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Getting Ready for 40K Matched Play (Step-By-Step Guide)

So, let’s set the scene. You’ve made some visits to your local hobby shop, perused the shelfs of Games Workshop, maybe even treated yourself to a codex and some miniatures. But one thing that has caught your eye is what’s happening around you.

Tables decorated with terrain and armies: a battlefield with two eager players ready to tear each other limb from limb (in a friendly competitive manner, of course). 

If getting involved in matched games is something you’ve thought about but have no idea where to start, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, I will show you a simple step-by-step guide on how to get fighting fit and ready for playing 40k matched play games.

The feature image for the 40k matched play article

Step 1: Understand what is meant by matched games

Unlike Open Play where players can bring whatever they want and just go ham on the battlefield, Matched Play features a more in-depth army selection and a clear set of rules of play – just how the God Emperor intended. 

What does this mean for you?  Put simply, when you are putting together an army for Matched Play you will need to be aware of Detachments

Detachments are frameworks that players must use to create a balanced army.

Let’s look at the smallest detachment as a starting point.

The Patrol Detachment is 1,000 points in size and has a minimum requirement of having 1 HQ unit and 2 troop choices (coloured in red for your convenience). The rest of the choices are entirely up to you! 

The Patrol Detachment showcases other useful pieces of information such as command benefits but don’t worry too much about this, we shall cover that in the later article about Detachments, and it is not important at this early stage.

Step 2: Sort out the basic

We have our framework lined up, now it’s time to get started building an army. If you haven’t already, now would be an excellent time to grab yourself the Codex for your chosen faction.

A codex is a great resource to help you plan your army, especially from a budgeting perspective.  To illustrate our army-building journey I’ll be using the Space Marines Codex.

As an example, we are using the Patrol Detachment

Since the Patrol Detachment has a minimum requirement of 1 HQ unit and 2 troop choices, it’s best to start there when making your first army.

For most factions, the troop choices are pretty bog-standard. Space Marines for the Adeptus Astartes, Guardsmen for the Adeptus Militarum, etc. Don’t get too bogged down in your troop selection just yet, we’re still only planning. You can always change things as you go.

Your faction will probably have lots of HQ units to choose from, including some named characters. Unless you’ve got something specific in mind, I would recommend avoiding choosing named characters as they can sometimes complicate things when trying to create a battle-forged army (more on battle-forged armies later).

For my HQ unit and troop choices, I am going to keep it nice and simple:

  • A Space Marine Captain as a HQ choice
  • 2 five-man squads of Tactical Space Marines as 2 Troops Choices (“No Primaris?” I can hear you ask. Yes. Tactical Marines may be short kings, but they are proper lads in my book)

When you are choosing your units, ensure you are taking note of how many points they and their equipment cost. Make sure you pick something to follow along in our example.

Step 3: Decide on army composition

There are two major schools of thought on how to build an army: Competitive or Themed compositions

If you are building to be competitive and intend to slay your foes on the battlefield, you will want to take into consideration the following:

  1. Do you intend to create an all-rounder army with no particular strengths or weaknesses, or do you wish to create a specialised army that can overpower and outmanoeuvre an opposing army in a specific scenario? 
  2. How will your army play in various missions? Do you have units that can take and hold capture points for example?
  3. What are your factions’ strengths and weaknesses? 

If that’s too much to think about (and in all honesty, it’s a lot to take in when building your first army for Matched Play), then just keep it simple. Choose 1 unit from the elite, fast attack, and heavy support option.

For my hypothetical Space Marine army, I’m going to choose an Assault Squad for my fast attack choice, a Land Raider for my heavy support choice and a squad of Terminators as an elite choice.

By simply choosing 1 of each choice, I have most of my bases covered combat scenario wise.

So now I have picked the following:

  • A Space Marine Captain as a HQ choice
  • 2 five-man squads of Tactical Space Marines as 2 Troops Choices

  • Assault Squad as a Fast Attack choice
  • Land Raider as a Heavy Support choice
  • Terminators as an Elite choice

I have an Assault squad that can use their jump packs to quickly capture any points; a Land Raider to destroy enemy tanks with its twin-linked las cannons; and I have some Terminators that can hold the line should I need to play defensively. 

All of that without having to think too hard! That’s my kind of planning. 

So that’s how to build up a quick army that covers most bases, but what if that’s not your vibe? What if you’re more into the narrative side of things? 

Themed compositions are when a player decides to throw caution to the wind and says “I want this in my army because it’s cool.” There is a special place in my heart for players like these; they may not have the best win rate, but they are usually the ones having the most fun. And maybe that is actually winning?

Themed compositions are also a lot easier to build. So long as you keep within the unit choices of your Detachments and stick within the 1,000 point limit then you’re as golden as the Emperor’s throne on Holy Terra. 

Step 4: Choose your Equipment and check if you are Battle Forged

We have our conceptual army all ready to go, now it’s just a matter of making some minor tweaks. 

It is more than likely at this point that you are below the 1,000 point limit. This means you have some spare room for your models to equip themselves with cool toys such as flamers, plasma pistols and other pieces of equipment that can convince the enemy to stop being alive. 

If you are over the 1,000 limit then (and this breaks my heart to say) you’re going to have to put some of those tools back in the box. 

Equipment is much like deciding on your army composition. Are you giving your Tactical Space Marine a flamer because it is effective against low armoured, massed infantry? Or is it because flamers are bad ass and I just want one – you’re not my mother, you can’t stop me. 

With equipment squared off, we just need to check that our army composition is Battle Forged. If you have been using one codex and choosing units from said codex, there is a 99.9% that you are already Battle Forged. Battle Forged just means is that everyone in your army is from the same faction and (in many cases) the same sub-faction. 

For example, the Space Marine army that I have been constructing has only Space Marine units in. No Sisters of Battle, no Imperial Guard, just good, honest Space Marines. I have also decided that I am going to make them fly the banner of the Imperial Fists chapter. Since every model is part of the Space Marine army AND they are all Imperial Fists, my army is considered Battle Forged

Are there ways to mix factions together? Yes. And it happens a lot in 40k, but that is another article for another day. But for now, let’s move on to the fun stuff. 

Step 5: Purchasing, building and painting your army

Let’s not beat around the bush here and address the elephant in the room. Warhammer is expensive. I know it, you know it, even the mothers of young 40k players know it when Christmas comes around. 

Unless you are blessed with a wallet that can make even the Leagues of Votan blush, you will want to look around to get the best bang for your buck. 

One way to get value when you start is to purchase a Combat Patrol starter set. These are boxes that usually contain a HQ unit, troop units, and other goodies for a reasonable price. You can get an overview of the Combat Patrol boxes at our 40K Faction overview.

If you are really strapped for cash, some stores sell second hand models for cheaper than the standard price. This is a great idea if you also want to cut down on the building time since they will already be glued together!

This brings us onto our next item on our to-do list. Building and painting the models. For some, this is the best part of the hobby. For others this is a chore. 

To make the painting of an army less tedious, try the following:

  • Use spray paint to prime your models. It cuts out a huge chunk of painting time!
  • Listen to some podcasts or watch some Warhammer Lore videos. 
  • Paint one unit at a time. Seeing a finished product being added to your roster *should* help keep you motivated. 

If you don’t mind the building and painting aspect of Warhammer 40k, there is also a cool thing that you should keep in mind if you want to make your army flexible: magnets.

Building some of your models with magnets allows you to choose what special weapons they bring into battle. Not only will this make your army more competitive, but it will also save you money in the long run – double win!

Step 6: Finding an opponent for your 40k Matched Play game

If you’ve already played a few small free play skirmishes with friends, you may find this step pretty easy. But if you’re like me (most of my friends are “proper lads” who play “real man’s” games like Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons) you may be a bit stuck on places to find some real-life opponents to play against. 

Thankfully Warhammer 40k has a huge fan base spanning across the globe, you just need to do a little digging. In all likelihood, your local games shop will have plenty of people looking to battle. 

In my hometown I am lucky to have 1 official Games Workshop venue and 2 more general hobby shops. With all of them, I can just walk in and find opponents, especially on the days when they advertise special 40k setups (usually a weekend day). 

Though it can be intimidating walking in solo. You can always contact these venues via their social media and ask any questions you need answered. If you just want to test the waters, go in and paint some models for your first time, you’ll be bound to meet fellow minded people simply by being around!

Step 7: Refine and expand

By now you’ll have a couple of games under your belt and some experience to cut your teeth with. So, what now? 

If you’ve played and are not feeling the vibe with your current faction, then you can always return to step two of this guide and start the journey all over again!

But if you enjoy the faction, then you’ll be keen to expand your army for bigger battles and refine your unit composition to bring in more sweet, sweet victories. 

Consider the games you have played:

  • What happened?
  • Have you been an unstoppable machine, slaying all who stand against you?
  • Or have you been slapped around like a Fire Warrior in close combat?

Regardless of your results, no one wins and loses forever so it is always good to reflect on your matches if you want to improve your playing.

Here are 2 things you should consider when thinking about your early matched plays.

1 Composition:
We’ve talked a lot about composition in this guide. Some would argue it is one of the most important aspects of the game and that many battles are won and lost before the first dice roll because of it. 

Have a think about each individual unit and model you have brought on the battlefield. Have they achieved what they were meant to carry out? 

Let’s look at my hypothetical Space Marine army to give you a general understanding of how to go about this. 

As a quick reminder, I went with a Space Marine Captain, 2 Tactical Marines, 1 Assault Squad, 1 Land Raider and 1 Terminator Squad. 

The Land Raider was chosen because it can take some hits while dealing out some damage too. I would consider how effective it has been at either: absorbing the fire meant for my more squishier units, or if has been able to strike down any big bads on my opponent’s side.

If it is destroyed too quickly, maybe I could add a Techmarine to heal it mid combat. If it failed to do enough damage, maybe I need to give it a different weapon load out (if you used magnets to build your models, you’ll be able to do this with ease). 

My Captain, Tactical Marines and Terminators were picked to form a solid firing line that could hold out for a while. I would think about how many models have fallen during a battle to assess their success. If some squads were wiped out, should I consider getting more models to add to their unit size?

On the other hand, if they came out of every battle unscathed, maybe I can save some points by reducing their number and changing them out for something else in the heavy support or fast attack options? 

The Assault Squad was acquired for the expressed purpose of taking capture points. Have they managed to use their movement speed to close on those points in time or do I need to get something faster? 

There are a lot of other things that we could consider, but you get the drift. 

2 Skill:

Even with the perfect composition, an unskilled player will make mistakes that cost them a game. 

When looking back on your matched plays, have a think about any moves you made that you wish you didn’t (these are usually the moves that make you unconsciously bring the palm of your hand to your forehead upon recollection). 

This is important as it could save you from making a misinformed judgement about your composition. You may have a unit of Assault Marines failing to capture any control points because in the deployment phase you may have put them within a turn 1 charge from a Hive Tyrant (true story I’m ashamed to say!)

Step 8: Repeat step 7

And that’s it, it’s that simple. Play, learn, expand and repeat. Be sure to stick around as in the future there will be even more content for you to help you on your journey. While you’re here, be sure to check out all the other articles we have!