Kill Team and Warhammer 40k are closely related games. They are both set in the same universe and are designed for use with the same lines of models from Games Workshop. They do have some significant differences though. Here we will compare and contrast the two game systems to better help you decide which game will suit you best.
At the time of writing Kill Team is on its 2nd edition and Warhammer 40k is on its 9th edition. Unless stated otherwise references to Kill Team and Warhammer 40k will be to these respective editions.
The main difference between Warhammer 40k and Kill Team is in the size of forces deployed. Kill Team is fairly strictly limited to a small force numbering less than 20, and typically around 10, individual infantry men per side.
Warhammer 40k is more flexible and open ended as far as force size goes but will usually be very much larger. At the high end hundreds of infantry and dozens of warmachines might be fielded per side. Warhammer 40k technically could be played with forces no larger than a Kill Team force but that is not common, and the rules not really geared for it. A small game of Warhammer 40k would typically have forces five times the strength of a Kill Team force.
Wargamers are always free to play how they like but the rules for Kill Team assume a playing area of around 22″ by 30″. Although the rules allow for games with three or more players to use an area twice this size.
Warhammer 40k is typically played on a much larger area, traditionally 48″ by 72″. Smaller games, called “combat patrols” in 9th edition, have rules for an area 30″ by 44″, twice the size of a standard Kill Team play area.
Kill Team rules easily and explicitly accommodates three-way and even four-way fights. This is due to the player’s turn order being re-rolled with every round.
In contrast Warhammer 40k, even in its 9th edition, still uses the classic “I go, you go” turn structure that does not work well at all for games with more than two sides. Multiple players beyond two must team up rather than free-for-all without heavily modifying the rules as they stand
For Kill Team the smaller size of forces naturally means a smaller expenditure to get a working force together. The models needed to make a complete Kill Team can easily cost less than £40 at retail.
The cost of putting together a Warhammer 40k force is a rather opened-ended prospect. However even a very small force will tend to cost many multiples that of an equivalent Kill Team.
The other, often forgotten, cost of putting a force together is the time it takes to assemble and paint them. This hidden cost is why so many hobbyists sport “piles of shame”.
Naturally for Kill Team this is a far more manageable cost than for Warhammer 40k. Painting 10 infantry is much less time consuming than painting 50 infantry and a bunch of vehicles and monsters.
Smaller forces reduce the pressure to speed paint for those that like to produce quality individual works.
The smaller forces and smaller playing area all make Kill Team more manageable for storing and playing at home. This is particularly true for those with small accommodations: city dwellers, students etc. If you have room for board games then you have room for Kill Team.
Warhammer 40k is another beast entirely in this regard. The serious player will practically have to have the luxury of a spare room to accommodate it. The play area might be had from occasionally commandeering the dining room table, if it is large enough, but storing hundreds of models will take up space regardless.
Larger playing areas need more and larger scenery pieces to populate it too. All this takes up space. This is fine if you have it, not so much if you do not.
Most players will at some time desire to play away from home. It may be at a tournament, a local game store or a friend’s house. When it comes to transporting your force of delicate and precious toy soldiers then the more you have the more the risk and the more burdensome the logistical issues.
A kill team can be comfortably carried one handed in a carrier no bigger than an ice cream tub.
A substantial Warhammer 40k force can easily require something comparable to a suitcase in size.
Warhammer 40k has Kill Team beat for sheer variety of models and game entities available to play. Kill Team has no rules or stats for any vehicles and few monsters and likely never will. One could always make one’s own rules up for that though, if one really wanted that. Vehicle models can still be used as fun terrain pieces or as objectives in a scenario.
A consequence of the small force sizes of Kill Team however does mean that for the resources one could put into a single 40k army one could throw down half a dozen kill teams for as many different factions.
If you are attracted to multiple factions in the 40k universe then Kill Team can offer more variety than Warhammer 40k, just from the lower expenses in developing multiple factions.
If there is really only one faction that holds any interest for you then Warhammer 40k’s virtually unlimited potential for force expansion will be a better fit.
It is a pet grumble with me that the 28mm miniature scale used in both Warhammer 40k and Kill Team is just inappropriately large for the kind of game Warhammer 40k wants to be. Warhammer 40k wants to have forces of equivalent size to a real world military company, a hundred or so soldiers complete with tanks, artillery and even fighter aircraft and super-heavy war-machines.
The 6mm scale of Epic 40k or the 10mm scale of Dropzone Commander is far more appropriate for company sized forces with such warmachines.
Of course I know that 40k is not so much a game as a pretext to show off exquisite painting skills in a social context. 28mm might be a poor scale for gaming but it is a great scale for the hobbyist who wants to paint belt buckles, pimples, freckles and moustaches. It is for the reason of giving a large canvas to hobbyists that 40k persists in the absurdity of 28mm.
This large model scale is a little more forgivable in a game like Kill Team where only a dozen or so infantrymen face off against each other.
Balance is an issue that haunts every game with diverse and heterogeneous game entities. Warhammer 40k is fairly notorious for issues with balance. It is unfair to criticise it too much for that though. The nature of the game, the huge variety of game entities and diverse factions, makes it practically inevitable. For this reason competitive play, which needs balance, should never be a thing for game like Warhammer 40k.
Kill Team has this issue also but by virtue of the limited menu of game entities it will be less pronounced. If competitive play is an interest then Kill Team may be a better bet.
Warhammer 40k may be the most popular tabletop wargame in history and it has been around a good long while too. This popularity makes finding and hooking up with fellow players relatively easy compared with more obscure games.
Kill Team, as a newer and less famous game, will have that obscurity issue. It does however have the advantages of a much lower barrier to entry and being fairly closely related to its larger cousin Warhammer 40k. For these reasons it may be an easier game to promote to your potential play mates.
Not everyone has the luxury of a ready made local gaming club. Where one is obliged to create one’s own gaming circle from friends, family and others then the easier and cheaper the game is to pick up the easier it is to promote.
Games Workshop themselves do seem to see Kill Team as an easy to pick up gateway to their larger more expensive Warhammer 40k. To quote from the Kill Team Core Rulebook:
In Warhammer 40,000, mighty armies clash across spectacular tabletop battlefields. Where Kill Team focuses on individual squads, the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook gives you all the rules you need to fight battles between entire battalions of warriors, war engines and heroes.
Each codex provides you with the background and rules for one of many factions in Warhammer 40,000. With this information, you can make your kill team the foundation of an army! [emphasis mine]page 17, Kill Team Core Manual
The technical term for this is up-selling.
Another cost to wargaming is the time and attention it takes to input the game rules into one’s brain. Although the nerd brain tends to thrive on complexity it has to be said that the easier a game is to learn the better.
Warhammer 40k perhaps reached its complexity zenith in its 7th edition. Subsequent editions have aimed at simplifying and streamlining the rules. Kill Team’s core rules play quite similarly to these later editions.
It remains though that given the larger set of game entities and entity classes (vehicles, flyers etc) in Warhammer 40k compared with Kill Team there is a somewhat larger learning curve even if it is not a steeper one.
Games Workshop has a tendency to churn out new editions very frequently for their main games like Warhammer 40k. A new edition has come out for Warhammer 40k about every two years for the past three editions. And with each new edition there are new army books and campaign books to be tempted into buying.
This fast edition churn gets expensive fast if one is determined to constantly keep up with the latest edition. Many do not; they simply stick with whichever edition they first jumped in on. This however tends to split up the gaming community. A 5th edition, 7th edition and 9th edition player might all be playing the Warhammer 40k but they can not practically play with each other…
Kill Team did get its 2nd edition just two years after its 1st edition. However in general the smaller, off the main line, game systems do not tend to get the same furious update rate as Warhammer 40k. They are usually more at risk of simply going out of production. At the time of writing Kill Team’s second edition is three years old so there is some hope that it may remain current for some more years yet.
Even if it goes out of production, one should not worry too much if one has all the books. If not then the pre-owned markets like ebay will carry them for decades to come.
One only has so many resources to devote to a hobby: financial, mental and in terms of time. It generally makes sense not to take on too many games systems at once then. However since both Kill Team and Warhammer 40k share a lot of the same official models, share many of the same game entities and even have quite similar core rules, it really is not too much of a load to do both.
Or one can start with one and then take up the other later. I recommend starting with Kill Team given the lower barrier to entry.