Getting Started: Astra Militarum

At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are.

Who are the Astra Militarum?

“Astra Miliwhat? Never mind what your recruitment papers say, you’re in the Imperial Guard. If you survive your first thirteen hours of combat I might even bother to learn your name. Now stow that sorry look and grab your kit from the quartermaster before I put a boot to your backside.”

Welcome to the 40K faction for normal men and women doing normal, relatable things, like fighting slathering alien monsters with nothing but an underpowered laser rifle and a fat tin of gumption. The downtrodden Guard soldier might not be the galaxy’s mightiest warrior, but a whole platoon? Backed up with heavy artillery and giant, rumbling tanks? That’s a whole lot of boom, and it’s your job to unload it into the enemy. Or die trying. Or both.

Probably both.

Before you throw on a flak jacket and take to the stars to hold the line against the Imperium’s many foes, you need to pass basic training. That’s what this article is here for. If you’ve stumbled upon this article with absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, may I suggest our guide to getting started with 9th edition Warhammer 40K. Conversely if you’re after a deep dive into the Astra Militarum from a competitive standpoint, you’ll want to check out Start Competing: Astra Militarum.

The Ankran 107th. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Army Strengths

  • Effective shooting and lots of it
  • Tons of bodies for cheap
  • Huge variety of units means being able to present a threat to any type of foe
  • Flexible core troops
  • Big, rugged tanks covered in heavy weapons

Army Weaknesses

  • Your infantry might be plentiful and cheap, but that means they die in droves
  • Poor melee choices, reducing your ability to participate in the fight phase.
  • Likewise your chonky hard-to-hide tanks are going to attract a lot of attention from enemy guns
  • Majority Ballistic Skill of 4+ to hit means you suddenly get very inaccurate if your enemy inflicts hit penalties on you
  • There are a couple of units which sound hilarious on paper but are tragically ineffective on the table

Sergeant “Ripper” Jackson. Credit: Rockfish
Sergeant “Ripper” Jackson. Credit: Rockfish

The Books

The Essentials

Assuming you have a copy of the 40k Core Book, the only other book you need is Codex: Astra Militarum. This covers all the rules for any of the Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard units you can buy from the main GW website. Be advised that at the time of writing there will be a 9th edition of the Codex coming in the next year or two. Both the 40K book and the codex have FAQs and errata documents to update them to 9th edition, the current versions of which you can find here.

If your gaming group build their armies using Power Level, you’ll want to download the 2020 Power Rating update. If your fellow gamers prefer to use the more detailed but also much more balanced points system, you’ll want to pick up a copy of the current Munitorum Field Manual. This book is very much one of those products where it can make sense to split the cost with your mates, since it covers the points for every faction (barring those whose Codexes are the new 9th edition ones).

Other Relevant Books

Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good

This book dramatically expands what you can do with some extra rules for making your own regiments, using tank aces, and adding loads more depth to your elite option for core troops: the Tempestus Scions. For more info, see our rules breakdown on the Guard stuff from this book here. Note that everything here will likely be rendered obsolete when the 9th edition of the main Codex comes out.

Imperial Armour Compendium for Forge World Kits

Forge World do all sorts of extra stuff for the Guard, mostly tank variants and Krieg cavalry. Honestly it’s probably best to check this out when you’ve become more familiar with the game, and with making miniatures, since Forge World’s stuff is beautiful, but really not beginner friendly. It’s mentioned here only for the sake of completeness.

Extremely not mandatory but very inspiring reading

You’re going to need to paint a lot of models for this army, and while they’re not individually difficult to paint, you’ll end up painting a lot of the same flak-armoured thing. It’s a labour of love, and a great way to stay keen is to read some Imperial propaganda NUANCED LITERATUREDan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series is widely loved, and improves as the series develops. A personal favourite of mine is Guy Haley’s imaginatively titled novel Baneblade, a book that outshines its dumb moniker by having solid characters and extremely satisfying tanky goodness. It’s currently OOP but still available as an e-book on Kindle and direct from Black Library. Its equally imaginatively titled sequel Shadowsword was also good fun, and resulted in me painting a shadowsword. Case in point, I’m sure you’ll agree. My hope is that Haley will make it a trilogy with the hopefully upcoming [Citadel Kit Name] Add-on Sale.

Valhallan Leman Russ. Credit: SRM

Starting Your Army

Like most 40K factions, there are many ways of theming a Guard infantry army. You might want hordes of expendable infantry fixing bayonets and dying like heroes, you might be a complete tank nut who wants to paint as few troops as possible, or you might be keen to do an elite force of special forces Tempestus Scions. The thing is, all of those things are doable but not exactly beginner friendly (because they involve, respectively, a horrifying number of dudes to paint, dire board control, and a silly degree of system mastery to be effective). Because of that, I will henceforth assume that you are building the classic, balanced force.

Q: What’s the difference between Cadian Shock Troopers and Catachan Jungle Fighters? I’ve seen both in my local Warhammer shop.

A: Unlike most armies, the Imperial Guard have multiple kits for the same unit. This is because different regiments have different uniforms. You’ll see some in the photos in this article. They all work mostly the same in-game, so this is largely an aesthetic choice on the part of the player (competitive gamers are screaming at me right now, since the different regimental doctrines do genuinely make a difference, but big picture: they’re still cheap infantry who die a lot). Because of the way the regimental doctrines rules work, most people will build their whole army (or at least whole detachments) to look like it’s all from the same regiment. Cadian and Catachan soldiers are available in plastic, which makes them the default choices. The only other regiment currently available from GW are the Steel Legion, and even then, only the basic troops are available – and in metal, no less. Old school.

Since collecting a whole army of metal or resin infantry is also kind of a niche thing at this point, the rest of this article assumes you are collecting plastic Cadian kits, which despite being about 20 years old and having some adorable grumpy faces going on, are still surprisingly serviceable models (although let it be known that if GW release an updated kit with some women on the sprue and less crazy-huge shoulder pads, I will be windmill slamming the pre-order button). Of course if you like dudes with sacks of footballs for arms then you might be collecting Catachans, but since they don’t have a Start Collecting box, I’m sort of ignoring them for the rest of this article.

Leman Russ Executioner. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Which box to buy?

There are two contenders here: the Start Collecting box and the Defence Force box. If you’re wanting to start out small, the Start Collecting! Astra Militarum box gives you about 335 points’ worth of dudes for £55, at a ~£28 discount over buying the stuff separately, and all the minis in that box are things you’ll want. Since the Commissar and the Leman Russ battle tank in that box can, if desired, be fielded as an HQ unit, this is a legal patrol detachment in a box, albeit one that’s too small to stand on its own. I’d recommend this kit either as an add-on to an existing force, or as a way to try out painting both some infantry and a tank to see if you enjoy making 40K’s answer to green army men.

Personally, I actually think the best starting point is the Cadian Defence Force box (also available in roid flavour). This gives you a small functional ~630 point army for £110, at a £47.5 discount over individual kits. Here’s what you get:

  • A company/platoon commander
  • A command squad
  • Two Cadian infantry squads
  • A heavy weapon squad
  • A Leman Russ battle tank
  • A chimera armoured personnel carrier

The commander comes in the command squad box and is most useful to you when fielded as a company commander (the HQ option in your Codex) rather than a platoon commander (the Elite option). He shouts orders at the infantry, enabling various in-game effects to increase their firepower, survivability, or manoeuverability.

The command squad offer you the option to gain some additional special weapons and various other specialist dudes. I rather enjoy having things like a medic around just for the flavour of it, but this box is also important because it’s got some weapons in it (specifically, the heavy flamer, meltagun and plasma gun) that you won’t find in the regular infantry sprue.

The infantry squad is your mainstay unit. Get ready to paint a lot of these dudes. They’re used to hold objectives, shoot people in the face, and also, to get callously mown down by the enemy. Hence needing a lot of the poor bastards. They’re allowed to take a heavy weapon in each squad, but their kit doesn’t come with the big guns by default – see the Sneaky Build Tips below. You’ll eventually want three of these so as to get a working battalion detachment – something which you could achieve by picking up the Start Collecting box and, oh no, how unfortunate – you’ll end up with a second battle tank. What a pity. More on that later.

The heavy weapon squad is a lot of boom being toted by six extremely killable dudes. For this reason, many people build them as mortar teams so they can hide behind cover and bombard the enemy in safety, though a powerful stratagem from the Greater Good has created more of a place for other types as a high risk, high reward first strike unit. This kit will put a bunch of useful heavy weapon components in your spare bitz box; see the Sneaky Build Tips below.

The Leman Russ battle tank is the dumpy AK47 of the tank world. It comes with a bajilion weapon options, but either the standard battle cannon or the demolisher cannon are the best choices for the main turret gun. Multi-melta sponsons are also particularly entertaining against enemy armour and heavy infantry, but cost a bunch more points than a pair of good ol’ heavy bolters. For the hull gun, I tend to favour the lascannon due to the builds that make sense on the infantry squads (again, see the Sneaky Build Tips).

The Chimera is GW’s hilarious parody of America’s Bradley AFV, which is pretty much a self-satirizing vehicle in the first place. It’s a transport tank covered in anti-infantry guns, and is nifty for lobbing an infantry squad at distant objectives without them being as in danger of being blown away before they reach their destination. This is a useful thing for smaller-medium armies in particular.

Sneaky build tips

#1: more boom for your buck

The heavy weapon squad kit included in the Defence Force box comes with all the heavy weapons, but obviously, only the bases and men for three heavy weapon teams. But there’s a way to make these components go further using the wonderfully versatile missile launcher. These things are an empty tube that doesn’t weigh much, so it looks fine if you combine them with the standing guys you have in the regular infantry squads. If you’re feeling extra rules-compliant you could order yourself a set of three 60mm bases. This means you can have a heavy weapon squad and also a missile launcher in each of your infantry units.

#2: screw the command and heavy weapon squads, I want a third squad

This is very much a sidegrade, but it’s an option. The heavy weapon squad and the command squad are essentially 6+4=10 men and lots of useful components. You don’t have to build them as intended. Instead, you can just mix those bits with your regular infantry bits to make three squads. This has the added coolness of mixing up your poses a little, so you can have guardsmen kneeling and firing their lasguns, and so on.

Your Initial Army List

If you were to get the Cadian Defence Force box, the Start Collecting! Astra Militarum box, and a sentinel for a total of ~£190, that’s an instant 1000 point army, including £75 of free miniatures thanks to the discounts in those two big boxes. There’s loads of different weapons and equipment you could arm your stuff with; as an example, here’s one way that might look as an army list when using sneaky build tip #1 as described above:

Battalion detachment, 1000 points

HQ: Company commander (laspistol & power sword) 40pts
HQ: Leman Russ tank commander (battle cannon, lascannon, multi-melta sponsons, heavy stubber) 245pts

TROOPS: Infantry squad (vox operator, missile launcher, flamer) 75pts
TROOPS: Infantry squad (vox operator, missile launcher, grenade launcher) 75pts
TROOPS: Infantry squad (vox operator, missile launcher, grenade launcher) 75pts

ELITES: Command squad (vox operator, medic, meltagun, heavy flamer) 54pts
ELITES: Commissar (bolt pistol, power sword) 25pts

FAST ATTACK: Armoured Sentinel (missile launcher) 50pts

HEAVY SUPPORT: Heavy weapons squad (3 mortars) 51pts
HEAVY SUPPORT: Leman Russ battle tank (battle cannon, lascannon, multi-melta sponsons, heavy stubber) 220pts

DEDICATED TRANSPORT: Chimera (multi-laser, heavy bolter, heavy stubber) 90pts

Steel Legion Infantry Squad. Credit: Dan “SexCannon” Boyd

How This Initial Force Plays

The two battle tanks hang out together so that the tank commander can issue orders to themselves or the other tank, and can use the inspired tactics stratagem to issue an order to the second tank if need be. If you’re using the Cadian doctrine, your Pound Them to Dust! order allows you to re-roll the number of shots you get with your turret weapons, which combines nicely with Cadians natively re-rolling 1s to hit if they haven’t moved. If you can find a spot with good visibility, this can be rather entertaining. At the same time, don’t sacrifice getting a good line on the most important targets if it means moving. It can also be entertaining to catch people off guard by sacrificing a turn of shooting to redeploy the tanks using the Full Throttle! order, while Strike and Shroud helps take the edge off the inevitable deluge of fire these big steel bastards will attract.

The company commander and commissar will be hanging out with the infantry in the midfield getting horribly massacred whenever you are either not in cover or hiding out of line of sight. The commissar greatly reduces your morale losses, and the company commander can be issuing orders to help you either redeploy or amp up your infantry’s firepower. Use this to overwhelm squishy targets with the Front Rank, Fire! Second Rank, Fire! order. If there are no squishy targets, then use the orders that’ll help your dice rolls to hit or wound with your missile launchers on more armoured targets. As much as these guys suck in melee, don’t be afraid of charging nearly-dead units to finish overwhelming them with sheer weight of numbers; 9th edition means moving around the table, and if you become too defensively minded it gets very hard to score.

Fitting that autocannon inside the chimera must’ve been a challenge. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Speaking of moving around the table, your third infantry squad can bomb around in the chimera trying to get some semblance of board control and getting after more distant objectives, probably supported by the sentinel, while by contrast the mortar squad sit in the backfield, ideally out of sight, pounding away at the squishiest targets you can find. Your opponent will almost certainly drop some infiltrating/teleporting gits down to wipe these dudes out, and that’s fine. You distracted the enemy and all you’ve lost is a 51 point unit.

You have a lot of firepower with this army, but absolutely no melee or psychic defence, and you’d be surprised how quickly your infantry can evaporate. That’s just the way it is, private. If you’re keen for some psychic shenanigans, a primaris psyker costs the same as the sentinel, so that’s an easy substitution.

Where next?

The initial 1K gives you a solid core to build from, but given how versatile infantry squads are, you really can’t have too many. Of course, there are also the specialists to consider. Bullgryns are an OK melee beat stick, and on the other end of the spectrum, we haven’t even touched on Tempestus Scions, who even have their own Start Collecting box. Two boxes of five Tempestus Scions can be split out into a small patrol detachment by fielding them as a five man squad, a Tempestor Prime, and a four man command squad. Having them as a separate detachment will give them access to the special Militarum Tempestus doctrines in Psychic Awakening: the Greater Good (again, that stuff will probably be incorporated into the 9th edition Guard codex when that comes out). For an extra £10 over the cost of buying 10 dudes you can get their start collecting box, which will add a second commissar and a taurox APC; whether you find those two to be a useful addition will depend on your play style; personally I rather enjoy having access to grav chute insertions, which of course won’t be a thing if I’m sticking them in a taurox.

With Tempestus Scions, the thing to know is that they have increased firepower and accuracy, but not much more in the way of survivability, and all their guns are mid to short ranged. This makes them a glass cannon that really wants to be finishing off or at least badly mauling the thing that they’re pointing at, otherwise they’ll only be on the board for a single slapstick turn. For this reason they’re a great add-on to a Guard army, but very challenging to make them viable in their own right. They do, however, pair nicely with the rugged and surprisingly shooty Valkyrie assault carrier.

Of course, there’s also a bunch of tanks that offer some pretty great utility. Having a wyvern is like a more dependable (but harder to hide) mortar squad. Basilisks don’t have an impressive rate of fire, but dropping high strength hits on enemies you can’t see is bound to upset your opponent at least a bit. To get a sense of where these other units (and more) are at in a competitive context, you’ll want to check out our start competing article.

Tempestus Scions. Credit: SRM


“You ready to fight the galaxy, private? Hell if I care. Cork your sniffling and get down that ramp lest you find out what happens when Commissar Horst gets upset. He’s an emotional man. Very sensitive about cowardice. Starts quoting the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer at you.”

We hope you’re excited about starting a new Imperial Guard army! Guard are one of the most relatable factions within Warhammer 40,000 and we hope that we’ve made them at least a bit more approachable. Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comOr if you’re a patron, head on over to our Discord and chat with us!