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Warhammer 40K: The Grimdark’s First Box Sets

5 Minute Read
Nov 1 2023
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Today turn the clock back over three decades to the Grimdark’s original boxed sets from its first edition – Rogue Trader.

Warhammer 40K is somehow 35 years old! So today, let’s go way back to 1987 and take a stroll through some of the early boxed sets from the dawn of Warhammer 40,000. This won’t be an exhaustive tour, and some of these boxes are extremely difficult to find good images of. Still, it is always a wonderful thing to look back on the origins of many of your current armies. Some of us old-timers may even have some of these minis rocking on the tabletop – still dishing out the pain after 36 years of service to the Emperor!

Imperial Space Marines

The Original RTB01 box featured 30 of the first plastic Corvus Mk.VI marines. Absolute classics! This is the box that started it all. There would be no modern Primaris Marines without the pathfinding steps of these first plastic beakies.

Space Ork Raiders

16 metal Orks made up Thrugg Bullneck’s original box of Orks for the Grimdark. Many many Orks would follow in Thrugg’s shadow. They were a bit scrawny, and would almost be Grots by today’s standards, but hey an aspiring Warboss has to start somewhere.



The first Eldar boxed set was oddly 18 Harlequins, making up a complete Troupe – dancing across the tabletop to dispatch anyone in their path. Some of these models are still awaiting a return in the current 40K edition. I want my High Avatar back as an HQ choice GW! But some of them look hardly changed by today’s standards, like the Death Jesters. If only you could still equip them with Bright Lances – like that one fellow up there.


The first Terminator boxed set gave us so many foundational termy organizations. From the default squad layout, to the special weapons and Captain & Librarian upgrades. It all came from this box of (tiny) heroes. Who remembers triple-jam exploding assault cannons? These guys led directly to Space Hulk,- which gave us first Genestealer Cults – then the full Tyranid army. A whole lot of the grimdark grew from the seeds planted from this single kit.


Land Raiders

Yes, the original Land Raiders came two per box. I love that classic styling. Don’t fiddle with the sponson las-cannons too much…*SNAP* Also note the front AND back facing heavy bolter options. I find it fitting that 35 years later we get the plastic Proteus to rekindle the glory of the original! Build it as an Explorator or you’ll make the Emperor shed a tear.

Space Dwarfs

Say it loud, say it proud – SQUATS! 36 tough little dudes with caps, las-guns and heavy bolters. DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA! The trucker caps and pot-bellies are long gone, but Leagues of Votann have come blazing back into the game! About Time!


The Original Rhino came 3 per box. No one could quite figure out exactly how 10 marines fit inside one, but the RTB01s were shorter back then. The Deimos Rhino from the new Horus Heresy line keeps the old girl alive in spirit, if not in it’s original sub-sub-compact vehicle size.


Imperial Guard

A counterpart to the Squat box, this box gave you 36 models with lasguns and las-cannon. Meet the original IG! You know as I go through this list, it’s occuring to me that GW may have planned the reinvention of all of these Rogue Trader kits for the 35th Year anniversary of the game. Those newly revealed Cadians certainly look nice and carry on the tradition of these Imperial Army originals.


One of the earliest and idiosyncratic boxed sets of 40k. The Devastators box came with three small weapons for various armies, a Tarantula (Imperial Army), Land Speeder (Marines) and Mole Mortar (Squats). LOVE that 80s artwork! Note how the new Cadians and Leagues of Votann kind of reinvent all of these three. Hmmm…


Ahh, the original dome turreted Predator in plastic. It had a coffee-straw autocannon and the sponson weapons would snap off if you looked at them wrong – but it was the first of its breed. Last but certainly not least, note that GW has brought the modern plastic generation of this kit back into the Horus Heresy line.

All Hail 2023!


In some ways, 2023 is shaping up to be the ultimate retro year for updated kits. We’ve got all the updated Rogue Trader kits from the Horus Heresy line in plastic again, and even 10th Edition gave us updated Terminators. Plus that special re-release of the hardcover RT rulebook. Maybe it’s time for the 36 year cycle to start all over again!

~Ok, who owned any of these and do ANY of you still bring them to the tabletop?


Author: Larry Vela
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