|Marty! We need to go back!|
If you spend a fair amount of time online you'll likely notice that there has been a lot of talk lately on blogs and forums about a lot involving 40k. Be it if the Force Organizational Char is effectively dead, or if allies have ruined the game, as lengthy discussions on how GW approaches balance you can't throw a rock, figuratively speaking of course, throwing rocks at your computer is a bad idea, without hitting something questioning pretty much everything about the game.
I think the answer has been staring us in the face for a long while though on what GW is doing with the game, but we've been staring at the vast forest that the game is turning into and failing to see the trees that started it all.
Horribly butchered metaphors aside, what do I mean exactly? This is where the history lesson starts. A long time ago in the forgotten age of the 80s a game was born in jolly ol' England in 1987. That game was Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader. I'm sure just about everyone has heard of it, but they probably don't know about some of the ways the game was so different than the one we played now. Other than differences about the setting (like that 80s Glam Rocker hair the Eldar had as basically a racial trait) the game played a lot differently. It was more like a table top RPG that involved the use miniatures. It even required a 3rd party to mediate the game.
In the early 1993 this changed though with the released of Warhammer 40,000's second edition. Now this still isn't quite the game we're used to playing now, but it's a lot closer. This is where the game shifted to being a pure wargame. It now used a percentage allocation system giving 50% of the total points to characters, a minimum of 25% to the Squads and up to 50% of the army's total points could be Support. It also had a system for allies.
There were also no differences at this time between the level of trust between allies either. A Space Marine army would ally with Imperial Agents (which included: Adeptus Arbites, Adeptus Mechanicus, Adeptus Ministorum, Adeptus Astra Telepathica, Officio Assassinorum and the Inquisition), Imperial Guard, Squats and Eldar the same way regardless of any distrust you might expect between those factions. And yes, that means the Imperium had the most choices of the factions that existed when the game first came out.
2nd Edition lasted five years, and in 1998 3rd Edition was released and bring with it the last of the major changes that we would associate with 40k today. Gone were percentages and with it came a Force Organizational Chart system intended to balance out the kinds of things players brought to the table. Allies went away as well, save for a few specific cases (Sisters and Grey Knights) who still didn't have full armies in their own right and had rules for allying in their codex. Chaos split into the Daemons and Chaos Marine books, as did the Angels of Death into Blood Angels and Dark Angels and (eventually) Blood Angels. Tau became a new race as well, taking the spot of the Squats, whose removal from the game coined the term "Squatted", something the Internet has sworn to never let GW forget about, as threaten other armies with if they lag too long without an update.
During all of these changes we saw another change as well. Games Workshop had decided to try and commercialize the game more and had introduced competitive play into the game. By bringing competition through tournaments into the game it seemed like they were trying to make the game bigger and more well known.
3rd Edition was retired on 2004, in which Games Workshop floundered a bit on how to tighten the game up. Removing options to make things more streamlined like they did with the Chaos Marine and Dark Angels books had a negative backlash, and in the end the game didn't end up tighter in the end than it started. 5th tried to solve this with a number of changes in 2008 but it too suffered from imbalances in the system and near the end of the edition the company retired most of it's tournaments and events, save for the ones held at Warhammer World in Nottingham.
And at the end of 2012 we received 6th edition which seems to be doing something the other editions haven't really done: reach back to the past. In it returned allies rules that had been mostly removed from the game in 3rd (and finally killed in 5th when Sisters of Battle and Grey Knights saw updates) for every army, but now with tighter restrictions than before.
We've also been seeing recent additions to the game as well with the organizations of the Imperium getting their own rule sets to ally them to other Imperium organizations in books like the Inquisition and the Lost and the Damned.
But 2nd Edition isn't the only thing that GW has gone to the archives to look at for inspiration as their now retired Epic game is seeing rebirth lately on the table top. Originally launched in 1988 as Adeptus Titanicus the Epic saw a few versions before being retired during it's 4th edition in 2013.
The first thing of note to pull from Epic would be the inclusion of Superheavies in normal games thanks to the addition of the Lords of War slot and the Escalation rules. But that hasn't been Epic's only contribuition so far:
|Knight Paladins from Epic|
|Khorne Lords of Battle from Epic, the Inspiration for the Lord of Skulls we have now|
So this trip down memory lane has been just for fun, right? Well I don't think so. It really feels like GW has decided to move away from tournament play in favor of the less strict and more open ended game that was 2nd Edition. This of course has a lot of players who jumped in from 3rd and later a bit on edge because it's not the game they got into, but it's been in the game's DNA all this time so honestly it's not like it wasn't there the entire time, dormant and dreaming for when it could return.
I think as the game continues to grow and move forward we'll continue to see more call backs to 2nd Edition and Epic. And while that has been giving us a fairly Imperial lean so far, I don't think it'll stay that way for too much longer. And while these changes are uncomfortable to people who play for that competitive challenge there haven't been signs by GW that they're slowing down. In fact, with their ability to distribute things digitally it some respects it seems like the releases are only speeding up.
It seems 40k is on track to going back to being a much more relaxed game played with friends over special scenarios that tell stories over one involving brackets, trophies and lists like 5th Edition's Razorback Rush or the Quadtide. And honestly I can't say that I find it to be a bad thing.