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How to Get Started Playing Warhammer 40k

Warhammer 40k is the most popular miniature wargame in the world. It was introduced in 1987, and its latest, most updated edition was in June 2017.

Like many board games, there are a set of rules and complex tactics that a player must consider.

How do you play Warhammer 40k? To play Warhammer 40k, you need to download the core rules and have the following: an army of assembled and painted models, at least 10 six-sided dice, and a ruler to measure distance. Matches are played on a 4-foot by 6-foot play board.

Two players field their armies, which are represented by miniatures. Players compete over points and objectives. Actions are based on a unit’s statistics, and results are based on dice rolls. The winner is the player with the most Victory Points.  

First time players should be prepared to get hooked. This game is intense, complex, and very addicting. Before giving it a shot, get familiar with the basics of gameplay.

Here’s a Quick Rundown

Warhammer 40k has a bunch of different factions and races that oppose each other.

We’re talking giant, heavily armored Space Marines with jet packs and bolter guns, demons, robots, crazy looking aliens, Orks, and … well you get it.

You pick a faction you like, then build and assemble an army of units.  

Next, two players have their armies fight and kick the crap out of each other while competing over objectives on a game board.

Army units each have point values assigned to them. For example, the Space Marines in this set are worth 17 points each.

Each army is the same amount of points. A standard game is 2,000 points. They range from 500 points and up.

What Will I Need to Get Started?

The Box Set

One of the best starting points to the game is the box set. 

Games Workshop’s Know No Fear is a great place to start with the game. You’ll get everything you need to start a game: miniatures, guides, a play mat, data sheets, dice, and even a ruler.

You can look through everything you get here.

Just be aware, Games Workshop sells their products on their site at a premium. You can buy the set for less on Amazon or other 3rd party sites.

There is another box set called Dark Imperium. This is another great set, still an excellent value, but twice the price of Know No Fear.

For that extra cost, you get everything in Know No Fear, plus more miniatures, a full rule book (retails for $35), mini-codices, dice, and a ruler.

Core Rules and Models

Download the core rules here for free.

The models can be purchased either from Games Workshop directly or a 3rd party site like Amazon or MiniatureMarket.com (as well as many others). 

Note that 3rd party sites are LESS EXPENSIVE than Games Workshop, so try them first.  

Which Models?

The decision on which army to play is a larger discussion. Start by browsing through your options.

I’d suggest you pick 2 or 3 you like the aesthetic of here. From there, you can investigate army building, and I’d check out this video:

Or this one.

Or even this one.

I’d also check out Battlescribe.

How Many Models Will I Need?

A good amount. Expect to spend at least $500 for an army of models (at least 30 models), not including paint and other hobby materials.

If that model count seems intimidating, have a look at Kill Team. Kill Team is a smaller skirmish game with the same models. You can also find used armies, prebuilt and painted, on Ebay.

Paints, Dice, Ruler, and Board

Paints can be really be purchased from anywhere and are cheaper 3rd party. Check my article for my recommendations on the best miniature paint sets for beginners

As for dice, any will do. Personally, I love the blue and gold of the Chessex Dice.

For a ruler, again, anything will do, but if you want to get fancy, there’s the epic Warhammer Age of Sigmar Warcry Ruler.

For the board, you can use any table that’s big enough and add some terrain to it. Most people start out by visiting a local game store to play on one of the tables there.

Gathering Materials

In Warhammer 40k, there are specific materials that you need to efficiently play the game.

As mentioned above, the Know No Fear set is a great starting point. It’s a bit older now but the price point is great, and you get what you need.

Of course, you have options other than this box set.

If you have a larger budget or want to play in a different faction of the game, you have to pick an army codex. Each of these codices describes unique skills and abilities designated to that faction. 

Then, you have to purchase the rulebook. There should be a cheap option online that will provide you with more detailed rules.

The next step is engaging with the army list. Each codex that comes with the box has all the units and a statistic for each one, including important traits like ballistic range or toughness.

When players are in the game, they should have equal amounts of point costs, usually ranging from 500 to 2,000 points.

Finally, when you have chosen your miniatures, you’ll need to assemble them.

Assemble and Paint

Honestly, this is the core of the hobby – buying, assembling and painting cool miniatures. There’s almost a complete separation between hobby and game play.

For this, I can easily and wholeheartedly recommend the Games Workshop starter kits:

[amazon box=”B08FFTT143,B07MTTCN2Y” template=”table” link_id=”20832″]

Pick whichever looks cooler to you. I personally got the blue Space Marine Intercessors, and I’m very happy with this set.

It gives you ALMOST everything you need to get going. The only other thing you’d need is a simple set of clippers or to buy an inexpensive tool kit, like I did. 

[amazon box=”B01GH6B3Z6,B00FZPDG1K” template=”table” link_id=”20833″]

From there, you’re all set. It comes with paints and brushes and a very basic instruction guide on how to paint them.

Warhammer TV on YouTube has tons of videos to help you learn the hobby.  

Game Setup 

Now, with the setup and materials, you have to choose a mission. All the box sets have different rules and missions, and it is important to do them to learn the game.

Each mission usually has two things: the individual stories that you have to follow as well as a guide on how to come out of it alive and successful.

Read them carefully, as you do not want to miss out on extra rules. 

After the mission choice, you should choose a compatible army and warlord. Each player picks one character model in their army to be a warlord, which has the warlord trait.

If that unit dies in the mission, you lose the warlord trait. Also, if you have the psyker units, each one has psychic powers. 

The battlefield setup should be next. It should not be too hard since you are only looking for a flat surface. This can be a table or even the floor.

The terrain is optional, but it makes the game a lot more fun.

Afterward, you have to deploy your army. Sometimes there may be deployment rules. Whoever set down their units first usually chooses to go first or second in the game.  

Usually, each game comes with a victory clause. It tells you how long the mission will last and how to decide who wins at the end.

Finally, you have to understand controlling objectives. If the mission that you are playing has objectives, players take turns placing them. 

They have to be 12 inches away from each other and 6 inches away from the end of the gaming surface.

To control and earn an objective and its points, you have to be able to control all units within 3 inches of that objective. 


Obviously, like in any other game, you have to move your units. This is even seen in games like Monopoly or Battleship. Most of the units move 6 inches and can be measured by a ruler.

Each unit you have has to move that same distance, not being more than 2 inches apart. 

Another important note is that if you have a Psyker in the army, roll a die. Add that to the total mastery level for all your psyker units.

Now that everything is positioned, you can make a hit. Note though, that all units fire and get hit at the same time. Roll your dice to see if your aim was good and if your fire was strong enough.  

However, there is also a story to this game that makes the experience more lively. The game is set in the year 40,000 where there are advanced humanoid soldiers versus the evil-turned ones.

As said before, each army should have the same power level, usually somewhere between 500 to 750. 

Each unit that you have also comes with cards that tell you all the statistics about it, including toughness and strength, which are the two most important traits that each unit has.

As mentioned before, there is the movement phase where the army moves forward as many inches as the dice tells them and a possible physic phase if you have a psyker unit. 

The Shooting Phase

Now, comes the shooting phase. It is done in three steps.

The first one is using the ballistic skill. Each unit has its own level of ballistic skill. If your unit has a skill of 4, you have to roll the dice to 4 or more to aim correctly. If you aim a 3 or lower, you miss. 

Then, if you do successfully aim, decide whether or not it penetrates and attacks the enemy. This is chosen by the weapon used by the unit.

In this example, it will be the bolt rifle with a strength of 4. If your enemy has a toughness of 4 or more, they are not hit. 

If the enemy has a toughness of 4 or less, they are hit. However, there is also a save option, detailed in the codex.

If your unit is hit, you have to hit a certain number or higher to save that unit.

So, for example, if your unit was hit and wounded and its saving points were 3, you would have to roll a 3 or more to save them. If not, the unit dies. 

The Combat Phase

The next phase is the combat phase of the charge. Take two dice and move that number of inches.

However, since you are running towards them, you have a chance to be hit by their rapid-fire guns.

Like the other phase, repeat the toughness versus strength rules again and again for each unit until all the units have been killed. 

Now, at the last unit standing, there is a leadership point allocation. The enemy player rolls the dice again to see if the unit either dies or runs away.

For example, if the enemy unit has 7 leadership points and you roll a 6, they stay on the field. If the enemy unit has 7 and you roll an 8, they leave and run away. 


Like most games, this is not the only way to play. There are also narrative gameplays that can be more exciting than dueling against another player. 

Image Credit: Eric Savage

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