The rules of the third edition of Warhammer 40K have often been attacked as being vague or confusing and there has been a great deal of complaining of balance issues as well. Most of these are from either inexperienced gamers or from those who resist change. I don't want to say everyone who has complained about the rules for the new edition is wrong, because many of them have very valid arguments. I just want to clarify things so prospective gamers aren't dissuaded from trying at least a few rounds of 40K.

The first thing to realize is that Warhammer 40,000 is a game and in no way is it supposed to resemble reality. There are no legions of Space Marines or billions of members of the Imperial Guard sacrificing themselves to save humanity from the Traitor Legions of Chaos pouring from the Eye of Terror. There are no Tau or Necrons or even any Eldar chipping away at the armed forces of the Imperium, which does not exist. Once you realize that, complaining about realism is a rather hypocritical idea. The 40,000 is not some arbitrary number but indicates that the setting of the game is in the 41'st millennium. That makes it very hard to criticize elements of the game based on today's military. For the most part, the favorite weapon of the front lines would have to be the Bolt Gun, commonly referred to as the Bolter. This gun is primarily used by the Imperial Space Marines and is their generic firearm. The Space Marines also have incredibly powerful armor, called Power Armor that's primary purpose is to stop bolter rounds from penetrating and killing the soldier within. Seeing as how the ammunition for the bolter is .75 case less high-explosive rounds, well, this is obviously quite a feat. But this is the problem, the most recognizable part of 40K are the Space Marine. This then becomes the army most newbies want to collect, because they look cool, are really tough, and are easy to paint - a huge thing to consider when starting an army. However, most of the other races and factions are hardly known and they are what is best used to show why the game isn't as two-dimensional as people might say.

That's enough background, so what is going on with the actual rules? Well, look at things one point at a time. One thing that always come up is the relative weakness of the firearms in the game and its emphasis on melee combat. This is true, for the most part, Warhammer 40,000 is much more focused on the hand-to-hand part of combat than the stand back and launch rockets so they can't get close enough to my troops method. How bad are the ranges really? To disregard what I said earlier, look at it from a realistic standpoint. Using the Space Marines as my template, as they are the most common, let's look at their effective range in the real world. The average Space Marine is about 2 meters tall and the average miniature is about an inch, these numbers aren't exact, but they'll do for now. The bolter's maximum effective range is 24" which translates to about 48 meters. Now for those of us in America who can't think in the metric system, 48 meters is well over 150 feet. That's not its maximum range but its maximum effective range and while yes, we have guns that have a much higher range, the number you are likely thinking of has to do with how far it can shoot and not how far the average soldier can shoot it. Also, some of the heavy weapons can shoot 48" - 60" and the siege weapons are up to 240". Seeing as how most gaming tables are about 4 to 8 feet on each side, even 24" is quite a nice reach. Besides, anyone who has seen a game played know that watching armies sit back and shoot each other down is not any fun.

Next is the complaint about armor. Again, this is largely due to those who have only seen the Space Marines in action. Yes, they have incredibly unfair armor. It's a fact of life. There is nothing you can do about it because in the 40K universe, they have obscenely powerful armor. However, this isn't true for many of the other armies. The Imperial Guard or the Eldar for example, they are far more vulnerable to the weapons that the foot-sloggers carry because they just don't have the Power Armor. A couple of well placed Auto cannons can make short work of an entire Guard Platoon. A Devastator Marine sqaud could probably take them out in one turn and a Terminator squad, well, that's just cruel. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, those are both specialized units from the Space Marines that are just a little scary. Anyway, some armor really is way too strong but if you look at the point costs they are also much higher than the fodder from other armies.

With that being said, let me jump back to the issue of ranged vs. melee combat. The thing about Warhammer 40,000, is that you really can play it in whatever style suits you best. You can have a wall of troops that just has weapons blazing at the enemy the whole game or you can have a mob that rushes the enemy and tries to hack them to pieces. However, if you want the advice of a veteran war gamer (which is likely why you have stuck with me thus far) I would say that they thing to do was to have a little of each, no matter whether you like epic battles or minor engagements while assault troops have a hell of a time getting to the heavy weapons teams, once they are there, almost nothing short of another assault team can stop them. I know that seems self-evident but even some of the best gamers I've played against only focused on one area, and that's just stupid.

Another thing people don't realize is how flexible the system can be. You can have a massive army worth thousands of points and with hundreds of models or you can have a smaller force, whatever works for you. The gurus who write the books and supplements recommend a starting army should be brought up to about 1,500 - 2,000 points. NO! This is the one area where I highly disagree with them. I would lean more towards 3,000 points as soon as possible. I know that it can be expensive but if you have 3,000 points at a 2,000 point game, you can have a great deal more options for how to deal with the situation. So instead of having a city fight army, have one of the configurations of your army be good at building-to-building combat. Determine the size battles you normally fight, and get about 25 - 35 % more (in points) just so you can be much more tactically flexible. The other thing is get the special units. Yeah, they aren't cheap, but they'll save your ass. Seeing a squad of Khorne Berserkers is a fearsome sight but seeing a squad led by Kharn the Betrayer tear through your ranks is enough to make you cower under the table and cry. I've done it to people. Again, if you have the money to do so, I recommend several special characters to continue with the theme of making your army completely flexible. Every army I've assembled has at least one character to make it just a little bit better. Some players don't like special characters, but in tournament play they're fine, and everyone's goal is to play in at least one tourney, they're very fun.

The last complaint I have had addressed to me is the one about the almost non-existent role of leadership and morale in 40K. I really don't know where this one comes from, sorry. The thing that makes me like the Space Marines is their little ability: And They Shall Know No Fear meaning that they never flee from battle. Besides that, an army with low leadership scores is doomed because they'll spend the entire game running around the table like a bunch of monkeys on fire, so I don't know where people are getting this idea. Maybe your tactics weren't sufficient to break morale (not meant as an insult) but some of the most successful players I've seen rush in, force troops to retreat and achieve the objectives. There we go, parting advice. While attrition is beautiful in war games and seeing your opponent's army crushed beneath your heel gives you that nice warm feeling inside, if he (or she) achieves the objectives, he wins, no matter if you have ten times the number of points on the board. Never forget that, that's how I won most of my games.

Note: I am in no way employed by Games Workshop nor do I get money from them, though from all the money I've spent on them, perhaps I should... I am not trying to tell people they are wrong, or stupid, or anything like that. I actually agree with you on a number of things (like the damn Space Marines having too high an armor save). I'm trying to defend the game as nothing more than a fan, and if you've spent as much time playing as I have and enjoyed yourself as much as I have, you'll forgive these oversights. I only hope that someone who has considered playing, or even someone who never has but now does, and they at least try it before deciding it isn't any fun. Many store have open demos and a lot of local tournaments are open to spectators, all to generate interest. My message to the other veterans, if you are dissatisfied, do what my friends and I did, make your own rules. Sure they aren't official and can't be used at Games Day or any other Games Workshop events, most local tourney actually let you change rules as long as your opponent agrees and you aren't trying to take Horus as a leader or anything like that. Anyway, if you disagree with me, that's cool too, I'm just trying to make the best of the situation and try to get more people into the game, not as many people seem to play anymoe. Either way, go out, play games, have fun. It really is a great hobby to get into.