Welcome to my ongoing series looking at the evolution of 40k. With 8th edition seemingly looming on the horizon, now looked like a good time to take a look at the evolution of the shooting phase.
The shooting phase has always been a major component of 40k. It has seen some radical changes since the early days of second edition, with each new edition of the game seeming to increase the power of this particular phase. The most recent rumours released by Games Workshop seem to imply that some aspects of 2nd edition may be returning to the game, so it is interesting to me to look back and see where we have come from.
Most players with agree that it is one of the most powerful phases in the game, with many games being decided in the shooting phase.
2nd edition (1993-1998)- Modifying your Success
The rules for the shooting phase in 2nd edition 40k are quite different to the current state of the game. All models were restricted to a front 90 degree firing arc, meaning that model placement and positioning was even more important in 2nd edition than in the current game. True Line of Sight was also used in this edition, with the effects of cover affecting the To Hit values for units. For example, soft cover (such as hedges, shrubs and most vegetation) incurred a -1 To Hit penalty, whereas hard cover (walls, buildings, craters, etc) incurred a -2 To Hit penalty.
The actual system for determining whether a unit was hit has remained unchanged since this time. The ballistic skill value of a unit was used to determine the die roll required for the shot to be successful. For example, a Space Marine attempting to shoot an Ork behind soft cover would require a 4+ to hit (a ballistic skill of 4 requiring a 3+, with a -1 penalty for soft cover).
In 2nd edition, units had to shoot at the closest enemy unit. However, units could ignore enemy units in cover or units that were fleeing. In addition, units could choose to ignore or specifically target enemy vehicles. This meant that cheap screening units were of particular importance in 2nd edition, as these units could be used to shield more valuable units in your army from enemy fire power. Also, the target would have to be chosen without measuring the distance between the units. If the enemy unit was out of range, then the shorts were wasted. This meant that estimating the distance between your units was a very valuable skill to have in 2nd edition 40k, as poor guessing of distances resulted in more wasted shots in the shooting phase.