Warhammer 40k: 5th Edition Preview

It appears that Games Workshop’s futuristic tabletop miniatures game is due for a new edition sometime this year, likely in the fall. Thanks to Warseer and The Bolter and Chainsword for this information.

As with the release of 4th edition, all existing codexes will remain valid, and new codexes that are more ‘in line’ with the new edition will be released over the course of (probably) several years. Thus, this edition uses the same basic system as 4th (and 3rd) and does not represent a complete re-write of the whole system (as was the case when the transition from 2nd to 3rd was made).

A new boxed set featuring Space Marines and Orks is due for release along with the new edition. The boxed set supposedly includes far more models than have been included in recent 40k starter boxes: 10 tactical space marines, 5 terminators, 1 commander, 1 dreadnought, 20 ork boyz, 5 ork nobz, 1 warboss, and 3 deathkoptas.

I will highlight a few of the many rumored rules changes.

First, troops are the only units that qualify as “scoring units” for missions (missions are now the “standard” way to play, by the way), and troops will count as a scoring unit even down to the last man (previously a scoring unit needed to be at least 50% starting strength). This will obviously force players to use more troops choices, which on the surface I have no problem with. But I wish that instead of restricting scoring units to troops only, that they had simply made it easier to score with troops or limited scoring units to troops + a few other units. Are we to believe that terminators, hardened veterans and fire warriors are incapable of holding objectives just because they are taken from the ‘elites’ section of the force organization chart? I think that allowing all units to count as scoring if above 50% but troops to count even to the last man would have been enough.

Secondly, true line of sight is back: all models, friend and foe, block line of sight. Vehicles and monstrous creatures may still be targeted over intervening infantry. “Area terrain” (e.g. forest/jungle, ruins, etc.) does not block line of sight automatically based on its height/level, but instead only if it ‘truly’ blocks line of sight (i.e. model’s eye view). I don’t like this rule at all, as I believe that true line of sight tends to create arguments that a more abstract means of determining sight lanes would easily avoid. One of the things I liked about 4th was that line of sight was more abstract, so players could simply look at the table from above and determine whether things had line of sight to each other without having to bend over and say to each other, “I think he can see your troops”, “Well I don’t think he can, let’s roll a die.” Some players have even suggested using a laser pointer to determine line of sight in the new edition.

A while back I spoke to you about the new direction Games Workshop is heading in. Apparently GW decided that, rather than release the remaining armies’ codexes using the ‘new style’ that represents Jervis Johnson’s approach in the existing 4th edition framework, they have decided to just start things over now and go from there. The Dark Angels codex and the Blood Angels update (which is essentially a codex that can be downloaded for free from the Games Workshop website) are said to be previews of the new direction of the game, at least for Space Marine armies.

The “new style” represents a more new-player friendly army book, with more limited choices as to units selected and upgrades, and extremely limited choices in terms of wargear (the armory that each army previously used is being scrapped). Instead, many units will come automatically upgraded with certain things (e.g. tactical squads will always have frag grenades, bolt pistols, and veteran sergeants). Also, mandatory squad sizes are back, at least for Space Marines (if the DA and BA codexes are any indication), but aren’t as strict as the 2nd edition Ultramarine restrictions. This simplified approach is an attempt to make armies more balanced and ensure that every option in the codex is viable.

I suppose that Games Workshop realized that if they wanted to start a new style of codex in the middle of an edition, it would create problems, as the “new style” codexes are, by any rational examination, clearly less powerful than the older 4th edition codexes – particularly the Eldar, Tau and Tyranid codexes (and to a lesser extent the existing Space Marine and Chaos Space Marine codexes). So they decided to create a new edition that goes along with their new approach and used the change of edition to nerf the armies that would be too good using the existing 4th edition codexes.

This to me is a bad approach to game design. Granted, some of the new rules represent good, quality changes for the direction of the game. Others represent a step in the wrong direction (at least in my opinion). A change in edition will likely have some of each of those. But then there are rules changes that you know were made as an attempt to balance the armies – and that just seems like a bad way of going about balancing the armies.

There are three ways of balancing armies in a game like 40k.

  1. Change the point costs of the units,
  2. Change the stats/abilities of the units or how their abilities work,
  3. Change the basic rules of the game such that some units will become better or worse simply by the way they interact with the new rules.

Approach 3 is the worst because it produces ripple effects throughout the game, oftentimes creating new imbalances that were not foreseen – and thus creating a never-ending cycle of imbalance/rebalance. It is much better to take approach 1 or 2 whenever possible, and only resort to approach 3 when doing a complete rules re-write.

Unfortunately, Games Workshop has chosen to use approach 3 for the last two editions of 40k. Now to be fair, GW also wanted to make fundamental changes in the way the game played in both editions, and to be honest I really liked a lot of the changes made in 4th edition. Hopefully when 5th edition comes out, even though there will inevitably be game balance issues, the fundamental aspects of the game will be improved. We’ll just have to wait and see.


  1. Sounds more like a version 4.5 πŸ˜‰

    Games Workshop is very good at knowing what its fanatical base wants in a game, which isn’t always the same as good game design. Stuff like the Troops rule is an example of that: it sounds like they want to encourage taking generic squads on the battlefield to support their minis line and for players to show off their expertly painted grunt squads. Of course, it could also create some tactical depth, but you’re right that it sounds very patchy on the surface.

  2. Uuuuuuuugh @ the line of sight rule…

    So now people like our friend Adam can return to using a wall of god*%$@ cultists to block his precioussssssss Abaddon. I agree, this is an awful decision to revert back to a terrible rule.

    I honestly don’t like what I hear about the “new-style” changes to the codex layout. Customizing your units was always really fun and added your own personal touch to the army. The way you explain it Sultan, it sounds to me that designing an army will be like ordering at a Denny’s: just point at some pictures and say “I want that”.

  3. Original Sultan says:

    @ The Game: funny you should say that because 4th edition was really just version 3.5 itself. What does that make 5th edition? 3.75?

    I don’t have anything against doing a “tweener” edition (like D&D 3.5) that really is just a re-vamped version of the existing edition. But I do think that you should try and limit the number of times you do that before you do a total re-write, at least for a game like 40k. Otherwise, as Argamon mentioned in the last article I did about the new direction of 40k, you never end up with a finished product.

  4. Original Sultan says:

    @ The O: yeah, agreed. Really don’t like the “new” line of sight rule. One of the best things about 4th edition was the more abstract method of determining line of sight.

    Having played 4th edition to some extent, I can say that I really liked a lot of the changes they had made and the direction the game was going in. I loved the missions and the attempt to standardize the way the game was played.

    The 4th edition Space Marine codex was the best one yet – there was plenty of room to design the army you wanted with lots of customization options. Obviously, there were certain units/options that were too good and others that were too bad, but that seems almost inevitable with the incompetent playtesters they use at GW.

    The other 4th edition codexes (prior to Dark Angels, the first codex using the ‘new era’ approach) were similarly customizable / powerful (compared to 3rd edition counterparts). As usual, there were certain army builds and certain units that just made you scratch your head and ask, “What were the designers thinking when they wrote this?”. But since every codex had some good units/combos, on the whole it worked out fine.

    I just hope that the design gurus at GW realize that, for players like you and me, part of the fun is designing the army and using different units / combos. Without that, the game becomes less fun for us. Still cool, but less fun.

  5. TheMainEvent says:

    There’s nothing better than straight lines of garbage troops shoulder to shoulder, marching lockstep, with each casualty coming of the fringe to screen a big brutal elite troop choice or character…

  6. Akolyte01 says:

    “Games Workshop is very good at knowing what its fanatical base wants in a game, which isn’t always the same as good game design.”

    Are you kidding???

    NO ONE wants this BS. Each change is lame, each change is a step backwards.

    We are stepping closer and closer to cookie cutter armies with no individuality whatsoever. Hell! They ALREADY removed my ENTIRE army (LATD)

    GW will not be seeing a cent of my money.

  7. I… stand corrected?

    Or it could be that the fanatical base is happy with what they already have πŸ™‚

  8. OriginalSultan says:

    @ Akolyte01

    I felt that 3rd edition was a huge step forward, and 4th edition was a small step forward. I see 5th edition as a step backwards. We’ll see where 5th edition is heading once the rules are out and once the new era of codexes is released.

    I don’t want to be quick to rip GW when the edition isn’t even out yet. I have to give them a chance, don’t I?

  9. Lord Maleval says:

    It is more akin to Version 2.5 than Ver. 3.75.

    The options of A,B,C,D etc. for wargear are downright unappealing. What made armies interesting was how customizable they were.

    Plenty of ‘fans’ are unimpressed. This is all about the buck.

  10. EldarDwarf Player says:

    New line of sight: πŸ™
    Troops scoring thing: Don’t really care
    Less customizable armies: πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™

    The “less customizable” armies is particularly dumb. That’s what separates GOOD players and BAD players of the same army – those who know what’s worth it and what isn’t. If there’s only a few choices, people don’t have to think and make good choices anymore, it puts more balance on luck.

  11. DarthSoda says:

    According to the GW site, 5th edition will see the return of the Squats. Guess i can dust them off now.

  12. OriginalSultan says:

    @ DarthSoda

    Link? I looked at the site and couldn’t find anything about the squats at all, let alone having them brought back.

    From what I have heard the squats are long gone. Though there is a possibility that they might be replaced with a race known as the Demiurg. http://warseer.com/rumours/warhammer_40_000

  13. Thunder Hawk says:

    LOS rule: love it althought levels should also be involved aswell as.
    troop scoring unit: suckage! i hate it!
    less customize: yes and no
    yes because it shows how good of a general you are and it leads to more sportsmanship play i.e. opponent doesnt have some weird attack that kills way more than its point value
    no because i now will have to pay more for items which already come equipped but i dont use i.e. grey knights with sacred incense when i play vs orks or imperial guard. also it limits the ability of my squads making the game more same-ish
    and i dont really care about the codexs mines coming out next year hopefully

  14. Tired of GW Crapping on US! says:

    Well, I for one will no longer support GW. I have had it, this is the second time they pulled this shit with me, I just bought 3rd edition, then a month later they release a 4th edition, I just bought 4th and now there’s a damn 5th, this is very annoying to say the least, I have yet to fully figure out 4th edition and just now finished buying 5 different armies, painting them all by myself, just got the new Tau & Eldar & Chaos codexes and now they are useless, because they need to redo the damn game again, it is just plain RETARDED!

  15. Gunslinger says:

    Pardon my intrusion. As a long time player of the game, I noticed that 4th edition was, arguably, nearly perfect. The close combat mechanics were akin to freaking calculus, but the shooting made sense, and lumping units into categories made certain tiresome rules much clearer. 5th, on the other hand, has many aspects that just seem ridiculous. The line of sight thing makes a lot of sense. The “running” will no doubt piss off Eldar players, but at least fleet armies can assault. What pisses me off (and based on what I’ve read, I’m not alone) is that unique armies will vanish. Marine squads MUST be 1o strong with a veteran sergeant? Terminator squads can only have 5? Commanders can’t have artificer armour?!

    Before I rant to the point of being ignored, I have to say that 5th clears up some mechanics, but overall makes for a bland game, where every player will have the same army as every other player of the same race. I think GW is going to lose money over this, and may alienate some dedicated fans. I know that I, for one, will stick with my 4th ed. book, and hope that 6th will fix the game again.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I wonder if GW had ever heard that.

  16. 5th Edition 40K seems unjustified considering that the 4th Edition is only 5 years old… Can’t we continue to play with an edition for more than 5 years plz?

    New armies codex do seem a little bland… I’ve looked at the Blood Angel 5th Edition Codex (Free on GW Web-Site) and they took out whatever uniqueness from that army and put it in the garbage can.

    I will probably continue to play 4th Edition until something better come out of the end of time.

  17. I love the game as a whole, but with the constant changes I just don’t have the time. I only get to play occationally and would enjoy not having to go through the entire rule book every time I need to know what rule covers a peticular situation. 4th edition was great for the most part it simplified cover and assaults. Fewer arguements were had. I hated what they did to fast troop carriers, made them useless for Dark Elder. Wyches in a Raider were as good as dead. Now after hearing about the new changes and codexes??? I hope when I am able to put more time into playing again that I can still find 4th edition players.

    BTW – What I like best about the game is it’s uniqueness of the armies. Without that you might as well play Risk or Chess.


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