40k 8th Edition Isn’t Any Less Messy, But Could Be At Least As Great

There’s rightfully a lot of buzz around 40k’s 8th edition even among people not currently engaged with the game, e.g., among the X-Wing crowd here, and I’m hoping we can recruit fresh new players into our local community. So this morning I sat down with the leaked rules to be prepared to run demo games at a release party tomorrow.

Literally almost instantly one of my biggest fears about this edition seemed confirmed: The rules are at times sloppy and inadequately specified, a casualty of mistaking shorter text for streamlined gameplay.

By absolutely no means is that to say they’re unplayable, broken, or won’t be fun. I’m looking forward to the edition and think it could be great. But we shouldn’t go into this new era of Warhammer 40,000 with unrealistic expectations that the game is suddenly free from significant open rules questions, let alone balance issues.

Coherency

The example that leapt out at me immediately is unit coherency, one of the core concepts in 40k and one distinguishing it from many other types of miniatures games wherein models act individually or in strict formations.

7th Edition

Here’s how 7th edition defines coherency:

… once a unit has finished moving, the models in it must form an imaginary chain where the distance between one model and the next is no more than 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically. We call this ‘unit coherency’.

Main rules on coherency for 7th edition.

This is a fundamental mechanic of the game that’s simple in essence but surprisingly somewhat tricky to capture fully. As such its main rule gets an entire page in the 7th edition rulebook (pg 19). In addition, there is an earlier note explaining the intent that “Units fight in loose groups with gaps between each model…” (pg 9), and special provisions for vehicle squadrons (pg 79) and independent characters (pg 166).

This 7th edition definition is already not ideal. What is an “imaginary chain”? That’s not a formal game term with any precise meaning. The rule relies on the reader’s understanding of an intuitive concept. That’s problematic on its own, but then the two “X” formations given as permitted formations exacerbate it by not actually fitting a typical natural idea of a chain as a single linear sequence of links, e.g., a necklace or lock. The definition relies on an intuitive understanding that isn’t applied in a totally clear and straightforward fashion.

In contrast, you could define coherency simply and unambiguously with plain text like:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit a sequence can be listed from one to the other of models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Or, spelling out some of the implications just a bit more:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit they are either within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other or a sequence can be listed from one to the other of other models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Both of these definitions are intuitive, unambiguous translations from formal graph theoretic terminology, in which you would concisely define coherency via:

The graph over models in the unit with an edge between every pair of models within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other must be connected.

Regardless of these more clear specifications, the text and figures in the 7th edition rules get the concept across solidly and concisely: Models in a unit are supposed to move and fight in close proximity. If you came to the game knowing nothing about it, you would quickly understand that models in a unit cannot be spread all over the place.

8th Edition

Here’s how 8th edition defines unit coherency:

A unit must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit: this is called unit coherency.

Coherency rules in 8th edition.

This is a short, concise rule. But consider this unit of four brave 2nd edition warriors divided into spread apart pairs with the paired models each 2″ apart:

A unit of 4 models in coherency under 8th edition rules.

Assume they deployed that way or properly moved “as a group,” all at one time rather than switching between units. The pictured unit is then inarguably in coherency under 8th edition rules. To quote: “Every model [is] within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit.” All of the models meet all of the given criteria. Yet there’s that 12″ gap in the unit completely against all previous concepts and rules of unit coherency.

That gap could be arbitrarily wide, and there are a lot of reasons you might want some configuration like this. Just off the cuff: You could take a unit of heavy weapons, divide them up into pairs, and spread them all across your deployment zone so that you have a mini-fireteam positioned on each shooting lane. This generally would not have been a particularly helpful before, but in 8th edition all the models can target different enemies so it could definitely be useful. More problematic, you could take a portion of a unit and put it in an essentially unreachable location so that it effectively can’t take wounds. Such near invulnerability could be very powerful if a model or models are providing an ability, stat, buff, or acting as some kind of battery for the unit.

Personally I don’t think this is the designers’ intent, it’s just too big a change to the feel of the game and too awkward. Granted there have been substantial changes made in this edition, but none of the official previews have flagged this as one of them. Regardless, absent official FAQ or errata, intent doesn’t matter, because you could argue it either way. Consider interacting with a newcomer to the game:

  • They set up a bunch of Devastators spread across their deployment zone.
  • You say they can’t do that.
  • They ask you to show them the rule saying they can’t.
  • You claim the designers intended for units to fight close together.
  • They ask you to prove it.
  • You say it’s always been that way.
  • They point to any number of rules that were “always that way” and now aren’t.

Maybe the designers do now intend for models of a unit to be able to fight off in pairs because at least as long as they have a buddy backing them up they’re able to operate semi-independently? It would be scarcely “crazier” as an intended change than independent characters not being able to join units.

So, now what to do? For better or for worse this updated rule potentially changes the game quite a bit, reducing one of its differences from skirmish games. A configuration like this is completely against previous ideas of coherency so most players with even minimal experience are going to think it’s wrong. Having units all over the board will definitely slow games down. Worst of all, it will be extremely frustrating if someone tries to exploit what is probably an inadvertently granted ability to hide away a battery or ability-granting model while other elements of its unit operate elsewhere.

Casualties

Here’s another problem circling 8th edition coherency that doesn’t require anything but a very possible outcome in very traditional and straightforward play: What if a unit takes casualties such that it is no longer in coherency and cannot get back into coherency in a single move? This is not uncommon, for example, with any decent sized unit that loses models in the middle of a stretched out line, and there is no rule forbidding or preventing a player from allocating wounds in such a way.

Previous editions had a simple paragraph of text explaining that the unit had to try to move back toward coherency as best as possible at each opportunity to do so. Rules-as-written in the 8th edition text though, that unit is immobilized. If a unit “must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit” then it cannot make a move that ends with it out of coherency, plain and simple. There is no other provision to move given, so a unit that has its coherency broken and cannot restore it in a single move is thereafter stuck.

Units getting immobilized like this doesn’t seem like anything that would be reasonably intended. It’s very non-intuitive, frustrating gameplay, not explicitly described, a major change, and not a previewed one. Presumably most people will play as before and move toward coherency as best as possible. But then: Do you have to advance, or is it enough to just move? Previous editions explicitly noted that you had to run as well if you were out of coherency and could not restore it in a move, but there is no such note about advancing in 8th and it would not be absurd for someone to not assume such.

To that point about assumptions, what if you’ve never played before? How do you know what to do when coherency breaks? Being stuck clearly isn’t going to seem right but the straight rules text doesn’t let you move or provide other guidance, so now you’re putting your game on pause to deliberate on what should happen, potentially consult forums, and so on. A chunk of the time savings gained in speeding up the game just got burned up, and that’s for a very simple question with immediately likely answers.

In sum: Many people will simply say “Don’t be that guy, just play the obvious way and don’t exploit the rules.” But why shouldn’t I play to win within the given rules? And what if you’ve never played before? Who decides what’s obvious and fair? That obviously should be and largely can only be Games Workshop, but as they have so many times in the past, they’ve abdicated that role on these example questions.

Streamlined

Many people think of ambiguous and unclear rules as problems mostly for tournament players. But that’s entirely wrong. Despite the various communities with their own FAQs and such, tournament players are the most prepared to mitigate and obviate these kinds of issues. Playing with strangers and in a competitive settling quickly exposes rules misunderstandings and uncertainties, forcing their resolution. Tournaments also have the people, structure, and impetus to develop and disseminate FAQs as needed.

Casual players don’t have any of that. They’re on their own, encountering problems ad hoc and coming up with ad hoc solutions, and then potentially hitting entirely different solutions when they do go play other people, even casually. What happens to people at home playing 40k the first time unit coherency is broken and they have to figure out what to do next? Their game just stalled as they work it out. Worse, what about some young newcomer who builds a whole army strategy around breaking up their heavy weapons into mini-fireteams and then shows up at weeknight open gaming only to be told that’s not how the game works even though the rules don’t actually forbid it and they have no a priori way to know that? That’s going to be devastating.

In order to play games quickly and with strangers possessing their own set of assumptions and experiences, you need clear rules, regardless of how competitive or casual the match. Ambiguity is detrimental to the experience of all types of players.

I’m all for streamlining games. Being able to play games quickly is one huge positive. Clear and concise rules with an underlying elegance often also yield more strategic depth. But note in this area at least that nothing has been streamlined, the rules are just marginally shorter in text. The original coherency rules were two short, clear paragraphs that adequately captured a simple mechanic even as they could have perhaps been made even shorter and more clear. Instead, now there’s almost as much text as before, the game is no simpler, and a number of additional questions are generated even with only cursory investigation. Frustratingly, this isn’t even a space saving issue—there’s plenty of whitespace on that page immediately below the rule that could have been used to define coherency just as well as before or better.

Maybe I’m way off base and despite all indications the new coherency rules are indeed intended to permit splitting up units into pairs. But how to act when coherency is broken seems like an outright omission. It’s a straightforward one so probably it won’t be too much of a problem. But these are non-trivial, completely unnecessary problems that did not exist before and come up within the first minute of reading the new rules, literally in the third paragraph. How many other similar issues are there going to be in these “streamlined” rules? How many of them are exploitable to distort the game? Even setting aside Games Workshop’s track record on these kinds of issues, encountering such questions so quickly at minimum warrants some skepticism about what else will come up in the rest of the rules once read in depth and on the table.

Play

One of the risks in simplifying a game design, especially in revamping a large, complicated ruleset, is over-streamlining. Miniatures games are complicated. It’s often very difficult to spell out intended mechanics and behaviors in a short, simple way. There are many edge cases that need to be covered, and people come at rules with a broad spectrum of assumptions. Simply cutting text is not the same as clarifying and speeding up the game. Just a few more sentences here—carried over from previous editions, no less—would have averted non-trivial potential for confusion and abuse.

Despite the observations in this post I’m optimistic about this edition and excited about the enthusiasm around it. I think it quite likely to turn out really fun to play and a huge boon to 40k. But we should not be over optimistic that it is magically free of open issues or not already, even before release, in need of FAQs and erratas. There are multiple reasonable indications to the contrary and it would be completely appropriate to assume so of any essentially new ruleset for any game. Rebooted 40k also may not be intrinsically more suited than it has been in the past to either competitive or pick-up battles, as opposed to play in small, repeat groups that develop a shared consensus understanding of the rules.

The good news though is people have made all those viable in past editions. So, yes, we’ll probably still need to hammer out FAQs and complain about balance and construct missions to address various issues and so on. Eighth edition could and should be great, but just as with past versions I also think it’s going to take work. The real question then becomes: Is this a better basis from which to do that work? I think so, and I certainly hope so. We’ll start finding out tomorrow!

Derelict Depot: Construction

It’s been a long while since I wrote up a terrain project, mostly because I have a couple stuck in half completed limbo. But one is moving forward; I finished construction this weekend, and expect to have it painted up for my local shop’s next RECON+ Infinity tournament: The Derelict Depot.

Construction complete!

Planning

RECON+ is basically half the size of a standard Infinity match: 150 points, on a roughly 24″ by 36″ board. I really like the format and we play it often so I wanted to put a new, detailed board into the rotation. Major goals were that it work for Infinity, which has fairly different terrain considerations from 40k, and that it not look or play like the “MDF-box” cities that are somewhat ubiquitous in Infinity. I think the end result will fit right in with the Shantytown, Old City/Slums, and other unique terrain we run at the shop alongside the more standard MDF stuff.

The start was an actual, physical board I’ve had kicking around almost a decade now after I made some basic terrain for teaching 40k to the university gaming club. The desert colors brought to mind a scenery idea I’ve dreamed about for some time but not built yet: A vehicle graveyard. Simultaneously, some interesting packaging scraps laying around got me thinking about a fuel depot or similar. Putting the two ideas together I started building toward an abandoned vehicle depot.

Very very preliminary ideas.

Garage

I quickly settled on the defining piece being a garage of sorts. Our Infinity group doesn’t play many interiors so I thought it’d be neat to force some inside action. I liked the image of two teams shooting it out across a garage while huddling behind small humanoid doorways on the sides. Cutting big vehicle doorways on both sides to make it a pass-through garage was a simple way to make the interior playable. You can fairly easily move figures around inside through the large openings on either side.

Sketching out cuts on the garage.

Initial cuts forming the garage.

One quirk about nearly all Infinity “MDF-box” terrain is the little walls on the tops of the buildings, sides of walkways, and so on. They provide obvious, extensive cover opportunities and straightforward gameplay. But it’s a little weird that nearly every little roof and walkway has short solid walls. Most roofs I’ve been on you can just walk off, most walkways have railings, fences are more common than walls, etc..

So rather than put unnatural little walls all around the roof of the garage, I put a bunch of large-ish features that an infantry model could get partial cover behind while prone models could easily duck below and move around safely provided they watch their angles. The turbine ventilation units are stolen off baby food pouches, while the other brightly colored bits here and throughout this board are 3d printed pieces I designed for this kind of assisted scratchbuilding. For this construction I had to rely on pieces I had laying around already as my printer is currently fully occupied churning out another project. Many of them are already available via my Thingiverse profile.

Testing details on the roof to provide some cover.

With the basic openings and roof features selected, I spent a while adding trim and details, just whatever I could think of and had on hand or could create quickly. Just one side got a ladder, in keeping with the idea that Infinity boards shouldn’t be that symmetric, built using a technique I use often. Both sides got outcroppings to provide some cover along their faces. The roof got an additional pile of junk “metal” to make a small cover nest, and some tubing hooked up between the mechanical boxes for flair.

“Front” of the garage (the front and back faces are essentially the same).

Side of the garage.

Final rooftop details of the garage.

Fuel Reservoirs

Next up were some fuel reservoirs made of supermarket mushroom containers. The key feature here is some kind of large pump that I imagined keeping the fuel moving around and cooled, or a giant fan for ventilation. These are big enough to provide cover, but I also added some railings on the sides. By themselves these are too slight to reasonably obscure any models enough for protection. However, once painted I plan to add overgrowth all across the board to give it an abandoned, unmaintained feel. Vines and plants draped over these railings will solidify them visually and make it clear that they provide cover, without having just stuck on some solid walls.

Primary components on the fuel reservoirs.

To create some vertically overlapped space on the board, a distinctive feature of much Infinity terrain, I made a walkway out of polystyrene strips and sheeting to go between the fuel reservoirs. The garage I think is too big for it to really feel like two planes of combat despite having two levels; the roof and interior can’t interact enough. Sizing for the walkway is dictated by having just enough clearance for a 40mm base to definitely fit on it. Overgrowth will provide models some cover while crossing, but mostly only from one direction—one side has already been blasted away! I frequently lose a trooper or two to missile and rocket fire while hiding on walkways by my deployment zone, and I wanted to capture that kind of story vignette here.

Finally, each fuel reservoir got a ladder, and some lights and vents were tacked on. Unusually for my terrain there’s no functional hint, no obvious interface for actually getting fuel in & out of the reservoirs. But I thought they looked fine at this point, I wanted to move on, and that lack of grounding is certainly not out of place in miniatures gaming. Maybe these entire buildings are cooling circulation units for a huge underground reservoir, interfaced through the pipes and fittings on the other pieces?

Ladder and walkway.

The mushroom containers are unfortunately very thin and compress too easily, the main effect of which is the features could pop off due to the plastic flexing under them. I’m going to address that by filling the undersides with expanding hard foam.

With the core concepts of the garage and fuel reservoirs nailed down, everything kind of took off. After almost a month of sitting on my hobby table getting poked at every now and then, the rest of the board got built pretty quickly over a couple nights. To those three pieces I added a mechanical building, silo, liquid tank, and a segment of blast wall to provide some additional large elements blocking line of sight. A variety of vehicles, containers, and scrap pipes then filled out the board with scatter terrain.

Mechanical Building

The mechanical building was inspired by realizing some sports drink canisters I had fit perfectly over the hole in a piece of plastic electronics packaging that I wanted to put on a wall somewhere. I started thinking it could be the broken output pipe from some giant pump. Later I realized this idea is a bit of a rehash, it basically combines the pump station and pipeworks pieces from my Medea Refinery build, but that’s ok.

Two blocks of foam covered entirely in cardstock make up the shape of the mechanical building. Again I used chunky details to provide cover rather than just solid walls. One railing is included though, which will get vines and ivy just like the fuel reservoirs to make it actual cover. As on the garage, I especially enjoy the tubing connecting some of the mechanical boxes to the wall inlets as a neat functional hint. The canisters on the front are glued on to break up the wall surface and provide cover straight down its length as the broken pipe does on the back. A short ladder at the back provides quick access the the mechanical boxes on the roof, but I purposefully did not add a second to the top roof so that it would take some extra climbing to get there.

Front of the mechanical building.

Back and roof of the mechanical building.

Silo and Tank

To create some more big LOS blockers, I made up a silo and a fuel tank out of coffee and vitamin containers. Loops of masking tape and polystyrene strips combined with the foundation pieces hopefully will break up the recognizability of the shapes just a bit once painted. I did not add ladders or platforms to the silo, though I might think about that some more so that any models on top are more accessible to close attack. Hopefully players will know to not place the tallest terrain piece in either deployment zone and let a model just deploy on top unreachably. I also plan to add a lot of built-up overgrowth to the top to make it difficult to place infiltrating snipers there.

Tank and silo (left and right).

Details

Finally, I made a whole bunch of scatter terrain: Several vehicles, lots of containers, and some piles of scrap pipes. The shipping containers are 3d printed designs I made that have been super useful on several boards. One variant is on Thingiverse. The other containers are wood pieces I got in bulk a while ago and use everywhere. The scrap pipes are sports drink tubes hacked up, and in one case wrapped with tape to make the ends look fitted. I like them being see-through laterally, making the ends tough to use for cover even as the sides are excellent for it.

The vehicles are 1/48 models. For 40k that works for some tanks and is arguably maybe “correct” if you incorrectly consider its miniatures to be 28mm scale models rather than the artistic, loose 28–32mm gaming pieces they are. But for these and most vehicles 1/48 is too small to look right in Warhammer. That’s one reason I never built my original vehicle graveyard idea. For Infinity though, as the figures are generally fairly accurately proportioned and mostly closer to 28mm scale, these models look ok. Next to heavy infantry or such they look small, but they should—those are big warriors in giant suits of armor! Compared to unarmoured troopers and similar the models look fairly plausible, particularly the earlier figures before Corvus Belli started creeping up the scale. Comparison pics to come once the terrain is painted.

I greatly enjoyed clipping and physically smashing down the really broken truck and airplane. I don’t know what kind of backstory justifies a biplane in an Infinity setting. Maybe this depot is on some neglected backwater planet and they use very low-tech vehicles for civilian tasks as they’re easy to build and maintain? I have no idea, but it looks pretty cool in the garage-hangar and is a neat piece of scatter terrain cover.

Broken down truck and Volkswagen. Original Volkswagen Beetles have their engines in the rear so that vignette with the hood off will be misread by a lot of people thinking it reflects working on the engine, but it’s still plausible.

Abandoned biplane in the garage.

Looking out from inside the garage.

Diagnostics console, supplies shelves, and other equipment inside the garage.

Shipping containers: The true hallmarks of far future war.

American-Style

That about wraps up the tour. There’s definitely enough pieces in the depot for the dense “American-style” boards we generally play in my Infinity scene, much to the sadness of my airborne troops. Big models have enough to hide behind, and there’s plenty of ways to prevent overly long firelanes and lots of partial cover over which to advance cautiously. Variety in heights should create good reasons to go up or slink around. Boards made with these pieces will definitely not be symmetric, an important property required to give meaning to the choice between initiative or deployment zone selection. On the flip side, the board is so dense that it should be difficult to inadvertently leave one side overly exposed. Finally, the pieces have a good level of detail, but easy playability and only a few features here and there that look particularly amenable to breaking, so I think it will hold up ok to public play.

Next up is painting, hopefully to be completed for next month’s tournament!

Top view.

Left airborne view.

Right airborne view.

Ground view left.

Ground view right.

Painting 3D Printed Parts: Tech-Coffin

My Data Targets Kickstarter campaign to produce 3D printed objective markers for Infinity and other games is underway and going strong. The STL files for the whole collection are also available via DriveThruRPG. People of course have been asking about how well these 3D printed pieces take paint, so this is a copy of the campaign update posted with an example. More generally this post shows that painting pieces printed with HIPS filament is the same as painting any hard plastic miniature, and I understand that to be true of other common filaments as well. It’s also a good look at what kind of resolution is easily achievable on mid-level home printers.

Note: Many different materials and several kinds of processes are used in 3D printing. The most common filaments (ABS, PLA, HIPS) produced by the most common type of printer (fused deposition modelers, FDM), as well as many others, are amenable to the basic process outlined here. However, some have different properties. For example, the “White, Strong, and Flexible” material offered by Shapeways should be washed first and note taken that paint can go through thin sections of the model (though this is often not an issue if primed appropriately). Some filaments may also react with acetone, alcohol, or other solvents used in some less common painting and inking techniques. If you’re just starting out, most likely this approach is fine, but read around about your specific filaments and paints!

Tech-Coffin

Personally I really like the look and game table visibility of the objectives as-printed in a bright color. But it’s also totally reasonable to paint them up to match terrain & so on. So I quickly painted up a tech-coffin and datacube as a demo. I’m confident many of my backers can do a better job than I, but at minimum this shows that these pieces paint up easily and no differently from other minis. The washes used also highlight the minimal level of striation so everyone can plainly see and gauge how they feel about it.

Tech-coffin and datacube painted up.

The print shown here is exactly the same as the production sets backers will receive. It’s from the same type of printer with the same settings and so on. These pieces also haven’t been sanded, smoothed, or otherwise cleaned up. The only prep work done is that a magnet and ball bearing, as included in all the sets, have been inserted. This is a trivial task as there’s no need to worry about matching polarity.

Raw printed piece with magnet and ball bearing attached.

The plastic we’re using is the same type as used in many well respected commercial miniatures. It’s hard, can be cut or sanded, and takes superglue and paint readily. There’s no mold release or similar that needs to be washed off as with resin or metal models. We recommend priming with spray primer, and any common or miniatures-specific primer will do. Here we’ve used a Rustoleum Ultra-Cover 2x Flat Gray primer that can be found in any hardware store for a few dollars. One observation is that with proper priming the bright neon color of the plastic doesn’t affect the final outcome.

Spray primed with hardware store primer.

For this demo we’re going to go with the flat gray color as the base color so priming and blocking is already done in one step. It’s not visible in the picture, but a matching gray brush paint has been used to patch up a few places where we didn’t get great coverage with the spray (under some of the overhang on the backside). We’ve decided to interpret the top panel as some kind of status display screen, so it’s base coated blue. The datacube compartment and details have then been picked out in brass. The only minor care to take on this specific model is to not paint the datacube or the interior of its compartment excessively thick, lest the fit become too snug. However, there’s enough tolerance to not worry about a couple standard coats.

Details picked out.

All of the gray and brass has then been washed in a light brown. Compared to a black wash this tends to give these colors more of a used, dirty, earthy look appropriate for terrain pieces. The screen has been washed in a blue with the piece held horizontally to deepen the color and have the panel darken toward the edges.

Washed in a light brown, and blue on the screen.

For the final step, some vague display information has been stroked onto the panel in white. The main datacube compartment has also been washed in soft black to further darken it. From here we will dull coat both pieces and then gloss coat the panel, but this is optional. Paint adheres well enough to the plastic that chipping isn’t as much of a concern as it is for metal models.

Finished up with some vague display lines and second wash on the main compartment.

With the washes and viewing up close under painting table lighting like this, the striations are definitely visible. However, we think they’re more than acceptable for this kind of terrain/objective piece and in practice we don’t find them noticeable at all on the tabletop in play. Potential backers should make your own judgement though!

In the end, as you can see from this demo, these pieces paint up very easily. All of the paints and washes used here are just standard Games Workshop and Secret Weapon supplies, and no special preparation or handling is needed.

Thanks for reading, and please post any questions in the comments!

Paints and washes used in this demo.