This question gets asked a lot and it’s usually answered in sarcasm and vagaries. So, today I thought I would put an actual value to the question of how expensive is Warhammer 40K.
A bit of a disclaimer here. Prices can fluctuate quite a bit from those listed if you’re buying from a place like eBay, Amazon, or some online retailer in general. Also, the army you choose to play will have a significant impact on how much the game costs. Basically, I’m giving a rough idea and nothing is concrete.
This article does assume you have some knowledge of the game. You don’t need to have any knowledge to understand what that final cost is. Money is money! However, I do try to explain the cost, what’s being purchased, and that’s where game knowledge is handy.
Starting out will have some upfront initial costs for buying materials you need to play the game. If you’re an existing wargamer then some of these costs won’t apply to you. For example, you probably already have dice and a measuring tape. However, someone completely new will need to buy everything.
Rulebook – Free to $50. You can download the core rules for free from Games Workshop. However, those core rules are lacking a few things like advanced rules and different game types.
Codex/Index – A codex is more expensive around $50, where an index is only $25. Indexes are what we got when 8th edition released, and slowly Games Workshop is giving everyone a codex. So, you may even have to buy both if your codex isn’t out yet. For the sake of discussion, we’ll go with the $50 price here.
Dice – At the very least I would suggest a brick of dice. I prefer the 12mm dice because you’ll need to roll a lot of dice, so the smaller dice is easier to manage. You can get dice for $8 if you buy Chessex.
Measuring Tape – On average you’ll spend about $5 for one, but you can find them cheaper, not to mention way more expensive too. Being that 40K uses a table that’s 4ft x 6ft, you won’t need a 50ft measuring tape, but you will need a measuring tape to measure weapon ranges and such.
Hobby Knife – Another affordable item at only $5. A hobby knife is used for miniature model assembly, in case you weren’t sure.
Super Glue – You gotta glue those models together! My recommendation for super glue is Zap-A-Gap and that’s around $9. You can get cheaper super glue, but this glue has always worked amazing for me.
Paints – Painting an army is a long process, but you have to start somewhere. The bare minimum, or commonly accepted painting requirements, is 3 colors. The Citadel Paints are around $5 a pot, so you’re at $15 here at least. Plus, you’ll need a primer. We’ll say $5 for that, putting you at $20 in paints to start.
Paint Brushes – Can’t do any painting without them! It’s possible to pick some up for a few dollars, though you can easily spend $30 or more a brush.
Total Starting Cost = $105 – $147 Average Cost = $126
The only cost incurred by the existing wargamer above (the $100 range) is the rulebook and codex. It’s safe to assume they have the hobby supplies. The newer wargamer has to buy it all, so $142. However, to avoid having to constantly give price ranges for everything else, I’ll assume an average cost of $121 (new vs existing average).
Another cost consideration, but one I didn’t list here, is army transportation. I chose not to list is because some people don’t bother, but there’s others who spend hundreds of dollars on it. However, it’s a cost that shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Buying Your Army
This is the real variable. So, I’m going to base the costs on averages from a Space Marine army seeing as it’s the most popular one. This can change quite a bit army to army, not to mention the style of play you enjoy. Maybe the style of play you enjoy is cheaper (lots of infantry), or it could be more expensive (lots of tanks). Again, this is all to give a rough idea.
Below I will give the cost of what’s being discussed and also a total cost. The total cost is the running price for everything prior to that section plus this current section. So, the total cost shown in the 1,000pt army section will be the starting costs from above + the cost to buy the 1,000pt army.
Note that in some sections you’ll see paint. I’m adding paint in here and there because the reality is you’re going to run out of it, or you’re going to be buying more to increase the colors you have; especially where I started this off at only 3 paints.
In either case, it’s a realistic component of the hobby, and in turn expense. In truth, the cost would be higher than what I’m using for most players, but I want the cost focus to be on models instead of paint.
This is a decent goal to shoot for when you’re starting a new army. It’s big enough that people won’t mind playing, but not so big that it takes you months and months to achieve. Games smaller than this might be hard to find an opponent for. Of course, if you have friends getting you into the game then I’m sure they’ll play whatever size army you have.
HQs – You’ll want at least one HQ, and having a second isn’t a bad idea. Actually, in 8th edition I’d recommend it. On average an HQ will cost you $30, so you’ll spend $60 here.
Troops – I would suggest getting two troops choices to start with. I know it’s a bit of an old school approach, but it doesn’t make it a bad one. My math is putting this at an average of $38, so $76 for both boxes of troops.
Elites – On average this comes in around $50 a box, and one box should suffice early on.
Fast Attack – You can get away with $40 for a fast attack choice.
Heavy Support – This is often the pricier models to buy since it includes larger kits like tanks and large monsters. Expect to pay an average of $65 a box, and one box will suffice to start.
Cost = $291 Total Cost = $417
It should be noted that you could jump right into a Battalion Detachment at this point by picking up a third Troop unit. If you didn’t pick up a Fast Attack and instead got a Troop then you’ll spend the same amount (well, $2 less actually), and have yourself a Battalion from the start. You could pick up an extra Fast Attack later on if you wanted.
Ultimately, you can build up an army an infinite amount of ways, this is just the method I picked :)
By the standards of 8th edition, a 1,500pt army is still on the small side, but it’s a good place to be at when building a new army.
At this point you’re adding in units and filling gaps you have in your list. Again, it’s all very subjective, but I’ll do my best based on experience and what I see in the 40K scene.
Now that I’ve established the price per-unit above, going forward I’ll just list the expected cost based on battlefield role.
I’m taking the approach of buying a single unit for each of those battlefield roles.
Troops – $38
Elites – $50 Fast Attack – $40 Heavy Support – $65 Paint – $10
Cost = $203 Total Cost = $620
I could add a lot of variations of sizes before hitting 2,000pts, but why bother? You’re aiming for a 2,000pt army ideally, since that’s the average size of a 40K game.
HQs – $30 Elites – $50 Fast Attack – $40 Heavy Support – $65 Paint – $10
Cost = $195 Total Cost = $815
At this point you’ll have 3 HQs, 3 Elites, 3 Troops, 3 Fast Attack, and 3 Heavy Support choices. With this you could build a Battalion Detachment.
My idea was to present this in a rounded way. Most players aim for getting at least one Battalion Detachment in their lists to get more Command Points. You could easily do two Battalions at 2,000pts, but that comes down to preference, so I stuck to just one in this example.
So, How Expensive Is Warhammer 40K? (tl;dr)
To go from having nothing in 40K to having the required books, a 2,000pt army (standard size), with some hobby supplies, is $815.
It’s often joked that they call the game Warhammer 40,000 because it costs $40,000 to play the game. Well, it’s not that much, but it’s not a cheap hobby either.
That being said, there are more expensive hobbies out there than 40K. Look at photography, skiing, ATVs, RVs, etc., as examples of hobbies you’ll spend way more in than 40K. Sure, there’s cheaper hobbies too, but wargaming isn’t the most expensive one by any means either.
My point with this article wasn’t to scare people away from the game, but instead to give realistic examples and expectations of cost. Hell, you could buy everything off eBay and get yourself a 2,000pt army for under $200; I’ve seen it done. The reality is though that you’re going to spend some serious cash.
There are some easy ways to save when starting an army too, other than discount retailers. GW has some Start Collecting! boxes that can be a great way to jump into an army. You get a few units, usually all useful, for a discounted price.
The reason I didn’t use them in the calculations is that they are pretty varied army to army. Some give you an HQ and some troops, others give you troops and elites, etc. It’s not consistent, so I opted to ignore them.
There’s nothing that says you have to buy everything all at once, or even within a few months. Many people will build up to an army this size over the course of a year or more. If you aim to do it within a year, which is reasonable, and average the cost out over the 12 months, then it would cost you $64.33 a month. That’s a bit easier to digest I think ;)
Once you have that 2,000pt army, the costs goes down quite a bit. At that point, many of us buy a unit here and there to give ourselves some more choices with how we build our list. Also, if a new codex comes out, it might have new units that didn’t exist previously.
So, on average I’d say you’ll spend around $100 – $150 a year on kits for an army after that initial investment. Maybe you don’t spend anything after you get the 2K list, or maybe you go all out and buy a ton more? That’s my ballpark guesstimate based on myself and others I know anyway.
If you’re reading this because you’re interested in starting the game then check out a series I have on how to play 40K. It covers starting an army, learning the rules, playing your first game, etc.
I’ve created a nifty little infographic for easy sharing if anyone is interested.
If you’d like to use this on your site then here’s the code: