Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Challenges of Introducing New Players to 40K

Warhammer 40,000 is at a very difficult stage at the moment. Games Workshop are moving the goal posts on an almost weekly basis. This has been brought to the fore recently for me as I'm trying to introduce a colleague to 40K. We've had a couple of games and he's already picking a lot up but the problem is that there's just so much to learn. I keep on telling him that the mechanic is pretty simple. Basically you need to roll a certain score and there are modifiers which either make it easier or more difficult. Sounds easy enough.

He's never done any wargaming in the past so all of the concepts are new. Obviously it's easier to introduce 40K to someone who's ever role played or even played Risk. My original idea was to start with Kill Team as a means of learning the basic mechanics without drowning in depth. Still though you find all the exceptions creeping in. Think about the different rules required to play a legal game of 40K. There's the core rulebook, codices, supplements, dataslates, Forge World, White Dwarf, Escalation and Stronghold Assault. You could potentially add Planetstrike, Cities of Death, etc to the list but they don't usually feature in games. Still that's quite a list. I'm sure if you listed out all of the individual publications there'd be a huge number. Of course some of these are optional and in casual games you can pick and choose. Go to an official GW tournament though and all of those things are legal.

You might say that you only need to know the rules for your army. That's true to an extent. When you play a new army for the first time your opponent will explain what his units do. Think about it though, if you play an army you've never played before, how much of that explanation do you actually take in? If I'm running my Wolves and I play Dark Eldar or Tau there's very little an opponent can do to surprise me (rules-wise at least). That isn't to say I won't lose but I'll know exactly what his army is capable of and I'll tailor my tactics accordingly. Every time I play a tournament game I learn something new though. There's always some rule I thought I understood but I realise I've been interpreting incorrectly.

To really be any good at the game you need to understand the capabilities of your opponent's list. That doesn't mean you need to have a thorough read of his codex but you at least need to know what his army is capable of and what units need to be avoided or else killed first. There's already a huge number of factions in the game and each has it's own little nuances. Having played the game for a few years (since I restarted that is) I've got a fair grasp of all of the books. Writing this blog helps as I review each new codex and learn a lot about the army in the process.

Trouble is, even if you think you've got a handle on everything involved in 40K as it is today, there's the potential that a new codex will be released next week (and indeed the AM book is out Saturday) that could change things dramatically. Before 6th edition you realistically had 3-4 months (if not more) to learn about a new codex before another army got an update. Some armies rules stayed the same for years at a time. Of course it's in GW's interest to keep updating army books so we buy them and the new units they introduce but this is a difficult concept for a new player.

I don't think this problem is limited to 40K. I don't have much knowledge of other games like Warmachine, Malifaux, Infinity, etc but I'm sure they have similar new player issues. Still though, the way 40K is going recently I'm amazed anyone manages to pick it up. Veteran players are being put off by the constantly changing rules and poor FAQ support. They're the ones with hundreds/thousands of pounds/dollars/euros invested in the game. New players may have only bought a few units so they're much more likely to be put off.

Has anyone else had difficulty introducing a new player to 40K? How did you go about it? What could I be doing differently?


  1. When I did it I had my friend watch a few games of Combat Patrol. Same idea as using Kill Team but CP's restrictions are less over the top, but also keep the uber units at home... Best advice I can give that helped was talking out everything. Think out loud, and explain all your thoughts and actions even if the game has to be semi choreographed. Visuals help allot.

  2. 100% true mate. The size of the rulebook can be a problem. Imagine someone new walking in and being told "here, you will love this game! All you need to do is buy this 300 pages $150 book to understand the basics." Even though it's mostly fluff and pics, it needs a real rethink.

  3. As I run a school club, this happens to me all the time. My advice is keep it simple. Start with just one squad each, roll a few dice and have fun. Make sure they understand basic To Hit and Strength vs Toughness rolls, then gradually introduce different weapons, characters, different unit types, vehicles etc. One problem, especially with kids, is that they always want the most powerful models, because they want to pwn everyone. Some HAVE to win every game, or they start to lose interest. This hobby requires patience and practice to master, whether painting or gaming. I'm a bit surprised you mention tournaments when talking about a beginner. He has L-plates on his car, he isn't starting Formula One. Give him time!

    1. Ditto! Shool clubs are a challenge to run.. I've been running one for about 10 years now and 2 years ago discovered the secret. Rewrite the rules! We play using a rules sheet which is basically a double sided sheet of A4 card in 12 point text. 1 Paragraph/bullet points explains each phase of the game (1 and a half sides) and then the to hit/wound tables appear on the back.
      Obviously there are no special rules, psykers or even leadership rules (so many races ignore them anyway what's the point?!) but we add these as the player's armies develop. So Steve knows the psychic rules, Sarah understands infiltrate etc..
      In all honesty I'd recommend creating your own rules sheet if introducing players; it forces YOU to focus on the true essentials of the game and means your new player can focus on tactics not rules.

  4. I've recently introduced fantasy to one person and 40k to another and I've noticed the biggest difference is in fantasy, picking a unit based entire on "that looks/sounds cool" doesn't throw much of a spanner in the works when it comes to playing games against strangers. There seems to be a lot less "must include" and "dud" units in it. For instance, say somebody was getting started and liked the idea of lots of obliterators and mutilators, wanted a fleshy mutated army but still wanted to do alright in a pick up game - that's gonna be an issue. On the flip side in fantasy there are obviously sub optimal units but for the most part its about combinations and the differences between good and average is a lot closer; there's a lot fewer super units and actually bad units than you find in 40k.

  5. As much as I love 40k, I wouldn't think of using it as an 'introductory game' to our hobby.

    Infinity, for example, has free, downloadable 'quickstart rules,' free list building software and you can use any old 28mm models as proxies.

    The X Wing game is also easy to pick up and play, but thanks to the loads of customization options, can get pretty deep, pretty quickly.

    There are lots of games with excellent, well-balanced starter sets, and virtually all of them are far, far less intimidating, price-wise, to someone new to the hobby.

    Also, the amount of models required, and the amount of commitment 40k requires to buy, build and paint an entire army is incredibly daunting compared to the ten or so individual, unique models most skirmish games use.

    No...40k is the last game I'd use to introduce someone to our hobby. I'd at least start with a game where all of the rules can be found in one place, and the initial investment doesn't cost more than a month's rent.
    Heck, there's not even a proper '40k rules wiki.'

    And yes, as much as I love 40k...I'm just gonna flat out say that the rules and balance of the game have never been, and likely will never, good.
    If you're gonna try and induct this poor guy, get him hooked on the fluff as well as the game.
    Cuz once he realizes that 40k is kinda messy, rules/balance-wise (have you explained the concept of a 'deathstar' yet?), it'll be the fluff that keeps him in the game.

    Good luck! That's quite the challenge you've taken on!


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