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Here’s the cheapest way to start playing Warhammer 40,000

One army to rule them all, and in the grim darkness bind them

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Games Workshop
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 is a notoriously expensive hobby, especially when you add in all the paints and brushes you need to make those models look good. The recent refresh of the Kill Team franchise is a tremendous value, but it’s still gonna run you $130 just for the base game.

But, as of this week, there’s a cheaper way.

In fact, there’s one faction that will let you get in the door of the 40K hobby for as little as $40, rules and all. You’ll just need to compromise a bit of your humanity along the way.

Allow me to introduce you to the Genestealer Cult.

If you’ve followed 40K at all over the years you’re probably familiar with the Space Hulk franchise. Whether in video game or tabletop form, a Space Hulk game pits the mighty Space Marines against the Tyranids, a particularly nasty multi-limbed species. Think Aliens, but with hundreds or thousands of critters crawling through the air ducts instead of just a few.

Games Workshop

One branch of the Tyranid faction are the Genestealers, which happen to be a genetically engineered group of highly efficient killers that are linked together by a hive mind. Their modus operandi for obliterating other species is to meld themselves with an indigenous alien population and destroy it from within. Therefore, few groups in the 40K universe are as feared as the Genestealer Cult, a secretive cabal of heavily armed, Tyranid-worshipping humans locked in a secret war with the Imperium of Man.

That was a lot of lore, but stick with me here.

An early 2018 issue of White Dwarf, the Games Workshop enthusiast magazine, contained rules to play the Genestealer Cult in Necromunda. Necromunda was a cult classic tabletop skirmish franchise first released in the 1990s that made excellent use of verticality, with massive cardboard and plastic structures that rose up from the table to make for spectacular battlefields. That franchise was refreshed in late 2017 with Necromunda: Underhive, a boxed product around the same price as Kill Team but without the amazing scenery included in that set.

So, earlier this week, Games Workshop released the rules for playing the Genestealer Cult in Necromunda free online. You can download them at the community blog.

With that ruleset in hand, you’re almost set. Next you need some miniatures, which can be had for around $40 at your friendly local game store, on the Games Workshop website, or on Amazon.

Now, to really do things right in Necromunda you’ll want to pick up the Underhive boxed set. You’ll need it for the entirety of the rules as well as the dice and the game board. But if you have a friend who already owns Underhive, or a local shop with a healthy community of players, you can just tag along and join in the fun. I’m certain that folks used to fighting against the same small set of factions would be happy to welcome your Cult to their table.

It gets better, though. The Genestealer Cult is baked into the rules for Kill Team. Games Workshop sells the manual for that game a la carte for as little as $34.99. Better still, that system uses off-the-shelf six- and ten-sided dice. Just grab a few from your collection and you’re ready to roll. You can also pay just a little more for the physical copy of the book from Games Workshop, pluck one off the shelf at your local hobby store, or order it through Amazon.

Finally, with this 10-man team you’ve got the start of your very own Genestealer Cult army for the vanilla 40K tabletop experience. If they really get their hooks into you, no pun intended, you can expand from there and pick up the appropriate rulebook.

Once again, the team at Games Workshop is bending its own rules and trying to make the 40K hobby inexpensive and welcoming to new players. If you’re eager to get away from the screen and start painting or rolling some dice, there’s no cheaper place to start than with the Genestealer Cult.

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