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Warhammer 40,000 10th edition lands this summer with streamlined rules, new format

Simplified, but far from simple

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

After months of mercilessly teasing its fans, Games Workshop finally announced the 10th edition of Warhammer 40,000, its marquee miniatures wargame. On Wednesday, at the annual AdeptiCon convention, it also revealed its two star factions — the heroic Ultramarines and the Alien-like Tyranids — with a lavish CGI trailer.

In amongst a host of new models — which includes a revision of the iconic Terminator Space Marines, among others — came details of a titanic shift in how the popular tabletop game will be structured going forward. The 10th edition of 40K will be more streamlined than ever before, and there will also be a new format custom-built for collectors and new players.

Here’s what we know, with additional details only shared in-person with AdeptiCon attendees in Schaumburg, Illinois.

A new approach to rules

A primaris terminator librarian space marine charges up his psy-axe in the new CGI trailer for 40K 10th edition. Image: Games Workshop via YouTube

Previously players of Warhammer 40,000’s 9th edition ruleset needed to lug around multiple hardback books, sometimes needing three or four such books on each side of the table just to play a single game. That type of rules sprawl has not only raised the complexity of 40K, but also the cost of entering the hobby in the first place. Tenth edition hopes to do away with that kind of excess.

At the core of this transition is something called a “datasheet” — effectively a large notecard — that will contain all of the rules needed to run a single unit of miniatures at the table. The format should be familiar to players of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, which has been using similar cards for years. More importantly, all the additional rules that will control how a player’s army (now called a “detachment”) will behave fits on a single two-page spread from a single book.

A termagant datasheet, showing its powers and stats. It’s mostly purple, with models at the top.
This datasheet also shows off the newly revised plastic termagant models that will roll out with 10th edition.
Image: Games Workshop

“It works in a one-in-one-out system,” said Games Workshop global events executive Michael Brandt. “If you want to run a Space Marine Scout Company or a Space Marine Battle Company, you’re going to take one of those pages as your spread. You’re not going to combine a bunch of things and end up with pages, and pages, and pages of rules. It also makes it very easy to share your rules with your opponent before you start the game.”

The consolidation of these rules has required a paradigm shift internally at Games Workshop. Brandt said that Universal Special Rules, known as USRs, are making a return to the format. Much like keywords in Magic: The Gathering, USRs can be applied to any army in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. That means fewer rules to memorize overall, and fewer late-game “gotcha” moments that turn the tides at the table.

A new format

While changes to the rules will add quality-of-life improvements for veteran players, Games Workshop has also concocted novel way to entice new players to take the plunge into the hobby. A new format of play called Combat Patrol was announced on Wednesday, and it could prove to be the best introduction to Warhammer 40,000 yet.

A collage with 20 different armies from across the 40K universe.
A sample of the many Combat Patrol boxes currently on sale at hobby stores around the world.
Image: Games Workshop

For years now Games Workshop has been seeding retail stores all over the world with Combat Patrol boxes — usually a few dozen units, including a vehicle, packaged in a single box for less than $150. Fans have traditionally used them to start larger army projects, or to supplement older armies with newer units.

At the AdeptiCon event, Games Workshop revealed that each of those boxes has secretly been designed as a tiny army in and of itself. Using Combat Patrol rules — a subset of the larger, full-fat 40K ruleset — those boxes will be akin to pre-constructed Magic: The Gathering Commander decks. Free rules, available online, will give each box a set of datasheets and detachment rules to make it a potent fighting force, but one balanced against all the other Combat Patrol boxes. The result should be a lighter, more newbie friendly way into the hobby — and a way for dedicated fans to collect a broad range of different models, rather than simply investing in a large collection for a single army.

Two terminator space marines.
According to Games Workshop, new suits of Terminator Space Marine armor can hold either a Primaris or a First-born Space Marine. Either way, they stand a few millimeters taller than past models, and will be easy to pick out on the table.
Image: Games Workshop

“It is also somewhat simplified from the regular game, but not overly simplified,” Brandt said. “It’s mostly kept to a limit on the number of bespoke different rules that a datasheet might have, but it’s architecturally the same game. So it’s very easy to translate from Combat Patrol into the full version of Warhammer 40,000, as opposed to shifting from [Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team], which is really a different game, into something like Combat Patrol.”

“We’ll be supporting Combat Patrol with organized play and other activities as well,” Brandt continued, “so it’s easier to go buy one Combat Patrol box and you’re good to go. Period. Forever.”

The Arks of Omen are the bridge to 10th edition

In addition to the announcement of Warhammer 40,000 10th edition and the new Combat Patrol format, Games Workshop also brought to a close one of the longest-standing mysteries in the lore of 40K. And it did so in a way that builds a bridge from 9th edition to 10th edition, and beyond.

Lion El’Jonson strides into the frame, flanked by two watchers in the dark. His armor is black-green and accented with gold. Image: Games Workshop

The carrot on this particular stick is named Lion El’Jonson, and he’s the founding father of the Dark Angels chapter of Space Marines. His gorgeous new model shows that, even after 10,000 years of hibernation inside his floating space fortress, he’s still quite the dashing war daddy.

But, while his reintroduction to the timeline moves the universe’s overarching story line forward in seismic ways, the Arks of Omen series of books that lead to his introduction also introduced a new way to play — a format called Boarding Action. At the AdeptiCon event, Games Workshop revealed that all of these Boarding Action rules are completely compatible with both editions of the game. So, the five-book Arks of Omen series isn’t just one of the last to be published for 9th edition, it’s also the first to be published for 10th.

Expect more on the 10th edition of Warhammer: 40,000 to be revealed in the months leading up to its release this summer.

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