Matched Play vs Competitive Play vs Narrative Play

There are a few ways to play Warhammer 40K. We are going to take a quick look at them before taking a more in-depth look at narrative play. I am covering them in the order that is most people commonly think of when they think of playing Warhammer 40K.

Matched Play

This is what most people think of when they consider playing a game of 40K. Army lists are built with the same maximum number of points, say 2000 or 1850. When building your lists you have to pay for every piece of war gear and sometimes even upgrades to the unit itself (think Chief Apothecary or Master of Sanctity). The goal of Matched Play is to test your Generalship with armies that are about as evenly matched as possible. This is the style of game that most websites and YouTube channels are focused on.

Competitive Play

You can think of this as matched play on steroids. This is the style that most tournaments, especially the Grand Tournaments, are playing. In this style, army lists are hyper optimized. The goal of competitive play is to build the toughest, deadliest, legal list that you can and crush your enemies. It is this play style where GW derives many of their changes in FAQs/Erratas and periodic points changes. There are a few YouTube channels or websites that concentrate in this area. Many of them are primarily matched play focused with occasional looks into the competitive play scene.

Narrative Play

This is the play style that gets the least amount of attention and is the one that we will focus on the most. It uses Power Level (PL) to roughly match army sizes. Each PL is roughly equivalent to 20 points, roughly. You pay for the unit, not the equipment so you can equip your unit in any legal configuration for the same PL. Often, but not always, players build armies of equivalent PL size to play games. Starting in 9th GW gave this a more serious look with the introduction of Crusade. There are very few YouTube Channels / websites that are dedicated to this style since the number of people that play this style is low.


The vast majority of folks play matched play, though even within this play style there are variations on intensity. Often, if a General forgot to do something in a previous phase (not turn or round), the opposing General will let them go back and do it. This will almost never happen in the competitive play arena. As stated above, narrative play is getting much more positive attention from GW starting in 9th.