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Seventh Edition Review Thingy

by Avian

Seeing that my local store has received the new rulebook and that I've had a chance to fight a battle using the 7th edition rules, I thought I'd make an attempt at a review. Given that I care more about the rules than the artwork, I'll concentrate on the rules and leave you to find out about the artwork on your own (check out the Automorial of Middenheim Delivered from the Darkness, though).

I'll update when I think of more interesting things to scribble about.

So what's the new edition all about, then?

 

The rules are more tidy

This seems to have been a major goal for the designers and it's a good thing, because the 6th edition had a lot of sloppy rules that were either open to abuse or did not even work if you wanted to play them strictly by the book. For example: 6th edition tells you that a unit within 12" of the Battle Standard Bearer may re-roll a failed Break test (emphasis mine). Game-wise that was useful, because if you hoped the unit would run (as you sometimes do), you could choose not to use the re-roll. However, that makes little actual sense. 7th edition tells you that a unit within 12" of the Battle Standard Bearer must re-roll a failed Break test (again, emphasis mine).

Another example: 6th edition tells you that throwing axes cannot be used in close combat - or if used they simply count as hand weapons. Result? A lot of people asking whether they could be combined with the model's normal hand weapon to gain +1 Attack. Moral of the story? If you say that something can't be done, do not then give suggestions. 7th edition mentions nothing on the use of throwing axes in close combat.

The list goes on, and a lot of silly "tactics" have been eliminated. It is not possible to remove a standard bearer as a casualty to avoid losing a banner, for example. Likewise, a lot of the possible abuses with the redirection rules have been removed. It seems that the designers have gone over all the old rules and attempted to make them as tidy as possible, with generally good results.

On the downside, the new rules often leave a lot to be desired, with regards to clarity. To better cope with the oddities of the old Redirection rule, there is a new rule called Enemies in the way, which basically lets you declare charges against any and all enemies in the path of your charge. The problem is that the path of the charge is not very well defined. Does the Enemies in the way rule apply if there is an enemy in the way, but there is room for you to move around them? It doesn't say. The problem increases when you involve flyers, who can move over enemy units when they charge. Does this mean they get to pick and choose which enemy units are in the way? It doesn't say.

Possibly one of the biggest changes is that units in combat now no longer take Psychology tests. Very neat and you avoid odd situations like pursuing into a Sorceress with a Giant and then having her run away in Terror at the start of her next turn, leaving your Giant looking worried in front of the enemy artillery. This change tends to benefit different units differently. If you are a weak unit and you get flank charged you're happy for any chance to run away as soon as possible instead of hanging around, losing combat and then having a good chance of being run down. Units that don't lose much by being flank charged, on the other hand, will prefer to stay locked in combat and therefore welcome the removal of the Panic test.

Connected to this is the removal of lapping around, contender for the rule I have most often seen misinterpreted or forgotten. I personally believe I benefited a lot from it, but it was clunky and I understand why they dropped it.

Considering that 40K did quite a bit to classify all models into one of a limited set of types (infantry, jump infantry, vehicle, etc.) I was hoping for something like this in 7th as well, along with some rules to differentiate more between the different types. Sadly, there was not much of this. Thankfully, Ogres are now officially classed as infantry, leading to fewer people thinking that they are monsters, but the dividing line between a big infantryman and a small monster is still ilusive.

 

The rules are more intuitive

Mainly, the new rules are better and more intuitive. When I mentioned to a friend of mine that you can now only Overrun when you charge something, he was genuinely surprised that the 6th edition rules had allowed charged units to Overrun in the first place. This seems to me like a good approach, and will certainly make the game more accessible to new players. Thus, a lot of the changes might not even be noticed or appear as a clarification of the old sixth edition rules. In the process, more odd rules have gone the way of the black rhino.

It has always annoyed me that an Ogre character using a Brace of Handguns (pistols) could not simply bash people around the head with them and had to fire them in the first round of combat, at a lower Strength than his normal 5. It also made little sense that a Captain with a brace of pistols could only fire once in the shooting phase, but attack four times with them in the close combat phase. Now that is all gone, and Pistoliers are not an ace close combat unit any more.

Fleeing has also been cleared up quite a bit, and it's now always clear in which direction a unit will flee (and there was much rejoicing), though as mentioned it is not always clear how a unit running after them will move. It seems to me that they really wanted to make the fleeing rules as simple as possible and if so, they have succeeded. This may or may not be a good thing, because as a consequence we have a close resemblance of the 3rd edition 40K "Crossfire" rules, which was dropped in the latest edition, not to be grieved by many people. As a result, the downside to fleeing may turn out to be too harsh and we will almost certainly have a school of tactics centred around setting up crossfires (or whatever the fantasy term will end up being). On a positive side, you don't die by running through enemy units with a unit strength of less than 5, which cuts down on the silliness.

Related to this, there has been a greater differentiation between units with US5+ and those with less US. Under 7th edition, smaller units don't cause Panic in friendly units if something nasty happens to them, they can't contest table quarters and you don't die if you flee through them. However, any non-fleeing unit can prevent marching, regardless of unit strength (though march-blocking is now determined at the start of a unit's move, rather than at the start of the movement phase, so if you charge a unit and it flees, it does not prevent your other units from marching).
Obviosuly, this makes smaller units better at some things (they can generally be sacrificed with little concern) and worse at other things (setting up crossfires).

Happily, there is also a separate section on how unit and character psychology interacts, with generally reasonable rules. Ever wondered what happens if you put a Fear causing character into a unit that does not cause Fear? Now you know.

Things that got less intuitive: Immunity to Psychology is now not really immunity to Psychology and thus it is possible to have Stupid Undead, Frenzied Daemons and Stobborn Forest Spirits (all right, so we already have two of those three).

 

Is it more balanced?

Well, yes and no. It seems that there has been an effort to make the spell lores more equally useful, for example, and the designers must have been tired of seeing more great weapons than lances on mounted models. However, not all things that were bad in sixth edition get better in seventh (bows, for example), not all good things get toned down (heavy cavalry, flyers) and some bad things get even worse (expensive infantry that can't fight). Certainly, our local house rules which are intended to balance things out a bit will stay almost unchanged (the only thing being dropped is the half strength = half VP one, which is now in the rulebook).

Here and there you come across places where the rulebook seems to have been used to intentionally improve some things and tone down other tings (compare a Nurgle-marked character in a Marauder unit and a Slaanesh-marked one, for example). That is not the standard, however, and quite a few places it seems that decisions have been made to make the game more tidy and/or intuitive with little regard for game balance.

A big debate on, well, nearly all internet forums leading up to 7th edition was if or how magic should be toned down. My view is that magic hasn't really been toned down, but it's certainly not as easy and risk free as before. One common defence in favour of having magic stay as it was has been that it's damage potential is only comparable to a missile unit costing approximately as much as the wizard. The problem with that was that a single Wizard lurking around in between friendly units is a lot harder to get rid of than a missile unit and has a great advantage when it comes to targeting. A prime example of this being a Heavens Wizard who could sit quietly in a corner of the battlefield and target anyone he liked anywhere on the table with bolts of lightning. That's gone to a great extent.

Firstly, spells now generally need line of sight to the target unless they have really short range. Secondly, the miscast table is now somewhat worse (though still a lot nicer than the Orc & Goblin or Ogre one) and may actually hamper your plans. Connected to this is the alteration to Victory points where you get half the points for a Wizard who is half dead (we have played it this way as a house rule for years). Thirdly, the removal of targeting restrictions make lone Wizards fair game for any missile fire or magic missile that can draw a line of sight to him, meaning that against armies with decent ranged capabilities your Wizards will often do better inside units. Fourthly, a Wizard can no longer pass the Power dice he generates to another Wizard, which makes it more important to have at least one decent spell on all your Wizards or you end up wasting dice each turn. Fifthly, the often decisive movement spells now all allow charge reactions.

Thus, while spells in general have not been toned down, spellcasting is now more difficult and risky.

 

What's new?

The only actually new thing is a type of terrain called Special features and which are (I assume) there to add some flavour to the battles. These features (there are six different ones) give you a bonus if you have the closest unit with a US of 5 or more within 12" of it. The bonuses vary in usefulness, from an extra 100 VPs at the end of the battle, to giving you extra Power and Dispel dice, to letting all your units re-roll failed Rally tests. Nothing terribly exciting, but at least it's a type of terrain you don't either ignore or avoid.

Speaking of terrain, it's worth mentioning buildings, since these have changed a lot from their previous incarnation, which were pretty near useless (we tended to treat buildings as impassable terrain and avoid the trouble). Now much more abstract, the new rules seem like they could actually work. Possibly connected to the rumoured plastic fantasy buildings?

New as of seventh edition is the fact that everything is now done sequentially, instead of in parallel, apparently because players tended to do it that way anyway (certainly, a lot of people I play with have had to be stopped from taking Break tests before all combats were resolved). I am not sure I like this chance, because it leads to a whole lot of other changes which we may not see the consequences of yet. For example, a unit that pursues into another combat will take part in that combat if it hasn't been resolved yet. This is a necessary consequence of letting some units pursue before others get to fight and there is no way around it. Thus we have a similar situation to the "flee through an enemy unit with US5+ and you die", where a rather innocent rule change to improve the flow may turn out to have very large effects on the game. I personally feel that most people will rather quickly find ways to counter the cascade effect (by either ensuring that the first combat doesn't happen or by angling the units so a unit cannot pursue into another enemy unit), but as with the flee chances I do not doubt that people will build armies around trying to get the most out of this. Added to this it's not always you want combat to be over quickly (enemies in combat can't be shot at).

 

What got better and what got worse?

Infantry, particularly the expensive ones, got a kick in the head by now being required to rank up at least 5 wide. Apparently the rule was introduced to make the game look better, something I can relate (units of Empire Swordsmen ranked 4 wide and 8 deep just look silly), but it will probably do them nothing good. The remedy seems to be army book-specific fixes which may take some years to implement.
On the other hand, infantry benefit from the changes to buildings and obstacles, though I have my doubts as to how much impact this will actually have (given how much time it takes to cross an obstacle, it's probably not somewhere you want to stick anything other than missile infantry.
One thing I tend to point out is that the new "crossfire" rule benefit infantry much more than it benefits cavalry, since cavalry tend to run down people (and especially infantry) with little trouble anyway. We shall see if this turns out to be true.

Cavalry probably aren't affected all that much. Some get worse (a lot of Khemri players tend to run their Heavy Cav in a 4 x 4 unit, that unit will not be very effective in 7th edition), though only a few. However, my primary anti-cav tactic is based around baiting and fleeing and that tactic has become a lot safer in 7th with the reduced number of Panic tests.

War machines aren't really that altered. The targeting rules have become at the same time clearer and more unclear (yay...). Grape shots have become nastier (though with a relatively short range, not too nasty) and stone throwers now have the minimun range people tend to ask me if they have (though you choose the spot you measure from, so you can shave a few inches off that).

Chariots become a bit better, what with the reduction of mounted characters with S7+ though the rule itself remains, much to my annoyance (it is my view that it encourages an all-or-nothing approach to chariots, which I think is bad). A chariot is also a safer mount for a character than it used to be.

Characters get much more simplified targeting rules, thus a man-sized character outside a unit is much easier to target, while a mounted character (including one on a small monster, such as a Great Stag or Juggernaut) inside a unit is much harder to target. Single characters can take on units with greater chance of success, since they can't be lapped around, don't take Panic tests and the enemy unit will lose ranks quicker.

Monsters don't change much by themselves (though the new Monster reaction table at least ensures that the big beasties won't run off the table), though they probably become a bit more useful (no lapping helps smaller monsters like Spawn and Gorgers, while small monster mounts are less of an easy target for missile fire). Large flying monsters are also looking to be very good for setting up cascases.

Skirmishers get a much needed tone down and can now be march blocked just like everyone else (thugh march blocking is more difficult than before). Skirmishers bigger than mansized also don't get the protection of being more difficult to target with missile fire (a change I have been waiting for).

Flyers are probably your safest bet for setting up a crossfire, now that skirmishers can be march blocked just like everyone else. As I have mentioned before, it is not clear how Enemies in the way applies with fliers. Units of larger than mansized fliers (the much maligned Peagasus Knights, for example) also get easier to shoot.

Swarms are probably the unit type that gets the biggest hurting. With the removal of lapping around, the designers probably felt that some form of toning down was called for (that and the fact that they could hold up basic infantry almost indefinitely, which was somewhat duller than needed), so they chose to let them crumble the sam way that Undead do (unless they are already Undead or Daemonic). In addition to this, skirmishing swarms get hit by the toning down of skirmishers and it's unclear to me why you would want to take them now.

 

Overall verdict

I must say I like most of the changes, though there are a lot of changes I hoped for that haven't happened (the terrain rules, apart from buildings, are still mainly rubbish, for example). There are a lot of tiny little changes, which are not obvious on your first read through and which people will need to be told of or they will cause confusion. It's still basically the same game, though, and the rule changes are a lot less than the transition from fifth to sixth edition.

I feel it's problematic that the designers' intent is even less present in the new rulebook than in the old one. In 6th edition there were lines saying you were not to abuse the rules by declaring impossible charges or whether or not you were allowed to overguess with war machines. In 7th edition there is no such note. Does that mean that a Stone Thrower is no longer allowed to overguess? It doesn't say either way.

I'm a bit concerned that some rather radical changes to the game have apparently been made to make the rules more tidy or intuitive or to make the game look better and I don't feel convinced that the negative sides to these will be as small as the designers apparently think.

 

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