How Hard is Warhammer 40k to Learn? A Journey into the Grimdark Universe

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How Hard is Warhammer 40k to Learn? A Journey into the Grimdark Universe

As a Warhammer enthusiast with over 20 years of experience playing, painting miniatures, attending tournaments, and being an active member of the Warhammer community, I’m often asked – how hard is it to get into Warhammer 40k?

It’s a fair question. At first glance, 40k can seem incredibly daunting. There are literally hundreds of units, countless rules, deep lore, expensive miniatures, and painting supplies to wrap your head around. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But I’m here to tell you – don’t be intimidated. Getting into Warhammer 40k is very achievable if you approach it the right way. Here’s my best advice for beginners drawn from decades of experience so you can start your journey into the grimdark universe.


Figure Out Your Goal

Warhammer 40k is an incredibly diverse hobby that offers different things for different people. Before jumping in, think about what interests you most:

Is it the rich lore and backstories?

The tactical game mechanics and competitive play?

Building and painting intricate miniatures?

Being part of a passionate community?

Having a focus will help guide your journey. A painter will approach the hobby differently than a competitive tournament player. Neither approach is right or wrong! Define what you want upfront so you can tailor the experience and avoid missteps.

For me personally, I love the lore and building a meaningful connection with my chosen army. I paint to a decent standard but nothing award winning. And I enjoy low-key games with friends over high-stakes tournaments. That’s my happy place in the 40k universe.

Warhammer Warlock Eldar 40k

Pick an Army That Calls to You

One of the most exciting aspects of 40k is choosing your army. I strongly advise against simply picking whoever is strongest in the current meta. The meta is always changing so what’s good today may not be tomorrow.

Instead, dive into the rich backstories and visual designs of each faction. Let an army reach out and grab you based on their story, looks, and playstyle. Read up on the available Codexes. Watch some battle reports. Browse the miniatures online. Let your passion guide you more than raw power.

I’ll never forget the first time I read about the tragic tale of the Eldar race and saw the elegant wraith constructs. I was hooked. 20 years later they are still my army. Find the faction that speaks to your soul – it will keep you invested no matter what edition we’re in.

Nurgle Warhammer 40k

Start Small

It’s easy to get overambitious when starting 40k. I’ve seen many new players try to build a huge 2000 point army upfront only to get overwhelmed and quit. Avoid this trap by starting small instead!

Plan your first goal around 500 points. This lets you learn with a limited roster rather than dozens of units. From there, play some low stakes games to get the basics locked down. Once comfortable, you can gradually build towards bigger army sizes over time.

Not only is this less intimidating, but it spreads out the costs. 40k can get expensive fast! Pace yourself. I highly advise planning your purchases around point limits rather than buying units randomly.

And don’t worry if your early armies aren’t painted much yet. Tabletop standard (3 colors minimum) is just fine when starting out.

Mechanicus Warhammer 40k

Learn Rules Gradually

One glance through the core rulebook is enough to make most newcomers dizzy. So many phases! Stratagems! Obscure dice mechanics! It’s critical not to get overwhelmed here.

You absolutely do NOT need to digest everything upfront. I tell all new players, including myself 20 years ago, to just focus on movement, shooting, and close combat to start. Get those basics locked down first through trial games.

Once comfortable with the basics, you can gradually add more advanced rules over time. Things like stratagems, psychic powers, command points, etc. This will help the knowledge stick rather than throwing everything at once. Think of mastering 40k rules like an onion, peeling back layers over many enjoyable games.


Find a Community

40k thrives on its passionate community. Having people to share the journey with makes all the difference in engagement and longevity. Ideally, find an existing local group to take you under their wing at your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS).

Barring that, bring a friend along on the ride! Convince them to take the plunge into their own starter army too. Learning together is not only more fun but helps motivate you when they depends on you for games too!

And if you can’t find a local playgroup, there are amazing online communities too like Warhammer Community and countless Facebook groups. The 40k community is welcoming and filled with people excited to offer advice. Seek them out!

Space marines Warhammer 40k


Have a Budget

It’s easy for starter enthusiasm to overwhelm good financial sense when building a new army. Resist the urge to buy everything at once! Plan your purchases gradually around point limits, as mentioned earlier, to avoid wasted money and pile of shame models waiting to be built.

And keep an eye out for sales or buying second hand. eBay and online swap groups are filled with “gently used” deals. This lets you stretch your dollar further to get more models built faster. Just because a new kit is $60 USD doesn’t mean you can’t find it for $30 or less.

Finding creative ways to save money will let you indulge in more aspects of the hobby – whether that’s a new miniature or Badab Black wash! Building an army is a marathon, not a sprint.

Necron lord Warhammer 40k

Play Low Stakes Games

It’s easy as a new player to feel pressured that you MUST adhere to all rules and play ultra competitive at tournaments and game nights. Please toss that notion away right now!

The truth is 40k is best enjoyed when playing low stakes, informal games focused on fun over winning early on. Don’t worry about getting every rule right or feelings bad about losses. I still play plenty of games with friends where we fudge dice rolls in dramatic moments just to see what happens!

In your first battles, embrace the story unfolding on the table more than tactical precision. Let crazy emergent moments happen, even if not fully rules appropriate, rather than flipping through books to verify every detail. This keeps things fun and engaging while you learn versus feeling like a stern exam.

Genestealers Warhammer 40k

 Paint to Your Comfort Level

Many new players feel like they MUST paint Golden Demon standard armies right off the bat. But unless your aim is to win global painting competitions, I urge you to relax and just paint to what makes you happy without stress.

I often tell new hobbyists to just clean mold lines and hit the models with some spray primer and a base coat to start. I call this “good enough” painting. From there, only add details if YOU want to, not out of perceived necessity.

Over months and years, your painting will gradually improve through practice anyways. Before you know it, you’ll look back proud at your progress vs. pressured. But start stress-free knowing that playing with an unpainted or basic army is completely fine while learning.


Expand Your Horizons

Starting out it’s easy to hyperfocus on just gaming itself – building rules knowledge, tactics, list building, etc. But I encourage new players to explore the wider world of 40k too for maximum engagement.

Listen to some lore videos during your commute to connect deeper with your army’s stories. Read novels starring your favorite factions to see their exploits firsthand. Budget allowing, consider investing in hobby supplies to try converting models or terrain building.

40k is a vast hobby with so much more beyond just the tabletop battles to enrich your enjoyment through immersive worldbuilding. Delve into your favorite elements at your own pace!


Have Fun!

Above all, constantly remind yourself that 40k is a game and hobby meant to be enjoyed. It’s easy to get bogged down trying to master every rule too quickly or stressing if your models aren’t perfectly painted. Yet neither are mandatory to have a good time!

Focus on what you enjoy most about 40k and don’t worry if you aren’t measuring up to some arbitrary standard, whether real or just perceived. Play how YOU want to play, paint to your own satisfaction, and engage the aspects you find coolest at your pace.

40k is an incredible hobby with so much to offer. By setting realistic expectations upfront, embracing the learning journey, and customizing it to your interests I know you’ll fall in love too. And if you ever have any other questions, feel free to check out more guides on our Warhammer YouTube channel. Now grab some dice and let’s play!


I hope this advice helps smooth your path into the expansive Warhammer 40,000 universe. With reasonable goals, smart budgeting, a patient mindset around rules and painting, plus an awesome community to embrace you, it is very achievable to start your new obsession! Tabletop gaming needs more passionate players.

So what part of 40k excites you most? Which army is calling? I look forward to seeing your mighty force take shape however you decide to pursue the hobby. We need reinforcements in the neverending battles across the stars!

Just remember – take things at YOUR pace and please ask fellow hobbyists for help anytime. Have fun on the journey to commanding your own little piece of the grimdark galaxy!

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