Choosing and starting a Warhammer 40k army

If you are completely new to wh40k and have yet to pick your army, I hope this will spare forums and yourself some hassle while helping you pick an army which will stand the test of time. I have split this blog post into two parts, choosing your new army and starting the army you picked.

In picking your force, I’d consider 4 main topics. Fluff, aesthetics, playstyle and other. These four topics are of different importance to different players – some are fluffier, some are more keen on tournament play. Neither of these priorities are wrong, and hopefully my approach will allow you to get a much better idea of what you want to play!


To start off with, the fluff, or lore, behind an army can be very important to both aesthetics and playstyle. I strongly suggest you go onto either lexicanum or warhammer wiki to research the armies that appeal to you. For example, you might find the Blood Angels to be too reminiscent of a certain Romanian of the Transylvanian persuasion, but you really enjoy some of their descendants’ stories, like the Flesh Tearers’ (probably) doomed fight against the Black Rage yet fierce loyalty, or the Lamenters’ staunch resilience in the face of total annihilation. I favourited all the pages of the armies whose lore I liked and put them in a folder in my browser until I finally decided on the Alpha Legion, yet I considered everyone from the Night Lords to Orks to Eldar Corsairs.

Rogue Trader-era Blood Angels

Rogue Trader-era Blood Angel

In wh40k, there are certain armies that have clear real world inspirations behind them which might also appeal to you, be it the Catachan Jungle Fighters (Vietnam War), Praetorians (Colonial Britain), Death Korps of Krieg (WWI Imperial Germany) or Space Wolves (Vikings).

As a last note on fluff, remember you can always make up your entirely own fluff! Here’s a link to creating your own Space Marine Chapter or Warband, without creating something that doesn’t fit the background setting. A further link for Warband and Chapter creation is here.


Colour scheme, models, and room for conversions are all aesthetic reasons that might make an army appeal to a player. Maybe you really like the Space Marine models and the want purple and gold marines, but you do not feel confident in your converting skills, especially if you are a newbie, so you pick the Soul Drinkers. Or maybe you feel like painting a variety of different colour schemes, so you pick Biel-Tan Eldar with loads of Aspect Warriors, or even you feel like doing some minor conversion work and decide to pick Eldar Corsairs and glue on their wings and pick your own scheme! Whatever appeals to you and you feel you can do justice is what you should pick. When picking my first army I decided to not overestimate my converting skills nor my painting skills.


When considering how you want to play, you really want to think how you want your tactics to be. Does a fast, small, hard-hitting army appeal to you? Then Eldar or Dark Eldar, or maybe Tau, might appeal. Do you want to overwhelm your opponents in close combat? Then your first choices might be Tyranids or Orks. Even within the different codices there is a plethora of playstyles available; the different regiments of the Imperial Guard is a great example of this. The Elysian droptroopers, the mechanised Armageddon Steel Legion, the Catachan Jungle Fighters etc. all offer a great variety of playstyles. Bear in mind a lot of people enjoy fluffy playstyles; if you play Thousand Sons you are likely to want to take Rubric Marines and Sorcerers, regardless of whether Thousand Sons are considered a good choice from a play-to-win mentality. Fritz (see below) put it this way: I don’t care how it plays, I love the Changer of Ways.

It is also worth bearing in mind with Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines you can use a variety of codices to represent your army. As an example, the Alpha Legion players use codices as varied as Sentinels of Terra, Chaos Space Marines, the Lost and the Damned, Space Marines and Imperial Guard represent their, in addition to the various dataslates available. As long as your miniatures are What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWG), your codex does not matter and it will be tournament legal.

Ork bomma, which according to the rules, never has enough dakka, so it’s WYSIWIG!

The very clever guy behind the bomma!

It is obvious, but you do not need to stick to the fluffy style of play most typical of your force. There is nothing stopping you from playing a foot-slogging White Scar Terminator army, or a Biel-Tan force without Aspect Warriors!

Other issues

There are a few other issues to consider when picking an army. Not everyone wants to play Ultramarines, contrary to Matt Ward’s beliefs, so maybe you want to rock up at your local GW or LFGS with an obscure (or homebrew) Space Marine Chapter or a lesser-known Craftworld, or maybe even just make your own Chapter, Chaos Warband, Eldar Corsairs etc. This is also known as homebrew. There are a few pitfalls here; certain things have become clichéd, like Loyalists from Traitor Legions etc., which is thus worth looking out for.

Let us be honest; wh40k is not the cheapest hobby around, but I do not think price should deter you from choosing an army, even if it is a ForgeWorld or a horde army. There is always eBay as well, so you can often get people’s unwanted miniatures significantly lower than RRP! If your army’s cost per unit is expensive relative to your economic situation, this should encourage you to take even more care with painting them to ensure they are painted to the highest possible standard. This will ensure longer time between each purchase, making it less expensive, and making them look even better!

As you are starting out, I would also suggest playing Kill Team until you get a decent grip on the rules. Kill Team is probably the best way to learn the rules, as there are fewer models on the field (less mistakes), it takes less time to play a game (learn to use your models faster), you get to use the ones you have painted rather than the more frowned-upon grey plastic armies, and gives you more time to paint up a full army while still giving you a nice mix of both playing the game and painting. Trust me, a fully painted army looks a lot better than just the grey plastic soldiers.

I would strongly suggest not picking the “best” army from the current tournament netlists; armies drop and rise through the tiers rapidly, even more so with GW’s release schedule. It is much better being happy with your army’s playstyle (which you can control) than harbouring a Win At All Costs-mentality (WAAC). A good example is when flyers were being introduced and not all codices had anti-air or flyers themselves, giving them a handicap against armies with flyers. This updates constantly with the release of each codex and edition. Whether your army is “good” or not does not matter one whit in the long term. At the time of writing this, Chaos Space Marines have gone from being powerful due to receiving the first flyer early on in 6th edition, but are now arguably the weakest codex.

Just a quick note on WAAC; if you only want to win and you are willing to spend considerable amounts of money, who I am to judge? Do what you enjoy, not what anyone says is the “right” way to play. However, my humble opinion is that most armies will go through good and bad periods, and the more you play, the better you will get. More on this in the starting your army section. If your goal is to win tournaments you shouldn’t try playing

Building Your Army

So once you have picked your army, I have a few suggestions for choosing units. Some older and more experienced readers will recognise a fair bit of Stillmania, named after Nigel Stillman (see below). Now you have an idea of how you want to play, you pick the units. Pick units you like and feel are suitable for your style of play, then build an army list of 1000, 1500, and 2000 points. Build up your forces to 1000 points, and then buy the next 250/500 points or unit, and keep going. Also, never, ever, buy 2000 points worth in one go. The amount of plastic sitting there is going to be overwhelming and kill your paint buzz. Wargamer Fritz did a good vlog on this.

You also need to construct squads of the “correct” size and load out. What do I mean by this? Currently, specialisation and synergy is the name of the game. Each unit should perform one duty, such as anti-tank, anti-TEQ, anti-MEQ, anti-horde, Securing Objectives etc. While some units’ role will overlap somewhat; a plasma gun is best within 12″ against Terminators, while a meltagun is optimally used at 6″ away from tanks before charging in with meltabombs if it survived. However, the meltagun will also take out Terminators, but at a lesser rate. To this end, MSU (Multiple Small Units) is often used with a high degree of specialisation. I tend to lean more on the Stillman School of Thought, with larger units with a slightly wider range of uses.

Certain equipment synergises better as well – e.g. a Lightning Claw and a Chain Fist/Power Fist are both Specialist Weapons (You only gain an extra Attack if both CCWs are Specialist Weapons), thus it grants you anti-MEQ, anti-TEQ, and potentially anti-tank abilities.

Then you have saturation. Essentially, saturation is bringing enough of one type of units, e.g. MEQs or AV12, to prevent the enemy from utilising most of their weapons. If the enemy has paid points for lascannons and you bring an army of footslogging Imperial Guard, those expensive lascannons are going to be killing 5-point Imperial Guardsmen. If your entire army is sitting in AV12, the enemies small arms are universally useless (until you step out at least).

Nigel Stillmann, a very wise man!
Nigel Stillman is known for his wisdom

Remember, this is not the end-all of building and choosing an army. This is compiled from my experience and tips and tricks I’ve read on the internet, and should not be taken as anything more than guidelines.

Good luck with building your force!

Other sources: – MiniWarGaming’s “Where to start with Warhammer 40k”

I’d also like to recommend a few pages to follow – Fritz 40k vlogs about wh40k, D&D and some X-Wing. – Miniwargaming do fun Battle Reports and guides to various things. – Nigel Stillmann is a legend in the wargaming community due to his unique approach to gaming.


2 thoughts on “Choosing and starting a Warhammer 40k army

  1. Agree on many of these points. To me, the most important aspect was choosing an Army I liked the look of. That way, even if I chose not to play the game at a later point, I’d still have a group of lovely models I enjoyed looking at.


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