Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Teaching 40k

A couple weeks back a friend of mine said that she was interested in learning 40k.  I have people tell me this on a somewhat frequent basis, but rarely does anyone ever take me up on the offer.  This weekend we got together for a couple of beginner games.  I have done this in the past for a couple of friends, but I haven't ever gone into this from the perspective of a teacher (my chosen profession).  Here is my perspective on how to teach someone 40k.

There is a popular phrase in the education world known as 'gradual release'.  Basically it means that when you start teaching something the teacher should be doing almost everything and providing most of the information, but as the lesson progresses the student does more and more until the student is working independently by the end of the lesson.  This was my goal with the games we played and it worked for the most part.

I started by providing most information without much explanation. "You need to roll a 3+ in order to hit."  As the first game progressed I started explaining why thing were happening.  "Since the strength of your attack is one higher than my toughness you need a 3+ to wound."  Eventually I started prompting my opponent for a response.  "Your strength is 4 and my toughness is 3 what do you need to wound?"  This does slow the game down, but remember the goal is not to get to the end of the game, but to get your opponent to learn how to play.  The more someone has to recall something, or look something up in a book the faster they will remember it.

More important for teaching a game such as 40k is 'scaffolding' which basically means you only add bits of knowledge at a time.  There are a lot of rules for 40k and working through things bit by bit makes the volume of rules seem less overwhelming.  For the first games we played, I ignored many special rules and simply focused on the basics of movement, shooting, and close combat.  Once someone has the basics down, you can add in more and more special rules so there is less to learn all at once.

Before the First Game:

There is a lot of terminology specific to gaming and more specifically to 40k.  It would be advisable to spend some time going over some of the basic terms at the very least.  This is going to smooth things out during the first game, and will reduce (but probably not eliminate) the number of times that you have to stop the game to explain what something means.

I did not do this with our games and as a result the first game was very clunky because I had to stop and explain what something meant repeatedly.

If the person you are teaching is feeling especially studious you might have them go over the different phases before the first game.

Choosing Armies:

Every time I browse a 40k forum I always see topics on, "I'm a new 40k player.  What should I play?"  Play style is a matter of personal preference.  Everyone should take time to figure out an army that works for themselves.  Figuring out an army with which to teach someone is different.  I wanted to pick an army that was somewhat generic, but good without many special rules.  Space marines are probably the best army to teach a beginner, but other good alternatives are Orks or Astra Militarum.  In general you are going to probably going to teach someone with whatever army you have on hand, but I would probably avoid armies like Daemons that have a plethora of special rules.

Getting the Basics Down:

As mentioned before, our first couple of games were limited in the special rules that I chose to use.  Think back to the first few missions of your favorite Real Time Strategy game.  Generally you only had a couple of basic units and your opponent had more or less the same thing.  You gradually got new units and figured out how to use them in conjunction with everything else.  This is what you should aim for when trying to teach 40k.

In our first game we were only playing with 250 points.  My opponent was using my Fallen Angels and I gave her a small squad of bikes and a squad of chosen in a transport.  This was enough to show how different types of units move, shoot, and eventually get into close combat.  The goal of the first game was to simply have her understand the basics of how the game works.  As someone becomes more comfortable with the gaming system new rules become less intimidating.

Be Specific With What You Want to Teach:

Are you introducing a new kind of unit to use?  Are you introducing a new threat for your opponent to counter?  What is the goal of your teaching?

As mentioned, with the first game I wanted to teach the basics.  My army consisted of a few squads of guardsmen with a couple of heavy weapons and flamers.  This let my opponent explore how her units worked without having to worry about any serious threats.  In our second game we expanded the points up to 650 this let her list include a Dreadnought (helbrute), a Librarian (sorcerer), and a second squad of chosen.  With the inclusion of a Librarian I could also introduce the psychic phase.

Part of what I wanted to teach was how to use different units.  The additional squad of chosen had melta guns and would need to be close in order to be effective, but the librarian would need to be outside of a vehicle in order to use most of his psychic powers.

I also added a Leman Russ tank to my list.  My goal here was to present a clear threat.  She had plenty of tools for dealing with the tank (dreadnought, bikes with melta bombs, chosen with melta guns), but she knew that if the tank was left alone it could wipe out most of her army.

In the early stages of teaching someone to play you are more than likely going to be writing both lists.  This give you the opportunity to direct exactly what threats your opponent will see and exactly what tools they will have to deal with those threats.  Essentially you can control the difficulty.  Try to make sure things are always appropriately challenging.  This will not only keep your opponent mentally engaged, but also mean that they are likely to learn more.

Teaching can be a great challenge, but without new players our hobby is likely to grow stale.  Patience is your ally; games with new players are going to be many times longer than a regular game.  If you are trying to work with a new player make sure you are focused on their learning.  At the beginning you should be less concerned with the speed of play.  Explaining what you are doing will help solidify the process of playing a game.  Once they know the game everything will move more smoothly and you will have a new player for your gaming group.


  1. Great post. I'm curious what your friend said after playing a few games? Did she remain interested?

    1. Yes, she was excited to play more games, but she also knew that she needed to sit down with the rulebook. I am not sure when we will be able to get together again to play though.

      If 40k has taught me anything it would be that coordinating schedules for two working adults is a pain in the ass.

    2. So true! 40k takes a huge chunk of time. Hard to free that up!

      Your system seemed to work well for teaching. I'd also recommend people try the starter sets. They come with simplified rules you can build upon, to add complexity over time.

    3. The Dark Vengeance models were the start of my Fallen army, but the rules they came with were from 6th edition, so I tossed those years ago.

      It is really nice that they seem to be coming out with multiple starter sets for various armies.

  2. Two years ago I never heard about warhammer. About one year (something more... can't remember exactly...) ago I have seen a game. Then a friend of mine made me try how nurgles daemons worked against cultist. I understood only that models moved, then someone shoot, and some other assaulted. I had to be enthusiastic because my girlfriend give me the base rulebook. I read it then I stepped in to a shop and I said "I'm a new 40k player. What should I play?" and the manager told me: "You can choose: Orks or Eldar." Don't know why he said that, and I still wonder about it. I bought the Codex and some models, made some games.... and the my expansive Core Rulebook became outdated because of the arrival of the 7th edition.
    I am still learning.

  3. This is pretty much exactly why I own an Astra Militarum army, because I wanted two platoons of Imperial Guardsmen for teaching purposes.