5 Necessary Changes in 10th Edition Warhammer 40,000

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.

Stratagems

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.

Rules Bloat

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. 

Number Crunch

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.

Flavor Expression

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.

Skill Expression

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.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Dominion – 3rd Edition Review

Tabletop wargaming is my generation’s model train. I grew up going to train conventions with my dad, collected Warhammer 40,000 models in middle school, and admired Warhammer Fantasy from afar for years. It wasn’t until the 2020’s pandemic that I took another look at my miniature collection and regained a love for tabletop wargaming. After a year and a half of learning Warhammer 40k’s 9th edition, I purchased an Age of Sigmar Dominion box and fell head over heels for the modern fantasy equivalent of Games Workshop’s most popular tabletop wargame.

For context, Age of Sigmar is not Warhammer Fantasy—it is a brand reset for the fantasy version of Warhammer and presents a totally new product despite similar models being used in both games. While Warhammer 40,000 has the baggage of decades of legacy mechanics and rules, Age of Sigmar strips back the bloat and attempts wild and flavorful approaches to traditional wargaming tropes as opposed to the strict interpretations of the 41st millennium. 

The core rules for Age of Sigmar are relatively simple compared to its contemporaries and help engage the players in the cooperative storytelling that makes for fun gaming sessions. Mortals of the various realms face off against terrifying daemons, horrifying beasts, and followers of chaos alike. 

Without a ton of rules bloat to lull your brain to sleep (or boredom), Sigmar relies heavily on universal mechanics that all players can take advantage of. The more flavorful abilities are left for specific factions to utilize, but they rarely take center stage in a game primarily around statistics and predictability. This creates a game flow that helps players build up knowledge and familiarity with the game regardless of which force they select to field (the exception being OCR).

After growing up with old metal models and janky instructions, assembling the models from the Age of Sigmar Dominion box was a breeze! Not only are the models pegged for easy, no-glue-required assembly, but their design is sleek and elegant enough to allow for more experienced builders to trim the pegs off and work with or kitbash the plastic to their heart’s content. If you like the honorable Stormcast Eternals or the slimy Kruleboyz, both armies are a steal at ~$60 each.

If you’re interested in getting into tabletop wargaming but don’t know where to start, consider picking up the Age of Sigmar Dominion box (they currently sell for around $120 USD) to gain access to two 1,000-point armies that can be played after assembly. If you’d rather try something smaller scale, there’s always Age of Sigmar: Warcry to test your mettle against opposing warbands instead of opposing armies.

Magic Lessons for Fighting Game Developers

Magic: the Gathering’s most prized treasure, Mark Rosewater, presented a panel at CDC called “20 Lessons from 20 Years of Magic.” His speech focused on various aspects of game design lessons that he had learned over his tenure at Wizards of the Coast, but many can apply to fighting games as well. Please excuse me as I loosely paraphrase Mr. Rosewater and cherrypick his lessons that I find specifically valuable. There’s a chance I may have also heard of these on his podcast, Drive to Work.

Player Psychographics

Take the player psychographics that Rosewater so often references when discussing the audience for Magic: the Gathering for example. The spectrum of Timmy, Johnny, Spike, and Vorthos is a lens through which you can view anyone, not just card game players. To paraphrase Mr. Rosewater, a Timmy plays to experience something spectacular, a Johnny plays to prove something about themselves, a Spike plays to win, and a Vorthos plays to experience the story. 

The fighting game community includes more specific player archetypes, but I would argue that we all have a little bit of Timmy, Johnny, Vorthos, and Spike in each of us. Keeping these hypothetical players in mind when designing your fighter will ensure that you’ve done your due diligence to include a wide variety of player perspectives into your work (or not, if that’s more your style!)

Don’t Fight Human Nature

At the end of the day, game design is all about conveying and in many ways teaching players complex concepts without ever being able to sit down with them individually. Part of that journey is doing one’s best to pack as much information up-front as possible by utilizing ideas and concepts that the player is already familiar with to ease them into learning about whatever it is that makes your game unique.

The first step on that path is to acknowledge that you cannot and should not try to fight human nature unless that is the expressed purpose of what you are trying to pull off. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to the familiar when necessary and use that to expect certain responses in return.

Players have a finite amount of time and a near-infinite inventory of great fighting games to enjoy. Don’t expect a player to want to learn how to ride a pogo stick when they already know how to ride a bicycle, for lack of a suitable metaphor. Only spend those precious mental resources on teaching your players about what makes your game cool!

Look at this selection of vampire colors!

Discovery & Self Expression Are Vital

Although it differs among players, a key component to analyzing the player psychographics mentioned above is that each player is, in some part, in it for themselves. That isn’t to say that they don’t care about the other players, but they do ultimately want to express or discover something about themselves. 

Providing that player agency can be as simple as a variety of color palette choices at character select or as complex as an in-depth combo system that requires years to truly master. Whatever avenue for self expression your game eventually utilizes, being cognizant of what you are providing your audience to discover will make for a more compelling player experience.

If Your Theme Isn’t At Common, It’s Not Your Theme

I’ve left this for last simply because it deserves more explanation than the others. Magic: the Gathering separates its cards into a variety of rarities: common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. These have differing rates of occurrence in a booster pack, meaning that most players who purchase products from Wizards of the Coast will run into commons way more often than rare or mythic rares.

These categories offer designers a chance to throttle the player experience and leave more complex concepts or mechanics for rare or mythic rare cards. If a new player runs into a complex mythic rare, that’s okay because it is only one of potentially hundreds of other cards they own, most of which are simple enough to grok without years of experience playing the game at a high level.

Fighting games are similar, except instead of gating mechanics behind card rarities, fighters have normals, command normals, target combos, specials, ex specials, super arts, super desperation moves, and too many more to list here. Most of a character’s moves are going to be normals—their punches, kicks, and basic martial art attacks. Street Fighter’s Ryu, for example, has plenty of normal moves (Street Fighter is traditionally a six-button fighter), but only three or four special moves, and one to three super arts in his arsenal. Throwing a fireball requires a unique joystick notation as well, leaving some new players left mashing buttons rather than trying to do a 623 motion.

“Grok?”

Mr. Rosewater emphasizes in his lessons on card game design that whatever one’s theme is, it should be readily apparent to a new player after confronting their first booster pack of cards. Given that only 3/15 of the cards in any normal pack will be uncommon and 1/15 of them will be rare or mythic rare (although they’ve changed the specific numbers and types of booster packs since I quit playing), that means that 11 of the 15 cards that a new player purchases will be common and, therefore, limited to being relatively simple compared to others.

In the same way that a Magic set’s theme should be apparent at common, so too should a fighting game’s theme be apparent to players who simply mash buttons and don’t wait long enough to learn how to do a hadouken. If you don’t want players to have to worry about links or precise timing between normals, make your basic attacks chain into one another. If you want to focus on aerial combat, give some fighters grounded normals that leave them airborne. Conversely, if you want a fighter to focus on grounded combat, provide them opportunities to keep their opponent where they are most effective and limit their options to jump. 

This applies to both universal mechanics and character-specific themes; if your most inexperienced players can’t “get it” after hitting a few buttons, it needs to be better baked into the foundation of the player experience.

Thanks for reading!

The Midnight Gospel – A Review

Being a cishet white dude almost guarantees that I’m into podcasts of some sort. I listen to NPR, various gaming shows, and a couple of comedy podcasts to help lighten the mood. I often find my specific preferences too idiosyncratic to make sharing podcasts with all but my closest friends practical. The Midnight Gospel, however, is one podcast that I heartily recommend to just about anyone who enjoys lengthy cartoons for adults. What you get in return for a few minutes of your time is a wild ride that was worth the price of admission simply for the conversation with friends after watching the first episode.

While most podcasts rely on specific topics or guest speakers to guide the conversation, the Midnight Gospel flips the format on its head to form an amalgam of spontaneous conversation and scripted comedy that is worth experiencing at least once. Whether you can stomach the rest of the first season is another question entirely.

I want to avoid spoiling anything, so I’ll try to be as vague as possible in my description. The Midnight Gospel is a story about an intergalactic, perhaps interdimensional, podcast host who interviews various denizens of the cosmos on a variety of topics ranging from drug use to the teachings of Ram Dass. That’s it. That’s all you’re going to get. If that sounds up your alley, then today is your lucky day! The Midnight Gospel can currently be found streaming on Netflix.

For everyone else who may not watch but is still interested, I’d say that Midnight Gospel absolutely nails what it sets off to accomplish. The pseudo-philosophical dialog and psychedelic atmosphere makes it an easy cartoon to throw on while hanging out with friends just to gauge their reactions. I fully expect TMG will fall somewhere on the cultural impact spectrum akin to Mystery Science Theater or other late-night stoner classics.