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Warhammer 40K’s latest variant has an even higher barrier to entry

Arks of Omen: Abaddon is a surprisingly expensive way into the hobby for U.S. consumers

The Into the Dark rulebook alongside some components of the Gallowdark terrain. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
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.

Arks of Omen: Abaddon, the latest game book for Warhammer 40,000, does an extraordinary job of moving the franchise’s ponderous storyline forward. The 88-page hardcover book went up for presale earlier this month, and is currently making its way to fans all over the world. Inside, you’ll also find rules for an all-new style of play, a game mode called Boarding Actions. Like Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team, it uses small, relatively affordable sets of miniatures for extremely satisfying small-unit skirmishes. But it’s absolutely not for newcomers. In fact, the way its rules are written makes it very clear just how high the barrier to entry is for this particular miniatures wargame.

Following pages and pages of glorious fluff, Abaddon’s Boarding Actions rules kick off on page 50, and run less than 20 pages in full. The balance of the book is filled with pre-generated maps and scenarios carefully tuned to a specific set of terrain — the $210 Warhammer 40,000 Boarding Actions Terrain Set.

A box render and a fully painted set of terrain titles Warhammer 40,000 Boarding Actions features two cardboard mats and a collection of plastic terrain models after the interior of decrepit old spaceships. Image: Games Workshop

Of course, if you’ve been keeping pace with the release of Kill Team — both Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team: Shadowvaults ($185) and Into the Dark ($210) — you already have the plastic components you need to get started. But you don’t have the game boards, unfortunately. Kill Team uses a single 30-inch-long-by-22-inch-wide board. Boarding Actions use two 704-millimeter-long-by-607-millimeter-wide (roughly 27.7-inches by 23.9-inches) boards instead. They’re not sold separately, so if you don’t want to buy the big box you’ll have to make your own — or wait for aftermarket accessories from third-party vendors to go up for sale. Or, I guess, just play without a board.

The Boarding Action rules refer to the Warhammer 40,000 Core Book, stating both generally and specifically which rules from the latter you’re allowed to use. It’s inconvenient, to be honest, and will require a lot of page-turning and adjudication at the table. The Core Book is also expensive, at $70.

Finally, you’ll also need a Codex book for your specific army. These $55 supplements contain the rules for each specific unit of each faction in the universe — basically the character sheets needed to actually fire your weapons and use your special abilities in combat. And, if you’re playing a specific chapter of Space Marines — Dark Angels, Blood Angels, and anything other than bog-standard Ultramarines — you’ll also need the appropriate Codex Supplement, which will cost you another $33.

A Dark Angel with flaming censors on his backpack looms over fallen Chaos Marines. Image: Games Workshop

That puts the total cost at retail for two players to enjoy the new Boarding Actions game mode at somewhere between $390 and $423 — plus the cost of Arks of Omen: Abaddon, which comes in at $60... plus paint and miniatures.

There are plenty of ways around this cost issue, of course. You can pick up MDF walls and neoprene gaming mats relatively cheaply. You can 3D print your own miniatures, or buy off-brand minis to use as proxies. But the rules are the rules, and the game’s simply not going to work without those books. So even if you want to hack your way into the hobby, you’ll still need at minimum $185 worth of books for a single player.

So now we’re talking about an investment on par with a Nintendo Switch, an almost six-year-old console that continues to get high-quality games. Therefore we need to take into account the lifespan of Warhammer 40,000 as a platform. The 9th edition formally kicked off in 2020 with the launch of the Warhammer 40,000 Indomitus boxed set. Judging from the pace at which the last three editions have been released, that means we’ll likely be bumping up against the first teasers for the launch of 10th edition late this year or early next. That means your $185 investment in hardcover rule books will, in all likelihood, only be current for another couple of years, at most. Given how the company has been pushing cross-compatibility between 8th and 9th editions, at least initially, that’s probably not as bad as it sounds for most players. Nevertheless, it should be part of the calculus when making big purchases like this.

A page from White Dwarf showing a group of players around a virtual Kill Team map. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

There’s an excellent way out of this money pit, though, and it’s one that is being modeled to great effect right now on the pages of White Dwarf magazine — the gaming club. Over a series of articles that began in 2022, the staff at White Dwarf has been playing a five-person narrative game of Kill Team on a single, shared set of terrain. Gaming clubs are common in England, but relatively rare here in the United States. The closest approximation is finding a group of like-minded players at your friendly local game store.

Of course, that same game store is also in the business of selling things. The situation puts U.S.-based retailers, already struggling against big-box retailers and online giants like Amazon, in a tough spot. While a thriving community of players will likely drive more traffic to a given store and sell lots of miniatures and books, it may also limit the sales of high-end items for play at home — things like the Arks of Omen: Abaddon book and the Warhammer 40,000 Boarding Actions terrain set — if a single set is being shared by multiple players in-store.

It’s a situation further complicated by the fact that Games Workshop drives consumers to make pre-orders online at its own website.

Arks of Omen: Abaddon, the first in a five-book series, is shipping now from Games Workshop and should be available soon at friendly local game stores.

Arks of Omen: Abaddon is available now. The book was previewed using a pre-release PDF document provided by Games Workshop. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. 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.