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An Orlock quad bike ready for painting. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

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Necromunda: Ash Wastes is just the beginning of the Mad Max-ification of 40K

Witness me, Lord Helmawr!

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.

On Saturday, Games Workshop’s latest hype train, a $299 boxed set called Necromunda: Ash Wastes, rounded its final corner on the way to retail release. It sold out almost immediately, meaning that eager fans’ best bet for securing a copy in the short term will be hitting up their local retailer and hoping for the best. The set itself is excellent, full to bursting with new scenery and excellent miniatures. But while I’m thrilled about the quality of the kit itself, I’m even more excited for the opportunities it opens up for the Necromunda franchise as a whole. This is just the beginning of the Mad Max-ification of Warhammer 40,000, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Necromunda differs from regular Warhammer 40,000 in several important ways. It features totally different rulesets, for one, meaning that while individual models can be played across both systems, they require different rulebooks in order to do so. But Necromunda has an advantage in terms of start-up costs for new players. While you’ll need dozens of models to field an army in 40K, you really only need about 10 or so to get started in Necromunda, thanks to its focus on smaller-scale skirmishes. That makes it one of the lowest-priced points of entry into the Warhammer hobby as a whole.

The contents of the Necromunda: Ash Wastes boxed set. Image: Games Workshop

Of course, that also makes the Ash Wastes boxed set all the more remarkable for its price point. Turns out, you get quite a lot for nearly $300. The set includes two gangs of 10 miniatures each, four mounted soldiers, and two four-wheeled vehicles for a total of 26 fighters in all. There’s also a double-sided map, a bunch of cards, dice, rulers, and the like. But the real treasure here is the terrain.

This is easily one of the most elaborate and customizable sets of gaming terrain that Games Workshop has produced in the last decade. The “hab units” — essentially bomb-proof slum housing — have a modular design that allows you to create different shapes. You can opt for the standard yurt-like hexagonal footprint, or you can get creative and use them to build longer, oval structures. They’re also easily stacked, meaning you can customize the density of your futuristic shanty town to suit your taste.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon and Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Most importantly, they feature the same kinds of detailing found in previous Necromunda boxed sets. Veteran players will easily be able to find a home for these new bits inside their existing collection, while newbies will be starting out at an advantage with the most feature-filled kit available.

A tiny anemometer for measuring wind speed in the Ash Wastes. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
An assortment of kit bolted to the side of a hab unit. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Best of all, nearly all of the terrain is friction-fit. Some of the components, like the walkways, only need gravity to hold them in place. That makes it easy to build unique landscapes for every game you play. It should also be fairly simple to add homemade accessories to the terrain later on: Just include a few hook-like clips that are roughly the right size to latch onto the terrain’s built-in grommets, and you’re good to go. It’s an absolute gift for the kitbashers, modders, and artists who have worked to make Necromunda one of the most fascinating subcultures within the modern 40K community.

However, it’s the ruleset that ships with Ash Wastes that will set the tone for Necromunda going forward. The 176-page hardcover book includes a highly refined ruleset that GW has been hammering on since the game was rebooted in 2017. Everything you need to know about fighting on foot is included in the book, and it’s presented in a more updated and streamlined format than ever before. It also includes rules for fighting with vehicles — a first for the franchise that originally launched in the 1990s.

A mutant sand flea and its rider.
The Ash Wastes Nomads get mounts, but they’re not the same as a vehicle and use different rules than the Orlock quad bikes.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Vehicular battles completely change Necromunda from a traditional tabletop wargame to something straight out of a post-apocalyptic action movie. They’re most impactful in a new game type called a Rolling Roads battle. Played on a six-foot-by-four-foot table, both sides treat that table as a kind of treadmill by moving all of the terrain eight inches closer to the edge each round. Meanwhile, players take turns placing new terrain near the table’s leading edge. The result is a dynamic obstacle course that should have players colliding with each other on a regular basis. But the game takes the kinetic action even further, adding in rules for leaping between vehicles in motion; for side and head-on impacts; for running troops over; for pushing enemy vehicles off the road; and even for massive multi-vehicle pile-ups.

Details on the sand flea include little metal clamps to hold a leg wound shut.
These mutant sand fleas are easily the most charming new units in the boxed set. The details show the relationship between the mount and its rider. This finish was achieved with a base coat of Citadel Colour Zandri Dust with Army Painter’s new Speedpaint, specifically Sand Golem, brushed carefully over the top. Edge highlights are drybrushed Citadel Ushabti Bone, with Magic Blue eyes via Vallejo Game Color.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Oddly enough, Necromunda: Ash Wastes only comes with two vehicles, and they’re only made for one of the game’s two factions. This means that the lavish box set’s most exciting new game mode is absolutely off limits to those who have only purchased this set alone. Additional vehicles for the game’s other factions have yet to be released, and only a few have even been announced.

The bottom line is that if you were curious about getting into the Necromunda franchise, this is an excellent — albeit pricey — way to get started. But if you’re a die-hard fan who wants to add vehicular mayhem to an already existing campaign, I think you’re better off waiting for more vehicles to get released. If you’re already invested in the franchise, maybe wait and pick up the Ash Wastes rulebook when it becomes available a la carte. By that time, we’ll likely have at least a few more vehicles — like the massive Cargo-8 Ridgehauler — available for purchase. Or, better yet, cobble something together using the other spare bits you’ve got lying around your hobby space. Regardless of how invested you choose to be in this particular set, Necromunda: Ash Wastes should continue to be a source of inspiration and good times at the gaming table for years to come.

Necromunda: Ash Wastes was reviewed using a retail copy provided by Games Workshop. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships, but not with Games Workshop. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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