Differences Between 1st and 2nd Editions

This article is a more polished version of a discussion originally on rec.games.miniatures. It all began with a question:

Greywolf (peacoct6503@cobra.uni.edu) wrote:

In a nutshell, what are the primary differences between WH40K 1st and 2nd editions?

I presume one of the big differences would be in point values, available supercharacters, vehicles, etc., and in the removal of the target templates, but are the basics of the game largely the same?

Joseph Goodman (jgoodma1@cc.swarthmore.edu) explains:

The biggest difference between first and second edition 40K is the appearance of troops with special or extremely deadly powers.

The cost of characters in 40K 2nd edition is about 1/3 less than those in 1st edition, and their powers are often more than 1/3 greater. This by itself automatically increases the power of characters. In addition, the "new" close combat system (which actually appeared late in 1st edition (edition 1B?)) makes high character scores (high WS, especially) even more deadly. These together turn the game into a battle of characters rather than linemen.

The special troops in the new 40K are also insane. There are tons of special troop types for every army. It is a game rather than a wargame -- many of the troops require no more skill to play than does a card in a card game.

Basically, second edition (when played straight GW-style) is more...well, munchkinish than 1st edition.

Philip Dutre (philipd@cs.kuleuven.ac.be) adds:

There are so many rules variants of WH40K that it's difficult to actually say "this is 1st edition, this is 2nd edition." However, common knowledge calls the hardcover book from 1987 1st edition, and the boxed set from 1993 2nd edition. Between those two, there's a mess of rules supplements.

Here's a short overview:

1st edition rules; based largely on Warhammer Fantasy Battle 2nd edition (cuurently in its 4th edition), contains the original background (and IMHO the best version of the WH40K universe).
Supplement for the first edition, some army lists.
Supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd edition, but about 40% of this book is devoted to sieges in the 40K universe. 1st edition rules.
These two books are summaries of the articles that appeared in White Dwarf, and are rules additions, new rules, army lists, new background, new vehicles etc... If you use these rules, you're playing a slightly different game. Let's call it edition 1.2
Another set of extra rules, overriding most of the original rules in the basic rulebook. But you still need the original book to know the turn order. If you use these rules, you're almost playing 2nd edition. Let's call this edition 1.9.
Somewehere between 1.2 and 1.9, there's something known as the Ork project. This project contains three volumes describing Ork society (WAAARGH ORKS, ERE WE GO, FREEBOOTERZ). The rules vary from 1st edition rules in WAAARGH to almost 2nd edition in FREEBOOTERZ.

The well-known boxed set
The various army lists, one appearing every two or three months...
The main difference between 1st and 2nd edition is the look and feel of the whole game. IMHO, 2nd edition has too many random tables for different weapons, too many random effects for whatever action a vehicle, weapon, hero or any other piece of equipment is doing. In this respect, 1st edition is superior.

The background universe is also more consistent in 1st edition. In 2nd edition Orks tend to look as comic characters, Eldar are no longer pirates, and so on. 2nd edition just considers all kinds of different armies to be present in the universe with the sole purpose of fighting each other. No reasons, no consistent politics whatsoever...

This doesn't imply 2nd edition isn't a good game. I just think 1st edition was much better.

Matt Nicksic (NICKSIMC@PLU.edu) writes:

Phillip omitted mention of WH40k: Rogue Trader. This is a softcover book published in 1987, and has been my gaming community's guide for the past 3 years, allowing updates from White Dwarf regarding vehicles, weapons etc.

The problem with the newer additions are the changes which make it difficult to play with the original rules, Wargear Cards etc. Items which we do not have, nor intend to buy in the near future.

RNR (rnr55@cas.org) adds:

I think the 1st edition gets much more credit for being creative, and it works great as a skirmish/roleplaying game, but I often saw it being used for competitive battles between relative strangers, and it just didn't work well in that arena. People would show up with billions of blind grenades, or nuke the area from orbit with support weapons, and the game just got real stupid.

The 2nd edition makes it much easier to play someone you don't know very well, and still have a reasonable fight. The codexes are messing that up a bit, but at least they got the baseline moved in the right direction.

Last Updates
22 July 1996reformatted
16 April 1996reorganized
6 May 1995Matt Nicksic's comments
Comments or corrections?