An inexperienced wargamer might be surprised to find that Warhammer 40,000 is both Games Workshop’s most popular game and a complete mess. With decades of success and a devoted fan base, 40k has surpassed every other game in the industry by a large margin. This success has come at a dire cost; legacy rules and mechanics add to the overwhelming sense that Warhammer in space is as bloated and hard to grok as it is compelling to new players. 9th edition introduced a nearly unimpeachable foundation for gameplay and then added more rules and stratagems than any reasonable person has the patience to wade through. With a new edition on the horizon, here are a few suggested changes to make Warhammer 40k more fun for everyone.
Similar to Command Abilities in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Stratagems offer players abilities outside of their unit’s datasheets. Both games offer a set of universal abilities that all players have access to, but Warhammer 40k leans much more heavily into each player’s individual stratagems. An average codex has two pages devoted to these abilities and it can be difficult for even experienced players to track which stratagems relate to which units or specific gamestates.
Solution: Simply expanding the set of universal stratagems, cutting down the overall number, and moving them to specific data sheets will help remove some of the bloat that 9th edition introduced while also making the interesting abilities easier to remember and therefore use effectively.
Solution: Get rid of 10-20% of superfluous rules and relegate them to a specific game mode, preferably not Matched Play.
The main difference between Age of Sigmar and 40k is the degree to which each mechanic helps support the overall flavor of the game and story that the players are trying to tell. Age of Sigmar has fewer rules and better flavor expression, while 40k is extremely bloated and still fails to execute on replicating the lore that makes players start playing in the first place.
Having to track primary and secondary objective points, command points, experience points, and other various numbers at any given time while primarily using 6-sided dice makes my smooth brain wince. Counting to 100 is an incredibly inefficient use of a player’s time and mental stack.
Solution: Move the decimal point over one and make numbers smaller and easier to grok. Instead of having 100 point games, make 10 points the maximum instead. This will require the scoring system to be adjusted accordingly, but it will also make the game easier to play without sacrificing anything of value.
As mentioned previously, Warhammer 40,000 suffers from having incredibly interesting lore and gameplay that fails to live up to the storytelling that precedes it. Factions like the Adeptus Mechanicus and Necron share very similar space mechanically but have drastically different flavor, while the Adeptus Astartes are carbon copies of one another with the exceptions of Space Wolves and Blood Angels. Another ~33% of the model range is devoted to Space Marines but angry, without many shades of nuance in between. Some of the scariest alien menaces known to mankind end up being as weak as wet tissue paper on the tabletop.
Solution: Of the fewer rules that remain post-debloating, ensure that those rules do a better job expressing the individual faction’s background lore. Differentiate between factions that have similar themes and ensure that everyone has something interesting to do. Reinforcing how the remaining rules express how cool the world of Warhammer 40,000 is would do wonders toward making a better game.
Despite Games Workshop’s best intentions, Warhammer 40,000 is a competitive game with a growing community of professional players. That being said, there are a few mechanics that cause repetitive game states and leave opponents in a situation where they can predict their opponent’s strategy without much agency to do anything about it. Some data sheets provide a jack-of-all-trades profile priced in such a way that makes other similar options inefficient in Matched Play. 40k even offers a few factions stratagems to help players subvert skill testing abilities and just “do the thing!” Letting players do cool stuff is essential, but making them actually do something of note to achieve it will both make their opponents feel better for losing and make the active player feel more clever for having overcome the hurdle.
Solution: Leaving players with fewer catch-all tools and forcing them to overcome unexpected obstacles will increase player skill expression while reducing the amount of feel bads felt from losing in the same way each match.
As Age of Sigmar’s development has successfully trended towards simpler, more expressive gameplay, Warhammer 40,000 has several opportunities to learn similar lessons while remaining a distinct game with its own quirks. Warhammer does not need a universal ruleset. Instead, Games Workshop should let the left hand know what the right hand is doing and learn lessons from the development of its other products and other tabletop wargames in general.
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