Good afternoon. I have been wanting to jot down a post for a few weeks about my thoughts on 9th edition for Warhammer 40,000, and only just got around to it. The basis for this is the question of what has really changed?
To my mind, 9th edition is a tidy-up job of 8th, with many things clarified very nicely, and some new rules placed on top to try to make the gameplay better, or at least feel better. I think the changes that we are seeing range from nice, to those that seem to have been play-tested a whole lot and make sense. Call me an old timer, but I also adore the Narrative play / Crusade we are seeing as well.
I think one of the most under-discussed changes is to the board sizes. I already see that certain manufacturers are tilting their production lines to be able to accommodate the new board sizes. In a nut-shell - they're going to be smaller in general. At first glance, this might mean that close combat armies might be favoured due to the increased probability of getting in to multiple combats -- but the changes to heavy weapon shooting more than offset this. Of course, this is terrain dependent entirely. However, I'm going to be brave (crazy?) (because you will all shout me down!) and make a prediction. I think movement is going to be the lynchpin of this new edition.
Consider this: the long and thin deployment of lines of troops are no longer going to be available thanks to the new unit coherency rules (this in itself is a huge change). Therefore the area denial is going to be lower in some ways (screening harder), and players will need to carefully consider how to optimise their board placements. This will lead to better tactics being played out. And it may also lead to multiple small (maybe expensive? but absolutely tough) units being crowned king of the new edition (another opinion that I expect to be challenged).
The entertaining changes to full strength and half strength (that 20 man infantry unit must be 9 or less to be below half strength remember!) also signifies another interesting change. It is one that players will have to carefully account for and combine with the new morale testing to ensure units don't get wiped immediately. Maybe the new command phase will help a lot here.
Back to the point about board size. Smaller, plus more compact and tough units, I think, might favour fast moving small units. So, my prediction (and it is only a prediction based on an old-timer's feeling for many editions of the game) is that we will see a resurgence of bike and small flyer armies start to dominate. The archetype for this is the Saim Haan army of yesteryear's Elder. It plays something like this: tie up anything that needs to be so, kill enemies on objectives, feed some minor units to the enemy to shoot and hack at, and hide the rest until the last possible moment at which point you swoop on the available objectives to win the game. This used to work superlatively well (at least until leaf-blower and other archetypes took over). This, combined with generally smaller army sizes could work well in 9th. I will return to this prediction within 12 months I hope. Your thoughts are welcome, but remember: don't flame me, I'm just making a prediction and I reserve the right to be wrong! :)
[Gratuitous Picture: Dominion of Convergence - the new Necron terrain that also I really like!]