8th Edition: The Shooting Phase

Hey everybody, Danny here to talk about the big changes to the shooting phase in the fabled 8th edition.  Me-sa think people gunna die?

So, GW has given us a lot of breadcrumbs about how shooting is going to change in this new edition, and let’s look at the highlights before diving into the deep dark of how this changes everything.
1. All models have splitfire.  Yes, your heavy weapon can shoot something different than your special weapon.
2. AP no longer exists in a Yes/No binary, it is now 2nd edition with an armor penalty.
3. Cover is not a separate save but rather a bonus to your save.
4. Templates are gone, so some weapons do multiple hits (flamers do D6 autohits to a unit within 8)
5. Weapons can now do multiple wounds to a single model (lascannons do D6 wounds)
6. The S/T chart is changed.  It is now much more like Bloodbowl with 5 flat If/Then statements.  If S is half or less than T, then wound on a 6+.
If S is less than T, then wound on a 5+.
If S and T are equal, then wound on a 4+.
  If S is greater than T, then wound on a 3+.
  If S is double or more than T, wound on a 2+.
This majorly changes the math of the game. 
7. Pistols can fire into an enemy unit within 1 inch, even if engaged in combat.
8. Independent characters are gone, so no more characters in units, but characters cannot be targeted unless they are the closest enemy or have 10 wounds or more.
9. Snapfire is gone, and heavy weapons just have a blanket -1 to hit when moving (including vehicles).
Wow, so that is a lot of changes to the shooting phase, and what we have left is a much leaner phase that is still very, very deadly.  Let’s get into the math first.
Everything can hurt everything, so volume of fire matters a lot in this new world.  A squad of 20 grots can now actually chip wounds off anything, so you are never in a situation where you have a unit in a bad position that cannot in any way contribute to the game in terms of damage.  Taking the standard 4+ to hit against a target with a 3+ armor save, like say a Wraithknight, you need 36 shots to punch through one wound at anything S4 or less.  This is infinitely more damage than S4 and below could do to a Wraithknight, or a Knight, or a Morkanaught, etc in 7th edition.   Again, massed fire is real, not that it will kill a big beastie in one volley, but you can start to chip wounds. With big models now degrading like AoS, this can be super meaningful as the power level between a healthy monster and a moderate monster is noticeable.
The change to the wound chart is also big as a lot of light weapons are more powerful but heavier weapons are slightly less reliable.  Against T6, like say Rowboat, S4 wounds on a 5+ now, not a 6+.  Suddenly, bolters are wounding a flat 16% more against T6 and T7 targets. Of course, the mighty Lascannon used to wound T6 or T7 on a 2+ now only wounds on a 3+, so while Rowboat is getting hurt more by bolter fire, he is getting hurt less by anything S8-11.  With his mighty 2+ save, I think he’d much rather be wounded more by bolters with no armor penalty than the Lascannon with a -3 armor penalty and D6 wounds.
Again, the math changes quite a bit as once you hit T5, very few weapons outside of the heaviest weapons (like the unseen S11+ weapons that have been teased to exist, which are probably the old Destroyer weapons) will wound on a 2+, meaning that big, heavy, single shot weapons need to pick their targets carefully as they are going to fail to wound just a bit more.  The mighty scatbike gets toned down as instead of wounding most infantry on 2+s suddenly need to see 3+s, and this change of math just slightly makes S6 less of the golden number.  Really, the sweet spot is going to be S8, S10, and S12+ to ensure that you are wounding on a consistent 2+ against a variety of targets.    Of course, 2W terminators are even more viable with this as fewer weapons now wound them on a 2+, so they are 16% more survivable in shooting to a lot of weapons, and well, with 2 wounds, that is a pretty big uptick in durability.
With the change to characters, the ability to deep strike or otherwise move freely across the board is going to be key.  Being able to drop pod down behind enemy lines and single out a character hiding in the back could be the key to victory.  Model placement is still very much a thing here as you need to be sure you have buffer units not only in the front and side of your important characters but also behind, if you know you are going against an army with maneuverability.  This is what will likely make flyers a bit scary as they will be fast enough to get weird angles to isolate characters. The order you shoot matters as well as you can peel off a screening unit with one of your units and then have another unit strike at the exposed character. If you aren’t thinking how to peel an onion, and you aren’t planning your activation in a specific order (with contingencies cause this is a dice game), then you are not setting yourself up for success.
Splitfire for everyone (again that’s AoS), means that you can actually build units to handle a variety of threats.  The standard Tactical Squad is actually Tactical now as you can have a Lascannon or Missile Launcher for heavy targets, a flamer for hordes, and the standard bolters for anything else or units far away from the flamer.  This opens up a lot of play as being able to build for multiple threats is going to be key. We’ll see if this applies to single models with multiple weapons (I think it will), as then vehicles with Heavy Bolter sponsons can tackle infantry while their big cannon goes trophy hunting.  Now that you can move and shoot with only a minor penalty, taking heavy weapons isn’t a detriment, and it forces you to deploy tactically as Lascannons and other low RoF weapons need to start where they can be used at full effect while higher RoF weapons can advance and still get a lot of mileage. Even if the low RoF have to move, they can still fire off a shot while re-positioning.
With multiple hits and multiple wounds as well with armor penalties, target priority and having multiple threat vectors is going to make or break an army.  If you bring an army with nothing but high rate of fire but low or no AP and only single damage, you will struggle to take on the big threats. A Morkanaught takes over 500 bolter shots to kill, and that’s just one, and we know that Imperial Knights are going to be even tougher. Of course, if you bring nothing but Lascannons, Missile Launchers, and lots of low RoF, high AP, high damage weapons, you will not have the throughput to take on several squads of 30 Gants or 20 Khorne Berserkers.  Essentially, your army needs to have multiple tools to be able to own the shooting phase, and if you waste a precious Lascannon shot into a single model with 1 wound, you are likely setting yourself up for failure.  This also means that your army composition will need to be balanced as skew will have far too many rocks to their scissors, and with a balanced army, the best general making the best use of their tools is going to win far more.  Holy Shnikes, is that balance I smell?
Let’s not forget autohitting weapons.  Any time you get to remove a variable from this game, you are getting far more utility than you might think. We know flamers autohit, so imagine a squad of 10 (like say Sisters of Silence).  10 D6 autohitting wounds is 35 hits on average, not too bad at all, especially with the potential to spike. Since S4 is infinitely better, that can chip a wound or two (if lucky) from a biggie or put the hurt on a big unit. Against a slightly toughter unit like a Carnifex, that’s 11 wounds and 3-4 wounds off the beastie, with again, potential for spikes, but in 7th, that would only be 1-2 wounds at most (assuming 35 S4 hits, which 10 flamers could not cause with templates against a single model). Against a big unit. remember Morale is very different now, so causing 8 casualities to a unit of 20 is actually a lot more damage by the end of the turn (D6+1 against an LD 7 unit).
Maybe useful again
3+ armor on infantry is going to be absolutely money in the shooting phase, especially if you can take large squads of it.  CSM, Marines, even Sisters of Battle are looking at these changes with joy because a 3+ armor save is legit, and with a +1 from cover, which Infantry can gain far more easily than anything else, this becomes a 2+.  Suddenly, a horde of 20 Berserkers have a 2+ armor save, so standard bolters are even less effective.   You definitely need to plan on seeing this, and I am imagine plasma weaponry will be in vogue simply that it tends to be high S, big AP, and a decent RoF.
Lastly, pistols seem dumb, but they are great now.  They add an extra attack to a unit, allowing them to be stuck in combat and still fire, then swing in during melee.  This actually helps units with a lot of good pistols like plasma, inferno, grav, hand-flamers, etc, because fighting them because double-trouble.  If you charge them, they get to overwatch then you fight, and if you are stuck in combat for a round, before even the melee phase, they get to whittle you down with fire, all before the new mini-game of choosing which units swing in melee.  As Travis and Adam pointed out, you may not want to cut off that standard issue Plasma Pistol from your captains, especially since we haven’t seen the profile of a plasma weapon yet. Also, all those new pistols in Traitor Legions that seemed like junk may actually be useful now.
Overall, the shooting phase is a much more nuanced part of the game with way less auto-spam.  You could get away with S6 spam all day in 7th, but now, that is a quick way to lose the game.  We don’t know what Grav does yet, but chances are, it will not be a game winner like it was in 7th.  Time to break out all those old heavy weapons.
Also, random Danny prediction, Sisters of Battle will be scary good with their nice mix of bolters, melta, and flamers, all on 3+ armor saves for a cheap price.  Thanks everybody for reading, send us pics of your Kans for the contest, and be sure to check out Patreon so I can get a SoB army to show all of you how right I am! Well, no, I’m probably wrong and rest assured, none of the Patreon money ever goes to me.