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The Warhammer 40k universe is ripe with opportunities for exciting storytelling and gameplay. After nearly three-and-a-half decades worth of lore and backstory, with more than a hundred novels and several hundred well-loved characters, factions, regiments, vehicles, weapons, and tactics, it is hard to say which games deserve the most love in a list like this.
And I admit that when it comes to ranking Warhammer 40k games, I am not completely fluent in all of them. Though I have played a great deal, I am not a competitive player and never know what the proper meta is at any given time. I am a lover and observer of Warhammer 40k rather than a tournament-level expert.
That said, I have been playing the game since 1st Edition, when I first bought my box of Harlequins and Squats with rules from the Compendium. I have been around all of these games, if not deely entrenched in them.
Al of this to say that I am going to give my top ten list of the games that I have played and loved, and I’ll be leaving out games that I have missed (for example, Epic Armageddon or Aeronautica Imperialis). Also, I’m not going to quibble of which edition of which game is the better edition. When I say I love Warhammer 40k, I’m not going to state whether I loved 3rd Edition more than 5th Edition.
So, with that out of the way, who are my top ten best Warhammer 40k Tabletop Games?
#10. Battlefield Gothic
Admittedly, my love for this game originates in the gorgeous miniatures. Whoever came up with the aesthetic for Battlefleet Gothic really went above and beyond. These ships are really more half cathedral than spaceship (much as Titans are half-cathedral) with enormous statues on the outside of the ships that are a thousand feet tall, and flying buttresses on a ship that is, well, flying.
Battlefleet Gothic was Star Wars: X-Wing before there was Star Wars: X-Wing, and even though X-Wing may have contributed to Battlefleet Gothic’s 2013 demise, there’s no doubt that space battles that have elaborate orders of movement, turning, firing, with special orders to make them better at all those things–and all in two-dimensional space, as opposed to many flying games that require you to handle everything in three-dimensions–it’s hard not to make a comparison.
Though Battlefleet Gothic never got the love that I believe it deserved, it did get some extremely cool models and made for some awesome space battles.
#9. Adeptus Titanicus
Everyone wants to play Warhammer 40k with a titan, but everyone knows that titans are unimaginably big and couldn’t be played in any game other than a special exhibition event. The points cost of an Imperial Titan is more than the points cost of any four tournament armies. (And, to be honest, a game with four armies attacking a titan would be, well, boring because there’s not a lot of tactics that goes into maneuver or assault.)
That’s where Adeptus Titanicus come in, and it lets you feel what it’s like to play with a Titan when you can’t play with a regular-scale titan. What I love most about this game is the (admittedly convoluted) stat cards that you have for each titan which keep track of all its systems, power, and weapons. When you damage a titan, you’re not doing an ethereal number of wounds to a monster than has a ton of wounds. Instead, you’re shooting a plasma cannon through a reactor, or through life support, or the missile launcher, and you have to reroute power and cool one thing down to heat something else up. It’s like ship management, and I love it.
Also, just because they’re amusing, I like the Imperial Knight models who are the size of Terminators and generally serve as annoying distractions while the true Titans duke it out. Fun game.
#8. The Horus Heresy
The Horus Heresy is the event in Warhammer 40k lore that has been written about more than any other, and we have so much detail about everything that was going on with every Space Marine Legion during the event. We get to see the Primarchs at their greatest, the various factions of the Space Marines as they are waffling back and forth between loyalist and traitor. It is a game that was ripe for making.
Yes, I am ranking it on my list, because it is so great to play out those battles, but I have to say that I do get annoyed with the Horus Heresy purists–the gamers who are Horus Heresy only and everything else is crap. Maybe this isn’t the case in all gaming groups, but I’ve noticed it in my local shops–and more importantly, I’ve noticed it online.
But fandom aside, The Horus Heresy is a terrific IP, and if current rumors are true there will be a new plastic kit available soon. This will be a definite improvement, because so much of the Horus Heresy has had to be routed through Forge World that it makes the game almost inaccessbile except for the most ardent fans.
#7. Blackstone Fortress
I must say that I bought this game purely for the models and never expected to actually play it. But then I happened to have an eager gamer living just next door and over the course of a month we got DEEPLY into Blackstone Fortress. Yes, the models were an absolute joy to paint, but the game was great fun, too.
The more we played, the more we noticed the nuances of the game. The better we understood the rules, the more fun we had. And we did have fun. I tended to run as UR-205, the Imperial Robot who was hiding his identity, as well Pious Vorne to be the healer. My friend played as Espern Locarno and Rein and Raus.
Eventually, however, we ran out of steam. Perhaps we were playing too much too quickly, but after a while we ran into the issue of sameness in the levels. I loved the concept of playing against the clock–that the enemies got worse the longer it took you to get through the missions–but we never did complete the game. I never opened that secret envelope.
#6. Kill Team
Kill Team is Games Workshop’s answer to the problem of getting new people into the hobby, and it seemed like it was working terrifically. If you’d always wanted to try Necrons but didn’t want to invest in a full army, then just make a Necron Kill Team! Or Plague Marines or Eldar or Dark Angels. Whatever you’ve always wanted to try your hand at was available to be played for an extremely (relatively) low cost. And if you liked what you found? Then buy the whole army and play 40k.
I’m a sucker for skirmish games, especially when each figure has different abilities, and ESPECIALLY when those figures can level up and become more and more proficient in their skills. The campaign aspect of Kill Team was one of its very best features, though one which, sadly was overlooked by most casual players. (Honestly, you can only play through the campaign for so long before you’re all levelled up and you have to start over.)
But the game is fun, using Warhammer 40k models in a game that doesn’t use Warhammer 40k strategy. There still is plenty for the tactician to work through–almost chess-like–and it’s different from what you’d get in regular 40k.
My only real complaint with Kill Team is that a game that is best played on a 3-Dimensional board is so often played on a two-dimensional one–especially in Arena, and even in the recently released Pariah Nexus. Give us terrain to climb up on.
This might be my most controversial pick because the game was so universally panned. Yes, it is a sort of roleplaying game rather than a wargame, and yes, a game master would make everything better, but the game had so many good things going for it.
First, the character creation was a ton of fun–and obviously so, because the game was so much like a role-playing game. Customizing your model with different skills, exotic weapons, various types of armor, and even specialized bullets and darts was delightful. And then running those handcrafted characters through your elaborate game, where a bolt gun shot could literally blow off a hand–and you would have to play the rest of the campaign with no hand (and, if you were ambitious, you’d remodel the figure to reflect the lost hand).
The game had a few downfalls, and one was the scale: though the 54mm models that they sold along with the game were gorgeous, it was very hard to create your own models in that scale. Why have such an elaborate character creation system if it’s near impossible to kitbash characters to look like yours? The other downfall, of course, was that it was too narrative. You could have a character walking down an alley, being followed by the enemy, but unless your perception caught sight of him you had to pretend he wasn’t there. This is why game masters or referees were so needed.
But still, I love Inquisitor.
This game has everything that I’m looking for in a game: amazing miniatures, skirmish-level combat, mercenaries, the chance for incredible scenery, and… did I mention the amazing miniatures?
Every single gang that has been released from Necromunda is not only good on its own, but is a treasure trove for kitbashing. The kits are so different from typical Warhammer 40k stuff, and yet they fit perfectly into the universe. They are plainly 40k, they just aren’t one of the armies that you’d play in a game.
The three-dimensionality of the game adds a perfect element, and the more scenery–with ladders, stairs, lifts, catwalks, narrow walkway over deep abysses–makes every game so much better. There has never been a better Warhammer 40k game for the hobby enthusiast–the kitbasher and terrain builder–than Necromunda.
This may date me, and I may be looking at this through rose-colored glasses, but to watch entire chapters of Space Marines march into battle surrounded by tanks and artillery and yes, even Titans, was so much fun. I only played the game a few times, and I was young, playing at my FLGS in the early 90s.
I’ve always had a love for smaller miniatures, from 15mm to 6mm to 2mm. Epic is about 6mm, which made for the ability to paint individual figures with just a few colors, focus on the vehicles and bring in a lot of the bigger war walkers that you just never got to see in other games. The real benefit here, compared to Adeptus Titanicus, is that you got massive warmachines from all the races: Ork Stompas and Craftworld Wraithknights.
And while it was harder to put yourself into the head of an individual marine on the ground, you could much better put yourself in the head of a general ordering his entire massive army to war. Different tactics but still in the same world. Loads of fun.
#2. Space Hulk
I got my first Terminator models from a Space Hulk box, along with Genestealers. The game was, for me, incredibly hard–my Terminators would get destroyed by my brother’s Genestealers quickly and without remorse. But there is something about Space Hulk that makes it the quintessential 40k auxiliary game. It is one of the oldest, one of the classics, and it has stuck around and been adapted dozens of times.
In essence, it’s the movie Alien, and I don’t think that it makes any bones about that fact. It is brutal fighting in tight quarters against mindless aliens who want nothing but to eviscerate you. And you’re in the best armor that the Imperium has come up with, but you’re still in desperate danger.
Space Hulk, on its own, played with no knowledge of the wider Warhammer 40k universe, will create new fans immediately. They’ll want more of these Terminators, more of these Genestealers. It’s the gateway game that existed long before (I think) Games Workshop was actively trying to create gateway games. And its staying power proves its worth.
#1. Warhammer 40k
Could it be anything else? Whether you’re playing 1st Edition with Beastmen and Human Bombs, Squats and Chaos Squats, or whether you’re playing the very latest incarnation, with the new Indomitus models and the 9th Edition rules, there is something special about Warhammer 40k. It’s a game that you can sink your imagination into, a game that is about more than just moving units around a board.
Warhammer 40k is a lifestyle, a hobby that takes all of your free time–and you gladly give it to the game! Yes, it can drain your wallet and take time off your clock, but you gladly give it up for this world that is so diverse and wonderful that it has spawned every single one of these other games, pluse dozens more, plus 100+ novels, plus animated series.
Warhammer 40k may mean different things to different people, but to all of us in the hobby it has been a force for good, whether that be through improving our skills with the paintbrush, improving our skills as a tactician, or improving our lives in the community. Yes, there are haters, and yes, the fandom can get toxic. But if Warhammer 40k has brought any joy to your life, then you can be thankful for this game that was the brain child of Rick Priestly so many years ago.
What do you think? Would you order the list differently? Tell us in the comments below!