Getting Started in Warhammer 40k
What is Warhammer 40k?
Warhammer 40k is a miniatures wargame designed and produced by Games Workshop (located in Nottingham, England) that features highly detailed scale models allowing you to join the fight for survival and conquest in a dystopian science fiction future. Where Age of Sigmar is a skirmish level game, 40k features grand armies, tanks and aircraft all mobilized for war. Essentially mankind has reached and conquered most of the known galaxy with the guidance of the Emperor, an immortal psychic of nearly limitless power. After a tragic civil war (known as the Horus Heresy) sets the empire of man (known as the Imperium) on fire, mankind now fights a desperate battle against the numerous alien races among the stars and the chaos filth that threaten it from within. This sets the stage for an epic space-drama with powerful characters, wondrous battlegrounds and unimaginable conflicts. The lore behind 40k is breathtaking in its depth and will inspire hundreds of games. Some players also like to play 40k at a competitive level, using unique tournament rules (supplied by third-party groups) to adjust some of the game play mechanics. Since 40k is a very narrative (story-driven) game, some units are more effective than others, so these tournament packs (or “Comp systems”) attempt to add a level of balance to the game for more competitive play. No matter what type of game you play, Warhammer 40,000 has the flexibility to entertain you for years.
*Would I like 40K?*
-A lot of people like Warhammer 40,000 for very different reasons and I will try to highlight some of the more popular ones below. This is by no means a comprehensive list: people can love the same thing for vastly different reasons. What is most important is that you do what you love and find a local gaming group that encourages you in it.
-On the hobby end, 40k offers some of the most diverse and extreme modeling opportunities around. With a product range this massive, GW has a line for just about every aesthetic out there. Whether you like the functional and rigid look of the Space Marine tanks or the sleek curves of Eldar jet-bikes, you will certainly be able to find an army that makes you go “Well that looks awesome!” In addition to a wide array of artistic designs is a swath of modeling materials, tools and paints. Warhammer 40k is a very visually appealing game that you will always be able to discover more in.
-Many hobbyists enjoy a very narrative based game of 40k. Later in this article you will read about the various campaign supplements that allow you to recreate dramatic moments set in the 40k universe. These narrative games often pit unequal forces against one another in an attempt to drive a desperate story arch or fit into a larger campaign series. To many, this is the heart of 40k, where beautiful models are used to recreate (or enact) large scale engagements of a dark futuristic universe. While every player wants to win a game, narrative groups often focus more on story elements and use rules to convey that story.
-Another very popular reason to play 40k is for competitive gaming. Many people enjoy the complexity of the 40k rules and the enjoyment comes from tactical superiority against their opponent. Competitive players often compete in local and large scale tournaments that use various rules system to aid in “balancing” the game. For example, a popular tournament guide system is the ITC, which includes alternate rules and a details FAQ to aid players and tournament organizers. There are many forums, podcasts and websites dedicated to competitive 40k which you can read about further down in this page.
-No matter which style of play you choose, it is important to know that 40k is a complex game and it will take time to become comfortable with the rule set. I encourage you to do a few small demo games, watch some battle reports and take in the rules slowly. A sure-fire way to become disappointed in the game is to spend a couple hundred dollars on it and expect to win right away. Take your time and explore the hobby as you go.
*Here is a fantastic battle report by miniature wargaming. Battle Reports allow you to get a feel for how a game is played and what you can expect when you walk up to a gaming table. No amount of videos can replace hands on experience, so be sure to find a local group (or grab an interested buddy) and try the game for yourself.*
*Where do I start with 40k?*
If you read the introduction above and are still interested in 40k, then the best place to start is at a local game night. Play a few demos, look at some models and chat with veterans about how the different armies function. Choosing an army is a big decision as it is a big investment of both money and time. Be sure you have a good idea of how each army plays, its unique aesthetic and if their lore intrigues you. Some armies may have access to more powerful units then others, but the only way you make a wrong choice is to pick an army that you don’t like the look of. Everything can be competitive if you work hard and learn the game, so always go with the army that captures your interest. Scroll down to the “Resources” section to find various forums and social media pages to get connected with players in your local area. These groups will be invaluable to getting you up and running in the game. Assuming you have a local game group I suggest the following purchase order:
1.) Choose a Start Collecting Box + Codex
Click here to see a full contents list of each Start Collecting box and a review of how each set performs for new players. These sets are the single best way to enter 40k as each gives you a selection of models at an incredible discount and a unique formation which makes each box a viable army. While some will say that you should start with the rule-book, I truly think that getting models in a new players hand’s is the key to instilling excitement for the game. I also suggest buying some glue and basic paints to get you started. At the same time, pick up the relevant codex. The codex is needed to help you understand how each unit in the Start Collecting set performs and what weapon options they have available. For example, without the codex you may build your Chaos Space Marines with 3 Heavy Weapons, which is not allowed as it exceeds the maximum for one unit. With your codex in hand you can see the various weapon options, how many you have available per unit and get excited about the lore of your army as you build it. The key point of this step is to get excited about this game!
2.) Download BattleScribe
BattleScribe is a (currently) free app for list-building across multiple game systems. Download the relevant data-file for 40k and start building the army list for your models. Battlescribe is very helpful for new players as it presents all relevant stats, weapon options and unique abilities in one easy to read format. I suggest doing this after you buy your codex but before building your models so you can see what is and is not a legal way to assemble your army. This tool will also allow you to plan out your next purchases, theorize some good lists and even explore what other armies are able to do without purchasing any other codex.
**REMEMBER** BattleScribe is just a tool that is fan-made. Do not take everything in it as 100% accurate, but double check everything by comparing it to your codex. I suggest this as a free, easy to use application for new players to help organize information.
3.) Buy the Core Rulebook
By now you have assembled and (hopefully) played a few games with your new army. You are invested in your faction and have some ways to do some easy lit building. Now s the time to really dig into what 40k has to offer and learn the rules. As your army grows and you play at higher point levels the more advanced rules (flyers, unique terrain, and destroyer weapons) will come into play. Now that you are growing out of the starter set level and into a full game size level you will need to understand those rules. You can buy the core rule book here, and this version contains some great background about the 40k universe as well. Also, you may be able to find a mini-rule book. These condensed rules are often included in campaign sets and the two player starter boxes. A very cheap one can be bought with the Kill-Teams box; which is a great value if you collect Space Marines or Tau.
4.) Play! (A TON!)
Now you have some models, a codex, the core rules and some software to assist in list design. For most armies this is all you need, others have access to more formations and data-slates through supplementary books, but we will not delve too far into those here. The key here is to really embrace your local gaming group and the way they play. Are they hard-core tournament gamers? Do they prefer narrative based games? What types of mission do they use? Is there any painting expectation? All of these are great questions to ask your friends. The best way to learn the game and remain excited for it is to play whenever possible. Feel free to proxy new models, try different list designs and explore you codex for all the fun units inside of it.
The armies of the 41st millennium are vast in both their army abilities and associated lore. Below you will find a little insight into the personality of the various forces of the 41st Millennium. Some armies are condensed into one entry to prevent repetition but you should absolutely research each and every army before you decide. You will find that each and every army in this game has a massive amount of background information that will give you endless inspiration.
The Imperium of Man
Adeptus Sororitas (A.K.A The Sisters of Battle)
Faith is the strongest shield in the Imperium and the Sisters of Battle are the embodiment of that faith. The religious powers of the 41st millennium are bound to have no “men-at-arms”, so they circumvent this law by a full army of women. Don’t let a technicality lead you into thinking these women are just stand-ins, these are battle hardened veterans. The Sisters have access to some of the best guns in the galaxy and functional power armor. They are, in fact, the best equipped humans in the Imperium without the genetic alterations of the Space Marines.
Adeptus Astartes: Grey Knights
The threat of Chaos Daemons is far too great to ignore. Despite being the best warriors that mankind has to offer, even the average Space Marine cannot hope to fight against the Daemons of Chaos without being tainted. That is why the Grey Knights exist; purge the daemon. Every soldier in this “Chapter” is a powerful psychic and has been outfitted with some of the most advanced weaponry in the Imperium. These Space Marines are the truth of the Emperor made manifest and prove invaluable against the corruption of chaos.
Adeptus Astartes: Space Marines
Space Marines represent the finest weapon that mankind can produce. Each Marine has been trained endlessly, well equipped, well armored and genetically modified to be the greatest defenders of the Imperium. To be a Space marine is to know strength without limit but duty without end. This codex represents the various chapters operating independently throughout the galaxy. Marines have access to some of the most powerful vehicles in the Imperium, Chapter tactics that offer in-game bonuses while offering a fantastic narrative for every game. There are several codexes that support different chapters of Space Marines. The Space Wolves embody ferocity and Viking culture. Blood Angels are haunted by a wretched curse. Dark Angels have as many horrific secrets as they do noble deeds. The Deathwatch looms in the shadows in their endless pursuit of destroying the many aliens that threaten the Imperium.
There are some amazing Start Collecting boxes for the various Space Marine chapters. Click on any of the links to see the contents of them.
Start Collecting! Space Wolves—Start Collecting! Space Marines—Start Collecting! Blood Angels
Adeptus Mechanicus: Cult Mechanicus + Skitarii
Even though these are two separate codexes they represent one arm of the Imperium in the story. The Adeptus Mechanicus (AM for short) is the keeper (and hunter) of all of humanities greatest technological achievements. If you want some serous Sci-Fi, this is the army for you. These guys have insane bionics, crazy weapons and an army of half-man-half-robot serfs (called Servitors) to do their bidding. This is Grim-Dark Sci-Fi at its best. From unique weapon ranges, limitless artifacts and crazy special rules, these guys play like no other faction in the game.
These forces share the Start Collecting! Skitarii box, and it’s an amazing value!
Astra Militarum (A.K.A. Imperial Guard)
The Astra Militarum represents the vast army of the Imperium. While the Space marines focus on quality, battle-hardened soldiers to win the day, the Astra Militarum calls upon the near limitless number of common men and women to raise arms against any threat. This is human army that embodies “Quantity over Quality”. Soldiers come from millions of worlds, some joining willingly while others are forcibly seeking repentance in the Penal legions. With so many worlds in the fiction, Astra Militarum possibly has some of the diverse types of units and aesthetics in the game. Players can focus on ground troops, mechanized warfare, air strikes and all points in between. The special operations troops of the Militarum are called the Militarum Tempestus. While the Tempestus units can act as an elite unit in the Astra Militarum codex, they also have a unique (though small) codex of their own. If you want to embody the “Every-day-Joe” of the Imperium and explore the endless modeling and narrative ideas of the galaxy, choose the Astra Militarum. They also have Start Collecting boxes for both the Astra Militarum and Militarum Tempestus, here are the links to them:
Start Collecting! Astra Militarum— Start Collecting! Militarum Tempestus
Forces of Chaos
Daemons are nightmares made manifest. Entities of the warp, daemons are only able to materialize in the physical realm when a tear has been made between this world and the next. Whether a massive amount of bloodshed has called in Khorne or an unstoppable plague has brought forth the daemons of Nurgle, the gods are always looking for ways to cross over. Daemons are likely the most random (lots of charts to roll on) and aesthetically diverse army in the game. Each of the four chaos gods has their own heralds, daemons, greater daemons and psychic powers, yet they can all work together as a single army. Nearly every unit has the option to deep strike (just appear) on the battlefield which opens up a tons of tactical flexibility. Click on the header to learn more about what daemons are and about the Warp itself. Daemons also have two Start Collecting boxes for Khorne and Nurgle; I’ll post a link to both for you here:
Start Collecting! Daemons of Khorne — Start Collecting! Daemons of Nurgle
Chaos Space Marines
After the Horus Heresy, the traitor Space Marine chapters were chased down into the giant Warp rift known as the Eye of Terror. Once in the Eye, the once noble Space marines became twisted copies of themselves. As more Space Marine chapters have fallen to chaos, their numbers swell. Led by the Champion of Chaos, Abbadon, the Chaos Space Marines employ the aid of like-minded daemons, fell Titans and insidious sorcerers. This is the anti-Imperium at its best. Model wise, this army has as much diversity as daemons but includes the vehicles and similar structure to Space Marines. This is a fantastic first army as it gives you access to armor, psykers, monstrous creatures and everything in between. The Chaos Space Marines also have a Start Collecting box which you can see here.
One specific sect within the Chaos Space Marines are those solely devoted to the chaos god Khorne. These followers received their own codex know as the Khorne Daemonkin and play very distinctly from normal Chaos Space Marines. Khorne Daemonkin (KDK) is all about eliminating units from the table; the more that is destroyed, the stronger your army becomes. Note that Khorne cares not fro where the blood flows, so even your troops being destroyed adds to your victory. The CSM have a starter box as well
Armies of Xenos
Before mankind ruled the galaxy, the Eldar controlled nearly all of space. As the galaxies premier superpower, they quickly descended into hedonism and decadence to occupy their near-immortal lives. The situation reached critical mass when the psychic energy given off by their unspeakable acts coalesced into one being in the Warp: Slaanesh. When the chaos god Slaanesh was born, its birth screams tore in the Eye of Terror into existence and brought the Eldar race from galaxy-wide superpower to scattered refugees. This army represents those Eldar that left their home and pursued discipline rather than indulgence and as such, were not there to be consumed by Slaanesh. Now the Eldar fight to reclaim a galaxy that they believe is rightfully theirs while also trying to undo the catastrophic mistakes of their past. The Eldar are a beautiful army with some amazing models. There is also a Start Collecting box for the Eldar which you can see by clicking here.
Not all Eldar turned to discipline to keep their souls safe after the birth of Slaanesh. Several of the dark hedonists that caused the Fall learned that if they inflict pain on other beings, Slaanesh would be satisfied for a time. In this way, the Dark Eldar were born; sadistic pirates and slavers who is sole desire is to inflict as much pain and suffering as they can on other races. These Eldar are incredibly fast, use a lot of poisoned weapons and have some of the best light vehicles in the game. If you want selfish, space pirate elves then this is the army for you. The Dark Eldar have an amazing Start Collecting box which you can find here.
Finishing up the list of Eldar sub-factions is the Harlequins. These mysterious Eldar are the guardians of the Black Library, a massive repository of knowledge compiled by the Eldar before the Fall. This is a small army that is really designed to support the Eldar and Dark Eldar forces. Unlike most armies in 40k, the Harlequins often focus on bright colors, fun patterns and aggressive melee combat. Harlequins were also featured in a recent boxed game call Death Masque, which you can see here. This makes the perfect start for any new player to Harlequins.
The oldest sentient race in 40k (perhaps daemons beat them) is the Necrons. These metallic automatons were once a vibrant and organic race known as the Necrontyr. The Necrontyr were cursed with an abnormally short life span and desired immortality over all else. Introduce another race known as the C’Tan, nearly all-powerful star beings that promised the Necrontyr immortal life at the cost of replacing their weak physical bodies with sleek metallic ones. As the transfer was nearing completion the Necrontyr discovered a terrible truth; the C’Tan were actually feeding upon their life force, turning healthy Necrontyr into soulless automatons known as the Necrons. After defeating the C’Tan for their betrayal the Necrons put themselves in a sort of sleep until they could discover a good next step. Now in the 41st millennium, these “Tomb Worlds” are awakening and the endless mechanical hordes of the Necrons rise again. The Necrons have a great Start Collecting box which you can see here.
Orks are simply a force of nature. These hulking Green-skinned warriors spread across the galaxy with only one purpose in mind: War. Basically these are warbands that centralize around a specific Warboss. When a Warboss declares a WAAAGH (basically a campaign) all other Orks gather around them and the full force of the race is thrown at the enemy. Orks are a horde army with access to some devastating mechanical support. Orks also stand out as being one of the most characterful armies in 40k, and you really have all the tools you need to make your very own WAAAGH. The Orks have a fantastic Start Collecting box which you can see here.
The Tau represents the youngest race in the 40k universe and represents the pinnacle of technological advancement and idealism. At the top of a rigid caste system are the Ethereal, the mysterious leaders of the Tau that almost no one can refuse. At the bottom of the caste are the Fire warriors, brave troops armed with the most advanced guns in the universe. The Tau often go into battle with highly sophisticated mech-suites to support them; each armed with a deadly array of weapons. These mech-suits range in size from the common Crisis Suit to the immense Riptide model. If you want some pure and idealistic Sci-Fi, then the Tau are for you! The Tau have one of (if not THE) best Start Collecting boxes which you can see by clicking here.
The Genestealer Cults are the heralds of the Tyranid fleet. Essentially a Tyranid will infiltrate a populated planet and create genetic hybrids with the local populace. These hybrids will infiltrate all levels of the planet’s native society and be a part of this cult. The Genestealer Cults believe that their god is coming for them to rapture them to glory; little do they know that they act as beacons for a Tyranid fleet. Once the Tyranids arrive, the cults are consumed in the Hive’s never ending quest for biomass. This army bridges the gap between human and xenos with many models being able to be used; such as the Leman Russ tank. If you want a unique army with endless modeling potential and a ton of tricks, the Genestealer Cults are for you!
The Tyranids are the end of days. This isn’t so much a collaboration of different species as it is one super organism that can manifest itself indifferent forms. There is one consciousness called the Hive Mind that guides and directs the entire Tyranid fleet to its one and only goal: the consumption of all organic mass in the galaxy. This is the galaxy wide locust swarm that aims to consume everything in its path. The Tyranids boast some of the most beautiful and detailed models in the entire game; from flying Hive Tyrants to the deadly Lictor. The Tyranids also have a phenomenal Start Collecting box which you can see by clicking here.
*How Do The Books Work?*
Starting on 40k can seem overwhelming. If you walk into any supporting hobby store you will see all kinds of models, cards and books; it is easy to get confused. The following section is design to give you a brief overview of each type of book and what they can offer for you and your gaming group. Keep in mind that the only books you absolutely need are the core rules and your army’s codex: all other books simply expand those two resources and add depth to the hobby.
The Warhammer 40,000 core rulebook comes in two formats: Full and Miniature sizes. The full size rulebook is a collection of three books that introduce you to the story, history and mechanics of the game. This is a great resource if you are just as interested in the setting of 40k as the game itself. Next is the mini-rulebook. Mini-rulebooks are often included in starter and boxed sets and have the exact same rules as the Full edition, but lack any history and story to the universe. Whichever you have access to will be enough for you to learn the rules of the game.
The core rules of 40k can seem very daunting if you do not learn it in sections. Start with an HQ and two troops choices. This is enough to learn the basic mechanics of the game and you only have to learn about a third of the rules. When you are comfortable, add in a transport vehicle or a flyer. By taking this approach you can make a large and complex book much more digestible and easy to learn. You will find that the rulebook is not as intimidating as it may seem. Once you move away from your first demo games you will certainly want a copy of the core rues for your own reference and study.
A codex is a book that gives a detailed history and insight into the various factions in the 40k universe. Every army in the game has its own codex which also includes all the relevant rules and points cost for every model in the faction. In addition to the story and rules for a given army, codexes typically have some very inspiring artwork, alternate paint schemes and tactical tips to get players excited. This is your all-in-one resource for any army in the game. I highly suggest picking this up along with a Start Collecting box to get started. Not only will the codex instruct you in the ways you can assemble your Start Collecting box, it will get you excited for the faction you just bought into.
Codex supplements are additional resources that modify and add to an existing codex. A great example is the Crimson Slaughter supplement for Chaos Space Marines. While you still need the core codex of the army to play, these supplements offer unique rules to create a specific army or play type. It is important to remember that you need the army’s base codex in order to use a supplement for it. Think of these as fun “Add-ons” or “expansions” for your existing force. Codex Supplements can add a lot of flavor and variety to an army and each has its own lore associated with it.
Campaign Books (including alternate modes of play)
Warhammer 40k is a massive game that allows you to play out the various wars going on across the galaxy. Campaign books refer to any material that provides rules or story for any one of those major conflicts. A great example is the War Zone Damocles series, which details the massive battle taking place in the Damocles Gulf between the Tau and Imperium forces. In these books you can find some exciting stories, unique formations and rules that allow you and your group to re-enact the war in fantastic detail. This style of book can also contain rules for much larger games called “Apocalypse” games, Apocalypse Warzone: Valedor is one example. All of these books exist to let you play 40k in new and exciting ways. Once you have a good grasp on the core rules take a look at some of these. You will find that each campaign book presents new options and challenges for any army your group has.
Fiction Literature (Black Library)
Games Workshop has spent years assembling an amazing team of writers who publish books to fill in the history and background of the 40k universe. Black Library (the GW publishing company) has a wide array of books that detail out the struggle of humanity in the 41st millennium. If you have a favorite race, army or chapter then there is surely a book about it. Lately a large focus of the Black Library has been the Horus Heresy series where we go back in time to 30k and see how the Imperium ended up the way it did. These books can range from simple action novels to highly cerebral pieces of literature. Creation, faith, destiny, sacrifice, the value of life and the nature of humanity are all themes that are touched on throughout the Black Library novels. If you have followed the advice above ad picked up a Start collecting box, try to find a novel relating to your army. Seeing how you army talks, acts and fights can really get your hobby juices flowing! The best way to do this is to Google search “Books about xxx” where “X” is the name of your faction.
Data-slates are small (usually digital only) bits of material that add something to the game such as a new formation or story. Games Workshop has several data-slates available online. There is not much to say on these as they are diverse and small in scope. If you are comfortable with your army and are looking for little ways to spice it up, then grab a data-slate. I wanted to point them out here are many new players are confused about the amount of information out there and may mistake these small bits of content for a codex or some other necessary material.
As was previously mentioned, 40k is a massive game that draws a wide variety of players. To get up and running fast there are some fantastic resources on the web. Here are a few to get you started!
Painting and Modeling
Gameplay and Battle Reports
Independent Characters– Hands-down the #1 40k podcast for its outstanding quality, depth and consistency. Carl is the host (along with some amazing co-hosts) who delves deep into army lore, hobby progress and explores all aspects of the game that we enjoy. Not competitively focused at all but is a great resource for any 40k player.
Preferred Enemies– A somewhat more tournament focused podcast, this group is perfect for new players. Every episode they have a huge list of listener submitted rules questions and they frequently do reviews of the Start Collecting boxes. As stated by the host, a huge focus of the show is bringing new players into the hobby and these guys deliver. Expect witty dialogue and fun!
Heroic Intervention– A very competitive based podcast, this show has two great hosts that really delve into the rules and interactions of 40k. Despite being hardcore gamers these two have a great radio presence and this makes for an enjoyable listen even if that is not a style of play that appeals to you.
TFG Radio– While listed as a 40k podcast, the three part crew of this show often takes a look at the hobby as a whole, discussing the world of Games Workshop and other miniatures games. There is still definitely a focus on 40k, but rabbit trails abound. This is one of my favorite shows to listen to for the hobby insight, quick wit and great humor.
The Battlehosts– This is a great podcast for those wanting to develop from beginner to intermediate players. These guys have some of the most informative shows when they dive deeply into each phase of the game. Tune in for some fun banter, game insights and education about the game-play in 40k.
Connecting with Others
Dakka Dakka is a popular 40k forum with a lot of great content
The Independent Characters have a very small but extremely kind forum that focuses on hobby progress and interesting discussions
Warhammer 40,000 facebook group is generally positive and the more active members seem very willing to help new players with just about any rules questions.
There are tons of forums, groups and chatrooms dedicated to 40k but I suggest these ones for new players. The value of any group is determined by the members in it and you can find a lot of environments that are toxic to new players on the web. What is important is that you discover what you love about the hobby and find like-minded individuals to share that passion with