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4 Reasons It’s a Sunny Time To Enter The Grimdark: 8th Edition Warhammer 40K

4 Reasons It’s a Sunny Time To Enter The Grimdark: 8th Edition Warhammer 40K

My affection for miniature wargaming is pretty undeniable. The impact this game has had on my life is incalculable: from opening a world of gaming to me (which is now not only a hobby but also my job) to being the means by which I’ve made long-lasting friendships. Ultimately, I am a tabletop gamer because of one game and one game alone: Warhammer 40,000.

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My beloved first 40K army: The Tau

If you’re not familiar with the game or its (expansive) universe, it can be summed up with the simple statement: In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.  The universe is filled with threats to humanity: there are aliens of varying types (including immortal psychic aliens, undead aliens, planet-consuming aliens from outside the galaxy, mushroom spore aliens, and highly technologically advanced aliens). There are also corrupting demonic gods and their demon-y spawn.  Humanity isn’t exactly defenseless, as it has a military populated by billions of the strongest, toughest soldiers; a militarized religious force whose adherents are called by the God-Emperor to stomp out demons, aliens, and psychically attuned mutants, as well as legions of genetically-engineered supersoldiers (though some of them have been corrupted by demons, so that’s kinda a big deal.) 

Now, as much as I love the lore, my relationship with the game hasn’t always been peachy. I got in over 15 years ago, during its third edition, but between life changes and rules changes that didn’t appeal to me, I ended up skipping the last edition of the game.

But with the release of the newest edition, and the new starter set, the game once again has an allure that I can no longer ignore. Why?

1. GW’S MINIATURES ARE MIND-BLOWING

Let me contextualize the above statement: My collection of miniature wargames and tabletop games with miniatures is embarrassingly large. On the miniature wargaming side alone, I actively collect and play over a dozen games, not to mention the ones that have ended up sidelined. I have handled, built, painted and owned thousands of miniatures from dozens of companies

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Taking into account every aspect of miniatures, such as ease of building (including the awfulness that can be struggling with model contact points, mold line cleaning, and gap filling), ease of converting and customization, dynamic and detailed sculpts (which makes painting them so much easier), and breadth of range, there is no company that is comparable in terms of consistent, exceptional performance across all measures of what makes miniatures great.  And the miniatures and technologies they use just keep getting better and better.

The sprues in the new Dark Imperium starter set bring this point home. They’re packed full;, the components are neither flimsy nor flat, and the detail on the sprues are comparable to resin and pewter models (which generally are harder to build.) The pieces slot together confidently with solid contact points (meaning the miniature is less likely to break when it is handled, let alone dropped), and they are so perfectly tooled that gaps and mold lines are non-existant.

I cannot stress enough just how big a deal this is (though I have gushed on YouTube about it.) I have many beloved games, with miniatures I adore for a myriad of reasons, but in terms of consistency and quality, across their ranges, GW stands a head above the rest.

2. THEY MAKE IT SO EASY TO GET INTO THE HOBBY AND THE GAME

Beyond making models that are dynamic and stunning on the tabletop that also happens to be easy to build and paint, Games Workshop has always stressed the importance of hobby.  The Dark Imperium starter set does one thing that I’ve yet to see another starter set do as successfully: include a guide to building and painting the miniatures contained that shows someone who has never touched a model before how to build and paint the miniatures in a comprehensive way that isn’t intimidating.

3. ANYONE CAN PLAY WITH THE NEW (STREAMLINED) RULES

Of course, Games Workshop has streamlined the mechanics of the game, making tweaks like removing armor values on vehicles, changing movement values on units to make them more unique, and implementing a keyword system.  The effects on the metagame have yet to play out, but that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that one thing they did include in the rules is the “3 Ways To Play”, which was conceptually introduced by Games Workshop in their game Age of Sigmar. 

Games are shared experiences, and one of the ways that a shared experience is made enjoyable for everyone is when they share a social contract. When everyone at the table has an understanding of what to expect from the experience and what is expected of them as players, so long as everyone is aligned in those expectations, they can all better enjoy themselves.

What the “3 Ways To Play” does for gamers is essentially a create a structure around negotiating that gaming social contract. Because players have that conversation before models touch the table, expectations are aligned. That foundational shift in how games are played takes into account the fact that there are so many players with so many different and individual reasons for loving and playing the game.

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Have a collection of miniatures you bought because they looked cool and you wanted to build and paint them? Throw them down in an Open Play structure, which allows for sandbox builds that let you play out crazy “What If” scenarios your imagination has come up with.

Do you remember the days when Chaos forces had favored numbers? Do you know exactly why the Space Wolves would as quickly slit the throat of a Dark Angel as any other xenos scum Narrative Play rewards you for aligning your forces with the lore.

Does game balance matter above all else? Does your gamer heart sing when words like list optimization, metagaming, and competitive gaming come up? Matched Play is the system you’ll gravitate to.

In editions past, the default presumption was that every game would be a matched game, unless otherwise stated. Unbound lists in 7th edition opened the door a crack for a different way to play, but it then placed narrative gaming in the awkward place where both unbound and competitive lists, weren’t rewarded for holding the lore in reverence. And for a game whose universe and narrative is a significant part of its appeal (just ask anyone who loves the Gaunt’s Ghosts, Eisenhorn, or Horus Heresy book series’), it was an oversight.

There is a shift in paradigm and a recognition from Games Workshop that the gamers in its community love the game and play the game for many reasons, and not all are motivated to win equally-matched games. Which brings me to the last point about the allure of 8th Edition:

4. THE 40K COMMUNITY IS THE BIGGEST (AND ‘DA BOSS)

The ubiquity of Warhammer 40K (which is now turning 30 years old) is undeniable. I used to say I could travel to almost any metropolitan area in North America and Europe and get a game of Warhammer 40,000 in, likely without even knowing the language of the region (provided I had my rulebooks). When I first got in, I remember distinctly learning the German word for “Rail Rifle” from a Tau Blister (it’s Massebeschleunigergewehr, FYI).

Now the rules for the game are published in so many non-European languages such as  Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Hindi. There’s even a solid gaming community in my mother’s land, meaning I could probably (re)learn Filipino by gaming.

The community is everywhere, and at big conventions (like Adepticon, depicted above) you can find hundreds upon hundreds of players in a single event. One of the reasons many miniature wargames I’ve collected end up on my shelf of shame is that I can’t find a community to play them in. That’s never been a problem for 40K.

Because of the nature of miniature wargaming, pick up games are built into the community’s DNA. A new player showing up to a gaming night is extremely common, and getting games in with strangers is a great way to make connections and meet people. That’s how I found one of my best friends, the best man at my wedding, and most importantly, my D&D DM.

I cannot overstate how important having an accessible, active and open community is, particularly when you’re getting into a game that is more than a boxed set but rather a hobby and a culture.

Suffice to say, the new edition has me personally excited, but I’m also excited about how the game is once again at a point where new gamers can discover the joy of miniature wargaming. It’s truly a golden age to be a geek.

Do you play 40K? Tell us about your armies in the comments!

Featured Image Credit: Games Workshop
Image Credits: Teri Litorco

Teri Litorco fangirls about miniature wargames on her YouTube channel and on social media, and is the author of “The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming.” 

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