5 steps to becoming a Warhammer 40k player

How to get started

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Interested in playing Warhammer 40,000? Don't make the mistakes I did! Whether you're playing Warhammer or something else, wargaming requires preparation before you can actually play the game. This is different than what you're probably used to, if you play other tabletop games. You don't just go to the store, buy the box, and start playing. You have to build and paint miniatures, you need to read the rules, and set up a battlefield.

Here are the five steps to becoming a Warhammer player.

1. Get the rules and read them

Get the Warhammer 40,000 rules as a $0 download. Read the rules cover to cover. It's 60 pages, which is a lot for a board game but pretty typical if you're used to, for instance, tabletop role playing games. The pages are full of photos and graphics, so it's not 60 pages of text. You can get an overview in my review of the rules.

2. Buy a Combat Patrol box

The easiest way to start playing is to get a Combat Patrol box containing a playable army. Each Combat Patrol box also includes special missions for you to play. There are more missions on page 208 of the official Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, which also has a lot of lore and background material. That's a separate purchase, but I think it's well worth it just to have the rules in a nice physical form.

There are starter sets too, but I don't own one and can't vouch for their effectiveness.

3. Build and paint

Once you've got an army, you have to cut the model parts out of the plastic sprue, shave off the unsightly plastic "flash" (mold lines), glue the models together, prime them with white or gray spray paint, and then paint them. For that, you need modeling tools (clippers, knife, file, paint brushes, paint).

Citadel offers lots of tutorials to help you get started.

Citadel Contrast paints and Vallejo Xpress Color are both excellent lines of paint.

And it can take months! The good news is that it's a lot of fun. But you do have to factor it in. From the time you decided to play Warhammer, you're probably well into your third month now.

4. Get terrain and dice and rulers

Once you've got the rules and an army, there's little to do but to play. At least, that's the theory. In reality, you also need terrain (ruins of buildings or walls or other obstacles) and objective markers (you can use glass gaming tokens or coins or whatever) and a battle mat and dice and rulers and random game accoutrements.

Some of those components are more common than others, but terrain is a challenge. Luckily, you can buy terrain or build it yourself from junk. I used those little plastic pots you get when you buy a seedling for the garden. I painted them with craft paint and set them up on my battlefield, and they look like vaguely like shipping containers or buildings. Eventually I'll likely buy "nice" terrain, but I don't play often enough to justify that purchase yet.

You can buy a battle mat (I've been using BattleTech mats) or just play without one.

5. Play the game

Eventually, you get to the point where you can play the game. So go play it!

Playing curve

Wargaming! I don't know of any other game with so many required tasks before you can actually start playing. It's almost overwhelming.

The trickiest mental part, I think, is juggling the requirements for an army with the physical miniatures you can buy. For Snarling Badger's Space Station Zero and Reign in Hell, building an army is pretty easy. You grab a bunch of unique miniatures, assign them roles as defined in the rulebook, and start playing. Those wargames are designed for generic models.

For Warhammer, though, the rules are pretty specific to the miniatures you use. Warhammer rules are written for Citadel miniatures, so when you see a unit of Intercessors, the datasheet for that unit is written with the assumption that you're using a box of Intercessor models. You can grab a random miniature from anywhere, but it starts to get confusing when you're playing and your datasheet is referencing a bolter and a flamer, and you can't tell which of those weapons your generic model has because your generic models are actually holding pistols.

For Warhammer 40,000, I can't imagine trying to build your first army before Combat Patrol existed. I'm sure to some people the process of building an army is a lot of fun, but I can't imagine putting in the time and effort of coming up with a list based both on cost and coolness, and then building and painting the army, all for a game I haven't even tried yet! And until you've played, you don't actually know whether the army is any good in action.

It probably seems there's an awful lot of faith that goes into preparing to become a wargamer or Warhammer 40,000 player. However, I think the new 10th edition of the game has made the process easier by enroling the Combat Patrol products. It's still a heck of a lot of work, because you have to build and paint the models, but I feel like most people looking to become Warhammer players are interested in the miniature aspect. You know you're signing up to build and paint models if you've stayed in a Warhammer shop long enough to purchase a box. And accordingly, you know you're signing up for a station in the War Room when you decide to become a wargamer. Wargaming, as it turns out, isn't a board game experience (except when it sort of is). It's a campaign all its own, and by that I mean it's a real-world campaign for an in-game campaign.

Hopefully this post has made it easier for you to know how to get started.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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