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.


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!

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.

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.

Warhammer 40K model options … Without going to Games Workshop

Let me start by saying I love Warhammer 40K.  I love the universe, the Black Library books and authors are fantastic, and the game is generally fun, interesting, and has evolved in interesting ways (even if there are enough quibbles with the rule set to start a fresh Horus Heresy!)

However, I’m not as keen on GW as a company these days.  I’ve personally found some of the employees of GW to be pushy, unpleasant, and of an aggressive opinion that GW can do no wrong.  Everyone makes mistakes, so that tends to wind me up!  Suing authors for using  the term “space marine”, a term that predates GW by a significant margin is not exactly great work, for example.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at alternatives to GW models for various forces in the 40K universe.  These are just my opinions as to what you could use the models for, rather than what they are being sold as – you may disagree, or feel they’d be better as something else.

Chaos Space Marines

I’ve never found much in the way of alternative Chaos Space Marines.  It’s a very iconic look, which doesn’t lend itself to alternatives terribly well!

However, Evilcraft do a fantastic set of Chaos looking troops in power armour with bolt pistols and bolter style weaponry.  Very cool, and ornate enough to be used as chosen if you just wanted some specialist models.

Puppets War do quite a good range of conversion bits, much of which is suitably spiky for the forces of Chaos.  In terms of straight models, they have a great squad that work work as a Raptor Squad.

They also have a reasonable number of troops that are probably better guard proxies, but would make OK cultists.  They also have some cracking zombies, for Nurgle plague zombies.

On the zombie front, Hasslefree Minis do a great, and cheap, set of zombie plastics.


And finally on the zombie/cultist front, Mantic Games do a great range of plague zombie marines:

Raging Heroes have a cracking model that could be could as a Nurgle general.

Zealot Miniatures do a model I think would work well as a chaos spawn.

Scibor do a small range of Chaos terminator types, which could be could for chaos lords.

Chaos Demons

Raging Heroes do some amazing Preying Mantis models, which would make fantastic Daemonettes.

They also do a great demon option for a Daemon Prince or Greater Daemon of Khorne.  You could probably get away with the smaller version as a Chaos Lord in a CSM force.

Puppets War do some good demons too. I love the thought of fielding Plague Bears instead of Plague bearers!

Avatars of War do fantasy models, but that isn’t a problem for Daemons!  They do a couple of cracking models that would make amazing Heralds of Khorne and Nurgle.

Maxmini do a fantastic line of Nurgle style demons, from Greater Demons:

Through smaller plague bringers, which would make a good herald:

Zealot Miniatures do an interesting Greater Demon of Khorne style model:

Imperial Guard

Imperial Guard are the closest thing in the 40K universe to standard human soldiers, and so are probably the easiest army to find decent alternative models for – for the infantry, anyway!

Mantic Games have their Corporation Army range, which are perfect guard replacements on the whole.

Interestingly, I’ve seen their Veer-myn line os space rats used for very effective chaos guard!

Dreamforge Games have a great range of stormtroopers that work well for Tempestus Scions, or maybe as veterans.

Statuesque Miniatures do some really cool female resistance fighters that would work really well as cultists or irregular guard.  As well as squaddies, they do a few special weapons, heavy weapons, snipers and commissars

Raging Heroes don’t currently produce many models. but are launching three full female guard army lines, loosely matching Steel Legion, Valhallan and Penal Legion Imperial guard lines.  At the moment, they do a small number of female officers which are great as commissars or custom commanders.

Victoria miniatures do a tremendous range of guard alternatives, as well as bits for customising any GW troops you may get.  If you want a custom regiment, or decent female troops, this is the place to go.  Their Arcadian rifles look absolutely cracking models.

Puppets War do a few squad options, but I’m not amazing taken by them, to be honest.  What I love, though, are their rough rider options, on motorbikes with lances.  Its something that has come up in the novels a few times, so it’d be good to see on the table.

Scotia Grendel do some interesting lines from the old VASA and Urban Mammoth games, which could easily be adopted for Imperial Guard.  Here’s one of their VASA squads, for example.

Maxmini do some great catachan alternatives, female alternatives, and a few space ogres for some Ogryn fun.

Mad Robot Miniatures have some brilliant conversion parts, but you can get complete guard squads in various looks.  Decent Valhallans are always a bonus these days, especially if you have most of an army already!

Space Marines

Mantic Games have a line of Enforcers.  While quite a different look from the traditional space marines found in GW, the equipment ties up quite nicely.

Puppets War have an interesting range of heavy armoured troops that would also do quite nicely, including strike (power) armours, and terminator armour in a range of configurations – even bikes and vehicles.

Scibor do some amazing marine style models.  Most of them match to more extreme versions of the various Space Marine Legions inspirations – Spartan for the Imperial Fists, Roman for the Ultramarines, Celtic for the Space Wolves, and so on, though there are some more unique ones, like egyptian options too.

Hitech Miniatures do some really interesting models, and again, break into groups that match the SM legion inspirations – more extreme than the very similar GW ones.

Kabuki Models do a great line of possible Primarch alternatives.  Less appealing now Forgeworld are producing official models, they are still gorgeous pieces in their own right.  Here is the Castellan Knight.


I’ve never really found any good third party Eldar like models in army like levels.   That may change when Mantic Games get around to releasing their Asterian line of Space Elves!

Chapter House Studios do some great commanders on jet bikes, and also do a unique aspect warrior squad – Warp Stalkers – that looks like it’d run as howling banshees.

Dark Eldar

Raging Heroes are the current queens of the non GW Dark Eldar!  Not only do they have a really lovely female archon, succubus, and squads of “blood vestals” which are perfect for Wyches, it looks like they’ll be expanding their line in the future too!


Orks are tricky.  There aren’t generally huge numbers of space ork alternative models out there, though there are fairly large numbers of passable alternative vehicles.

Mantic Games do offer a large line of Marauders which would work well for Orks, both infantry and light vehicles.

Raging Heroes do a fabulous sci-fi ork warmaster, which would be amazing as your army warlord!

Puppets War do a fantastic range of Orky vehicles and planes, like this:

Adepta Sororitas

Well, I’ve never found any great models here for ladies in power armour.  Heck, its almost impossible to even get them from GW!

Having said that, it looks like Raging Heroes are planning on producing some nuns with guns options in the future – look here!

There are a couple of options that can be adapted from Privateer Press – Protectorate of Menoth.  I really like the Daughters of the Flame as Death Cult assassins as part of an Ecclesiarchy Battle Conclave.  Picture from Firestorm Games.

In addition, I think the Harbinger would make a brilliant alternative to Saint Celestine:

Imperial Knights

There’s only one real alternative to Imperial Knights out there – and that’s DreamForge Games Leviathan!


There aren’t huge amounts of Necron alternatives out there either, unfortunately.  The best selection I’ve seen is from Puppets War. which has a reasonable range of things, like an enormous cyber spider (scarab) swarm.

There’s a C’Tan alternative too

And a couple of vehicle and canoptek spider options.  No basic troops at the moment though.


Well, there are a few options for the die-hard squats fan still.

The first is Mantic Games, whose Forgefather range is pretty extensive, and just the sort of thing you want from your Space Dwarves!

The second option I’ve come across is Hasslefree Miniatures range of Grymm.  You can’t beat some of these models for character:

Tau & Tyranids

Unfortunately, I’ve never come across anything that really works well for these!  There are a lot of Mycetic spores for Tyranids out there – but GW axed them from the codex.  Tau is a very unique look – there are some female Tau kits from Zealot Miniatures, but no full squads I’ve come across.  Some people have used Robotech type models in place of the crisis and riptide suits, but thats a step further away from the Tau models than I’d go normally.

Hive Fleet Kipper arrives

Well, my work sorting out my various armies has continued onto the Tyranids!

Unfortunately, I have fewer painted Tyranids than most of the other forces, and can muster only 1300pts of painted gribblies!  I’ve included the full unpainted forces (a solid 3000pts) here, to illustrate the full potential scope of the Tyranid threat.  Its a fairly simple paint scheme, though – desert yellow base, red wash over non-chitin, yellow chitin, dry brushed red, then a few details.

With two hive tyrants (I have metal wings that I may use to convert them to “flyrants”), some old school tyrant guard, tyranid warriors, lots Genestealers, Termagants, 3 Zoanthropes, Hormagaunts, a Lictor, Raveners, Biovores and spores, and a carnifex, there are plenty of options for lists.  Unfortunately gargoyles must be fielded in units of 10 – I have 9 metal ones!

No anti air hits pretty hard these days, though.  Aegis defence lines or a hive crone might be needed, and possibly an exocrine or weapon heavy carnifex may also be needed to make it more workable, and it sounds like a venomthrope is almost essential to absorb incoming firepower.

I worked out as a minimum to hit 1850 pts, I need to paint:

  • 2 broodlords
  • 1 termagant
  • 2 hormagaunts
  • 3 biovores
  • 1 carnifex
  • 2 Zoanthropes

So just 11 models to hit my minimum completed army specifications!

My thoughts on the new Tyranids Codex

Well, having read through the new Tyranids codex, I’m not terribly impressed.  Why, you may ask?  Well, there are several reasons, and they aren’t generally related to the army list performance – until you take it for a spin, you really can’t tell whether its good or bad.

What are the main flaws for me?

1)  The fluff

The sixth edition codices have done a phenomenal job on the whole pf pushing the background of 40K another step forward.  The Space Marine codex was particularly good, as was Tau Empire.  This codex? I didn’t feel I learnt anything new about my Nids!

Where did they originate?  Were they originally a bioweapon, and if so, who created them?  If they are all part of the same hive mind, rather than a different mind for each fleet, why would Tyranids fight each other?  All the other races have a certain amount of rivalry or dissension built in to explain internal conflicts in the game, whether it’s ancient hatreds or just training exercises.  If each hive fleet was a unique mind, then competition for resources covers it – one mind fighting itself seems a bit silly.

How many more waves are there likely to be?  How widespread is gene stealer infiltration?  Has Kryptman discovered anything new to give the Imperium a chance?  Why would Necrons without organic parts be of any interest to Tyranids who are only interested in biomass?

I don’t know!  I feel the same fluff was thrown up again, rather than added to or reworked.

2)  Irritating Model Choices

One of the cool options for Tyrannids was the Drop Spores – effectively living drop pods for units that would act as living weapons too.  GW never produced a model, but many people built their own or bought alternatives from third parties.

This option is gone from the list entirely.  That’s rubbish, and a bit of a kick in the teeth for a more dedicated long term player.  I’m not dedicated enough to have done that, so it doesn’t affect me directly, but it does annoy me – I liked the whole concept of living pods fired from the hive fleet – its a key part of the Tyranid art and imagery in various books.

3)  The list itself

I haven’t tried it, but there are several choices that just feel lazy in the list to promote the new models.  My current list is a close combat monster … which isn’t ideal for the paradigm in 6th … but is totally helpless against flyers.  What have we to counter fliers now?  Well, not much except take our own new flyer model.

Its not a total surprise, but I’m really disappointed, as I felt that biovores and spore mines would be able to work in that role – imagine if spores were particularly effective against flyers as they bobbed around.  It’d be fun as flyers would need to try to bank around the spores, biovores would become much more useful, and it’d feel very 40k to have to dodge living floating mines!

So yeah, I feel that whether or not the whole list is effective, the construction of the army list itself was phoned in.

Worst 6th edition codex release so far – I’ve really enjoyed reading every other release.

New Years Hobby Resolutions!

Well, 2014 has begun, and with it a whole slew of resolutions that I’m sure I’ll break 🙂

I’ve decided that I need to get more done hobby wise, but trying for a fixed “x amount a week” just isn’t going to work, particularly with a little baby girl who is gifted at scuppering plans 🙂 With that said, my goals for 2014 are to:

“Finish” two 40k armies!

That sounds easy, doesn’t  it?  For a finished army, I have decided that I need to have – a kill team, a 1000pts list, a 1500pts list, and an 1850pts list, with all the models painted to a decent standard.  The lists will overlap – that isn’t going to be 4500pts of models, but that should get me to the point where I’m happy with an army I can pick up and play.  Should be very doable if I can fit in some hobby time occasionally and restrain my hobby ADD 😉

My current army I’m working on is Imperial Fists.  After that, well, who knows.  Probably either smurfs or fallen angels, now the Cypher data slate is out …though the new tyranids look interesting ….

I have a lot of finishing work to do on a range of armies, so if I can beat two, great!  If not, I think finishing 2 armies is doable.

Sort out my scenery!

I have a lot of scenery that needs to be sorted out and assembled, including 40K cityscapes, towers of sorcery, chaos altars and so on.  Getting it sorted, and at least a tabletop quality paint job will make any games I can fit in a lot prettier!  It’ll also help me getting my hobby gear generally sorted!

Work out my 40K Campaign System

As part of my work to refresh my programming (and learn javascript/jQuery), I’m also putting together a campaign generation system.  Its quite fun, and should also work to spice up individual games too!

Blog more often!

I really want to stick close to at least one post a week!  If nothing else, it’ll keep me focused on getting some gaming done 🙂

Interactive Army Painters

I thought I’d update my post from ages ago about interactive army painters.

Bolter & Chainsword has an amazing set of interactive army painters available, letting you plan out a general look and feel for models before you try them. Its no substitute for trying a model or two, but does let you think about your colour choices!

The best painter is for Space Marines, unsurprisingly

There is another one for Terminators.

and for the Sisters of Battle.

You also have Chaos Marines.

The Tau – Fire Warriors.

and Orks.

There is a painter program that handles both tau and eldar – its simple to use, but not as flexible as the Bolter and Chainsword options here.

Although its a little over complex and fluffy, there is a great Tyranid painter program here

Haven’t been able to find any for Imperial Guard, Dark Eldar, or Necrons though. One suggestion is to use the Dawn of War army designer, and take a screenshot of the outcome.

Space Hulk – Mission 7

Mission 7 – The Artifact.

‘Get in, Get the Artifact, Get out’

That sums up the mission objectives, from the SM side the main difference between this and the first two missions (the ones we’ve played so far) is that a) you have 7 SM’s and b) one of them is a Librarian (psyker).

Game 1, I took the SM’s while James took the Tyranids.

With the 7 SM’s I decided from the off that I would splt the force into two, The Seargent, one SM with a Flamer and two SM’s with bolters were tasked to  hold the escape route and the Librarian one SM’ with power claws and one witha bolter were tasked  to get the Artifact.

As the game progressed I was struck by how I seemed to be able to do almost everything that I wanted, three facters contributed to this, reasonable dice rolls, above average Action Points and the presence on the board of  a Flamer AND a Psyker.

The Psyker is a very valuable member of the team as he can use all of his action points to move and then spend some Psychic points to either move the command point marker back one place (1), block a corridor (2), or make a ranged attack (3). The first two are automatically sucessful and the third needs to roll to hit. Together with the Flamer this gave me two units with the abillity to block access to the Tyranids – very useful 🙂

So the combination of  stopping free access to corridors, good shooting and high command point (keep that Seargent allive!) allowed me to complete the mission without any losses.

Game 2, the roles were reversed and James took the SM’s

James used similar overall tactics ie split force, I decided, after seeing how easily I managed to hold off the Tyranids in the last game to try and concentrate the ‘nids and try to overwhelm James’ SM’s at two specific points – that’s when James excersised the same control over the game as I had previously 🙁 My only sucess was to finally overwhelm the SM’ with the power claws in the last throws of the game 😀

Both of us agreed that perhaps one less SM would have made the game a little less certain.

All in all another great evening, many thanks to James


Space Hulk

OK so Rob got Space Hulk, I thought that at nearly 60 quid it was expensive.

So Rob came over on Sunday and I got my first look at the new (Limited) Release.

The first thing that you notice is the wieght of the game, the bulk of this is because of the thickness of the card pieces – think standard cardboard times 3 or 4!

The card pieces are beautifuly printed and embossed! and include all of the corridoor pieces, various play markers, doors and a display track for Command, Psy and auto cannon points.

The plastic pieces are split into 3 types, Space Marines, Tyranids and door mounts.

You get 10 live Space Marines 1 dead one sitting in a chair, a Cat (mobile drone) and a Chalice in red plastic and a hoard of Tyranids lead by a Brood Lord all in purple plastic.

The quality of the figures is outstanding, the molded details everything you would expect from GW – and more!

The 11 SM figures are all unique in a variety of action poses – maybe one day they will be available seperatly 😀

The Tyranids have 7 or 8 unique poses with 5 poses being duplicated. Again a lot of animated poses with Tyranids creeping around corners, up through deck plates and on beams. In all a very eye catching and desirable set of figures.

I would start my conclusion by saying that the pictures above don’t do Space Hulk justice. I still think that nearly 60 quid for a board game is a lot. But, given the quality of the product, the playability (Space Hulk IS a classic) and the amount of fun the game provides, I have to say that I think that Space Hulk is good value for money.