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Warhammer 40K: Third Party Miniatures Are Ruining The Game

5 Minute Read
Nov 22 2022
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Today we look at how non-GW miniatures impact Warhammer 40K’s rules in a significant way.

Warhammer 40,000 is, without any real contest, the largest tabletop miniatures game around. It’s a massive game with millions of players and even more fans. One of the best parts of it is the miniatures. These are varied and numerous, with some stunning designs. Even better, and often setting them apart, is that they can typically be constructed in several ways. This ability to modify and combine bits from multiple kits is a vital part of the hobby. Due to its success, GW has gotten a lot of copy-cats, some of which make models or bits for 40K itself, which is now hurting the game. Let’s talk about why.

What Are Third-Party Models? 

Third-party models, simply put, are any model not made by Games Workshop, but used in 40K. However, these can fall into several categories. Some of these models are made for other games or display, but a player might want to use them. For instance, an Imperial Guard player buys a model of a real World War 2 Sherman tank and converts it to use as a Leman Russ. While this happens, it’s not typically what we discuss with third-party models. More commonly, you get companies or sellers making models that are clearly meant to be used in 40K. You can easily find things like a line of models called “Imperial Space Warriors” meant to be used as Space Marines. 

Within these companies, you also have a split in how they deliver products. Some companies produce a physical model and send it to the buyer. Others provide a data file (an STL file), and it’s up to the buyer to use a 3D printer to make the models themselves. A few do both. In any of these cases, the models are considered 3rd party.

Bitz Vs. Models

There is also a line to be defined between producing individual bitz and whole models. Bitz represents a part of a model and is often indented to be used to augment a GW model. These can fill a niche where sought-after weapon option is hard to get (a player needs an extra meltagun) or where some personalization doesn’t exist (a player wants a powerfist with the Rainbow Warriors logo on it). Some outfits also sell full models. These are not meant to augment GW models but to replace them.

Third-Party Models Hurt GW and Game Stores

I’m not going to get into the morality or legality of 3rd party models here. However, it is fair to say the 3rd party models hurt both GW and your average FLGS. For GW, people buying 3rd-party are simply not buying from them. For FLGS, it’s a little more complicated. It boils down to that most 3rd party models can’t be offered via an FLGS. Even if an FLGS wanted to sell them, they can’t. Either there is nothing physical to sell (an STL), or the myriad of companies don’t sell through small individual vendors like an FLGS. It rarely makes financial sense in the few cases that an FLGS could even get the product to market. Because 3rd party models hurt GW, the company has had to find ways to discourage them, damaging the game – via the rules.

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No Models, No Rules

For years it was very common to find 40K unit options or whole units with rules but no models. For instance, there was a long period when there was no model for the Ork Battlewagon. It was up to players to find a model they could use. In more recent years, GW has moved to make it so that if there isn’t a model, there will be no rules. In large part, this has been to combat 3rd party models. If GW doesn’t make a model, it’s assumed someone else will. Rather than kitbashing from GW kits, players might buy 3rd party. This has even led to them getting rid of unit options that aren’t explicitly a bit in a set for. Once players purchase single 3rd party bitz, they might buy whole models.

Guard Got Hurt

You can see how this affects an army very clearly in the new Astra Militarum book. A number of units that don’t have explicit models are gone. In particular classic units such as Veterans and Conscripts were removed from the book. This is pretty clearly a result of them not having specific models, despite just being conversions of the basic Infantry Squad. You’ve also got a lot of units with weapon restrictions that seem odd until you realize that’s what their box comes with, and they can’t take anything else.

Given the introduction of three regimental units in the book, it’s clear that the only reason we didn’t get more is down to a lack of current models. Steel Legion, Mordians, Tallarn, all could have been in the book. However, the threat of 3rd party models being used rather than conversions helped to prevent these units from appearing. This kind of action is starting to hurt the game. It’s not just in the Imperial Guard book; you can see this philosophy in many of the newer codexes.

Fix It – But How?

40K’s models, units, and characters have lost much of their customization over the past few years. I think it’s clear this is largely a reaction to the threat of 3rd party models and 3d printing. It’s not just hurting companies, but it’s hurting the game and its rules. It is, however, a complex issue, and I don’t have any easy answers. Maybe GW will take more control of the tournament circuit, and banning non-GW parts (or at least full models) is a better deterrent. I don’t know, but I do hope some fix is made in the future.

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Let us know if you think 3rd party models are hurting the game, down in the comments! 

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