An introduction to Games Workshop, from Warhammer 40k to Blood Bowl
Across the world Christmas stockings will have been filled with inch-high wizards and goblins made by Games Workshop.
The Nottingham-based company has a share price higher than that of Marks & Spencer, and while supply chain issues and rising production costs have seen it slip from its pandemic peak, it continues to be one of the UK’s biggest success stories.
So what, exactly, does one do with these models? If you’re curious about getting into tabletop gaming, or just want to understand more about the business that outpaced Tesla in growth over the last five years, here’s a brief introduction into the world of Warhammer and its spin-offs.
This is where the big money is. Set in the dystopian future of the 41st millennium where “there is only war”, 40k has by far the largest player base of any of GW’s games. It involves collecting an army of miniatures to do battle across a tabletop (the default size being 44” x 60”), which must be filled with an appropriate amount of terrain (what exactly constitutes “appropriate” is an ongoing point of contention among players).
Battles can vary in size from around 20 models to… well, how big is your wallet and/or living room? Each player chooses a “faction” that uses its own set of rules, which you must buy from Games Workshop in the form of a “codex”. There are more than 20 factions in total, including the posterboy Space Marines (or Adeptus Astartes to use the copyright-friendly term), the HR Giger-esque Tyranids, the savage comedy rabble of Orks (inspired by 1980s football hooligans), various flavours of space elves, and those that have fallen to the gods of chaos.
There are various ways to play, from the casual “Open Play” to the narrative “Crusade” or the more competitively-minded “Matched Play”. Armed with a tape measure and a fistful of dice, a standard game should take between two and four hours. If you’re feeling especially competitive there are tournaments held across the world – “super-majors” attract hundreds of players – and a recognised ranking system.
Why should I play? It’s the world’s most popular tabletop game
How much will it cost me? A minimum of £400 for a “competitive” army but the sky’s the limit, really.
Age of Sigmar
This is where you’ll find the Tolkien-esque fantasy characters, with elves and dwarves doing battle with swords and bows and magic in a quasi Mediaeval setting. AoS is the successor to the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle game and uses a similar ruleset, battle size and army construction to 40k. Many of the same points apply here as to 40k – it’s really a matter of taste, although AoS players argue that with slightly less emphasis on the competitive scene, games tend to be a bit more fun (your mileage may vary).
Why should I play? If you prefer fantasy to sci-fi
How much will it cost me? The same as 40k, give or take.
Set in the same universe as Warhammer 40k, Necromunda focuses on the rival gangs that populate the eponymous planet, a polluted hellscape made up of thousands of decaying “hive cities” separated by toxic deserts. Rather than control an entire army, your gang will comprise of 10 or fewer gang members, from the all-female Escher to the hulking Goliaths. Each model is controlled independently, moving around often dense terrain, with their progress tracked over multiple games.
Necromunda feels like the game where GW’s designers can really push the envelope, with some of the most outre miniatures spawned here. There’s also a new range of minis for the recently-released Ash Wastes add-on.
Why should I play? If you want a more manageable hobby in terms of model-count and investment but still love the world of 40k; if you enjoy narrative games played with the same people over several sessions
How much will it cost me? For a gang, rules and some basic terrain you’re looking at £150 but that can soon spiral.
This is what they call a gateway drug. In Kill Team you assemble small groups of miniatures drawn from the main 40k range. Fast-paced and easy to pick-up-and-play, Kill Team scratches the tabletop itch of GW’s bigger titles without requiring a master’s degree in games design. While the rules are distinct from those of 40k, there’s a clear progression from collecting a Kill Team to finding yourself surrounded by display cases full of miniatures. There’s also a fantasy version called Warcry.
Why should I play? It’s quick, fun and easy to learn
How much will it cost me? You could probably get started for not much more than £100
This American football-inspired game is one of Games Workshop’s longest-running titles, first released 36 years ago. It sees the factions from Age of Sigmar battle it out in deadly fashion on a football pitch. Accessible and tactical, this is a great starting point in the world of Warhammer.
Why should I play? It’s strategic and fun, with great models
How much will it cost? If you split the starter box with a friend, less than £50