Well here we are. 6th edition is fast approaching and in just 4 short years since 5th dropped and changed everything, everything is changing again. 5th edition was the first full edition I played, having started the spring of 2008. 5th edition will always be special to me for a few reasons. It all started in a quaint shop in Marlboro, NJ the night of July 11, 2008…
Of course I remember the store very well…because I owned it. This was going to be a big release for us so I did not hesitate and announced that we would hold a midnight release party with open “farewell to 4th” gaming and books to be sold at 12. All my regular gamers were there (many of whom I’m happy to say are still friends). The tables came out to play…the books including my scared tome, a collector’s edition, sat behind the counter. I didn’t cheat at all…if they had to wait, so did I. I did hold the sacred tome up a few times over my head, presenting it like a crown prince lion cub to the gathered and they paid it the appropriate respect. As the big moment approached, I got out the books and stacked them on the counter and at midnight July 12, 2008 the era of 5th edition had begun.
It’s been an interesting 4 years since that fateful day. Rules have been debated over and over. Prices have skyrocketed. Rumors that all the books would get a 5th edition update were spread around…then forgotten. Early 5th ed books looked powerful and unbalanced (a 3+ invulnerable save?!? Whatever will we do??)…then later 5th ed books hit and those early books quickly joined their older brothers being curb-stomped by Grey Knights and Space Wolves. A few Xenos books joined the mix, but even they couldn’t quite compete to the Imperial juggernaut (except Codex Space Marines, which are still a weak army). Now we look to 6th to hopefully bring balance back to the game…or at least shake things up. It was an interesting evolution…
First there were the new rules and with them some interesting situations right out of the gate. The biggest issues people had were probably with True Line of Sight. I didn’t get it then and I don’t get why people still complain 4 years later about something as simple as “if you can see it you can shoot it” I have never had a problem in 4 years with this…and really haven’t had a big problem with cover saves. I have taken a few 5+ to settle cover debates, but I’ve never had the problems I hear about. The other big change was wound allocation. Early on, I found this one a bit stupid. If Larry has a flamer and he catches a bolter round to the face, why can’t Bob pick up the dropped flamer and go on with life? That’s how 4th rationalized why the special guys in a squad died last, but in 5th, only Larry knew how to point a flamer in the enemy’s general direction and push the burninate button. This one led to the rise of the Ork Nobs and Nob Bikers because they were multi-wound models that could all be geared differently. Theoretically you had to cause one more wound then the unit had models before it started to lose effectiveness. Anyone who could gear models differently could do it, but it was multi-wound units like Nobs, Bloodcrushers and Paladins that really put this little exploit to good use.
Running was another new ability that changed things. Foot armies gained mobility, units that had their transport shot out from under them still had a chance to get where they wanted to be and units with heavy weapons had something to do turn 1 of a dawn of war battle. I think 5th will be remembered as the era of cover saves. 4th ed had low armored armies hugging terrain for survival, but in 5th you could bring your own cover by screening the important stuff. Want to keep your Ork boys alive to get into things? Toss some grots in front of them for an instant 4+ cover save. 5th will also be the era of the mechanized army. Back in 4th, being in a destroyed transport was dangerous…very dangerous. 5th took a lot of that away. It also made vehicles more durable and as books came out, transports got cheaper, too. Considering that 2/3rds of the time you had to take something your opponent held, mobility was very important and armies in 5th were really capable of getting across the board. Of course tanks could use their mobility as a weapon with tank shocking evolving into the ability to ram. If nothing else, it was amusing to pin the pedal on your rhino and hope you can damage your enemy’s tank worse then your own…though sometimes you ended up just wrecking yourself in the process. You also had more tactical flexibility with outflanking, safer deep-striking and the option to hold as many units as you wanted in reserve.
Close combat got an almost complete overhaul. The basics were still mostly the same, but combat did get far more brutal and decisive. Gone were the old leadership modifiers and the 4th ed chart and a simple rule replaced it. If you caused less wounds then your opponent, you lost. Take a leadership test minus the amount you lost by. Sometimes this could mean you needing to roll snake eyes or run. This also made fearless as much a burden as a bonus since losing combat meant you took extra wounds. Orks know very well how bad this could be if the dice gods choose to hate you one day. Certain special weapons no longer gave an extra attack unless you had a pair and not all armies could take 2 power fists on a model. Shooty armies got a boost since you couldn’t consolidate into another fight anymore. No longer could a unit of Genestealers eat through an entire gun line of Fire Warriors. Again this led to new tactics to try and get combat to end on your opponents turn, freeing you to assault again on yours while your opponent tried to keep decent overlapping fire lanes hoping you did tear through the first unit and were left in the open, staring at the business end of a lot of guns that would try to liquefy you in his turn. Vehicles also got a bit easier to kill in CC with all attacks going against the rear armor. This helped eliminate arguments over what facing a unit is on with a non-rectangular vehicle…but could also eliminate the assaulting unit in the resulting explosion.
Beyond the game mechanics, we saw changes to just how the game was set up. Alpha strike armies became a dangerous thing as 5th went along, but a lucky opponent could capitalize on an aggressive deployment across the table by seizing the initiative and getting to go first. Finally there was the random game length. It didn’t take long for most of us to have a game that “if it ended turn 5 I’d have won, but we went to 6 and I’d have tied then we went to 7 and I got beat”. The last turn objective dash that Eldar were particularly good at became risky.
That leads us to the missions and the 3X3 grid. It did get a bit redundant eventually, but it also did change things. People played many more objective missions instead of 4th ed. This was mostly let’s see who can kill more. Dawn of war added a strategic twist since you could only start with at most 3 units on the board. It also meant that little section about night fighting that was basically ignored in 4th became important in 5th as 1/3 of your games would use them for a turn. Spearhead was very different and again could change things by having armies start pretty close and then decide if they’ll need to spread into the unused quarters or push through the middle. Even better was when there were objectives in the empty areas. We also saw a shift from victory points to kill points, which was good and bad. It did simplify things, but an army with 20 kill points is at an obvious disadvantage against an army with 6…even more so when the 20 KP army usually has several easy-to-kill units in there.
I could probably go on and on about the different things we learned over the last 4 years, but I think I’ve done enough. Now with the official announcement in less then 2 days, it’s time to look forward to the next 4 years (hopefully more…id rather see a 6 year run and more codexes get an update…we still have a few very old ones out there). July will likely be filled with people learning the rules…exploiting holes…ranting over changes and possibly rage quitting (as I’ve said before, any WAAC jobs that make the game not fun are free to go and no one will miss you), but it’s also an exciting time. Remember that we’re in this to have fun and enjoy the ride.