Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop wargame where big armies of miniatures fight each other on the grim battlefields of the far future. In the usual version of the rules, you’ll field an army of tanks, infantry, artillery, heroes and perhaps even monsters to simulate armies clashing. If you want to play smaller encounters, you have the option of playing the skirmish game Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team, where each player only has around 10 models on the battlefield, simulating special forces fighting behind enemy lines.
However, as Warhammer 40,000 is gearing up to what seems like a new edition of the game through a series of Arks of Omen campaign books, Games Workshop has launched a new way to play Warhammer 40,000 that sits between the big battles of Warhammer 40,000 and the small skirmishes of Kill Team. It’s called 40k Boarding Actions, and it lets you play small scale encounters where a handful of units fight another handful of units like a mini version of Warhammer 40,000, but it’s all taking place inside huge space hulks in narrow corridors.
Normally, the gaming content associated with a series of campaign books in Warhammer 40,000 will just be content that’s added to the regular 40K wargame, but since that has caused some negative responses from players lately because it meant competitive players had to keep track of tons of different books (especially during the Psychic Awakening event), Games Workshop has made a sort of enclosure for the narrative gaming content of Arks of Omen: Boarding Actions uses the standard Warhammer 40,000 rules, but with a number of significant modifications that make for a very different playing experience, which is also incompatible with the 40K game as it is played at tournaments, meaning that competitive players don’t have to worry about it, and the designers can concentrate on making it cool and thematic rather than perfectly balanced.
In this article, we explain how to play Boarding Actions, what books and miniatures you need to play the game, the lore behind the game, and what options the different factions have in the game.
The Lore Behind 40k Boarding Actions
Boarding Actions is a game mode for Warhammer 40,000 that simulate the boarding missions which took place during the Arks of Omen campaign in Warhammer 40,000’s 9th edition.
In the Arks of Omen campaign, Abaddon the Despoiler, the leader of the Black Legion and Warmaster of the Chaos Forces, and his new ally, Vashtorr the Arkifane, a sort of Chaos demi-god of technology and innovation, has managed to summon a fleet of grand space hulks from the Warp to act as the headquarters of a number of expeditions across the Galaxy to find components for a legendary artifact called the Key, which will allow the two Chaos leaders to change the fate of the Galaxy.
The Arks of Omen, as these space hulks are called, are huge vessels made up of wrecked spaceships smashed together by the currents of the Warp, and then modified and enhanced by the powers of Vashtorr, making them planet-killing monster spaceships the like of which hasn’t been seen in a long, long time. These Arks of Omen are the size of small planets, with all sorts of daemons and Xenos living within their decks and corridors, and as the Imperium and the other non-Chaos forces of the Galaxy start to realize what’s going on, the Arks become the target of many attacks attempting to stop them.
Since these Arks can’t easily be shot down, most factions attempt to board them instead with smaller, specialized military forces, hoping to find some way to disable them – or to harvest their treasures of archaeotech and artifacts. These smaller scale battles aboard the Arks are what become the Boarding Actions of the titular game mode. Every Arks of Omen book advanced the Arks of Omen storyline, giving players more information about each Ark and the events surrounding them, and missions and rules allowing you to take part in the storyline through Boarding Action games.
What do you need in order to play Boarding Actions?
The most important thing to say about getting started with Boarding Actions is that, unlike Kill Team, it’s not a particularly easy, beginner-friendly way of getting into the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
This is due to two aspects of the game in particular:
First, the fact that it still runs on modified Warhammer 40,000 rules, so you have to get a couple of 40K rulebooks just to know how it plays and what your army can do, and second, the fact that the game’s missions are very much dependent on you owning the specific (and very expensive) scenery for playing inside Arks of Omen released by Games Workshop.
However, if you’re already playing 40K, and you perhaps also have the correct scenery, the game is really easy to get into.
To play games of Boarding Actions, you need the following:
- The Warhammer 40,000 Core Book: This is the basic rulebook used for games of regular Warhammer 40,000, and while Boarding Actions takes some significant departures from it, this is still the ruleset Boarding Actions is built around.
- A Codex for your Army: Lots of what’s in a codex isn’t relevant for Boarding Actions, but the datasheets for your units and the Crusade rules in the codex are compatible with the game mode, so this is still pretty much a must. You can get an overview of the codex in our 40k Faction Guide.
- Arks of Omen: Abaddon: This first book in the Arks of Omen series is also the one where all the basic rules for playing Boarding Actions are printed, and at the time of writing this article, they haven’t been made available anywhere else.
- The Arks of Omen Book with extra rules for your faction: Each Arks of Omen book has extra Boarding Actions rules for a couple of factions, so you have to find the one that has content for your army. So far, Arks of Omen: Angron has rules for Space Marines, Grey Knights, Astra Militarum, World Eaters, Chaos Space Marines and Orks.
- Boarding Actions Terrain: This is where it gets expensive. The Boarding Actions Terrain Set pictured above is £130! It features everything you need terrain-wise to play all the missions in Arks of Omen: Abaddon, and while it’s expensive, it’s also a lot of plastic scenery and a nice game board. Alternatively, if you’re a Kill Team player, and you’ve bought two of the expansions for that game released since Into the Dark, two expansions worth of Kill Team Gallowdark scenery is more or less exactly the same as what’s in the box pictured here, plus some extra bits, significantly lowering your cost of entry for playing Boarding Actions.
- Your Boarding Actions Army: In order to play Boarding Actions, you need a legal army list’s worth of Warhammer 40,000 miniatures to play with. You can read about how you build a Boarding Actions army from what you already have or plan to buy from all the Warhammer 40,000 factions below, but it’s worth noting that Games Workshop is releasing tailor-made Boarding Patrol boxes for at least some of the armies in the game, the first two of which are pictured above here.
- Dice and Tape Measure: Just like regular 40K, Boarding Actions uses 6-sided dice and a tape measure in inches to play the game.
How do you build an army list for Boarding Actions?
The way you build an army list in Boarding Actions is very different from how you do it in Warhammer 40,000. First of all, there are lots of units from Warhammer 40,000 that can’t be used in Boarding Actions at all, namely Monsters, Vehicles, Cavalry, Bikers, Flying units and units with Jump Packs. You can also only have 1 Character model in your army. This all makes pretty good sense since the game is played indoors and in tight corridors, but it also gives players a fresh perspective on the units available to their faction: What would you bring to a battle if you couldn’t bring your tanks, for example?
The size of Boarding Actions armies is also very different from the kind of 40K games that have become the standard of competitive play: The points limit for a Boarding Actions army is 500 points (as opposed to the regular 1500 or 2000 points, and your army uses a special detachment called a Boarding Patrol Detachment, in which you can take the following:
- 0-1 HQ units
- 0-3 Troops units
- 0-3 Elites units
What’s so interesting about this detachment is the presence of zeroes in the list above: You don’t have to bring an HQ, or even any Troops! This opens up the possibility of all sorts of fun, thematic lists (the author of this article is currently working on an all-Einhyr list for the Leagues of Votann with an added Thunderkyn unit which he would otherwise never even have bought for his 40K army, for example), and it keeps your model count relatively low. Additionally, when a Boarding Actions game begins, any units with 10 models must be split into two 5-man squads, which are then treated as two separate units.
If you don’t have any Characters in your Boarding Patrol detachment, you can selsect one of your unit champions as your Warlord. You can also select any special army traits granted by your codex (with some exceptions we’ll get into in the next section), and you can select an Enhancement instead of the Warlord Traits and relics you would normally use (more on that below as well).
So far, so simple, which is pretty great if you’re used to the somewhat bloated ruleset of the current state of Warhammer 40,000’s 9th edition ruleset. However, you might have noticed that we included Brokhyr Thunderkyn in our Leagues of Votann example for a Boarding Patrol above, which is a Heavy Support unit, and therefore not allowed in a Boarding Patrol. This is because every faction in the game has some special list-building rules that slightly tweak the otherwise simple Boarding Patrol formula. In the case of Leagues of Votann, this means they can include a Thunderkyn unit in their Boarding Patrol, but for other factions it can mean that you can have more than one Character, a Chaos Spawn (a Fast Attack unit) or even a Primarch! These special army rules also includes tweaks to their Codex rules so that they work better within the Boarding Actions ruleset. Luckily, all these rules are available for free from the Warhammer Community site here. In addition, each Arks of Omen campaign book contains even more faction-specific rules for a number of factions, so keep checking in in the section above this one to see which book has rules for your army as the books are released.
How do Boarding Actions rules differ from playing regular 40K?
While most of what you need to know about playing Boarding Actions is to be found in the regular 40K ruleset, for which you can read our guide here,
Boarding Actions can only be played using the specific Boarding Action missions found in the Arks of Omen books and on the Boarding Actions battlefields you can build with either the official terrain set or with Kill Team terrain from the Into the Dark season. Setup for these missions are quite different from 40K missions, both because of the special indoors terrain layout and the replacement of one big deployment zone for each player with several entry zones for each player in which you can place a unit at a time. From the first battle round onwards, a Reinforcement Step lets you field the units you have in reserve into those entry zones.
If you want to, you can use Boarding Actions missions as part of a Crusade campaign – there are just some elements of it, such as some Agendas, that won’t work with Boarding Actions. This makes Boarding Actions especially suited for players in a gaming club (where someone else has already bought all the expensive scenery) starting their first foray into 40K, since you can slowly build up your force and enjoy watching it gain experience through the Crusade rules, while also playing with your smaller army in a setting that matches that smaller scale.
Movement and Distance
The biggest change to get your head around in Boarding Actions if you’re used to playing 40K is that distance between two models isn’t measured linearly if a piece of Boarding Action scenery is between them. Instead, the distance is measured by measuring the distance one model would travel to go around that scenery towards the other model. This is because Boarding Actions doesn’t really have a vertical dimension: There’s a solid metal ceiling above your units at all time, so all scenery is as impenetrable as the edge of the battlefield (unless there’s a hatchway, which we cover below). This means that two models can be half an inch from each other, but if there’s a wall between them on that half an inch, they could be really far apart anyway in terms of game rules.
Special Actions and Abilities
Boarding Actions does away with the Stratagems of your codex and core book, and instead replaces it with a Stratagem list of its own, as well as a short list of stratagems for each faction.
In addition to this, it replaces Warlord Traits and Relics with Enhancements (of Age of Sigmar 3.0 fame), which range from giving you extra Command Points or rerolls to deploying outside your entry zone.
The game also has a number of unique Actions your units can perform, tailormade for figthing within Space Hulks:
- Secure Site: This can be performed by a unit with the Objective Secured special rule (usually Troops), and allows you to take control of an objective marker. It is performed in the Movement Phase and is finished in your subsequent Command Phase (so: next turn).
- Set Overwatch: This can be performed in the Movement Phase, and allows the unit performing it to fire Overwatch against enemy units.
- Set to Defend: This can also be performed in the Movement Phase, and gives your unit a +1 to hit rolls in close combat until the end of your opponent’s next turn.
- Operate Hatchway: This can also be performed in the Movement Phase, and allows a unit to try to open a door in the Boarding Actions terrain. If there’s an enemy unit on the other side of the door trying to prevent you from opening it and passing through, you roll off to see if you succeed.
Apart from these general special rules, the game mode has many other exceptions from the 40K ruleset too numerous and specific to mention here, but some examples are that Indirect weapons now have to be able to see their targets, eligibility of targets in combat is calculated somewhat differently to discourage players taking too much advantage of the different distance rules mentioned above, and that, as also mentioned further above, many faction-specific rules now work quite differently.
It would definitely have been nice if Boarding Actions wasn’t so damned expensive to get into as a new player, for this smaller scale for playing 40K really takes a lot of the “paperwork” out of playing the game and bring the focus back to fielding fun, thematic armies. For 40K players, this is a nice change of setting and an opportunity to try out a new faction without having to paint 90 models, and for Kill Team players, it’s a fun bridge between single squad skirmish and big 40K games.
It remains to be seen how much of a breath of fresh air the game mode will actually be when all factions have had all their special rules released – will it become almost as complicated as playing regular 40K? But until them, Boarding Actions is a refreshingly streamlined, faster way of playing 40K that fits much better into the casual dinner table games that most of us actually have time for than the 2000 points way of playing 40K that’s dominating tournaments and matched play in general.
Finally, the fact that Games Workshop has chosen to do all the gaming content for the Arks of Omen storyline rather than throw a wrench into competitive play with all sorts of weird new rules hidden in sold-out campaign books is an excellent move on their part.