Once feared for the anticipated damage done to existing army lists, the latest edition of Warhammer 40,000 is a kinder, gentler wargame. Fully compatible with existing codices, fourth edition strives to eliminate exploits of the third edition rules to create a balanced abstract wargame set in a grim, characterful universe.
“A good commander does not need to take risks—he merely waits for his foe to do so.”
Outnumbering is arguably one of the more inspired rule changes. Units outnumbered in close combat suffer additional wounds. The wonderful side effect is it finally gives players a much needed disincentive for min/maxing squads. This is most frequently encountered with Space Marine players who take tiny five-man squads and beef them up with a heavy and special weapon. This rule encourages taking a full 10-man squad. It certainly gives Black Templars (who may include up to five Neophytes in 10-man Space Marine squads) a little help against horde armies. Given that many of the rule changes favor shootiness, the outnumbering rule tips the scales back somewhat towards horde armies that rely on large numbers of close combat specialists.
Anyone who has lost a game in turn one against a Blood Angels army in supercharged Rhinos is grateful for the 4th edition transport rules. They deal a blow to the once dreaded Rhino rush strategy so prevalent in Blood Angel and World Eater armies. Unless using Land Raiders or open topped vehicles, players cannot disembark and assault on the same turn. On the other hand, there’s still nothing to stop players from moving a transport down the table close to the enemy, disembarking a squad armed with rapid fire/assault weapons and emptying a devastating volley of ranged fire into an opposing squad. If anything, the new transport rules encourage more combined arms tactics. Shooty units need to support mobile assault units in order for the latter to survive and make an effective charge.
Tanks can now move and fire. Troops have more latitude to move and fire. The new 40K is a much more mobile game. The game has graduated past ‘get every unit in a position to charge’ into ‘maneuver, shoot, maneuver, charge, maneuver, shoot.’ Players can still charge all they want (minus Rhino rush), but this edition is designed to allow tabletop generals more flexibility in their tactics. To avoid turning the tabletop into one big killing field, fourth edition encourages greater use of terrain to give assault units an even chance of maneuvering into position for a deadly charge. The authors provide several examples of recommended terrain coverage on an average sized table.
All in all, the rules are clearer than in the past, and the authors give better examples. Given the complexity of situations that arise when infantry, tanks, elites and special rules butt heads, however, more examples should have been included. But then what are Internet message boards for?
The book includes several extra little sections that add to the playability and enjoyment of the traditional game. Kill-Team is a game variant to emulate small elite squads facing impossible odds like in The Dirty Dozen or the original G.I. Joe comic. Players can earn special abilities for their team which not only adds character to the miniatures but encourages modeling conversions. Fourth edition also presents more extensive campaign rules than ever before. Campaigns run basically like a series of one-off games, so deep realism like attrition and supply lines don’t feature into it. On the other hand, the simplicity of the rules allows two players to run their own campaign without need of a referee. The sample campaigns in the book are good, but bigger maps would have been helpful.
The book has a couple of key omissions that were present in the third edition. It lacks a weapon chart in the reference section. A simple list of all the different weapons and their special abilities, if any, is a must especially for beginners. Even a shorter list of the more common weapons would be welcome. More importantly, however, there are no longer any mini-codices of the various armies. Again, veteran players may not miss this because they presumably have or have read all the full codex books, but beginners certainly lose out here. Omissions aside, one of the most welcome additions to fourth edition is a long-awaited index. It’s not perfect: The ‘grenade’ entry, for example, fails to list a key mention on p.72 detailing their effects on vehicles—this is not referenced under the ‘vehicle’ entry either. By and large, the index is great and cuts down on a lot of time searching for niggling little rules—time better spent lobbing high-explosive ordinance at your opponent.
Ultimately, fourth edition reads more like 3.5. And this is a welcome change. All codices (army books) are compatible, and Games Workshop promises that the time saved from redesigning codices from the ground up will be better spent designing new stuff (could this mean an eventual appearance of the long awaited Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus? Or maybe the Hrud or Demiurg get a treatment). Third edition was a complete overhaul of second edition, colloquially dubbed Herohammer. If anything, it emphasized assaults, often leading to Warhammer Fantasy-like scrums. Fourth edition gives a boost to shooting in an attempt to promote combined arms tactics. Overall, it is a much more balanced game that encourages and rewards use of a larger variety of units.