Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus And the Joys of Fatherhood

Credit: Snowprint Studios

My son was born about a year ago.  This has impacted my life in several respects.

I was never much of a video gamer growing up (no consoles in the house; my parents weren’t believers in electronic entertainment, though they did allow me to have a Game Boy for Pokemon purposes).  As an adult, I enjoy video games in a very particular way: I pick a game, I go all in on it, and then I move on.  I worked my way through Hollow Knight, Slay the Spire, Hades, Evil Genius 2, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Darktide, one three-to-five-hour session at a time.

This schedule is simply incompatible with a baby.  Especially when they’re young, babies are at once all-encompassingly demanding and astonishingly boring.  They sleep a lot, but not all at once, and they demand that you be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice even if at any given moment they don’t actively need you.  Sitting down to pound out a round of Chasm Terminus is right out.

I had never been much of a mobile gamer (at least, not unless you count Wordle as a mobile game, which I guess you have to).  But when the baby is miserably tired, but won’t sleep unless he’s being held, Daddy needs to step up.  And Daddy needs something fun and distracting he can do with one hand.  No, not that.

A high school friend of mine turned me onto Warhammer 40k: Tacticus.  As I noted, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to phone games, so maybe this is just my inexperience and lack of jaded cynicism speaking, but I’ve actually been really enjoying this little game.  It scratches my collector’s itch, and the tactical game play is deep enough to keep me coming back.  I have concerns about the monetization, but I feel like the cake is fully baked on that score when it comes to mobile gaming – and I find Tacticus’s shop significantly less predatory than some.

Mobile Warfare

So what is Tacticus?  Stripped to its core, it’s a turn-based hex-grid combat game.  On your turn, your team of three to five Warhammer-branded heroes moves, shoots, and fights through a rogue’s gallery of Dark Millennium denizens.  The gang’s all here: you start off with Ultramarines (and a plucky Sororitas Celestian) but soon enough your roster expands.  Astra Militarum, Orks, Tyranids… not quite every tabletop faction is represented here, but most of them are.  The characters are a mixture of in-universe legends like Abaddon, Celestine and Maugan Ra, and named versions of generic characters like Sarquael the Hellblaster, Aethana the Autarch, and Yazaghor the Tzaangor.

heroes never die, they just go live in your cell phone. Credit: Snowprint Studios  

The combat is surprisingly deep: terrain plays a major role, just as it does on the tabletop, and each character has both a once-per-battle active ability and an always-on passive ability, along with traits like Flying, Resilient, or Big Target.  Levels are fast and lethal, usually finishing in a minute or two.  The game has an astonishing variety of modes: the core is campaign mode, with each campaign having a fleshed-out story (complete with dialogue), but there’s also Onslaught, a wave-survival mode against hordes of Tyranids; Salvage Run, a race to blow up as many crates and collect as much gold as you can in five rounds while assailed by Orks; Arena, an asynchronous PvP mode (that is, you are fighting other players’ teams, but they’re controlled by AI); Guild Raids, a series of bosses you can only defeat in concert with your guild; and time-limited events, like Quests (sequences of puzzle battles) or Tournament Arena (actual live PvP).  The newest mode, Guild Wars, features two guilds duking it out in a series of Arena-style PvP matches, each trying to burn the other’s fortress.

The effects are great, too: characters squawk and roar, swords sizzle and boltguns chug, and when your Enmitic Disintegrators turn a Hormagaunt into chili, the effect is pleasingly visceral and chunky.  The levels are reasonably varied (Necron tomb world, ice world, desert world, etc.) and the music is perfectly serviceable Serious Orchestral Thrumming, the kind you’ve come to expect from a 40k game.  The people who made this game clearly play 40k and love it, and that comes through: the flavor here is rich and satisfying, like a good shepherd’s pie.  Don’t think about that metaphor too hard.

The real question, of course: is the combat loop fun?  I don’t have any reservations about saying yes here.  Snowprint has done a lot to keep a fairly simple formula varied, and with new enemy types, new maps, and new characters appearing all the time, it never gets stale.  There’s no faction-locking, so you can have Marneus Calgar team up with Azrael, an Obliterator, a Killa Kan, and a Neurothrope.  Some factions have synergies that reward you taking them all (the xenos factions are especially noteworthy for this, and a full Thousand Sons team is a frightening thing indeed), but often you just pick your favorites and mash them together.  It reminds me of being a kid and making Snake Eyes and Darth Vader team up to take on Skeletor.  My dollies are all friends.

we all knew the necrons were the good guys all along. Credit: Snowprint Studios

One Step at a Time

Of course, the combat is only half of the actual gameplay loop.  In between levels, the game is all about progression.

There are a staggering number of ways to progress, so much that I felt daunted at first.  Once you get your feet, it’s all very logical, but the progression system is incredibly complicated to a frankly excessive degree.  The core method of strengthening a character is by giving them upgrades, items like Minor Bionic Enhancement or Basic Auxiliary Core that drop after completing a level.  Upgrades come quickly for the first few ranks, but after that the pace slows as you have to combine items to create more complex gear.  Your passive and active skills rank up separately using Badges, which of course come in four rarities as well.  Characters are unlocked with Shards, but once you’ve unlocked a character, you can keep collecting Shards to promote them, and eventually Ascend them from common, to uncommon, to rare, to epic, and finally to legendary.  And of course every character collects experience points and levels up.

These systems interact in a Byzantine way: leveling up does nothing for your stats, but is a requirement to attach upgrades past a certain point, and also caps your skill levels.  Promoting a character increases their stats a little bit, while Ascending them increases the power of their skills but also increases their maximum level and rank.  And don’t even get me started on item slots: every character has three, to equip knives and guns and armor plates…

vindicta is just kind of Like That. Credit: Snowprint Studios

It’s all a bit excessive.  You do get used to it, but writing about it, I can feel my reader’s eyes glaze over.  There are yet more esoteric forms of currency (Forge Badges?  Raid tickets?) that you basically don’t ever have to worry about, but the sheer volume of Stuff to track is overwhelming.

That’s part of the game’s appeal, for some.  I’m an inveterate bar-filler; my stupid, lumpy brain gives me dopamine whenever I make a bar get bigger, and when that bar gets all the way big, resets back down to 0 and changes color or something?  Ah, sweet ambrosia.  Tacticus has a lot of that: the game is expertly designed to keep you progressing, so you never run dry.  You run into bottlenecks eventually, but those shift around: early on you’re richer than Scrooge McDuck but starved on Orbs, while later on you’ve got more colorful orbs than a Christmas tree but you’re skint broke.

There are, of course, undertones here; I’m waxing lyrical about the joys of collecting, but there’s a dark side to this type of acquisitive urge.  It can be very addictive.  I could, of course, quit anytime I wanted, obviously, for sure, but I can definitely see how this type of thing could hook you.  There’s a Civilization-esque “one-more-turn” feel to the leveling system: just one more upgrade; just one more badge.  The milestones are discrete, but they’re pretty close together, so it’s easy to keep chasing that sense of accomplishment.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention guilds here.  They’re a standard feature of social games in this era, but the execution here is pretty compelling.  Being in a guild gets you all kinds of great rewards – chiefly, you can participate in Guild Raids and Guild Wars.  Both types of content reward special unique guild currencies, which can be spent at in-game stores to unlock characters or buy items.  Your guildmates can also donate items to you, which is perfect when you’re starting out and don’t have access to all of the different types of upgrades yet.  Quite a lot of the game’s content is either much easier in a guild, or actually impossible if you’re not in one, so try to get into a guild ASAP.  (Of course, that’s not hard – there are lots and they’re always recruiting).

it’s afraid! Credit: Snowprint Studios

So, is the progression compelling?  I’m a definite yes, but I have exactly the kind of mind that’s a target for this type of thing.  I love making lists and checking the items off them one by one.  There are some great tools out there to manage your collection – I use https://tacticusplanner.app/ – but you can also just sort of meander around doing what feels fun to you.  Some people may not like the “spreadsheet manager” aspect of this game, and may also be thrown by the pacing.  Tacticus is a marathon, not a sprint, and after the initial rush it’s a matter of setting goals and progressing towards them a bit each day.  That’s the type of play that lets you just play for fifteen minutes in the evening and not worry about it the rest of the day.  (This is made easier by “raiding” – basically, once you’ve beaten a level without losing any characters, you can permanently “raid” that level and instantly beat it with one button press, collecting the same rewards as if you’d played it through.  You never HAVE to raid, but if you really do only have 10 minutes to play, this will let you blast through a full day’s worth of missions quickly).

Of course, you don’t have a choice – you can’t just play forever.  There’s an “energy” system that I’m sure is familiar to anyone who’s played this type of game – you get one energy every five minutes of real time, and it costs 6 to play a level, so you get two plays per hour.  Unless, of course, you buy more energy.

Gacha Nose

So now we have to talk about the monetization.  Like all free-to-play games, Tacticus has devised lots of ways to give Snowprint your money.  It has a monthly battle pass, a feature that appears to be ubiquitous now, which provides rewards to all players but special extra rewards to those willing to fork over $9.99 (and a special $23.99 version for the real ballers, shot callers, those with 20” rims on their Rhinos).  These are basically a mandatory feature in every game now, but even the free version of the reward track has some good loot in it, and the game is designed so that you can max out the track and get all those yummy rewards without having to pay a dime.

Every game like this has a specific form of currency, let’s call it “gems,” whose relationship with the dollar lays bare the capitalist scaffolding on which the game is built.  Here, it’s Blackstone.  Available in big chunks or via monthly shipment at a steep discount, Blackstone is the bridge by which your paycheck turns into digital scrip.  Blackstone isn’t real-money only – in fact, you’ll get lots of it just for playing – but it’s also available via real money, and in significant quantities.  Which is good, because you use it for everything.  More energy, crates, and you can trade it for various other meta-currencies in the shop.

You can also trade it for requisition scrolls, which are used in the game’s gacha mechanic.  I had to have the concept of a “gacha” explained to me, so for those who don’t know: you can spend in-game currency to open, basically, a Mystery Box.  Inside could be some orbs to ascend a character; there could be shards, which eventually unlock another character; or there could just be a whole character, stepping out of the drop pod and mugging for the camera with Warhammer 40k’s trademark look of constipated defiance.  You never know!  But you want to find out, don’t you?

It would be easy to say Tacticus is a “gacha game,” but having familiarized myself a bit more thoroughly with that particular ecosystem, I’m not sure that the taxonomy fits here.  Requisitions exist, but they’re not really the primary way of acquiring… anything.  Most characters are obtained by patiently farming them, either in missions where their shards drop as loot, or in exchange for non-real-money-convertible currency in one of the game’s many storefronts.  Requisitions are kind of exciting, but veteran players don’t put much stock in them: they’re simply too unreliable, and the odds are too bad, to really depend on them for anything.  There’s no “pity timer” and there’s no duplicate protection, so even if you do unlock a character it could be one you already have (an outcome which, of course, becomes more likely the longer you play).  That’s not worthless – the extra converts into a big pile of shards, which are useful for promoting your troops – but it’s not exactly thrilling.

sometimes, this happens. Credit: me, haha

So… gacha game, or game with a gacha component?  Is that a distinction without a difference?  This may just be hair-splitting in defense of a game I happen to like, but I think it matters.  Gacha mechanics are, fundamentally, gambling, an activity that sits at the nexus of “addictive” and “expensive” and therefore occupies its own little circle labeled “extremely dangerous.”  A game centered on gacha mechanics is a game that, whether or not the studio intends it, is going to make a majority of its money from gambling addicts.  The purpose of a system is what it does; I think any such game is at best playing with fire, and at worst actively exploiting people with poor impulse control and a weak grasp of statistics.

Tacticus’s gacha mechanic is, at best, a sideshow.  There’s lots to do in the game besides throw Requisition Scrolls into a pit, and the game isn’t shy about pointing you to these alternatives.  You can, if you want, whale it up and spend all of your Blackstone on scrolls, chasing that gambler’s high.  I’m not thrilled about it, but I think the game makes a strong enough case for itself even without that mechanic that you’re never required to spin the wheel.

Overall, is the monetization problematic?  I would say maybe, but probably less than average for the genre.  Studios have to make money somehow.  I buy the battle pass most months, the “ultimate” battle pass when I feel like it (rarely), and that’s about it.  I play the game enough that I don’t mind paying what is effectively a subscription fee – it’s cheaper than WoW, and I paid that one for years.  I also think that, having been a free-to-play player for a while, you can play this game in a totally satisfying way without paying a dime.  Because the game is all about steady, patient, long-term progress, all that paying money gets you is a bit of speed – and not even that much speed, considering.

Should I Play Tacticus?

I would answer this with a qualified “yes.”  The game is pretty straightforward, and while I haven’t played other games in this genre I would not be surprised to learn that Tacticus is typical of its breed.  If you like hex combat and want a 40k version, this is as good a version of that product as you’re likely to find.

There are other things to recommend it, as well: the community is pretty great, with an active subreddit and Discord.  Snowprint is a great studio; I’ve gotten really good customer service from them when I’ve had a problem, and they’re constantly running fun little contests and giveaways.  Their engagement with the playerbase is frequent, their communication is good, and they’re constantly adding new features to the game.  There are several content creators out there focusing on Tacticus, and Snowprint has a great relationship with them, often providing special giveaway codes to access free in-game goodies.

I’m obviously a fan of Tacticus – here I am writing almost 3000 words about it, unpaid – but I recognize that my brain is basically perfectly wired to love this stuff.  And the circumstances of my life make mobile gaming a particularly attractive option.  I can see people who are looking for a more bite-sized option (a reasonable goal for a mobile game) bouncing off the long, slow grind of Tacticus.


  • Core gameplay loop is enjoyable on its own merits (you’d be surprised at how many games mess this up!).
  • Enough depth to keep James Cameron happy; you will not run out of things to do.
  • Studio is professional, responsive, and actively interested in cultivating a great community.
  • Generous allocation of resources means free-to-play experience doesn’t feel stifled or cramped.
  • 40k flavor is very present – this is definitely not a Generic Combat Game with a 40k coat of paint.


  • Game is very grindy.  Good if you enjoy slow burns and long-term planning, but not so much if you’re looking for a more instant-gratification experience.
  • Gacha mechanic makes this risky for those inclined towards gambling.
  • Some of the best features are gated behind having a guild.
  • Live PvP is only intermittent; the rest of the time it’s pure PvE, even in the theoretically PvP mode.

Play With Togepi!

If I’ve convinced you to try the game, hit me up on the Goonhammer discord or in the comments.  I’m in a great guild and we’re on the lookout for active players.  You can also enter my referral code – CUE-13-REV.  You can only do this once, but it’ll give you and me both some free stuff in game, plus this means you’ll have to be my servant in the afterlife.  It’ll suck for you to get buried alive when I die, but that’s not my problem – I’ll be dead.