New rules, new game direction, and surprisingly lovely new rulebooks for Warhammer 40,000
Warhammer 40,000 (7th Edition)
by Games Workshop
2014, 480 pages, 8.25 x 11.37 x 2.25 inches (3 volumes in slipcase)
$85 Buy a copy on Amazon
For those who don’t know, Warhammer 40,000 (or “WH40K,” or just “40K”) is a “dark gothic future” tabletop sci-fi wargame (got that?). What started out, in 1987, as a simple rules-set for playing with the game figures that Games Workshop’s sister company, Citadel Miniatures, produced, has turned into a hugely complex sci-fi universe and Earth-bound big business. Besides the thousands of gaming minis and terrain pieces GW sells, there are dozens (and dozens) of rulebooks, art books, background books, several magazines, along with licensed WH40K video games, paper and pencil RPGs, and more. There are also hundreds of novels written in the 40K universe, with some ending up on the New York Times bestseller list. Beyond the commercial umbrella of Games Workshop, there are also hundreds of fansites, blogs, YT channels, zines, podcasts, and third-party products.
I now own five of the seven editions of the main 40K rulebook and it’s been fascinating to follow the journey of the game’s development. I’ve watched this game and company grow to such huge proportions (there are Games Workshops stores in malls) and have watched it move into the world of ecommerce, digital publishing, and a rapidly-expanding tabletop game industry. As the barriers to entry have fallen for small miniatures companies (thanks to things like crowdfunding and 3D printing), Games Workshop has had to try a lot of aggressive things to remain competitive and relevant (and many of these moves have not sat well with fans of the hobby.)
With Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition, Games Workshop has made some more dramatic changes. Since this is really a review of the 7th edition boxed set itself, I won’t discuss rules changes. But those changes do suggest that GW is willing to sacrifice parts of the 40K universe backstory in an effort to sell more miniatures. That is perhaps reflected in the photography in this gorgeous three-volume box set. Dramatically-staged and photographed battle scenes, with thousands of ridiculously well-painted miniatures, abound. As does lots of very nicely done artwork throughout all three volumes. These are really beautifully-produced books with extra touches everywhere (e.g. spot varnishing, embossing, multiple cover finishes, high quality paper and printing).
Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition is cleverly divided into three volumes. Recent core rulebooks of the game have gotten a little beefy. When actually playing the game, you only need the core rules, you don’t need to be hefting a 320-page tome onto your game table or lugging it across town with your suitcase of minis. In 7th Edition, The Rules are contained in a 208-page book. Games Workshop knows that, for their rather complex wargame to be successful, they need to make the rules as clear, well organized, and easily accessible as possible. In this edition, the rules organization and graphical presentation are especially impressive, probably the best I’ve ever seen.
The second volume in the set is called a Galaxy at War. It’s a photographed collection of incredible, drool-worthy armies and close-ups of miniatures. Page after page of Apocalypse-size armies.
The third volume is Dark Millennium and it’s an extensive timeline and backstory narrative (called “the fluff” in 40K parlance) about the 41st Millennium and how this dark and brutal time came about in human future-history.
Perhaps to signal some different direction within the game and GW, the design of the entire package (and companion books that GW has been putting out) is dramatically different from previous rulebooks. Past art has been very dark, gothic. Here the look is brighter, slicker. Think: crypto-fascist army recruitment poster vs. heavy metal band album cover.
I’ve noticed that GW and its subsidiaries are releasing increasing numbers of very high-quality books and collector’s edition (not to mention all manner of interactive and digital publications). There are suddenly too many splurge-worthy tomes for all but the wealthiest 40K enthusiast to keep up with. It’s nice to see that quality is at least evident all the way down to a very smartly organized, beautifully-produced, and reasonably-priced core rulebook. – Gareth Branwyn
July 9, 2014