40+ years of history to get to 9th edition 40K
With 9th edition hurtling towards us like a drop-pod assault, I thought we’d take a stroll down memory lane and see how we got here. We’ve had 33 years of Warhammer 40,000 but it didn’t really start with the launch of Rogue Trader. Since Rick Priestly put out that mighty tome Games Workshop has tweaked and amended, complicated and simplified, and generally changed Warhammer 40,000 over the years. But the foundations predate all that.
Before the grim darkness of the future there was the groovy 70’s and the rad 80’s. For a true understanding we must travel back to 1975, when John Peake, Ian Livingstone, and Steve Jackson (original British version) founded Games Workshop. A few years later in 1979 GW and Brian Ansell, formerly of Asgard Miniatures, create Citadel Miniatures. Brian, having known Richard Halliwell, and Rick Priestly from Tabletop games, brings them on board, around 1982. After a few years Rick and Tony Ackland start the Citadel Studio, and shortly bring on a fellow named John Blanche. There was a lot of borrowing and idea swapping, with all of them having played miniatures games, been into science fiction, and pulp writing. Following in the footsteps of the first Sci-fi miniatures game Starguard! by John McEwan, new games start to pop up. This is where things start to get rolling for what will become the Warhammer 40,000 universe and setting. All that begins thusly…
Combat 3000 - 1979
Richard Halliwell and Rick Priestly (the patron saint of 40K) put out this gem in 1979, with influences from Sci-fi books, pulp comics, such as Starship Troopers, AD2000s comics, the Hawkmoon and Runestaff series by Michael Moorcock, the Chrysalids by John Wyndham, Frank Herbert’s DUNE, and others. This sort of sets the stage for galactic conflict in a miniatures scale combat system, and starts the long march that will lead us into the 41st Millenium.
Space Marines - 1980
Put out by Fantasy Games Unlimited, an American company, and written by Mark Ratner, Space Marines is the first time this term is used in a miniatures game. We also see things like needler weapons, flamers, monofilament weapons, and force weapons. This game was very popular with the miniatures gaming crowd in Europe, and led to a lot of ideas and concept bleed.
LaserBurn - 1980
Building on those that came before, Brian Ansell completes “Laserburn” a sci-fi miniature wargame published by Tabletop Games. This game introduces things like: Power armor, Dreadnoughts, bolt guns, jet bikes, and others concepts we will take for granted.
Imperial Commander - 1981
Ansell is joined by Richard Halliwell (with input from Rick Priestley) to produce “Imperial Commander” a bleak setting where a galaxy spanning “Imperium” can be seen oppressing the far future. This begins the formation of the basic concepts behind the central theme of what will become “The Imperium”, but we’re still not quite there.
Spacefarers – 1981
Enter Games Workshop, Spacefarers is completed by Andy Murkin, Nick Henfry, and Dave Morris. This is the first GW sci fi product. It borrows from those that came before and uses the citadel Spacefarers miniatures line. This book contains things we would recognize, Imperial forces (marines), needle guns, Power gloves, and others.
Warhammer 40,000 : Rogue Trader - 1987
Rick Priestly, having worked with Ansell and Halliwell on Warhammer Fantasy Battle (in 1983) now turn their attention to a dark future setting combining elements of Ansell and Halliwell’s earlier works and newer ideas from Priestly. This is the first true “rulebook” (with LB and IC being 40ish pages) and more a miniatures heavy combat and role playing game system. It utilizes elements from the earlier works to flesh out the universe, adding Space Orks, Genestealers, Zoats, Squats, Eldar mercenary pirates, Jokero, Tyranids, and something called the Slann. At this point Genestealers are from the moon of Ymgarl, and are NOT considered part of the Tyranids. There are countless aliens to encounter, including several from a planet called “Catachan”. Dreadnoughts are “war suits” that are piloted, The Imperial Army has lots of abhumans; Ogryns, Squats, Halflings, and Beastmen. Space Marines are the “special forces” of the Imperial Army, and 12 are showcased in this book. We also see the release of several stand-alone style games Space Hulk, Adeptus Titaniucus and Space Marine (Epic), Advanced Space Crusade, and Tyranid Attack during this edition.
The memorable cover is by John Sibbick.
Warhammer 40,000 : 2nd edition - 1993
Rick Priestly and new partner Andy Chambers change the focus to army-centric table top wargaming. The RPG elements are removed in favor of more complex army building, more units, and more variety. It introduces the idea of Codex army lists. There is a ton of complexity, lots of army and weapon specific charts and lists, introduces a lot of core concepts and artwork that fleshes out the people, places, and feel of the universe. The appearance of the codex army books adds to the individual feel of different factions. It also introduces the Primarchs. This edition adds plenty of cornerstones to the universe: it merges the Genestealers (and their cultists) with Tyranids into one faction. We see the addition of the Ork clans, the Eldar Craftworlds, aspect warriors and Harlequins are introduced and explained. The Imperial Factions see the creation of the Sisters of Battle, Grey Knights, Imperial Guard, and the Space Marines are really explored (including the “big 4” Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and Dark Angels). The idea of the Horus Heresy is presented and Chaos Marines are born. Now it’s starting to look and feel like the dark future we all know and love. This is the first time we see a two player starter box, this one is Ultramarines Vs. Orks. Necromunda makes its official debut, followed by GorkaMorka.
This edition has three core books, each with spectacular illustrations: John Sibbick’s work is used again on the Rulebook, John Blanch illustrates the Codex Imperialis, and Dave Gallagher illustrates Wargear.
Warhammer 40,000 : 3rd edition - October 1998
The writing team begins to grow with the addition of Ian Pickstock, Gav Thorpe, and Jervis Johnson. This edition introduces the classic logo of the imperial double headed eagle with the green lettering. Things take a darker turn in both the imagery and setting, truly taking us to the “grim dark” setting. It also greatly simplifies the rules by standardizing many weapons and tables, and streamlining the game allowing it to be more accessible to new players. This edition allows for larger battles in less time than previously. This edition also includes rules for campaign play. We also see standardized missions, campaign play (featuring ladder campaign, experience), force organization, and unit types. This edition includes the forces of the Inquisition being fleshed out as a full armies with Witch Hunters and Daemon Hunters. The Imperial Guard get some huge changes and expansion, and Guard Worlds are expanded, Catachans, Cadians, Attilans, Tallarn, Valhallans, Mordians, and Pretorians are joined by the Armageddon Steel Legion. The various Craftworld specific lists appear. Dark Eldar are introduced as a new alien menace, and they are featured in the two player box facing off against Black Templars. Tyranids are expanded and the concept of Hivefleets is introduced. Necrons become a full army with new units and a codex. The Tau are added as new army as well. During this edition we see a lot of expansion with Cityfight, Armageddon, and The Eye of Terror. Inquisitor and Battlefleet Gothic launch.
The “black book” features a John Blanche cover.
Warhammer 40,000 : 4th edition - August 2004
The team behind 4th edition is Rick Priestly, Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson, Alessio Cavatore, Pete Holmes, Anthony Reynolds, and Adam Troke. 4th is the first soft change of the rule set, with minor changes to the basic rules, but a large expansion of the setting, background, and lore. Combat Patrols are added, and fan favorite Kill Team is also introduced, along with Apocalypse, so you can play games at ANY size. Cities of Death updates urban combat for players. The Tau are fleshed out to be the Tau Empire, Necrons see the addition of the C’tan, along with more of an explanation of the “Old Ones”. The Cadians get a huge boost and Black Templars get their own codex. Chaos Demons are split off as their own army. Aeronautica Imperialis is launched during this edition. The Battle for Macragge boxed set features Ultramarines Vs. Tyranids in the form of hive fleet Behemoth.
The cover is done by Karl and Stefan Kopinski, this is the first time that the edition has been noted, with the roman numeral 4 in the skull.
Warhammer 40,000 : 5th edition - July 2008
Widely considered the "best" version of 40K, this edition is by the same team as fourth. It is a “goldilocks” version, which contributes to its polularity. With second seen as “too complicated” and third seen as “too easy” (and fourth being an expansion of that), fifth was a blend of the two. There is more complexity to the game while not feeling bloated or over-developed, despite this being the first time the rulebook has exceeded 300 pages. It added some new features such as running, vehicle ramming, template/cover rules, and “true” line of sight, along with a new campaign system “Road to Glory”. The background is really expanded, more Imperial events, expanded timelines, and some updates. The Necrons get a slightly new take on their background, with more galaxy related lore. Grey Knights get their own codex. Apocalypse gets updated with Reload, Spearhead which allows for all tank battles, Planetstrike, and Planetary Empires are launched. This edition’s two player box features a rematch of Ultramarines Vs. Orks in the Assault on Black Reach.
This cover is a collaboration between Alex Boyd, Dave Gallagher, and Nuala Kinrade.
Warhammer 40,000 : 6th Edition - June 2012
The first edition written without Rick Priestley, although it is essentially an extension of 5th, the design team for this version is Adam Troke, Jeremy Vetock, and Matt Ward. This is the first edition to ever surpass 400 pages (432 to be precise), this weighty tome is gorgeous, being the first full color edition, with every copy having a library binding with ribbon, and wrap-around artwork. This edition also adds some new features for combat including Character Challenges, and Psykers get a ton of attention with Mastery Levels, Warp Charge, and Deny the Witch to offset them. There is a new Allies Matrix, allowing for alliances between factions, and flyers are introduced, along with fortifications. New additions this time include Imperial Knights and Militarum Tempestus, and Imperial Guard are renamed Astra Militarum. There are a good number of supplemental releases for other factions, Chaos Space Marines, Chapter updates, Craftworlds, Farsight Enclaves for Tau, etc. This is also the first edition to release digital codexes including Legion of the Damned, Inquisition, and the newly rechristened Adepta Sororitas. We also see Escalation, Stronghold Assault, Death from the Skies, Crusade of Fire campaign, along with updates to Apocalypse. This is also the first Warzone book, Damnos. The Dark Vengeance two player starter features Dark Angels Vs. Chaos Space Marines. This edtion has a very short lifespan, only two years. This is partly due to Horus Heresy being released and a desire to consolidate the rulesets.
The cover art is by Alex Boyd.
Warhammer 40,000 : 7th edition - May 2014
With Horus Heresy clipping along for ForgeWorld, it was decided to streamline things and have one rule set. The team to get this done was Jervis Johnson making a return, joined by Robin Cruddace, and Simon Grant. This massive edition split the ruleset into three books; A Galaxy of War which is a hobby collection book with collecting and painting info, Dark Millenium is full of lore, and the Rules. This set is a whopping 480 pages, the largest ruleset by far. It is also uses the same starter set as 6th (with updated rules). Seventh starts out great, with a ton of new stuff: Skittari and Cult Mechanicus, Deathwatch, Harlequins and Genestealer Cults return, Custodes/Null Maidens, Haemonculus covens, and a ton of new supplements/expansion for existing armies. We also see a ton of new Warzone titles, a dozen new narrative campaign supplements, Altar of War, Planetary Onslaught, and more. Super-Heavy walkers are a thing now, along with a fight sub-phase, and tactical objectives. Space Hulk has its 25th Anniversary printing. The second half of its lifetime is where seventh starts to get unbalanced with the insertion of formations with detachments, and the top-heavy Company, Demi-company, followed by the insanity of the Decurion and the War Convocation. From a narrative perspective it finishes strong: we see two Primarchs as model kits, Magnus and Guilliman, as well as new Aeldari Avatar. These are all part of the expanding narrative and Seventh wraps up with the three Gathering Storm books that advance the timeline.
Cover by Paul Dainton.
Warhammer 40,000 : 8th edition - June 2017
Pete Foley takes the lead with Robin Cruddace and Jervis Johnson for this version of 40K. This rulebook is 200 pages less than the previous, with the basic rules only being a few pages (which were also available for free online). Eight streamlines the entire system, with changes to every facet and phase. It adds the newer “datasheet” layout, Command Points, no more armor values, and Battle-Forged Armies. It is simple to learn, but loaded with complexity for experienced players. This edition was deliberately farmed out to play testers and GW listened to the feedback. This edition launched with Indexes to bring every army up to date. We also get a ton of new goodies, starting with a new two player box “Dark Imperium” featuring Primaris marines, a new more advanced type of marine, and Death Guard (who got a new codex and all the gubbins to go with it). They are joined by Magnus and his Thousand Sons, Adeptus Mechanicus, and Adeptus Custodes both with brand new codex. Dark Eldar are now Drukhari. Adepta Sororitas get a full relaunch, Chaos Knights also hit the shelves, and Chaos and Imperial Space Marines get not one, but double codex love during this edition, along with supplements for Ultramarines, White Scars, Iron Hands, Raven Guard, Imperial Fists, and Salamanders. A new Narrative play mode is introduced. Two new books for a new narrative campaign Vigilus, Stronghold Assault, Apocalypse gets a 4th update, and the Psychic Awakening series updates every faction and advances the storyline to close out the edition. During this time we get a ton of ancillary games. Some new ones: Kill Team, Blackstone Fortress. Some are returning favorites: Necromunda, Adeptus Titanicus, and Aeronautica Imperialis. The game is starting to fall into seventh’s issues with a player needing between three and six books to run their army. Ninth will have a dedicated GW app, that should help.
Cover by Paul Dainton
Warhammer 40,000 : 9th edition - July 2020
I’m not one to spoil things, but from everything I’ve seen this new edition looks fantastic. They’ve capped the command point soup, and really tried to make it a fun, balanced game with stuff for everyone. Something to keep in mind: GW is not concerned with the competitive meta. Nor should they be, that sort of thinking has killed more games than I can count. I think everyone will get a kick out of the new stuff. If you’re a longtime player, I think you’ll dig it, if you’re a new player there has never been a better time to get into the game.
It’s taken 41 years of writing, ideas, artwork, and effort to get us here, Games Workshop has delivered 39 years of Sci-fi miniature wargaming, and 33 years of Warhammer 40,000, let’s all enjoy the ride and see where we can go.
Get out to your friendly local game store Saturday July 25th and get on board.
Good luck, and the Emperor protects…