40K What Makes For A Cinematic Game?


I’m still constantly exploring the gaming content of the 40K 6th edition rulebook which might seem a bit strange since it has been out for what now- half a year or something like that. Most of the hard core 40K players out there have ditched their big book for the small pocket one.
Notice how the big rule book is essentially broken up into two sections- the first half has the rules, and the second half has the cinematic stuff like terrain, alternate missions and hobby stuff.
Why is it so many of us, myself included to some extent, focus so much on the rules and then let the rest slip by once we have the rules down?
Tournaments are fun, but we have to push past that and be open to exploring new things in the 40K universe.
So what makes for a cinematic game of 40K?
Well, what is a cinematic game?
For me, the definition of it is a game where I am watching to see what happens as much as I am playing it. It should have twists and turns, sudden moments of excitement, and end in a way neither my opponent or I could have expected.
Personal preferences aside that starting place with a cinematic game begins with playing a smaller army on the table 500-1000 points- why?
In a small point game individual units REALLY matter! Say I have a tactical squad that is about to be charged by a group of genestealers on my next turn. That tactical squad HAS to stop them, so the dice REALLY matter when I rapid fire my bolters. It creates a moment where you hold your breath- if I don’t stop the stealers then I am in trouble…
…as opposed to a 2K point game where if said example stealers are going to charge me I can easily stop them with that tactical squad, the four others, allies, etc.
Smaller games will have you savoring the dice rolls over just trying to get through them.
Force org also impacts the cinematic even though it is a relic from previous editions where GW tried to balance things out, and well just eventually gave up.
Ask yourself why you adhere to the force org chart and can’t break free from it?
In a 500 point game I’d suggest allowing any units on the table once you have an HQ choice- and any of the units you take are “scoring”. The HQ choice is important- in a moment.
500 points standard force org does limit you, but 500 points take what you want suddenly opens up so much.
Ok, so you have your models, what is next?
Interactive terrain- use it!
Don’t make everything interactive and wacky as even at a smaller point game it will bog things down- and that is why I don’t know anybody who uses it at 2K+ games.
In a cinematic game I’d recommend making the center terrain piece on the table interactive/mysterious. Roll for mission, deploy models, and the roll for the terrain.
And finally the HQ choice- cinematic games means making the HQ choice mean something!
In standard 2K games what does your HQ choice do? Not much I’d wager, outside of Tyranid tyrants. Often they are only 1 model on the table, and can get really expensive once you start piling on the wargear or artifacts and the what?
Most of the time they just hide out to deny warlord.
What about trying out this rule I use-
Your HQ choice can’t join a unit and can’t be shot at or assaulted as long as the opposing HQ model is alive.
Likewise your  HQ choice can’t shoot or assault opposing units while the opposite HQ choice is alive.
This means both HQ choices (which aren’t scoring) must seek each other out and settle things in personal combat, one on one. HQ vs. HQ battles are awesome in the moment, and yet rarely happen in a regular 40K game.
Once an HQ choices goes down, then it is open season- other units shooting it in revenge, or the surviving HQ choice running away, or moving further on for glory!
Right now this is my “template” for a cinematic game- and the best part is the fact that you can get three or four game out of a regular gaming night, playing different units each time- lots of chances to get revenge if you lose over having to wait till next week at the club.
The hardest part?
Surprisingly is finding guys willing to play!
If it isn’t standard 2K 40K it’s like you are playing an entirely different gaming system!
Be open to new stuff!
The 2K games aren’t going anywhere…


  1. Still plugging away with those small point games. My buddies and I have just stepped up to 2k from 1750, but we always like to throw in smaller games, three or four way games and indeed some special missions/Cityfight. We just played the old Battle at the camp mission, what a fun three way mission that is :D

  2. I just made a game as a games master for two friends, with a special scenario where an Iron Hands+IG needed to escort two Chimeras with contents off the board while being ambushed by Orks. Then some other fun stuff like, when perils is rolled it obviously spawns Daemons... It was great fun! It gave those poor Orks a chance with their old book. Am just about to write up the story on my blog...

  3. Small games often have a lot more gravitas, particularly in a system like 40K where at 2,000 points you can basically get one of everything, which is part of the popularity of 1850-2000 point games. I don’t mean that as a dig, I understand the desire to be able to take all comers and avoid boring rock-paper-scissors match-ups. Still, as you point out, in games where every unit, indeed every man, matters there is a lot more drama.

    On a related note, a lot of more marginal builds become viable at smaller points levels because the opponent doesn’t have enough points to just steam-roll less optimal choices (of course, the reverse is also true and some common higher point level builds don’t work in smaller games). That can add a nice element to the mix as well, particularly if you’re used to seeing the same thing over and over again.

  4. My group has recently started ladder campaigns which start at small point ranges. I agree they add allot more cinematic events. For example i had a recent game in the Eldar Sibling Rivalry series (DE vs Eldar)5 Wyches rolled up to charge Rangers in forest. Managed to get 3 6's on overwatch and killed 2 Wyches. after measuring the assault range, the killed models made his assault fall short.

    Adding story/cinema to games makes them alot more fun. I have found the old 3rd & 4th edition missions are easily converted to the new edition and the restrictions on special rules makes game interesting.


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