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What is Warhammer 40K? The Exciting Game You’ll Love

    Have you heard someone refer to “40K” and wondered what the heck they’re talking about? Are you mildly curious about the game, having heard about it in passing or from friends? Well look no further!

    Just kidding! This isn’t an infomercial. Anyway…

    *clears throat*

    Warhammer 40,000 – commonly called 40K, is a tabletop wargame created by Games Workshop. So, what is Warhammer 40K? Let me explain.

    Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. The commission earned helps maintain this site.

    What is Wargaming?

    To use the great explanation given by Wikipedia:

    wargame (also war game) is a strategy game that deals with military operations of various types, real or fictional. Wargaming is the hobby dedicated to the play of such games, which can also be called conflict simulations, or consims for short.

    Basically it’s playing war with toys, and I say that lovingly as a proud wargamer.

    Most commonly, wargames will use models to represent the soldiers, tanks, etc. Those models, referred to as miniatures, will be moved around a battlefield, typically on a tabletop (IE: tabletop wargame), to play the game itself.

    40K Battle Report
    A game of 40K being played.

    The mechanics for a wargame will typically use dice to determine outcomes of things like a unit firing, causing casualties, fighting in close combat, etc. However, there are other wargames that will use cards instead of dice.

    In either instance, there is an inherent element of randomness and luck involved, which is what makes each game fun and interesting. So, unlike a game of Chess where both sides are identical and actions a given, a wargame will involve strategy, tactics, luck, and skill in equal measure.

    The Hobby

    Most of the models for wargames are sold unassembled. So, you have to put the models together as well as paint them. Think model cars and planes; same sort of idea.

    This hobby component of wargames is a reason they are popular; it’s more than just playing war. Having to literally build your army, and to physically prepare it for battle, is a very fun, and time-consuming process for the gamers. It gives a player something they can do involving the game when they aren’t playing the game itself.

    As you can see, it makes wargaming a very cyclical process.

    So, What is Warhammer 40,000?

    To bring this back around to the game in question, Warhammer 40K.

    As mentioned, 40K is a tabletop wargame, and it’s one of the originals. It’s a sci-fi themed game set in a dystopian future in the year 40,000. The game was created in 1987 by Games Workshop, a UK based company.

    There’s a few things that makes Warhammer 40,000 unique compared to other wargames on the market. One of those things is the scale of the game. A lot of more modern tabletop games use a smaller scale, what’s called skirmish. A skirmish sized game will focus on a handful of models – say 7-10 (sometimes less). Popular skirmish games include Warmachine/Hordes and Infinity to name a few.

    However, 40K is what I refer to as squad based combat, or what many would call traditional, and is on a larger scale. So, a game of 40K may involve anywhere from 30-100 models depending on the army being played. Instead of being focused on special, unique models, 40K focuses on squads and units. Those squads and units are in turn composed into an army.

    Standoff Armies #11
    A fantastic Death Guard army.

    That leads me to the fact that in the game there are no less than 29 armies to choose from. The amount of choices is staggering, and no other wargame comes close to having the diversity of choices that 40K has. This means you can find an army that suits what you like pretty well.

    Also, for better or worse, a the game uses a D6 system. This means that all the dice rolls that are done in the game will use 6-sided dice; your typical dice. The nice part of a D6 system is it tends to be very simple to learn. The downside is it has limitations. Using different dice, like a D8, D10, and D20, opens up more possibilities (literally) in a game.

    The Game

    Playing a game of 40K will often take around 2-3 hours. The objective of the game will vary game to game as there are a few different ways to play. There’s a more casual, narrative approach to the game that focuses more on the story of the game than competition which is called Open Play, or Narrative Play depending. Then of course there’s the more competitive style of play, which is the most common, called Matched Play.

    In either case, typically a game will involve trying to achieve a few different objectives, like capturing an artefact, killing the opponent’s leader, securing battlefield objectives, etc.

    The game is played over 5-7 game turns (random game length), with each player taking turns. So, one player will move his/her army, fire with it, perform close combat, etc. Once that player has gone through all phases with his/her army then the opponent will do the same. Once both players have done this then that’s one complete game turn.

    So, unlike newer wargames that work on an activation system, 40K uses a “you go, I go” type of system.

    The Lore/Background

    One of the things that most fans of 40K will tell you is that they love the lore of the game. The background, in my opinion, is the best of any wargame out there.

    The history of the game goes all the way back to the beginning of humankind. Humankind rose to power, lead by the Emperor, and eventually set out for the stars to explore. A civil war took place that shattered the human empire, and those repercussions are still felt 10,000 years later. All the while the galaxy is full of aliens and xenos looking to destroy humans and rule the galaxy themselves.

    The Horus Heresy
    A defining moment in 40K history that changed the universe forever.

    That’s the very abridged version, but I assure you that the history of the game has an amazing amount of depth.

    There is a division of Games Workshop, the creators of the game, called Black Library. What the Black Library does is publishes novels about Warhammer 40K. These novels cover old historic events, as well as events set in the present time. There is so much lore and background in the game that there are well over 50 novels published about the events. It’s a very rich setting.

    The thing I love the most is the setting itself. Honestly, I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan. I prefer classic fantasy settings to most sci-fi ones. However, the setting of 40K does an amazing job melding fantasy and sci-fi to create this very distinct gothic feel that I haven’t seen in another game. The setting of the game is probably its most unique element.

    The Models

    I already talked about the hobby in general, but I did want to touch base on the models for 40K.

    Citadel, the modeling division of Games Workshop, creates the best multi-part plastic miniatures of any gaming company. The quality of the plastic used is top-notch. The sculpting and detail of the models themselves is amazing. Plus, the models are multi-part, which means you can put the together in a number of different ways.

    Daemonettes of Slaanesh: Showcase #1
    Daemonettes of Slaanesh

    That is very different from almost all wargame companies out there. Most models you will find for other games are either made of metal (cheaper to manufacture), or a lower quality plastic. In addition, other models tend to be mono-pose. Meaning, they only go together one way, so they all look identical.

    The models from Citadel are not cheap to buy – I’ll be honest. However, they are the best quality multi-part kits you will ever buy, so they are worth the money you spend on them.

    Where Do You Buy 40K?

    There are numerous ways to buy 40K. Most local gaming stores in your area are likely to carry 40K products. By gaming stores I’m referring to the types of shops that stock products like Magic the Gathering and board games. If you’re lucky, you may even have a local Warhammer store (official shop) in your area.

    Of course there’s ways of purchasing what you need online as well. There’s the official Games Workshop site that carries all the 40K products. If you’re looking for discounts then you can check out Amazon as well as eBay for deals.

    What do you need to buy? See below.

    I do also have an article on how expensive Warhammer 40K is if you’re curious. Counter that, I have one on ways to save money on 40K also.

    How Do I Play 40K?

    If you’re curious how to play 40K then definitely check out a series of articles I did covering just that. That series will explain the game, tell you what you need to buy to play, and how to learn to play the game itself. I’ve put a lot of work into that series, so hopefully you find it useful.


    Hopefully I’ve explained what is Warhammer 40K well enough to answer any questions you have. If I haven’t then please feel free to comment below and ask any question you have.


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