Achtung! I played a demo game the other day – well, I say ‘game’, it was more ‘single turn without any magic in it where everything started set up at optimal ranges to showcase how the changes work’, and therefore was about as far from a meaningful experience of Warhammer as, well, I am from lucidity the morning after I’ve just passed my final inspection after three days of minimal sleep and rather too much strong coffee and still cider. However, this isn’t going to stop me having Opinions, both on the aspects of the game that I’ve played and on their likely impact on the two armies I’m really interested in at the moment.
Firstly, the rulebook is expensive. Veeeery expensive. GW’s official sales line appears to be “you will buy one of each sort we release – one collector’s edition to put in your fanboy shrine, one hardback so you can play RIGHT NOW DAMMIT and one boxed set so you actually have one suitable for day to day use”. Because I am not a mug, and disinclined to buy three of something I need one of, two of which are too heavy for me to carry about on my bike and include hundreds of pages of stuff that’s not actually required for a game, I will be holding out until the release of Island of Blood or whatever the starter box is going to be called and see if there’s a) a mini-rulebook and b) some easily abused models in there. Apparently it’s High Elves and Skaven, so I should be able to fob Shiny off with the rats and… heh heh… amuse myself with the rest.
Most of the rumours I’d heard turned out to be true, but missing essential details. Most of those essential details were stuff that makes the rumours not crazy, or at least less obnoxiously crazy.
Pre-measuring movement + 2d6 random charge range isn’t actually too bad as you have a sensible (i.e. bell) probability curve to work from, and the option of playing a very effective denial game if you’d rather be reliable. Fast-moving infantry with high Initiative and lots of attacks will have a field day, which means I’ll have a field day with the Dark Elves.
Increased tension between the rank and file is also good. There’s now a valid reason to experiment with deployment, with ranked missile units that treat their shooting as a novelty an attractive option for the Core choices, and wide infantry units having some appeal.
I think the impact of those ten wide infantry blocks is overrated newbie bait, as a ten-wide block is going to be very hard to move and very easy to manipulate into engaging two units at a time, unless the opponent is good enough to bring a ten-wide unit of their own for an even matchup. However, I do see units of 30 Dark Elf Warriors being quite good: deployed 10×3 for maximum width and attacks, or 5×6 for Stubborn, full rank bonus and ability to sustain ten casualties before they become less than effective.
I’m also very, very impressed with shooting infantry firing in two ranks, all the time. That means my 10 Crossbowmen can all fire – for 20 shots – without taking up a huge chunk of my deployment zone by being deployed in a line. It also makes taking line infantry with missile weapons and giving them command groups quite an attractive option: a unit of 20 Dark Elf Crossbowmen with shields, deployed five wide and four deep, chucks out 20 S3 armour piercing shots a turn, sits on the obligatory three ranks, and still packs a decent save in combat. That’s not bad, and an interesting alternative to spears (especially since the Warriors now HAVE to use their spears – no more turtling up behind their hand weapons and shields), and really, interesting alternatives to predictable choices are what I’m all about.
A lot of the scenarios in the book are of the intrinsically unbalanced kind which I love to play, but which I insist on pre-arranging forces for so that nobody turns up with something that breaks them. As far as the half-dozen actually balanced ones, where both players have access to the same setup and win conditions, I’ve only seen one that isn’t decided on Victory Points, so I’m less than impressed there. The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least there are different deployment options included in the ‘basic games’ now.
Magic is weird – I seem to have picked up a couple of details that others have missed, which make me confused and cautious. I’m sure I read “every spellcasting attempt must include one die from the pool and any attempt may use up to six dice”, which basically means you’re looking at chucking out two good spells a turn rather than spamming lots of little ones. And yet you have access to a mechanic which generates extra dice, and Lore spells that can be boosted up by going for a higher power value… The goal appears to be putting a cap on the number of wizards it’s economical to take; after your second, you may not want a third. Especially since Irresistible Force and Miscasts are now one and the same…
The point is that spellcasting is bewilderingly different, and I’d have to sit down and actually read it and do some theoryhammer before I really knew what impact it was going to have for everyone.
Common magic items are greatly expanded, with generic effects like +2 S and +2 A and a 4+ Ward that tended to crop up in most books (and really offend people when they were absent from one) being the order of the day. I love this. Really, when you’re giving almost every book the same rules effect, you might as well move it into the core mechanics. Some of the wobblier books now gain access to some things they sorely needed from this, so… that makes me happy.
Universal. Special. Rules. OH HELL YES. Not only that, but there seems to have been a Privateer-esque attempt to define the rules mechanics rather than using – for example – the terms ‘kill’, ‘remove from play’ and ‘inflict casualties’ indiscriminately. How well they’ve done remains to be seen.
That’s all I really had time to look at. What I’ve seen so far is… mostly reassuring. Weird, and different, but not totally awful.
I’ve also learned that each and every current army book will apparently be errata’d on releae date, which makes planning changes a little bit… dicey. There are a lot of things which, in the here and now, I can look at and say “with the army book as is, that’s awesome”, but I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those are exploits – loopholes which the designers intend to close on release.
For example, leaping away from Dark Elves a bit and onto Chaos, since I’ve been on a Warriors kick recently: the hand weapon and shield now offers a 6+ Ward in hand to hand rather than +1 Armour Save, which means the Mark of Tzeentch makes it a 5+. This makes Tzeentch Warriors very good – 3+ armour and 5+ ward save in close combat, two attacks each and fighting in two ranks? I don’t need much of an excuse to plan and build Tzeentch models and this is more than enough of an excuse for me (plus there’s a magic item which can give a Hero a magic level – O HAPPY DAY, it’s not like I’ve wanted someone who can actually fight in a Chaos army for a while now!). However, I also have a sneaking suspicion that, since it might not have been on the drawing board when the Warriors book was designed, this might be slapped down. I don’t know.
I also don’t think that changing the core rules magically adds shooting, skirmishers, unit fliers and other ranged threat/board control elements that aren’t spells to an army that was written without any, so I’m not sure whether the missing capabilities of the Warriors will still count against them. I’m also worried that horde armies, especially horde armies with lots of bows and spears, will be more able to torrent the Warriors to death – low model count armies may not do too well in Eighth Edition.
However, fighting in two ranks and striking first when charged (a lot of the time, anyway) may do the line infatry of the army a lot of favours, especially with some of the force multipliers (frenzy, additional hand weapons) that Chaos can get. It looks to me like the Warriors of Chaos may have gotten much better at what they do, which may help compensate for all the things that they can’t do. I keep hearing things about musicians offering free reforms and generals on monsters gaining an increased Leadership radius, too, which would really help them. Once I’ve read the rules, my next project may be redoing my Tzeentch Warriors for the brave new world: I’ve certainly cheated myself out of modelling by buying second-hand Dark Elves, and building Chaos models is one of my favourite things.
Back to the Dark Elves. I don’t see myself running out and buying tons of new stuff (well, maybe some more basic Warriors so I can experiment with unit sizes and setups), although my General on Manticore may be getting to see the table sooner than planned, and I may not be quite so hung up on the Supreme Sorceress as I have been. We’ll see what happens when I get hold of the rules and have the chance to play a proper 8th edition game. That’ll be Part Three, unless I can get more time alone with the rulebook between now and then.