How to Pick Your First Warhammer 40k Army

Want to get into Warhammer 40k, but you're not sure what you should play? Here are a few criteria you may want to look into before deciding on a green-skinned horde or a gargantuan superheavy siege engine.

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.  And there are fifteen armies currently playable in that grimdark future, all vying for supremacy in the universe.  For a new player, that can be a bit overwhelming – especially since you will most likely be learning the rules as you play the army instead of poring over the rulebook, trying to learn every little loophole before picking up your first figures.

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So how do you decide what to play?

1. Consider The Models

The later sections involve things you might not necessarily know about yet, but one thing you can check right now?  What looks cool!

One of the amazing things about 40k is the wide variety of models available to you.  And you are going to be looking at those miniatures whenever you’re playing the game – moving them around, trying to ruthlessly destroy your opponent – so they should look the part!

Dark Eldar Wyches?  Mechanics aside, they look FANTASTIC.

40k is not just a game – it’s a full-on hobby.  You can spend hours painting and building and (if you’re like me) trying to compare how awesome your army’s storyline is to everyone else’s, before you even get to the gaming table.  

If you consider an army but don’t like its style and how the miniatures look… there’s probably a similar army that has a design that appeals to you more.

Maybe you don’t like Dreadknights.  I dunno.  It’s possible?

2.  Consider Your Playstyle

Think about what sounds fun to you.  There are ways to fit most any playstyle in with any army, but some are more suited to one style than another.

Do you want to rush your opponent’s front line with everything you’ve got, not caring about your casualties because you have hundreds of models in a gargantuan horde rushing toward them?  You might be interested in Orks or Tyranids.  

(Note: there’s a landing page on the Games Workshop site – to see the lists, you’ll need to select your country, then re-click the link.)

Look at all those terrifying talons…

Maybe you don’t want to have a horde of melee fighters, though.  You could be more interested in having a gun line of superior firepower, ready to mow down the enemy with maximum pew-pew.  There are other armies out there for you – like Necrons or Tau.

Beep boop – they may be near-mindless mechanical drones, but they can shoot!

Or maybe you want to throw some giant mecha into the mix.  Imperial Knights could be just the thing!

Who needs a big army when you can take three superheavy war engines?

3.  Consider the Fluff

Whether an army is suited to your playstyle or not, the stories behind the army can also have an impact on what you’d like to play.

Bloodthirsters thirst for your blood… and probably your soul too.

 A Daemon army might excel at rushing enemy lines and tearing their models apart piece-by-piece, but if you aren’t interested in playing the soulless corrupting influence of the Ruinous Powers, they probably aren’t going to be the army for you.

 Likewise, if there’s just something about space elves that bothers you, you may want to just look past the Eldar section…


Space elves.  They’re like elves.  But in space.

4.  Consider the Paint Job

When you’re first getting into the hobby, people are generally pretty forgiving of having an unpainted army, but there will come a time when you are going to get tired of a sea of grey on your side of the table every time you set up.

You can always get painting tips from your local hobby store – shout out to the Dragon’s Den here in Richmond, which is very newbie-friendly – or enlist a more experienced player to help, of course, but the point remains that your troops are going to need some sort of color to look good on the battlefield.

If you’re like me, and aren’t a huge fan of painting, then an army like Necrons (I keep bringing those up – it’s almost like they’re my go-to army or something) or Space Marines might be a good choice.  A skilled painter can make them look amazing, but even a fledgling 40k player can paint a passable army with just a couple colors.

Space Marines: Color-Coded For Your Convenience

5.  Check Out Your FLGS

This is possibly the best way to learn what kind of army you want to play.  Your Friendly Local Game Store most likely has either dedicated staff for 40k or has a group of avid players that are well-versed in the lore and the rules of the game. 

These folks can help you get started, play sample games and guide you down the path.  Games Workshop even has a convenient Store Locator to help you track down where to go next!

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I used to be the support manager for Gamer Launch/GameSkinny.