My First Game of Warhammer 40k

If you were to ask me about the tabletop game Warhammer 40k ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about it. I’m not even sure I knew that tabletop games existed. That changed in college when my friend’s roommate, Chris, had some models lying around on their kitchen table, along with the Warhammer 40k core book detailing all of the races in the universe. Before I describe my first and humble game of 40k, let me give you my background of the 40k universe coming into my first game.

My introduction to the universe and world of Warhammer 40k was actually through a video game, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War on PC. In the mid-2000s I was a young teenager in high school, browsing through PC games at my local Walmart with my parents. I had earned enough allowance to buy one game, and I was meticulously opening each game box to see which one peaked my interest. I stumbled upon Dawn of War, which is what my brothers and I called it from then on, completely ignoring the Warhammer 40,000 part of the title. It looked like a pretty cool sci-fi RTS from the box art, and the price was only $40. My mom almost wouldn’t let me buy it because I hadn’t heard about it before. I eventually convinced her to let me buy the game. 

Image Copyright THQ

My brothers and I had a blast playing it. Heroic space Marines of the Blood Ravens chapter slaughtered lots of silly Orks with English accents, insane Chaos Space Marines were cool bad guys, and the Eldar race made for interesting alien units. We never did purchase any of the expansions for the game, which introduced many more playable races. That part is a shame, because I probably would have noticed that the whole video game universe was based on a tabletop game. We had no idea.

Anyway, back to my friend’s apartment in college. I had just finished working out at my friend’s house, when I noticed Chris was fiddling with a bunch of small, gray, plastic models on the kitchen table. Being curious, I asked him what he was doing. He handed me his core book and told me to dive right in. I’m not sure what year this was. It would have been anywhere from 2011 to 2013. Google says that would have been 5th or 6th edition of Warhammer 40k, since 6th edition was released in 2012.

I immediately mentioned that all these Space Marine guys looked a lot like the Dawn of War video game I had played. Chris was astonished that I was not aware of the larger universe behind the video game. Instead of only 4 playable races, there were a dozen or so, with various chapters of Space Marines. The artwork and lore in the core book drew me to the Necron race, the immortal warriors in metal skeletons. Not only were there more races, but the in-game units were based on actual miniature models that you had to glue together and paint. I couldn’t believe that you had to paint your own models!

Chris had just finished assembling two small, equal forces of Space Marines and Tyranids. I don’t remember if these came from a box set or if he had purchased individual kits. He asked if I wanted to play a quick introductory match, and I couldn’t resist. Reminding me of the bugs from Starship Troopers or the Zerg from Starcraft, I chose to play as the Tyranid alien monsters. 

Image Copyright Games Workshop

We played the match on the kitchen table, and it must have looked pretty bare-bones. All the models had just been glued together, and everything was unpainted. I don’t remember if we even had any books or boxes set up as terrain. Never having played a tabletop game before, it took some time for me to get used to a measuring tape and all the dice rolls that 40k requires (rolling to hit, wound, and armor save, seriously?). 

Having grown up playing lots of RTS video games like Starcraft, Warcraft, Age of Empires, and Dawn of War, I understood the tactics of the game fairly quickly. I had a force of small, quick Tyranid creatures, supported by several larger ones and a big monster. Chris’s Space Marines were all ranged units with guns. I rushed forward with my small creatures (most likely Hormagaunts) right off the bat, hoping to tie the Space Marines up in combat. All the Hormagaunts died before reaching the Space Marines, just as cannon fodder is supposed to. Chris had to put all his firepower into the Hormagaunts, only to be whacked by the larger Tyranids as soon as the dust settled. Whatever the largest Tyranid I had was called, it chewed through several Space Marines all by itself. It was a brutal battle, with Chris emerging as the victor with a single Space Marine left standing. 

I didn’t have the time or funds to purchase any Warhammer 40k models after our mock battle, but it did stay in the back of my mind. I went on about life and forgot about Warhammer 40k, until almost 10 years later. It was late fall in 2020, and Covid isolation was hitting me pretty hard. I was getting bored at home, tired of playing video games. I was browsing Reddit when I saw the random forum of the day was for Warhammer 40k. I hopped on, discovered that a new, 9th edition of the game had just been released, saw that the evil looking Necrons were part of the starter set, and I got hooked right away. I bought a few Necron halves of the Indomitus 9th edition starter set, spent weeks and weeks painting them, and then I started playing games in a local crusade soon afterwards.

Image Copyright Games Workshop

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


I live in rural New Hampshire with my wife, our son, two cats, two dogs, no more chickens because they all got eaten, too many fantasy books, some miniature models, and my wife says I have too many keyboards (only three). Small and steady hobby progress wins the race when you have a toddler.

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