Getting Started in Warhammer 40k: 4 Basic Tips

Chris Blakeney Hope
August 04, 2020

So you want to get into Warhammer 40,000. Maybe the new Indomitus box set caught your eye, maybe you love a grimdark aesthetic or maybe you saw that the hunky demi-god Henry Cavill is into it and decided you want a bit of that too (the hobby, not the man). Well before you dive on into the boundless depths of the lore or immerse yourself in the new 9th edition rule-set, here are 4 things to consider.

Choosing Your Army

This may sound obvious, because it is, however it can seem a very daunting choice considering there are around 24 factions on offer within Warhammer 40k and no one wants to be halfway through painting 20 Tzangors before they realize that they actually despise Chaos goat-men.

One of the first things to take into consideration when deciding on your chosen faction is: do you like the look and do you like the feel. Aesthetics are important. You will be assembling and painting a lot of models regardless of army choice, so you ideally want an army you like the look of. Another approach is to look into the lore of each faction and see what appeals the most; space Vikings your thing? Space Wolves got you covered, big fan of Mech suits? Tau are your jam, Elves in space? Four whole factions to choose from.

There are a few really good YouTubers that can give you background on each faction (Luetin in particular) and the Warhammer Community site has a faction focus for each army going into 9th edition.

Whether you're looking to be a painter/collector or tabletop player you are going to want to go with a faction that suits you. 

For a brief overview, the factions are broken into three groups:

Imperium (Space Marines, Astra Militarum, Adeptus Mechanicus, Adeptus Sororitas, Imperial Knights) 

Chaos (Chaos Space Marines, Chaos Knights and Daemons) 

 Xenos (Eldar, Tyranids, Orks, Necrons and Tau).

Most factions have their own sub-factions and can be combined and played together, for example, Tyranids and Genestealer Cults or the four sub-factions of Eldar.

A much deeper dive into these three groupings and the factions within them is a large enough topic for a whole article in and of itself, so for now another thing to consider, that will also be covered later, is model count.

Some armies (Horde Armies i.e. Tyranids.) have high model counts compared with some armies that have a much lower amount (Elite Armies i.e. Custodes, Imperial/Chaos Knights). If you want a small army to have to build and paint there are options available to you, the same if you prefer the visual spectacle of a boatload of models on the board.

Buying Your Army

So you've chosen which faction will be your ride or die going into the grim darkness of the far future, next you need to actually get the models. The Start Collecting sets are, as one might assume, a good place to start. These sets include a HQ option, troops and some form of extra usually in the form of a vehicle or larger model. Now you can get these from Games Workshop or your Local Gaming Store (LGS), and additionally, some online 3rd party stores do bundles of different kits for new starters but these can be expensive if you're just dipping your toes in the water.

Bear in mind that if you're wanting to get some models and have a game to see if you're into it before committing to an entire roster of units, the smallest sized battle you can do on the table top is a 'Combat Patrol' which has a limit of 500 points.

Painting Your Army

Painting your army is again another area that can seem a bit daunting to newcomers, but fear not. Firstly, every single painter who started out in the hobby whether they are an award winning painter or average-at-best started out in the same place. That is to say at level 0. This hobby has a strong painting element to it but it is only as important as you want it to be.

If you want to do the base level necessary to play you can paint your models to what is called a 'Battle-ready' standard and helpfully Games Workshop provides plenty of these videos on youtube for the most popular colour schemes.
Now, if you want to do a lesser chosen colour scheme, or even make your own, a battle ready standard is simply this: 

Base Coat ---> Shade Wash ---> Layer
or even easier with the Contrast paints:
Contrast Paint ---> Layer.

This is usually the standard that is expected at tournaments or for local store games once you have been in the hobby for a bit. Alternatively, if you want to push your painting up to the best level possible there are articles and videos with all the hints, tips and tricks you will need.

Another point on paint schemes is this: just because your army is painted as a certain Space Marine chapter or Eldar Craftworld,  does not mean you need to play them as that group on the tabletop. Not a fan of the Blue Smurf look of the Ultramarines - cool, paint them purple and you can still play them using Ultramarines rules on the tabletop. As long as it isn't overly confusing (using the same colored models as three different chapters for example) it will not be a problem.

Letting your imagination run wild and coming up with new and interesting schemes is all part of the fun of the hobby. If you'd like to check out some of the models I've painted I post them on my Instagram: aotf_miniatures

Your Army on The Tabletop

Now, if you're getting into this hobby from the painting/collecting side of things this may not apply to you, but it is handy to know if in the future the lure of dice rolls draws you in. How does your army play on the tabletop?

Broadly speaking, you can run an army from any of the factions in a number of ways, but most armies have strengths/weaknesses that are too detailed to go into here.  (Please Note that as 9th edition has only just released there are balancing issues within the game as the codex's the community has are from the previous edition. If you are looking to get into this hobby purely to play the best army on the tabletop, I advise you wait).

With that said, there are some archetypes to be aware of:

Horde Armies: As mentioned earlier these are High model count armies that swarm the board with figures - think the Orks or Tynranids.  These armies can focus on shooting or combat also.

Elites Armies: Again, in contrast to the above an elites army is a small model count army that can have a very small number of figures on the board - Custodes and Imperial/Chaos Knights. For a player looking to get into the competitive tabletop scene as a newbie this would be a difficult place to begin as board/objective control can be difficult.

Shooty Armies - this is an army that can put out serious fire-power, looking to blast the opponent off the board  - Tau and Imperial Guard I'm looking at you.

Tau Fire Warriors

Combat Focused Armies - These are armies that give the shooty armies nightmares. This army typically wants to fight close distance and rip/tear. Blood Angels and Khorne to name but a couple.

Khorne Berzerkers

High Mobility Armies - these are zip zap zwooping around the board looking to take objectives and have board control. The Eldar are your guys for this.

High Maintenance -  these are armies that usually have a lot of 'stratagems' (essentially powers that each army can use in the game in exchange for command points) that they rely on to win games. These armies can be tricky to use even for veteran players. Harlequins and Genestealer Cult are your culprits here.

Harlequin Troupe

Now that you have those 4 basics to consider I hope you are ready to begin your Warhammer 40k Journey.

Be sure to check back for future articles about the wonderful world of Warhammer. For examples of different faction models, check me out on Instagram: @aotf_Minatures,  or on reddit u/AlloftheFables.


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