Warhammer 40K: Third party miniatures are ruining the game

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

Warhammer 40,000 is without any real contest the greatest tabletop miniatures game around. It’s a huge game with millions of players and even more fans. One of the best parts are the thumbnails. These are varied and numerous, with some amazing 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 pieces from even multiple kits is a core part of the hobby. Due to its success, GW has gotten many imitators, some of them making models or bits for 40K itself, which is now hurting the game. Let’s talk about why.

What are Third Party Templates?

Third party models, in a nutshell, are any model not made by Games Workshop, but used in 40K. However these can fall into several categories. Some of these templates are made for other games or just display, but a gamer might want to use it. For example, an Imperial Guard player buying a model of a real WWII Sherman tank and converting it to use as a Leman Russ. While this happens, it’s not normally what we’re discussing with third-party models. More commonly you get companies or vendors that make 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 have also divided how they deliver the product. 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. Some do both. In each of these cases the templates are considered third party.

Bitz Vs Models

There is also a line to be drawn between the production of individual bitz and entire models. The bits represent a part of a model and are often indented to be used to augment a model GW. These can create a niche where the researched weapon option is hard to come by (a player needs an extra meltagun) or where some kind of customization doesn’t exist (a player wants a power fist with the gods logo on it). Rainbow Warriors). Some dresses also sell complete designs. These are not intended to augment the GW models, but to replace them.

Third party models hurt GW and game stores

I won’t go into the morality or legality of third-party models here. However it’s fair to say that third party models hurt both GW and your average FLGS. For GW, people who buy from third parties simply don’t buy from them. For FLGS it is a bit more complicated. What it boils down to is that most third-party models cannot be offered through a FLGS. Even if a FLGS wants to sell them, they can’t. There is either nothing physical to sell (an STL) or the myriad of companies don’t sell through small one-man sellers like a FLGS. In the few cases where a FLGS might even get the product to sell, it almost never makes financial sense. As third-party models hurt GW, the company has had to find ways to discourage them, and that’s what’s hurting the game, via rules.

No model, no rules

For years it has been very common to find 40,000 unit options or even entire units with rules but no templates. For example, there was a long time when there was no model for the Ork Battlewagon. It was up to the players to find a model they could use. In more recent years, GW has moved to make sure that if there’s no model, there are no rules. Much of this has been to combat third-party templates. If GW doesn’t create a model, it’s assumed that someone else will. Rather than kitbashing from GW kits, players could purchase third parties. This has even led them to get rid of unit options for which there isn’t explicitly a bit in a set. Once players start buying individual third-party bitz, they might start buying entire models.

The guard got hurt

You can see how this affects an army very clearly in the new book Astra Militarum. A number of units that have no clear patterns are gone. Notably classic units such as Veterans and Conscripts have been removed from the book. This is clearly the result of them having no specific models, despite having long been just basic infantry squad conversions. You also have a bunch of weapon restricted units that look weird, until you realize that’s what comes with their box 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 haven’t gotten more is due to a lack of current models. Steel Legion, Mordians, Tallarn, it all could have been in the book. However, the threat of using third-party templates, rather than conversions, has helped prevent these units from 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 codes.

Fix it – But how?

40K’s models, units and characters have lost a lot of their personalization in recent years. I think it’s clear that this is largely a reaction to the threat of third-party models and 3D printing. It not only damages companies, but also the game and its rules. It is however a complex question and I have no easy answers. Perhaps 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 hope that some solution will be made in the future.

Let us know if you think the third-party templates are to hurt the game, down in the comments!


Abe is a rare thing, an Austin native born and raised here. Though he keeps moving, DC, Japan, etc., he always seems to find his way back eventually. Abe has decades of experience playing a wide range of board games and RPGs, from Historians to Star Wars to D&D and 40K. He has contributed to BOLS from the very beginning, when he worked for and then owned a local game store. He was once great in the competitive Warhammer tournament scene, but his age has mellowed that and now he appreciates a good casual game. He currently covers 40,000 tactics and lore, plus all things Star Wars, with the occasional dabble in other topics. Abe remains mourning the loss of WFB to this day.

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