Warhammer 40,000 Buyer's Guide

Warhammer 40k is a miniatures wargame set in the dark grim future of the year 40,000. It is a hobby about collecting your favorite models, assembling them, painting them to your liking, and playing with them against your friends. With hundreds of products available, it can be quite daunting to start. This guide, updated for the 9th edition, is for you!

1. Knowing Your Objective

Are you a miniatures wargamer with a sci-fi leaning? Are you a model collector? Are you looking for a game you can play with your family and friends? Do you plan on pitching your forces in deep strategic combat against other armies at your local game store? If you can’t quite decide, have a look at the Getting Started booklet to get an overview of this amazing hobby. It also comes with 2 free models – a great way to get started! You could also get the huge book if you feel less hesitant.

If you are aiming to paint without playing, it is totally fine. Find the models you like, grab some Citadel paints, and head over to our Painting Guide for a primer on painting these highly detailed miniatures. If you are looking to get your hands dirty for a quick session, Golden Goblin Games recommend these three sets to get you started.

If you are looking for a fun, casual game with family and friends, have a look at a session of Open Play. It’s a simple format without much restriction – play with any (or all!) of the models you have available and start rolling dice.

For a quick way to get things started, the Recruit set is a small box with 20 easy to build (push-fit) models for both sides to get acquainted with. The Elite Starter Set, on the other hand, contains 27 models with a much heavier punch – perfect for rounding out your starter army with heavy weapons. If you want the biggest box, the Command Starter Set contains 27 miniatures, some fantastic terrain, and a 368-page hardcover book full of lore and rules.

Another way to play Warhammer 40,000 is Narrative Play, where players either recreate 'historical' battles from the Warhammer novels or play through a campaign where units can level up and gain battle scars.

Once you get into playing competitively, you’ll find that most players are using Matched Play rules. In this regulated environment, each player puts their armies and strategic prowess to the test in fair head-on battles against one another. Rules for Matched Play cover army size and composition along with the cost and type of units that can be deployed on the table. Just because your opponent has 10 different Space Marine Captains doesn’t mean he can use them all in a single army! If playing competitively is your goal, the following section is right for you.

2. Choosing Your Faction

There are three major sides in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 – The Imperium of Man, the Forces of Chaos, and the Xenos Threat. Within each side exists multiple factions with their own agendas and favored tactics.

The Imperium of Man is representative of humanity’s finest men and women in arms in the 41st millennium, from the heroic, superhuman Adeptus Astartes to the lowly but brave soldiers of the Astra Militarum, the eccentric techpriests of the Adeptus Mechanicus and the holy warriors of the Adepta Sororitas. These brave heroes of humanity seek to reunite the scattered worlds of the Imperium and bring humanity back its rightful rule of the galaxy. If you want to play the heroic humans fighting against the galaxy’s dark fate, this is the side for you.

Opposing the Imperium of Man are the Forces of Chaos – unholy daemonic forces preying on the weakened minds of humanity in order to manifest literal hell on earth as they pour out from the Immaterium into the Material plane. The Forces of Chaos are further divided among the four Gods of Chaos: Khorne, the God of Rage, War, Blood and Carnage. Nurgle, the God of Decay, Disease, Destruction and Despair. Tzeentch, the God of Change, Lies, Sorcery and Knowledge. Slaanesh, the God of Excess, Decadence, Pleasure and Perfection. Each Chaos God plays with mortal men in their own ways (and sometimes against each other), while their followers spread chaos and destruction in their wake. If you like to sow chaos among your enemies, this side is for you.

In the midst of this grand war stand the Xenos Threat. From the undying Necrons to the elusive Aeldari, the fight-happy Orks, the ravenous Tyranid swarm and the technologically-advanced T’au Empire, each of these Xenos forces stand neither for nor with each other. Each of these factions see the Imperium as a threat to their livelihood as much as they despise each other. If neither the Forces of the Imperium nor Chaos feel right for you, one of the Xenos factions might be what you are looking for.

Read a bit of their lore, their culture and fighting style. Once you find one faction you feel happy with, purchase their Codex and read more about them. Within each Codex is a short history of their involvement in the galaxy, their current fighting force as well as the rules for playing them. Below are some of the Codex available. Check the full list here.

3. Building Your Army

In a typical Matched Play game, you and your opponent agree on a battle size then each build a Battle-forged army that respects the corresponding points limit.

Battle Size Points Limit Detachments Game Duration
Combat Patrol Up to 500 1 ~1 hour
Incursion 501 to 1000 2 ~2 hours
Strike Force 1001 to 2000 3 ~3 hours
Onslaught 2001 to 3000 4 ~4 hours


An army is made of 1 to 4 Detachments. Each Detachment is made of multiple Units. Each Unit is made of 1 or more Models (it could be 1 Tank or 10 Ork Boyz).

There are different types of Detachment and each one dictates how many units of each battlefield role are needed before they can be deployed on the table. Every unit is also assigned a Battlefield Role, which indicates what role a unit has in an army.

The Detachment’s leader type unit is noted under the HQ Battlefield Role, while a battle line unit is noted under the Troop Battlefield Role. A specialist unit is listed as the Elite Battlefield Role, a fast-moving skirmisher falls under the Fast Attack with the heavy weapons listed under the Heavy Support Battlefield Role.

Some of these Detachment choices include:

Unit Battlefield Role Patrol Detachment Battalion Detachment Vanguard Detachment Spearhead Detachment
HQ 1-2 2-3 1-2 1-2
Troop 1-3 3-6 0-3 0-3
Elite 0-2 0-6 3-6 0-2
Fast Attack 0-2 0-3 0-2 0-2
Heavy Support 0-2 0-3 0-2 3-6
Flyer 0-2 0-2 0-2 0-2


How do we know how many points a type of unit costs? These and other equipment details are listed at the back of each faction’s Codex. Some units may also have points or rules revision, which will be updated in Chapter Approved publications.

4. Purchasing Your Army

Now that you know which faction you will be playing and what unit to use, it’s time to buy your models! There are 2 types of boxed sets that are a great deal for new players.

  1. Combat Patrol are recent boxed sets that contain a valid army of at least 500 points ready to be deployed on the table.
  2. Start Collecting are older boxed sets that generally contain a bit less than 500 points and need to be supplemented with a few extra purchases.

Once you have either one of these, you can expand and customize your army to include Elite, Heavy Support, and Fast Attack units by buying other individual boxes.

5. Example

You and your friend want to play a short game and choose Combat Patrol as battle size. Your army will only have 1 Detachment and you cannot exceed 500 points.

You are playing the Space Marines faction and you decide to pick a Patrol Detachment.

HQ:       1 x Primaris Captain (85 pts)

Troop:   2 x Intercessor Squads made of 5 models in each squad (100 pts each)

Elite:     1 x Aggressor Squad made of 3 models (120 pts)

Elite:     1 x Reiver Squad made of 5 models (90 pts)

Total of 495 points.

With one Primaris Captain and one Intercessor Squad, you fulfill the minimum requirements to deploy a Patrol Detachment, while the other units fill out the rest of the Detachment. The remaining 5 points are used to upgrade the Primaris Captain with an additional Power Sword (+5 pts).

You are now ready for a 500 points Matched Play game! While it might be a bit on the light side, it is certainly not a weak combat force. Your opponent is also limited to 500 pts in total forces. All that’s left is to deploy them on the table and go head-to-head with each other. Only time and tactics will tell who will become the victor!

Last updated: March 2021.

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