Warhammer 40K: Third Party Miniatures Are Ruining The Game

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Today we take a look at how non-GW miniatures impact Warhammer 40K’s rules in a major way.

Warhammer 40,000 is without any real contest the largest tabletop  miniatures game around. It’s a huge game with millions or 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 normally be constructed in a number of ways. This ability to modify and combine bits from even multiple kits is a key 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 Part 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 simply display, but a player might want to use it. For instance an Imperial Guard player buying a model of a real World War 2 Sherman tank and converting it to use as a Leman Russ. While this happens, its not normally what we are discussing with thirds 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 split in how they deliver product. Some companies produce a physical model and send it to the buyer. Others provide a data file (an STL file) and its 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 represent a part of a model and are often indented to be used to augment a GW model. These can file a niche where sought after weapon option is hard to get (a player needs an extra meltagun) or where some kind of 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 its a little more complicated. What it boils down to is 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. In the few cases that an FLGS could even get the product to sell it almost never makes financial sense. Because 3rd party models hurt GW, the company has had to fine ways to discourage  them, and that is what is hurting the game – via the rules.

No Models, No Rules

For years it was very common to find 40K unit options or indeed whole units that had rules but no models. For instance there was a long period of time where 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, its 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 there isn’t explicitly a bit in a set for. Once players start buying single 3rd party bitz, they might start buying 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 clear models are gone. In particular classic units such as Veterans and Conscripts where removed from the book. This is pretty clearly a result of them not having specific models, despite long 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 appearing. This kind of action is really 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 a lot of their customization over the past few years. I think its clear this is in large part a reaction to the threat of 3rd party models and 3d printing. It’s not just hurt companies, but its hurting the game and its rules. It is however a complex issues 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 kind of fix is made in the future.

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


Abe is that rare thing, an Austin local born and raised here. Though he keeps on moving around, DC, Japan, ETC., he always seems to find his way back eventually. Abe has decades of experience with a wide range of tabletop and RPG games, from historicals, to Star Wars to D&D and 40K. He has been contributing to BOLS since almost the start, back when he worked at and then owned a local gaming store. He used to be big into the competitive Warhammer tournament scene but age has mellowed him and he now appreciates a good casual match. He currently covers 40K tactics and lore, as well as all things Star Wars, with occasional dabbling in other topics. Abe remains in mourning over the loss of WFB to this day.

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