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The childish delight of Warhammer 40k Dark Galaxy trading cards

What happens when you give a cynical adult a treasure trove of Warhammer 40k trading cards that were clearly designed for children?

Warhammer 40k Dark Galaxy trading cars in a heap

Fun British fact, American readers – we don’t have baseball, so instead of baseball cards, British children trade football (soccer) stickers. Even I, as a child so ignorant of sportsball that I decided I would support goalkeepers instead of a particular team, had a go at filling an album for the 1994 World Cup. I knew nothing and cared less about the teams in the tournament, but I knew a shiny sticker was a shiny sticker and dammit if I didn’t want them.

So my first thought, on receiving a bumper selection of Warhammer 40k: Dark Galaxy trading card packs, courtesy of publisher Panini, was that they would have caused my nerdy little heart to explode, had I received them as a child. Nowadays I am a tired and jaded cynic. Is any part of that magpie child left?


The Dark Galaxy series consists of 225 trading cards, split into nine cards for each of the Warhammer 40k factions – the Space Marines naturally get a set for each of their most popular chapters (Dark Angels represent), though the Grey Knights, Chaos Knights, and Leagues of Votann are absent. The cards use a mixture of art from sundry Warhammer 40k Codex rulebooks and licensed publications, and each come with a lore snippet on the back. If you’re based in America, I’m afraid you’ll have to import these.

A pile of Warhammer 40k dark galaxy trading card packs

The foil treatments (shinies) go hard. In fact, so gauche and striking are the foils here, I’m going to call all of WotC’s recent foil treatments, from surge to galaxy foil, weakling foils for cowards. Every pack has one of fifty Webway foils, and then there are 15 Inferno foils that look like psychedelic candy sprinkles, plus ultra rare Adamantium foils, reserved for characters like Saint Celestine or Abaddon the Despoiler.

Oh, and there are variant Crusade, Vanguard and Purge treatments for the common cards in the set – Purge variants look like TV static from the epilepsy dimension – plus special Voidborn alternatives to Webway foils reserved to Blaster and Mega multipacks…

It’s an all-dessert buffet, an album mixed by turning every knob up to eleven. This technology has evolved since I was a child, when we were impressed with shinies little more advanced than beaten tin foil. Has there been an arms race in shiny technology as collectible creators battle against Vbucks and FIFA Ultimate Team packs for the scarce attention of Generation Omega? Despite all this excess, there are still fewer variants of each card than there are for Elesh Norn in MTG Phyrexia: All Will Be One.

A partially complete Warhammer 40k Dark Galaxy trading card collection of Imperial Knights cards

I opened a starter pack and a Value pack (24 cards with two guaranteed Purge foils for $8.50 / £6.99) without seeing a duplicate. A Blaster box (5 packs, two Voidborn variants) and a Mega box (8 packs, four Voidborn variants) later and I’d completed my Adeptus Mechanicus page, my collection was at least half full, and about half the cards I was getting were duplicates. So far I had ripped through RRP $46 / £38 of product.

Then there was the booster box – 18 packs for $55 / £45. I knew exactly what the maths would do to this – every card I added to my collection increased the odds of opening a duplicate in a future pack. True to the laws of probability, by the time I ripped open the last packet, I didn’t open a single new card. I had finished off the Astra Militarum and Sisters of Battle, but the many, empty slots in the collection glowered at me, accusing.

A partially complete Warhammer 40k Dark Galaxy trading cards Orks collection

As an adult, I could spend my way to completion. Some bad maths tells me that it should take about 268 packs and average luck to open every Adamantium foil from a pack – and of course, there’s always eBay.

But that’s no fun. As a child, a duplicate shiny is a treasured resource, a bargaining chip that might let you trade for the elusive basic card to complete your Orks page or convince your mate Ben to empty out his lego box and find the Inferno foil he lost in there. The impossibility of completing a collection makes every card a holy artefact, far more meaningful and wonderful to a kid who couldn’t possibly complete the set than for an adult who absolutely could.

For me, the simple thrill of opening packs and finding shiny cards was still there, though it was a passing thing. There are worse ways to get the catharsis of opening card packs, provided you have the disposable cash, and a collection could be a fun little project while you wait for news of Warhammer 40k 10th edition. Then, once that thrill is over, do what I did next – find a friend with a child who’s into Warhammer 40k, and blow their mind by giving the collection to them.