Warhammer 40,000 9th edition is no less complex, but much more inviting

Games Workshop launched the newest version of Warhammer 40,000, its flagship tabletop miniatures game, into the teeth of a global pandemic. Even in the face of a health and economic disaster that temporarily shut down its entire operation — manufacturing, retail stores, even online sales — sales are off the charts, with many basic kits currently sold out online.

Polygon got an early copy of Warhammer 40,000 Indomitus, the new limited-run 9th edition boxed set, which includes more than 60 all-new miniatures and the Warhammer 40,000 Core Book the expanded rules needed to play the game.

After spending a few weeks with the Indomitus set, here’s what it’s been like getting started.

The rules

The fluff in the Warhammer 40,000 Core Book is exquisite, especially the two-page fold-out map of the galaxy.
Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon

The foundational element of 9th edition is the Core Book. Even though the basic core rules arrived for free on June 2, the Core Book includes the more detailed information needed to actually play the game. Stand-alone copies sell for $65, and will show up in hobby stores by late July.

The lavish volume is bursting with excellent art and photography, and it does a tremendous job of setting the stage for the 41st millennium’s “grim darkness of the far future.” The main character is the Emperor of Mankind, an undead husk toiling away psychically in the ethereal plane while his armies wage war all across the known and unknown galaxy. It’s a paper-thin premise enriched by a thick, velvety layer of lore.

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How much lore? The Core Book is more than 367 pages long. Backstory and table setting accounts for 191 of those pages — more than half the book. Meanwhile, the expanded core rules themselves come in at a modest 75 pages.

That’s a pretty big fluff-to-rules ratio, and a lot of that fluff feels redundant. But, for those who are steeped in the lore of the 41st millennium, it’s nice to have it all in one coffee table-style book. The best bits — especially the double-page foldout galaxy map — serve to elevate the Core Book to more of an in-fiction artifact than a game manual.

The rules themselves are very finely wrought this time around, especially when compared to previous editions of the game. They read less like the rules of a fiddly tabletop wargame and more like a really accessible, easy-to-understand textbook. Key features include helpful bullet-point summaries, so you can scan a page and quickly find your bearings. There are plenty of helpful sidebars, simplified graphics, and informative diagrams as well. The editors have even gone so far as to keep topics together on facing pages, so you can lay the hardback volume open on the table and survey at a glance everything you need to know in each phase of the turn.

Individual sections of a turn are arranged on facing pages, meaning you can sit the book open on the table for easy reference.
Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Compared to other tabletop wargames — Infinity or Warmachine, for instance — it’s all very elegant. Games Workshop still has a ways to go before it has the same kind of layout and graphic design as Dungeons & Dragons or even Pathfinder, but the gap is closer than ever before. My only real complaint about the Core Book is that the font size is too small, leaving a lot of empty room on the margins.

Of course, the Core Book isn’t the only document you’ll need to start playing. While Indomitus itself comes with a slim pamphlet called The Silent War, which includes data sheets needed to field the all-new units inside the box, in order to build a proper army you’ll need a Codex. That’s where things get a bit confusing.

Say that you want to play as the Space Marines. Codex: Space Marines ($40) was published last year, during 8th edition. So you’ll need that book, as well as a set of errata to bring it up to the current edition. The same goes for every other army in the game.

So, even without models, you’re still looking more than $100 for a single player to get started.

The models

After several long nights of trimming plastic, I’m about three-quarters of the way through the Indomitus miniatures. That includes a small Space Marine and Necron force. What’s remarkable is how easy it all is to put together.

The sculpts themselves are particularly fine, with very little in the way of mold lines that need to be removed prior to assembly. That’s good news if you’ve spent the past few years practicing drybrushing, like I have.

Indomitus includes only “push-fit” miniatures, which Games Workshop says don’t require any glue to assemble. I’d say that’s about 95% true. While just about everything went together very easily, some models have wobbly heads or spindly midsections that require some plastic cement to hold them together. They’re also incredibly delicate. I didn’t break any in assembly, but I did bang a few up moving them around the house.

  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • Image: Games Workshop
  • While the engineering of the push-fit minis alone is remarkable, it’s the sheer amount of detail in these figures that won me over. I’ve been collecting Space Marines for decades now, and these are easily the most visually interesting models I’ve ever owned. My absolute favorite is the Bladeguard Ancient (pictured below), which is holding aloft a massive, skeletal icon. Another highlight for me — as a Dark Angels collector — is the all-new Space Marine Raider-pattern combat bike. It’s beefier and more futuristic than the previous incarnation. It’s also the first refresh of that particular sculpt in close to 30 years.

    The improvements to the Warhammer 40,000 miniatures stem from a move to all-plastic components. There’s no resin or metal to speak of, which makes assembly that much easier. But the refinements of the entire product line have a lot to do with the decision to introduce Primaris Space Marines in 2017. These new warriors stand much taller than previous iterations, with much more slender limbs and more streamlined weapons. It all adds up to figures capable of more dynamic poses.

    Image: Games Workshop

    Image: Games Workshop

    Image: Games Workshop

    Image: Games Workshop

    Necron Canoptek Reanimator

    That taller, more slender design has also given Games Workshop modelers more freedom to embellish these figures. I especially like the tiny skull motif etched into the left gauntlet of every Assault Intercessor. It means that even run-of-the-mill grunts can bring a bit of bling with them onto the battlefield. It will also make them tons of fun to paint.

    Taller, more detailed Space Marines mean taller, more detailed aliens, of course. The all-new Necron sculpts in Indomitus don’t disappoint. The largest — the Canoptek Reanimator (seen above) — is nearly three times larger than the largest Space Marine. These units feel like a cross between the tripods from War of the Worlds and an ancient Egyptian death cult. They’re a far cry from the squat, hunched-over figures of years past.

    The Warhammer Community

    Supporting the launch of 9th edition Warhammer 40,000 is a reinvigorated Warhammer Community team. Even with the loss of Duncan “two thin coats” Rhodes, a familiar face who taught fans how to build and paint Warhammer minis for the better part of a decade, the staff at Games Workshop is rising to the occasion.

    There are tons of official videos already available to support the Indomitus launch, including detailed painting guides for both Space Marine and Necron armies. I especially appreciate the lengthy guide to painting alternative color schemes and so-called “parade ready” miniatures.

    Games Workshop is showing off a different style of painting with 9th edition. It’s heavily reliant on the new Citadel Contrast line of paints in addition to traditional washes. Minis painted in this way look much more like toy action figures, without the subtle highlights and tonal variations seen in years past. The tutorials also seem to require a lot more colors and types of paint than I feel is really necessary. I’ll personally be sticking with the old, drybrush-heavy style of painting that I’ve been practicing since the launch of 8th edition.

    Games Workshop is beefing up its historically anemic social media presence as well. The company launched its first Twitter account in May, and has already stepped out in support of diversity and equality in the hobby. The publisher is also filling the void online with a new behind-the-scenes podcast series. The sixth episode went up on July 14, and is also available on YouTube. There’s also a Warhammer 40,000 mobile app on the way, to go along with the excellent Citadel Colour painting app (also available on Android).

    It all adds up to an absolutely fabulous product launch. The only problem I’m having right now is finding enough paint to get started. Due to the pandemic, my local hobby shop is having trouble simply keeping enough Citadel paints in stock.

    Games Workshop itself is having some stock issues online as well, it seems, with dozens of Warhammer 40,000 sets sold out at the moment. At $199, the Warhammer 40,000 Indomitus boxed set represents a tremendous value. The first wave should start shipping out by the end of the month. Additional copies are being made-to-order for a limited time, and represent one of the most economical ways to get started with 9th edition.

    Warhammer 40,000 Indomitus has a street date of July 25. The kit was reviewed using a pre-release copy provided by Games Workshop. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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