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Warhammer 40,000

Entry updated 1 April 2024. Tagged: Game.


Miniature models-based Wargame (1987). Games Workshop (GW). Designed by Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson, Gavin Thorpe, others.

While most tabletop Wargames have failed to compete against Videogames, Games Workshop's fantasy game Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1983 GW) designed by Bryan Ansell, Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestley and its science-fictional descendant Warhammer 40,000 have proved remarkably successful. An important reason for their survival has been their use of customizable miniature figures for game pieces, from which players are encouraged to design their own personal armies. Another widely acknowledged virtue of Warhammer 40,000 is its detailed and atmospheric background, though the sense of existential damnation associated with the game does on occasion mutate into an essentially juvenile obsession with war and destruction. Warhammer 40,000 is set in the Far Future of the 41st millennium, when a pseudo-medieval human empire rules most of the galaxy (see Medieval Futurism). This milieu is sometimes suggestive of that seen in Frank Herbert's novel Dune (1965), especially in its depiction of science and Technology as being essentially mystical in nature. The Imperium shares the stars with a variety of generally hostile Alien races, many of them based on fantasy archetypes, including Chaos Gods (psychic entities formed from the coagulation of sentient races' worst desires within the Warp, an alternate space that allows for Faster Than Light travel), the Eldar (the remnants of a sophisticated, declining older race) and the Tyranids (extragalactic predators intent on absorbing all life into their biological unity). Amongst humanity's armies are the Space Marines, biologically enhanced superhumans who wear Powered Armour, and the Inquisitors, Psionic defenders of the Imperial religion. The universe depicted in the game is essentially malevolent; reality itself has been corrupted by Chaos, and war is omnipresent. Strong religious and transcendental themes appear throughout, adding a sense of sacrificial redemption to the essential brutality of the game's setting.

The first edition, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, focuses on relatively small-scale battles within an overall plot designed by a Gamemaster. Most of the core background is defined in this edition and in two supplements, Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988 GW) designed by Rick Priestley, Bryan Ansell, and Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990 GW) designed by Rick Priestley, Bryan Ansell. The second edition of Warhammer 40,000 (1993 GW) designed by Andy Chambers converts it into a pure Wargame. Games are between two players, who deploy their opposing armies and attempt to achieve a predefined goal, most frequently gaining control of the local terrain. The third (1998), fourth (2004) and fifth (2008) editions take a similar approach to the second, though there are minor variations in the natures of the various Alien species which oppose the forces of the Imperium, the available Weapons, and other details of the milieu.

A large number of related games have been published. Epic 40,000 (2vols as Adeptus Titanicus, 1988 GW and Space Marine, 1989 GW; rev vt 2vols as Space Marine, 1994 and Titan Legions, 1994; rev 1997; rev vt Epic Armageddon, 2003) designed by Jervis Johnson, Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers uses smaller scale miniatures than the original Wargame, so that more strategic battles can be fought. This also allows for the introduction of units too large for Warhammer 40,000, such as the gigantic Mecha "Titans". There are various expansions associated with the second edition, including Armies of the Imperium (1991 GW) and Hive War (1995 GW) designed by Andy Chambers. Necromunda (1995 GW) designed by Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson describes skirmishes between rival gangs in the abandoned levels beneath a giant arcology, while the much praised Space Hulk (1989 GW; rev 1996; rev 2009) designed by Richard Halliwell deals with Space Marines investigating derelict spacecraft inhabited by aggressive aliens. Expansions for the former game include Outlanders (1996 GW) and Battles in the Underhive (1997 GW), while the latter work was extended by Deathwing (1990 GW) designed by Richard Halliwell, Jervis Johnson, Genestealer (1990 GW) designed by Halliwell, Johnson and Matt Forbeck and Space Hulk Campaigns (1991 GW) designed by Halliwell with Dean Bass and Simon Forrest. The Board Game Space Crusade (1990 GW / Milton Bradley [MB]) designed by Stephen Baker employs a similar scenario to that of Space Hulk, while its sequel, Advanced Space Crusade (1990 GW / MB; 1992 rev vt Tyranid Attack) designed by Jervis Johnson, focuses on boarding actions on Tyranid biological spacecraft. Eldar Attack (1991 GW / MB) and Mission Dreadnought (1991 GW / MB), both designed by Stephen Baker, are expansions for Space Crusade. Space Fleet (1991 GW) designed by Andy Jones and Jervis Johnson, and its much superior successor Battlefleet Gothic (1999 GW; rev 2007) designed by Andy Chambers, are space combat games using miniature starships; the gameplay is much influenced by historic forms of naval warfare. Armada (2005 GW) designed by Andy Chambers, Matt Keefe is an expansion for Battlefleet Gothic. Several large-scale board and counter Wargames have also been released: Battle for Armageddon (1992 GW), Warmaster (1993 GW), Doom of the Eldar (1993 GW) and Horus Heresy (1993 GW; rev 2010), all designed by Jervis Johnson. Chaos Attack (1992 GW) designed by Jervis Johnson is an expansion for Battle for Armageddon.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe has also proved to be a fertile source of inspiration for Role Playing Game designers. The first such work, Inquisitor (2001 GW) designed by Gavin Thorpe, is a mixture of miniatures-based Wargame and RPG in which players investigate threats to the Imperium. The well regarded Dark Heresy (2008 GW) designed by Owen Barnes, Kate Flack, Mike Mason also concentrates on Psionic Inquisitors who defend humanity against enemies both internal and external, but is structured as a more conventional RPG which focuses on investigations of occult conspiracies. The exploration-based Rogue Trader (2009 Fantasy Flight Games [FFG]) designed by Michael Hurley, Ross Watson, which deals with licensed merchants who operate beyond the bounds of the Imperium, and the more combat-oriented Deathwatch (2010 FFG) designed by Ross Watson, which concentrates on the Genetically Engineered Space Marines, are sequels to Dark Heresy. Black Crusade (2011 FFG) designed by Sam Stewart, Ross Watson is a further sequel which inverts the pattern established by its predecessors by devoting itself to the servants of Chaos. Hive of the Dead (2011), by C Z Dunn, is a Gamebook – intended to be the first of a series – which uses similar mechanics to those of Dark Heresy to represent an outbreak of Chaos in the eponymous Keep.

Various Videogames exist for the setting. The first to be released was Space Crusade (1992 Gremlin Graphics Software, Amiga, Amstrad, AtariST, C64, DOS, Spectrum), a direct conversion of the Board Game of the same name. The well received Space Hulk (1993 Electronic Arts, Amiga, DOS) designed by Nicholas Wilson, Kevin Shrapnell, Andrew Jones and its sequel Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels (1995 Key Game, 3DO; 1996 PS1, Saturn, Win) designed by Nicholas Wilson are real time games combining First Person Shooter and Computer Wargame elements, loosely based on the corresponding Wargame. The next three games in the franchise were all turn-based Computer Wargames: Final Liberation (1997 Holistic Design, Win) designed by Andrew Greenberg, Ken Lightner, based on the Epic 40,000 rules, Chaos Gate (1998 Random Games, Win) designed by Steven Clayton, which combines an involving linear storyline (see Interactive Narrative) with well crafted small unit tactics, and Rites of War (1999 DreamForge Entertainment, Win) designed by John McGirk, Brian Urbanek, Vernon Harmon, a game of strategy in which the player must lead the alien Eldar to victory over human Space Marines and a Tyranid "hive fleet". Fire Warrior (2003 Kuju Entertainment, PS2, Win) designed by David Millard is an atmospheric FPS with somewhat conventional gameplay in which the player takes the role of a member of an alien race, the Tau.

The most commercially successful of the Videogames so far, however, has been Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (2004 Relic Entertainment [RE], Win), an excellently crafted Real Time Strategy game with innovative systems for handling groups of units and morale and an interesting linear storyline which follows the struggle between a chapter of Space Marines and the corrupting forces of Chaos. This game has received three expansions: Winter Assault (2005 RE, Win), Dark Crusade (2006 RE, Win) and Soulstorm (2008 Iron Lore Entertainment, Win). The sequel, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (2009 RE, Win), blends elements drawn from turn-based Computer Wargames with the original's mechanics. Players can engage in competitive or cooperative online play or adopt the role of a Space Marine commander and attempt to cleanse an Imperial subsector of alien infestation. In the latter mode, strategic decisions are made turn by turn on planetary and galactic maps, triggering limited conflicts which are fought in real time. The overall impression is of a more credible simulation than the original, and one which is more readily classifiable as a Real Time Tactics game than a Real Time Strategy one. Chaos Rising (2010 RE, Win) and Retribution (2011 RE, Win) are expansions for Dawn of War II which extend its narrative. While the Dawn of War games concentrate on relatively complex strategic gameplay, the other recent Videogame in the franchise, Space Marine (2011 RE, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Raphael van Lierop, goes to the opposite extreme. This is an action game resembling a Third Person Shooter, but one which could perhaps more aptly be described as a Third Person Slasher; the player's character must hack their way through seemingly endless hordes of inhuman opponents.

Several hundred Warhammer 40,000 Tie novels have been written by a variety of authors. Perhaps the best evocations of the milieu can be found in four books by Ian Watson: Space Marine (1993) and the Inquisition War trilogy, consisting of Inquisitor (1990; vt Draco 1992) – the first novel Tied to the franchise to reach print – Harlequin (1994) and Chaos Child (1995). Many other novels in the various associated series do, however, display a rather relentless militarism (see Military SF). Short stories set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe appeared in Inferno! magazine (1997-2004), and can now be found in the online publication Hammer and Bolter (2010-current). The Warhammer Monthly anthology (1998-2004) printed associated Comic strips, including some by Pat Mills. In 2006 Boom! Studios began publishing new comics set in the milieu, the first of which was Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton's Damnation Crusade (2006-2007). Ultramarines (2010) is a computer-animated film featuring the eponymous Space Marines chapter, from a screenplay by Abnett. Games Workshop's long-running house magazine White Dwarf often includes nonfictional material related to the franchise. The company has also published a number of art books, each of which contains paintings and additional background information. Among the most memorable are Inquis Exterminatus (2000), Insignium Astartes (2002), The Horus Heresy (2004-2006 4vols), Xenology (2006) and The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer (2003), dealing respectively with the Inquisition, Space Marine regalia, the origins of the Imperium, nonhuman intelligences and the Imperial army.

Related works: Several other miniatures-based Wargames have been created for the setting, including the aerial combat game Aeronautica Imperialis (2007 Forge World [FW]) designed by Warwick Kinrade and Ultra Marines (1991 GW) designed by Andy Jones, which is essentially an introductory version of Space Hulk. Tactica Aeronautica (2007 FW) designed by Warwick Kinrade is an expansion for Aeronautica Imperialis, while Space Marine Assault (2003 GW) is similar to Ultra Marines. Another two games, Gorkamorka (1997 GW) designed by Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers, Gavin Thorpe, and Bommerz over da Sulphur River (1998 GW) designed by Andy Chambers, involve the brutish Ork race and include attempts at humour. Digganob (1998 GW) designed by Gavin Thorpe is an expansion for Gorkamorka. Lost Patrol (2000 GW) designed by Jake Thornton deals with a team of Space Marines who are attempting to reach their spacecraft on a jungle world infested with alien monsters.

Several Collectible Card Games have been published for the Warhammer 40,000 universe by Sabretooth Games (SG): Warhammer 40,000 Collectible Card Game (2001 SG), Horus Heresy (2003 SG) and Dark Millenium (2005 SG), all designed by Luke Peterschmidt and Ryan Miller. All three games have similar rules, involving a balance of tactical and strategic elements as players attempt to gain control of a single planet. Space Hulk: Death Angel (2010 FFG) designed by Corey Konieczka is a more conventional Card Game in which players cooperate to eradicate hostile aliens on board an abandoned spacecraft. Warhammer Warriors (1999) designed by Rick Priestley is a series of 6 books which can be used for player versus player combat games; each book contains images of and rules for one character. Available participants range from "Kal Jerico, Necromunda Bounty Hunter" in the first book to a "Tyranid Warrior" in the last. Squad Command (2007 RedLynx, NDS, PSP) designed by Leo Kihlman is a turn-based Computer Wargame somewhat resembling Chaos Gate. Glory In Death (2006 Razorback Developments, Phone) is similar to Squad Command, while Kill Team (2011 THQ, PS3, XB360) is an action game in which a group of Space Marines must fight off an Ork invasion. [NT]


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