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Which Warhammer 40k starter set should you choose?

There are many ways to start playing Warhammer 40k, with a range of starter sets on offer from Games Workshop - here's what you need to know

Warhammer 40k 10th edition starter set models - heavily armored Terminators attack a swarm of Tyranid hormagaunts

This guide explains the differences between all the Warhammer 40k starter sets, including their cost, contents, and which set is right for you or the person you’re buying a gift for. It also has info on other ways you can get started with the ultimate sci-fi miniatures game.

New 40k players can feel bombarded with confusing questions: which Warhammer 40k faction should I play? What is a Warhammer 40k codex and why should I get one? Come to think of it, what is Warhammer 40k, anyway, and why are Space Marines‘ shoulder pads so big?

Fortunately, all the different Warhammer 40k starter sets do a good job of introducing new players to the game. Some allow you to dip your toes into the shallow end of the hobby, others will help you dive in head first – it just depends on what you want to do and what your budget is.

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Warhammer 40k Starter Set

Best all-rounder starter set

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Warhammer 40k Starter Set specifications:
Tyranid models 27
Space Marine models 12
Other notable contents None
Reasons to buy
  • Contains two starter armies that will give a fun introduction to the game
  • A manageable hobby project for first-timers
Reasons to avoid
  • Doesn’t come with hobby supplies to build and paint the models
  • The two forces will need expanding to be eligible to play the Combat Patrol game mode

The Warhammer 40k starter set costs $110 (£65) and provides two small armies for the Tyranids and Space Marines, as well as dice, measuring ruler, the game’s core rules, a cardboard gaming board, and a handbook. It contains these 39 models:

  • Space Marine Infernus marines x 5
  • Space Marine terminators x 5
  • Space Marine terminator teleport homer beacon x1
  • Space Marine terminator captain x 1
  • Tyranid termagants x 20
  • Tyranid ripper swarm x 2
  • Tyranid Von Ryman’s Leapers x 3
  • Tryanid Psychovore x 1
  • Tyranid Winged Tyranid Prime x 1

These two forces will let you play a satisfying game. They can also be expanded into “Combat Patrol” armies by purchasing one additional model box – a game mode that uses fixed armies and is designed to be quick and satisfying to play.

Warhammer 40k Introductory Set

Perfect set for trying out the hobby

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Warhammer 40k Introductory Set specifications:
Tyranid models 11
Space Marine models 5
Other notable contents Paints and tools needed to construct and paint the models
Reasons to buy
  • Comes with all the tools and paints necessary to build and paint models right there in the box
  • A great way to sample the different parts of the Warhammer 40k hobby and see if they appeal
  • A self-contained hobby project
Reasons to avoid
  • Included brush is low quality
  • Modest selection of models

The Warhammer 40k Introductory set is a low-cost way to get started with the hobby. Inside, you get five paints for miniatures, a brush, model clippers, dice, 16 models, and a handbook.

The tools included in this set are intended to get new hobbyists building and painting miniatures right out of the box. This makes it a self-contained product, unlike the other starter sets. The brush is very basic, which won’t matter for younger kids still developing hand-eye coordination, but teens and adults may find their painting experience hindered by the tool.

Introductory rules also let you get a feel for the game. The low number of models means you won’t have much gameplay variety, so this is a basic demo of Warhammer 40k – a good way to dip your toes, but not the full experience.

Warhammer 40k Ultimate Starter Set

Two full starter armies, plus scenery

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Warhammer 40k Ultimate Starter Set specifications:
Tryanid models 32
Space Marine models 13
Other notable contents Wargames terrain
Reasons to buy
  • Contains two full Combat Patrol forces
  • Comes with plastic gaming terrain to battle over
Reasons to avoid
  • A big project for a first time hobbyist
  • Doesn’t come with any tools for building and painting minis

The Warhammer 40k Ultimate Starter Set is the one to get if you’re ready to go all in on the hobby. At over $200 (£100), it has two full combat patrol armies of Tyranids and Space Marines, as well as dice, a measuring ruler, the game’s core rules, a handbook, two cardboard gaming mats, and a set of wargames terrain for your forces to battle over.

Warhammer 40k Space Marine: The Board Game

Entry-level Warhammer 40k starter set

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Warhammer 40k Space Marine: The Board Game specifications:
Space Marine models 1
Tyranid models 22
Other notable contents Cardboard game board
Reasons to buy
  • A self-contained and simplified rule-set for first-time wargamers
  • Comes with an exclusive Lt. Titus model
Reasons to avoid
  • Despite the name, it isn’t a board game
  • Not suited to first time adult players

Warhammer 40k Space Marine: The Board Game isn’t really a board game – it’s a starter set for Warhammer 40k 10th edition with a simplified version of the rules. It was initially available exclusively in Target stores in the USA. The box costs $39.99 and contains these 23 models:

  • Lieutenant Titus
  • Tyranid termagants x 20
  • Tyranid ripper swarm x 2

It also has dice, a fold-out battlefield board, a plastic range ruler, and simple rules. It’s a good entry-level product containing push-together models and basic rules that are well-suited to kids.

Past Warhammer 40k starter sets

These are the past Warhammer 40k starter sets from previous editions of the game.

Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader starter set

There was no Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader starter set! Released in 1987, the very first edition of Warhammer 40k came before Games Workshop started making game-in-a-box wargames: this would start with Adeptus Titanicus, which launched in 1988

Warhammer 40k 2nd edition starter set, brightly colored rulebooks, cardboard terrain, many tokens and cards, and a large number of unpainted miniature Orks and Space Marines

Warhammer 40k second edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k Second Edition starter set featured iconic cover art by John Blanche, depicting Blood Angels Space Marines facing off against hordes of Orks. The box contained 20 monopose Space Marines, 20 monopose Orks, 40 monopose Gretchin, and a cardboard Ork dreadnought standee (now called a Deffdread). The rules were split into three softback rulebooks, and the box contained a tidal wave of cardboard tokens, data cards, and cardboard terrain.

Warhammer 40k third edition starter set - 10 Space Marines, a hovering Space Marine land speeder, and twenty spikey Dark Eldar

Warhammer 40k third edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k third edition starter set once again used John Blanche cover art, this time a montage of Black Templars space marines. The models included were 10 multipart Space Marines, a Space Marine Land Speeder, 20 Dark Eldar raiders, and terrain. This box introduced the see-through blast and flamer templates still used today, and consolidated all the rules into a single softback rulebook.

Warhammer 40k Assault on Black Reach starter set - a collection of Space Marines and Orks in front of a box

Warhammer 40k fourth edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k fourth edition starter set was the first named starter set, ‘Battle for Macragge’, and even had a matching narrative about the Tyranid invasion of the Ultramarines homeworld.  The box contained monopose figures once again: 10 Space Marines, 10 Tyranid termagants, six Tyranid genestealers, eight Tyranid spore mines, a stranded Imperial navy pilot, and terrain representing his crashed Aquila shuttle.  The rules were shrunk into a digest A5 format.

Warhammer 40k Battle for Macragge starter set - Space Marine and Tyranid models, and a crashed Imperial Aquila lander

Warhammer 40k fifth edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k fifth edition starter set was ‘Assault on Black Reach’, pitting the Orks against the Ultramarines once again. The box contained complete (if small) armies for the first time: 10 Space Marine tactical marines, a Space Marine captain, a Space Marine Dreadnought, against 20 Ork Boyz, five Ork Nobz, an Ork Warboss, and three Ork Deffkoptas.

Warhammer 40k Dark Vengeance Stater Set - two forces, one of Chaos Space Marines and cultists, another of Dark Angels Space Marines

Warhammer 40k sixth edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k sixth edition starter set was ‘Dark Vengeance’. This box again featured two armies, the Dark Angels and the Chaos Space Marines. The Dark Angels force contained 10 Space Marine tactical marines, five Deathwing terminators, three Ravenwing bikers, a Librarian,  and a Captain, while the Chaos Space Marines fielded a Helbrute, six Chaos Chosen, twenty Chaos Cultists, and a Chaos Lord. The first wave of the box also contained a Dark Angels Interrogator Chaplain.

Warhammer 40k seventh edition starter set

The Warhammer 40k seventh edition starter set was also ‘Dark Vengeance’, with the same miniatures as the sixth edition box set but updated rules.

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Warhammer 40k eighth edition starter set

The first Warhammer 40k eighth edition starter set was Dark Imperium. This contained two sizeable armies, one introducing the Primaris Space Marines, and the other launching a new range of Death Guard. It also contained a hardback rulebook. Two smaller starter sets were also sold, First Strike, which had a handful of models and basic getting started rules, and Know No Fear, which had about half the models of Dark Imperium and a slightly more involved beginners rulebook.

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Warhammer 40k ninth edition starter sets

There were four Warhammer 40k ninth edition starter sets in total, starting with the limited edition launch box set Indomitus. This introduced two large armies of monopose figures, expanding the Primaris Space Marines range and launching a refreshed Necrons line. It also contained a full hardback rulebook.

The launch box set was followed by three tiers of starter set: Recruit edition, which had very basic rules and a few miniatures; Elite edition, which had more substantial armies for both sides; and Command edition, which had the same models as Elite edition but added a full rulebook and gaming terrain.