Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium Review - Start Collecting Warhammer 40K Part 1

Published: May 29, 2018 1:00 PM /


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Welcome to our Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium (Warhammer 40,000 or W40K) Review. This review is the first part of our ongoing Start Collecting Warhammer 40K series. The full details of the plans and thought-process behind the series can be read here.

Combat in the 41st Millennium

Warhammer 40K is the Daddy of wargaming. Games Workshop's alpha wargaming system has reached into just about every other media genre out there. There are a huge amount of Warhammer 40K video games, there's an animated movie, comics, novels, and there's even a spin-off series of novels and games based on the history of Warhammer 40K. So even if you haven't heard of wargaming, you've probably heard of Warhammer 40K through one medium or another

Warhammer 40K is set in the 41st Century. Mankind has taken battle to the stars, led by legions of gene-enhanced, power-armor wearing warriors known as Space Marines. Previously in the setting, during an era known as the Horus Heresy, half of these legions betrayed the ruler of mankind, a god-like being known as the Emperor, and led the galaxy into a huge civil war. Commanding each of the original space-marine legions were mighty beings created by the Emperor and known as the Primarchs. The Primarchs, although god-like in stature and abilities, all had very human flaws, and the Emperor's dream of a united mankind ruling the stars was ruined as these beings took their legions to war against each other.

After the Horus Heresy, several of the Primarchs were dead, or converted into mighty demon princes, or had disappeared and were thought lost. Now, thousands of years later, the galaxy is still at war. The Space Marine legions that sided against the Emperor continue to attack the worlds of men, along with alien races that all battle for their own agendas. This is the setting that as a Warhammer 40K player you will take your forces to battle in—all out war among the stars.

Warhammer 40K is now in its 8th edition of rules, and there is also currently a Beta rules errata document that aims to balance the forces of the armies available. Each of the available armies gets an army book to supplement the main rules, which contains rules and information solely about those forces, which are known as Codexes. Some of the armies so far have Codexes for 8th Edition, others are being released every few months. But as a new player, you won't have to worry about that until a little later.

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Getting Started in Warhammer 40K

To get started in Warhammer 40K, Games Workshop have provided several getting started kits, each containing the same two forces but ranging in cost.

Your first option is the "Getting Started with Warhammer 40K" kit, which provides players with a guide to Wahammer 40K and their first Space Marine model as a taster to the setting and putting your first model together.

The next starter set up from that is "First Strike," which contains six Space Marines and nine Death Guard (Chaos Space Marine) units. The models are push fit in this pack, so all you need are clippers or a modelling knife to remove them from the sprues and you can put them together without glue. The set contains data cards with rules for all the models, as well as a background book and a small core rulebook, along with everything else you need to play, including dice, a ruler for measuring movement and range, a gaming mat, and some card scenery. This set is perfect to try out the system without committing too much. Complete tabletop beginners should start here.

Up from that is "Know No Fear," which contains 31 miniatures in total, 14 Space Marines and 17 Death Guard units. Everything else is much the same as the First Strike box, with details for all the different units in this box, along with an upgraded rules guide. Know No Fear also includes six step-by-step missions that start with a small amount of units and gradually add more as you learn how to play. This is perfect for players who've played some tabletop games before and want to try out wargaming. It leads you in incredibly well and contains everything two players need for a decent game.

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Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium

The Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium box is a big upgrade from the Know No Fear box and is less beginner friendly. If you've played an older edition of Warhammer 40K and want to get back into it, or you've got experience with other wargame system, then this is the set for you.

Dark Imperium is less beginner friendly in that it includes a full copy of the core rulebook, which in this edition is mostly background information on the whole setting. It contains a huge amount of information on the history and all the different factions in the system. The core rules themselves are actually contained within only eight pages, and along with also having a handy rule reference sheet with all the rules printed on, they are available to download for free. The difference with the full-sized rulebook is that you get the background information, information on army building for friendly and competitive games, along with a huge amount of detail on different scenarios and different types of battles.

The Warhammer 40K rules have been incredibly streamlined in this edition and reduced down into an eight-page reference guide that is user friendly. There are six phases each round—movement, psychic, shooting, charge, fight, morale—and each player  goes through their whole turn before the next player goes through their entire turn. The only difference is during the fight phases, where after the active player attacks with their units, the other units in the melee get to fight back.

Play is extremely streamlined with the core rules and don't leave much ambiguity, or timing queries. Rules do get more complicated outside of Dark Imperium, and Games Workshop have a regularly planned errata and FAQ schedule. The current FAQ is the Big 2018 FAQ 1. For the purposes of playing with the units in the Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium box, the rules are straight forward and easy to play and learn even during gameplay. There will be some referring between the rule reference and the two primers for each force in the box, as the stats for each unit are in the primers. Working out if a unit hits another unit is straightforward, and it's a clearly printed stat on each unit's reference sheet. Working out wounding involves cross-referencing a weapons or units strength against the toughness stat of the unit being hit and comparing it against an easy to learn chart to see the results required. After a few games, players will find themselves referring to the rules reference less and less.

The Dark Imperium box also includes a huge selection of models, 53 in total (22 Space Marine and 31 Death Guard). The included models show off a great variety in terms of troop types for both factions.

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Space Marines

The Space Marines included in the box are the upgraded Primaris Marines, the new additions to the Space Marine force. Primaris Marines are an upgraded version of the already enhanced Space Marines and carry upgraded weaponry and armor. They are also tougher and faster than normal marines. Along with the included command units of Captain, two Lieutenants, and Ancient, there are three different troop types included in the set.

The Intercessor marines are the center of the Primaris Marine line, armed with the new bolt-rifle they, like other Space Marines, are able to rapid fire to lay down huge amounts of fire on their enemies. The Hellblaster Marines are armed with plamsa incinerators, which they can super charge to burn through armored foes with ease. The third troop type are the Inceptor Marines, who can drop into battle from the sky among the enemy battle line. The Inceptor Marines are armed with dual assault bolters, which can fire a huge amount of rounds very effectively into less armored troop types. They aren't well equipped to deal with close combat, so positioning them and keeping them moving is key to their success.

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Death Guard

The Death Guard force included in Dark Imperium are very different from their Primaris Marine enemies. The set includes a Lord of Contagion, a heavily armored Chaos Space Marine who is deadly in close combat. A Noxious Blightbringer armed with a cursed plague bell, which can be used to bring dismay and disease among the enemy, he also helps to move your Poxwalkers a little faster, as they usually shamble forward at an incredibly slow rate. The last of the Death Guard Command is a Malignant Plaguecaster, a disease corrupted sorcerer.

The Death Guard have two troop types and a vehicle included in the set. The Plague Marines are hardy and durable Chaos Space Marines, Poxwalkers are shambling space zombies that can add dead enemies to their ranks, and the Foetid Bloat-drone is armed with plaguespitters and a plague probe to sow disease among the enemy. All of the Death Guard units are incredibly hard to kill, and get an extra saving throw after taking damage.

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The two forces included can be fairly evenly matched when controlled by experienced players. Beginners will find the Space Marines more straightforward to use. The Space Marines are set around laying down fire on the advancing Death Guard. The individual Space Marine command units in the Dark Imperium box provide a bubble of abilities effects like rerolling hit or wound rolls, so keeping all the units close is essential to keeping the command ability bubbles effective. The Death Guard on the other hand are more effective in close combat, and are extremely durable when closing, but they don't move very fast. Most games using the miniatures just out of the box play the same way, with the Space Marines firing as much as possible and the Death Guard weathering the storm until they can close to melee combat.

Both factions are a great base for starting your armies in those factions, but aren't optimized for play beyond friendly games, so some work will have to be done if your hope is to move into competitive play, but this is a great place to start as the miniatures included cover most of the rules you will come across in future games, barring the larger, heavily armored vehicles.

The Space Marines in this box can be painted and played as any Space Marine chapter you wish, and painting guides for several are given in this set. If you want the added chapter rules though, you will need to purchase the Codex Space Marines, which is a required purchase if you want to go forward with Space Marines in Warhammer 40K.

The Death Guard in this box are a set Chaos Space Marine chapter, based around plague and disease. You can paint them anyway you like, and even design your own successor chapter of Death Guard. If you want to use them as Death Guard, they are already set with their own rules codex, the Death Guard Codex, and your options are more limited in terms of picking your own Chapter options than the Space Marines in the Dark Imperium box.

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Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium books included in the set. From left to right - Warhammer 40K Core Rulebook, Primaris Space Marines Primer, Death Guard Primer, Dark Imperium minatures construction guide.

If you want to get started in Warhammer 40K and you don't want to play with of the armies included in Games Workshop's starter sets, then you are able to purchase the core-rulebook separately and then buy a codex for the army that you wish to play and start collecting from there. The different starter option boxed sets are a great way to start though and provide a solid base to build up your experience and knowledge of Warhammer 40K before heading into the system on your own.

The Dark Imperium box also offers a lot if you don't want to go any further into Warhammer 40K. There isn't a huge variety of ways to play each of the two included forces, but they do offer some great games.

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Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium included accessories. The 8 page Warhammer 40K fold out rules reference, dice and ruler and Space Marine transfer sheets.

The Bottom Line:

The Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium boxed set is a great introduction to the world of Warhammer 40K. If it is your first time wargaming, then consider starting with one of the smaller boxes as they offer an easier learning curve into the hobby. But if you know this is for you, then the buy in is very worth it. The forces are reasonably balanced for experienced players, but beginners will find the Space Marines are easier to pilot. The forces aren't optimized for play away from the box set, so some work and further purchases will be required to take the hobby forward, but they are a great place to start. A great introduction to Warhammer 40K.


Get this game if:

You want to get into the Warhammer 40K world of tabletop wargaming.

You're brand new to the tabletop hobby, in which case get the First Strike or Know No Fear box set.

You want to reign down fire from your Space Marine gun line, or advance stoically into fire to close in close-combat with your enemies as the Death Guard.


Avoid this game if:

You've played Warhammer 40K 8th Edition before and you don't want to play either Space Marines or Death Guard, you can start directly through the core rulebook and army codex for your choice of faction.

You don't want to put miniatures together.



This copy of Warhammer 40K Dark Imperium used for this review was provided by Goblin Gaming and you can pick up a copy from them with a 20% discount off the RRP.

Goblin Gaming


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A Potts TechRaptor
| Senior Tabletop Writer

Adam is a Tabletop Specialist for TechRaptor. He started writing for TechRaptor in 2017 and took over as Tabletop Editor in 2019 and has since stood down… More about Adam