Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team is a tabletop miniatures skirmish game from Games Workshop. In the game, you pick a small team of fighters and carry out specialist missions against your enemies. This Kill Team beginner’s guide is designed to get you started playing it.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the game takes place in Games Workshop’s most popular setting, the dystopian science fiction horror world of Warhammer 40,000. This means that the game uses miniatures from the armies of that game, so if you play Warhammer 40,000, or you just have a bunch of Space Marines lying around, chances are you already have the miniatures you need for Kill Team!
When it comes to the rules and the way the game is played, Kill Team is very much its own game. Warhammer 40,000 is a big wargame where the players alternate taking turns when they move and attack with their entire force, but in Kill Team, players take turns carrying out actions in a number of different phases, so there’s much more interactivity, and the format is smaller with teams having 10 models or so rather than the dozens you would see in a Warhammer 40,000 game.
If you, like many of our readers, are a Warcry player, there’s a good chance you’ll also find Kill Team to be a fun, but very different, skirmish game. Where a Warcry faction gives you a set of fighter cards to choose between and a set of abilities, Kill Team list building is much more complex: you can pick different weapons and equipment for many of your fighters, give them names and special abilities, you can spend command points on different tactics, and your faction might also have specific extra rules depending on what subfaction you choose. This means you can really make your Kill Team unique and your own, but it’s not as easy to pick up and play as Warcry.
No matter what game you’re coming from, or if you’re a beginner in the world of tabletop games, Kill Team is a highly tactical skirmish game that any tabletop player should try out. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know if it’s a game for you, what you need to buy to get started, and how to build a Kill Team and play games.
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The Lore of Kill Team
Warhammer 40,000 is a dystopian science fiction universe that usually tells its stories on an astronomical scale. Humanity lives all over the galaxy on millions of planets in cities housing billions of citizens worshipping the almost-dead super-psychic Emperor of Mankind. He protects them from the Forces of Chaos, which are demonic monsters and twisted humans who draw power from the extremes of human (and alien) emotion such as rage, desire, despair and obsession. As if that wasn’t bad enough, innumerable hordes of green-skinned Orks, monstrous Tyranids, metallic Necrons, and even advanced civilizations such as the Aeldari and the T’au are threatening the human Imperium on all sides.
Usually, this means that battleships the size of cities clash in space while millions of infantrymen fight an unstoppable tide of foes in trenches that span continents, and god-like heroes and villains fight legendary duels with ancient, holy weapons.
Kill Team takes place in this insane, over-the-top universe, with the same factions fighting each other, but it changes the scale completely: the game is about special forces capturing artefacts or destroying artillery behind enemy lines, or clashes between skirmishing parties before large scale warfare breaks out. It’s about a small group of Imperial infantry being hunted by Orks in a jungle on a planet on the edge of the Imperium, or about a gang of Genestealer hybrids infiltrating the infrastructure of a hive city.
Because the scale is so small, it offers a very different perspective on the Warhammer 40,000 universe than the main tabletop game. All your fighters have names and stories, and you invest in each one of them.
What do I need to buy to get started in Kill Team?
To play a game of Kill Team, you need 6 categories of things:
- Some scenery
- Measuring tape
- And some six-sided dice.
Books and rulebooks
It would have been great to start this guide by saying that it’s easy to figure out what book to buy to play Kill Team, but sadly, this is one of the weaknesses of the game:
The rules for each faction are often spread across multiple books, and not all of the books are available everywhere, either. This isn’t unusual for a Games Workshop game that came out a couple of years ago, but I do hope there’s a new rulebook on the way for the game so everything can be gathered in a few books in a way that makes sense. Until then, you need the following books to play:
Kill Team: Core Manual (Mandatory)
The Core Manual contains all the basic rules for playing the game, a good bunch of missions (more on that below), the campaign rules, and the initial rules for 16 of the game’s 23 factions. Consult our faction overview article to see which faction is in which book, but note that not all the rules for any faction are in the Core Manual, as you’ll see when we go through the other books below. You can absolutely play the game with just this book if you like the factions in it, and you can’t play the game without it, but so much has been added to the game since this book came out.
Kill Team: Commanders (Optional)
Commanders is available as either a physical expansion pack with the book, extra datacards and tokens, or as a stand-alone e-book. It contains rules for fielding characters (that’s heroes in Age of Sigmar/Warcry terms if that’s where you’re coming from) as leaders of your Kill Teams. These are much more powerful than regular fighters, and have their own special abilities and specialisms.
You don’t need this book to play, but if you’re in a gaming environment where everyone uses commanders in their Kill Teams, or you really want to use that new Space Marine Captain you just painted, this is the book for that.
Kill Team: Elites (Optional, but you really want this one)
Where Commanders added one component to the game that was relatively confined to just one new rule, Elites is a much more comprehensive expansion. It contains additions to the basic rules of the game, such as the option to set up fighters in reserve, but the two major additions are subfaction rules, which are Kill Team-wide bonuses to your team based on what subfaction they’re from (so if they’re Black Templars Space Marines, they can reroll their charge rolls, for example), as well as more elite fighter types for every faction in the game. This just gives you so many more options for customizing your Kill Teams that the book is almost mandatory for playing the game.
Elites is also the only book to contain the rules for playing the elite Imperium faction called Adeptus Custodes, so if you want to play that faction, you need this book.
Kill Team: Annual 2019 (Optional)
This book is a compilation of all sorts of extras released for the game in other publications such as the White Dwarf magazine, as well a whole slew of other content. It has a ton of new missions, but it also includes points values for everything released for the game by the end of 2019, rules for Kroot, Chaos Daemon and Adepta Sororitas Kill Teams, as well as rules for using the models from Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress models in Kill Team games. It also updates the Space Marines faction with some of the units that were new at the time of the book’s release
The Annual 2019 book isn’t available as an e-book, and it’s not in stock on all local GW webstores, but if you can find it, it’s great to have as a resource for points and tactics, as well as for the rules for some very cool factions.
Kill Team: Pariah Nexus (Optional)
Only available as part of the brand new expansion set for the game, Pariah Nexus is a book with rules for a new way of playing the game in really close quarters, but that part’s completely optional. The reason we include the book in this article is that it’s also currently the only place you can find Kill Team rules for all the new Space Marines and Necrons released for the 9th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 – so if you just got into Warhammer 40,000 with the Indomitus set and some of the awesome new Primaris Marines, unfortunately you need this book to use them in Kill Team.
Miniatures for Kill Team
Kill Team is played with Games Workshop miniatures from the Warhammer 40,000 game. In our Kill Team Faction Overview article you can see which models are available to field for the faction you would like to play. Just remember that you are more than free to convert (combine different kits into new looks for your miniatures) fighters for your Kill Team, and that that’s part of the charm for a small-scale skirmish game like this. So if you want your Imperial guardsmen to come from a planet where they wear medieval plate armour and use ancient flintlock rifles, you can absolutely do that – just make sure your models still look like they do what their rules say they do, so it’s not confusing to your opponent.
To assemble Games Workshop miniatures, you need a set of cutters/a hobby knife and some plastic glue. If you want to paint your miniatures (please paint your miniatures!), you also need a primer spray paint, some brushes and some acrylic paint. Check out or hobby section for help and our gear section if you need to buy some gear.
Collecting, customizing and painting your miniatures is a big part of what Kill Team is all about, but keep in mind that how you assemble your miniatures affects their abilities, statistics and point cost, so even if you already have a great idea for a Kill Team, make sure you check if it fits the rules.
Datacards, Dice and Measuring Tape
Datacards are small cards used for tracking the statistics, weapons and status of each of your fighters. There are versions of these available in Kill Team box sets such as the starter set or Pariah Nexus, and in some countries you can still buy the Kill Team Card and Dice Set, which contains blank datacards and the dice needed to play the game. However, if you make multiple Kill Teams, you’ll quickly run out of these datacards, but don’t worry: in the back of the Core Manual, there’s a set of datacards available that is legal to photocopy.
The only Dice you really need to play the game are regular six-sided dice, even though the official sets include 10-sided dice. Those are only for picking random targets for effects, though, so you can resolve those rolls in other ways (see below).
You also need a Measuring Tape for measuring distances. You can use any measuring tape you want, as long as it measures inches and not just centimetres.
Scenery for Kill Team
Since Kill Team has rules for units being in cover, hiding, climbing walls and so on, you need some scenery to put on your table for the game. Games Workshop frequently publish Killzone boxes, which include a 22 by 30 inch game mat and enough scenery to make a good battlefield on top of it. This is the “official” way scenery should be handled in the game, but you can absolutely use any scenery or game mat you want, or even soda cans, LEGO bricks and stuff you’ve made out of cardboard, as long as you play on a battlefield roughly the same size as these Killzone game mats. Games Workshop has a ton of scenery available, but many other manufacturers make miniature terrain at the same scale as Warhammer 40,000 miniatures.
Starter sets for Kill Team
With most of Games Workshop’s smaller games, we would naturally recommend you a good starter set to buy – but at the moment, it’s not that simple for Kill Team. Its latest starter set, which pitted Primaris Space Marines against T’au Fire Warriors, is no longer in production, but can probably still be found in local shops. It includes 2 Kill Teams, the Core Manual, dice, datacards, scenery and a battle mat, so it has everything you need to get started.
The recent Pariah Nexus box set is not a starter set as it doesn’t contain the core manual or any dice, and the games you can play with it are an addition to the regular game modes, so buyer beware.
There also used to be a Kill Team: Rogue Trader expansion with two Kill Teams that couldn’t be purchased anywhere else: The Nurgle-meets-technology madness of the Gellerpox Infected and the Imperial rogue trader retinue called The Elucidian Starstriders. It seems to be sold out in most places, but the German Games Workshop webstore apparently has it listed as “Temporarily Out of Stock”, so it might not be gone forever. If you find it in a local shop, don’t hesitate to buy it, as the miniatures are unique and still work in the game.
There’s also an even older Kill Team Starter set that’s very hard to find anywhere, but it included some great scenery, the Core Manual, dice, cards and two Kill Teams for Adeptus Mechanicus and Genestealer Cults.
All in all, this means that it can be difficult to find an actual starter set for the game at the moment. However, this probably means there’s one coming within the year, since Games Workshop seems dedicated to continuing their support for the game. If you can wait a bit longer, do that (but who knows when their production line is back on full steam again).
How does Kill Team play?
Before starting a game of of Kill Team, you assemble your Kill Team, which has a maximum points cost (often 100) for miniatures that you and your opponent can field, and then you choose a mission from one of the books or whatever you can agree on. You then deploy your kill team according to the rules written out in your mission, and the game begins.
The game is made up of an often predetermined number of battle rounds, and each battle round consists of the following phases:
- Initiative Phase
- Movement Phase
- Psychic Phase
- Shooting Phase
- Fight Phase
- Morale Phase
Note that, unlike the Warhammer 40,000 game, each player doesn’t go through all the phases before the other player gets to play. In each phase, both players carry out the actions required for that phase before moving on to the next phase, so the game doesn’t have turns in the way this term is used in 40K (or Age of Sigmar).
In this section, each phase is described in enough detail to give you an idea of how the game works, and how it might be different from what you’re used to from other Games Workshop games, but note that there is of course many more elements to each phase, both in terms of general rules and in terms of how different fighters can act in those phases, so this is just an outline.
1. Initiative Phase
This phase is pretty straightforward: each player rolls 2 six-sided dice, and the player with the highest roll gets to go first in the following phases.
2. Movement Phase
In this phase, each player gets to move all their models, and the player who won the initiative goes first. A model can move a distance in inches equal to the Move characteristic on their datacard. This is just the most basic thing you can do in the Movement Phase, however. Kill Team’s Movement Phase is one of my favourite aspects of the rules, because there’s actually quite a few options in a phase that can be a bit boring in other games.
Like in other GW games, you can Advance, which means you can roll a dice and add its value to how far you can move. If you do this, you can’t do anything else in the Move Phase, and you can’t shoot in the Shooting Phase (unless you have a specific rule that lets you do that).
You can also Fall Back if you’re standing next to an enemy who didn’t move next to you in this phase. This just means you can make a normal move away from enemies.
You can also Ready your models, which is pretty unique to the game: a model that has been readied does not move, but gets to shoot first in the shooting phase. This is really cool since it gives you something to do with a model you don’t want to move.
Finally, you can Charge, which is almost a phase in itself: if you are within 12 inches of any enemy models, but more than 1 inch away from any of them, you can declare that you will charge one or more of them. When you declare this charge (and before you roll for the charge), the targets can either React by firing an Overwatch attack, which means they get to shoot at the charging model at a disadvantage, or Retreat, which means they can move a short distance away from the charging model. After these reactions, you roll two six-sided dice, and if the value of that roll in inches allows you to move within 1 inch of one of your targets, your charge is successful. If you can’t, you can still move, but it doesn’t count as a charge move (so you can still shoot later). This mini-phase, and the fact that it happens before the shooting phase, adds a big tactical layer to the game, where you really have to think before you declare a charge, and also before you choose how to react to one.
3. Psychic Phase
In the Psychic Phase, psykers, which are the “wizards” of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, can cast their powers. A model with the psyker keyword can roll dice to cast one or more psychic powers, and enemy psykers can try to prevent those powers from taking effect. One of the fun mechanics of this phase is that psychic powers are really dangerous, so if you roll a double 1 or a double 6 when casting a power, your psyker takes damage, and if it dies, everyone within 3 inches also takes damage.
4. Shooting Phase
In the Shooting Phase, models with ranged weapons can fire their weapons. There are so many different rules for how different weapons work at different ranges and under different conditions in this phase that we won’t cover them here, but just know that there’s a big difference between how a pistol, a machine gun or an assault rifle work in this phase.
Range, cover and visibility also play a big role in this phase, as well as whether your model Readied in the Movement phase or not.
You shoot by picking a target within your weapon’s range, rolling equal to or higher than the Ballistic Skill on the model’s datacard – if you succeed, you hit your target.
Then you roll to wound, which is a bit more complex: you compare the Strength of your weapon with the Toughness of the target to see how easy it is to wound it (if your Strength is higher than the target’s Toughness, you don’t have to roll as high to wound, and if it’s lower, you have to roll higher).
If you wound your target, the target can then roll a dice and try to roll higher than its Save characteristic, and if it succeeds, it doesn’t take damage.
If the save isn’t succesful, you apply damage equal to the Damage characteristic of your weapon.
If a target takes more damage than it has Wounds left due to an attack, the attacker has to roll a six-sided dice. If the roll 3 or less, the target goes back up to 1 Wound, but it now suffers penalties to its fighting, shooting and defenses. If the roll is 4 or more, the target goes Out of Action, which means it’s “dead” for the duration of the game.
5. Fight Phase
In the Fight Phase, models that are close enought to an enemy model to do so alternate making close combat attacks. This works much like the Shooting phase, except now it’s models who charged that fight first, and all models that can fight have to do so.
Melee weapons also typically use the Strength of the model that uses them, and the number of attacks you can make are determined by the model’s Attacks characteristic rather than the type of the weapon (mostly), but otherwise you can consult the shooting phase section above to understand how hitting, wounding, saving and doing damage works for this phase.
6. Morale Phase
In the Morale Phase, the stress of combat is simulated by going through a number of actions: first, if all of the models in the Kill Team have Flesh Wounds, are out of action or are Shaken (see below), they become Broken, which means suffer penalties to their fighting capabilities, and they have to take Nerve Tests. A Nerve Test is a dice roll which, if you fail, makes your model Shaken, which means it can’t do anything for one battle round.
When all these phases are done, you start again from the top for another battle round until one of the players meet the victory conditions of the mission you’re playing. There’s also an optional Scouting Phase that you can choose to use before the battle round begin, where each player secretly chooses one of 6 pre-battle actions, such as planting traps, scouting ahead or firing an opening salvo, and the players then reveal their choices simultaneously.
Tactics are special abilities that your Kill Team can use by spending Command Points. You start the game with 1 command point, and you gain one at the start of every battle round. Tactics can influence the game in so many ways, from letting a model fight twice in a Fight Phase (see below) to moving first in the Movement Phase or healing Flesh Wounds. There are six Tactics in the Core Manual that anyone can use, and then you also get Tactics from your faction, your Specialists (see below), and even from special mission types.
There is, of course, much more to playing the game: almost every model has some sort of ability or rule that tweaks the way it works in the 6 phases at least a little bit, and then you add subfaction’s rules, tactics and all that stuff on top of it to make a very complex, deeply tactical game.
In the next section, we try to show a bit more of that by going through how you build a Kill Team, and all the different options you have for doing so.
How do you build a team for Kill Team?
In order to build a Kill Team, you must choose a Faction you want to play. There are currently 23 of them playable, and our faction overview goes over what models are available for each of them.
Once you’ve chosen a faction, you need to figure out which models to include in your Kill Team. You can play Kill Team in three different ways called Open, Narrative and Matched Play, but in this guide we’ll assume you play with the recommended matched play points limit of 100 points (if you’re playing with Commanders, it’ll be a bit higher). This means the cost of your fighters and weapons can’t exceed a total of 100 points.
To figure out how to build your Kill Team, you need to look at the datasheets available to your faction. Datasheets aren’t the same as datacards, which can be a bit confusing at first. A datasheet shows all the options available to each type of fighter in a faction. It shows what different fighter types are available to that fighter, what statistics they have, what wargear they can use, what abilities they have, and what specialist roles they can take.
Here’s one of the Kill Team datasheets for models from the Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress game:
At the top, to the right of the fighter’s name, all the statistics of the model are laid out:
- M is Move: it shows how far your model can move, measured in inches.
- WS is Weapon Skill: it shows how high you have to roll to hit with a melee weapon. In this case, 3+ means you have to roll 3 or higher.
- BS is Ballistic Skill: it shows how high you have to roll to hit with a ranged weapon. In this case, 4+ means you have to roll 4 or higher.
- S is Strength: it determines how easy is for you to be successful on a wound roll after hitting an enemy model. The higher it is, the better a chance you have of wounding the enemy model.
- T is Toughness: it determines how difficult is for enemies to wound your fighter. The higher it is, the harder is for the enemy to wound you.
- W is Wounds: this shows how much damage you can take before having to roll an injury roll (see above). The higher it is, the more damage you can take.
- A is Attacks: this is the number of attacks you can make in melee combat each round with this model. The higher, the better.
- Ld is Leadership: it determines how easy it is for your model to become Shaken due to a Nerve test in the Morale Phase. The higher, the better.
- Sv is Save: it determines how high you have to roll on your save roll to avoid taking damage. In this case, you have to roll a 5 or higher. The lower this statistic is, the better
Then the datasheet details equipment options: It shows what the model can be equipped with (in this case, a laspistol/autopistol, a chainsword/brutal assault weapon and frag grenades).
This particular datasheet also shows the rules for every weapon available to the fighter. The datasheets in rulebooks keep the weapon rules in separate tables, so this is not how it usually looks like, but in this case it allows us to go through weapon statistics as well:
- Range is how far your weapon can shoot or attack, measured in inches. “Melee” means you can only use the weapon in close combat.
- Type shows if any weapon type rules apply to the weapon. In this case, for example, “Pistol 1” means the weapon can shoot at close combat range, and that it can make 1 attack. There are quite a few of these. If you’ve played Warhammer 40,000 before, you will know them already, and otherwise they’re detailed in the Core Manual.
- S is Strength: Ranged weapons most often have their own Strength characteristic rather than using that of the model. “User” means a melee weapon just uses the model’s Strength characteristic.
- AP is Armor Penetration: This is subtracted from the target’s Armour Save when you try to wound with this weapon. “-1” means you have to subtract 1 from their save roll.
- D is Damage: This shows how much damage the weapon can do in per successful wound roll.
- Abilities show any extra rules that apply to this weapon. For example, the Brutal Assault Weapon can make 1 additional attack each time you use it to fight.
Then, there is a section for model Abilities, which are special rules that apply to models using this datasheet. In this case, a Chaos Beastman can re-roll failed Nerve Tests when it’s close to a Heretic Astartes model from its own Kill Team, and it adds 1 to Strength and Attacks in a turn where it has made a Charge Move.
The Specialists section shows which kinds of specialist this model can be. Specialisms are a set of rules very unique to Kill Team among Games Workshop’s games, where a set number of the models in your Kill Team can be different kinds of specialists.
A specialist gains access to special Tactics (see above), and a skill tree of bonuses that can be improved over the course of a campaign. For example, a Chaos Beastman can be a Combat specialist, which adds 1 to his Attacks characteristic and lets him use a Tactic to fight twice in a Fight phase. The Specialist system is pretty amazing, and there are quite a few of them to choose from across the rulebooks. Commanders also get specialist roles that only they can take.
Then, you have the Faction Keyword, which simply shows what faction the models on the datasheet belongs to. This is usually pretty straightforward, but some models such as Janus Draik from the Blackstone Fortress game have multiple Faction Keywords so they can be selected for more than one faction’s Kill Teams.
The last section of a datasheet is the Keywords section, which shows which rules can affect this model. For example, the Chaos keyword on the Chaos Beastman might mean that some models would get a bonus fighting against it, and some rules might affect models with the Infantry keyword differently than others.
Finally, you have to consult the rules for your faction to see the points cost of your model, which isn’t listed on the datasheet. In this case, a Chaos Beastman costs 7 points, with no additional costs for its weapons. Other models might cost additional points if you field them with one of their special weapons. The points cost of weapons are also listed in the rules of your faction.
After you’ve figured out which model to take and what equipment and Specialist roles it’s getting, you note all of that on a datacard.
A datacard is a small card (see the “what do I need to get started” section) where you note all the rules for each of your fighters. It allows you to record its name, statistics, weapons (including their statistics), abilities, specialism and even its demeanour, which are little snippets of character background that you can use to roleplay your character. They don’t influence the rules of how you play, but they can be fun, and there’s a table for generating them among all the character generation tables for each faction in the rulebooks (we don’t cover that in this guide since it doesn’t affect the game’s rules and is not essential for beginners).
A datacard also lets you note down your model’s experience, which it can gain over the course of a campaign, its Flesh Wounds as well as Convalescence and New Recruit statuses, which are used in campaigns (see below).
Having a datacard for each of your models is recommended even if you’re not playing a campaign, as there’s a lot to keep track of, and playing from datasheets alone can get confusing. You can also get an app to help you out if you prefer.
Once you’ve chosen all the fighters you want, you can note them on a Kill Team Roster page, which is also in the back of the Core Manual (or freely downloadable from the Warhammer Community website), and then you’re ready for picking the team for your first mission!
If you like having a place to store all information about your Kill Team digitally, the Warhammer Community website has a Kill Team list builder application called Command Roster freely available. It helps you keep track of everything you need for a single game or a campaign, and it can print Kill Team sheets for you in PDF format. It does require you to have the books to see what models and Wargear actually do, but it’s pretty handy when it comes to building your team.
Campaigns in Kill Team
Even though Kill Team can be played as one-off Matched or Open Play games, like many other skirmish games its Campaign is where all its systems really get to shine. The campaign rules are included in the Core Manual, and detail how your Kill Team can progress by models gaining experience, resources being gained from missions, and injuries sustained which may change how a model interacts with the game. The system isn’t as detailed as what we have in games such as Warcry and Necromunda, but it has ways for every kind of model to progress and is really easy to set up.
Final Thoughts on this Kill Team Beginner’s Guide
Kill Team is a deeply tactical game with a myriad of options for customizing a really unique squad to play in its varied missions. It’s definitely slower than a game of say Warcry, but it also offers far more customization options.
The rules for playing through each battle round give every player something to do at every phase of the game, which makes for a very engaged play experience, and the wealth of specialisms and wargear/weapon options makes it a kitbashers dream of a skirmish game.
If you are interested in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but not up for painting a full force and getting to know the full ruleset, Kill Team is a great way to engage with the lore without over-committing, and the many factions are full of awesome models and rules for you to choose from.
The rules are getting a bit old for a modern Games Workshop game. That doesn’t mean they’re not fun! It just means that they are spread across a couple of books, which can make the game a bit confusing and expensive to get started with, but we hope this guide has helped you figure out if it’s worth it for you.