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Kill Team Beginner’s Guide & Review

The new editon of the Warhammer 40,000 skirmish game Kill Team has arrived, and almost everything has changed compared to the previous edition – most of it for the better. In this guide, we go through what you need to play the game, what you need to know about how it plays, and what we think of the new rules. In short, it is our Kill Team Beginner’s Guide.

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What is Kill Team?

Kill Team is a Warhammer 40,000 tabletop skirmish game. This means that, while regular games of Warhammer 40,000 features big armies with many different units, vehicles and characters, Kill Team is all about a small group of soldiers fighting other small groups of soldiers. You also control each individual model rather than a whole unit at a time. This makes the game feel very different from larger tabletop wargames: Each model has a role in the game, and you can get very invested in the story of your small team and their grimdark adventures.

The current version of Kill Team is the second since the game was relaunched after the release of Warhammer 40,000’s eighth edition, but the idea of playing 40k with small squads has been around for a long time. In this new edition, however, Games Workshop has taken a big step away from 40k rules, so if you’re used to playng 40k, Kill Team will feel very new to you. If you’re new to the 40k universe, Kill Team is a fast-paced tactical tabletop experience with great depth but also a very streamlined play experience without some of the older idiosyncrasies of Games Workshop design.

Since Kill Team builds on the existing 40K universe and its model ranges, there are already dozens of factions for you to build kill teams for, but in this new edition, bespoke boxes of models built primarily for Kill Team are also being released, so there has never been a better time to get on board this great skirmish game.

The gameplay of Kill Team is basically the following: You assemble a kill team of soldiers from a specific faction, and pit them against another player’s kill team in a specific mission which is played on a game mat with sculpted scenery for your soldiers to cover behind or climb up on. You take turns moving and fighting with one or more models (depending on their rules), using custom measuring tools to measure distances and using dice to resolve shots and melee combat. After a few rounds, the game ends, and the mission objectives determine which team wins.

On top of that, many players like to play the game in campaigns where multiple games are tied together to form a coherent story, and the game has rules for upgrading your fighters between games.

More on all that below! Let’s take a look at the game’s background story.

Lore

The ultra-short version of Warhammer 40,000 lore goes something like this: In the far future, Humanity has spread across the galaxy as the Imperium of Man, ruled through fear and bureaucracy by the worshippers of the Emperor of Mankind, a powerful superhuman being who, while nearly dead, guides his empire from planet Earth, now known as Holy Terra.

With billions of ordinary human soldiers, religious military orders and the post-human superwarriors called the Space Marines, the Imperium fights a constant, all-out war for survival against all manner of alien species, as well as a myriad of worshippers of the Forces of Chaos, which nearly destroyed the Imperium 10,000 years ago, converting whole worlds as well as some Space Marine legions to their heretic cause.

It’s a dark and bombastic fictional universe full of war on a massive scale, where millions of soldiers fight battles across solar systems all through the galaxy. Towering war machines, devastating daemonic invasions and orbital bombardments constantly destroy entire worlds, and the apocalypse is always just a minute away.

Kill Team lore takes place in that same universe, but it abandons the grand scale in favour of a focus on all the individual soldiers carrying out heroic and/or suicidal missions that might not seem like much in their own right, but which can still turn the tide of war. It’s about the squad of Imperial soldiers giving their lives to call in an airstrike on an Ork stronghold, or the undercover team of Genestealer Cultists sabotaging a weapons factory.

The Kill Team Core Book does an excellent job of converting 40K lore to this smaller scale, with tons of examples of what missions each faction in the game (every faction from the tabletop 40K game is represented) would give their kill teams, and there are plenty of story snippets and quotes from kill team soldiers strewn across the pages of the book. Expansion books such as the one in the Octarius starter set gives you even more detail, telling the story of a specific warzone and what kill teams from different factions are up to there.

The best thing about Kill Team lore in the Core Book, however, is that it doesn’t just nail the smaller scale, but it also sees the Warhammer 40,000 universe from the perspective of relatively ordinary men and women in the Imperium’s army. This means that none of the propaganda about the perfection of the Imperium you might be used to from Space Marine warcries or the darkly humoristic Imperial “infomercials” on the Warhammer Community site is in there to make things look better than they are: when you’re an ordinary soldier, fighting for the Imperium against the horrors of the galaxy is just plain terrible, and the writers of the lore section in the Core Book has pulled that feeling off in a way I haven’t seen 40K lore from rulebooks do in a while.

The style of the lore also makes it a great setup for building your own Kill Team: You know that they’re going to be up against terrifying odds, and that all that stands between them and destruction is the soldier next to them, so everyone in your Kill Team is fighting for their comrades as much as for whatever faction they’re in. I sometimes skip past the lore section of GW rulebooks because I feel like I’ve heard it all before, but the tone and style of the Kill Team lore really caught my attention. Let’s hope they keep that standard up across their publications for this edition.

What do I need to buy in order to play the game?

To play a game of Kill Team, you need the following items:

  • A copy of the Kill Team Core Book for your game rules
  • A publication with the rules for your Kill Team – this could be the Compendium, the Octarius expansion book or a White Dwarf magazine. Check our Faction Overview article to see where your Kill Team’s rules can be found
  • Kill Team Measuring Gauges or measuring tape
  • 6-sided dice and tokens
  • a game mat and scenery, such as a Killzone box or a starter set
  • miniatures to represent your Kill Team

The easiest way to get into the game right now is to get a starter set such as the Octarius box, which includes rules, two kill teams, a Killzone and all the tokens, measuring gauges and dice you need to play. There are plenty more of these boxes on the way, and we’ll update this section with them as they show up.

Octarius

The Octarius box features an Ork Kommandos kill team and another one for the Death Korps of Krieg, as well as an awesome ork scrapyard killzone and all the accessories you need to play the game.

Basic Rules

Datacards

The rules for each of the operatives in your Kill Team can be found on their datacard, which is a small overview of all their abilities and statistics. Each datacard contains the following information:

  • Operative Type: This tells you the role of the operative, which is important because your kill team might have restrictions on how many of each type you can bring on your team.
  • Movement (M): This shows you how far the operative can move in one Move action. It’s represented by a geometric figure corresponding to one of the sides of a Kill Team movement gauge, but if you’re used to playing Warhammer games and dislike this new way of measurng things, a triangle equals 1 inch, a circle 2 inches, a square 3 inches, anda a pentagon six inches. A Movement of 3 circles is pretty average in Kill Team – anything above is fast, anything below is slow.
  • Action Point Limit (APL): This indicates how many actions this operative can take in one activation. For most operatives, the APL is 2.
  • Group Activation (GA): Mostly, this just reads “1”, but a higher number indicates that you can activate more than one of this operative type, such a Trooper Guardsman, in the same activation.
  • Defence (Df): This determines how many dice you can roll when defending against a ranged attack.
  • Save (Sv): How high you have to roll on a dice in your defense roll to avoid taking damage from a ranged attack.
  • Wounds (W): the amount of damage you can take before being incapacitated
  • Weapon Profiles: Both ranged and melee weapons have dedicated stat lines on a datacard, and we’ll go through what they mean in the shooting and close combat section below.
  • Abilities and Unique Actions: These are the special rules that apply to this operative, such as unique attack actions or special conditions that apply when you move or shoot.
  • Keywords: These are categories that determine how your operative interacts with the rest of the rules in the game. For example, if the operative has the LEADER keyword, they might be able to use specific Tac Ops.

Your operative might also have special equipment with rules of their own that you have chosen when building your team, but apart from those, everything you need to know about an operative can be found on their datacard.

Setup

The first thing you have to do when getting ready for a game of Kill Team is to set up a game board. The size of the board should be pretty small, with the official measurements being 30″ by 22″ (which the boards in the official Killzone boxes are anyway). The game states that you need to play on one of the official Killzones, but for anything but tournament play, you can just build something that fits the Killzone layouts approximately.

When you’ve done this, it’s time to set up scenery so it fits the mission you’re playing. You can use all sorts of Games Workshop or non-Games Workshop scenery, and the Core Book has 8 pages of scenery rules to help you figure out what pieces of scenery provide cover, can be traversed or climbed. It’s all pretty granular as far as Games Workshop terrain rules go, and even features really cool details such as operatives on high-up Vantage Points being able shoot at concealed hostiles.

Different modes of play decide how you set up before the game begins, but when everything including objectives have been set up, each player gets to place their Kill Team operatives in their Drop Zone, which is determined by the mission layout. When that’s been done, the game begins.

Turning Points and Phases

Each game of Kill Team consists of 4 rounds called Turning Points (we’ll get back to this edition’s fondness for making up new names for stuff in the final verdict at the end of this article), and each of these consist of the following phases:

  • in the Initiative Phase, it is decided which of the players has the initiative (either by the game mode or by rolling dice), allowing them to make the first activation if they choose to. An initiative token keeps track of who the initiative belongs to, and it switches with each Turning Point. Players also flip the Order tokens (see below) of all their operatives to the side representing them being Ready.
  • in the Strategy Phase, the players gain Command Points, which can be used on Strategic Ploys (abilities carried out in this phase), or Tactical Ploys activated later in the game. This is also the phase where players can reveal Tac Ops, special secondary objectives they might have picked.
  • in the Firefight Phase, the mission is carried out: Players take turn activating their operatives to move, fight and score objectives.

Once both players have gone through all phases, the next Turning Point begins.

Activations and Actions

When it becomes your turn for the first time in a Turning Point, you pick one of your Operatives and decide whether it has the Engage or Conceal Order. An operative with the Engage Order can perform most actions, but an operative with the Conceal Order can’t charge or shoot. In return for this disadvantage, a Concealed operative can’t be targeted by enemy shooting attacks if it is obscured or in cover. This basically adds a stealth mode to the game, in the sense that some of your operatives can decide to give up shooting attacks in order to be able to sneak up on objectives or past enemy positions. It’s an easy mechanic to keep track of with the Conceal/Engage Order tokens that come with the Kill Team Starter sets, but it helps you decide what you want to use your operatives for, as some of them will stay concealed while others engage the enemy.

When you’ve selected an operative and given them their order, you can perform actions with a combined cost equal to the APL statistic of the operative. Most actions are covered below, such as moving, shooting and fighting, but there are also the Pick Up action for picking up objectives and all manner of special actions that can be found in your faction rules and on your datacards.

Most often, each action can only be performed once per turn, and most of them cost 1 action point.

The rules for actions are generally thoughtfully written, taking into account any fringe cases and weird problems that might arise from applying the rules for these actions, and with many visual examples and written cases for how to use them, so be aware that what’s described below is just the basic outline of what each action does.

Movement

A Normal Move action let’s you move an operative up to it’s Move characteristic. You can break your movement up into smaller bits, but each section of your Move must be made in a straight line and is alwas treated as at least 1 triangle/1 inch in length, no matter how little you moved.

A Dash action is like a Normal Move, but you can only move up to 3 inches/one square. The point of this action is that, since it’s not called the same as a Normal Move, it can be used in the same activation as that for a bit of extra movement.

A Charge action is also like a Normal Move, but you can move an extra circle/2 inches, and you have to end up in Engagement Range (ie. next to) an enemy operative. This action can’t be performed if you’ve already made any other movement action in the same activation.

A Fall Back action costs 2 Action Points (so usually your entire activation), but it’s the only way you are allowed to Move when you’re in Engagement Range of an enemy operative. It allows you to move up to your full Move statistic, as long as you don’t end your movement within Engagement Range of enemy operatives.

Shooting

A Shoot action lets you pick one of your operative’s ranged weapons, as well as a visible enemy target that isn’t in Engagement Range of a friendly operative. If you’re used to playing Warhammer 40,000, or even Necromunda or Warcry, it’s worth taking note that the rules for picking a target are that simple: Many ranged weapons in the game have no limit on their range. If you can see it, you can shoot it. The only exception to that is obscured targets or targets in cover with the Conceal Order. Some shooting weapons have a maximum range, noted in the special rules for the weapon.

You then roll your attack dice, which is a pool of dice determined by the Attacks characteristic of you weapon. Each roll that is equal to or higher than your Ballistics Skill is a hit, and each roll of 6 is a critical hit in addition to that (your datacard tells you what happens when you score critical hits with a specific weapon). Rolls of 1 always fail. Your opponent then rolls defence dice equal to their Defense characteristic, and for each roll that’s equal to or higher than their Save characteristic is succesful, rolls of 6 are critical saves and 1s always fail.

If they’re in cover, one of their dice is automatically a success and shouldn’t be rolled. 1 succesful normal save cancels out one of your normal hits, a succesful critical save cancels out a critical hit, and 2 succesful normal saves can also be combined to cancel out a critical hit. The hits that aren’t saved inflict normal damage for normal hits, and critical damage for critical hits. The total damage inflicted from the attack is subtracted from the target’s Wounds characteristic.

An Overwatch action is like a Shoot action, but it can only be performed by an operative with the Engage Order when you’ve finished activating all your fighters, and the enemy still has operatives left to activate. In that situation, if it becomes your turn to activate and you have no Ready operatives left, select one of your operatives with the Engage Order and perform a Shoot action with them – only, you have to worsen their ballistic skill by 1 for that action (so BS 3 becomes BS 4, and so on).

Shooting weapons, as well as melee weapons, may have all sorts of special rules, such as rules for piercing armour, hitting more than one target or being usable by Concealed operatives. If your special rules are not explained in your faction’s rules, they’re probably in the Appendix of the Core Book.

Close combat

A Fight action works like a Shoot action when it comes to picking targets, with the exception that your target has to be within Engagement Range. Apart from that, however, fighting is completely different from shooting. After you’ve picked your target, both you and your target picks a melee weapon from their respective datacards, and roll dice equal to the weapon’s Attacks characteristic simultaneously.

Succesful hits and critical hits are determined like shooting attacks (see above), with Weapons Skill replacing Ballistics skill, but for each friendly operative that is also within Engagement Range of the target (and not within Engagement Range of other enemies), you can improve your Weapon Skill by 1 (so 3 becomes 2 and so on).

Then, the attacker picks one of their succesful hits and decides if they want to parry or strike with it. If they parry, they can select one of the opponent’s successes of the same caliber (normal/critical) and remove it along with their own parrying dice.

If they strike, the hit the dice represents is resolved, doing damage according to whether it’s a normal or critical hit.

This “mini-game” for fighting in close combat is a complete departure from normal Games Workshop rules design, and it’s really one of the star moments of this new edition of Kill Team. It makes close combat seem more like the chaotic battle of life or death that it should be, and choosing whether you want to defend yourself or just lash out to do as much damage as possible is really fun. It’s so cool, and I hope this s picked up by the Warcry designers as well.

When the attacker has resolved one succesful hit in this manner, it’s the target’s turn to do the same, and the players alternate until all hits have been resolved.

Damage and being taken out of action

All damage in Kill Team is done to an operative’s Wounds characteristic. Mortal Wounds are special wounds that can’t be negated by defence dice, so they go straight through to your Wounds pool.

When you have less than half your wounds left, you are Injured and can move 2 inches/1 circle less than your Move characteristic, and when you have 0 wounds left, you are incapacitated and removed from the killzone.

Command Points, Strategic Ploys and Tactical Ploys

In each Strategy Phase, each player gains 1 Command Point. They retain these points until they’ve spent them (so you can end up having a bunch of them in late stages of the game).

In the Strategy phase, you can use Command Points on Strategic Ploys, such as the Ork Kommandos’ Sssshhhh! Strategic Ploy that lets some of your operatives make a free Dash action. These can be found in your faction’s rules.

In the Firefight Phase, Tactical Ploys, such as the Death Korps of Krieg’s In Death, Atonement, which allows an incapacitated operative to fight one for one more activation.

Objectives and Tac Ops

Objective markers placed on the game board in accordance with the mission used for your game can be controlled by operatives in a slightly different way than in most other Games Workshop games: Instead of counting who has the most models or Wounds next to an objective, Kill Team determines who controls the objective via the combined APL characteristic (Action Points Limit) of operatives belonging to each player within 1 circle/2 inches of the objective.

Some missions also allow you to score Victory Points from Tac Ops, which are special secondary objectives that can be found in the Core Book or the rules for your faction. They might ask you to incapacitate an enemy Leader, place a banner from your unit in the opponent’s drop zone, or a myriad of other small tasks. The cool thing about these Tac Ops is that you keep them hidden until the Tac Op states that you have to reveal it: Your opponent doesn’t know what you’re trying to achieve from the beginnng of the game, but they have secret Tac Ops of their own as well.

… and a multitude of faction-specific rules!

On top of everything mentioned here, each faction can have additional sucfaction rules, special mechanics and weapon rules, and different ways of organizing its Kill Team. By leaving a lot of rules complexity to the faction rules, Kill Team has been set up as a very flexible system that can grow pretty significantly in the coming years with each release of a new Kill Team.

Game Modes

Like almost all other Games Workshop games at this point (with Warhammer Underworlds being the most notable exception, Kill Team can be played in three different game modes: Open Play, Narrative Play and Matched Play. Each mode determines a lot about how the game is played, and they all cater to very different game experiences.

Open Play

Open Play is the most free-form mode of play. It gives you very basic rules for setting up your mission, and then basically tells you to do whatever seems the most fun to you. There’s no ongoing narrative or complex scoring system, but the Core Book has a list of ideas for how to choose interesting house rules that make your games fun and varied.

Open Play can be fun if you’re just trying to learn how the game works, but the other two game modes offer far more replayability and depth. To see how much you can do with an Open Play mission, check out the Kill Team battle report on Warhammer+.

Narrative Play

Just like in most other Games Workshop skirmish games, Narrative Play is where the game really shows what it’s capable of. True to this edition’s design philosophy, Narrative Play in Kill Team is called Spec Ops Narrative Play. In Spec Ops games, you track the progress of your operatives from game to game using a Narrative Dataslate that you can photocopy from the Core Book.

Operatives gain experience from carrying out certain tasks during missions, which in turn can be used to upgrade them along different specialism skill trees such as Combat or Marksman. These upgrades are called Battle Honours, and they add quite a bit of depth to the game since they help further distinguish between different roles in combat: Combat specialists become much more dangerous in close combat, Scout specialists become very mobile and harder to hit, which is great for grabbing objectives at the other end of the game board, and so on.

If things don’t go so well for your operatives, they can also suffer Battle Scars, detrimental effects ranging from simply dying and being removed from your dataslate to penalties to Movement or their Weapon skill.

You also own a Base of Operations that you can upgrade with new rooms and facilities called Strategic Assets, and you can spend Requisition Points to gain even more bonuses.

The increased mechanics depth of Narrative Play is also evident in the games themselves: You have Spec Ops which are objectives that must be completed over a series of games (a bit like Achievements in video games), and there’s even a tiny extra “phase” before each game begins, where each player secretly selects a Scouting option that will give them bonuses or disadvantages depending on which Scouting option the opponent picked.

There’s almost too much stuff going on in Narrative Play, but if you know you’re going to spend every other Thursday playing a campaign with your friends, it’s great that the stories of your Kill Teams will be able to affect each other through so many different systems.

Matched Play

Compared to the big wargame version of Warhammer 40,000, the Matched Play rules section is very slim. The main draw of Matched Play in Kill Team is that you have a roster of operatives from which to choose your Kill Team, which means you can select the operatives you want for a specific game when you see what faction your opponent is playing. While this is a pretty small feature compared to all the stuff included in Narrative Play, it’s a great premise for fun tournaments with a lot of meta-speculation about how to build a roster with a counter for every faction you could possibly meet.

Playing Matched Play also lets you use Scouting in the same way as in a Narrative Play game, but otherwise it’s just playing missions against opponents, one game at a time.

Factions

There are about as many factions in Kill Team as there are factions in Warhammer 40,000, but since the beginning of this new edition it has been clear that the game will see new Kill Teams released pretty often, so keep track of what Kill Teams you have to choose from on our Factions page, which we update every time a new Kill Team is released.

How to build a Kill Team

Building a Kill Team in this edition is a much more straightforward affair than in most other Games Workshop skirmish games. There’s no points system where each operative type and weapon has a certain cost that you’ll have to balance against a points limit for the mission you’re playing. Instead, there are clear rules for how many models each Kill Team can take, and what different operatives they have to choose from.

In some cases, this makes it very easy – and often quite inexpensive – to build your Kill Team. The new made-for-Kill Team kits such as Ork Kommandos and Death Korps of Krieg Veterans can be built from just one box of miniatures, and they have tons of special operatives that give your team flavour and great tactical options. This design philosophy makes the game really easy to get into.

Kill teams from the Kill Team Compendium book have rules for many different operatives from different miniature kits, but limits your kill team to using operatives from just one or two Warhammer 40,000 kits. While sometimes more expensive than the bespoke Kill Team boxes, this is still pretty easy to figure out. If you’re making a Heretic Astartes team, for example, you just need a box of Chaos Space Marines and a sprue of cultists.

Sadly, we fear that the simplicity of the Compendium book is not here to stay: In issue 468 of the White Dwarf Magazine, rules for a new Adeptus Mechanicus kill team was released, which lets you mix and match models from four different 40k unit types made from two different 40k kits. That’s still only two boxes you have to buy, but if you mix and match as much as you can, you’ll still end up with many redundant models from those boxes, and the game also becomes harder to read than when your opponent would only ever field one or two types of units in their Kill Team.

If this trend continues, and the Compendium was essentially just a placeholder for existing factions until new rules could be rolled out for them, the most fun you’ll have in this edition will probably be playing new bespoke teams against one another. Consult our Factions article to see how your favorite faction stands in terms of rules for building a kill team.

Our Verdict

Let me start this verdict by comparing Kill Team to another Games Workshop game that’s been popular among readers of this site. When the Age of Sigmar skirmish game Warcry was released, it rekindled my love for Warhammer gaming with its idiosyncratic faction rules, streamlined combat and generally cinematic action gameplay. This new edition of Kill Team is doing something similar for my gaming enthusiasm – not because it is just like Warcry (it really isn’t), but because it is so full of interesting rules that depart from some of the staples of Games Workshop rules writing traditions.

I love the new Fight system, the removal of the points system for building your Kill Team, and the promise of a steady stream of new bespoke Kill Teams being released. The game doesn’t feel streamlined or simplistic, but it seems that each rule has been written with the purpose of making the game exciting, fast and fun to play, without sacrificing complexity in the campaign system or the scenery rules, just to name a few.

I don’t love how the game has giving almost every mechanic a new name, to make it all seem more distinctly Kill Team-y. I could do without the geometric figures for measuring distances, and the “turns are now Turning Points” design that permeates much of the game.

Luckily, as soon as you start playing, all of that doesn’t matter so much. You can call a turn whatever you like.

I am also a bit worried about the ongoing accessibility and balance of the game, as I always am when Games Workshop starts churning out new expansions and White Dwarf Magazine updates for a game still in its infancy. Will the constant stream of new content make the game impossible to keep up with? Will only the newest Kill Teams be competitive in Matched Play? Will the whole thing just become an exhausting bloat of rules until it’s almost at 40k scale again? Time will tell, but right now, it’s an amazing skirmish game for players who might have found Warcry a bit too simplistic – there’s simply more rules and systems in Kill Team, and they’re excellently designed.