Overwatch Overhaul

GW gives us a 9th ed 40k update about overwatch!

We’ve been taking a look at some of the changes to the core rules that will have the biggest impact on your games. The studio has received a lot of feedback about Overwatch – so these updates are designed to make it a more deliberate and thoughtful action. The goal is to help balance melee-oriented versus shooty armies and inject a little more strategy on both sides.

What is Overwatch?

Simply put, it’s the snapshots a unit takes when an enemy is running in their direction, blades in hand and warcries in their throats. 

Overwatch plays a crucial role in Warhammer 40,000 – it causes armies that prefer melee combat to exercise a bit of caution as they rush to get to grips with the enemy, and punishes them for charging into heavy firepower. While that’s still true in the new edition of the game, things will work a little differently in practice. 

What’s New?

The first and biggest change is that Overwatch has shifted from a standard reaction to a Core Stratagem, costing 1 Command point to perform. As Stratagems can only be used once per phase, you’ll have to think long and hard about your odds of success. For example, Aggressors armed with flamestorm gauntlets are sure to roast some of the attackers, whilst a half-strength Astra Militarum squad may struggle to cause enough damage to warrant the cost.  

Once you decide to fire Overwatch, it works pretty much as it has in the current edition, with shots hitting on unmodified rolls of six unless specified otherwise. 

Overall, this is a huge boost to massed assault armies, such as Orks or Tyranids, that excel at smashing dozens of units into the enemy line all at once. Where previously, each one of those units would face retaliatory fire, now, your opponent will only be able to target ONE of your changing units, so will have to choose very carefully indeed! Do you stop the rampaging Trygon from smashing a tank or that horde of 30 Hormagaunts from shredding an infantry platoon? No easy choice.

Terrain Benefits

When facing a big gunline unit that’s dug into some solid terrain, this crucial boost can make your opponent think twice, especially if it’s a long-range charge that may well end in failure. 

You may find that some units benefit from other special rules that modify Overwatch as well, such as the T’au Empire’s For the Greater Good special rule. One of our favourite new ones is a Battle Trait your units can receive as part of a Crusade force, permanently granting them FREE and improved Overwatch.

Your ice-cold veterans are having NONE of that enemy charge! Free Overwatch attacks like this are few and far between, but they’re worth seeking out because they don’t prevent you from using the Stratagem in the same phase.

Be careful, though – a savvy enemy might be able to catch you off-guard if you’re in their deployment zone. The Strategic Reserves rule allows a unit to deploy on their own table edge, even if it’s within Engagement Range (1”) of an enemy, and proceed to make attacks as though they charged! This is such a situational rarity that it probably won’t come up very often, but a stunt like that completely bypasses Overwatch to surprise unwary or careless opponents. 

In general, attackers will want to carefully choose the order of their charges to coax the other player into using Overwatch prematurely, and defenders will need to consider whether they should withhold their Overwatch fire for later. You may find some units or circumstances granting Overwatch without the need for a Stratagem – these will be very valuable indeed!


What do you think about these updates to Overwatch? Head to the Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram to share your thoughts using #New40K, and stay tuned for more information about the new edition each day.


* Take a look at this article to learn more about how terrain works in the new edition.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

23 Responses to “Overwatch Overhaul”

  1. Avatar
    Paul Winters June 17, 2020 9:04 am #

    How am I supposed to stop Shield Drones from charging my Slaanesh Chariots if I cannot use all my whips in overwatch? GW didn’t think this through.

  2. Avatar
    ChosenOfKhorne June 17, 2020 10:11 am #

    I think we all know one thing for sure: If Reecio was involved in play testing, Tau will receive the healthy nerf they deserve. Probably the drones will be immobile and suffer reactor overheat for a mortal wound on a 4+ each turn. Reecio’s evil plan for Tau subjugation is soon to come true…..

  3. Avatar
    Drythelm June 17, 2020 10:17 am #

    This change made my Tyranid fears flip so much. The blast weapons made me weary, but my hopes were higher after the move and shoot changes and the promise to fix monster/terrain interaction, but this is a game changer. This is the first change that makes it feel like this really is a whole new edition, and not just 8.5. I’m very excited to see the whole rules set.

    My Sisters force is also looking forward to this change. I had been building a Repentia blob, and then I was considering changing to minimum unit sizes and was a bit worried about damage output and survivability of only 5 man squads, but this level of overwatch protection might save them even in 9 man squads if I’m sneaky.

    Also, I need to know more about this table edge from reserves auto charge. Seems like a rare occurrence, but this is the type of stuff where turn 3 counter-charge can save your back lines. You might even be able to bait a super unit into your table edge for a from reserves smashing.

  4. Avatar
    TheRaven June 17, 2020 10:58 am #

    I really appreciate how much GW has been listening to the fan base to help address some of the main points of contention of 8th and respect how much effort goes into development and testing. Although I do like the strategy involved of choosing which unit you want to perform Overwatch with, I think I was hoping for more of a randomized version so all defending units would still “get a chance”, like each defending unit gets to roll a D6 and on a 4+ they can then roll for Overwatch (this feels like it would better simulate the “we were prepared” vs “we got surprised” balance and add a bit of intrigue).

    Also, I know more details are to come so am being patient, but I’m still sitting on how I feel about paying a CP for Overwatch. Overwatch has felt like such a routine part of the game for so long that paying a CP for it kind of feels like paying a CP for something like Advancing or a Morale test, but again, I know there is more to come.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep listening to Val, the Falcon, and “Paul your host” to sort everything out and brighten my days while I hold for further updates.

  5. Avatar
    Matt June 17, 2020 11:45 am #

    I assume this change was made to speed up the game?

    Regulating overwatch to a stratagem on the face of things seems like they’re pretty much removing it from the game. Most players (especially Tau ones) know how useless overwatch can be even with multiple units shooting. I can’t imagine many players wasting a command point just to have one unit do it.

    • Reecius
      Reecius June 17, 2020 2:32 pm #

      As it was told to us that is the main reason. The devs thought it was a lot of rolling dice for little in game impact. I don’t like it much personally as it tends to do nothing and take a lot of time or go crazy and totally change the course of a game with some wild luck which isn’t super fun (although it can be very exciting). I’m not super sad to see it go myself, but I didn’t hate it before either.

      • Avatar
        marandamir June 17, 2020 9:12 pm #

        Doesn’t this nerf tau like crazy? They mentioned some crusade thingy giving free overwatch but is that worth taking? They seem to have still built in some support for the concept with terrain/detachment boosts, which is weird if the actual effect of the change is going to be the effective removal of it.

        • Avatar
          Matt June 18, 2020 1:37 am #

          Yes and no. For Tau to make overwatch effective you had to:

          1) Play the T’au sept
          2) Take lots of Counterfire systems on units like Missilesides and Riptides
          3) March your army around the board holding hands all the time

          So the virtual removal of overwatch doesn’t nerf Tau per se, just deletes an effective-but-dead-boring-as-hell build.

        • Avatar
          Brakhal June 18, 2020 3:27 am #

          Tau existed long before overwatch. They will adapt. Time for less kauyon and more mont’ka.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy June 18, 2020 6:05 am
            #

            The one caveat is that pre-Overwatch Tau had other major factors going for them- for example, cheap, spammable railguns that could destroy most vehicles in a single shot if they connected, or the jump-shoot-jump shenanigans that allowed them to fire at the enemy without being engaged themselves.

            I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a return to old high-mobility Tau being their default state, but as it stands the rules don’t support that at all and it would basically necessitate an entirely new codex to make it work.

        • Avatar
          abusepuppy June 18, 2020 6:03 am #

          I am assuming that Tau will get some kind of change to the For the Greater Good rule, because if it’s left as-is (and with what we know about the Overwatch strat) it becomes almost completely useless, even for Tau sept. But I think we can expect some FAQs to change a decent number of rules overall, so I wouldn’t be too worried about melee dominance quite yet.

      • Avatar
        Matt June 17, 2020 9:47 pm #

        Can’t actually say I’m really that sad to see it go either. Even as Tau the only way to make it reliably effective was to build your army around it and fustercluck in a corner. Not a lot of fun for either player.

    • Avatar
      Lex June 17, 2020 3:04 pm #

      Time clock pros would forego Overwatch in the later rounds to save their clock for more important things, so I would think that your guess is a good one.

  6. Avatar
    DaleM June 17, 2020 12:28 pm #

    A breath of fresh air. The change to Overwatch is answer to many a prayer. Now if we can just go back to rerolls being a rarity and the game will be so much faster.

  7. Avatar
    Zweischneid June 17, 2020 9:09 pm #

    A nice step in the right direction, but the „damage-per-CP“ seem vastly greater for Overwatch than for the Cut em Down Strat in almost all cases, combined with the fact that cc-armies still must charge to deliver damage while many shoots units no longer must fall back to deliver theirs.

    The thought is there, but it still seems heavily skewed towards shorty armies in „what you get for a single CP“ both in damage and in controlling the flow/tempo of the game.

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr June 18, 2020 2:31 am #

      I’m not sure it’s actually all that skewed. For overwatch, you are still hitting on a 6, but need to roll to wound and your opponent will get a save. Unless you are putting out a crazy number of shots, I think this matches pretty well with doing a mortal wound on a 6 when falling back.
      Not saying either is massive damage dealers, but it is pretty matched.

      • Avatar
        Zweischneid June 18, 2020 3:56 am #

        Really? Ever tried charging some Acolytes or Bloodletters into a Repulsor with a Chapter Master nearby or some such?

        I’ll take even a guaranteed (never mind 16.6% of one) MW over that any day.

        And if it really isn’t much of a difference (I doubt that), it be all the more reason to just make overwatch mirror Cut em Down for 1 dice per model with a MW on a 6.

        If the end result is comparable in damage dealt in most situations, at the very least you’re speeding things up immensely, remove triggering again all kinds of effects, re-rolls, defensive-die-rolls-as-you-said, etc.., etc..

        • Avatar
          Brakhal June 18, 2020 4:57 am #

          To be fair, both overwatch and cut em down can dish massive damage, if you’re extremely lucky.

          That said, the overwatch stratagem is much better, in terms of consistency. Weapons and sinergies can bypass the 6s, and there’s a significant range difference.

          Just don’t use cut em down. Yes, overwatch will be used by some units, and it will have results, but only once per turn. I would rather remove both totally, but still it is a hell of an improvement. I can live with that.

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid June 18, 2020 5:32 am
            #

            Sure. It’s a massive improvement. I am not disputing that.

            It’s just somewhat irritating that they had the right idea of limiting overwatch / giving cc-armies a balancing equivalent (well, the idea has been around for years, but still), but than didn’t make them genuine equivalents (or at the very, very, very, very least priced the more useful variant more expensively in the in-game currency one (now thankfully) has to pay for it).

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy June 18, 2020 6:08 am
            #

            Part of the difference is that overwatch went from being an existing game mechanic to something you have to pay for to use, whereas Cut Them Down went from not existing at all to being something you have an option for. Within the context of the current books, this is a pretty big difference- because the current shooting and melee units are balanced around the assumption that overwatch exists and is automatic.

            (I do agree that Cut Them Down is kinda a trashy stratagem, though, and even Overwatch is not an exciting one. I would expect that most players wouldn’t bother spending CP on it in most situations.)

      • Avatar
        Zweischneid June 18, 2020 4:12 am #

        And overwatch is IMO definitely a massive damage dealer.

        It single-handedly invalidates entire armies such as mono-Ynnari that have no ability to stop overwatch (among other cc-staples like improving charges, etc..) and rely on fairly pricy, squishy models to get in to do their thing.

        You’re talking mono-Khorne or GSC to a tournament, the one thing you’re spending the most time for in list building is trying to figure out how you’ll be able to play if you run up against Repuslors, Tau, Aggressors, Custodes-Tanks and their horrific overwatch that may vaporize your main-damage dealers in overwatch alone, even after you spend a gazillion CP trying to get them in through screens and auspex scan and whatnot.

        And if you think Overwatch damage isn’t a big deal and fine the way it is currently (or will be in 9th), why not let Mortarion or a Knight Gallant or a Smash Captain throw some dice and hope for that lucky hit with their actual weapon the same way a shooty army might do for the big cannon on their Repulsor, instead of paying 1 CP for a 1/6th chance for a single MW?

        If it’s not a massive difference, it wouldn’t really matter much giving cc armies that straw, no?

  8. Avatar
    Rob Butcher June 18, 2020 12:01 am #

    I was surprised at so harsh the change is, but understand Stu Black’s reasoning of the ineffectiveness/ubiquitous of overwatch. It was free, so we did it. In three years, I totally wiped out ONE unit stopping it from charging me – and that’s with Imperial Infiltrators for whom 6s generate an extra hit and an auto-wound!! (No-one tried charging my Centurion Devastators for some reason…lol.)

    This is one snippet from many new parts for “Indomitus” and needs looking at within the new terrain standardisation. More terrain means better obscuration of approaching units and more charging from behind a wall. I want to learn more.

  9. Avatar
    Amof June 18, 2020 3:48 am #

    REEEEEEEEEEEEECIO! Already playing the long game getting Tau nerfed going into 9th, Im glad our anti-tau agent on the play testing team is still alive and well. We look forward to his continuing sabotage of the Tau faction.

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