Current Warhammer 40,000 logo
|Designer(s)||Rick Priestley, et al.|
|Illustrator(s)||John Blanche, Jes Goodwin, et al.|
|Years active||1987 to present|
|Setup time||Varies depending on size of game. Usually 20 minutes.|
|Playing time||Varies depending on size of game. Usually one to three hours.|
|Random chance||Medium (dice rolling)|
|Skill(s) required||Military strategy, arithmetic|
Warhammer 40,000 (informally known as Warhammer 40K, WH40K or simply 40K) is a tabletop miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop, set in a dystopian science-fantasy "grimdark" universe. Warhammer 40,000 was created by Rick Priestley in 1987 as the futuristic companion to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, sharing many game mechanics. Expansions for Warhammer 40,000 are released periodically which give rules for urban, planetary siege and large-scale combat. The game is in its sixth edition, which was published at the end of June 2012.
Players can assemble and paint individual, 28 millimetre (approximately 1 inch) scale miniature figures that represent futuristic soldiers, creatures and vehicles of war. These figurines are collected to compose squads in armies that can be pitted against those of other players. Each player brings a roughly equal complement of units to a tabletop battlefield with handmade or purchased terrain. The players then decide upon a scenario, ranging from simple skirmishes to complex battles involving defended objectives and reinforcements. The models are physically moved around the table and the actual distance between models plays a role in the outcome of combat. Play is turn-based, with various outcomes determined by tables and the roll of dice. Battles may last anywhere from a half-hour to a whole weekend, and battles may be strung together to form campaigns. Many game and hobby stores host games, and official tournaments are held on a regular basis, such as the Throne of Skulls.
Warhammer 40,000's space-fantasy setting spans a vast fictional universe set in the far future of the forty-first millennium. Its various factions and races include the Imperium of Man, a decentralized yet totalitarian interstellar empire that has ruled the vast majority of humanity for millennia, the Orks (similar to Warhammer Fantasy Orcs), the Eldar (similar to Elves in Warhammer Fantasy Battle), and Daemons (very similar in both universes, although the precise natures of their creation and existence vary slightly), among others. The background and playing rules of each faction are covered in the game's rule books and supplemental army 'codex', along with articles in the Games Workshop magazines, White Dwarf and Imperial Armour. The game's miniatures are produced by Citadel Miniatures and Forge World.
The Warhammer 40,000 setting is used for several tabletop games, video games, and works of fiction, including licensed works published by Black Library, a subsidiary of Games Workshop. The events and characters are described below using in-universe tone.
- "...in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war."
The Warhammer 40,000 game takes place in a very dystopic science-fantasy universe with most stories set in the 41st millennium (40,001 - 41,000 AD). 38,000 years in the future, mankind has settled more than a million worlds across the galaxy. Most are united in the Imperium of Man, a brutal theocratic regime united in its worship of the Emperor of Mankind. Despite its size and power, the Imperium teeters on the brink of collapse due a combination of escalating war, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, and technological stagnation.
The Imperium fights unceasing war against a number of hostile alien races, which are:
- the Tau, a young, idealistic race that naively thinks it can absorb the races of the galaxy into its utopian empire.
- the Necrons, an ancient race of skeleton-like robots patterned after ancient Egypt who seek to eradicate all life.
- the Eldar, an arrogant and psychically-powerful race patterned after High Elves common to fantasy fiction.
- the Dark Eldar, depraved cousins of the Eldar who must ritually torture people to sustain their own souls.
- the Tyranids, great swarms of bio-engineered, all-devouring creatures from outside the galaxy, inspired by various sci-fi horror films such as the Alien movies.
- the Orks, whose simplistic personalities, reckless tactics and ramshackle technology make them the comic relief of the setting.
Other than aliens, the setting also features the supernatural forces of Chaos, which include daemons and mortal worshippers of the evil Chaos Gods. The Chaos Gods dwell in the Warp, a parallel dimension of psychic energy from which psykers draw their power and through which human starships traverse the galaxy. Chaos is central to the setting, the fundamental cause of much of the strife in the galaxy. Chaos was responsible for the downfall of the once glorious and enlightened civilizations of old, and Chaos sabotaged the Emperor of Mankind's attempt to lead humanity back into the light. Chaos corrupts the body and soul in ways both subtle and overt - from unconscious subversion to physical mutation. Chaos decimated the Eldar race eons ago, leaving the tiny fraction of scattered nomadic survivors which remain to the present day. Chaos is what forces the Dark Eldar to be depraved. Chaos regularly sends armies of daemons and damned heretics to terrorize and massacre the denizens of realspace. Chaos exists only to persist and spread, the Dark Gods delighting only in the destruction and disorder they sow.
The Imperium also must contend with heresy and rebellion among its own populace. Across the many worlds of man, people seek release from their miserable existence by rebelling against authority and seeking liberty from their subjugation - or worse, the dark succor of the Chaos Gods. The Imperial government, ever callous, unenlightened and inefficient, can only respond to such sedition with even greater brutality and oppression. Those humans blessed (or, more appropriately, cursed) with psychic powers are either burnt at the stake in state-sanctioned witch-hunts or enslaved by the Imperium, for the daemons of Chaos will corrupt these poor souls and use them to wreak havoc on the living if they are left to their devices.
Games are held between two or more players, each of whom fields a group of units they have purchased, assembled and painted. Painting is not always necessary in a friendly game, but it does add to the quality. The size and composition of these groups, referred to as armies, are determined on a point system, with each unit (figurine) assigned a value in points roughly proportional to its worth on the battlefield (a better unit or model is worth more points). Before a game, the gamers agree on how many points will be used as the maximum army size and each assembles an army up to that maximum limit. The composition of these armies is usually constrained by rules contained within the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, as well as in several army-specific rulebooks called 'codexes'. These rules and preparations are generally taken seriously among players. Common game sizes are between 500 and 2,000 points and played on tables four feet in width and four to eight feet in length, but it is possible to play much larger games.
At the onset of each game, a set of rules and goals is determined for that battle. These are collectively referred to as the scenario or mission being played. Players are assigned basic goals which range from the defense or capture of sections of the board to the destruction of enemy units. Additional rules may represent conditions for fighting at night or in environments that affect troops' abilities. These scenarios may be straightforward, taking only an hour or so to complete, or they may be quite complex and require several hours or even days to complete. A series of scenarios may be organized into a campaign, where two or more players fight against each other in a number of battles. These campaigns may feature their own special rules, and are typically tied together by a storyline that can evolve based on the results of each scenario. Many scenarios and campaigns are designed by Games Workshop and printed in the 'codexes', rulebooks or White Dwarf. Alternatively, gamers may design their own scenarios or build new campaigns from premade scenarios.
Play is divided into "phases" where each player moves, shoots, and/or engages in close combat with various units. In the Movement phase, a player determines the direction and distance individual units will travel, unless a special rule states otherwise. Some units can travel further than others in a single move, and terrain may inhibit movement. In the Shooting phase, the player has the opportunity to make long-distance attacks with units that are within range of the enemy. In the Assault phase, units may engage in close-quarters fighting with nearby enemy units. After one player completes all three phases play is turned over to the opposing player. Contingent events such as weapon hits and misses are determined by the roll of a six sided die (note that the rulebooks use the word "dice" to refer to a single die) and unit characteristics. A specialty die called a scatter dice is used to determine deviation for less accurate events such as artillery barrages or reserve units deploying onto the battlefield through irregular means. Unlike some wargames, Warhammer 40,000 is not played on a hex map or any kind of pre-defined gameboard. Instead, units can be placed from 12 inches from the edge to the edge of the table. Range between and among units is important in all three phases of play. Distance is measured in inches using a ruler. Determination of line of sight, is made at "model's eye view"—gamers may bend down to observe the board from the specific model's point of view. Victory is determined by points, awarded for completing objectives and/or destroying enemy units.
Benjamin Fox, in "The Performance of War Games", argues that player interaction on the battlefield reflects all portions of a "performance": script, drama and theater. He compares war games like Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 to role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and notes the dynamic nature of battles, where each conflict is different from the last.
Terrain is also an important part of play. Although Games Workshop sells terrain kits, many hobbyists prefer to make their own elaborate and unique set pieces. Common household items like soft drink cans, coffee cups, styrofoam packing material, and pill bottles can be transformed into ruined cathedrals, alien habitats, or other terrain with the addition of plastic cards, putty, and a bit of patience, skill and imagination.
There is also the possibility to play Warhammer 40k by Internet through the Java-based VASSAL Engine for which a Warhammer 40k Module has been released. This is a simulation of the board game and can only be played against other players. After the release of the 5.2 version of the module Games Workshop demanded that the lead developer cease development of the module. The module is still played by several hundred players and a new team announced further updates.
Rogue Trader (1987)
The first edition of the game, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, was published in 1987. Game designer Rick Priestley created the original rules set (based on the contemporary second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle) alongside the Warhammer 40,000 gameworld. The game play of Rogue Trader was heavily oriented toward role playing rather than strict wargaming. This original version came as a very detailed, though rather jumbled, rulebook, which made it most suitable for fighting small skirmishes. Much of the composition of the units was determined randomly, by rolling dice. A few elements of the setting (bolters, lasguns, frag grenades, Terminator armour) can be seen in a set of earlier wargaming rules called Laserburn (produced by the now defunct company, Tabletop Games) written by Bryan Ansell. These rules were later expanded by both Ansell and Richard Halliwell (both of whom ended up working for Games Workshop), although the rules were not a precursor to Rogue Trader.
In addition, supplemental material was continually published in White Dwarf magazine, which provided rules for new units and models. Eventually, White Dwarf provided proper "army lists" that could be used to create larger and more coherent forces than were possible in the main rulebook. These articles were from time to time released in expansion books along with new rules, background materials and illustrations. All in all ten books were released for the original edition of WH40K: "Chapter Approved - Book of the Astronomican", "Compendium", "Warhammer 40,000 Compilation", "Waaagh - Orks", "Realm of Chaos - Slaves to Darkness", "'Ere we Go", "Freebooterz", "Realm of Chaos - The Lost and the Damned", "Battle Manual", "Vehicle Manual. The 'Battle Manual' was simply a collection of Afrer Action Reports depiting the progress and the outcome of WH40K games reportedly played out by the White Dwarf editors and while useful from a certain point of view it contained no game-related rules or any other material, the 'Vehicle Manual' on the other hand contained a new system for vehicle management on the tabletop which was intended to supersede the rather clunky rules given in the base hardback manual and in the red softback compendium, it had an inventive target location system which used acetate crosshairs to simulate weapon hits on the vehicle silhouettes with different armor values for different locations (such as tracks, engine compartment, ammo store and so on). 'Waaagh - Orks' was an introductory manual to Orkish culture and physiology and contained no rules but was pure background ('fluff'), other Ork-themed books instead were replete with army lists not only for major ork clans but also for greenskin pirate and mercenary outfits. the "Realm of Chaos" books were hefty hardback tomes which included rules for Chaos in Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Warhammer Fantasy Battle (3rd Ed.).
Second Edition (1993)
The second edition of Warhammer 40,000 was published in late 1993. This new course for the game was forged under the direction of editor Andy Chambers. The second edition came in a boxed set that included Space Marine and Ork miniatures, scenery, dice, and the main rules. An expansion box set titled Dark Millennium was later released, which included rules for psychic powers. Another trait of the game was the attention given to "special characters" who had access to equipment and abilities beyond those of others (the earlier edition only had three generic 'heroic' profiles for each army: champion, minor and major hero).
Third Edition (1998)
The third edition of the game was released in 1998 and, like the second edition, concentrated on streamlining the rules for larger battles. Third-edition rules were notably simpler. The rulebook was available alone, or as a boxed set with miniatures of Space Marines and the newly introduced Dark Eldar. The system of army 'codexes' continued in third edition, enjoying some popularity.
Towards the end of the third edition, four new army codexes were introduced: the xeno (that is, alien) races of the Necron and the Tau and two armies of the Inquisition: the Ordo Malleus (called Daemonhunters), and the Ordo Hereticus (called Witchhunters); elements of the latter two armies had appeared before in supplementary material (such as Realm of Chaos and Codex: Sisters of Battle). At the end of the third edition, these armies were re-released with all-new artwork and army lists. The release of the Tau coincided with a rise in popularity for the game in the United States.
Fourth Edition (2004)
The fourth edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released in 2004. This edition did not feature as many major changes as prior editions, and was "backwards compatible" with each army's third-edition codex. The fourth edition was released in three forms: the first was a standalone hardcover version, with additional information on painting, scenery building, and background information about the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The second was a boxed set, called Battle For Macragge, which included a compact softcover version of the rules, scenery, dice, templates, and Space Marines and Tyranid miniatures. The third was a limited collector's edition. Battle for Macragge was a 'game in a box', targeted primarily at beginners. Battle for Macragge was based on the Tyranid invasion of the Ultramarines' homeworld, Macragge. An expansion to this was released called The Battle Rages On!, which featured new scenarios and units, like the Tyranid Warrior.
Fifth Edition (2008)
The fifth edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released on July 12, 2008. While there are some differences between the fourth and fifth editions, the general rule set shares numerous similarities. Codex books designed prior to the fifth edition are still compatible with only some changes to how those armies function. The replacement for the previous edition's Battle for Macragge starter set is called Assault on Black Reach, which features a pocket-sized rulebook (containing the full ruleset but omitting the background and hobby sections of the full-sized rulebook), and starter Ork and Space Marine armies. Each army contains a HQ choice, either an Ork Warboss or a Space Marine Captain.
New additions to the rules include the ability for infantry models to "Go to Ground" when under fire, providing additional protection at the cost of mobility and shooting as they dive for cover. Actual line of sight is needed to fire at enemy models. Also introduced is the ability to run, whereby units may forgo shooting to cover more ground. In addition, cover has been changed so that it is now easier for a unit to get a cover save. Damage to vehicles has been simplified and significantly reduced, and tanks may now ram other vehicles. Some of these rules are modeled after rules that existed in the Second Edition, but were removed in the Third. Likewise, 5th edition codexes have seen a return of many units previously cut out in the previous edition for having unwieldy rules. These units have largely been brought back with most of their old rules streamlined for the new edition. Fifth edition releases focused largely on Space Marine forces, including the abolishment of the Daemonhunters in favour of an army composed almost exclusively of Grey Knights, a special chapter of Space Marines, which, in previous editions, had provided the elite choices of the Daemonhunter's army list. Another major change was the shift from metal figures to Resin kits.
Sixth Edition (2012)
Sixth Edition was released on the 23rd of June, 2012. Changes to this edition include the adoption of an optional Psychic Power card system similar to that of the game's sister product Warhammer Fantasy Battle as well as the inclusion of full rules for flying vehicles and monsters and a major reworking of the manner in which damage is resolved against vehicles. It also includes expanded rules for greater interaction with scenery and more dynamic close-combat. In addition to updating existing rules and adding new ones, 6th Edition introduced several other large changes: the Alliance system, in which players can bring units from other armies to work with their own, with varying levels of trust; the choice to take one fortification as part of your force; and Warlord traits, which will allow a player's Commander to gain a categorically randomized trait that can aid their forces in different situations. Replacing the "Assault on Black Reach" box set is the "Dark Vengeance" box set which includes Dark Angels and Chaos Space Marine models. Some of the early release box sets of Dark Vengeance contained a limited edition Interrogator-Chaplain for the Dark Angels.
Supplements and expansions
There are many variations to the rules and army lists that are available for use, typically with an opponent's consent. These rules are found in the Games Workshop publication White Dwarf, on the Games Workshop website, or in the Forge World Imperial Armour publications.
The rules of Warhammer 40,000 are designed for games between 500 and 2500 points, with the limits of a compositional framework called the Force Organisation Chart making games with larger point values difficult to play. In response to player comments, the Apocalypse rules expansion was introduced to allow 3000+ point games to be played. Players might field an entire 1000-man Chapter of Space Marines rather than the smaller detachment of around 30-40 typically employed in a standard game. also contains rules for using larger war machines such as Titans.
Cities of Death (the revamp of Codex Battlezone: Cityfight) introduces rules for urban warfare and guerilla warfare, and so-called "stratagems", including traps and fortifications. It also has sections on modeling city terrain and provides examples of armies and army lists modeled around the theme of urban combat.
Planetstrike, released 2009. Sets rules allowing players to represent the early stages of a planetary invasion. New game dynamics, such as dividing the players into an attacker and a defender, each having various tactical benefits tailored to their role; for example, the attacker may deep strike all infantry, jump infantry and monstrous creatures onto the battlefield, while the defender may set up all the terrain on the battlefield.
Planetary Empires, released August 2009, allows players to coordinate full-scale campaigns containing multiple battles, each using standard rules or approved supplements such as Planetstrike, Cities of Death or Apocalypse. Progress through the campaign is tracked using hexagonal tiles to represent the current control of territories within the campaign. The structure is similar to Warhammer Fantasy's Mighty Empires.
Battle Missions, released March 2010, this expansion contains a series of 'missions' with specific objectives, each 'race' has 3 specific missions which can be played, these missions are determined by a dice roll and are usually chosen from the 2 armies being used. They still use the standard rules from the Warhammer 40,000 rule book.
Spearhead, released May/June 2010, allows players to play games with a greater emphasis on armored and mechanized forces. The most notable change to the game is the inclusion of special "Spearhead Formations;" and greater flexibility in force organization. "Spearhead Formations" represent a new and altogether optional addition to the force organization system standard to 40K. Players now have the ability to use all, part or none of the standard force organization. Spearhead also includes new deployment options and game scenarios. This expansion is being released jointly through the Games Workshop website, as a free download, and through the company's monthly hobby magazine White Dwarf.
Death from the Skies, released February 2013, contains rules for playing games with an emphasis on aircraft. There are specific rules for each race's aircraft, as well as playable missions. A notable inclusion in this release is "warlord traits" for each race that deal specifically with aircraft. This supplement still uses the same rules as the Warhammer 40k rulebook.
Stronghold Assault, released in December 2013, is a 48-page expansion that contains more rules for fortifications in the game, as well as rules for more fortifications that listed in the main 6th Edition Rulebook.
Escalation, released December 2013, contains rules for playing games with super heavy vehicles, normally restricted to Apocalypse events, in normal events.
On December 13, 2010, Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie was released directly to DVD. The movie is a CGI sci-fi based around the Ultramarines Chapter of Space Marines. The screenplay for the movie was written by Dan Abnett, a Games Workshop Black Library author. The movie was produced by Codex Pictures, a UK-based company, under license from Games Workshop. The movie utilized animated facial capture technology from Image Metrics.
Games Workshop has expanded the Warhammer 40,000 universe over the years to include several spinoff games and fictional works. This expansion began in 1987, when Games Workshop asked Scott Rohan to write the first series of "literary tie-ins". This eventually led to the creation of Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop, in 1997. The books published relate centrally to the backstory in the Warhammer universe. Black Library also publishes Warhammer 40,000 graphic novels.
Several popular miniature game spin-offs were also created, including Space Hulk, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic 40,000, Inquisitor, Gorkamorka and Necromunda. A collectible card game, Dark Millennium, was launched in October 2005 by Games Workshop subsidiary, Sabertooth Games. The story behind the card game begins at the end of the Horus Heresy arc in the game storyline and contains four factions: the Imperium, Orks, Eldar and Chaos .
During the 1990s, Games Workshop partnered with Strategic Simulations (SSI) to produce squad-based tactical games such as Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate as well as turn-based operational simulations like Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War. Space Crusade, one of the earliest video games of the series was praised for being "a faithful conversion of the boardgame, with a board that could be viewed in 2D or isometric projection views (Barker, 1992)."
Games Workshop licensed Warhammer 40,000 to THQ in 2001 and produced a first-person shooter titled Fire Warrior. The game received generally mediocre reviews, including a 6.0 out of 10.0 from IGN. The later releases from THQ were real-time strategy games: Dawn of War, Dawn of War: Winter Assault, Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, and Dawn of War: Soulstorm. Developed by RTS veterans Relic Entertainment who had previously created the award-winning Homeworld and Impossible Creatures, these were considerably more popular and well received, with Dawn of War netting a 4.5 out of 5 from GameSpy. (who is the host for online part of the game). The sequel to Dawn of War, Dawn of War II was released in February 2009, and its first expansion Chaos Rising in March 2010 and second expansion Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution in March 2011.
Another game entitled Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, developed by Relic Entertainment, was announced on May 28, 2009. It is a 3rd Person Action/Shooter for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, and was released on September 6, 2011.
Although there were plans to create a full-fledged Warhammer 40,000 "pen and paper" role-playing game from the beginning, these did not come to fruition for many years, until an official Warhammer 40,000 role-playing game was published only in 2008, with the release of Dark Heresy by Black Industries, a GW subsidiary. This system was later licensed to Fantasy Flight Games for continued support and expansion.
Presently Games Workshop licenses a number of Warhammer 40K themed products to Fantasy Flight Games. Fantasy Flight Games specializes in board, card and role-play games. Included in the licensed product are:
- Horus Heresy a board game focusing on the final battle of the Horus Heresy the battle for the Emperor's Palace; this game is a re-imagining of a game by the same name created by Jervis Johnson in the 1990s.
- Space Hulk: Death Angel - a game with a merge of board and card game mechanics, based on the popular "Space Hulk" board game, featuring Space Marines against Genestealers.
- Dark Heresy - a pen and paper role-playing game where players may assume the role of inquisitorial acolytes, or assume a different and equally small-scale scenario following the game's rules.
- Rogue Trader - a pen and paper role-playing game sharing many of its core mechanics with Dark Heresy, where players assume the roles of Explorers, whose rank and escalated privileges allow for travelling outside of Imperium's borders. Due to extensive expansions upon Rogue Trader, campaigns can be largely different and alternated by game masters. Its most significant difference from any of the other Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay is that it contains rules for spaceship-based combat.
- Deathwatch - a pen and paper role-playing game, also sharing many of its core mechanics with Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, it allows players to role-play Space Marines, who are the elite combat units of the Imperium of Man. In light of this, its ruleset emphasizes combat more than Dark Heresy or Rogue Trader
- Black Crusade - a pen and paper role-playing game, also sharing many of its core mechanics with Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch, Black Crusade allows players to role-play Chaos-corrupted characters. This installment will be concluded with supplements. It is notably different in that it allows much more free-form character development, with experience costs being determined by affiliation with a Chaos God.
- Only War - The newest installment of FFG's pen and paper Warhammer 40,000 role-play, Only War puts players in the boots of the Imperial Guard, the foot soldiers of the Imperium of Man.
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