A thought has been playing around in the back of my head for awhile. Assault on Blackreach and Island of Blood are great sets full of lots of models for a comparatively low cost, but if you never played a miniatures game before, are these really starter sets? I came to the conclusion: no. While these sets provide you with the rules and lots of models they are overwhelming, inadequate, and expensive for a new player/hobbyist.
In 2003 GW released a very good 40k starter set called, Space Marine Assault. It came with 5 Space Marines, 8 Genestealers, an introductory rulebook (not the complete rules only the rules for playing with Tac Marines and Genestealers), a die, 7 small paint pots, and a paint brush. It retailed for $25. This set was very good, but I would not call it perfect. Using this box as a start I set out to make the perfect 40k starter set. I had two primary goals with this project, first to include everything that a new player would need, and second to keep the cost as low as possible while using primarily GW products (except for when their equivalent is very overpriced).
Components from Space Marine Assault. Cost $2 plus $4.50 shipping from ebay.
5 Marines, 4 with bolters and 1 with a missile launcher.
I think it is important to provide 2 forces that are relatively balanced against each other without being identical.
The Space Marine Assault rulebook.
This rulebook is surprising still good even with the current edition. Instead of giving you charts it says things like, "a Marine needs to roll a 3 or better to hit with it's bolter." The book also explains how to set up a table with ordinary household objects.
7 paints: skull white, chaos black, blood red, sunburst yellow, bleached bone, ultramarine blue, and boltgun metal.
The rest of the components do not come from the Space Marine Assault box.
Citadel Basecoat Brush. Retail cost 5.75.
The old GW brushes were awful and that is why I am not going to include the one from Space Marine Assault. If you give someone paints they should at least have a brush that can achieve decent results. A few years back GW remade their brush line, and now all of the standard brushes are Kolinsky Sable instead of synthetic. While they are not the best brushes on the market they are actually useful now.
A basic Hobby Knife. The one I got is Revell, retail cost $3.50.
GW does sell a Hobby Knife but it retails for $15 dollars. It is a great knife handle and the one that I use, but it is extravagant for a starter set. This is obviously for cutting models form their sprues and cleaning mold lines.
Citadel Plastic Glue. retail cost $6.60.
Why do starter sets never include glue? It makes no sense to me.
A 3 foot tape measure. Retail cost $0.99.
This is one of the tiny tape measures that comes on a key chain and is often sold at the cashier's impulse item rack at hardware stores. You could easily replace this with a GW red measuring stick, but it would have cost me more to buy one form ebay. A GW tape measure costs $8 and is bigger than needed for this amount of models.
Warhammer 40K Battlefield Accessories. Retail cost $11.50.
This is included to construct barricades and simple terrain features. I think it is important to have a cool looking battlefield to fight over. This obviously will not fill a whole table, but it is a nice start and surprisingly well priced.
Instructions for making terrain out of the box this set would be packaged in. Cost free.
Below are a few sample ideas from the old How To Make Wargames Terrain book that GW released in 1996. It is a great book that tells you how to make terrain from scratch because GW had not yet started making plastic terrain kits then. If you want to learn more about this book Mike did a walkthrough on building one of the projects. I think this is a really great inclusion because it adds another project for the new hobbyist without adding any additional materials or cost.
My total cost for all of this was $35. I think that is a great price point for a potential new player. Even if I had paid retail for Space Marine Assault this would have been only $55, half the cost of Assault on Blackreach. Of course if GW made a set like this they could sell it for even cheaper as they would not be paying retail costs. If someone is interested in a new game are they more likely to try it for $35 or $100? In my set I was able to include models, terrain, tools to assemble everything, paint, tools for playing the game, a rulebook, and a bonus project. In short, everything that a completely new player or hobbyist would need.
As any GW collector knows there is obviously always more that you can get, but I tried to keep this to the essentials. If you have never seen Space Marine Assault you can still find them on ebay for cheap. Let me know in the comments if I left anything important out, or if you have a way to improve my starter set.