Why I’m Struggling with 9th Edition

It’s snowing, it’s 15 minutes into New Years Eve, and the latest episode of Splintermind (which has me as one of a vast sea of guests) has me in a reflective mood.

Normally, I have a post around this time looking at the year, and talking about what I want to carry forward. That feels a little hollow this year for obvious reasons, and I’d likely say a lot of the same things a lot of people would say: This year was full of pain, and fear, and frustration. The hobby helped get me through it, even if I can count the number of models I actually painted on my fingers. Many of you were important for that – you know who you are, and I will be forever grateful to you. I’m hopeful for the future, but we have a long way to go – the downslope of an epidemic curve still involves a lot of sick people.

But it also had me reflecting on something in particular: 9th Edition just isn’t grabbing me.

I’m going to talk a little about why I think that is.

Stating the Obvious

There’s no safe way to game right now. It’s below freezing outside, so even a well-ventilated outdoor space is out of the question, and that’s safer not safe. My house has a vulnerable person in it, and I’m not risking that. Events are an insane idea, and even the local clubhouse involves that aspect of “Do you not only trust the people you play with, but do you trust the people they trust?” where the answer is…not really.

I can expand on this a little bit, and I will shortly in an article, but we’re still a long way from the point where I’m having thoughts about in-person gaming. This makes it hard to really talk about games, the meta or the health of competitive gaming (partially because my brain starts screaming at anyone holding events in the U.S. or UK). It’s also really hard to actually alloy theory with play experience – I have, for example, yet to play on a smaller table. I know in principle what that does, but it’s something else to see it.

But there’s two problems beyond that. I want to be clear, neither of these suggests that 9th Edition is a “bad edition”, as much as an exploration of why it doesn’t seem to be “taking” for me, even if, on paper, I should be way more excited for it than I was for 8th Edition.

9th Edition is About Other People

More than any edition I’ve played in awhile, 9th Edition is rooted in the people you’re playing with. Ironic, given it was released in a global pandemic. That could probably stand a little unpacking – after all, every edition of 40K has involved playing with someone else.

What I mean by this is that a lot of your opponents choices effect yours – not just in the “What am I going to do to counter him?” way, but even when you start talking about the game in the hypothetical. If you’re an Eldar player and want to take lots of psykers, you know you’re playing down, because you’ve given your opponent an obvious secondary. And equally, what they bring impacts your plans – not just how you’re going to accomplish them, but what even you may be trying to accomplish. There’s a lot of nested “If-Then” statements there that I, at least, especially in the absence of really getting a feel for what ones will just happen because that’s what my army does, and what ones are situational, make it hard to hold “A game of 40K” in my head.

In 2020, I’ve really come to value games I can hold in my head, because I’ve spent more time imagining games rather than playing them. And to be blunt, I can picture how an Adeptus Titanicus game, or a Horus Heresy game can play out way better than I can imagine a 9th Edition game at this point.

Crusade, which I am the most excited for, and I think is possibly the best articulation of how I’d like to see 40K played, is even more people dependent. There’s some planning and scheming for campaigns, but those are inherently intensely social activities. And again, that’s hard to imagine – am I playing with my local group? My brother? Friends of mine who would have to travel? How well does the “We’re all doing sort of mini-campaigns on our own” thing actually work in practice?

All of those are dependent on people.

“In These Uncertain Times…”

New editions are always involve a bit of flux, as we digest rules changes, as people think “A Primarch surrounded by Flyers” is a thing GW is going to let go on and they should absolutely drop a couple hundred dollars on it, etc. 9th edition has had three major hits that have made that worse:

  • The end of the edition, when Space Marines were running rampant but some changes having gone into effect essentially having been cut off. This means that, in a lot of people’s minds the Space Marines have had a really long run of being top dog, even if there’s probably a relatively low number of games played and events in that time period, because many of the fixes are…effectively hypothetical.
  • GW did, admittedly, throw out a lot of data from 8th edition when they released the updated point values, which clearly took everyone by surprise – and promptly lost the data generating engine of an active and vibrant tournament scene.
  • The early Space Marines release, combined with the usual pause for the holidays, delays on new codexes, etc. means the Space Marines have enjoyed a long span as the most “up to date” codex following the new paradigms for 9th edition. And if these were a slight downscaling of the power of the Space Marines, they had a long enough runway for nerfs that there are still some very good Space Marine builds. Are they unstoppable? Hardly. Do they currently dominate the conversation? I’d argue indisputably yes.

This has made the game really uncertain. Rules leaks get blown wildly out of proportion (*waves to all the Deathguard players*), the need to wait for the codex gets a touch agonizing, and it’s hard to justify painting a unit that may or may not be complete garbage, or Emperor willing get a new release. There’s a lot of void to fill there, and…uncertainty is not something I’m looking for in my life right now. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been enjoying the Heresy game line so much – it’s stable. The idea you had a year ago is still valid. You can set it down, pick it back up, and it’s not something entirely different.

That’s especially valuable to me right now, when, well, “One Hour a Month” is my 2020 hobby goal.

This Too Shall Pass

I think this is a fleeting problem however, and one that is not inherent to 9th Edition, as much as inherent to a new game system being released into an environment where you can actually play. I am seriously in love with Crusade. My beloved Sisters of Battle have a well supported model line. Campaign play is calling to be.

My enthusiasm for 9th Edition just needs a shot in the arm.

Or more accurately, two.


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1 Comment

  1. Great article as ever. Well touched on with the differences between 8th and 9th styles: I’ve only had 5 competitive games of 40K all year, and they were all with my wife pre-9th Ed. Since then we’ve only played ‘silly games’ of ‘my Titan vs your Knight Household’ or equivalent. Secondaries play like the NOVA ones that we used in a few tournaments in NZ, so I can kinda hold that, but even ‘little’ differences like Command Point Reroll strategems now meaning you have to reroll both dice totally change how much one is going to be able to rely upon ‘those two deep strike units, actually making it to combat’, and so much extra scenery, LOS blocks for ground floor and overwatch changes have meant there’s literally no point running Tau at the moment, but multi-unit Genestealer lists are loving a run across the table which they wouldn’t dare expose previously. Like you, I wouldn’t even consider a club event, let alone a tournament with how things are in the UK at the moment (not that either will be on the cards for the next 6 or so months anyway), so opportunities to ‘just test it out a bit’ are lacking. Still, at least I’ve got my health, and my lovely gaming wife to see me through to the changes that 10th Edition may have in store for us :€)


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