What is Warhammer 40k?
Basically, Warhammer 40k is a board game from Games Workshop that is played with armies. It's a "mini war game". Unlike regular board games, there are no predefined "spaces" to travel. It's played with an actual tape measure for moving armies across the board making the game much more flexible and customizable.
Also unlike regular board games, the pieces you buy come unassembled and unpainted so you have to cut them out, glue them together and paint them yourself. Even though the Games Workshop (the company that makes them) gives you examples of how each figure is painted, players are encouraged to customize the colors of their army and give them unique names and backstories.
Due to this, Warhammer 40k is more involved than just being a board game. It's a hobby that involves commitment and passion. That's why the game is technically rated 12+. Younger children just don't have the patience to learn the game and paint their armies.
So, now, if you still want to get involved in this complicated, but very rewarding hobby, read ahead to see exactly what you need to get started!
How To Get Started
1. Choose Your Faction
Choosing which faction you want to play is the most essential, and hardest step for many people. Different people take into consideration different aspects of each faction when choosing which one to play as. For example, some people choose which faction to play solely based on which faction's models they think looks the coolest, while others choose based on what types of abilities they have on the battlefield. Every person is different so just choose based on what you like best.
I would also recommend that you go down to your local Games Workshop (you can find one using this store finder-->http://www.games-workshop.com/gws/storelocator/search.jsp) and watching some games being played so you can see how each army performs in battle. They will also teach you how to play if you ask the store associates what day and time they hold "beginner battles" which is when you play a game which one of the employees and they walk you through every step of the game.
Also in the store, they should have store copies of the Codexes for each faction. A Codex is a rulebook specific to a particular faction. It includes some history on the faction, the weapons the faction uses, the forces in the faction, and pictures of the painted models. I found it helpful to skim through each one while I was choosing my faction.
2. Get a Rulebook, Codex, Tape Measure, Dice, and Templates
The first thing you need to get to play the game is a Warhammer 40k Rulebook, but Rulebooks are really expensive. A brand new hard cover Rulebook of the shelf is $75!!! Of course you can get it a little cheaper on a site like Ebay, but not by much. One alternative to buying the full sized Rulebook is to get a starter kit. It has two armies, a smaller, soft cover Rulebook, templates, and a few dice all for $100. It's a really good deal. Right now, the current starter kit contains Dark Angels and Chaos Space Marines. This puts players of other armies in quite a bind. This is why I recommend that you choose your faction first.
You also need a Codex which is just a faction-specific rulebook. Remember, you need both a Rulebook and a Codex to play the game. Recently, they have just released the new Dark Angels Codex for $50 and it's hardcover instead of the soft cover the codexes used to be. Expect all new codexes to be similarly priced.
I don't have much advice to offer players of other factions other than to borrow a Rulebook from a friend at first and try to find a really good deal on Ebay. Many people buy multiple starter kits for a few specific pieces and then just sell the rest of it separately on Ebay so there are many people selling the smaller Rulebooks from the starter kits. Then, buy the templates and dice separately too, although dice are pretty easy to come by.
Finally, you'll need a tape measure. If you have one at home, there you go. Otherwise, any cheap tape measure will do, although they do sell some really cool tape measures specifically for Warhammer 40k. Or you could paint your own. See the video below for more information:
3. Get Figures
In this step, you choose the first figures that you want to assemble and paint. If you bought the starter kit, this step is easy. Just paint one of the figures from the set.
If you chose a different faction to play as, this step is a little more complicated. In your local Games Workshop, ask around to see if there is an experienced player that plays the faction you want to play as and ask for their advice. I'd suggest the main troop choice for whatever faction you decide to go with to start off. Of course, just typing your query into Ebay can get you lots of cheaper models.
4. Get Painting Supplies, Superglue, and Wire Cutters
Any acrylic paint will work, but Games Workshop does have their own line of paints, "Citadel" paints. They also have their own line of Citadel paintbrushes of all different sizes. You can also buy these independently. They also have their own Citadel superglue and wire cutters which they market specifically for Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, but all of these supplies can be acquired outside of Games Workshop. Be sure to either be very careful when glueing or wear some thin latex gloves as to not glue your fingers together (I say this from experience).
Here is a video on a painting set that the Games Workshop sells should you choose to go this route. The video also shows what some finished models look like.
5. Start Playing!
If you bought the starter kit, you could just put both armies together without painting them and practice by playing either by yourself or with a friend, although I would highly recommend that you paint your figures before you go and play with others.
To find other people to play with, go to your local Games Workshop. There are usually games going on there. They may also have tournaments and painting competitions so call them and ask. Other wise, you can search for other stores that carry Games Workshop items and call them. They may have special days when they play Warhammer 40k or have Warhammer 40k tournaments and the like.
Where Do You Go From Here?
So, you've started playing with the most basic army and you've made friends and are having fun. As you go, you'll see other techniques, strategies, and figures. With Warhammer 40k, it's a hobby that is never complete. There is always something more that you can learn! You can always get better whether it's in the painting of the figures or actually playing the game. It's something that never gets boring because it's a dynamic game. The rules themselves are always changing with each new edition of the Rulebook or Codex. Good luck and have fun!
Items to Get You Started
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(price as of Oct 12, 2013)
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(price as of Oct 12, 2013)