How to Play 40K: Army Codex, First List & Buying Models

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series How to Play Warhammer 40K

Hopefully you now have a basic understanding of the rules and are ready to dive into your army’s codex. This is where the real fun begins. Each army is unique and has a lot of rules specific to them. Some armies are pretty similar, like all the Space Marine codices, but even within those there is enough that’s distinct to make them different.

Learning the Codex

Orks 7th CodexThere’s no right and wrong way to do this; just personal preference. However, if you’re new to the game of Warhammer 40K then I suggest reading all the cool background stuff first. It’s the history and fluff for an army that makes it interesting for me. Without the cool background it’s just another set of stats and gear and that’s not much fun. Reading about the army can really make some elements of the army much more interesting. You may find yourself drawn to a certain unit or part of the army just because of the cool story that goes with it. This isn’t a competitive mindset but I’m not an overly competitive player either. I like for my army to feel like a living breathing force on the field and that comes with reading about it.

Cool history and fluff is great but it won’t tell you how to play your army. You should have an understanding of the stats by now, having read the 40K rules, so the big thing here is going to be learning all the special rules for the army. I like to read through unit entries front to back but you’re welcomed to jump around too.

Special Rules

A lot of units are going to have universal special rules. These rules are in the back of the 40K rulebook. Remember last time I said you could skip over them when learning the 40K rules? Well, now is when you start learning them as you need to.

Every army has its own unique rules as well. These rules will be listed in the unit entry and then found in your codex; normally at the back of it.


The big thing that’s going to take a while to learn when you’re new to the game of 40K, and the army you’re playing, is all the wargear. Some wargear will be in the 40K rulebook for common items like grenades, power fists, lightning claws and such. Other items are specific to your army and those entries will be contained in the codex. It takes a while to learn these items so don’t worry that you can’t recall all 30 pieces of wargear by memory that you have in your army list when you get to play.

Army Detachments

I would focus unit learning to the HQ choices and the troop choices. Those are the core of any combined arms detachment. Admittedly the game of 40K has gotten a bit complicated when it comes to putting together an army to play. There are all sorts of ways you can go about it but I would recommend focusing on a combined arms detachment, which is more-or-less the old method of creating an army. You will want to learn more about the different ways of creating an army eventually but it’s best to keep things simple to start.

Of course, another school of thought here would be to play an Unbound army. An Unbound army has no restrictions on it and you play what you own; pretty simple. It’s not a bad way to get going in the game to learn things.

Creating Your First 40K Army List

As I was saying, you’ll want to create your first list as a combined arms detachment, or maybe you’re going Unbound. The information about it is found after the game rules in the 40K rulebook. Since 7th edition came out and codices are coming out for 7th edition, the options are limitless on creating your army. The newer codices have rules for formations and a special detachment within the codex. Keep it simple and disregard those for now. There are some powerful ways to build your army using those but to really appreciate them you need a firm understanding of how your army works first. To do that you need to start playing some games.

Hopefully you have a friend who is happy to play your first game with you. If not, a lot of gaming shops will often have a player or two who are glad to teach new players; maybe even a store employee. I would recommend starting to learn by creating a list at 500pts. At 500pts you have enough room to get yourself an HQ and two troops pretty comfortably. You will probably have some points left over for another unit or two depending on your army choice. This is a good starting point to learn the game and your army because you aren’t overwhelming yourself with unit rules, wargear, etc.

The List

Handwriting Your ListWhen creating your list I would suggest, at least to start, staying away from too many wargear upgrades. Again, it’s about learning at a reasonable pace and not having too many things that are different for the sake of getting an understanding.

My last piece of advice on learning your army is to create your army list by hand. There are programs out there that will make creating an army list really simple. The problem is if you start that way then you will never really learn your army. Those programs will insert the points, add it all up and often tell you when you’re making illegal choices. Those are great features for a veteran who knows his/her army inside and out but not for the novice or beginner. You need to know how much each model in your army costs, how much those upgrades are and the proper way to create an army list. I feel there is no better way to do that than by writing your list out by hand; memorization through repetition.

Buying Models for Your 40K Army

Of course you need to have models for your army so you can play. If you’ve stuck with my suggestion of focusing on an HQ and troops then those are your obvious first purchases. You really can’t go wrong with buying these units since they make up the core of most army lists you will create.

Once you have a solid core for your army you will need to start branching out. Hopefully you’ve managed to play a few games by this point and have a better understanding of your army, as well as elements of the game you enjoy. Armed with some experience and insight, you can look at other units you feel would be a good fit for you.

Before you purchase new units I would suggest play testing first. See if someone you know has the unit you want to try. See if he/she would let you borrow it so you can test. If not, see if you have some other models that could stand in for, or as well call it proxy, to try them out. How things look on paper and how they work on the table can be two very different things. That’s why I like to try something out a few times before I commit to spending money on it.

Where to Buy

DiscountWhen you’re new to an army then eBay is an amazing place to get some great deals. Buying second-hand models for cheap is how many of us have built many of our armies. If you’re a hobbyist then you can usually get even better deals by buying slightly damaged models and repairing them yourself.

There are also some discount online retailers that will sell sometimes at 30% off retail price. A popular one in Europe is Wayland Games. Sadly you can’t buy 40K stuff from them if you’re in the U.S. because of GW regulations. There is also The Warstore that you can check out. I’ve ordered from them a few times recently and had really great service.

I’m sure a quick search on Google will show you some other discount online retailers but just be careful. If you find one then do some research on them to make sure it’s legit. Make sure that people are having a good experience with them. Some people do this as a hobby, selling 40K product and other games. So, your experience might not be so great when it’s some guy in his mom’s basement taking your order and sending it out.


There isn’t a ton I can really say to help you learn your army. I can give some helpful tips and suggestions though. Personally, I just read and re-read over and over, especially when it comes to creating a list. I learn better through practice and by doing things, less by reading. Also, I create a lot of army lists just to get things down on paper in my own writing to see it. Do whatever works for you of course and know it will take some time.

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  • Another great article for people coming into the game. I have sent these onto to a couple of friends who are looking to start up for the first time.

    • Thanks and I hope your friends find it useful.

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