Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k 10th edition rules preview at Adepticon was a hit parade of great ideas: putting the key information for units onto datasheets rather than spread throughout a codex; faction rules and stratagems that fit onto a single page; new Index army rules for every faction on day one; making those rules free when the game launches. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
But I’m concerned that Games Workshop may not stick the landing on that ‘free rules’ part. The announcement carefully noted that we can expect new – and presumably, paid – Warhammer 40k codexes down the line. If those replace the free Indexes entirely, the paywall will be back up around the Warhammer 40k rules.
I’m not morally opposed to companies charging for rulebooks and supplements, whether those are printed or digital products. But it is a real financial barrier in front of players with limited funds who want to join an already expensive hobby, or experiment with a new Warhammer 40k faction. That’s bad news for the community, and for the bottom line of a company trying to ship as many Warhammer 40k starter sets to new players as possible.
Paywalled rules are bad for competitive players, too. The best board games make all the information about the rules transparent to all the players. When asymmetrical information is part of the game, each player should at least know what unknowns could be – you may not know what your opponent’s MtG Arena deck contains, but you can look up the possible cards on Scryfall for free. 40k compartmentalises its rules into discrete codexes, each of which costs money to acquire.
Putting a price tag on game rules is also a recipe for buyer’s remorse. While Space Marine players can look forward to their army receiving a codex close to the start of Warhammer 40k 10th edition, other armies won’t have it so good. The internet is full of Astra Militarum players bitterly grumbling that their codex got a general release just months before the end of the edition.
Realising all these benefits of free rules without cannibalising lucrative codex sales would be a challenge for GW. If there were other, official sources of model rules than a codex, the codex would still be a great book full of lore and advice on painting miniatures, but it would clearly have lost a lot of its value.
I have hope GW could solve this conundrum – and it’s because of the way that subfactions will work in 10th edition. Rather than adding rules on top of a faction’s existing army rules as they do in 9th edition, 10th edition subfactions swap out one set of army rules for a completely different one, giving strategic options without increasing the complexity of actually using the army in-game.
In a Warhammer Community article on Monday, Warhammer 40k lead designer Stuart Black referred to the subfactions as ‘Detachments’, noting that the new indexes will have rules for models and “a Detachment”.
What if new Detachment subfactions are the main rules content that GW holds back for Codexes? That could be a compelling chunk of content: a suite of variant relics, warlord traits, and stratagems for subfactions like the Ravenguard of the Dark Angels, or Forge World Mars of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Yet paywalling it won’t stop anyone from using up to date rules for every model in their collection, and all players will have the critical information they need to understand every model in the game.
I’ve got my fingers crossed, Games Workshop. I’m already frothing at the mouth for 10th edition 40k. Please don’t harsh my buzz.