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Warhammer 40,000 rules go digital, somehow make things more complicated

Let’s dig into Warhammer 40,000: The App

Ultramarines emerge from a phone. Image: 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.

The 9th edition of Warhammer 40,000 arrived over the summer, and with it the promise of a modern digital implementation of the game’s voluminous ruleset. Now one of the system’s most important features — datasheets for fielding individual units — is available in an app, along with a tool for building out your armies. Trouble is that finding the app is a bit of a pain, and understanding it is even more so.

Job one is actually locating the application on the Apple and Google storefronts. That’s complicated by the fact that there are literally dozens of licensed games across both platforms that use common search terms like “warhammer,” “40,000,” and others. You can find the iOS version at Apple’s App Store, and the Android version at Google Play. Or simply search for it by its specific name — Warhammer 40,000: The App — and make sure you grab the one published by Games Workshop.

Once you get the app installed, you’ll be prompted to make a My Warhammer account. This is a new, unified login for all of the related Games Workshop properties. That includes mobile apps like Warhammer 40,000: The App, but also for the community portal and for storefronts — including,, and

After you get logged in, you’ll be invited to sign up for a subscription which costs $4.99 per month in the U.S. Sign up by Jan. 9, 2021, and your first month will be free.

Beyond that, things get a little hinky.

What do you actually get for your subscription fee? Access to the Warhammer 40,000: Core Book’s 9th edition Expanded Rules section, for one, which will allow you to play something other than a light pick-up game. Beyond that, you’ll get access to every codex for every faction in the Warhammer 40,000 universe ... so long as it’s 8th edition content.

Say that you want to play as the Space Marines. Well, Games Workshop just published a 9th edition Codex: Space Marines, so the 8th edition rules — which were published in 2019, mind you — aren’t available in the app. You’ll need to pay $50 for that book, then activate its content inside the app with a special code that comes with. And that’s how the in-app rules for every army in the game will work going forward. Of course, you’ll only be able to access that in-app content if you keep paying the $4.99 subscription fee for the app.

Like many aspects of Warhammer 40,000 (the game), this introduces a ton of edge cases.

For instance, currently my beloved Dark Angels Space Marines chapter doesn’t really have a valid 8th edition codex. The rules for 9th edition have simply veered too far for them to be valid any longer. So, while Games Workshop gins up a 9th edition version of that book for me to buy, there’s the Index Astartes: Dark Angels that they published in August. It’s a free supplement intended to help me make do. While that document has been available as a PDF for months now (and also requires a copy of Codex: Space Marines to fully implement), in order to access an in-app version of that same content I need a subscription to the app.

More maddening is the fact that Games Workshop continues to have supply issues with some of its most popular products. While you can pick up the Codex: Space Marines online right now from the company’s website, Codex: Necrons — the other army featured in the wildly popular Warhammer 40,000: Indomitus boxed set — is out of stock there, and there’s no way to unlock those rules in the mobile app without getting a hold of the code that comes bundled with the physical book. Yet another reason to make sure to check with your friendly local games store, as it’s likely that more copies exist in the wild.

All of that confusion aside, if you have already invested in the miniatures and the rules to use them, then the additional $4.99 is a nominal monthly fee to get access to the Battle Forge. This portion of the app, which went live on Monday, allows you to build legal armies on the fly. It hews closely to the current ruleset, including hooks for dividing full armies into smaller detachments. I was quickly able to mix and match the models that I currently own (including the ones I have yet to paint) into a few different kind of forces.

While the Battle Forge interface is straightforward and the software itself is pretty snappy, you will need to educate yourself to really make use of it. It’s not a tutorial or a teaching tool, but a tool for dedicated players.

Currently Warhammer 40,000: The App is in beta. There’s no obligation to pay for it beyond the first month. Just consider setting yourself a reminder to cancel that subscription in 30 days if you don’t intend to keep using the app — or buying books to keep unlocking additional content.

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