Tips and Advice for Your First Warhammer 40K Tournament

Looking to attend your first Warhammer 40K tournament? Here are some useful tips for first-time 40K tournament attendees.

Tips and Advice for Your First Warhammer 40K Tournament
An intrepid band of Serberys Raiders from the Adeptus Mechanicus face off against a tide of greenskins at the Rocky Mountain Open 2024.

I recently attended my first Warhammer 40,000 tournament: The Frontline Gaming Rocky Mountain Open 2024, held at the Adams Country Fairgrounds in Brighton, CO on March 16-17, 2024.

Like many Warhammer 40K players, I've mostly played casual games with family, friends, and my local player group. I started playing 40K (and the Adeptus Mechanicus) in late 9th Edition, and played around a dozen games each of both 9th and 10th before deciding to take the plunge and attend my first tournament.

I had a great experience at the event, and I'd heartily recommend tournaments for first-time attendees. It's a great opportunity to learn more about the game, meet lots of like-minded 40K players, and to generally get a lot of 40K games squeezed into a two-day period.

Now that I've had the chance to look back at the experience, I thought it would be useful to share some of the tips and advice that I found useful before, during, and after the tournament, from the perspective of a first-time tournament attendee.

Please note: I hope the tips and advice presented here are useful to everyone, but I've written them from the perspective of a largely casual 40K player looking to try a tournament for the first time. I don't cover any optimized list-building for specific factions, or ways to maximize your chances of winning, as there are tons of better resources elsewhere for that. My focus was entirely on getting the most out of the experience, meeting lots of new people, playing a lot of 40K, learning more about the game, and having fun. If you have any tips or comments of your own to share, please add them to this post!

Now that the context has been covered, here are the tips and suggestions that I found to be very helpful in my first 40K tournament!

Have a positive mindset

  • It’s your first tournament! Don’t expect to win, expect to learn.
  • Shelve that imposter syndrome! Everyone is there to have fun.
  • Greet your opponent with a smile and a handshake!
  • Mention that this is your first tournament to every opponent. You'll find many players are in the same boat, and it helps set expectations for both players.
  • Always shake hands when the game starts and after it ends.
  • Communicate your intent: “I’m moving this unit here so it can have LOS and can shoot that unit - would you agree?”
  • Celebrate your opponent’s success!
  • Always ask for feedback at the end of the game: What can I do better? What would you have done in my shoes?
  • Exchange contact info! I made many new acquaintances, and it's a great way to expand the pool of players you play with.
  • Try to stay and play all of your games! Dropping out early might mean some players don’t have opponents for a round, so I'd encourage you to play all your games.

Study the core rules

  • Have a strong grasp of the Warhammer 40K core rules.
    • You should ideally know 80-90% of the core rules by heart, especially all the weapon keywords and all the various permutations of hits and wounds (i.e., critical wounds, critical hits, devastating wounds, sustained hits, lethal hits, etc.)
  • Read the Warhammer 40K rules commentary at least once, a document that provides much-needed clarity to common mistakes / misinterpretations of core rules and abilities.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Leviathan Tournament Companion, which provides some great tournament advice for organizers and players alike.
  • Download the 40K app (esp. The reference section) [Links: Apple / Android]
  • Use the 40K app Favorites and Command Bunker features! They're both great ways to keep all of the rules, enhancements, datasheets, and stratagems for your army list easily accessible during the game.
  • Keep the 40K core rules handy during the tournament, and refer to them often! (In book form*, printed out, in the 40K app, or in PDF form on a tablet or phone).

*The physical $29.95 Games Workshop 40K rule book is overpriced and too small IMHO—you’re far better off printing out the 40K core rules PDF, using the app, or viewing the PDF on a phone / tablet.

Know your faction

  • You should ideally know—by heart—all of your faction rules.
  • Make sure you know the unit data cards in your tournament list as much as possible.
  • Don’t worry about the units not in your tournament list!
  • Practice running your tournament list multiple times before the tournament.
  • Resist changing your list / adding new units close to list submission date.
    • My experience: I added Skorpius Disintegrator tanks and a Vindicaire Assassin right before the list submission deadline of the tournament, so I needed to constantly refer to datacards for their stats during the tournament, which slowed down my games!

Build a balanced list

  • First tournament: Bring units you have and enjoy playing!
  • Avoid “Chasing the Meta” on your first tournament.
  • That said—and in my opinion—for your first tournament it helps to bring an army list that gives you a few effective play options into different army types, rather than skewing your list too far in one direction. So I would suggest you bring along a few units that fit the roles listed below:
    • Anti-infantry/beasts: High volume of fire, weapons with the [blast] and/or [anti-infantry] keyword.
    • Anti-tank/monster: Weapons with high AP (AP-3/-4/-5), high damage, and maybe abilities that do well against vehicles and monsters.
    • Objective monkey units: Units that are cheap, fast, and have at least one ranged weapon for completing some secondary missions. Useful abilities here would be scout, infiltrators, and lone operative.
    • Damage dealing units: A few units that can dish out serious damage when needed. For example: For AdMech, our main options are Breachers with Heavy Arc Rifles (ranged) and Kastelan Robots with Twin Fists (for melee).
  • Use tools like New Recruit and the 40K app to build your list.

What to bring

  • Your army!
  • Know the paint standards: Some tournaments are “3 colors and something on the base” while others require more. Read the player pack!
  • Use a suitable container for your models: Leviathan box is good, more expensive options available (like magnetic shelves, carts, etc.)
  • 30-60 D6 dice, good assortment of other dice for wounds and buffs/debuffs.
  • Tape measures, rulers, movement aids.
  • Pencil and notepad (For taking notes, jotting down contact info, etc.)
  • Faction codex (or 40K app, printed detachment/army rules)
    40K rules (or 40K app, PDF, printed rules)
  • Comfortable shoes.
  • Water and dry snacks, like protein / granola bars—something ideally non-sticky so you don’t leave goop on your (or your opponent’s) models.
  • Repair kit: Plastic glue, sticky putty, core paints, paintbrush, knife, etc.

Make a “what to remember when” checklist

  • Create a checklist—broken down by turns and phases—that reminds you:
    • When to use faction abilities / army rules
    • When to use key unit abilities
    • When / where / how to use key stratagems
    • When / where / how to use enhancements
  • Things (as an AdMech player) I routinely forgot:
    • Army rule multiple games
    • Necromechanic enhancement
    • Roll to gain CP on a 5+ when stratagem used on some vehicles
    • To use Vindicaire 50% of my games
    • Scout move at the start of games
    • Kyria Draxus' abilities
      • +1 hit vs Xenos
      • Grenades keyword

Know your terrain

  • Will the terrain be player-placed or already decided by the tournament format?
  • Many new players (myself included) struggle with player-placed terrain.
  • Poorly-placed terrain can give your opponent a huge advantage.
  • Read the player pack for your tournament - it should have a section on terrain.
  • Study the 40K rules section on terrain and cover (pages 44-52), then read through the terrain section of the player pack.
  • Ask your opponent for help / advice with placement.

Deployment is critical

  • Poor deployment often can mean a game is lost before it even starts!
  • A tournament is a great place to learn about deployment.
  • Lots of good resources online about deployment.
  • My advice for first-time tournament players:
    • Deploy as if you’ll always be going second
    • Hide your valuable units behind terrain
    • Remember that infantry and beasts can go through ruin walls (See 40K rules p.48)
    • Put slowest units close to the center of the map OR close to their objectives
    • Put faster units out on the edges
    • Deploy your most deadly units last: In the case of AdMech, I always deploy my Arc Breachers and Kastelan Robots last
    • Put some units in reserves, and try to have at least one deep strike unit

Ask for advice

  • Tournaments are the absolute best venue to learn how to become a better player!
  • Ask your opponents for advice / suggestions: Most players will happily coach you, or give you their opinion on what you should do in a given situation.
  • Don’t be afraid to call for a judge in tricky rule situations.
  • Seek out other players running the same faction as you to share advice and tips.

Prepare for the whims of the dice gods

  • Warhammer 40,000 is a dice-based game, so prepare yourself for the fickle dice gods to abandon you (or sweep you to victory).
  • My experience:
    • Vs Necrons: Opponent rolled mostly 5s and 6s for the last half of the game, making statistically easy-to-kill units much more durable (i.e., Kastelan Robots struggled to kill a few Necron Wraiths in close combat)
    • Vs Orks: Bad dice-rolling streaks are ugly, but even more so when rolling saves against dozens of Ork melee attacks
  • Maximize your chances / minimize the RNG:
    • Only split fire when you really need to!
    • When you really need/want an objective, make sure you commit enough resources to take it
    • Keep units in cover as much as possible! Much easier to avoid random rolls when you don’t have many units rolling for saves

Double-check your screening

  • Specifically for units that can deep strike and have special rules that let them appear within 3” of your units - ask before the game starts!
  • Reinforcements / deep strike / deep strike denial are all rules and abilities that can confuse new players, so pay extra attention to your opponents—and ask questions!
  • My experience:
    • Units/models with 12” deep strike denial abilities (like the AdMech Technoarchaeologist) are extremely useful
    • Always measure the distance with a tape measure—twice to be sure!
    • Units with large bases—like Onager Dunecrawlers—can also be incredibly useful here at screening out enemy deep strikes
    • Stringing out multi-model units to screen your backfield also helpful (see resources online about this)
  • I lost several games due to units being able to sneak into my backfield near my home objective.

Pay it forward

  • Good sportsmanship is a must, and do your best to play by those principles.
  • Treat others how you’d like to be treated! Always try to be patient, kind, and understanding, especially with new players.
  • If you do have a disagreement with a player, call a judge! Much better to get an impartial expert observer to decide the issue than to waste valuable time arguing.
  • Acknowledge and have some grace RE: exhaustion / stress after playing multiple games of 40K over two days. Both players will be exhausted during game six on the last day!
  • At the end of the day: We’re all here to have fun! If it’s your first tournament, go back and read the section about having a positive mindset at the start of this article to see what’s important.

My own experience

  • Attended the Rocky Mountain Open 2024 - My first ever tournament (I was sick for my first two attempts in 2023).
  • Completed six full games, all opponents were kind and helpful.
  • Fantastic opportunity to play against armies you’ve never played before: I played vs Orks, Deathguard, Votann, Tyranids.
  • Went 0-6, won an “Indomitable” dice award for staying and playing through all six games.
  • Was a great experience, and absolutely recommend it!
  • Best way to learn 40K and meet new friends.

More resources

Here are some of the resources that helped me get up to speed with 40K and inspired me enough to try a tournament.

  • Wargames Live is a great way to see what a tournament is really like, very educational live streams of real 40K tournaments. Joe is an amazing host/teacher, also has a great Discord channel.
  • Art of War 40K provides expert-level advice and feedback, skewed more towards competitive play if you want to go in that direction.
  • Play on Tabletop produces some amazing Warhammer 40K video battle reports, and probably had the highest production quality of any 40K channel on YouTube.
  • Tabletop Tactics is another excellent 40K video battle reports resource, and their production values are also very high.
  • Northern Knights Gaming is another 40K battle reports channel; a host named Justin plays AdMech often.

I'd also recommend the Warhammer Competitive and Adeptus Mechanicus (for AdMech players) subreddits, as well as the AdMech unofficial Discord channel. Seek out similar resources for your own factions!