I thought about titling this post "So you want to play Warhammer?" since I thought I would give a basic rundown of what is involved in getting set up for the game. While starting an army and learning to play without first having a demonstration is possible, one of the things I would first recommend is going out and getting started with a demonstration game at a local game store or with someone in the local gaming community. If you are convinced that this is something you want to pursue after a demo game, then read on.
One of the first hurdles you will be faced with is deciding what army you want to play. Often the army you play will be a lot more satisifying if it matches your play style from other games. If you are a very aggressive player, then perhaps Orks and Goblins, Ogre Kingdoms, or Warriors of Chaos are a good choice. If you are a player who likes the idea of supporting units and artillery, then Empire, Dwarfs, or High Elves are more your style. If you love the idea of playing a lot of large units marching across the board, there are Vampire Counts, Skaven, or Tomb Kings. Do you prefer good versus evil? Chaotic versus orderly? Elite warriors versus blocks of basic troopers? All these things can be considered, but also don't neglect the look of the models themselves, because that is a large component of the game. Would you rather have units of orderly knights with their pagentry such as Bretonnians, or the graceful, natural look of the Wood Elves?
BUILDING THE ARMY
I used to say that you could get started playing Warhammer Fantasy with as little as $250 to get going at 1,000 points. Realistically with the price increases over the years the cost to get started has probably climbed to $350 to $400. If you are really careful with your purchases, as I describe here, you might be able to start with as little as $300.
Once you've chosen the army you wish to play, then there comes the decision of how to go about building the army to something playable. If you have chosen High Elves or Skaven you are in luck because you can easily get started with about 700 points of ready made army in the Island of Blood box set. You can sell or trade the models you don't want, and in addition you will get a set of dice, all the necessary templates, and a miniature version of the rulebook that includes all the rules. You will still need to augment the army some and buy your army specific rule book, which will run $50.
If you aren't going to play either of those armies, you will still need to start with the army book for the chosen army you wish to play, so count on that as an initial expense. After that, the best deal for the money for anyone starting an army is generally the boxed army battalion deal. This will usually give a good start for a core selection or two, along with a choice of a special unit that will begin a core to your army. The battalion box sets usually retail for between $100 and $120, with most of the newer armies going for the $120. It won't get you enough to play, but you'll be getting closer.
Lords & Heros
Depending on what army you are playing you will want to have a good solid choice for your intial characters. Most models can double as either a lord or hero easy enough, so generally a generically armed model on foot will be best to start with. If you want your general to also be your primary magic user then invest in a mage/warlock/etc. model. A lord level character will start off around 120 to 150 points before wargear and magic items and mounts, so depending on how you kit them out, having a lord and a hero added to your force will give you easily 25% of a playable 1000-1500 point army for a minimum investment. Additionally, a battle standard bearer, which is a hero slot, will always be a good investment, especially for lower leadership armies such as empire, skaven, or warriors of chaos.
The core component of any army you make must always be a minimum of 25% of your army composition, so it's always a good idea to invest in a strong core component of your army. Core troops are generally a bit cheaper, both point cost and actual dollar per model, so they are a good initial investment to help bridge the gap between the battalion box and a playable force. If you invest heavily in core troops to begin with, up to 500 points worth, that will also mean you can be more choosy in the special and rare units you buy later down the road to build up to a 2,000 point game.
Special units are generally going to be what are the more elite, more expensive, yet primary elements of your army. Most armys can be designed with the special units almost as a core since they can take up to 50% of the army composition. While special units tend to be harder hitting, they will still need the support of character models for leadership, and also need core troops to help cover flanks and absorb some of the losses if possible. This is also where you will probably invest a majority of your money, or at least half of your money to get a solid unit put together will generally cost upward of $100 to $150.
These are going to be your designated hitters. A lot of rare units are single purpose, hit hard, and draw a lot of attention from your opponent. Some rare choices are no brainers, and will be strong enough to threaten a flank. Some rare units are better than others, and before investing in a rare, which will cost a decent amount of money, I would suggest doing some research on the internet to find what rare units are more commonly taken by seasoned players. High elves, for instance, would be remiss to not take the bolt thrower as a rare choice. It's inexpensive points wise, but lays down a lot of punishment against an opposing army. You wouldn't want to center your army around rare choices, since they only take a maximum of 25% of your force, but they are good for a hard hitting punch in any army. Rares will vary in cost, and may cost up to $85 for some of the mosterous beasts, but generally you will only need to buy one at a time and at $50 to $75 that same rare will get into most games between 1,000 and 2,000 points, so playability per dollar is usually pretty good.
That about sums up my thoughts on starting an army and getting ready to play, I'm always intersted in any suggestions or questions so please leave a comment!
I've been a gamer and modeler for about 10 years now, and enjoy playing the Games Workshop games of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and 40K. I'm also an avid woodworker, enjoy video games, and work full time for the federal gov't. I'm also a full time father of 3 children which may distract from my hobby, but in the best way possible.