A Recipe for the Perfect 40k Game

40k cauldron

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Come and join me companions for I do know what is the funnest of them all.

Too long have we as a community suffered. We eternally dredge through the muck and mire of text that Games Workshop spoon feeds us in order to fulfill an unsatiable desire to find the very thing every gamer around the world seeks. The perfect game.


Now I know not every 40k player plays the game, nor does every 40k player wish for the same gratifying game experience, however deep down in the very essence of our nerdy being, we are all the same. We crave the thrill of an epic fantasy setting where we can be whisked away from reality to kill every single living organism that irks us with the roll of a die and emperor be damned that is exactly what 40k does. The rules may not be perfect, but intent of the game is crystal clear. 40k is a game that relinquishes all control to the players, and is designed to be customized for an optimal experience. Which brings me to…..


The first most important ingredient for the perfect game of 40k is to find a like minded opponent. Now, I refuse to get into all the pettiness that comes with labels. So i’m going to let you in on a little secret. People are rational, understanding, and fallible. I firmly believe that the perfect game of 40k starts with communication. Sure, there may be some differences but if you doubt your ability to find a like-minded opponent then you may have to look inwardly at yourself. You don’t always have control over the people around you, but you certainly do have a large ability to control yourself. Maybe you don’t want to play Eldar (understandable) communicate that to your opponent and find a middle ground. Don’t like playing unpainted armies? Ask your opponent to play with as many as they can, after all not everyone has the time or skills to make their army beautiful. Remember, you can always pass on this rule to a third party. Tournaments, and narrative events come to mind. After all those are in essence the gathering of a bunch of like-minded individuals who seek a similar gaming experience.


Ok, now that you have a willing vict…I mean opponent, you can get on with pre-game rituals. During the pivotal list-exchange the perfect game requires matched, diverse, unique armies Whether in an ITC tournament or playing in your friend’s garage there is a reason why some people spend hours writing lists for their army, and why the term “net-list” is used with such a negative connotation. We all secretly want to be unique little snowflakes floating in the wind and that is most directly seen in list-building. If both lists are unequal there is a risk of someone getting steamrolled and losing the game by turn 3, and I don’t think that’s fun for anyone.

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War

If you aren’t trying to copy this scene in your game. You might be doing it wrong

Their are X key ingredients that happen in a game of 40k that simply make everyone around the table stop and marvel. These ingredients may not all be necessary for a great game of 40k, but are a requirement for the perfect game.

  1. Flawed deployment: The perfect game of 40k wants vital units misplaced, and deployment errors. A conservative deployment is a boring deployment. Basically if the seize the initiative roll is closely watched by all parties involved your game is going to get off to a good start. Keep in mind if one player seizes the initiative and proceeds to table the other, then obviously both lists aren’t as evenly matched as thought.
  2. The terrain factor: The perfect game of 40k wants a lot of different terrain pieces. It wants hills, towers, ruins, dangerous toxic pools, and whatever else both players decide to throw onto a table. In addition these pieces of terrain need to be able to fit models, and need to be able to be interacted with by both players. No one wants to weave models through a forest terrain piece holding an objective poking themselves, and pulling the terrain up with every inch of movement. I would like to point out, that the ITC Square-building is a perfect example of a fun piece of terrain. It is large, multi-leveled, detachable at the base, and cheap.

    bad terrain setup

    This table needs some work

  3. Even phase distribution: There is a reason why the psychic and shooting phases are so despised, and in my opinion it’s because certain players spend SO much time on them. The perfect game of 40k wants all phases of the game equally represented. There needs to be key movements, key shots fired, key psychic powers cast, and key assaults made.
  4. A photo finish: The perfect game of 40k wants to go on to turn 6 at least. I feel like the most fun moments in 40k are the conclusion of a critical swing turn where both players are exhausted, and emotionally drained but at the same time anxious about the outcome. Did they both do enough to secure the win? No dice roll causes more drama then the final one.
  5. The Challenge: Lastly, challenges are an important part of what makes 40k fun. They need to be pivotal, equally matched, and last at least 2 rounds of combat. Often times, certain models can only be featured in challenges, and the perfect game wants them there. Which brings us to…

Image by Jorsch

Character representation. One reason many players fall in love with 40k is the story, and the characters that drive it. The pefect game of 40k doesn’t have “HQ taxes” or unnamed “beat-stick chapter masters”. After all, no one wants to read about some group of random guardsmen cowering in a chimera with a commander or some unknown space marine riding on a bike hammering his foes while blocking lascannon shots with his shield… On second thought that sounds badass (Black Library the ball is in your court). However i’m sure you get the picture. Marneus Calgar versus The Avatar of Khaine is certainly a more compelling match-up to set the stage for an epic Face-Off challenge.


Finally the perfect game of 40k needs some help from both players. Both players have a critical role they need to play in the game and sadly it goes against every basic gamer instinct ever honed since the dawn of time. Putting the dice into the game. You may have heard the expression “taking dice out of the equation” well, guess what? The game was designed for dice to be THE equation. Rolling dice is fun, and each side of the dice represents possible unpredictable outcomes. Predictable outcomes are boring, just ask TV show analysts. I feel like the heart of 40k is in it’s unpredictability. I mean no one has a “my warp spiders rolled average dice” story. But everyone has “That one guardsmen that could” or a “My grot killed Calgar!” -esque story.


So there you have it. Was there any ingredients I missed? What do you find most fun about the game of 40k? Before you scroll down to comment I want to leave you with one thought.

Not every game of 40k has the potential to be “The Perfect Game” but, the perfect game can be found anywhere.




About Petey Pab

Aspiring 40k analyst, tournament reporter and Ultramarines enthusiast, Petey Pab only seeks to gather more knowledge about the game of 40k and share it with as many people as he can in order to unite both hobbyists and gamers. We are, after all, two sides of the same coin.

13 Responses to “A Recipe for the Perfect 40k Game”

  1. Lord Krungharr June 5, 2016 6:10 am #

    I would support a rule that all armies include a named character. Especially if it’s Kharn!

    • donthemagnificent June 5, 2016 8:15 am #

      And for competitive play, I would support that no named characters can be utilized.

      • Threllen June 6, 2016 5:16 am #

        So armies like Tau and Eldar that don’t need named HQs can be even better? That’ll balance things. You must work at GW with that keen sense for balance.

  2. westrider June 5, 2016 11:57 am #

    A pinch of nutmeg often helps, too.

    • Invader June 5, 2016 2:53 pm #

      I’m not going to lie, it took me way too long to understand that joke… I felt pretty bad afterwards…

      • westrider June 5, 2016 4:13 pm #

        My taste for humour that is simultaneously difficult to get from many perspectives and yet just a stupid pun or something once you get it is not one of my better features, I will admit.

        • Invader June 6, 2016 3:29 pm #

          I wouldn’t worry about it too much, one of my best friends has the same sense of humor. 🙂

          • westrider June 6, 2016 8:26 pm

            Honestly, my main reaction was just that I was glad that someone got it at all 🙂

  3. Threllen June 6, 2016 5:19 am #

    GW needs to come out with more codices that require their characters to challenge. By forcing everyone to challenge we will all be able to share in the wonderfulness that is challenges!

    Also, every model needs to be a character. That way even units without a sergeant can participate in challenges. And we can use Look Out Sir on anyone. The best mechanics 40k has to offer.

  4. Vercingatorix June 6, 2016 7:33 am #

    Macbeth is OP in challenges. He can’t be killed by a man born from a woman.

    • jpwyrm June 6, 2016 9:13 am #

      Yeah, but Chuck Norris wasn’t born, he just is… so much for Macbeth 😉

    • westrider June 6, 2016 9:54 am #

      Yeah, but Shadowsun and Celestine are hard counters 😉

  5. Marcus M. August 20, 2016 6:45 am #

    I actually don’t really agree with the premise. List-building is a big part of the fun for me, and honestly unless I build my opponent’s list, I can’t expect them to be “evenly matched” most of the time.

    Further, he talks about phase distribution and how it’s no fun for people when a player takes more time in a single phase than other players do, but what is a Tau player supposed to do? They have no psykers and not a single dedicated assault unit in their codex. Movement and shooting are basically the only 2 phases they have. And Eldar are all about the psykers. Denying them the ability to have a longer psyker phase than half the armies in 40k that don’t have psykers at all is silly.

    And finally, I also disagree with him promoting the idea of keeping it random. He disparages the idea of “taking the dice out of the equation”, but I’m not sure that 1. He understands the expression, and 2. That he appreciates competition.

    Some people want a medal/ribbon whether they do well or not. I find this ludicrous. I come from an era where we didn’t get participation awards, and winning meant something. As far as “taking dice out of the equation”, it normally means putting a lot of thought and redundancy into your list building so that of the X number of goals your list has, it would take an amazing streak of awful luck in order for you to fail to accomplish one of them. As an example, my psyker lists are often built around 1 or 2 specific powers, and so I set them up with enough redundancy to make sure my chance of failing to get the powers I need is only around 5%. That keeps my “losses due to luck” at slightly less than that(because I COULD still win without it), so I will typically only lose around 1 in 25 games due to bad luck. Any other losses are just me getting outplayed/outbuilt, and that’s precisely how I like it. That is what it means to “take the dice out of the equation”. It’s a result of skill, strategy, and critical thinking.


    By the time you’re swapping lists with your opponent and rolling for sides, I consider 50% of the game over already. Some people might not like listbuilding, and so they prefer to netlist or whatever. I don’t hold that against them, as my personal lists I build are generally at the higher end of “netlists”. But that doesn’t mean that we should attempt to take that part of the game away from the people who DO enjoy listbuilding and design, which overall is what I feel like this guy is promoting.

    Also, the idea that he is promoting people just “not wanting to play against Eldar” as being understandable is irksome. I’m always willing to swap armies with my opponent outside of a tournament setting in order to play a game, without swapping lists(so they have to make their own instead of using mine), but expecting your opponent to sell off his current army and/or buy a different one in order to play with you is silly. To be honest, however, I’ve never had a single person take me up on swapping armies, and most people seem to find the proposal condescending, but it DOES quickly end the debate about whether or not it’s OP, and I’ve never had an opponent refuse to play after making the offer to swap armies. I think it’s likely that they refuse the army swap idea out of a fear that they’d lose with the army after they just threw a fit about it being OP. Eldar can be beaten by every other competitive faction, and if you’re playing a non-competitive faction, you should be complaining about more than just Eldar.

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