Games, milkshakes, and power armor

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newbiehammer: Intro to Warhammer 40k

I've been thinking a lot about what sort of Warhammer content I'd like to put on my blog, and I've decided that a weekly "newbie guide" for fledgeling wargamers is a good place to start. I'm going to get around to more advanced stuff in the future, and I'm not limiting my blog to strictly Warhammer things, either. However, for those who are interested in the hobby and yet don't know where to start, I think every Sunday (I know it's technically Monday, shut up) I'm going to post some great basic tips for getting your army started, as well as some painting techniques I've picked up along the way, as well as tactics and strategies for gameplay. So nubs, listen up and check me out every sunday from now on for useful info, and heck, even you older hats may want to check it out, who knows? I may post something interesting for you, too!

Part 1: So you want to try Warhammer

What is Warhammer 40k?

Warhammer 40k (short for 40,000) is a tabletop war game made by the UK company Games Workshop, set in the distant future of the 41st millenium. The human race has left Earth (now renamed Terra) and has gone on to colonize the entire milky way. The gameplay itself is centered around the endless wars and battles that humanity and all the other races of the galaxy fight against one another. Whether for planetary territory, slaves, principle, honor, or the simple love of warfare or xenophobic hatred for all the other inhabitants of space.

The game is played using collected armies of plastic, pewter or resin figures that every player collects and paints, building their own fierce warhosts, proud regiments of soldiers, or slavering bestial hordes to bring to battle against their friends and rivals on tabletop landscapes. As I've mentioned before, Warhammer 40k does everything big. From the battles to the robots to the guns to the explosions and more. There's war machines the size of buildings shooting weapons big enough to atomize entire platoons of soldiers, cataclysmic, planet-ending wars, grudges that last tens of thousands of years and, my personal favorite, eight-foot tall genetically altered super soldiers encased in powered armor made for the express purpose of ruining anybody that stands in the way of humanity's domination of the stars.

Sounds cool? Yeah, I thought so too.

(Before I continue I should mention that Warhammer 40k, or just 40k as I'll sometimes refer to it, is not the only game system made by Games Workshop. Not counting the various systems based off of the 40k background, there's also Warhammer Fantasy, which brings a more classic, swords and sorcery aspect to the fore, as well as Warhammer Lord of the Rings, for you Tolkien fans. However, since my experience is pretty much centered around 40k that will be the focus of my blog posts. That said, things like painting tips and tutorials can and definitely should be applied to other systems as well.)

Okay, you convinced me! Where do I start?
Get online and find yourself a local hobby shop. Your first stop should be the Games Workshop website. This place has a store locator which will help you find your local GW outlet. These places are where all the magic happens. Here you'll find gaming tables, other players to play, a painting area and hobby specialists whose express job it is to answer your questions and introduce you to the game and hobby, and make sure you have fun doing it. In addition, every GW has it's own introductory table, where the specialists will walk you through a small game for so you can get a feeling for the rules and how the game plays.
If you can't find a GW nearby, don't fret! Just to a web search for local hobby shops, chances are you'll find one around you somewhere that sells Warhammer and has a gaming table or two. At the very least you'll be able to find other people who would be all to eager to have some fresh blood in their hobby group and a place to play at their house!
The website also has painting tutorials for individual armies, as well as showcases and places to check out and if you want, order everything you'd need to get started online.

Woah, this stuff is expensive!

Again, fear not! There's a starter set available that includes basically everything you'd find on the introductory table at Games Workshop, including enough models for two small armies, the rules for those models, dice, measuring sticks, as well as a small, abridged version of the rules that will teach you everything that you'll find in the big, head-sized core rulebook, and the whole box goes for about the same price as said rulebook. That said, I would still recommend getting or at least opening the big book and checking it out, aside from the rules there's also a ton of background story, as well as tips on painting, making your own gaming table, and setting up special types of games. Every Games Workshop generally has a store copy of the rulebook, as well as the codexes (we'll get to those) for each army in the game that anyone can pick up and read whenever they like. The store will usually have it's own common supply of dice, tape measures paints for people to use while they're there. However, don't let that detract you from getting your own eventually!

Pretty much everything you need to start.

If you find that neither of the two armies in the core starter set appeals to you, there are battleforces for each army that have just about everything you need to get started with any of the numerous races in 40k, and the price of the battleforce boxes are usually a great deal compared to the price of buying each of the units inside it seperately. After that all you'll need is that army's codex, which is a sub rulebook that outlines all the units available for that race, tips on how to play them, as well as backstory for the whole army. Basically everything you need to know about them to get started.
If you still find the prices to be unreasonable, take a look at online sites like ebay or amazon. You can typically find someone selling their army there. This provides you with an army that's likely cheaper than what you'd find in the shop, and usually has the added bonus of already being painted. However, nothing makes an army more satisfying to both see and use than collecting, building, and painting an army yourself, in my opinion.

Which army should I pick?

That's entirely up to you! The whole game is set up so that no one race is outright "better" than the others. The choice of what army to pick should come down to whatever you think is the most awesome, and would most enjoy playing. Every army has it's own unique theme and style, strengths and weaknesses. Races like Orks or the monstrous Tyranids seek to overwhelm their foes with outright brutality and weight of numbers, whereas the regiments of regular humans in the Imperial Guard would use coordinated massed fire, and great squadrons of tanks to crush their foes. Or perhaps your play style is drawn more towards the hardened elites of the Space Marines, who use the combination of their gene-enhanced toughness, powered armor and superior weapons to bring opponents down with surgical strikes using smaller, tougher units and superior equipment, or even their insidious counterparts, the Chaos Space Marines, who use dark powers drawn from a chaotic other dimension to break their victims. Perhaps your interest may even lie in Daemons, who come from that very same nether realm in great hordes of otherworldy creatures to wreak carnage and slaughter in the name of their dark god masters.
With each army comes it's own strategies and it's own powerful units. Just pick one you think sounds the most awesome and go with it!

Now what?

Play some games! The best way to get familiar with it is by doing it, even if the only thing you have to bring to the GW is a box full of unpainted starter minis I can guarantee you the guys who work at the shop will find someone who will play with you. Even while you're at home, invite a couple mates over and play a few missions from the starter box, or from the back of the big rule book. The best thing about this hobby is that it's multi-faceted. Immerse yourself in every aspect of it. Painting minis, building different army lists, playing, learning the backstory, all of these things can be enjoyable. Immerse yourself in the hobby as much as you feel comfortable with. If you like sci-fi fantasy and board games, I bet you'll like this.

Last-minute tips:

-Don't get overwhelmed!

There's a lot of different aspects of this game to absorb. Take your time to learn it all, pace yourself. If you overload yourself with information or push yourself too hard to work on something then you're going to burn yourself out and not have fun. It's a game and a hobby, not a job. You don't need to know or do everything at once right off the bat.
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-Stick with it

Just like with any other game, when you start playing, chances are you're going to lose a few times. Don't let it get to you, just take it in stride. Instead, turn your losses to your advantage. After every game think to yourself: "What did I do right?" "What went wrong?" "What unit really hurt me?" "What could I do to differently next time?" And always keep in mind that this is in the end, a dice game. Sometimes the dice will love you, sometimes they just won't work the way you want them to. Recognize that it's just the way things go and keep on keepin on.

-Read the lore

I've said before that Warhammer 40k has one of the most expansive backstories for any game I've ever played. Immerse yourself in the fluff (slang term for anything backstory-related to the game), especially the fluff of your army. Why is it fighting? Where did it come from? Who are it's allies? Who are it's mortal foes? It's fascinating to read and adds a whole new level of involvement with the game that will increase your enjoyment of it a hundred times over.

-Find some 40k forums

There's a number of online forums dedicated to Warhammer 40k. To name a few:
Bolter and Chainsword
Here you can connect with other fans of the game, get tactic and strategic help, tips for building an army list or what units to buy next, find model painting and converting tutorials, get info on upcoming events and maybe even find other hobby groups in your area!
Which sort of brings me to my next tip:

-Ignore the internet-posted tournament lists
You're probably going to stumble upon army lists posted online that people take to tournaments. Try to ignore these, at least for the time being. Tournament lists are often made by "powergamers," who are on a whole other competitive level than the people you find regularly around your local shop, and are more concerned with exploiting an army's rules to win at all costs rather than building a fun, thematic list. Too often you'll wind up with a cookie cutter list that the only people who will want to play against are other powergamers who know exactly how your list works and how to beat it.

And finally:
-Ask questions
Don't be embarrassed about not understanding something. If an opponent's unit is plowing through your whole army, ask your opponent to see that unit's rules. It's generally considered good gaming manners to let your opponent look at your rulebook or army list if they're having trouble understanding. If you're still not convinced, ask one of the specialists working at the shop to take a look at your game, if your opponent can't satisfactorily explain it, chances are the guys who work at the Games Workshop can.

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Anyway, that's my first bit of guide for anyone who's interested at getting started in the awesome world of Warhammer 40k. Tune in this time next week for even more tips and tricks to help you up your game either on the table or with a brush. Comment, follow, +1, you know what to do.

All GW, Warhammer and Warhammer 40k stuff is copywright Games Workshop and all that goodness.

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  1. great review and great game too. Do they ship this game to Asia? I'm thinking about buying it as a christmas gift for my nephew.

  2. @Linux and Life: I think they do, if not you can always buy it and ship it yourself.

  3. I just found out my friend plays this. I walked into his house and I saw his figurines lol

  4. Great blog! I may check this out.

  5. Warhammer 40k seems like a pretty cool game, thanks for the intro.

  6. i used to do the gary gygax games like D&D and i never realized it was a total nerd thing to do.

  7. This looks like something I could enjoy. Thanks for the info!