly expresses what the new Warhammer rules have done. In fact, I think the core rules is deceptive for its page count. It's not really 60 pages (well, it literally is), I'd guess it's half that but for the wide margins, graphics, and breakout boxes highlighting important points. It's a comfortable book to look at, it's an easy read, and it explains the game remarkably well. This is a great book of rules, and thanks to the availability of Combat Patrol boxes, I'm excited to play it.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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