Armagideon Time

My purchase of the third edition Warhammer 40k boxed set was done more out of habit than anything else. I’m sure there was a part of me that harbored some vain hope of getting back to the gaming table with my miniature sci-fi armies, but the truth was that my interests had shifted away from RPG-related stuff and towards videogames and comic books by the time 1998 rolled around.

Warhammer 40k no longer rated that high as a diversion anymore, though I did retain enough residual interest to pick up a copy of the new iteration through Games Workshop’s mail order service. The bundled-in plastic models still possessed some allure — especially the ones for the “new” Dark Eldar faction — but mostly I was morbidly curious about what changes the design team had inflicted upon the game.

The revised rules were a pleasant surprise. The stripped-down set of mechanics jettisoned most of the loopholes and exploits of the increasingly bloated second edition rules. The third edition de-emphasized single-model “hero” models kitted out with a game-breaking array of custom wargear and instead focused upon balanced unit composition and squad-based tactics. Tweaks to the “victory condition” parameters encouraged players to do take the fight to the enemy instead of hunkering down in cover and racking up overwatch kills for easy points.

There was an ulterior motive behind these changes that went beyond improving end-user experience, however. The streamlining was carried out so that Games Workshop could upscale the scope of the action once again. Vehicles that had been one-off support units in the previous edition now became the stuff multiple-model detachments, while greater elasticity in squad sizes rewarded larger units. This was further reinforced by a switch from percentage-based army lists (“minimum 25% line troops, maximum 25% elite units”) to more specific and scenario-mandated army rosters.

The emphasis on “more and mandatory” was not-so-subtle nudge to convince players to buy more (increasingly expensive) shit from the publisher. It had been a facet of the game since the Rogue Trader days, but seeing it laid out in such a blatant fashion was a bit off-putting and led to me referring to 40k as “the Jenny Craig of wargaming.”

Old loves die hard, however. The novelty of a shiny new edition did briefly compel me to pick up a few new figures and models, mostly slick do-overs of older units or flashy new additions to my beloved Imperial Guard and Eldar armies. Only a handful actually got assembled and none ever received a proper paint job. (I found a couple of plastic bags containing most of this stuff in my grandma’s attic last weekend.)

That revived interest couldn’t sustain itself once the initial thrill subsided. There were too many other diversions (hello, Parasite Eve and Young Heroes in Love) on my plate, all of which delivered more bang for the buck in less laborious and more satisfying ways.

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