Warhammer 40k: Why women aren’t playing, and what we can do about it


Kernel Opinion SIG

Alex Brinkhorst

I have been a consistent player of Warhammer 40,000 for several months now, and I have noticed one major consistent theme while playing: a strong lack of women playing.

Tabletop war games have been the somewhat lesser known relative to the tabletop role playing games, such as the iconic game Dungeons and Dragons. These games differ in that, rather playing a singular character in a grand adventure, players play commanders of entire armies they build, and typically paint. These can be historical style games, ranging in era and decade, to fantasy and science fiction, where the “rule of cool,” reigns supreme, of these, it is somewhat safe to say that Warhammer 40,000 is one of the most popular war games to this day.

Having been engrossed by 40k for the last year or so, I could see the initial distaste for the story and the lore. The game is satire, showing a totalitarian and ruthless humanity on the fringe of survival, beset on all sides by equally sinister enemies, but the issue in truth was deeper than plot.

To help understand the issue, I talked with Mike Bays, owner of The Battleforge (LLC), a local gaming store that has been in business for 25 years. When asked about female players in the store, Bays explained that most play board games and roleplaying games, while fewer play war games like Warhammer.

Bays also explained that traditionally, warfare has been primarily a male focus, citing that up until recently we did not have women serving in combat. 

“Me growing up, I played with green army men all the time and cowboys and Indians,” Bays said. “My sisters played with Barbie Dolls, so I think we are predisposed to the miniatures and the small figures type game, and it kind of allows us to continue that even into adulthood.”

When asked about women playing, Bays explained he would love to see more women playing, explaining that the skills learned in tabletop games are easily transferred to other areas. He touched on how to get women involved as well, explaining that one way would be to promote more female centric armies like the Sisters of Battle.

“This isn’t a boy’s club,” he said. “We always welcome girls in and we always invite them to play. If guys’ girlfriends or anyone come in, we always try to get them involved as well. We do demo games all the time where everyone is welcome to come and play. It falls more on the gamers getting interest in females that they know or friends that they have who are girls to start looking at it.”

Bays also explained that women tend to be better at painting the models themselves, explaining that some of the best painters he knows are female.

Iliea Roe, a long time hobby enthusiast who has painted and played Warhammer for over five years, offered very insightful commentary on both the Warhammer community and the tabletop community as a whole.

“You want to see models that look like you, so there really weren’t any if you were a female and having someone say ‘well you could play Sisters of Battle,’”

Roe said.

She said that at the time, the Sisters of Battle were barely supported, and while most armies moved over to plastic, sisters were still outdated metal models only available online.  

“It’s this huge hurtle for one army where as a female you felt represented in Warhammer 40,000,” she said.  

Roe also explained the issue with sexualization in models in Warhammer Fantasy and Age of Sigmar, explaining that while she and a lot of women don’t have an issue with it, they don’t want it to be the only option.

“They want to see Paladin Women, and now Stormcast Eternals…the largest army in Age of Sigmar now has female Stormcast,” she said.  

According to Roe, the new coreset for Age of Sigmar will be the first time they have released a core set with female models in it, adding that because a lot of armies were male centric, being the odd one out tends to lead to intimidation. She said it “takes more women to get more women in the hobby.”

“We needed to take a tip from the authors who write our stories and make models for the amazing female characters they were making,” she said. “Because in the grimdark future where there is only war, everybody should be able to fight for what they believe in.”