Someone asked me on twitter what a good starter army is for 40K, and I struggled to answer. You’d think it’d be a simple question, but its surprisingly complex! There are lots of variables.
Playing the Game
There are two main factors in playing the game for beginners (in my humble opinion). Those are:
1) Is the army forgiving? Can you survive a simple mistake?
Space Marines are brilliant here. Make a simple mistake, and your well armoured, high toughness troops probably aren’t going to be punished too harshly. Armies like Eldar or Dark Eldar are glass hammers – if you play them well, they are brutal, but make a mistake and they shatter! That’s not ideal for beginners. On the flip side, armies like Grey Knights are small numbers of high value troops – there isn’t a lot of depth to absorb casualties from mistakes. Orks, Guard and Tyranids have numbers which can really help absorb hits and keep going through the game.
2) Does the play style suit you?
This is the hard bit! Everyone tends to naturally play (or at least enjoy playing) in a certain way. If you like to dig in and hold a position, you aren’t going to particularly play well with an assault army of genestealers! If you enjoy fast moving positional play, slugging over the ground with hordes of infantry with Guard or Orks isn’t going to work either. Again, Space Marines work quite well here, with enough firepower to dig in, and enough speed and close combat ability to push forward too. If you get a few games in and learn what your favourite bit of the game is, it’ll really lead you to an army. Thats where a gaming club or GW store can really help get you started.
Starting to collect a 40K army is expensive. There are ways of justifying it, by comparing the value you get out of each unit over your years of gaming compared to going to the pub, but the simple fact is collecting a whole army is a significant investment … and thats before you take into account hobby equipment for painting and assembly too.
If cost is a factor, then the smaller the army you need, the cheaper it’ll probably be. Grey Knights are brilliant here, with a range of options that allow you to field a reasonably competitive army in just a few models. Armies like Guard, Orks or Tyranids can be be brutal to buy a full army and get them sorted and up to speed. Marines (particularly Dark Angels) work well as they feature in the starter set and campaign sets, giving you a tremendous value starting point.
Thinking of what minis you already have makes a difference too. If you’ve played Space Hulk and want to get into 40K, you already have a fair number of gene stealers and blood angels, for example. If you’ve picked up some chaos demons to play WFB in the past, starting a chaos force will probably be cheaper!
At the end of the day, though, its quite rare that people get into the game purely as a game. They buy into aspects of the fluff (and the fluff does usually match the play style to some degree). If they love the desperate stand of a dying race, collecting and playing Eldar will be much more exciting for them than playing Dark Angels. If they love Aliens, collecting genestealers will be much more appealing than Tau, while the reverse will probably be true if they love Robotech.
Its not just the fluff, though, its also the available minis. GW minis are great, and some are very exciting at the moment. Its not a good time to collect Sisters of Battle though, no matter how much you like the fluff, as there are almost no minis available, and those that are are out of date. On the flip side, if you love the new Harlequins, then you’ll probably feel a bit disappointed with snap together Dark Vengeance minis.
What do others have and know?
To some degree, a good starter army for you is one that, well, is yours! If your two friends already have Dark Angels and Crimson Slaughter, starting with the Dark Vengeance box set isn’t going to get you excited. Space Wolves with a rivalry with both? Now thats fun! Or Imperial Guard led by Cypher! If someone is new to the game, then introducing them to those rivalries can quickly lead to a fun, inspirational army choice. And if you play Blood Angels but know a lot about Eldar, then if your friend starts an Eldar force you can help introduce him to the universe more than if he picks an army you haven’t had any interest in.
Its a complex enough game that there isn’t a perfect answer to the “Starter Army” question. I think the best way is to try a few games as different forces at a club or GW, read some of the fiction and see if anything excites you. If everything’s pretty neutral, go with logic, and start with the actual starter set!