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Review of the Warhammer 40,000: Recruit Edition Starter Set

Recruit Editon: A Good Entry Point for AOS Players?

If you’re an Age of Sigmar or Warcry player, you might have noticed that there’s a new edition of Games Workshop’s even more popular space-based game, Warhammer 40,000, out now.

And: if you’re a hobby magpie like me, you may be thinking thoughts along the lines of “maybe I should try it out? I could just buy a box or two and see where it goes. I can have two tabletop universes in my life, can’t I?”

If that’s the case, we’re here to help. In this article, I go through how much of a taste of Warhammer 40k you can get by buying the cheapest starter set possible for the new edition:

The Warhammer 40,000 Recruit Edition starter set.

The article also goes into the differences between the 40k game and Age of Sigmar, and how they are represented in the Recruit Edition.

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What’s in the 40k Recruit Edition?

The Warhammer 40,000 Recruit Edition includes:

  • A manual that introduces you to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, hobby, and rules for playing the missions in the starter set. This manual is a lot like what we saw for Age of Sigmar’s smaller starter sets for second edition: It’s very beginner-friendly, with easy to understand background stories, a step-by step guide to assembling and playing with the miniatures in the box – but sadly it doesn’t contain the full rules for playing Warhammer 40,000.

    The basic rules can be downloaded for free, but Warhammer 40,000 is a bit more complex than AOS, and this manual doesn’t fully explain that. Its missions are also played with simplified rules, which I think detracts a lot from the value of the box, but we will get into that further below in this article.
  • Two small armies of miniatures for playing the missions in the game: The Space Marines, (the Stormcast Eternals of the Warhammer 40,000 universe), are represented by a unit of 5 Primaris Assault Intercessors and a Primaris Lieutenant, which is a lot like a Hero in AOS.

    The Necrons, an ancient empire of immortal constructs (not unlike the Ossiarch Bonereapers) are represented by a unit of 10 Necron Warriors, their “Hero” Royal Warden, and a unit of 3 Canoptek Scarab Swarms.
Recruit Edition 40K Start Set
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  • 2 datasheet pages, one for each army: Datasheets are the Warscrolls of Warhammer 40,000, and the datasheets needed to field each of the two armies in the box are presented on an easy to use sheet for each army.

    Beware that the datasheets do not include the full rules for using the miniatures in the box, but a simplified version of them with fewer abilities. You’ll have to get the Warhammer 40,000 app or the codices (battletomes) for each army to use the full rules.
  • Dice, rulers, and a two-sided battle map for playing the missions in the game: Like in the Age of Sigmar starter sets, the game includes what you need to play the game, and the box doubles as a terrain feature.
  • A transfer sheet for the Space Marines in the box: these transfers let you show the rank and squad markings on the Space Marines in the box, but some of them are only for one specific chapter (subfaction), The Ultramarines.

What’s the gameplay of 40k compared to Age of Sigmar?

On the surface, the Warhammer 40,000 game as it is presented in the Recruit Edition plays a lot like Age of Sigmar. You have units and characters that move, shoot, charge, fight (like the combat phase), take casualties and make combat attrition tests (battleshock tests).

However, as soon as you start playing the game, there are many differences between the two game systems that you may or may not like. Let’s go through it phase by phase:

  1. The Command Phase: In the Command Phase, command points are used to activate different abilities. It’s a lot like the Hero Phase in AOS, and it is not included in the game in the Recruit Edition. Your characters, the Royal Warden and the Primaris Lieutenant, have also had their special abilities removed from their datasheets for the Recruit Edition, which means you play through the entire box with no other tactical options than how your units can move and attack.

    This makes for a pretty shallow gameplay experience compared to a full game of Age of Sigmar, so beware that that’s not how the complete game of Warhammer 40,000 feels.

    In a full game of 40k, many characters have aura abilities that grant units near them rerolls or similar bonuses, and each army has a ton of “stratagems” and abilities that define how they play, just like command abilities and and allegiance abilities, but often tied to faction rather than unit.
  2. Movement Phase: This phase is very much like the same phase in AOS, with a few exceptions. Units can move up to 1 inch close to enemy units (as opposed to 3 inches in AOS), unit coherency is 2 inches horizontally and 5 vertically rather than 1 inch and 6 inches, but if a unit has 6 or more models in 40k, each model must be within 2 inches horizontally and 5 inches vertically of two other models from the unit.

    It changes how units take up space on the battlefield quite a bit, but mostly it’s just a difference you have to get used to.

    Advance in 40k is the same as running in AOS, and Fall Back is the same as Retreat. The biggest difference between the two games in this phase is that any unit 40k that comes in from outside the board, called Reinforcements, enter the game in this phase after everything else has moved, and not in other phases like it happens in AOS.
  3. Psychic Phase: Basically a separate Magic Phase, with somewhat different rules, such as Perils of the Warp, which means that your psykers (wizards) take d3 mortal wounds if they roll double 1s or double 6s on the test to cast their powers. It is not included in the Recruit Edition.
  4. Shooting Phase: Choosing targets is the same as in AOS, and you can’t shoot out of combat, but from there on out, it’s very different from AOS. The Look Out Sir! rule in 40k doesn’t mean you have a -1 to hit against Heroes that are close to friendly units – if the enemy character has 9 or less wounds and is close to a friendly unit, you can’t target it in the shooting phase at all.

    In 40k, you also can’t shoot at enemy units that are in combat with one of your own units. There are of course many weapons and abilities in 40k that negate these rules, but they’re mostly in effect.

    The real difference between 40k and AOS in the shooting phase comes from how hits, wounds and damage are resolved. In AOS, each weapon has a number of attacks, a chance to hit, a chance to wound, a Rend characteristic and a damage value, and if you hit the target numbers and the enemy’s Save roll minus your Rend statistic doesn’t let them ignore the damage, your damage is calculated against the Wounds total of the enemy unit, and the enemy removes casualties accordingly.

    This process is much more complex in 40K: Your number of ranged attacks is written in the weapon’s statistics, but if, for example, the weapon has the Rapid Fire trait, it gains more attacks if you’re within half or less your maximum range of your target.

    Then, your chance to hit is not defined by your weapon, but by the model’s Ballistic Skill. This is actually simpler than in AOS, and it’s an idea that I quite like.

    Figuring out what to roll to wound the target, however, is correspondingly complex: You either use the model’s Strength characteristic or the weapon’s Strength characteristic (the weapon stats specific which one to use), and measure it against the Toughness characteristic of the target. You may know this sort of system from Warcry, but if you don’t, it goes like this: if Strength and Toughness are the same, you wound on a 4+.

    If Strength is higher than Toughness, you wound on a 3+. If Strength is twice as high or higher than Toughness, it’s a 2+. If Strength is lower than Toughness, it’s a 5+. If Strength is half or less than Toughness, you wound on a 6+.

    If you’re coming from AOS, this can add quite an extra mental load to figuring out the power balance on the battlefield, but it does add a lot of depth to the differences between units.

    I think the biggest difference to get used to is this: After all the rolls and saves, when you allocate damage, it is not just calculated against the Wounds total of an enemy unit in 40k. Damage does not carry over from model to model.

    This means that a Damage 2 weapon in 40k does not automatically kill 2 1-wound enemy models. You add the damage of each attack to the model currently being wounded, but when it dies, all excess damage is removed. This changes the way you play fundamentally. It also mixes up what weapons are good against what types of units (which is a welcome change from AoS where a good damage unit is just a good damage unit).

    Weapons with a damage of 2 or more are to be thought of as something that should always hit something with a lot of wounds, and number of attacks becomes more important than damage levels against horde units. It’s a difference from AOS that adds much more character to weapons in my opinion, but I’m still struggling to get used to it.

    There are many more specific weapon traits in the game, but this is all you’ll encounter in the Recruit Edition.
  5. Charge Phase: The Charge Phase in 40K is similar to AOS, but in 40k, you have to declare an enemy target for your charge. This means that you can’t move into engagement range of a closer enemy unit if your charge roll for your target isn’t enough to reach the target, but enough to reach another enemy unit.

    In addition to this, 40k has a charge phase action called Heroic Intervention that can be carried out by the opponent player in that phase. It lets the opponent move each of their Characters (heroes) who are not in engagement range but within 3 inches horizontally/5 inches vertically of an attacking enemy unit up to 3 inches if the move gets them closer to an enemy model.
  6. Fight Phase: The most important difference between the Fight Phase in 40k and the Combat phase in AOS is that all units that have made a charge move in 40k fight before everyone else. If after that, the opponent actually picks the first unit to fight with.

    Fighting is carried out similarly to the 40k shooting phase, but with the Weapons Skill (WS) as your to-hit chance, and the Attacks characteristic deciding how many close combat attacks you can make. Models can fight if they are within half an inch range of an enemy model, or within half an inch range of a friendly model who is itself within half an inch range of an enemy model.

    If this sounds confusing, imagine that the first line of your battleline attacks, takes a step back and makes way for the second line to make an attack. This also means that melee weapons don’t have a Range characteristic. There are a few more details to the fight phase, but these are the most important differences from AOS.
  7. Morale Phase: The Morale Phase in 40k starts out like the Battleshock Phase in AOS, but with Leadership replacing Bravery: You roll a d6, add the number of models slain in a unit, and if that number exceeds the Leadership characteristic – only one model flees, rather than as many models as the modified roll is greater than the Leadership. After that, roll a d6 for each remaining model in the unit, and for each roll of 1, an additional model flees.

    This means that you are less likely to lose a pile of models in this phase in 40k than in AOS, but that you also risk losing the entire unit to an unlucky avalanche of 1s.

    The model count of each unit in 40k is generally lower than in AOS, so that’s why the Morale Phase isn’t set up for the player to often lose a ton of models, but rather have a small chance for all of a comparatively smaller unit (often between 5 and 10) to break and run away.

More differences between 40k and Age of Sigmar

This is more or less all the differences between the two games you are likely to run into playing the Recruit Edition. The way you build armies is also different, centered around Detachments, which are like battallions, but instead of requiring specific units, they require a number of specific unit types.

Missions, objectives, and victory conditions are also slightly different, but for each edition, the two games seem to move closer to each other in this area.

Most importantly, 40K feels different than Age of Sigmar. It’s slower, more focused on shooting than melee, and with much more complex ways of customizing your army. It has a very simple points system called “Power”, which is shown on the datasheet of a unit, and a gloriously fiddly “Points” system where you pay points for each model, rather than each unit, and pay extra points for special weapons and wargear that you can choose from lists in your army’s codex.

If that sounds great to you, it probably will be. However, it’s also slightly less weird, with fewer character-specific abilities and oddities (very many special rules in 40k are about rerolling or adding 1 to specific rolls, rather than sudden bursts of extra damage or something equal to that).

This arguably makes for a game better suited to tight balancing and competitive play, but if you like some of the sillier abilities in AOS, those are a bit more scarce in 40k. It is, in some ways, a more serious game, if anything with space orks and flying cathedrals can be called serious.

How easy are the models on the Recruit box to assemble and paint compared to AOS?

All of the models in the Recruit Edition are “Easy To Build” models, meaning they don’t require glue to assemble (but they’ll have fewer gaps if you cut all the little pegs and glue them anyway) – just like the Second Edition Age of Sigmar starter sets.

They do come with a few different assembly options, though, which is nice: The Necron Warriors can be equipped with two different weapons, and you have a couple of options for assembling you Space Marine Assault Intercessor Sergeant.

I encountered few problems with actually assembling the miniatures, even though the Necrons are a bit brittle, but the sprue layout of the Necron Warriors is insane.

Many parts don’t seem to be next to what they’re supposed to go together with, and I was not having fun anymore when I finally got the last of the 10 models assembled. This is a minor issue (since you only have to assemble them once), but if you’re an impatient hobbyist, beware.

A note: the crazy sprue layout seems to be becoming a common thing. I guess it is something about saving spacing and getting more stuff on the sprue. Still, I am going to end up spending way too much of my life looking for sprue number 37.

When it comes to painting, both armies seem tailored for both beginners and experts. Necrons look awesome with just a metallic spray, a wash and a spot color or two, and like Stormcast Eternals, Space Marines can be basecoated and drybrushed and then go straight on the tabletop, or be subjected to weeks of edge highlighting armor and adding little details.

Aesthetically, the weakest models in the Recruit Edition are probably the Assault Intercessors, which do look dynamic, but lack some personality (being very popular, people will off course disagree with this).

The Necron Warriors look battleworn and weathered, as if they’ve been buried in a swamp for centuries, and the Primaris Lieutenant is gloriously over the top with a giant sword and shield on one side and a arm stretched out holding a volkite pistol on the other.

It’s also worth noting that if you are planning on going all in on one of the armies in the Recruit Edition, the Royal Warden and the Primaris Lieutenant are actually only available in this box (as of writing that is), and are replaced by other characters in the larger, more expensive starter sets, which is a little weird.

What are the missions in the 40k Recruit Edition like?

If you’re already an experienced AOS player, beware that the Recruit Edition is very much designed as something akin to a video game tutorial: Most of the missions use a very limited ruleset, and teach you the most basic things such as moving, attacking, charging and calculating damage.

This means that with the exception of the last part of the Missions section of the rulebook, an experienced AOS player will either play the missions once, or not at all, as it is just as easy to just read the rules and play them.

If you’re new to tabletop gaming, however, the missions do a great job of breaking the gameplay up in digestible chunks so you don’t get overwhelmed. So if you’re considering this as a gift to a younger sibling, your child, niece, nephew or an adult who has little experience with tabletop gaming, the Recruit Edition is a good choice for 40k.

But, as 40k is somewhat slower and more advanced at its core than AOS, you might be better off with an AOS starter set as a beginner’s gift. In the end, it probably comes down to what setting you think will have the most “pull” on the person you are giving a gift to.

What’s the lore in 40k like compared to Age of Sigmar?

The background story or lore in 40K and Age of Sigmar has many similarities. Both games take place in horrifying universes where the forces of civilization battle the forces of Chaos (and some third party factions), the protagonists of both games are a monastic order of armor-clad super-warriors, and both games have a God-king of the humans who is revered by those warriors.

In other ways, the lores of the two games are inverted: In AOS, Chaos rules almost everything, and the forces of Order are slowly reconquering the world bit by bit, as colonisers of liberators depending on what side you’re rooting for.

In 40K, the Imperium of Mankind already conquered a lot of the known galaxy, but when some of his loyal Primarchs rebelled against the God-Emperor, he was mortally wounded and the Imperium has been on the verge of crumbling ever since. As such, the main story of AOS is, at its core, a story about going on the offense, while the main story of 40K is about being on the defense.

There are, of course, a thousand exceptions to this rule in both games. The main difference between the two game lores is that 40K’s background story has been around for decades longer than AOS, which gives it a depth that can be quite wonderful and overwhelming to discover for an AOS fan. The lore of AOS isn’t shallow at all, but it’s still being fleshed out.

The armies, characters and planets of 40k have been featured in a ton of Black Library novels, campaign books and codexes, and you’ll never have to be bored again if you start digging through 40k lore wikis online. This also translates to the tabletop experience, where subfactions have very detailed rules, heraldry, history and characters, so that painting your Space Marines as Space Wolves (the names are a bit dumb, sorry) rather than Imperial Fists will turn them into a very different army in a way Stormhosts in AOS haven’t reached yet (and likely never will).

The lore in the book for the Recruit Edition doesn’t show you this whole picture at all. It is a nice introduction to the setting, and it does a good job of showing some of the other factions in the game apart from the Space Marines and Necrons, but this box isn’t made for lore geeks.

If you like the small taste of the lore you get in this box, the new Core Book for 40k (or even the one from the previous edition) give you a much better idea of what’s going on in the 41st millennium.

Final Verdict: is the 40k Recruit Edition A Gateway Drug for AOS Players?

While I am having a lot of fun painting the models from the 40K Recruit Edition, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the Recruit Edition as an entry point into 40k for AOS players. If you’re already playing a fully fledged tabletop game like Age of Sigmar, the simplified rules in the Recruit Edition feel like they’re keeping all the good stuff from you, and the full rules for the game aren’t in the box at all. I know they’re available for free online, but it still feels like it’s missing in the box.

The Recruit Edition is definitely designed for players who are new to Games Workshop games, and as such, it does what it is supposed to do. If you plan on expanding your Recruit Edition into a larger army for 40k (which has many good ways of playing the game at something equivalent to 500/1000 points in AOS), the full rules for the Recruit Edition models mean that you can absolutely use them in an army for the full game: The two characters in the box are much cooler with their full rules, and the Assault Intercessors and Necron Warriors are valuable Troop (battleline) units.

If you know you want to play 40K and want a two-army starter set, the Command Edition is the only new starter box that gives you the full game rules from the core book, including actual missions to play (but still not the actual core book, which is baffling), more units, and some terrain. Beware that even this edition’s datasheets don’t come with the full rules for the miniatures in the box – you still need their codexes or the 40k app for that, which, once again, can seem really weird to an AOS player.

I get that cutting out a few of the more advanced rules in this starter set is a way of helping new players into the game. While that is great if you have never played that sort of thing before, it can be frustrating for a bit more experienced players. You can quickly feel like you get “shorted” in your purchase. It can also feel embarrasing to play against random opponents in a store or club, only to realize you have not played with the “real rules”.

But seriously, what is the deal with not having a starter set that includes the actual book for the game?!

If you are super serious about giving 40k a try, the “big/real” starter set is just an amazing way to go. The Indomitus 40k Starter set caused quite a lot of drama because of it’s short supply and great demand. If you can get your hands on that box, it is totally worth the purchase (but it can be difficult).

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