Warhammer 40,000 is a miniature-based table-top battle game in 35ml scale made by Games Workshop, which is currently in its third edition. It is a futuristic version of their Warhammer fantasy game, which takes a setting similar to Middle Earth and adds in a number of new races, notably the evil forces of the Chaos gods. In the 40k universe, most of the usual fantasy races are present, but in a somewhat altered form, as well as a couple of extra races.

Humans are represented by the bio-engineered superhuman Space Marines, the rank and file of the Imperial Guard, who show all the tactical savvy of the armies of World War 1, and the giant robotic fighting machines of the Titan legions. Sadly, the Titans don't appear in the small-scale firefights represented in 40k. The humans are led by the immortal Emperor of Mankind, an immeasurably powerful Psychic who brought order to the humans of the galaxy in a mighty crusade ten thousand years ago. He was mortally injured when his most trusted general turned to the evil gods of chaos, taking half of the space marines with him.

Elves and Dark Elves are present also, in the form of the technologically advanced but nearly extinct Eldar, who wander the stars in great spaceships called Craftworlds, and their evil Dark Eldar counterparts. The Dwarves of 40k are called Squats, and are hardy miners whose human ancestors settled on worlds with high gravity and adapted to be short, stubborn and tough. The Orcs are also present, except it's spelt Ork, and they're boisterous and carefree green-skinned creatures who love nothing more than a good fight. The Tyranids are evil space beasties which evolve by assimilating the DNA of other lifeforms and using it to create bizarre new hybrid creaures, all of which look suspiciously like the Alien from the film of the same name. The frankly rubbish Necrons are a failed attempt to make a whole race based around a t-800 terminator, and finally, the Tau are a new race, and appear to be unique for a games workshop race in that they are not obviously derivative of other well-known sci-fi or fantasy. Oh, except that they have large combat suits that look exactly like small battlemechs. And a V-Tol tank that looks just like the dropship from Aliens. So not at all derivative, then.

Warhammer 40K, properly titled Warhammer 40,000 (and formerly known as Rogue Trader), is a miniatures wargame in 35mm scale, set some 38000 years in the future, in and around a interstellar Imperium beset by foes from without and within, designed by Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers, Gav Thorpe, Ian Pickstock, and Jevis Johnson (in the current incarnaton) and published by Games Workshop.

A quick note: While the creators of this game are British, I am not, so I will not be referring to "daemons," "armour," or any other such Britishisms.

Described by some as an addiction, or even a way of "separating [adolescent boys] from as much of their money as possible, as fast as possible," in the words of Dhericean, it cannot be argued that the game is not a raging financial success in both the US and the UK, now on its third edition, with countless spin-offs.

While the setting isn't riveting science fiction, with stoic, heavily-armed elite troopers, a slavering, insectoid race, elves in space, and whatnot, a new player could certainly expect major cliches like an oppressive, galaxy-spanning Imperium that controls almost all of mankind. What that new player would certainly not expect is that the oppressive Imperium (it's never called an empire) just happens to be the good guys.

"In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war."

The Imperium of Man is lead by the eponymous Emperor of Mankind, trapped for the last 10,000 years in his Golden Throne, the stasis-chamber/crypt that has sustained him since the events of the Horus Heresy, and spans hundreds of thousands of occupied worlds of varying poulation, with the capital on Terra. The Imperium of Man is represented, in the game, by three forces: the Space Marines, the Imperial Guard, and the Sisters of Battle (who are a part of the Adeptus Ministorum). (There's also the multi-story mecha of the Titan Legions, the independant operators of the Inquisition, the techno-cultists of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the assassins of the Officio Assassinorum, and others, but they're generally bit players in the game.) The chief religion of the Imperium, of course, is Emperor-worship, ably justified by the fact that the Emperor is very nearly a god, with the battle cults of the Space Marines and the Cult of the Machine God (the religion of the Adeptus Mechanicus) only tolerated within strict limitations. This limitation, of course, is more than spiritual; the alternative is quite malevolent, in that it wants your soul, and it's quite willing to go and abbreviate your lifespan in the pursuit of that goal.

Chaos refers collectively to the Chaos Gods and their followers, all of whom make the Inquisition and the practice of Exterminatus (the scouring of all life on a planet to prevent the spread of Chaos, Tyranids, Orks, whatever) positively friendly. The Chaos Gods each represent some aspect of evil. Khorne, the Blood God, feeds on violence and destruction, and his followers strive to spill blood in his name. (They have such heartwarming battlecries as "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" or "SKULLS FOR THE THRONE OF KHORNE!") Nurgle, the God of disease, has followers who spread illness in battle and elsewhere, and is well-known for Nurgle's Rot, a bloating, always-fatal disease that can sometime transform its victims into mockeries of his demonic Plaguebearers (until the disease kills them). Tzeentch (pronounced "Zeench") is the God of change. Apparently Change encompasses pastel-colored demons and bolts of psychic energy. Last, but not least, is Slaanesh, the God of pleasure, whose followers tend toward claws and phallic imagery. Besides demons and cultists, the main force of Chaos consists of Chaos Space Marines, the corrupted former defenders of humanity.

Of course, humans (and those that used to be human) aren't all there is to see. The Orks, for example, are, well, typically green-skinned, square-jawed, over-muscled, and under-witted, fitting nicely into the generic fantasy/sci-fi orc template. Warhammer 40K orks, however, have a penchant for weird science and salvage, however, leading to the interesting spectacle of ramshackle ork "battlewagons" built from several other vehicles found on the battlefield and bolted together. Explanations for their bizarre mechanical feats and spectacular regeneration tend to pseudoscientific genetic (Orks have twisted triplets for DNA, for example) or psychic (Ork weapons and technology work because all the Orks collectively believe that they do). It's obvious that the Orks are a favorite of the designers, since the rules and stories are always delightfully bizarre, with a tendency towards self-immolation. (Ork weapons also have a notable tendency to explode.)

Just because every setting needs a mysterious dying elder race with pointy ears, there are the Eldar, a, well, mysterious dying race with pointy ears. They travel about on planet-sized starships known as "craftworlds" and follow the leadership of their psyker Farseers. Eldar are a dying race (due to the events of the Fall of the Eldar), and adhere to rigorous "paths", or lifestyle/careers, to shield themselves from sinking into the hedonism of the Fall. That, and they trap the souls of their dead in soulstones, which, in time of need, can pilot robots and Wraithlords and tanks and such.

Following in the Warhammer 40K tradition of ruthlessly milking any cliche that sits still long enough, there's also a hideous slavering race of Giger-esque insectoid carnivores, hive mind and all. The Tyranids are, well, a hideous slavering race of Giger-esque insectoid carnivores, ones with a tendency to land on a planet, consume all of the biomass, the air, and water, leaving behind a scoured rock. While the form of the creatures themselves tend to vary (in the game, there are rules for making up your own "bugs"), they all tend towards wiry muscles, bony plates, acid spitters and giant claws.

There are also some more recent additions to the 40K universe, retconned nicely into the fabric of the setting. (To be fair, the creators of WH40K do a good job of leaving loose ends, and of weaving new races and new additions into the milieu]) There are the debased Dark Eldar, the survivors of the Fall of the Eldar, adhering to the old ways of violent, self-centered hedonism. The Tau (and their mercenary Kroot) are the single optimistic race in the setting, with their "modern" tactics, positive outlook, and heavy weaponry. Thing is, they're also hopelessly outmatched. The newcomer Necrons are a blend of Terminator-style indestructible robots and Egyptian/Stargate Elder Forces, and generally dislike all living things just because they happen to be living.

That's the setting. Now, as for the rules...

In the third (and latest, released in 1998) edition, the game emphasizes the bread-and-butter squads of each army, with army composition that limits any attempts to focus in a certain area of specialized troops. While it's difficult or even impossible to concentrate your army on heavy, immobile weaponry, it's not hard to take an army of mostly specialists, as long as they were different kinds of specialists.

The rules have little to nothing in common with most historical wargaming. Lethality of weapons is extremely low, personal armor is often highly exaggerated, ranges are pitifully short, and morale effects are generally not a big deal. This makes for a forgiving and highly dynamic game, but will definitely annoy anyone who looks for a high level of realism in their wargaming.

The actual tactical dynamics of the game tend heavily into run-and-gun close range combat, with an extremely heavy emphasis on melee. Most armies will spend at least some time in hand-to-hand combat, and having a way to initiate, survive, or prevent melees is quite important.

The rules, unfortunately, follow the Games Workshop tradition of vagueness. A lot of the rules have had to be clarified or even rewritten in later supplements or in the house rag/company magazine, White Dwarf. Especially bad are the rules for melee and for assigning casualties. The game is best played with a group of experienced players, because the rules aren't neccessarily intutive, it's just that the rulebook's presentation is often unneccessarily vague.

Info on previous editions of the game can (or will, if not yet noded) be found in Rogue Trader or Warhammer 40K, Second Edition.

Sources: Warhammer 40K Third Edition Main Rulebook, my own good memory, the Games Workshop node, and a pile of of White Dwarfs yay high.

The rules of the third edition of Warhammer 40K have often been attacked as being vague or confusing and there has been a great deal of complaining of balance issues as well. Most of these are from either inexperienced gamers or from those who resist change. I don't want to say everyone who has complained about the rules for the new edition is wrong, because many of them have very valid arguments. I just want to clarify things so prospective gamers aren't dissuaded from trying at least a few rounds of 40K.

The first thing to realize is that Warhammer 40,000 is a game and in no way is it supposed to resemble reality. There are no legions of Space Marines or billions of members of the Imperial Guard sacrificing themselves to save humanity from the Traitor Legions of Chaos pouring from the Eye of Terror. There are no Tau or Necrons or even any Eldar chipping away at the armed forces of the Imperium, which does not exist. Once you realize that, complaining about realism is a rather hypocritical idea. The 40,000 is not some arbitrary number but indicates that the setting of the game is in the 41'st millennium. That makes it very hard to criticize elements of the game based on today's military. For the most part, the favorite weapon of the front lines would have to be the Bolt Gun, commonly referred to as the Bolter. This gun is primarily used by the Imperial Space Marines and is their generic firearm. The Space Marines also have incredibly powerful armor, called Power Armor that's primary purpose is to stop bolter rounds from penetrating and killing the soldier within. Seeing as how the ammunition for the bolter is .75 case less high-explosive rounds, well, this is obviously quite a feat. But this is the problem, the most recognizable part of 40K are the Space Marine. This then becomes the army most newbies want to collect, because they look cool, are really tough, and are easy to paint - a huge thing to consider when starting an army. However, most of the other races and factions are hardly known and they are what is best used to show why the game isn't as two-dimensional as people might say.

That's enough background, so what is going on with the actual rules? Well, look at things one point at a time. One thing that always come up is the relative weakness of the firearms in the game and its emphasis on melee combat. This is true, for the most part, Warhammer 40,000 is much more focused on the hand-to-hand part of combat than the stand back and launch rockets so they can't get close enough to my troops method. How bad are the ranges really? To disregard what I said earlier, look at it from a realistic standpoint. Using the Space Marines as my template, as they are the most common, let's look at their effective range in the real world. The average Space Marine is about 2 meters tall and the average miniature is about an inch, these numbers aren't exact, but they'll do for now. The bolter's maximum effective range is 24" which translates to about 48 meters. Now for those of us in America who can't think in the metric system, 48 meters is well over 150 feet. That's not its maximum range but its maximum effective range and while yes, we have guns that have a much higher range, the number you are likely thinking of has to do with how far it can shoot and not how far the average soldier can shoot it. Also, some of the heavy weapons can shoot 48" - 60" and the siege weapons are up to 240". Seeing as how most gaming tables are about 4 to 8 feet on each side, even 24" is quite a nice reach. Besides, anyone who has seen a game played know that watching armies sit back and shoot each other down is not any fun.

Next is the complaint about armor. Again, this is largely due to those who have only seen the Space Marines in action. Yes, they have incredibly unfair armor. It's a fact of life. There is nothing you can do about it because in the 40K universe, they have obscenely powerful armor. However, this isn't true for many of the other armies. The Imperial Guard or the Eldar for example, they are far more vulnerable to the weapons that the foot-sloggers carry because they just don't have the Power Armor. A couple of well placed Auto cannons can make short work of an entire Guard Platoon. A Devastator Marine sqaud could probably take them out in one turn and a Terminator squad, well, that's just cruel. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, those are both specialized units from the Space Marines that are just a little scary. Anyway, some armor really is way too strong but if you look at the point costs they are also much higher than the fodder from other armies.

With that being said, let me jump back to the issue of ranged vs. melee combat. The thing about Warhammer 40,000, is that you really can play it in whatever style suits you best. You can have a wall of troops that just has weapons blazing at the enemy the whole game or you can have a mob that rushes the enemy and tries to hack them to pieces. However, if you want the advice of a veteran war gamer (which is likely why you have stuck with me thus far) I would say that they thing to do was to have a little of each, no matter whether you like epic battles or minor engagements while assault troops have a hell of a time getting to the heavy weapons teams, once they are there, almost nothing short of another assault team can stop them. I know that seems self-evident but even some of the best gamers I've played against only focused on one area, and that's just stupid.

Another thing people don't realize is how flexible the system can be. You can have a massive army worth thousands of points and with hundreds of models or you can have a smaller force, whatever works for you. The gurus who write the books and supplements recommend a starting army should be brought up to about 1,500 - 2,000 points. NO! This is the one area where I highly disagree with them. I would lean more towards 3,000 points as soon as possible. I know that it can be expensive but if you have 3,000 points at a 2,000 point game, you can have a great deal more options for how to deal with the situation. So instead of having a city fight army, have one of the configurations of your army be good at building-to-building combat. Determine the size battles you normally fight, and get about 25 - 35 % more (in points) just so you can be much more tactically flexible. The other thing is get the special units. Yeah, they aren't cheap, but they'll save your ass. Seeing a squad of Khorne Berserkers is a fearsome sight but seeing a squad led by Kharn the Betrayer tear through your ranks is enough to make you cower under the table and cry. I've done it to people. Again, if you have the money to do so, I recommend several special characters to continue with the theme of making your army completely flexible. Every army I've assembled has at least one character to make it just a little bit better. Some players don't like special characters, but in tournament play they're fine, and everyone's goal is to play in at least one tourney, they're very fun.

The last complaint I have had addressed to me is the one about the almost non-existent role of leadership and morale in 40K. I really don't know where this one comes from, sorry. The thing that makes me like the Space Marines is their little ability: And They Shall Know No Fear meaning that they never flee from battle. Besides that, an army with low leadership scores is doomed because they'll spend the entire game running around the table like a bunch of monkeys on fire, so I don't know where people are getting this idea. Maybe your tactics weren't sufficient to break morale (not meant as an insult) but some of the most successful players I've seen rush in, force troops to retreat and achieve the objectives. There we go, parting advice. While attrition is beautiful in war games and seeing your opponent's army crushed beneath your heel gives you that nice warm feeling inside, if he (or she) achieves the objectives, he wins, no matter if you have ten times the number of points on the board. Never forget that, that's how I won most of my games.

Note: I am in no way employed by Games Workshop nor do I get money from them, though from all the money I've spent on them, perhaps I should... I am not trying to tell people they are wrong, or stupid, or anything like that. I actually agree with you on a number of things (like the damn Space Marines having too high an armor save). I'm trying to defend the game as nothing more than a fan, and if you've spent as much time playing as I have and enjoyed yourself as much as I have, you'll forgive these oversights. I only hope that someone who has considered playing, or even someone who never has but now does, and they at least try it before deciding it isn't any fun. Many store have open demos and a lot of local tournaments are open to spectators, all to generate interest. My message to the other veterans, if you are dissatisfied, do what my friends and I did, make your own rules. Sure they aren't official and can't be used at Games Day or any other Games Workshop events, most local tourney actually let you change rules as long as your opponent agrees and you aren't trying to take Horus as a leader or anything like that. Anyway, if you disagree with me, that's cool too, I'm just trying to make the best of the situation and try to get more people into the game, not as many people seem to play anymoe. Either way, go out, play games, have fun. It really is a great hobby to get into.

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