Getting started with 40K! (Particularly for Orks and Tyranids)

A couple of cracking chaps (@CronosTweets and @Kevuit on twitter) who are new to the 40K gaming side of the hobby asked a fascinating question – how do you get started in the hobby?  How do you learn the rules, and more importantly, have fun?

Well, thats actually a surprisingly difficult question to answer, as 40K has made itself increasingly hard to get started with.   Its not something I’d noticed until I thought about it, but where you used to have starter sets with increasingly complex missions introducing you to the ruleset, now you chucked a bit more in the deep end.  After silly numbers of years playing, that’s great for me, and starter and campaign sets give me updated rules and cheap minis …. but they aren’t so good at teaching you to play.

So how do you get started, particularly if you like an army that isn’t found in a starter set, like Orks and Tyranids in this case.

Well (and many may disagree …), I’d suggest planning a narrative set of games designed around the models you have that separately explore the different phases of the game to get used to the way your core units move.  Here’s a few examples.

AMMO PROBLEMS!

Running low on ammunition and biological proteins, the orks and the tyranids desperately need to avoid combat, pick up supplies, then get back to the lads/spawning pools.  

Each of you dice for table edge (winner picks, other deploys facing him) pick a objective token, and place it for the other somewhere on a 4x4 board with whatever scenery you choose.  No combat is possible (no psychic, shooting or assault, though you can run in the shooting phase), but you have to run to your token, and back off your table edge.  First one off is the first to rearm, and will get to deploy first in the next mission!
TAKE OUT THE BIG UNS

Both Orks and Tyranids are led by biguns, though it has more of an effect on tyranids.  Pick a small force with a few MCs or walkers and some simple troops, with a range of longer range anti tank weaponry.

Ensure roughly the same points value and numbers of MCs and Walkers, and score a vp for each big un taken down!  This can illustrate the effects of the synapse rule for the tyrannies, and is a fun way to test out the shooting phase.
RIP EM UP CLOSE

Go for 500pt horde type close combat forces, and simply Warrrgh or chitter into it!  remember to try to concentrate your forces and defeat the enemy in detail where possible.  Its especially fun if no ones really shooty - get stuck in lads!

I think you get the idea – the narrative makes the simpler game more fun, and each one teaches you the basics of the game, so as you combine the elements, you don’t slow down too much or feel overloaded.

Stick with small points and fairly plain units to start with.  You want to understand the basic abilities of your units before you start modifying them.  Making a unit invisible can be great … but not if you don’t understand how they move or can be positioned.   Introduce new abilities and phases slowly, and take into account not just your learning speed, but your friends – if you speed ahead, they can be discouraged, or you can actually miss some basic understanding that throws you off.

Formations, data slates and codex supplements offer another layer of complexity – I’d steer clear of this to start with until you have the basics hammered in enough to allow you to actually enjoy expanding the rules.  No one, and I suspect even the games designers fall into this too, can keep up with the complete range of rules, expansions, campaigns, codexes, codex supplements, data slates, white dwarf extras and bonus formations in start collecting packs.  Don’t even try – just remember you can always ask to see you opponents list and codex if something seems very odd!  Just add the bits that seem fun – its a not a prescriptive system (with the possible exception of high end competitive tourneys!)

One thing we introduced in my gaming group at the time was a take back system!   If we introduced a new edition or game, we’d have a number of take backs a game as we got used to it.  We’d drop the take backs down as we played until we didn’t need them any more.  Its a great learning tool!  If you moved a unit and then realised in the shooting phase you actually wanted them to stay still because of a heavy weapon, use a take back to move them back!  We restricted it to your own turn, and started with 6.  If you got challenged on a rule and were in the wrong, you could use a takeback.  It didn’t generally upset the game, but made those silly mistakes from a lack of understanding a lot less fatal and the games themselves more fun.

Big games can be fun, but they are slow, and the less familiar with the rules you are, the slower they are!  Start small.  500-1000 points is a great range for a reasonably battle without packing in every rule in the whole codex!  500pts is particularly good for learning phases, and the Combined Arms Detachment – a HQ and 2 troops minimum is a fantastic starting point for balanced encounters.

The key is to play with enthusiasm, lose with grace, win with humility, and generally just enjoy the whole affair.  Don’t get too hung up on getting the rules perfect game one – learn them over time.  In my case, thats generally just as they update to another edition … 😀

With Orks, you probably want to get used to vehicle and walker rules quite early on.  With Tyranids, monstrous creature rules and synapse rules will be quite important, so narrative games focused around those will help you learn quickly.

Both armies play well hurtling forward, but there can be a surprising amount of positional importance for such brutal forces.  Charge genestealers into flamers and they will be toast. Get them into close combat though, and pretty much any force will get torn up!

Try to avoid very cheap forces, as they’ll bulk out the time of learning games early on.  Hundreds of grots can fit in a 1000pt army.  It won’t be fun moving them all, especially when flicking frantically through rules books.  Keep it small and punchy, and mix it up with different units to get to grips with all of them – that’s when your list building and understanding of how to use units together starts to really get more effective, and formations then start making sense.