Why you should – or shouldn’t – play Warhammer 40k in 2021

I’ve been out of the Warhammer game for over 15 years at the time of me writing this article. I have however continued reading the books, and tried to keep up to date with the lore – but being the massive universe that it is, it’s a challenge just to keep up with the basics.

When I found myself with some more free time between work, iI’d already decided on one thing I wanted to do – get back into Warhammer. 

Playing Warhammer when you’re a teen can be tricky. First of all, Warhammer can be a very expensive hobby to participate in – at least insofar as the tabletop miniature game goes. As a teen, you usually don’t have the financial means to collect, play or engage in the hobby to the extent that you might want to. This could be the reason why the game did not gain as much traction to become a mainstream IP until the last two decades which have now made it one of the biggest gaming franchises in history. 

As an adult, however, while you usually have the financial means, you may lack the time needed to fully invest yourself in your Warhammer hobby or have the required spaces to host the battles. When I started my hobby back up again, I knew I had to moderate my expectations. While I could buy all the models and supplies I wanted, I knew that it would take significant time to paint them to a standard I’d be satisfied with. A long project, as it were.

Still, despite it being a long project, I believe there are reasons why you as a gamer, as a hobbyist, a sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast, should want to play or engage in the massively interesting hobby that is Warhammer – and in this case, specifically, Warhammer 40k.

In this article, I’m going to plead my case if you will – and also mention some of the cons and arguments of why you maybe would want to consider not getting into the hobby.

The game

Warhammer/Warhammer 40k is a miniatures war game that’s mainly aimed at a demographic of 15-50 years old – most of them male though their big boom in the late 80\s and early 90’s saw it grow in popularity with younger players as well, as young as 12-13 in some instances. The company that makes the game, Games Workshop, was founded 40 years ago in the UK and has since then become a company valued in the billions. While other toy companies are failing, and people are losing interest in many physical toys as opposed to digital ones, Warhammer and Warhammer 40k is thriving in ways it never has before. Aside from an resurgence in tabletop/classic gaming overall, Warhammer is thriving even more and growing its fanbase.

How can this be?

1. The Setting/Universe & Peripheral lore products

The detailed setting of, in particular, Warhammer 40,000 is a rich setting filled with literally hundreds of novels/books, and tens of thousands of hours worth of lore, content, artwork, audiobooks, and products to feast on. The Warhammer 40,000 universe makes almost every other setting appear underdeveloped by comparison. Star Trek is a joke when holding the details and attention paid to the universe Games Workshop have nurtured for decades. Star Wars may be fleshed out well in some ways – if you include comics and novels – but Warhammer dwarves their catalogue. Dungeons & Dragons isn’t a setting in itself, and Warhammer 40k easily eclipses popular settings like Faerûn and Eberron. The Warhammer 40,000 lore is bigger than Star Trek and Star Wars combined. 

Top 10: The largest and coolest Warhammer miniatures - Geek Indeed

I’ll go so far as to say that no setting is as well-fleshed out as is Warhammer 40,000 (just my opinion, crucify me in the comments if you must!). While Warhammer fantasy (or AoC) has a well-thought-out setting, the background pales next to what exists for 40,000, which is one of the reasons you find more people leaning towards 40k rather than AoC. That, and how Space Marines have always appeared cooler to boys and were designed and marketed in that way.

The backstory and lore is rich, and it’s easy to get caught up in it – at least how I see it. The peripheral lore, books, and settings that go with it make it one of the deepest settings in existence, in my opinion. Certain settings aren’t that interesting to get into if you’re not engaged in the playing of the game but nonetheless the settings are there. In my opinion, the Warhammer 40,000 universe by itself is good enough to captivate, even if you don’t play the miniature game with its dystopian and dark futuristic narrative.

2. The models

How the models look is a big part of the success of the game – and the fact that the company employs, and holds a competition for master miniature painters to achieve results like above, and showing players what they could do, is a big part of the popularity of the game and why it has maintained a steady player base.

3. More than a game – Games Workshop knows its stuff

Do it the way you want to.

Warhammer 40,000 is:

  • A miniatures game.
  • A tournament game
  • A painting/collecting hobby
  • Books/Audiobooks/Comics
  • Computer games

The fact is, Games Workshop has done a masterful job of creating what is essentially crack for the middle-class nerd with disposable income, and a hobby that younger nerds look to and may want to play or just awe at in store displays. It hasn’t always been this way for the company –  over a decade ago, it was in a slump and it seemed doubtful whether the business would survive or not. 

However, leadership adjusted, the company grew, invested, and expanded, and now we’re looking at a company that essentially “owns” both its setting rights, the production supply of miniatures, the books and everything having to do with Warhammer itself.

And they’re executing their plan to get people involved in a masterful way while making impressive profits.

These, I believe, are some of the main reasons why Warhammer is so successful. 

However, why should you play the game? Why should you get into, or take an interest in the massive setting that is Warhammer? Here, I’m going to be talking mainly about the miniatures game – but many of the arguments can be used for the books or peripheral products as well.

Let’s take things point by point – Why you should play Warhammer.

1. Increases Attention Span & decision-making skills, patience, and Fine motor skills

2016's Miniature of Year - Warhammer Community

Working with Warhammer miniatures can be a mundane and grueling task to some. The detail required in assembling and painting the things will test your patience, fine motor skills, and attention span. Good results here will depend on your ability to handle both fine tasks, and repetitive tasks – any of these things are valuable skills both inside Warhammer 40k  and in the real world. This point is of course not unique to WH40k, but other miniature games may not have the same combination of media, or the wealth that Warhammer offers to players. 

Simply working with the miniatures and doing your best to assemble and prepare them in a way that’s attractive will improve the skills you have.

2. Actual practice of skills, such as math

What is Mathematics? | Live Science

Actually playing with the figures will require different skill sets. The measuring, memorization, and the sheer amount of rules to remember, dice rolls in the dozens, and to quickly crunch relatively simple algebra will still offer opportunities to improve such skills while playing a game. This differs markedly from playing the same game online or digitally, which to me is a huge bonus.

Depending on what level you play the game – everything from casual to tournaments – it will tax different levels of your strategic thinking and other, related skills, all of which are transferrable to the real world as well. In the end, playing a game like Warhammer brings with it many of the same boons we see in playing sports (although the physical exercise won’t be all that significant here).

For this reason alone, it could be an argument to play strategic board games, even if you don’t play Warhammer.

3. A community spanning several age groups/categories and exists in most places

Home - Warhammer Community

Few communities for board and miniature games rival that of Warhammer. The community is global, with clubs even in mid-sized towns, and the hobby popular in many European countries and the US. You’ll usually (outside of Covid-19) have a relatively easy time finding people to enjoy your hobby with. 

What’s more, these people will typically be of all ages and many different backgrounds. Now being nearly 40 years old, many of the people who began playing are in their 40’s or 50’s now, with many of them still playing the game to some extent. It’s always a great hobby, and a great outlet, when people of all age groups can enjoy the same hobby and get together in the same setting. 

Overall, the community which can bring people together is another reason in favor of Warhammer. 

4. An artistic hobby & creative outlet

Creative Assembly får Warhammer-licens. Spännande! | Feber / Spel

Obviously, working with Warhammer will cater to your creative side. The painting, the modeling, the building of your army – all of it works to encourage your fantasy and imagination. You can play the way you want, model your army the way you want. The rules even have support for creating your own specialized army setups, and the company actively works with you if you want to customize your models further, providing details and tools for you to do so.

Warhammer is like lego for adults – your imagination, not much else, sets the limitations here.

5. A non-digital hobby in a digital age

In an ever-increasing digital age with our children and friends spending more and more time in front of screens, I view it as important to encourage hobbies that take us away from the digital world and the screens. While parts of Warhammer can be made easier through the use of modern technology, it is the low tech of the board game that I find appealing here. 

I believe it crucial that we spend more time with each other – not through screens and digital media, but around a table, or in groups, engaging in socializing, games, thinking, and just plain fun. Warhammer is a hobby that offers all of these things and offers it to all demographics and categories of people. 

6. It’s just fun.

Space Marines Showcase: Darcy's Imperial Fists - Warhammer Community

Playing the game is just plain fun. I play an Imperial Fist army in the 40k universe and setting my majestic, sun-yellow warriors of terra against a Xenos horde or the traitor Astartes is always a fun time. Strategizing and trying to outthink, outflank and use my resources better than my opponent. Cheering the dice rolls when they go my way, and cursing them when they do not. Build amazing battlefields that we can play, and enjoy.

All of it is great fun – and this is the main reason the game should be played and enjoyed. A hobby that wasn’t fun, or this much fun, I would spend neither the time nor the money on.

7. You will be constantly challenged

Review Roundup – Imperial Fists, Salamanders and Aeldari – Goonhammer

You can expect a constant challenge when playing Warhammer. The rulebook alone is several hundred pages long, and scenarios will always bring up questions regarding situations, or how to interpret the rules or how to make something as fun as possible. This is not even mentioning the challenge you will find yourself in if you start looking at tournament play, which is of course an entirely different ballgame. 

I myself haven’t always enjoyed being challenged – but everything from the assembling and painting to the playing is a challenging endeavor with Warhammer and in a very good way. That’s also a reason why I find playing Warhammer to be worth my time. 

The flip side

Like with any hobby, there are downsides to Warhammer as well. It wouldn’t be a balanced nor even an attempt at an objective piece without getting into the cons of the game, and the hobby. 

I’m going to keep it simple here, however, as I really believe it is a quite simple side of cons.

There are two main reasons why you should consider not getting into at least the miniatures side of the game. 

1. The cost

Games Workshop has made certain that if you want to play Warhammer, they’ll get your money somehow. It doesn’t really matter to what extent – if you want the miniatures, the paints and supplies, the books, the peripheral products, everything is priced accordingly and for many can add up to a kings ransom for something which is designed to get you hooked. Warhammer is miniatures war game and your units determine the strength and scope of your attacks and nobody wants to be the guy who shows up with 4 infantry men against an armored cavalry. 

While the company has of course spent billions (likely) to perfect its manufacturing techniques, it does hurt to pay $80 for less than a pound of plastic pieces that come in the shape of a space marine chapter master. 

40K: Mortarion Unboxing - Bell of Lost Souls
Games Workshop Webstore

Even the main troops aren’t exactly cheap. Running a 1000 point army will quickly push the price tag above $200. Include the supplies you need for painting, and if you want the company’s paints, that bill goes above $400. With rulebooks, sets of things that you, strictly speaking, do need to enjoy the game, very few people can properly start the hobby below $500.

Most spend far, far more.

To some, and certainly to most kids, this is prohibitively expensive. There are of course ways to cut the costs through package deals and similar things, but the fact is – this stuff looks good, and it costs even more. The end results may be very impressive, but getting there will take heavy, bloody chunks out of your wallet. 

Don’t listen to anyone telling you that you can start “on the cheap”. Warhammer is an expensive hobby, and if you get into it, you’ll find yourself either spending a lot of money or cursing yourself that you don’t have the money to spend.

2. The time dedication

Secondly, Warhammer takes time. This is less of a problem for many people, but it may be a problem to some. Not everyone has the time to spend dozens and hours (and it will take dozens) to prepare an entire army. The games usually take between 2-4 hours depending on size, which is something that for many people still can be handled – but you do need to realize that the game will take some of your time if you get into it – and if you decide that you like it, it’ll take a lot of time.

Therefore, the ideal player for Warhammer that I see, is someone with a decent job, some disposable income, and plenty of time on their hands. That’s a slim group, so most of us have to make do with some shortcoming in this list – but it’s usually something that we can work around.

3. The Nature of Miniatures Game

With more alternatives Games Workshop has managed to adapt to the industry but it is not the miniatures alone that are lining their koffers, moreso it is the IP which has been licensed out for anything from mobiles games to remastered pc games. Miniature games are focused on collecting units and going to war with your opponent and mobile pvp can provide that for far less of a time and money invesment.

There is no story to speak of as you are in a skirmish or conflict opposed to a campaign where you see narratives and plotlines unfold. You do not level up rather you buy stronger units and this mode of play is not for everyone especially if you are the kind of person who dislikes pay to play games or do not have the time and resources. Miniature games are linear and are a time investment when playing similar to tabletop rpgs but whereas D&D is a social, cooperative and collaborative experience Warhammer on the other hand is competitive and does not have as many players.

In the end, nothing should really stop you from enjoying the hobby if it’s something you find that’s to your liking other than finances.

To play or not to play Warhammer? I see it as an easy choice, at least for myself. I love the game, I love the setting, I love the lore, I have a great job and I’ll be playing and enjoying the game for many years to come.

I hope to see you around, fielding your own armies, and that we will meet in joyous battle (or alliance) one day.

Fighting with little plastic men. The story of Warhammer:Fantasy Battles

New contributor and fellow Nerd Big K aka Kruno drops an article about the best table top fantasy war game of all time. Read more to find out more about this forgotten classic.

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It was the year 1998, the author of this text was in his late teens and admittedly a bigger geek then I am now if that is even humanly possible.

My friends and I had been playing D&D from the very beginnings and as a group we have been hardcore gamers, but D&D to us was a system that was just missing something, we could not quite put our finger on it, but as we understand it now we were missing gritty reality and logic.

While playing D&D at later levels, talking 12th and up, any character could basically walk into a village, kill every single person there and leave without so much as scratch on them! So things like that happened a few times in our playgroup before we disbanded until we could find a punishing enough system that would prevent stuff like that from even the most advanced level players.

We explored and read a lot and my friend and I found an article on (god damn I feel so old for remembering) Alta Vista(for those of you who don’t know what it is, its basically something like Google but way more primitive) about Warhammer: Fantasy Battles. It was a game of heroes and armies clashing on the field of battle, where 2+ players each commanded their own little or big army as we would later discover and beat each other senseless for bragging rights and a pint of beer, or if you played seriously on the tournament scene you could win some nice expensive Warhammer figurines and accessories like paint stations and professional style airbrushes.

In August 1998 the very first box of Warhammer: Fantasy Battles 5th edition arrived in Split, Croatia and my entire crew gathered to see what was in the beautifully painted box which sported a knight in full plate armor on a warhorse charging some sort of lizard like creature.

The suspense was crazy and we were all giggling like schoolgirls, and then we opened the box, it was full of unpainted and un-assembled models of knights, archers, lizardfolk, and sported 2 phenomenal looking heroes/champions for each army.

It also contained a phenomenal rule-book with loads of rules for almost any situation that could occur during the game itself and incredible Gothic looking artwork which we all fell in love with at first sight.

While some people felt underwhelmed and a bit disappointed, most of us including me saw huge potential in Warhammer. I saw endless possibilities for customization and making your own unique army and heroes, which could possibly be used in other gaming systems not just in Warhammer.

Now that we had the actual game it was but the the beginning of the love that would mark the next 20 or so years of my life.

We would all now have to chose an army to represent us best on the battlefield, it would define the way you build your army,  the way you play and what were the strengths and weaknesses of your particular army.

As a group we all picked what we felt most comfortable with.

The Vampire Counts with their incredible necromantic magic that could make entire units of skeletons appear on the battlefield.

The High Elves with their fast moving infantry and cavalry paired with their Mages that could wreak havoc on enemies.

The Empire ,a human faction with  heavily armored knights and heavy artillery like cannons and mortars to back them up and mostly used infantry as cannon fodder and something to be sacrificed to achieve victory at any cost.

The Dark Elves and their specialist units which were lightning quick while their heroes were ferocious in up close melee combat.

The Wood Elves as absolute kings of shooting with their longbows which had extra range and extra power, and the best scout units in the game.

 The Brettonians as a human faction which could be best described as feudal french knights mixed with crusaders and peasants as backup units which provided numbers while their fantastic cavalry did heavy hitting.

The Skaven a race of mutant ratfolk which use unstable magics and fight in huge numbers while supported with a form of close combat magics and semi/mechanical shooting which were hugely unreliable but when they did work  it proved absolutely devastating for the enemy.

The Warriors of Chaos a semi human demon faction wielding insanely powerful magic, which were the ultimate bad guys in the Warhammer world.

The Dwarfs a  reliable army of heavy armored infantry that could withstand almost any charge and strike back with good measure, backed up with some of the most devastating shooting units in the game and very decent protective magic.

And the last but certainly not least, my own favorite faction

The Orcs and Goblins   purely for practical reasons cause nobody else wanted them, I took them as my favorite and never regretted it for a millisecond.

It was an army of monsters, giants, trolls, goblins and orcs which lived in a mostly nomadic tribes and while they had huge numbers they were primitive and their magic was unreliable. When it did hit  it was absolutely devastating and while orcs were huge lumbering brutes that relied on pure strength, goblins were sneaky and devious so with those 2 combined were for me a match made in heaven.

 

And so we all began collecting and painting our armies, gathering for gaming and painting sessions that would last for entire weekends, I personally remember a couple where my folks asked me „Have you guys eaten anything in the last 2 days?“ we would paint and play for hours, the game was to us so immersive and so gritty and real that we had people including me (actually, especially me) have nerd rages for rolling bad and having our heroes killed by sheer bad luck. To most of us it was the best representation of tabletop conflict we have ever seen, and we loved every second of it, because even if you lost, there was a sense of dramatic achievements when you told how your mage wiped out an entire enemy unit when his spell failed (yes it was actually quite possible for a spell to fail and do devastating damage to both friends and foes alike).

We loved the unforgiving nature of the game which made you think of it like chess but with six sided dice included, mistakes on the battlefield were severely punished and your units could quite easily be wiped out by much inferior opponents just because you left your flank or rear open and vulnerable to attack. It was unlike anything we ever played before, in D&D you could resurrect your fallen comrade, in Warhmmer if a Lord/Hero/Mage died it was a huge deal and most armies suffered greatly with a loss of such a huge point investment and lack of leadership.

Warhammer as a game itself has many extensive rules, most of which I will not mention in this text, cause I’m writing an article not a 450 page book, but I do need to mention the game has complex character stats and quite a few of them for each model/character and the better your stats the more points the model costs and each game is played with an agreed number of points, for tournaments it was considered that 2000 point games were most balanced but most playgroups played anything from 500 point skirmishes to 5000 grand battles.

The game itself developed and my group played all editions of the game, however instead of making progress, it is my firm opinion that the game was at its peak during 6th edition which was the most balanced and started deteriorating from there, instead of fixing the minor issues of the game Games Workshop made 7th edition which was somewhat an improved version of the 7th but it reduced and gimped a lot of armies because it reduced the number of race specific magical items doing away with the uniqueness of armies,instead of listening to their player base Games Workshop messed up big time, we thought OK, we can adapt its not 6th but its still playable.

After 7th edition was released followed by the semi disastrous and final installment of Warhammer: Fantasy Battles the 8th edition, while it added some great stuff, like advantage for fighting in large units the so called horde units, it absolutely killed cavalry and mobility and made all armies a copy paste of each other which huge infantry units charging frontally into each other. It seemed to us older players that the game was so stupidly simplified that even preschool children could play it, and we were pretty pissed off.  The number of race specific magical items was almost nonexistent, everything was  incredibly streamlined and we were all disappointed and incredibly angry to the point that some people actually quit playing all together after reading the rulebook.

It was a sad time, we were friends who shared an interest but this tore our group apart, nobody wanted to play with these stupidly simplified rule set, we felt like the huge effort and not to mention a really large money investment was taken from us because developers were morons who did not listen to their player base! Games Workshop wanted to make more money but they failed to realize that you can’t make such drastic changes without alienating and antagonizing longtime customers and supporters of you previous iterations.

It felt like they cheated us old players in favor of new kids and we were pissed off, I believe we had every right to be.

Warhammer: Fantasy Battles no longer exists as a game system, it is replaced by a stupidly simplified game called Age of Sigmar, which while undoubtedly fun to play has no where near the complexity of the game I loved to play which has reduced the number off stats and characters become 1 man armies that decide combat results, while in previous editions it was all about the positioning of your units making the right charge at the right time. Now it is all about who has a bigger sword on a bigger lord class character which is too simple, non complex and for this reason is NOT in the true spirit of Warhammer!!!

It makes me sad and happy at the same time that a group of enthusiasts made an unofficial Warhammer game called the 9th Age but, its not officially endorsed by Games Workshop unfortunately.

This was my experience with Warhammer: Fantasy Battles a game that has given me great joy and a lot of fun memories. It made me a lot of friends and it saddens me that it no longer exists as something I loved to play but as something completely different, that greed and corporate money grabbing destroyed what was once of the greatest tabletop war game of all time.

 

I hope you enjoyed my debut article for Nerd Dimension and look forward to reading you feedback in the comments. Remember to rate, comment and subscribe to our Facebook page and Podcast to stay in the loop as we upload new content.