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Rule Changes in 6th Edition Warhammer 40k: Pre-Game Setup

Updated on June 9, 2017


6th edition Warhammer 40k was released in June 2012 and brought serious changes to the rules we've been using for five years with 5th edition. Some of the changes are game-altering, while some are subtle shifts. The 450+ page rule book published by Games Workshop has been in short supply since its release, and thousands of players have been clamoring for information. This article is going to sort through the changes and give you a heads up on what to expect. I have already written a few articles that go into more specifics on certain aspects, so I will link to those articles when needed.

I'm going to break this article into sections that follow the flow of a general game: pre-game setup, Movement, Shooting, and Assault Phases.

Pre-game Setup

Most people rush through the pre-game steps because after a few games, the process becomes routine. I want to go over this important phase, however, because there are many changes in 6th edition Warhammer 40k. There a few parts to this that I've covered in more detail in other articles, so I will link to those when they appear.

To begin:

Once both parties have done this, it's time to choose a mission and prepare a battle. Stay with me on this one because there are some important changes for 6th edition!

  • Roll a d6 to choose a Mission. There are several new missions, which I will cover in more detail below. You may also mutually decide to pick a mission instead of rolling.
  • Roll a d3 to choose a Deployment Map. Two of these are different for 6th edition. We have a standard setup (deploy across a long table edge). We also have a short table edge mission, and a diagonal corners deployment.
  • Once these two steps are done, you must "roll-off" to determine who chooses a table side to deploy in.

Look at that last point again. This is possibly the biggest change to 6th edition set up. You choose a table edge before any terrain is placed.

  • Now players roll-off to deploy their Fortifications. These could be an Aegis Defense Line, and Imperial Bastion, or even a Fortress of Redemption. For more detail, read my Fortifications in 6th Edition article by clicking here.
  • Fortifications must be deployed on your table half and not closer than 3" from another Fortification. Notice you can put your Fortification outside your deployment zone (though you better book-it to get there before your opponent does!).

After all this is done, now we place terrain on the table. How much terrain does 6th edition suggest? The rulebook says to divide the tabletop into 2' x 2' sections and place d3 terrain pieces in each square. This is for medium sized terrain pieces like the Citadel Woods from Games Workshop, a Citadel Gaming Hill, or set ruins like Sanctum Imperialis or Manufactorum. Of course, you can use your custom-made terrain like we all do. For each "terrain" piece, you can also set out 3 smaller terrain pieces classified as Battlefield Debris.

Players alternate placing terrain. Since each player knows which side they will be deploying in, this step of the game becomes much more important than in past editions. You now have the ability to set terrain where it will directly benefit your army . . . or hamper your opponent's.

For instance, if your opponent placed an Aegis Defense Line with a Quad Gun in his deployment zone, wouldn't it be dastardly to place a large ruins right in front of it to obstruct his field of view? Why not put a large field of Difficult Terrain in front of his deployment zone to slow down his advancing troops? To prevent this from happening to you, you can place some low-laying terrain in front of your own defenses to block your opponent from placing larger pieces there to block your line of sight.

The rulebook does say that you both can agree to shuffle terrain once you are finished, in order to make a better looking battlefield. Personally, I wouldn't place a large ruin in front of a defensive Fortification because A) it's poor sportsmanship and B) the defending force wouldn't place an anti-aircraft gun right behind a building!

Once terrain is finished, we go through the remaining steps:

  • Place Objectives as required by the Mission.
  • Roll for Warlord Traits
  • Roll random Psychic Powers
  • Now players roll-off to see who deploys first. Whoever wins deploys their entire force (minus Reserves and Infiltrators). The second player does the same. The first player to deploy gets the first turn, but the second player can Steal the Initiative like in 5th edition.

There you have it! I hope you are seeing the tactical possibilities for choosing Fortifications and the ability to place terrain after you know what table side you'll be deploying from. I think this will create more interesting games that will avoid the common occurrence of older editions where the battlefields often looked like golf courses: clumps of trees and hills perfectly spread out so that neither side had an advantage. This was fair, but often boring.

Next, let's look at the Missions and Deployments themselves so you can get an idea of what types of games you'll be playing!

Mission Rules

There are 6 missions in the 6th edition Warhammer 40k rulebook and they are classified as Eternal War Missions. I suspect that later supplements will have new mission types and will be called something else. There are a couple of mission rules that are common to most of the missions, so let's discuss these below.

  • Night Fight! - Every mission includes the Night Fighting rules. Before the game, on a roll of 4+ Turn 1 has the Night Fighting rules. It only lasts for Turn 1. If you don't start with Night Fighting, then on turn 5, roll a 4+ and you have Night Fighting for the rest of the game; same for turn 6, etc. Doing the calculations, if a game runs 6 turns then there is a 87.5% chance that at least 1 turn will be using Night Fighting. The good news for most armies is that Night Fighting is limited to only the first turn, or the last couple turns of the battle.
  • What does Night Fighting mean? - Units cannot be targeted if more than 36" away. Units between 24" - 36" have the Shrouded rule (+2 to cover save . . . 5+ save if not in cover or 2+ if in Ruins!). Units between 12" - 23.9" away have Stealth (+1 to cover save . . . 6+ if in no cover). Units up to 12" away can be targeted like normal.
  • Units with Night Vision completely ignore these restrictions. Go Dark Eldar!

With the Night Fighting rules taking place in 50% of the games on turn 1, I expect that it will be harder to destroy your opponent completely with Shooting on turn 1. There's nothing I hate more than going second and having every one of my transports stunned or destroyed before I can even move!

Reserves work basically the same way as in 5th edition, except that the roll to bring them in on Turn 2 is only a 3+. Starting with Turn 2 and continuing on it goes: 3+, 3+, and then all units come in automatically on Turn 4. Also, Independent Characters can specifically join a unit while in reserves, and come in with them on a single roll. You just have to explain to your opponent before hand that the IC's joined which unit before you roll.

Another huge change in 6th edition is that Units coming onto the board as Reserves cannot charge or launch an assault on the turn they came in, unless a unit's rule specifies otherwise. This hampers Dark Eldar Webway Portals significantly and some special characters like Snikrot for the Orks. As a Dark Eldar and Ork player, I hate this rule! However, I see the spirit of the rule as being "every player should get at least 1 turn to shoot at troops before they are assaulted." I did feel a little bad in 5th edition when I'd drop a Webway Portal halfway across the board on Turn 1, and then jump 20+ Wyches out of it on Turn 2, which immediately engaged the enemy gun line without taking a single wound.

Okay, I didn't feel that bad about it.


Primary Objectives are just like in 5th edition. You must have a Scoring Unit (usually Troops) within 3" to claim an objective, but also none of your opponent's Denial Units within 3". A couple of points about Scoring Units:

  • Cannot be a Vehicle and cannot be embarked in a vehicle. That's right, no rushing a Rhino or Raider filled with troops and parking it on top of an objective.
  • Cannot be embarked into a Building. Since the Imperial Bastion and Fortress of Redemption Fortifications count as Buildings, you have to leave that protection to claim an objective.
  • Cannot be a Swarm
  • Cannot be Falling Back.

Denial Units follow the same exact rules, so you can't rush a Land Raider filled with Troops over to deny an objective on the last turn of the game!

Secondary Objectives

This is interesting! Many of the Eternal War Missions feature Secondary Objectives. These are open to either or both of the players and "action" specific, not location specific. What do I mean?

  • Slay the Warlord - Worth 2 Victory Points. You have killed the enemy Warlord by the end of the game. Both players can claim this objective.
  • First Blood - The first destroyed unit is worth 1 VP, or an additional VP if the Mission awards VPs for killing units. Only one player can claim this Secondary Objective.
  • Linebreaker - Worth 1 VP if you have one model from a Scoring or Denial Unit in your enemy's deployment zone at the end of the game. Both players can claim this objective.

Mysterious Objectives

In Missions that use the Mysterious Objectives rule, you never quite know what will happen when you claim an Objective. As soon as the first unit comes within 3" you roll a d6 and consult the chart. Interestingly, any unit can identify an objective by moving within 3", but only Scoring Units can claim the objective or "control" it to gain any benefit offered in the chart. So what kind of things can happen? The objective could randomly explode, give the Skyfire rule, allow re-rolls of 1 in Shooting, give a +1 to cover saves, or halve the charge range of any unit assaulting the unit controlling the objective. Of course, one result means that nothing special at all happens.

Eternal War Missions

There are six missions included in the 6th edition Warhammer 40k rulebook. Let's break down the missions and look at their special rules.

Mission 1 - Crusade

  • Night Fighting, Mysterious Objectives, Reserves
  • Alternate placing d3 +2 Primary Objectives
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker
  • Variable Game Length
  • Victory by Victory Points. Primary Objectives are worth 3 VP

Mission 2 - Purge the Alien

  • Night Fighting, Reserves
  • No Objective Markers
  • 1 Victory Point for ever enemy unit destroyed.
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker
  • Variable Game Length
  • Victory by Victory Points

Mission 3 - Big Guns Never Tire

  • Night Fighting, Mysterious Objectives, Reserves
  • d3 + 2 Primary Objectives
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker
  • Variable Game Length
  • Primary Objectives worth 3 VP + 1 VP for every enemy Heavy Support unit destroyed.
  • Special Rule: Heavy Support units, including Vehicles(if Heavy Support), count as Scoring Units as long as they aren't Immobilized
  • Victory by Victory Points.

Mission 4 - The Scouring

  • Night Fighting, Mysterious Objectives, Reserves
  • 6 Primary Objectives worth variable points (4 - 1 VP). They are placed number side down so that neither player knows which objective is worth which points. When the game starts, you flip them over to reveal the point values.
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker
  • +1 VP for every Fast Attack unit destroyed
  • Variable Game Length
  • Special Rule: Fast Attack units are Scoring Units, even vehicles (if they are Fast Attack), unless they are immobilized.
  • Victory by Victory Points

Mission 5 - The Emperor's Will

  • Night Fighting, Mysterious Objectives, Reserves
  • Each player gets a single Primary Objective to place in their own table half. 3 VP.
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker
  • Variable Game Length
  • Victory by Victory Points

Mission 6 - The Relic

  • Night Fighting, Reserves
  • A single Primary Objective (the Relic) is deployed in the center of the table before terrain is placed. The relic can be picked up and moved by any model from a Scoring Unit. That model can never move more than 6" in a turn while carrying the relic. The relic can be dropped voluntarily, or when the model is killed. The Relic is worth 3 VP at the end of the game.
  • Secondary Objectives: Slay the Warlord, First Blood, Linebreaker.
  • Variable Game Length
  • Victory by Victory Points

Eternal War Missions

Which Eternal War Mission sounds the most fun?

See results


Whew! There was a lot to cover in the pre-game set up for 6th edition! Between choosing Allies and Fortifications, choosing table sides before setting terrain, rolling for Warlord and Psychic powers, and then new Missions and Objectives, there's a lot going on.

Why not take the poll on the right and tell the world which of these Missions sounds the most fun. I think the Relic is interesting, but I also like the simplicity of having a single objective on both sides (The Emperor's Will).

There is so much more to 6th edition Warhammer 40k than I have space to write in this single article, so please click here to continue reading Rule Changes Part 2 (Movement and Terrain)!


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    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for reading! I've really been enjoying 6th edition, so give it a shot, and let us know how it goes!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank for the summary and the links - finally getting back into the swing with my Bangles and it seems so different!!!

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      mdgriff, unfortunately you can NOT split fire to a different unit. If you have 10 men in a unit, then all 10 men must fire at the same enemy unit. I think the rules mean that if 1 of your men A) doesn't have range to the enemy unit, or B) cannot see the enemy due to something blocking his line of site, then he simply can't shoot. He cannot choose another enemy unit.

      I know, that sucks! This has been a complaint of mine for 10 years now with 40k. If I have an anti-tank gun in my unit, I should be able to have my soldier target a tank, while the rest of my unit targets infantry. It sucks to waste a whole turn of shooting to fire only 1 weapon that will be effective.

      I think they wrote the rules that way to "keep it simple", but the other rules can get so complicated that I don't think this would slow the game down. The good news is, though, that there is a new special rule in 6th edition called "Split Fire" that allows you to do exactly what you want. Unfortunately, it is only available to a few elite units... I think some units in the new Dark Angels codex will have it! Thanks for reading!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm having trouble grasping one of the rules. Under the shooting phase it states that "all models in the unit must shoot at the same target unit", then goes on to say that if a model cannot shoot at the same target it can't shoot. That really doesn't make any sense. If an additional separate enemy unit is in range, shouldn't I be able to fire on it?

    • profile image

      7 years ago


    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      Max, yes it does. I've actually not rolled this deployment a single time, so I think I might request it the next time I game. It's not any more rare than the other deployments (same odds), so it's odd to think now that it hasn't come up once! I imagine it will change the game pretty dramatically, depending on your list.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Does short table edge deployment mean playing across the width of the table?

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks, Mush. I've got two more parts almost ready to come online!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good read, thnx


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