I remember all the unbalanced crap from the old editions (Leafblowers, DAVU Falcons, Thunderwolf Spam, Rhino Rush, Fish of Fury, Taudar, and so on and so forth) and, honestly, very little of it was unbeatable. If you played smart, played the mission, and had a plan, you had even odds of squeaking out a win.
I even think that is, to some extent, still true. There are a couple caveats to it, though, and a couple indicators that something is more seriously amiss *now* than there ever was *then.* My problem, honestly, is less with 10th edition specifically than with what GW is doing with the game overall.
1) The game is brainless
There just...isn't any thinking involved in 40k anymore. At least not that I've been able to detect. Every time I play a game, there is never a turn where I feel like I need to make a strategic choice which will dictate how I play my game from there on out. There's very little strategic flexibility.
I feel like the game is decided more-or-less at two times: When you make your army list and when the dice are rolled. Nothing I do on the table requires much thought at all. The units go to claim objectives or score secondaries, and there is always a pretty obvious, optimal way you need to do that, and either it works or it doesn't (dice) and nothing else really matters. This is partly why the Aeldari are so dominant right now: they can functionally remove part of the equation that's randomized (dice) and then it's all about movement. End of conversation, really.
In earlier editions, there was some of this at play, but never to this extent. Part of this is because the way objectives were structured were different (4th edition with their VP system, 5th with only troops claiming objectives and then only at the end of the game) and that killing your opponent's *entire army* just wasn't usually in the cards (this was a function of cover being much, much better). The other part was, honestly, the size of the table shrinking.
I remember thinking when I played 40k. That hasn't happened much for me since 7th edition (which was a trash fire, and no mistake, but it was honestly more fun).
2) Barriers to Entry
If I understand what proponents of modern 40k have told me (over and over again), the game is (1) balanced at 2000 points and (2) requires a massive amount of LOS blocking terrain to be evenly spaced all over the board.
Now don't go telling me "that was always the case!" because it very much wasn't and I have the battle reports archived on this site going back over a decade to prove it. The game used to be balanced around 1500 points or so (we used to joke how absurd the 'Ard Boyz amphetamine parrot was with its 2500 point limit), which meant the armies were smaller. Additionally, you could play a perfectly balanced game with a variety of terrain types scattered around. You could even do this asynchronously, since cover wasn't always essential to every unit or even every army, you could create your *own* cover, and so on and so forth. Yeah, games on Planet Bowling Ball were sort of stupid, but at least they were plausibly playable experiences.
With the game as it stands now, you need a lot more models to play a balanced game ("Combat Patrol" you say, but what exactly are you supposed to do between the 400-500 point level and the 2000 point one, eh?), you need a lot more terrain to play a balanced game (so I guess you're going to an LGS or just, like, not playing), and then they also regularly change the point values of your army, meaning you, newbie that you are, can find your only collection of models no longer useable as they were. This if fine for those of us who have been in the hobby long enough to have a deep bench, but how the hell does the new guy feel?
Seriously, how do you get new people to play? Because nothing about this edition is conducive to it, and pretty soon we'll be paying subscription fees just to use the Yhwh-condemneded app.
3) The CORE RULES are unbalanced
I think this is a pretty major distinction between the old editions and this one. Yeah, vehicles were pretty powerful in 5th edition and psychics were really powerful in 6th/7th, but all of those problems were adaptable problems. You took a bunch of meltaguns in 5th and figured out how to deliver them and vehicles were manageable. Psychic powers were always a giant beslubbering gamble in 6th/7th, so even money you did okay without needing to counter them. Etc, etc..
But here comes 10th, and pretty much instantly everyone is moaning and groaning about Devastating Wounds and Lethal Hits and Towering and a half dozen other core mechanics of the game which, if people complaining were to be believed, broke the game. I'm sorry, but that's never been a beslubbering thing before this edition. Well, okay, the Virus Grenade in 2nd Edition, but...anything else? Can't think of it. People howled and howled about flyers showing up in 6th, but other than those Necron Invasion Lists (which were rough), it didn't matter that much.
Who knows? Maybe Towering wasn't that big a deal either, but we'll never actually know, since GW hit it with the nerf bat barely a year into the edition existing. But something tells me that what is actually going on is simply this: GW stopped playtesting their games sufficiently or, barring that, GW is deliberately unbalancing their game with the understanding they can just go back and fix it later, thereby leading their loyal fanbase around by the nose as they get them to be buy Thing A only later to force them into buying Thing B, and, sure sure, this has always been a part of the game, but at least back in the old days you had a year or so of playing with your toys before the rug got ripped out. Now? Sounds like a waste of money to build anything according to the rules you are provided with, since they aren't really the rules you'll be playing with for more than a few weeks, and maybe some of you can go out and buy/build/paint a whole beslubbering army in a month, but I sure as hell can't and neither can anyone else I know.
4) The Balance Data
As a final note, I'm going to take some issue with the idiotic Balance Data that GW has been throwing at us over the last edition or two after each major tournament. They give each army a win percentage based upon their performance at the tournament in question, with the idea that the ideal balance is something at "50%" or so. Okay, so some basic statistical problems here to go over:
1. These are small data sets. Even several tournaments are fairly small datasets. Now, granted, I don't know what other data they could collect, but a couple hundred games in one region among a subset of, what, 200 players? Hmmmm....
2. There is simply no way to account for the experience or knowledge of the players in question. Now, granted, there is an extent to which this doesn't matter (see my first argument about the game being mostly brainless), but to aim for a 50% win ratio for all factions seems to suggest that player skill or experience does not matter at all, since, statistically speaking, every game is a coin flip. In other words, GW is deliberately designing the game so that the outcome is functionally random in any given game. This is bad. A good player should beat a bad one pretty much all the time, and of course the good player will play a faction that works in accordance with the rules such that it will be functionally very difficult to beat, so every tournament should (and does) see statistical swings. This is normal and good. What should happen in a healthy game is that those statistical outliers should be able to be brought into line with the existing ruleset though adaptive play and clever plans.
That is not how 40k works. It never quite worked that way, per se, but it was less like that back then, which leads me to my last point here:
3. The outcome of games is presumed to be static barring intervention by the "balance dataslate" which is, at its heart, a dishonest way of shunting fans from buying one kind of army into buying another one. If you have a low tier faction, the odds of you winning the game are much, much, much less than with a high tier faction, by design, and this just didn't used to be the case. Yeah, there were stinker factions from time to time, but there were bigger swings. I remember a Dark Eldar player being at Table 1 in round 5 of the Baltimore Grand Tournament one year--this was *5th Edition* Dark Eldar, which were not very good at all--and we were all impressed at how well the guy played. I won a tournament at PAX East some years ago with Imperial Fists (who have sucked since time immemorial), taking a quirky, bizarre list that had no business beating Abbadon and his bullamphetamine parrot. Statistical outliers, sure, but back then Games Workshop didn't give a amphetamine parrot about tournament players (as well they shouldn't) and focused, instead, on whether the game was fun for the casual player.
I don't know what a "casual player" of 40k even is, anymore. I can't reasonably see how such a person might exist. I guess if they just ignore all the rules GW keeps changing (I suppose how would they be expected to know they are changing, anyway?) and just sort of plays the game. But that kind of play isn't supported anymore. It's not the focus. That is what I miss. But somewhere along the line GW figured out that if they catered (and manipulated) tournament players, they could make money forever, since they couldn't get the volume of casual players to buy in to a game getting progressively more expensive and more complex.
You can disagree with me all you want, but this game is in a very unhealthy place. I've defended it for ages--decades even--but I can't really do it anymore. Unless you are already in, there's very little reason to start. The older editions were absolutely more playable (NOT YOU 7th). They were more fun, too, so long as you weren't playing some WAAC jerk. Now? Now every game I play is a blowout win or a blowout loss, and honestly I haven't lost a game of 40k in years and years.
I plan on trying more 10th edition, but it's not looking good. I barely know of any players, let alone know ones who want to play. I'm very bummed out about it, too - hell, I'd love to be proven wrong. I'm just not seeing it. GW has weaponized the worst aspects of their business model to make a game that is uncomfortable to collect and boring to play.