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Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team is the best place to start for the 40K curious

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An all-inclusive starter set, plus a broad set of rules for 16 different factions

Just one piece of the new terrain included in the Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team Starter Set. I played the first few games with a squad of Dark Angels Space Marines that I painted up last summer.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

Games Workshop, the hobby miniatures giant based in the United Kingdom, is notorious for two things: massive, ungainly rulesets that sprawl across multiple hardback sourcebooks and a very steep price point. Its newest product line, called Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team, upends both of those preconceptions. This stand-alone miniatures skirmish game contains everything you need to get started, plus rules for 16 different factions in total. It’s also relatively affordable, coming in at just $130 here in the United States.

Simply put, Kill Team is a paradigm shift for Games Workshop, one that’s set to breathe new life into the iconic 40k tabletop franchise.

Inside the box you’ll have enough plastic sprus to make 20 miniatures, 10 for each of the two included factions, the Genestealer Cults and the Adeptus Mechanicus. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill starter set miniatures with simplistic sculpts and fixed poses. Each side is highly customizable, allowing for players to personalize each side to suit their tastes. The rules even encourage you to give each one a name and a backstory.

The included terrain in this starter set is plenty to fill out the system’s smaller game board.
Games Workshop

There’s also a ruler, a set of die-cut markers and some standard six-sided and ten-sided dice, but the real gem inside of this kit is the terrain. It’s a brand-new sculpt of an Imperial chapel, a holy site used to worship humanity’s God Emperor in the 41st millennium. The structure is itself highly customizable, with a host of columns and buttresses that can tesselate together to create many different structures.

Following the directions inside the box, players can use the scenery pieces to create most of a small, bombed out two- or three-story structure. Compared to what’s included in the deluxe Dark Imperium starter set for vanilla Warhammer 40k — nothing — that’s a 100 percent increase in the amount of available terrain on offer.

To me, terrain is the magic that brings a good game of 40k together. You can paint miniatures all day and all night, but if you don’t have a good environment to play them on games are bland to look at and boring to play. What’s even more exciting to me is how easy it is to get the terrain that’s included in the Kill Team starter set painted up and looking great. By following the included guide, I was able to make my set look just like what’s on the box with a grand total of four easy steps.

Looking at the terrain critically, it’s clear that it was designed to play to Games Workshop’s strengths. Over the years, the company has developed an exceptional painting curriculum on YouTube, one that’s reflected in its own retail product line as well. By following the right video tutorials and selecting from the correct Citadel paints, you’ll have your set looking professional in no time. Citadel paints are even custom formulated as base, layer, wash and dry to be compatible with how the YouTube channel teaches you to paint.

The piece of terrain shown here has just a simple coat of primer, two base colors and two different washes applied. I have yet to apply the dry-brushed highlights, which take a touch more skill. Look for a full video tutorial to hit YouTube soon on Warhammer TV.
Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall/Polygon

Of course, there’s the added expense of purchasing all those paints and brushes themselves. In order to finish the terrain, for instance, I needed two full cans of Citadel spray paint, six pots of Citadel paint, two kinds of Citadel wash and at least one specialty brush. Add in the basic costs of additional brushes, brush cleaner and a hobby mat to keep your work surface clean and you’re looking at an extra $100 just to prepare the scenery. You might need half again as much, or more, to paint the miniatures. Alternatives like Army Painter, Vallejo and even Krylon are available if you’re looking to save some money, but it’s harder to parse the correct colors and textures you need outside the Citadel line.

That being said, it’s still a pricey hobby when compared to even the most lavish CMON miniatures game. Preparing your Kill Team starter set, however, will cost a pittance compared to the time and treasure required to assemble and paint up just one regular 40k army.

It should be noted that the terrain and each faction inside the Kill Team starter set come modeled in different colors of plastic. Even if you don’t want to explore the hobby side of painting them up, the game is still attractive on the table and highly playable.

All I can say is that the amount of satisfaction that I got from assembling and painting the contents of the box, as well as the hours of enjoyment I’ve had playing the game over the last few weeks, has more than made up for the additional cost in my mind. Just go into this process with clear eyes about what you’re willing to spend, because the price on the box is just a starting point.

Beyond the scenery, the other treasure of the Kill Team starter set is the manual itself. There’s far less of the fluffy, dense lore that comes with most Warhammer starter sets. In its place is a dense 30 pages of actual rules, and an additional 150 pages of information on the game’s 16 playable factions.

The 16 playable factions in the Kill Team Core Manual.
Games Workshop

In fact, if you already own even a modest collection of Games Workshop miniatures you can pick up the Kill Team manual a la carte and begin playing right away. All you need is a few six-sided and ten-sided dice.

The gameplay itself is reminiscent of 40k’s current 8th edition ruleset, but highly specialized for small-unit skirmish play. You’ll trade control of units back and forth with your opponent during the same gameplay round, which makes the game more lively, engaging and quick. Most of my games came in around two hours.

Kill Team is designed to be played on a 22-by-30 inch game board, which is supplied inside the starter set along with the terrain. No more four-foot-by-six-foot or larger cafeteria-style tables filled with a dodgy collection of mismatched, half-painted terrain. When you sit down at the table to play Kill Team, by virtue of that smaller game board alone, you’re bound to have a dense, beautiful map filled with lots of tactical opportunities to maneuver. It’s also a boon for apartment dwellers who simply don’t have the space to leave larger tables set up all the time.

Kill Team is, in actuality, the third in a recent series of boxed skirmish games that Games Workshop has launched over the past few years. First came a small-batch run of a starter set for a game called Shadow War: Armageddon, now available only as a rules manual. Then, late last year, they released Necromunda, a small-unit tactical skirmish game that played on a much larger, modular game board than Kill Team. It was also enhanced by an additional sourcebook that allowed you to play on a more traditional, three-dimensional battlefield filled with terrain.

Games Workshop will be bundling existing terrain from its collection of sculpts with small groups of miniatures. That approach to creating and selling new products makes the entire line very broad. It’s up to players to provide depth, in the form of campaign-style gameplay with lasting consequences — including permadeath.
Games Workshop

While Shadow War has largely been left behind, the Necromunda product line is in full production with many additional expansions already on the way. I’ve played it and enjoy it immensely. But neither of those two rule systems are compatible with Kill Team. In fact, there aren’t even rules for playing with Necromunda factions in the core Kill Team rulebook.

That being said, Games Workshop assures me that this is a product line that they are putting a lot of energy behind. In an email sent to Polygon last month, they called Kill Team “a cornerstone game in the Games Workshop hobby.” I’ve not been able to get them to elaborate, but know that there are already a whole host of expansions — including new Kill Teams bundled with additional terrain — coming soon to the Games Workshop website and a friendly local game store near you.

If you’ve ever been interested in playing tabletop 40k, Kill Team the most affordable, most complete starter set in the entire Games Workshop catalog. It’s also an excellent primer if you one day want to build out a larger army for the full 8th edition of the game. But Kill Team is its own thing. It’s a marvelous value, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team Starter Set goes on sale July 28.