Welcome to Warhammer 40,000
The 41st Millennium is a savage age where Mankind battles for survival in a galaxy riven by bloodshed and destruction. Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction, assailed on all sides by aliens, traitors and daemons, and only the superhuman strength of the Space Marines and the uncountable numbers of the Imperial Guard keep the slavering alien hordes from bringing total annihilation.
Warhammer 40,000, the tabletop battlegame of the far future, allows you to wage war with armies of Citadel miniatures across miniature battlefields in the ultimate contest of strategy and skill. Each player is a commander who must choose his finest warriors, decide upon cunning battle plans and strategies, and lead his army to victory or death. Games can vary in size from small skirmishes of just a few dozen models per side, to massive clashes with hundreds of miniatures.
So, what exactly is Warhammer 40,000?
Each player collects an army of Citadel miniatures then, using the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook as a guideline, they fight epic battles against their fellow generals. Dice (like you'd find in almost any board game) are used to determine success and failure: to decide whether a bolter shell hits its target, or whether a lascannon blasts through the armour of a tank. Each game is played, not on a regular 'board' but on a special gaming area where models are not confined to 'squares' but are free to move as their controller wishes. Because Warhammer 40,000 is not played on a set game board, tape measures or rulers are used to see how far a miniature can move - an agile Eldar jetbike can travel faster than a foot-slogging Imperial Guardsman after all.
That all might sound a little complicated, but a short game or two is all that is needed to grasp the basics. Seasoned commanders find that the rules become second nature, and they seldom need to refer to the rulebook at all.
The Warhammer 40,000 Hobby
There's more to Warhammer than just playing games. In fact Warhammer 40,000 is an exciting hobby in its own right. Many players enjoy painting their Citadel miniatures to amazing standards, lavishing extra detail and attention on their models to make their army extra special and unique. Likewise, while your chosen battlefield can be as simple as a bare table with few obstacles, many wargamers like to build modular tabletops as detailed and exciting as the ones you can see on the Games Workshop website.
Most hobbyists begin playing Warhammer 40,000 with a friend or two, honing their skills, and developing their army in regular battles, but the fun doesn't have to stop there. There are thousands of wargaming clubs around the world where players challenge each other to games of Warhammer 40,000 every week. Also, every Games Workshop store has its own gaming tables and boards. Most offer gaming nights for you to come and meet new Warhammer 40,000 generals, discuss painting, modelling and gaming tactics - and of course, do battle. For the really adventurous there are regular Warhammer 40,000 gaming events all over the world, run both by Games Workshop and by enthusiastic gaming clubs and societies. From competitive tournaments where hundreds of players battle to determine a champion, to campaign weekends where each battle forms part of an exciting storyline, there are Warhammer gaming events to suit every taste - all you need is an army of your own and the courage to do battle.
All miniatures wargames need a few basic things before you can get started. First and foremost is a collection of miniatures. Second a place to play. Thirdly, and just as importantly, are the rules for the game. Warhammer 40,000 has grown and developed over more than 20 years and the current rules are the best ever.
There are two ways that you can get to grips with the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook. It's available separately as a hardback volume - more than three hundred pages of glorious artwork, background and photography, as well as the rules themselves. This rulebook is the indispensable guide for hobbyists everywhere, it details the rich and colourful galaxy of Warhammer 40,000 and contains all the rules and instructions that you need to get started with your own games.
The second way to get your claws on the Warhammer 40,000 rules is with the Assault on Black Reach boxed game. This awesome game in a box contains two fledgling armies, the superhuman Space Marines and the brutal Orks - as well as scenery, dice, measuring sticks, a getting-started guide and a pocket sized rulebook. This book contains exactly the same rules as the larger, hardback rulebook - but misses out on some of the extra information contained in it (there's only so much you can cram into a box!)
The important thing to remember with both the hardback rulebook and the pocket sized rulebook is that the game is exactly the same - the rules are identical, it's just that the rulebook contains extra background on the Warhammer 40,000 universe and guidance on collecting and painting your armies.
Which rules set is for me?
In the end, the only person who can answer that question is you. People who are completely new to wargaming, and Warhammer 40,000 in particular, often appreciate the getting-started guide contained in the Assault on Black Reach boxed game, as well as the awesome collection of Citadel miniatures it contains! The boxed game contains everything you need to start playing. It's hard to argue with getting the complete package all at once.
Veterans of the wargaming hobby, and players who already have experienced Warhammer 40,000 before, often choose to go for just the hardback rulebook - they understand the basics of wargaming and sometimes already have their own collections of Citadel miniatures, so they don't need introducing in quite the same way.
In the end, the most important factor is: which appeals to you. Most new Warhammer 40,000 players start with the Assault on Black Reach set to get their collection off the ground, and get themselves a copy of the hardback rulebook later - covering both bases.